Friday, December 15, 2017

Friday Five

Because a Facebook memory reminded me I used to do this . . . and I always write well with a structure :)

So my Christmas month Loves in this week's Friday Five!

1. Book: 1415-HENRY V'S YEAR OF GLORY by Ian Mortimer. An ingeniously (month by month, almost day by day) structured examination of the year that lead to the battlefield of Agincourt. Makes me want to watch Kenneth Branagh as Henry V again . . .

2. Netflix: I keep toggling between two shows: Dark Matter, a sci-fi with some Firefly undertones, and re-watching The Office when I need to laugh--or smile sentimentally at Jim and Pam.

3. Gift-giving: my love language. Few things make me happier than finding a the perfect surprising gift (rarely expensive) for the people I love. From the seven-year-olds I teach at church to my awesome kids and husband, I'm a lot like Leslie Knope. Gift giving is my sport!

4. Writing: I'm definitely looking ahead to 2018 and a return to publishing with The Darkling Bride release in March. After a couple quiet years while motherhood took a great deal of my available emotional energy, I also have a YA book on submission that I ADORE and I'm creating a proposal for my next gothic that has me dreaming at night.

5. Star Wars: if only I loved my children less, I would have already seen The Last Jedi. But our family is under strict orders for no one to see it until all six of us are gathered at home on the 22nd. (Sidenote--this will be the first Christmas all my kids are home in three years!)

Love to all my family, friends, and readers!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday

With only the littlest bit to go before I turn in revisions on my contracted book, I thought today I would offer a peek at my next historical WIP. Background to the scene: girl dressed as boy to travel without harassment, trouble in a tavern, help from an (unwelcome) source :)

“Boy? Are you really that blind?” spoke the elegant, skeptical voice of the man whose table I’d knocked into. From his tone, I would never have guessed he was anything but cold sober.
     Before either Weasel or Brawler could object to his intervention, the man stood and pulled the shapeless felt hat off my head. With deft fingers, he found and released the pins so that my hair fell in a mass of twisted plaits about my face and shoulders.
     Brawler gaped at me as though I’d sprouted horns, and Weasel hissed a vicious breath. The surprise was just enough for me to free my left hand and elbow Brawler across the chin. I stomped for Weasel’s foot, but his grip had tightened round my wrist until my fingers were numb and I knew I couldn’t hold onto my blade much longer. So I let myself go limp, my dead weight dragging Weasel off balance while my free left hand reached for the second blade strapped beneath my tunic. I brought it up and under his chin . . . where it met and matched with a second, longer, deadlier dagger.
     The stranger with the courtly voice didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. Weasel narrowed his eyes, but let go of me. Not without a twist that made me wince, but he and Brawler retreated under the stony gaze of the man who had come so unexpectedly to my aid.
     When they were gone, I found the stranger staring at me. His expression had not altered from indifference. “You’re welcome,” he said.
     The arrogance and detachment were too much for my frayed temper. “I didn’t ask you to interfere. I’m old enough to take care of myself.”
     He raised a skeptical eyebrow. “And how old is that?”
     “Twenty-two,” I said defiantly. Then, at his look of open disbelief, I conceded, “Eighteen.” When he continued to stare at me, I added, “In three months.”
     “I suppose you would take it amiss if I suggested that disreputable taverns are not the safest place for a solitary young woman.”
     “I suppose you would take it amiss if I suggested that drowning your sins in wine is the refuge of a coward.”
     He had a stare like ice, the kind that froze in England and provided but a thin covering to the depthless water beneath it. Here was someone much more dangerous than the thugs who had just been run off. This, I thought with sinking heart, was not a man to cross swords with. Perhaps politeness would be the better part of valor.
     But then he spoke again. “You were nearly quick enough, I grant you. But ‘nearly’ will get you killed. Perhaps if your skills were as formidable as your tongue you wouldn’t need a stranger’s intervention.”

    Despite the drinking and choice of tavern, I noted the marks of quality about him: the diction and music of his voice, the grace of his every movement despite the slight hesitation of the seriously drunk, the shirt that—though aged by hard use and indifferent laundering—was made from the finest linen. So fine that one could almost see the outlines of a well-conditioned body beneath it . . .

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Teaser Tuesday

Deeply in revisions for the new book, and thought I'd give you a glimpse of my main character, come to Deeprath Castle to catalog the library, and her initial impression on the castle owner she has just bumped into :)     

     Carragh did not believe in ghosts, not in the traditional sense. She was not afraid of the Woman in White or the Darkling Bride or any number of ancient monks who might drift down the slopes from Glendalough. She was not afraid of the dead, however uneasily they might lie, for her earliest memories encompassed death.
     But in all her eager preparation and research into the Gallagher family, she had somehow overlooked the truth that tragedy casts a long shadow. Prying into the life and death of the Victorian Jenny was one thing. Meddling with a man whose mother was believed to have murdered his father and then jumped off the same tower as Jenny Gallager? That was an entirely different matter.
     Especially when the man in question was sexy as hell. Seriously, who looked like that? She’d seen a few pictures of the viscount, as she’d scrolled the internet looking for information on the Gallaghers, most of them of Aidan paired with various formidably fashionable women. But the combined effect of his height and dark hair and bright blue eyes narrowed suspiciously at her, standing so close she could have touched him . . .   
     Carragh shoved herself away from the door and glared at the painting of Jenny Gallagher. “I’m here for the library,” she said aloud. “Not for men, and not for ghosts.”

     In the painted pond’s reflection, the Darkling Bride stared back at Carragh in disbelief.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Last night I attended a 12 Step meeting at which my son, Matt, received his one year sober coin. I'm not going to lie . . . I cried :) This time last year I could not have imagined who he would be today--and imagination is my job.

Part of the meeting last night was a speaker with three years sobriety sharing his story. Something he said has really stayed with me. He shared about the day he called his dad and told him, "I need to go to rehab." And to this day, he says his dad talks about how that was the proudest moment of his life. The young man told us last night, "I know what he's trying to say there, but it always makes me a little sad that me becoming a slightly less shitty person is his proudest moment."

Yes, it was funny and meant to be. I laughed with everyone else. But as a mom, there were a couple things I've wanted to say to him since. Things I suppose I want to say to my own son.

I have been proud of lots of things in your life. How could I not be? You're the oldest :) I've been proud of your intelligence and your curiosity. Of your gentleness and your sensitivity. I was proud when your Knowledge Bowl team was getting crushed when you were in 5th or 6th grade and you cried in the bathroom after a round in which your team did not answer a single question . . . and then you dried your tears and came out and competed in the next round anyway. I was proud that you were in the Gifted and Talented science/math program in middle school. I was proud of you going onstage for the talent show and doing "White and Nerdy." I was proud of your acceptance to the University of Washington and the good grades you got in the physics program.

Nothing has made me prouder than watching you this last year. Not because you were "becoming a slightly less shitty person." But because you are doing work that most people in our society avoid--honestly and unflinchingly looking at yourself and your life. Admitting your mistakes. Making amends. Doing things every day that you don't want to do. Like talk to new people and reach out to strangers and make phones calls (yes, you are my son!) And every day you are doing these hard things without the coping mechanism that still has the ability to sing the siren song of relief.

How hard is that? Well, I've never been able to stick to a diet for longer than three weeks. Or a serious exercise plan for more than six months. And I still look for ways to avoid honestly evaluating my mistakes and weaknesses. Or, if I do evaluate them, I rarely go to great lengths to change them unless forced into it, usually by trauma. And I certainly don't do it publicly.

So this year, what you have accomplished? It's required more than the intellectual gifts you were born with. It's required more than our family had the ability to give. It's required that you wake up, every single day, and do the work. You. Not me. Not anyone else. You have chosen to do this work and, with the grace of God and those He sent into your life, you continue to choose.

And that is why I have never been more proud.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Teaser Tuesday

Hello, gentle readers! I have learned far too much in the last ten years to tempt fate, but I find myself cautiously optimistic about living in the world. Witness a third blog post in less than six weeks :)

With the happy news this week of my first royalty check from Random House--and with my mind and heart thoroughly involved in revisions for my 2018 release--I thought I'd share a bit from that upcoming book. It's not Tudor. But I do love it. Enjoy!!!

     Laughter, tears, joy, sorrow, love, hatred, birth, and death—every beat of every Gallagher heart resounded in the stone and wood and plaster of the castle, so that those sensitive to such things could feel the thrum of centuries through their bodies. Any animals brought into the house as pets must needs learn to live with the echoes, or be driven out. The castle knew her own, and jealously kept their secrets.
     Secrets in the Tudor hall that housed spinet and lute and harp. Secrets in the Norman keep, its spiral stones steps worn by thousands of feet over the centuries. Secrets in the Regency study, soaked in its aura of patriarchal privilege.
    And, above all, secrets in the library, with its soaring walls and stained glass windows, the Gothic fan vaulting poised loftily above the thousands of books in their bays. Books in glass cases, books on open shelves, books and manuscripts and journals and maps stored in great Renaissance coffers.
     The library had secrets aplenty to reveal . . . to those who knew how to look.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Favorite Books of 2016

I was aiming to write four blog posts this January--I'll gladly settle for two :) And, hey! I thought I'd return to my blogging roots and take a look at some of my favorite books of the last couple years.

CUCKOO'S CALLING/Robert Galbraith
Also the subsequent two books in the Cormoran Strike series, written by JK Rowling under her chosen pseudonym. Mysteries are my genre of choice and I fell hard for the former military officer turned London private detective. I believe my initial response was: "Holy crap, this woman can write!" The only downside is once more being at the mercy of how fast Rowling can write . . . but hallelujah! It's being adapted for TV in Britain, and Cormoran Strike is being played by Tom Burke, my favorite ever Musketeer :)

Brilliant YA novel about once inseparable twins torn apart by their mother's death. The story goes back and forth chronologically, slowly revealing the individual miseries and gradual attempts at moving forward of the brother and sister. Contemporary YA is a hard sell for me, but this one really worked on all levels.

THE CALLING/Inger Ash Wolfe
First in another new mystery series (of which, yes, I have compulsively read the following four), starring police officer Hazel Micallef in a small Canadian town with crimes darker than the surface might indicate. Hazel is late fifties, divorced, living with her eighty-something-year-old mother and often at odds with authority. I love her :)

Known as The Bloggess online, Jenny Lawson writes intimately and hilariously about mental illness, anxiety, unusual families, and her love of ethically-taxidermied animals in costume. (Seriously, her first book has a mouse dressed as Hamlet on the cover; the second has a rather terrifyingly happy raccoon.) A friend sent me the first one in the aftermath of our son's admittance to rehab and never has laughter been more welcome. I recommend her blog as well as her books--look for the post about the dead duckling that showed up on her bedside table without warning, and Lawson's subsequent attempts to dress it as Marie Antoinette.

LADY MIDNIGHT/Cassandra Clare
The first in The Dark Artifices series, part of Clare's Shadowhunter world. Considering that my favorites in that world are The Infernal Devices, set in Victorian London, I didn't expect to love this contemporary, LA-set addition. But Emma Carstairs is an amazing heroine and I heart Julian Blackthorne.

It's no secret that Penman is one of my all-time favorite historical fiction writers and she does not disappoint in this novel of England's first civil war, fought in the mid-12th century between cousins King Stephen and Empress Maud. The title comes from a chronicle of the time, noting how England fell prey to destruction and death during those nineteen years. This novel ends with Maud's son being named Henry III as Stephen's successor--and then Penman launches into more books covering the tumultuous marriage and family of Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Harris's novel GENTLEMAN AND PLAYERS is one of my favorite boarding-school set mysteries of all time, and Latin master Roy Straitley is a brilliant character. After surviving the attacks against the school in the fall semester (from GandP), Straitley is not convinced the new Headmaster--a former student--has the school's best interests at heart. As the two of them clash, Straitley must return to a tragic event in the school's past and consider it from a new angle.

I would--and, I think, have--read anything Bryson writes, but I have a soft spot for NOTES FROM A SMALL ISLAND. In LITTLE DRIBBLING, Bryson once more travels his sometimes-home country of England to examine how both it and he have changed over the years. From the very first paragraphs, in which Bryson is hit on the head by a descending parking barrier, I laughed and loved the whole way through.

These books by new novelist, Ware, are brilliant additions to the field of stand-alone psychological thrillers. Atmospheric, claustrophobic settings (an isolated cabin in winter and a luxury yacht, respectively) add to the unsettling sense of peril that stalk the main character. From the time I was little and started reading Agatha Christie, I have loved closed-setting mysteries and I will read everything Ware releases from now on.

TRAITOR'S BLADE/Sebastien de Castel
First in the Greatcoats fantasy series, de Castel takes the Musketeer tradition, with all its adventure and swashbuckling, and sets it firmly in a kingdom falling apart. Here's the review I wrote on Goodreads after the first book:
"Yeah, it's pretty good. I mean you can't go far wrong with swords and disgraced scoundrels and a quest to honor a dead king's final wishes. I see the point, but it's nothing to shout about--WAIT? WHAT?! WHAT EVEN IS LIFE AND THIS STORY AND FALCIO VAL MOND AND I AM ACTUALLY CRYING AND CHEERING . . ."

KING HEREAFTER/Dorothy Dunnett
This was a re-read, as I tend to re-read all of Dunnett's books at various times. I picked it up again after my trip to England with my daughter last summer. We saw Macbeth at the Globe Theater, so it seemed a good time to go back to Dunnett's story of Thorfin, Earl of Orkney, and his doomed attempt to unite the various battling kingdoms of Alba (now Scotland.) She makes a convincing historical argument for Thorfin as the real-world basis for Macbeth, then takes such elements as the woods of Dunsinane and turns them into ingenious and realistic plot points in the 11th-century world. If you're not ready to launch into her 6 book Lymond series or her 8 book Nicolo series, then give this standalone a try.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

For Heaven's Sake . . .

Nine months? Nine months since I posted?! What kind of writer am I?

Today is my birthday. Yay, not dead, another year survived, blah, blah, blah . . .

Except life is mostly lived in those blah, blah, blahs. So here are a few of mine:

1. Know what I was doing one year ago today? Returning at dawn from an overnight flight out of Seattle. Where parents, grandparents, girlfriend, and two professionals staged an intervention for a twenty-two year old. It was not pretty. It was, basically, hell. And it was not immediately successful. This time last year I'd left my son on the Seattle streets. I spent my 47th birthday afraid he would die before he accepted treatment.
Spoiler alert: he accepted treatment. He is eleven months clean and living just two hours from us in a wonderful program. He is working and volunteering and applying to transfer to a college on this coast to finish his degree. After that . . . well, we live one day at a time in gratitude. Today is a good day :)

2. Finished a book. (Writing one, that is. I finished reading 120 of them in the last year.) A book I was terrified to write, certain that I could not switch gears and do something a little different from my lovely Tudor characters. But I wrote it. And now I'm revising it. And my editor loved the bones of it, so already I'm less afraid than I was last year.

3. Worked on a second book, a spec manuscript probably for the YA market. About a hundred pages in and getting close(er) to submitting. I love this project with unshakeable passion--so much so, that I told my agent I would write it whether it sold or not.

4. Went to Dublin, London, and Edinburgh with my daughter. Best part was very possibly the night train from Euston Station to Waverly. Why is there romance in sleeping in a steel bunk bed bolted to the wall in a space smaller than a walk-in closet? I don't know. There just is :)

5. Went to Iceland for Thanksgiving week with my husband and two high-schoolers. Who knew spending days muffled up in coats and hats and gloves could be so fun? Sunrise at 10:00 am, sunset at 4:00, three days exploring glaciers and ice caves and two extraordinary nights of the Northern Lights . . . I count myself so lucky to have been there.

6. And what did I do the rest of those 366 days? Sleep. The bare minimum in housekeeping and food procuring required to keep my family alive. Netflix. Working with doctors and therapists for myself and others. Cuddling the stuffed black sheep I brought back from Ireland. Slowly emerging from darkness into light. Which brings me to my favorite image of 2016:

I took this photo at Pingvellir National Park in Iceland. I call it "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning." 

Here's to dawning joy for all of you!