Monday, March 30, 2020

Writing - What's Next?

I'm trying to work on something besides the next Tudor novel (which I will talk about soon, I promise - I have a post mostly written, but I want to keep up on current events too). My publishing contract only covers historical fiction, so if I write something other than a historical novel, I can self-publish. My publisher only has so many spots and as it is, it doesn't look like they'll be able to release my next book until late 2021 (and that's not including any potential virus-related delays).

I'd like to publish something before then. Many writers these days do rapid-release, putting a book out into the world every few months. I can't do that. I don't want to do that. I don't write that quickly, and when I do, it needs more editing, which slows the whole process down again. But I also don't want to wait 2 years between books, so I'm considering what to do next, to keep me occupied, published, and - hopefully - bringing in a tiny bit of income.

Here's the thing. I've been working mostly from home for the last year or so. I do the occasional temp job (but not now). I do craft shows in spring and fall, and the holiday season (spring/summer at least has been canceled). I have both a handmade and vintage shop on Etsy, which are so quiet you can hear the tumbleweeds blowing. And I do online transcription with Rev. Also completely quiet.

This is totally understandable. The offices who would normally hire me are doing work-from-home with their existing employees. Most people, if they're shopping, are looking for essentials for hunkering down at home. And again, with the transcription, most meetings and events that would need transcribing...aren't happening.

So if I self-publish on Amazon, I'd get 70% of the royalties, instead of what I get through my publisher. This is not a dig at them; they have a business to run, and since I work directly with them, instead of through an agent, my royalties are considerably higher than they would be. But.

My current idea is a book of fairy tales. My dad used to tell me stories all the time when I was a kid, and I assumed he was reading them to me. He wasn't. He wasn't a comfortable reader, so he'd open the book on his lap and just wing it, mixing Sleeping Beauty with Snow White. Dwarves showed up in the oddest places. I wish I remembered them more clearly, but I remember bits and pieces, and I'm trying to get them into some kind of coherent form.

I'd like to see what I'm capable of doing on my own, and right now, on my own is pretty much where it's at. Thankfully I do have tech support upstairs, hiding out at his computer, but I'm curious to see what I can do.


Sunday, March 22, 2020

Stay Home

The peach tree I planted
last summer is blooming!
So I'm doing my best to keep distancing and distracting myself. There's a fine line between being well-informed and driving yourself around the bend. I thought I knew that already, but it's even more important now.

So while I'm on the computer, I'm letting Mario have most of the bandwidth for his obsessive Googling and news-gathering, and I'm trying to write. It's going. I'm not sure how well it's going, but it's going.


Mainly I need to keep from climbing the walls, and that seems like a good way to direct my energies, since it isn't garden season yet.

I did get out there the other day - it was nearly 80 degrees and the dirt was calling to me - and I felt "normal" for the rest of the day, and the next morning, until I caught up on the news.

Moral of that story: dig in the dirt, stay away from the news, and STAY HOME.

That's all I've got for now.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Our New Normal

Looking forward to getting back into the garden
How many people feel like they're living in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic novel right now? It's never been my favorite genre, but the kind I do like are the ones where the remaining people pull together, pool resources, re-learn old skills, and get back to the business of living. James Howard Kunstler's World Made by Hand is a great example.

Of course, right now, we can't pull together, except by pulling separately. The best way to show that we care is to keep our distance and act as if we're already infected, so that - even if we're not - we don't carry germs to someone in a higher-risk group.

One of the worst parts for us is just that, distancing ourselves from the high-risk, which would be Mario's mom. She's recently gone into a nursing home in NJ and they're currently on total lockdown, so we can't see her at all. We're calling, but it's not the same to someone who's a little confused about the world.

The way things are going, it looks like we're going to be seeing a lot of our in-house
nearest and dearest for quite some time. For some, this is spouse, kids, pets. For some, it's any one of those. For others, they're stuck at home alone.

None of these are good, in the short term, but for there to be a long run, it's what has to be done.

I feel fortunate, after hearing about all those empty supermarket shelves that I'm the kind of person who always has a month's worth of food on hand. I don't know if it was growing up listening to my aunts' tales of the Depression, hitting the frugal living/FIRE movement at the right time, or  just my natural tendencies, but when I've seen non-perishables that I like on sale, I've always stocked up. We have a chest freezer in the basement (which was just getting restocked pre-pandemic after an unfortunate accidental plug removal and mass meltdown). I have tomato sauce and veggies from our garden that I both froze and canned last year. And I can make soup from anything.

Which is not to say that this is going to be easy. Mario's lucky that he can work from home. I know a lot of people aren't that fortunate. And while I do work from home, a lot of the work that I do is suddenly not around. Spring craft shows have been canceled across the board, so while I want to sew to manage my anxiety, it's not like I really need to build up more stock. Another thing I do is online transcription, but with offices closing, not a lot of work is being submitted.

And I don't even want to talk about Etsy. People haven't hit stress/therapy shopping yet, other than for necessary supplies and perhaps some reading material.

So what am I doing to keep myself from climbing the walls? Prepping the garden for spring, working on my next book (which thankfully has little mention of infectious disease), cleaning corners of the house which I haven't looked into since we moved in, and yes, still sewing. Because if I don't make things, my brain will leak out my ears, and then where will I be?

It's too early to tell, but I feel like this is going to cause some massive reset in our society. How that will work out, I can't even imagine. I hope it's not as bad as I fear it will be. I hope everybody keeps to themselves as much as possible, but also that they get outdoors when they can. Just sitting in the sun for a few minutes makes me feel better.

What about you? How are you handling your quarantine/shelter-in-place/work-from-home/social distancing?

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Giveaway

Many of us are stuck at home right now. It's the right place to be - the right thing to do - but that doesn't meant we're not already climbing the walls just. a. little. bit.

Which means we need something to occupy our time. Once the closets are cleaned and the gardens put in order, and you've exhausted everything that Amazon and Netflix have to offer, there's always ... books.

I have a signed paperback copy of Songbird available for giveaway right now.

The rules, such as they are: please go to my writer Facebook page and like and share the pinned giveaway post. I'm trying to get a few more followers there, because followers mean sales, and sales mean I don't have to go back to cubicle-land anytime soon. (Actually, I just turned down a 4 week temp assignment in cubicle-land because Mario's working from home for at least the next 2 weeks and it seemed ridiculous - and risky - to take that much public transportation, and spend that much time with people, when my husband, who works in a much larger space, is at home because his employer has decided it's too risky). So no temping for me. Yay?

If you're not on Facebook, I understand. Like Twitter, it can be a trash fire sometimes, but if you curate what you follow, you can escape the worst of it. That being said, if you're not on FB and you want to be considered for the giveaway, leave a comment telling me that you're entering the giveaway through the blog.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

Book Review: The War in Our Hearts

Time for another random book review, this one from Eva Seyler, my publisher's other historical fiction author.

I read The War in Our Hearts, which came out around this time last year, before I became friends with Eva on Twitter. I was interested first because we shared a publisher, but also because I've always had a soft spot for WWI stories.

The description from Amazon: France, 1916: Estelle Graham faces a nightmare. Expecting to meet her beloved husband and bring their newly adopted daughter home to Scotland, she instead finds him gravely injured and unconscious in a casualty station. As she fights for his care, she takes solace in his journals and letters.

In a farmhouse in Somme, Captain Jamie Graham is forever changed when he meets young Aveline Perrault. Both of them broken and walled off from the cruel and cold world around them--made even crueler and colder by the Great War--the pair form an unlikely bond. She finds in him the father she never had, and with her love, he faces the pain from his own childhood.

Discover the depth of love and faith in the face of brutality and neglect as they learn to live while surviving World War I.

This is not your standard WWI story. While it certainly covers the horrors of war, much more of it is made up of the actions that brought the protagonist, Jamie Graham, to this point - his awful childhood, his years at school, finding his love of music. His meeting and courtship of Estelle. And, finally, his fellow soldiers - and Aveline - who he encounters in France prior to his injury.

Unusually told in flashbacks, diary entries, letters and memories, this is a mosaic of a tale that will stay with you long after you've finished.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Weekend Roundup

An letter from Anne Boleyn to her king.
16th century handwriting transcribed
by the folks at Hever Castle.
I post a lot of interesting historical goodies over on my writer Facebook page, but for those of you not on the festering dumpster-fire that can be Facebook, I thought I would share the more interesting links over here, on a semi-regular basis (as in whenever there are enough of them to make it worth our mutual while).

To the left, a transcription of a letter from Anne Boleyn to Henry VIII. It wouldn't pass as a love letter these days - then again, neither would a letter - but that was apparently enough to keep the king hot and bothered.

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by metal detectors. This treasure hunter found a ring which may well have belonged to one (or two) of Henry's queens.

And for readers of Songbird, you'll have noted that the sweating sickness was mentioned several times. It was a strange and often deadly disease in Tudor times. There were only five documented outbreaks, but they were memorable. History.com has a good article about it here.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Never mind. Just one more section.

The strangest thing happened the other morning. It was good strange, but I will probably never experience its like again.

I've mentioned before how much I like Twitter, and how many like-minded writer folk I've found there. Well, there's one who I've gotten friendly with - we discuss our reading and plot ideas both on Twitter and by DM - and she started reading Songbird a few weeks back.

Life got in the way and she hadn't been able to progress very far, though she assured me she was enjoying it.

And then I woke up yesterday to a tag which said she'd been up until 3 a.m. (west coast) reading. There's no better feeling than keeping someone up all night. Then I checked my messages, and she LIVE MESSAGED HER REACTIONS AS SHE READ THE BOOK. It was a long, long string, because she read for over 3 hours, but it made my day.

I told her during the day how much it meant, seeing her reaction in real time to what I put my poor characters through, and I got to experience it in even more real time as she finished the book last night - thankfully before my bedtime.

As I sat on the couch alternately watching TV and reading Twitter messages on my phone, Mario asked, "Which one of you is supposed to be entertaining the other here?"

I think it was mutual. I know that I value these messages even more than her Amazon and Goodreads reviews, because I got to actually watch my work hit home and hear her reactions to my story. That's not something every writer gets to experience. Honestly, some probably wouldn't like it, but I did.

I really did.


Monday, February 17, 2020

Fait Accompli - for now


I should have posted this sooner, but I've been taking a little down time and recovering. I finished the first draft of my second Tudor novel on January 31. That was my goal, and I did it.

 A first draft is a rough creature. In the sewing realm, where I still meet a lot of my readers, it would be a jacket with three sleeves or a skirt with a zipper at the top and the bottom. It might be the wrong
fabric for the intended purpose. Or the right fabric, but the wrong garment.

As with all completed projects, written or sewn, it's going into the magic closet for a month to rest. I'll be able to see it a lot more clearly after that. At this point, I'm not even dipping back into the document to look for the highlighted portions, which are things that need to be researched for the second draft. I'll get there. But this was a longer book than I thought it was going to be, not so much in words but in span of time, and there are still incidents during the period that need to be researched so I don't don't sound like I'm talking out of my butt.

That's both the joy and sorrow of historical fiction. You have to be accurate, and when you can't be accurate, you have to at least be plausible. You can't come up with something that will jar readers out of the story, make them cock their heads and go, "Huh?" At the moment, I fear that would be the reaction in at least several crucial places. So Robin Lewis, and the dissolution of the monasteries, and Thomas Cromwell and all sorts of other fun, are sleeping it off in the magic closet.

I'll let you know when they emerge. In the meantime, I'm thinking of new projects...

Friday, February 14, 2020

Happy Valentine's Day

So you thought because the book was published that the snippets would stop?

Alas, no.

This is from a moment partway through the book where Bess, the protagonist, is being particularly obtuse with Tom, her oldest and dearest friend, who feels a lot more than friendship toward her.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Quick, get my smelling salts!


Well, this was a lovely treat to wake up to this morning. Mary Anne Yarde, a historical fiction author and book blogger, reviewed Songbird on her blog this morning, and I haven't completely come down to earth yet.

My favorite bit:

"There are many great Historical Fiction books based on the Tudor era, but Songbird by Karen Heenan is something not only extraordinary but also unique. It is witty and inspired and so incredibly vivid. I loved every word, every sentence. It is a book that deserves to be read over and over again. Songbird is a vastly entertaining read and absolutely impossible to put down. It is tense, and it is powerful — a real treat."

I'm going to go and lie down until the swelling in my head subsides. If you want to read the entire review, it's here.


Friday, January 31, 2020

Happy birthday to me

Today is my 56th birthday. I find it increasingly hard to believe I'm as old as I am, but I also realize that 56 is not what it was when I was a kid. I don't just mean in the childlike sense of anyone over 50 seemed ancient, but even looking at photographs of my mom and my aunts, in their 50s, they were much older than I look or feel today.

I've wanted my entire life to be a writer. I've written for my entire life. It took me until I was 54 to start seriously seeking publication. At 55, I signed a publishing contract and published my first book. Now my birthday gift to you all is to say if there is something you want to do with your life, get off your butt and do it. You're not getting any younger. If you wait 5 years to start all you will be is 5 years older.

I may regret the time I spent not attempting to publish, but I still wrote. Many of those stories are on my computer now, in one form or another. Many more are in my head, asking to come out. I am bulging with stories. And now that I've started, I will not allow anyting - including me - to derail the path that I should have taken long ago.

I've said it once, and I will say it as many times as I need to. Get out of your own way.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Book Review: Empire's Legacy

A while back, I asked if you'd all be interested in the occasional book review on the site, and happily, some of you said yes.

My first review is actually for a trilogy, though I read Empire's Legacy as individual books before the author put them out in a single volume. I also swallowed them in a three-day weekend, so that tells you something about them before I even get into the story.

The books are a re-imagining of early European history - the author calls them historical fantasy. I prefer alternate history, because "fantasy" to me means that there might be elements of magic in the store. The only element of magic here is just how good a storyteller Marian Thorpe is.

The first volume is Empire's Daughter. Here's the blurb:
For twenty generations, the men and women of The Empire have lived separately, the women farming and fishing, the men fighting wars. But in the spring of Lena’s seventeenth year, an officer rides into her village with an unprecedented request. The Empire is threatened by invasion, and to defend it successfully, women will need to fight. When the village votes in favor, Lena and her partner Maya are torn apart. Maya chooses exile rather than battle, Lena chooses to fight. As Lena learns the skills of warfare and leadership, she discovers that choices have consequences that cannot be foreseen, and that her role in her country’s future is greater than she could have dreamed.

This gives you the bare bones of the story, but Lena's journey is totally engrossing, from her start as a village fisherwoman to her role as a trained soldier of the Empire. I enjoyed the well-developed, credible division of worlds - boys are taken away for military training at the age of seven, while women stay in their villages and do everything else. Men visit twice a year for arranged festivals, sometimes to rekindle established relationships, and sometimes to just keep the population going. It's a system that works for everyone, until the Empire comes under a threat too large to be handled by the men alone.

Book two, Empire's HostageThe Empire and the northern people have been at war for over a year, but a truce is finally at hand. As part of this treaty, Lena, now a Guardswoman on the Wall, is asked to stand as hostage, to go north to live and learn among the people of Linrathe. But not everyone there will welcome her.

One thing I particularly like about this author is how deftly she handles military and political intrigue. In some books it can get heavy, but here, the plot moves as quickly as an action film, even while you're delving into the necessary histories of the different nations involved in the war and the treaty. Lena continues to be a fascinating protagonist, with identifiable emotions and thoughts not ancient or modern, but wholly appropriate to her created world.

Finally, book three, Empire's ExileExiled from the Empire as a traitor, Lena travels into long-unknown lands, determined to find Casil, the legendary city of beauty and learning in the East. Her experiences in the first winter leave her scarred and afraid, but, resolving to heal, and supported by an unexpected love, she continues her search. A chance meeting with envoys from the Empire and Linrathe, desperately seeking help from Casil, forces her to a difficult decision. Struggling to keep faith with her choices, facing the almost-certain destruction of her land and her people, Lena’s journey takes her to a deeper understanding of loyalty, sacrifice, and the dimensions of love.

Best book book of the series - until the next one comes along. Lena's relationship (not going to spoiler, but it's GOOD!) and her interaction with the other characters gives you a broad picture of the world the author has developed over three books, the cost of war, the choices people make when given no choice, and the resilience of the human heart. Bonus points for making me cry.

All three books (or the trilogy) are available on Kindle Unlimited. You can find out more about the author on her website.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Exposing Myself

Yikes!
I had to take a few days to recover and regroup, but I wanted to tell you all about my first-ever reading-and-discussion on Monday evening.

First of all, the photo here was on the door of the bookstore (Shakespeare & Co.) when I arrived with a few friends. My name. On a bookstore.

Eep.

We were early, so I went upstairs to the mezzanine to look around. They had moved most of the tables, setting up 20 chairs and one table and chair at the railing for me. 20 chairs looked like a lot of chairs.

They had listed it as "Karen Heenan discusses and signs her book," and I wasn't sure at first what to discuss. I've never liked public speaking - in grade school and junior high I disliked it to the point where I had to hide in the bathroom so I wouldn't lose lunch in front of an audience - but a lot of that has, thankfully, faded.

It's good when you realize that you are no longer a terrified adolescent. Especially when you're 55.

One thing I've learned is that I also do better without a lot of prep. I made a few notes of things I wanted to cover, loaded the first chapter of Songbird onto my tablet in a font size that I could read without squinting, and just winged it.

The turnout ended up being 23 people - Mario and two late arrivals stood in the back - and I got through it without losing my voice, losing the thread, or losing my mind. Yay me! 

He's so cute. Also - I made his shirt and my
jacket, so Sewing Karen still exists!
I started by talking about my lifelong interest in the Tudor era, and a bit about the inspiration for the book. Then I read the first half of the first chapter - up to a good stopping point - and then took questions from the audience. Two friends had been primed to ask questions if there was silence, but there wasn't, and they didn't get to ask their questions until the end.

Someone brought a bottle of champagne, but she almost dropped it coming upstairs, so it went home with us to rest before opening. We drank it last night, which was our ninth anniversary, something else to celebrate.

I have another event scheduled at the end of the month - a reading and music combination at a friend's house - but my next bookstore event isn't until May. Hoping to schedule a couple of others before and after that, which means I need to stop typing and start emailing and calling around to see what can be set up.

Also, moving along quite well with the not-sequel to Songbird. Hoping to be able to talk more about that soon, but I don't want to jinx it until the first draft is done and it feels like a book.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Scraps

It's January, do I'm on clean-up mode. Around the house, on my desk, and especially in my workroom. As I reach the bottom of the slippery slope to Christmas, tidying goes by the wayside, and eventually the floor is covered in an ankle-deep layer of scrap fabric.

The bigger pieces are out aside for folks, but the smaller bits always end up as pot holders. They're not much of a moneymaker at shows - $6 each or 3/$15 - but they alleviate the guilt I would feel at throwing all that viable fabric away.

Plus, I was given a dozen pair of mens jeans to cut up, and I always use denim for the backs.

What about you? What's happening in your creative spaces in the new year?

Monday, January 6, 2020

The One That Got Away

On this day, January 6, 1540, Henry VIII married his fourth sife, Anne of Cleves. Despite the beauty of Holbein's portrait, Henry (a real picture himself) did not like his new wife.

Anne agreed to an annullment and assumed the title of the "King's Dear Sister," which got her property, a pension, and most importantly, continued possession of her head.

She is one of my favorites of Henry's queens, simply because of her common sense. She looked at his track record, she looked at her own position, and she very intelligently decided that her life would be best served - and best continued - by giving him what he wanted.

The marriage to Anne of Cleves also ended the life of the King's Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell, a man who had survived all the ups and downs of the reign thus far. Henry used the marriage as an excuse, but I'm sure there was more to it. He also regretted the execution almost immediately, and it serves him right. Cromwell was no saint, but for the most part, he was just doing his master's bidding.