Wordless Wednesday: Green-wood Obelisks

Posted on Feb 4, 2015 in news & muse, the world around me, Wordless Wednesday


Photographed late last year at Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn using the Hipstamatic tintype app.

Snippet Sunday: loaves and homilies

Posted on Feb 1, 2015 in news & muse, Snippet Sunday, the Next Novel

trees at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens

Snippet Sunday is a monthly meme organized by Stephanie Dray in which historical authors post six sentence snippets of their novels (and sometimes a little more). For the sake of organization, I’ve decided to post mine on the first Sunday of the month. You can read my previous snippets here.

February’s snippet is from the Next Novel, which I’ve been hard at work on these past weeks at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, where I was a writer in residence. The Next Novel is set in 1851 England; this post offers more details. This particular excerpt occurs toward the beginning of my novel.

One cottage, set deep from the road, especially drew Robert’s attention. It looked the same as it had three years earlier: the plaster and timber construction from the sixteenth century, the tangle of blood-red roses blooming even now in late winter. The small vegetable plot and fruit trees marking the front of the house looked abandoned from more than the season; Robert recalled the fig and apple trees, the rows of beans and melons twined over willow stakes, the mill spilling with water diverted their way to mill wheat into flour. This had been his wife Sida’s family home. She’d grown up there, the daughter of a tenant farmer. She’d been someone he was not to speak to. Someone to ignore save on Sunday afternoons when he and his mother would tour the cottages after service bearing loaves of bread and homilies of compassion.

Above: trees at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens via the Hipstamatic tintype app, which makes everything look oh-so-Victorian.

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?


Above photograph: Craft project by Thea for her clubhouse. 

Wordless Wednesday: Prim was here

Posted on Jan 28, 2015 in news & muse, stuff I like, the world around me, Wordless Wednesday


Photographed at Coffee Mob cafe in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. Message on a steamy window from Hunger Games-obsessed Thea.

Publishing Monday: Rewarding the Process

Posted on Jan 26, 2015 in news & muse, publishing, the Next Novel

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!

I recently took a half-day novel writing workshop with Donald Maass at the Backspace Writers Conference. The workshop was based on his new book on 21st century fiction writing techniques; it definitely left me excited to continue working on the Next Novel. However, the morning session was a three hour talk by bestselling science fiction/thriller author Jonathan Maberry on various aspects of writing novels—everything from researching fight scenes to making a living as an author.

Maberry’s advice had something for everyone. How do you write about the first time a character is involved in a fist fight? Maberry’s insight: first fights are lost because of psychological shock. Want to know how to cross genres as an author? Try writing a young adult (or YA) novel instead of an adult novel. You’ll have the advantage of being more easily discovered: YA novels are usually shelved together in a bookstore, instead of by genre. I especially appreciated Maberry’s acknowledgement of the financial implications of pursuing a career as a novelist. Unlike nonfiction authors, who usually receive a book advance based on sample chapters and a proposal, novelists are paid after the book is completed and sold—a process that can take years, if at all. This can make writing fiction seem an especially precarious venture.

To circumvent discouragement, Maberry offered one suggestion I particularly liked: to encourage yourself to work on your novel every day, set a low minimum word count goal you can’t possibly not make unless you actively try to. Say, 250 words or 500 words. (250 words is approximately the word count of one double-spaced typed page.) When you make your daily minimum word count, you put a dollar, or whatever financial value you want to set, into a jar.

Once you finish your first draft or another goal (I like the goal of completing a month of writing, so it’s more accessible), the accumulated money in the jar must be spent on something pleasurable to you—no  responsibilities. A new book, a meal out, a facial. Whatever floats your boat. However, if you miss a day’s writing, you have to withdraw a week’s “wages” from the jar, which must be used to pay bills or similar.

The concept is to train your subconscious to associate receiving money for your writing, since it can take so long to write a novel and sell it. To reward the process rather than the result.

Easy, right? But clever.