Here at Chez Art and Words apre le NaNoWriMo, I’m deep into design and holiday projects (see above). Like many in December, I’m on a push to finish everything up between now through the end of the year. Regardless, I can’t let the following friends’ and colleagues’ news go uncelebrated:
1. Congrats to my friend Heather Webb whose new novel RODIN’S LOVER was featured in January’s Cosmopolitan magazine (right). They wrote, “You’ll be drawn into this story of obsession and passion between the artist and his apprentice/muse.” High praise indeed!
2. Author Robert Goolick (A RELIABLE WIFE) has just published a Christmas story entitled THE FINAL BALL OF ORIANNE DE PREMONVILLE. It can be found on Amazon under the Kindle Singles section, and involves the most beautiful red dress in the world. (I workshopped my opening chapters of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS with Goolrick at the Salt Cay Writers Retreat.)
3. There’s a massive giveaway of 22 books going on at the Historical Fiction Co-op. To enter the giveaway, click here. I’m a member of this wonderful group, along with C.W. Gortner, Lynn Cullen, Michelle Moran, and other notable authors.
4. Finally, on my author friend Christy English’s blog, I loved her thoughtful, funny interview with indie author Ellen Seltz (MR. MOTTLEY GETS HIS MAN). When I contacted Ellen about featuring the interview, she wrote regarding her decision to self-publish: “I think publishing is going the way of music and film—content with a broad appeal is going to benefit from that large distribution network, and niche content is better off in a focused channel.”
Other sage advice from Ellen:
Being an unpublished novelist may or may not correlate with being an inexperienced writer, or creative professional. If you have already developed your artistic sense and professional distance, great – go on and start learning the specifics of the form and the business side. If you don’t yet have a reliable sense of what professionalism is, or more importantly, how to tell whether you have written crap or not, then put publishing on hold till you get your crapometer calibrated. Put your stuff in front of strangers (Strangers! Not your friends!) and see how they react. This is one of the benefits of the query/rejection/polish/resubmit process of legacy publishing, it forces you to see and relate to your work differently.
Read the rest of the interview here.
For today’s Creativity Friday post, I’m featuring the work of one of the most creative people I know: my husband, Thomas Ross Miller. Tom is an anthropologist, artist, musician, curator, professor, world traveler, and oh-so-much more. Besides all this, he’s a member of Ethnographic Terminalia, a curatorial collective that exhibits anthropological research in collaboration with contemporary art practices.
For their 2014 exhibit, Ethnographic Terminalia is presenting The Bureau of Memories: Archives & Ephemera, December 3-7 at Hierarchy gallery, 1847 Columbia Road NW, Washington, DC. This immersive installation, held jointly with the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, features works by some two dozen artists and anthropologists. Re-imagining and remixing 20th-century media including 16-mm film, short-wave radio, land-line telephones, photogravure and paper documents, the exhibition invites visitors to encounter voices and images from the past in a 21st-century technological space.
More from the press release:
In a time of virtual reality, history haunts the present through the incomplete digital reanimation of traces from the past. Many analog collections built to preserve knowledge are becoming lost in the digital age. The Bureau of Memories considers archives as sites of both official records and broken fragments. The installation draws out anthropology’s uncanny specters, reinterpreting archives not only as repositories of information, but as generators of absence and obscurity. The international array of works on display includes prints, sculpture, textiles, video, and sonic artifacts from wax-cylinder field recordings to classic African radio broadcasts to a 3D-rendered audio spectrogram of the famous 18½-minute gap in the Watergate tapes.
So if you’re in the DC area, I hope you’ll stop by to experience The Bureau of Memories! The exhibit is open to the public. Gallery hours are 12-8 pm Wednesday-Friday, 10 am-6 pm Saturday, 12-6 pm Sunday. Admission is free.
Above image: Craig Campbell, Ethnographic Terminalia
“A painting undermined my father. And, as you will see by the end of my story, a painting nearly destroyed me. Art is dangerous like that, an unruly thing. I used to consider it as superfluous as those who dedicated their lives to creating it. I no longer do—I’ve learned this lesson, along with so many others, over the past months. During this period my life has become as foreign to me as another land….”
As I mentioned in Friday’s post, I’ll be reading tomorrow night at Litwrap’s Works-in-Progress summer reading. I’m planning to read from the first chapter of the Novel Formerly Known as THE LILY MAID (above) and a short excerpt from the Next Novel.
When: Tuesday, July 29th, 7 – 9PM
Where: Upstairs at 61 Local, 61 Bergen Street (corner of Smith Street), Brooklyn
The reading is supported in part by a grant from Poets & Writers. I’ll be joined by an awesome lineup of local writers: Brian Erickson, Ilana Kramer, Sarah Seltzer, Rachel Lyon, Max Bean, Mary Lannon, and Gerard Cabrera. If all this isn’t enough enticement, I’ll be spilling the new titles for THE LILY MAID and the Next Novel, which thus far only my literary agent and a few close friends know.
So, hope to see you there!
Photographed recently in Brooklyn’s Chinatown. Kind of how I feel when I contemplate first lines.
I’ve been tagged in yet another writer’s meme* making its way about Facebook. This one is all about opening lines for chapters, which seems especially timely as I forge my way through the first draft of the Next Novel.
Here are the rules for the First Lines meme: Post the first sentence of the first three chapters in your WIP to your wall. Tag others to participate.
Here’s mine from the very rough first draft of the Next Novel, which takes place in 1851 London amid poets and photographers:
1. The young woman laid as if asleep, her hands cupped against her breast like she was cradling a dove.
2. It is not an average day when a gentleman is called to photograph his dying father.
3. “I must warn,” Bertram Fitzgordon began, his breath shallow and fetid, “that you may find this story disturbing considering your unfortunate circumstances.”
Related note: this meme reminded me of a post I wrote nearly four years ago about first lines when I was drafting THE LILY MAID. (Yikes, that’s a long time!) Back then, my first sentence for THE LILY MAID was:
“I was surprised when the invitation arrived that June morning from St. John Dulac.”
At that time, I predicted the sentence would probably change. And I was right. My first sentence of the novel is now:
“A painting undermined my father.”
Whether this first line will change again, only time will tell.
* Thanks to the lovely Teralyn Pilgrim for tagging me. Teralyn’s recently expanded and updated her long established blog to include more than only writing-related posts. Check it out here.
I’m thrilled to announce that my author friend Susan Spann has a new novel out, BLADE OF THE SAMURAI. Here’s the juicy description:
June, 1565: When a killer murders the shogun’s cousin, master ninja Hiro Hattori and Portuguese Jesuit Father Mateo are summoned to the shogun’s palace and ordered to find the killer. The evidence implicates Hiro’s friend and fellow shinobi, Kazu, who was working undercover at the shogunate; however, the victim’s wife, a suspicious maid, and even the shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want the victim dead. The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the shogun and depose the ruling Ashikaga clan. With enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time . . . or die in his place.
To help Susan celebrate, I’m reposting the wonderful interview we did last year for her critically acclaimed first novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT. In it, we discuss creative process, East versus West, the history behind her story, and her amazing Twitter feed, which is a font of generous publishing advice. Enjoy!
Kris Waldherr: What was your initial inspiration for CLAWS OF THE CAT? Can you describe the moment that made you say, “I must write this”?
Susan Span: It happened in spring of 2011. I was standing in front of the bathroom mirror, getting ready for work, when a voice in my head said, “Most ninjas commit murders, but Hiro Hattori solves them.” I’d never written a mystery before, but I knew immediately I would have to write this one.
The plot and the setup took several months longer, but from the moment Hiro popped into my head I had no choice but to write about him.
KW: When I first met you at the Historical Novel Society conference in 2011, you had written a more traditional “marquee” historical about Joan of Arc. CLAWS OF THE CAT is quite a departure—a mystery set in sixteenth century Japan. How did you jump from one to the other, in terms of research and writing? Was a radical mind shift necessary?
SS: Until that morning in front of the mirror, I’d always considered myself a historical novelist. I love history—Asian history in particular—and also the challenge of weaving historical fact into fast-paced, compelling fiction.
I’m a lifelong fan of mysteries and thrillers, but always thought the challenge of writing one beyond me. Imagine my surprise when I tried it and discovered that my talents actually work better for writing mysteries than traditional historical story arcs. Mystery allows me to set the multi-faceted gems of history within a more puzzling and less straightforward framework, and I love the challenge that presents.
It also lets me kill my imaginary friends. What’s better than that?
KW: Your dual protagonists of CLAWS OF THE CAT are Father Mateo, a Portuguese Jesuit, and Hiro, a master ninja with a shady past. I can tell that you had a lot of fun writing about their interdependent relationship! Did you base them on anyone from history or literature?
SS: Yes, but not intentionally!
Hiro is a fictitious cousin of famous historical ninja Hattori Hanzo (aka “Devil Hanzo”) who ruled the Iga Ryu during the time in which I set the Shinobi series. Hattori Hanzo was such a famous shinobi, and so important to ninja history, that I wanted to include him in the books. It didn’t work historically to make him the sleuth, however, so I invented a fictitious (and somewhat rebellious) cousin: Hattori Hiro.
I had a similar issue with Hiro’s sidekick, the Portuguese Jesuit, Father Mateo. The Jesuits documented their missionary efforts in detail, and I wanted to respect the history in my Shinobi novels. As a result, I felt it best to create a fictitious priest who could act in accordance with history without being bound by calendar details.
Then, while doing some secondary detail research for the later drafts of CLAWS OF THE CAT, I discovered a Jesuit record that mentioned an unnamed priest who arrived in Kyoto in autumn of 1563 – precisely the time my fictitious Father Mateo arrived in Japan. That Jesuit apparently reported to Father Gaspar Vilela, then the senior Jesuit in Kyoto, and then “disappeared” to conduct missionary activities in Japan.
My Jesuit, Father Mateo, lives and works separately from the other Jesuits (for reasons I explain in detail in the book), and if he had been real, the historical record about him would have read in precisely this way.
I set out to create an entirely fictitious priest, but it seems there’s an analog in the history after all. I found that pretty cool.
And no, I haven’t researched the phantom Father any farther—in the end, I like keeping Father Mateo fictitious, despite his hint of verisimilitude.
KW: In my book DOOMED QUEENS, I enumerated the various ways nobility can be ritually dispatched from life: guillotine, poison, burning, and beyond. In CLAWS OF THE CAT, you mention seppuku, or ritual suicide by disembowelment. As fascinated as I am with the macabre, seppuku is something that, for me as a Westerner, it’s very difficult to contemplate—the suicide is performed in a very ceremonial, artistic way. To my mind, it epitomizes how very foreign the Japanese culture can appear to outsiders, and reiterates the “East versus West” theme you have running through your novel. Can you offer other examples from your novel, good or bad, of cultural phenomenon we would never, ever find in American society? Are there any you wish we’d adopt as a culture?
SS: Great question!
I, too, find the seppuku ritual strangely fascinating. An early word for the process translates as “self-determination” – the idea that sometimes a person may find more honor in ending his life than continuing it.
Another strange dichotomy I explore in this novel (and will return to in others) is that involving the “proper” roles of women in medieval Japan. On the one hand, a wife was expected to serve her husband and care for his household, but women in the “floating world” [KW note: also known as ukiyo] of the entertainment district were permitted near-complete independence. Some women of the samurai class even shed their wifely roles and trained as warriors—such women were more rare than female artisans, but did exist, and I feature one in the book.
A positive aspect of Japanese culture involves the warrior’s attitude toward honor and family. To samurai, honor and family transcend all other values; they are the cornerstones upon which a samurai—male or female—builds a life. In modern times, we often bypass character in favor of wealth or “success.” I’m drawn to the samurai dedication to living an honorable life, though I’m not as keen on the samurai penalties for failure.
KW: Besides being a novelist, you’re also an attorney specializing in intellectual property and publishing law—your Twitter feed is a marvel of generous and helpful legal advice. How does your professional background as a lawyer feed into your creative work as a writer? Is it helpful to writing mysteries?
SS: First, thank you! I love authors and writing, and I love being able to use Twitter, and the #PubLaw hashtag, to help spread information that hopefully helps authors protect themselves and their work.
Some would probably tell you lawyers know all about lies from personal experience. That’s not entirely wrong. Unless, of course, I’m lying … because I’m a lawyer!
More seriously, I think the complexities of document drafting probably help me juggle the mystery plots and subplots better. The biggest benefit, though, is probably all of the time spent typing. I type over 100 words per minute, which really helps with hitting the daily goal in a shorter time!
KW: Can you tell us a little about your creative process for your writing? Are you a “pantser” or a “plotter”? Do you have any special tools, writing programs, or rituals?
SS: I’m a plantser! I write two outlines for every book, one of which details the “onstage” action and the other tracks where my characters actually were when they weren’t onstage. Characters in a mystery novel rarely tell the truth when a lie will do, so I need to track their movements to be sure I really know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Once I start writing, however, the outline becomes a guideline and the characters do more or less whatever they please.
As far as the writing itself, I always write first drafts on an Alphasmart Neo, a fabulous little device with a four-line display and no Internet connection. It keeps me moving forward until “The End” – at which point I transfer the file to my laptop and start editing!
KW: Now that you’re officially published, what advice would you give to writers starting on the path? What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?
SS: The best advice I can give is “whatever you do, keep writing.” It took me nine years and 5 complete (and polished) manuscripts—500,000 words—to find an agent and get a publishing deal.
I’d like to say I wish I’d known sooner that I was writing in the wrong genre—historical fiction vs. historical mystery—but the reality is that I needed to write those unpublished novels. I couldn’t have done the mysteries justice until I had put in the hours and honed my skills.
Thank you, Susan, for a wonderful interview! To learn more about Susan Spann’s writing, publishing law, and BLADE OF THE SAMURAI, visit her website here.