Metapost: Summertime …

Posted on Aug 4, 2015 in apps & e-books, creativity, news & muse, publications, the Next Novel, the world around me, travels

summertimechezmoi

And the living is … busy.

As you can probably tell from the silence here, there’s been much going on at Chez Art and Words. Quick rundown:

1. I’ve been traveling with my family a fair amount. (Exhibit A, above photo.) Next up: a trip to Italy. I’m excited to reveal to Thea the beauties of Venice for her first time.

2. I also traveled to Denver for this year’s Historical Novel Society conference. It was wonderful, as always. My only disappointment: Between my packed schedule and the hotel location, I didn’t get to explore Denver very much. The last day I ended up climbing to the top of a parking garage to view the Rockies before my departure (Exhibit B, photo below). Ah well!

rockiesathns

3. In between packings and unpackings of suitcases and sundries, I finally finished revising the first section of the Next Novel, which is now in my literary agent’s able hands. I am very pleased with how it came together.

4. If that’s not enough busy-ness, I also revised a long aborning Top Sekret nonfiction book proposal, which is also now off my desk and into the world.

5. Plus gardening! Summer is prime time for the Blue House garden, which is small but densely packed with much vegetation and flowers. This year I managed to harvest poppies for the first time. (Exhibit C below. Aren’t they pretty?) No water lilies this year though. Perhaps next year, when I have more energy to battle the raccoons of Brooklyn.

A poppy from the Blue House garden

6. I played tourist in my home town. I visited the Hunger Games exhibition in Times Square and Leighton’s Flaming June at the Frick Collection. (Thea and I are big fans of Katniss and Crew, and are counting the days until Mockingjay Part 2 releases.) While at the Frick with my comrade-in-words Heather Webb, I made certain to say hello to the Holbein portraits of Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell. Both men played important roles during the reign of Henry VIII, and lost their heads during this same reign. Thanks to the wonders of paint and museums, the two Thomases have been restored to glare at each other from across the gallery.

7. Last but decidedly not least, THE LOVER’S PATH has been decidedly launched into the digital world. I am delighted by the reviews, which have been universally glowing. (Don’t have your copy yet? Learn more here.)

The Lover's Path: An Illustrated Novella of Venice

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So, what’s ahead for me on this warm, breezy day in August? Right now, I’m focused on my upcoming trip to Italy: Italian lessons, household preparation, travel itineraries. Come September, real life will begin anew: back to school for Thea, and back to a regular studio schedule for me. I suspect by then I will be ready for it.

And how about you, dear Reader? How’s your summer going? I hope it is filled with all good things!

Creativity Friday: Guest Post by Lynn Carthage, author of HAUNTED

Posted on May 15, 2015 in creativity, friends and colleagues, interviews, news & muse, publishing

Lynn Carthage
As I mentioned Friday, my guest for today’s Creativity Friday post is author Lynn Carthage, author of HAUNTED, a young adult gothic historical novel. My daughter Thea is currently reading it, and thoroughly enjoying it.*

More about HAUNTED:

Sixteen-year-old Phoebe Irving has traded life in San Francisco for her stepfather’s ancestral mansion in rural England. It’s supposed to be the new start her family needs. But from the moment she crosses the threshold into the ancient estate, Phoebe senses something ominous. Then again, she’s a little sensitive lately—not surprising when her parents are oblivious to her, her old life is six thousand miles away, and the only guy around is completely gorgeous but giving her mixed messages.

But at least Miles doesn’t laugh at Phoebe’s growing fears. And she can trust him…maybe. The locals whisper about the manor’s infamous original owner, Madame Arnaud, and tell grim stories of missing children and vengeful spirits. Phoebe is determined to protect her loved ones—especially her little sister, Tabby. But even amidst the manor’s dark shadows, the deepest mysteries may involve Phoebe herself.

As for Lynn, she has a secret—and it’s a good one. Under her real name, Erika Mailman, she’s published two highly praised historical novels for adults; HAUNTED is her first YA novel. I first met Erika at the Historical Novel Society conference in 2013. We instantly hit it off, and have stayed in regular contact since. (The real reason I go to HNS: to meet lovely writers who share my obsessions with women’s history and the gothic. :-) ) When I learned Erika had decided to write for young adults under a nom de plume, I was eager to learn more about the why and how. 

Without further ado, here’s Erika’s guest post about her alter ego Lynn, and the differences between writing for the YA and adult historical market. I hope you enjoy it!

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cover HAUNTED DP quote

Kris, thanks for hosting me today. You invited me to talk about my alter ego, and the difference of writing young adult historical fiction versus adult.

Under my real name, Erika Mailman, I’ve published two historical novels. The first, Woman of Ill Fame (Heyday Books 2007), is a historical thriller featuring an unapologetic Gold Rush prostitute narrator. You can right away see why I had to choose another name for publishing young adult fiction; I didn’t want teens to read HAUNTED, google me, and find that book.

Call me innocent, but I think kids grow up so fast these days…they have a lifetime of being sexual, so I wanted to provide a firm line between my adult fiction and my young adult fiction.

My second novel, Witch’s Trinity (Crown, 2007), is probably appropriate for a teen audience, but I can’t send readers there without them also seeing the “shameless hussy” book LOL. It’s about a medieval woman accused of witchcraft by her own daughter-in-law, at a time when women faced burning at the stake.

Which brings me back to HAUNTED, the young adult novel that came out from Kensington in February. I love historical fiction, and although the book features a contemporary setting in England, the mansion where the story takes place has a foreboding history and a connection to the palace of Versailles.

In fact, Book 2 of the series, which hits in February 2016, is set almost entirely in Paris and Versailles, and features timeslipping back to days when there was still a monarchy in place.

It’s been fun to merge historical with contemporary, with my heroine Phoebe Irving wandering the halls of the 1700s Arnaud Manor in England and over time learning tidbits about its history. I know a lot of readers enjoy historical fiction, but this sort of tactic may be more accessible. Phoebe has a modern perspective and can be an effective filter for the events of the past.

As to the differences in writing for teens versus adults: yes, I’ve had to take some language out of HAUNTED. For instance, a character named Miles exclaims, “No shit!” and I was encouraged to take that out. I did, because some big-box stores won’t carry books with that language, and to maximize my potential to someday have the book be carried there, I elected to listen to my editor’s sage advice.

I’m also keeping the romance between Miles and Phoebe lingering and drawn out … half the fun is in the suspense, right? And of course we have to have some complications that keep them swinging back and forth, towards and away from each other.

Finally, for those who are older, there’s been all kinds of data suggesting older people read YA fiction, with middle-aged women showing up as a high population readership. And I’ve had men email me praise for HAUNTED; will it help that Book 2 is narrated by Miles, a male?

If you enjoy a good ghost story, a dark and forbidding English manor setting, and characters who valiantly fight to protect their siblings, you might want to give HAUNTED a try.

Thanks for hosting me today, Kris!

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My pleasure, Lynn-Erika—and thanks for a wonderful post! You can learn more, read an excerpt, or purchase HAUNTED here.

* Review coming soon!

Creativity Friday: Seven things about myself as a writer

Posted on Mar 27, 2015 in A Gathering of Shadows/The Lily Maid, creativity, news & muse, the Next Novel

the blue house garden under snow
The Blue House garden last week. (Spring? What’s that?)

It’s been a busy time here at Chez Art and Words—I’m knee-deep in revisions on the Next Novel and other projects, and there have been big but good changes afoot, and my daughter turned ten—ten!—years old, and we had visitors and so on and so forth. Anyway, I was tagged by my writer friend Ellen Seltz to list seven things about myself as a writer. Took me a while to get to it, but here goes:

1. Both of my novels were inspired by dreams.

2. The title of the Next Novel came to me in a dream. (I’m not ready to reveal it yet, but I’m besotted with this title.)

3. Per #1 and #2: Whenever I get stuck writing, I believe in the power of sleep to unstick things, especially a twenty minute power nap. Ditto for long walks and baths—anything that puts me into a creative ”flow” state.

4. I’m a creature of routine. My writing prefers consistency over quantity. Meaning that words flow better when I write every day—preferably first thing in the morning, and in the same place. Daily practice, if you will.

5. I find first drafting painful. I love love love revising once I have a draft—that’s where the fun stuff happens. And I revise a lot—one scene in A GATHERING OF SHADOWS must have been revised nearly a hundred times before it found its final place in the novel.

6. I also reread what I’ve written a lot when I’m revising. I’m like a detective trying to suss out the hidden stuff my subconscious has left for me to find.

7. I’ve done NaNoWriMo twice. It rocks.

What about you? If you’re a writer, what seven things make you unique? Feel free to post them on your blog and share the link in the comments—I’d love to know.

Creativity Friday: A Crowdsourced Bookshelf for Beginning Novelists

Posted on Feb 27, 2015 in creativity, friends and colleagues, news & muse, publishing, stuff I like, the Next Novel

some favorite books

Above: a few of the resources on my bookshelf.

I’m knee-deep in revising my first draft of the Next Novel, which is at the point where I’m starting to share chapters with beta readers. (Hooray? Yikes?) While I’ve been in the midst of this, someone asked me to recommend resources for someone who wants to write a novel, but doesn’t know to begin. Which is a great question—hence, this blog post.

My first answer was obvious: National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo. After all, if it wasn’t for the miracle that is NaNoWriMo, I seriously doubt I would have jumped off the high board into the manuscript that became A Gathering of Shadows. Beyond this, I was surprised to find myself flummoxed for answers. I mean, I have my favorite books on the craft, but I’ve been writing for as long I could set words to paper. Some of my earliest memories are taking out “how to get published books” from the adult section of my local library while my mother assured the librarian, that yes, I could read them, please let the kid borrow them already.

So, if in doubt, crowdsource! What follows is an edited list of books and other advice generously shared by writers who know their stuff.

Anca Szilagyi: ”Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. One is all about close reading fiction, and reading for courage to do your own writing. The other encourages writing in a more general/zen sense and has a “keep going” shtick that is helpful.”

Shelley Schanfield: ”A good craft book that has lots of practical instruction on character development and story arc is Janet Burroway Writing Fiction.”

Ellen Seltz: ”The Snowflake Method. Even if you don’t wind up using it exactly, it helps to have concrete tasks to keep the manuscript moving forward, so you don’t get so abstract and woo-woo that nothing gets accomplished. It’s a good tool. If you don’t already have a process, it’s a starting point to help you build one.”

Susanne Dunlap: ”I like Story by Robert McKee. And I love Janet Burroway’s book as well.”

Diane Brandt Wilkes: ”Here are the ones that help/ed me the most, in no real order. These are off the top of the head of someone who would much rather read books about writing than actually write.



”Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
If You Want to Write by Brenda Euland
Writing the Novel by Lawrence Block
The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner (My favorite.)
The Art of Fiction by Ayn Rand (She helped me finally understand what plot meant.)
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron
Becoming a Writer by Dorothy Brande
Making a Literary Life by Carolyn See
Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft by Natalie Goldberg
Telling Lies for Fun and Profit by Lawrence Block (He’s the best at the nitty gritty.)”

Melinda Belle Harrison: “For genre fiction, I recommend The Marshall Plan Workbook : Writing Your Novel from Start to Finish. If more beginning writers used it, they would leap years ahead in work.”

Melodie Rose Winawer: ”The Business of Writing, edited by Jennifer Lyons. Given to me as a gift by my editor. Great stuff.”

Libby Sternberg: “I recommend joining Romance Writers of America and one of their chapters, even if you don’t write romance. The romance community is the most supportive and encouraging writing community I’ve encountered, willing to share information and cheer you on. And some chapters — such as New Jersey’s — have terrific conferences.”

Claude Rothman: ”There are four books I consult permanently: How Fiction Works by James Wood, Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and Naming the World by Bret Anthony Johnston. The last one includes very smart exercises for the creative writers to which I come back when I have a problem.”

Stephanie Renee Dos Santos: The Art of Fiction by John Gardner, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, Stein on Writing & How to Grow a Novel by Sol Stein, The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla Long, and Between the Lines by Jessica Morrell.”

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I hope this list helps and inspires! And many thanks to all who shared their wisdom.

Creativity Friday: The Rules

Posted on Jan 30, 2015 in A Gathering of Shadows/The Lily Maid, creativity, Doomed Queens, news & muse

I’m away through the end of January at a writer’s residency at the Virginia Center of the Creative Arts, where I’ll be hard at work on the Next Novel.  During my absence, I decided to repost some old blog favorites about publishing and the creative process. Enjoy!

Of late I’ve been wondering if are there rules for embarking on a new book or creative project—a subject brought to mind after a writer on Facebook mentioned his set of rules. After mulling a bit, I realized that I do have some. Though my rules no doubt differ from others, they’ve proven fairly consistent over the years.

Rule 1: I shouldn’t be bored. I must fall in love with the book completely and desperately. Both of these qualities are essential because I may be spending years living with it. (Though DOOMED QUEENS took me just over a year to create, THE LOVER’S PATH entailed almost a decade of on-and-off work. That’s a hefty chunk of time.)

Rule 2:  The process of creating the book, or its subject matter, should scare me a little. Or a lot. I look upon the presence of fear as a sign that I’m growing as an artist. Sometimes my fear may be in an “oh my god this project is going to challenge me. I’m not sure if my skills are up to it.” (I definitely felt this way when I began writing A GATHERING OF SHADOWS. Thank goodness for National Novel Writing Month, which pushed me beyond my initial “I don’t know how to write a novel” resistance.) Or my fear might be due to the subject matter. For example, when I first thought of the concept for DOOMED QUEENS, it scared me to death: a humorous book about how royal women were disempowered throughout history? Who would want to read this? Would people be offended? Fortunately, my literary agent pushed me to embrace the darkness amid the light. Voila, DOOMED QUEENS was born and went on to became one of my most critically praised books.

Rule 3: Finally, I need to have fun while working. If a project isn’t fun, what’s the point?

So, my creative rules for choosing to work on a book come down to:

  • no boredom
  • love
  • embrace the fear
  • have fun

That’s my formula. However, I haven’t included my biggest rule of all: to produce the best publication I possibly can, using all of the artistic knowledge and skills I possess.

What about you? Do you have any rules for choosing your creative projects?

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Above photograph: Craft project by Thea for her clubhouse.