Wednesday, July 1, 2020

SOLD OUT

Thank you, thank you, thank you, to everyone who reached out here, on Facebook, and on Instagram, and cleaned me out of the copies of Songbird that I had stocked up for events that aren't happening.

You made me do full on Sally Field in the middle of the living room. "They like me! They really like me!"

For everyone who purchased, I hope you enjoy the book. Please consider leaving a review if you have a chance - either on Amazon or Goodreads. Reviews are how you feed writers, and we're hungry. We're like teenage boys, we're so hungry.

I'm going to have a bit of an announcement coming very, very soon, so check back!

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Books for sale

Since Covid-19 has canceled all live events for the foreseeable future, I have a few paperback copies of Songbird left on my shelf, reminding me of that fact.

If you don't yet have a copy, and would like to give it a try or maybe buy one as a gift, I'm offering them at $13.99 (below Amazon price), which includes a handwritten dedication, a cool Henry VIII bookmark, and US shipping.

Leave a comment here, or email me at karen @ karenheenan . com, and I'll send a PayPal or Venmo invoice.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's day

And so it's Father's Day again.

The last Father's Day I had with my dad was in 1972. I probably got him a tie or something stupid like that, though the only time you'd catch him in a necktie would be when he was wearing his dress uniform. Which happened rarely.

But it didn't matter. Anything I did for the man was perfect. Before it became a common phrase, my dad already knew the sun shone out of my ass.

My mother behaved the same way, which may well explain some of my attitudes as an adult, but what I find interesting - also as an adult - is that she was almost jealous of how much he loved me. Like she didn't understand that a person could have that much love for more than one person at a time. That goes back to my mom's upbringing, and the scars that left her. Someday I'll be a good enough writer to write about my mother, that for now, I'll stick to Dad. He's easier.

He was twenty years older than Mom, which means he was fifty-two when I was born. He also worked a full-time and a part-time job, so I'm not sure how it is that so many of my childhood memories include him. He couldn't have been there as often as I remember him being. I think I just make more of the memories I have.

His work at the fire department was shift work, so his schedule changed. The worst was when he would get home after seven, coming up on my bedtime. I had already eaten, and was just killing time waiting for him. He would come in stinking of whatever fire had made him late, and all he wanted was to take a hot bath.

It was a strange quality time, the exhausted man in his bubble bath, the excited child sitting on the fluffy pink toilet seat cover, sharing their day, me asking one question after another. If I ran long and the water began to cool, he would turn the faucet with his foot and bring the tub back up to boiling again.

The other alone time I got with him was in the kitchen. He was a good, functional cook, as most firefighters are - he even taught my mom to cook when they got married - but when he was stressed or upset, he made candy. I'd wake to a gentle hand on my arm. L"go play in the kitchen," he'd say, and we'd sneak downstairs in the middle of the night and make fudge, or candy apples, or peanut brittle.

On one memorable occasion, we attempted a new recipe for sponge candy, and it boiled over on the stove top. We were still cleaning the kitchen when my mom stumbled downstairs at 6 a.m.

When we lost him, it was quick. He had bronchitis, with a wicked cough, something that happened every year. I woke up one morning and my mom told me he'd gone to the hospital. The first diagnosis was pleurisy, which sounded serious to a nine-year-old.

I was allowed to visit him in the hospital at the end of the first week, after my mom had been told it was lung cancer and that he wouldn't be coming home. The poor man - when I saw him I ran straight at him and slammed into his rib cage. I can't imagine how much it hurt, but also knowing him, he didn't mind a bit.

He died three days later. We moved not long after that, and my spectacularly unsentimental mother got rid of most of his things. I retrieved some of it from the trash and the donation bags, but it turned out she'd let some of him live on. Years later, I found his recipe cards in the back of her box, and quietly claimed them.

I still make his fudge when I'm stressed, though I don't always wait for the middle of the night.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

A Wider World - Snippet

Kings Henry and Francis "wrestling"
Five hundred years ago this week, Henry VIII (and his court) journeyed to France to meet the French king (and his court).

I wrote about the Field of Cloth of Gold, as it came to be known, in Songbird, but it crops up again in A Wider World, because the (different) main character experiences some of the same events.


Henry's flagship, the Henry Grace-a-Dieu
Below is an excerpt from my next book, A Wider World:

***
As the king aged, so the court grew in importance. Looking back, we were a backwater country compared to the rest of Europe, but we knew it not—and if anyone did, they wisely did not speak of it.

In 1520, the cardinal arranged for a meeting to take place between King Henry and the French king. It was as much spectacle as summit, and certainly every noble with a guinea in his pocket to outfit his household was there, along with all the royal musicians and choristers, and enough servants to keep the whole production running smoothly.

It was my first time aboard ship, and while the majority of the choristers hung over the rail or confined themselves below, I stealthily climbed to the crow’s nest to catch my first glimpse of France as we crossed the narrow sea.

Calais looked no different than England, but it was. It was France. Another country. Where other languages were spoken and unfamiliar customs were the norm. It was like being handed an enormous, breathing book, and told I had just over two weeks to learn it all. I determined to try.
Add caption

***

Robin is young, but ambitious, and knows that his life will not always be that of a king's chorister - and it is not. Soon he grows up, attends Oxford, and crosses the narrow sea (the English Channel) again, on business not having to do with the King of England.

Stay tuned....

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Listening to myself

I'm working away on on my next novel, but there are still things to do with Songbird. One of them is the audiobook.

My publisher could have arranged to have it recorded, but I wanted to take a stab at it myself. I took a stab. I took several stabs. I never got beyond chapter 3. For some reason, hearing my own words in my own voice made me want to do nothing more than rewrite the whole book. It's a little late for that.

When I first announced my brilliant idea of self recording, an actress friend volunteered to read if I decided I didn't want to do it. I finally decided - intelligently - to take her up on her offer.

Because she's an actress, and because I sew, this is going to be a convoluted barter job. Somewhere down the line, she'll get a Shakespeare level costume out of this. In the meantime, she's recorded 12 chapters out of 24, and while it's still difficult to listen to my words read out, it's much easier when I'm not doing the reading.

Sometimes we're just too close to our own work.

Once the audiobook is done, given a final polishing by my publisher, and uploaded to Amazon and all the other usual venues, I'll have one or two copies to give away. Keep an eye out for that, sometime in the not too distant future.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

How I write a book

I thought I'd give an overview of how I write a book. Like any creative pursuit, there's no right way or wrong way. There's the way that works for you. Or me.

This is mine.

How it starts

I get an idea. It could be completely random, or inspired by something I've read. With Songbird, I read in a bio of Henry VIII that he once bought a child for the royal choir, and off I went. With my current project, A Wider World, it features a secondary character from Songbird, who, after that book was submitted to the publisher, decided to speak up and say he hadn't gotten a fair shake, and he wanted to explain himself. I listened.

Below is how I went about writing A Wider World. The numbers in parentheses are the word count when the draft was completed.

First Draft (134,000 words)

Some writers can write and edit at the same time, or write something, come back the next day to edit, and then keep on. My problem is that I enjoy the editing process, so I get lost if I do this. My first drafts, while not garbage, are pretty rough. For the most part, I don't write in linear fashion. I try to write the beginning, at least the first few chapters, to establish my characters and what's happening. (The events may change later, but I need to get them down).

From there, I try to write in order, but if I'm stuck and can see another scene clearly, I'll write that and then try to link the scenes together later. By the time I've written the first third of the book, I know the ending. If I'm feeling really clear, I'll write the ending, and give myself something to work toward.

The first draft of A Wider World took me about 8 months, and part of the reason it went that quickly is I was working with a world already developed in the first book. I needed to research specific things, but I don't always research as I write. There'll be a sentence like "Hawkins and I sat down to a meal of [whatever people of that level of society would serve unexpected guests]" and I'll keep going.

Second Draft (128,000 words)

This is the fun part, where I fix the structure of the book - plot, chronology, cross-checking history, fleshing out characters who are a bit transparent, doing research to fill the holes I've left. Second draft is heavy lifting and rearranging, but by the end, it gives me something that has the shape of the idea I had when I started out. This draft took me about 1.5 months.

Third Draft (120,000 words)

Cutting, shaping, and molding. This is the round where the book loses some serious weight, where I read it to see how many times I've mentioned the same thing (the problem with writing out of order is including necessary information whenever it seems necessary - but it's not necessary every time. I just won't know that until later). I also remove excess dialog tags, filter words (knew, realized, felt, etc.) and other bits that, while clever, only make me happy and do nothing to advance the story.

Another thing I've noticed with early drafts is that I hit the end of a scene or a chapter, and then I tend to dribble on for another paragraph or two, summing up. Those paragraphs are never necessary, and I can remove a lot of excess just looking for those. This draft took about another month.

Fourth Draft (hoping for 118,000 words)

This is where I am now, and this is where I read the book aloud, to see how it flows, to listen for repetitive words or words that need to be swapped for ones that sound better. This is a faster round than any of the others, because it's really just the final polishing before it gets submitted to my publisher for their editors to give it a once-over. I'm hoping to have this finished by early June, but my reading aloud may be slowed by the fact that lawn care on my block seems to be near-constant and I can't always hear myself think, much less read.

With Songbird, the publisher's suggestions were mostly about removing Britishisms and comments on my abiding love for the em-dash, but we'll see this time, because Songbird had been worked on for so long that if it was my child, it would be accruing student debt. A Wider World has been a much faster process, because I've learned that I can do it.

So that's it. That's how I write a book. At least until next time, when I'll probably turn the procedure completely upside-down.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Pandemicrafting

From talking to friends and keeping up with others on social media, I've noticed that our current situation (quarantine, lockdown, or whatever you want to call it) has either stopped creativity in its tracks or it's hit the accelerator. For me, that's definitely been the case.

I've been writing a ton, deep into the third draft of my next Tudor book, and I recently made a 4' x 4' quilt for the loveseat where I sit and do a lot of my reading and writing.

Let me say up front, I've never been a quilter. And while this turned out well, and I'm really proud of it, I doubt I'll ever make another one. It's a Log Cabin quilt, obviously, and my favorite part is that all the front fabrics are secondhand, and locally sourced (sidewalk sale, town thrift store, donation from a neighbor). The batting was on hand for microwave bowls, but I don't need to make any more of those right now becase there are no craft shows for me to sell them. I did splurge and buy 1.5 yards of backing fabric, but I'm using the remnants from that in another project, so it's all good, and no waste.

This is the first patchwork project I've attempted where I followed a plan and actually tried to be precise. And it more or less worked. There are a few blocks that don't line up perfectly, but good enough is good enough. The perfect, as they say, is the enemy of the damn thing ever getting finished. (My last quilted project, a much simpler effort that is on our bed, took me 17 years because I messed up and shoved it in a bag until I got over being mad at it).

This, with waiting for the backing fabric to arrive , and crawling around on the living room floor sticking it together with far too many safety pins, took about 2 weeks. The quilting is all done by machine, because I will never be that dedicated to handwork, especially of the kind I can't see. The binding was hand sewn down on the back because that seemed easier than trying to line it up perfectly and run it through the machine.

Another reason this is my first and last quilt: anything bigger would not fit comfortably in either my sewing machine or my workroom. I caused several avalanches by trying to maneuver far too much fabric in a cramped space. Bad enough I have to clean up the scraps and thread tails I leave everywhere; having to excavate the floor after knocking over a stash pile is not the workroom fun I had in mind.

So here it is, PandemiQuilt 2020. Just in time to not want to curl up under it and read. Next year, quilt. Next year.