Updated studio chalkboard wall. The acronyms stand for books underway. (Mysterious me!)
First day of school. First official day back in the studio after a very full summer.
Time for everything to begin anew.
Bad Princess will be published in time for the 2017 holiday season. Interweaving royal biography, history, and pop culture with insight, Bad Princess is a witty and fascinating examination of all things pink and royal. It offers a thinking girl’s look at what it means to be a princess, enabling her to reclaim this most feminine of role models—whether or not it involves glass slippers and a gown.
So hooray! More news coming soon—and back to work I go.
Photographed at Greenwood Cemetery using a tintype app. It seemed appropriately Victorian for this post.
I totally forgot that yesterday was the first Sunday of March—which meant I should have posted my Snippet Sunday excerpt. (What’s Snippet Sunday? new visitors to this site might be wondering. It’s a monthly meme in which authors post six sentence snippets from their novels. Read my previous snippets here.)
Anyway, this month’s Snippet Sunday is going out on Monday instead. March’s snippet is from the Next Novel, which I also featured last month. The Next Novel is set in 1852 England and 1837 France; this post offers more details about it.
She wrung her hands, occasionally parting them to pull at her fingers. Even in the low light, the tendons and veins of her hands looked especially prominent. Musician’s hands. If Robert was to leave Weald House at that moment, he’d have no knowledge of Isabelle’s appearance beyond those twisting, bony hands.
“I understand this is a shock. I hope it will be some consolation that your uncle cared to make you his heir,” he said gently.
Snippet Sunday is a monthly meme organized by Stephanie Dray in which 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 just finished revising after hearing back from beta readers. (More on that here.) The Next Novel is set in 1852 England and 1837 France; this post offers more details about it.
This except features my protagonist Robert’s response to insomnia: books!
Finally, he lit a candle and reached for the stack of books left on the nightstand. He ignored the King James on top, and opened the thickest volume. It bore Hugh’s name on the spine. Despite himself, Robert felt that thrill of anticipation that occurs when encountering a new book. Books were easy, unlike people. Writing them, however, was another matter.
Every new year brings new intentions and new goals. Mine for 2016 involves piano lessons. Though I’ve taken plenty of music lessons in the past—thus far I’ve learned to play the flute, guitar, saxophone, and the cello—my reasons for finally turning to the piano aren’t my usual “I love music” or “I want to play the Bach cello suites by the time I’m thirty.” Instead, my reasons are book-related: a character in my Next Novel is a pianist. Research, you know.
Right now, there’s a bright and shiny keyboard in my parlor. (My family has been yearning for a piano for some time.) Our music stand features a variety of beginning instruction books. I’ve even found a conveniently located teacher who offers lessons on Saturdays. I’m excited to begin! Yet this has got me wondering about the skills writers learn for their work. I mean, we all know writers can’t thrive in a vacuum. To hone their craft, they take courses, participate in workshops, and join critique groups. But what about the stuff that’s not quite so … literary?
So I asked. And I found. What follows are four fascinating accounts of The Things Authors Do For Fiction.
From Kirsty Stonell Walker, author of We Are Villains All:
“About half an hour after deciding to make a character in We Are Villains All a Victorian photographer I realised I didn’t have the first clue about the process. After watching a video or two on YouTube I could see how it was done, but it was unsatisfying. How did the glass feel as you tilted it, how did it feel to be in the dark creating these pictures, how did it smell? I needed to know in order to understand Brough Fawley, my fictional photographer of the 1860s. Taking a course at the home of Julia Margaret Cameron meant so much because I was learning the craft in the home of my heroine, literally walking in her footsteps as I hurried back and forth with the plates, focusing the lens, urging my subjects not to move. That sort of photography takes skill, nerve and confidence bordering on arrogance, all of which fed into Brough, making him the talented rogue he is in the book.”
(KW: I must confess to perusing many of those same Victorian photography videos for the Next Novel, which features a Victorian dagueorrotypist. The ones produced by the George Eastman House are especially wonderful. That said, there’s no substitute for personal experience. Brava, Kirsty!)
From Erika Robuck, author of the national bestseller Hemingway’s Girl:
“Ernest Hemingway valued writing from true experience for the purest, most authentic stories. I apply this practice to my work as much as possible, and it has led me to places and activities I never would have dreamt. Inhabiting the lives of my subjects—real or imagined—is a bit like method acting, and the results on the page are more realized characters and richer settings. From a private tour of a hospital morgue to a poet’s haunted estate, from lessons shooting a shotgun to deep water fishing, I have learned over and over again that taking on these experiences allows me to become not only a better writer, but a more empathetic and well-rounded person. I can’t wait to see where my next project will lead.”
From Donna Russo Morin, author of the The King’s Agent, which received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly:
“I confess, the research process of developing a historical novel is often times my favorite part. I love to immerse myself in the culture, the people, and the times I endeavor to recapture. I lose myself for hours, jumping feet first into old diaries, memoirs, biographies, and books older than the country I live in. But I always felt that to truly capture the experience of my characters, I must, in some way, experience what they did. With this notion in mind, I have found myself engaging in what some might say are irregular forms of research.
“For my first book, The Courtier’s Secret, I learned to fence in order to experience the muscular exertions of a woman doing so. I learned the art of glass blowing for my second book, The Secret of the Glass; when I described what it felt like to stand just a few feet away from a furnace giving off heat at approximately 2000 degrees, it was the beads of my own sweat I described. My hands on research for my third book, To Serve a King, about a female assassin in the court of Francois I, brought into my hands a bow and an arrow. This particular research so enchanted me, that I now own my own bow and arrow and shoot targets regularly. (Of course, putting a picture of my horrific ex on the target may have something to do with my precision with this weapon). For The King’s Agent, a story based on the true life of a 16th century Indiana Jones, I learned to dagger fight. My research for my Da Vinci’s Disciples series (book one, Portrait of a Conspiracy, releasing May 10, 2016) found not a weapon, but a brush in my hands. In order to understand the joy of creating and working with paint, I took painting lessons. Unfortunately, I’m far more adept with my bow and arrow, than I am with my brush.
“I adore the research portion of being an historical novelist, and one might say that it has made me not only greater informed and educated, but a little bit dangerous.”
(A little bit dangerous? I love that! But for sheer mouth-watering delectability, I’ll let Kate Quinn have the last word.)
From Kate Quinn, author of the national bestseller The Serpent and the Pearl:
“For my Borgia duology The Serpent and the Pearl and The Lion and the Rose, I ended up learning a LOT about Renaissance cuisine. My heroine was a cook, not just a maker of stews for her family but a dyed-in-the-wool professional who fed the vast palazzo where Pope Alexander VI regularly took dinner with his mistress and children. I not only perused Renaissance cookbooks – why did the chefs back then put cinnamon into everything? – but I cooked dishes out of them, like the walnut and pecorino cheese tourte (above photo) that turns up in Chapter 17 of The Lion and the Rose. Supposedly the recipe dates from the days of Pope Pius II, and it yielded a gorgeous mild cheesecake of the type that could grace any holiday buffet – the perfect dessert for that pesky relative who doesn’t have a sweet tooth.
“Some lessons learned from my sojourn into Renaissance cooking:
“1. You don’t really need a timer. If you need to boil an egg, you boil it for the length of time it takes to say the Credo, and voila. Although spouses look at you a little strangely when they walk into the kitchen and find you mumbling “Credo in unum deum” over a pot of boiling water.
“2. Electric mixers are a wonderful thing. When the recipe begins with “Beat twelve egg whites into stiff peaks,” your only hope if you live in the Renaissance was having a kitchen full of young apprentices to pass the bowl to. And if they were beating egg whites into stiff peaks all day, they must have had arms like gods.
“3. Why DID the Renaissance cooks put cinnamon in everything?”
(Why did they indeed? I wonder if cinnamon was the Renaissance equivalent of our twenty-first century fixation with pumpkin-spice-everything. Hmmm….)
So there you have it: four novelists and their adventures in authorly veracity. I must admit that their ambitious pursuits make my piano lessons seem rather tame by comparison. However, their accounts reveal something I truly believe: writing a book transforms an author in unexpected ways. Sometimes it enables us to boil eggs perfectly without a timer. Other times, it helps us hunt an ex like a veritable sixteenth-century Katniss Everdeen.
Above photo: Renaissance-style tourte courtesy of Kate Quinn. Note the surplus of cinnamon.