Wednesday, September 28, 2022

The best laid plans

Often end up going very far sideways. 

Back in the Before Times, in late 2019, my husband and I scheduled a trip to Edinburgh for late March, 2020. We all know what happened next. 

 In May of this year, I tried to see when our airline credit would lapse, and was informed that it already had - but if I booked then, I could use it. So we quick-planned a trip to Dublin, which was the only thing close to being in budget since gasoline, Airbnbs, and everything else has gotten more expensive. 

Less than 2 months out from the trip, our Airbnb canceled on us. She had a valid reason, but trying to find another affordable stay on such short notice wasn't easy. We ended up going with a hotel, because if I wasn't going to have a kitchen, I wasn't going to share a toilet with a stranger, not at the same price. 

This past Friday, we got a phone call that my husband's mother had just been taken to the hospital with renal failure and possible pneumonia. She's been in a nursing home since right before Covid, and her dementia has really taken a turn for the worse because of all the isolation. We drove to New Jersey, waited while she had a procedure done to insert tubes into her kidneys, and then sat with her in the ICU. We went back again on Saturday and Sunday, and even though she's improving - they moved her out of the ICU this morning - neither of us feel good about leaving the country when she's in this state. 

It's difficult enough worrying about her when long distance only means crossing the river and driving 50 miles. Walking around a foreign country and trying to enjoy a vacation while one part of your brain is waiting for the phone to ring is just not a prescription for a successful trip. So we're staying home. My husband will still take the time off from work that he had scheduled, and we'll do a few things around the house, obviously drive over again to visit, and, selfishly, I will now have time to do the pre-publication stuff that I was supposed to have done on the Friday through Sunday while we were at the hospital. 

Although it wasn't the best planned vacation, it's a disappointment. But we've talked it over, in a non-ghoulish way, and have decided because of her age and frailty that we're just going to hold off on long trips for the time being. When it's safe to travel again - and I mean safe in every possible way - we'll go to Paris. That was where we'd wanted to go post-Covid anyway, but the fare was too damn high. By then, we'll have earned it.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Lightbulb moment

I don't know anything about brain science, and if I tried to learn, my eyes would probably glaze over. Which is not to say I don't respect the hell out of how our brains work, and I think some of it will never be figured out by science, no matter how hard they try. 

I'm working on the second book in my 1930 series, and it's been going well. The plot line involving Ava, my primary main character, is basically complete, even if I haven't written all of it. For Claire, the secondary main character, I can't say the same. I know how she starts and I know where she ends. But until recently, I had no idea how to bridge that gap. 

The other day, I forgot to have my morning coffee. Then I forgot to have it in the afternoon, and by the time I made a pot for after dinner, I knew it would either have no effect or it would keep me up all night. I was good with either. 

It seemed like it wasn't going to work. I went to bed at midnight, my normal time, got into bed, closed my eyes, and the answer to all those plot questions slammed into the front of my head with the force of a speeding car. I got a full explanation of what goes wrong, who's involved, who's behind it, the reactions of the key characters, and how it leads to the ending I already had in mind. 

None of this had (knowingly) existed in my brain up until that point. 

I didn't want to get up. I laid there for a good half hour, telling myself the story, repeating the best phrases, hoping I would remember it come morning. And then I remembered - I never remember that stuff come morning. So I got up, went downstairs and turned on the lights, and wrote eight pages of notes.

Then, of course, I was too wide awake to go back to sleep, but it was nearly two. So I flopped on the loveseat downstairs, and turned on an author interview podcast whose host has a very soothing voice. When I'm up and walking, I enjoy the interviews. When I can't sleep, she takes me out in minutes. 
And it worked. I slept until five, when the birds started to sing. Then I went back to bed for two more hours. When I got up, I was afraid to look at my notes, for fear they weren't as brilliant as I thought, but they were good. Not brilliant, maybe, but solidly plotted, and now that I know what's coming I have no qualms about writing this midsection of the book.

Writing isn't the problem. Filling in those occasional blanks is the problem.

And if someone can explain how my brain can deliver a fully plotted section of story out of the blue, complete with dialogue, I'd really appreciate it.

Also, could it maybe choose a more convenient time of day?

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Better than coffee

I know my entries lately have been all 1930s, all the time, but my abiding love for the Tudor period hasn't flagged, just gone a bit dormant. 

Until this morning, when I awoke to the news that Lady, in Waiting had won gold in the Tudors and Stuarts category of the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year awards!

That'll get me moving in the morning.

I'm particularly happy about this because it's the third book in the series, and now all of them have placed in the CPBC awards - Songbird got Book of the Year in 2020, and A Wider World got an honorable mention (or honourable, since it's a British site) in 2021. Three for three, and it feels pretty darn good.

 

Friday, September 2, 2022

August Roundup

August feels like it's been all new book, all the time.

Probably because it has been. 

I did a few final edits to the Coming Apart ebook file and got it uploaded and ready for pre-order. (The paperback file is still waiting for one advance review to come in, for the inside front page - if I don't get it by Labor Day and/or one reminder, I'll do without). 

Many marketing graphics were made, many marketing tweets and FB posts were scheduled. 

I sent out a newsletter alerting subscribers to the pre-order on August 18. (Are you a subscriber? You'll not only have access to even more of my ramblings, you'll get a FREE prequel novella to Coming Apart which gives even more insight to the characters. Sign up here.)

Aside from the new book, I worked on an editing job, wrote about 20k words on the new WIP (sequel to Coming Apart, because the sisters weren't done talking to me), and made an attempt at recording the audiobook for Lady, in Waiting. I think it will work, with a bit more practice, but I'm going to hold on the project until cooler weather - it's pointless to try to record anything during lawn care season; I'd have to stay up until all hours to get peace and quiet.

I've also been experimenting with advertising on Amazon, and I think I'm finally getting the hang. I tweaked some ads and the other day I set up ads in Australia and Canada. I get very few sales there - I've had more sales in Germany than I've had over our northern border.

I also prepared for and had a podcast interview - Authors Over 50 - which will air sometime in late September. I'll share a link when it comes out. It was a really fun interview, some about the book but mostly about the experience of starting a new career over 50, what took so long to write that first book, etc. I really enjoyed it!

Lastly, a fun bit. (Well, it's all fun, really - I have a weird sense of what's fun). The other Saturday I attended a Zoom social of historical fiction writers. We met on Twitter under the tag #HFChitChat, and while there's a fairly steady conversation going online, it was nice to get together and see each other's faces. Several of us have books out recently or coming soon, and we got to prop each other up, soothe nerves, and cheerlead for each other. 

It takes a village to make a book these days.

Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Women's history

Most of the histories we read are about men. There are women, of course - all those men had to marry and someone had to bear their children to continue the family line - but much of history is silent on women beyond those roles.

That's the history I grew up reading

The history I grew up hearing was told by women about women, centering them and their daughters and sisters and mothers. 

Men - feckless husbands, charming but disappointing sons, some simply dead before their time - were peripheral to the stories I was told.

My grandmother Madeline - Maddy or Nan - had two husbands (divorced, separated) and three children (Margaret, Violet, and Harl, my grandfather - who managed to be simultaneously charming, feckless, and disappointing, and he died young).

Margaret had two husbands (and two divorces) and one child, Betty. 

Betty had one husband (magicked away from his wife, Margaret's neighbor and friend) and no children.

Violet had one husband (well managed, predeceased her) and no children. They would have interfered with her social activities and her clean house.

Harl had two wives (Jenny, my grandmother, who died by suicide with a laundry list of reasons and diagnoses, including the fact that her husband brought his mistress home for Sunday dinner, and Freda, the mistress, who brought two children from her first marriage) and three children: my mother, Genevieve Madeline (Gene) - after her grandmothers - by his first wife, and Richard (Dicky) and Minerva (Micky) by his second wife. Although Micky wasn't his, and he probably knew it and respected a solid revenge plot.

Gene had three husbands (divorced, died, predeceased) and one child. Me.

I was raised to consider husbands as pleasant, useful, and often short-lived additions to the family. Is it any wonder I waited until 46 to get married?

But the surprise ending of this history is my own surprise. That husbands are pleasant, useful, and hopefully stick around for a good long time, because I happen to like mine very much.

 

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Coming Apart Now Available for Pre-Order


So Coming Apart is now available for pre-order from this link. The book will release on October 18, 2022, and if you've pre-ordered, it will arrive on your Kindle at midnight. As an added inducement (isn't that a nice way of saying bribe?), the book is priced at $3.99 for the first month of the pre-order, so all you bargain shoppers can save a little and get a lot.

In case I haven't mentioned it before, here's the blurb:
A woman who's lost everything. Her sister, who has everything. And a baby who means everything - to both of them.

Ava has always been poor, so she doesn't think the Great Depression will change anything. But when her mother dies and her coal miner husband loses his job, Ava's certainty falters. The last thing she needs is a letter from her estranged sister, asking for the impossible. 

Claire has everything she could ever want, except the child she promised her husband. When her sister's life falls apart, she reaches out to help - and finds the missing piece of her own marriage.

With everything at stake, Ava must choose: give up one child to save the rest or keep the family together and risk losing it all?
At this point, it's Amazon exclusive, and the ebook will stay that way for a while. I've been curious about Kindle Unlimited but never tried it before, and it seems easier to set it up from scratch instead of withdrawing the book from sale on all the other platforms to do it.

I hope you'll consider ordering Coming Apart. I'm so proud of this book - there's a ton of my heart in it, and a not inconsiderable amount of my friends and family's stories, as well. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2022

It's almost here!

The pre-order, that is. Not the book.

For those who haven't read From this Day Forward yet, for whatever reason - time, fear-of-mailing-list spam (I promise, after the first few signup confirmation emails, it's once-a-month and special occasion only), I offer this final inducement.

This is the beginning of the sisters' story, told from Ava's point of view. Claire gets her own shot at telling the tale later on.

***

Scranton is no more than ten miles from Scovill Run, but it is a different world from the filthy coal town that has been my home—and my sister’s—for our entire lives.

But no longer. Claire left home almost a year ago to take a job in Scranton, and if I’d been honest with myself, I would have admitted that I knew she was never coming back even then. She had always wanted to escape and now she’s managed it. Harry Warriner will be able to give her all the things she’s never had and always wanted.

“You understand, don’t you?” she’d asked, last time she came home. “He can give me so much.”

“What do you need?” Claire had always pined for the things girls like us had no business knowing about, much less wanting.

“Well, things...” She chewed her lip, her pretty face all puckered with worry that I didn’t understand. “Don’t be like that, Ava. It’s different for you. You have Daniel.”

She was right. I did have Daniel—or I would, when the war ended and the army sent him home from France. I’d always had Daniel, but he would never give me the kind of things Harry could give Claire before their first anniversary.

Miners didn’t spend money on gifts for their wives, no matter how much they loved them. If they had any left over by the time the bills were paid, it was put aside for hard times: leaky roofs, unexpected shutdowns, doctor bills. Kids.

As we rumble along roads that have never seen such an elegant vehicle, I think of my perfect baby boy, who does not know his father. My husband has never seen his son because I can’t afford to have a photograph taken, not when the only earner in the family is overseas and it’s just me and Mama, sewing and cleaning and taking in laundry until he returns.

Daniel’s army pay is all right, but I would rather have my man at my side, particularly when Mama and I get out of this big car and have to pretend we know how to be with people like Harry Warriner’s family. Rich people who think nothing of sending a car to pick up the bride’s mother and sister from their falling-down house.

I don’t know how Mama feels. She sits beside me on the plush seat, her knotted hands folded on her knee, nodding gently in time to music only she can hear. Claire wasn’t her favorite—Mama never played favorites—but as the youngest, my sister had privileges the rest of us never had. Getting to finish school, for example. I would have liked to have gone to high school, but that was the year our father died and Mama needed my help.

By the time Claire turned fourteen, things were a little better. There was never any question that she wouldn’t go to the high school in the next town over, and then try to make something of herself.

“I always knew she was destined for more. She’ll end up fine, you watch.” Her voice bears a hint of a lilt, forty years after she left Galway.

“Do you think it will change her?” I ask.

 “Of course, it will.” Mama turns to me. “But that’s what she’s always wanted, to be someone else.”

I nod and resume my silence, but her words irk me. I never had the opportunity to be anyone else. Certainly, no one ever asked if I wanted to be more than a miner’s wife, constantly worried about money, about my children, about whether or not my husband would come home from work.

Things must have been pretty bad in Ireland if my mother considered this an improvement.

The biggest difference in our situations is our husbands. I’ve known Daniel forever. He grew up across the road in a house just like mine, with parents just like mine. With tragedy just like mine. It was inevitable, and neither of us ever wanted to fight it. My father had his good points, but he grew harder and angrier with age, and he liked the bottle. Our home was never quiet, and none of us ever felt completely safe.

There is anger in Daniel, too, but not the kind that would ever turn toward his family. And both of us were so marked by our fathers’ love of liquor that we agreed we would never have it in our home.

Being in a place like France, there must be drink everywhere. I wonder if he still doesn’t drink, or if fighting has changed him. I can’t imagine his life over there; it was unimaginable enough in the mines, which have always terrified me.

A horn honks and I look up to see another car, too close to ours. While I’ve been woolgathering, dreaming of Daniel, we’ve arrived. The streets are rough but soon we turn onto a wide avenue that runs straight for blocks. We slow at a corner to let a streetcar pass and for a moment I think we have reached the hotel, but it is the train station, which is bigger than any place I’ve ever been, a five-story building with a clock face set above enormous pillars.

“This is the Searle Hotel, ladies,” the driver says from the front seat, as he pulls to the curb.

Ladies! I wonder how much they had to pay him to call us that.

“There’s Claire, waiting for us.” Mama straightens her hat and tugs on gloves that normally are worn only on Sundays. “Doesn’t she look pretty!”

“Claire always looks pretty.” Slighter than me, blonder than me, she is dressed in a dark blue suit with a froth of ruffles at the neck. Her pale hair is no longer in its familiar Gibson girl style but worn in a smooth band across her head, with the rest coiled in a complicated knot below the brim of her hat. She looks like something from a magazine.

If she’s changed this much before she’s married, moving to Philadelphia will take her from us completely.

***

And there you have it - the beginning of their time together, and the beginning of their separation. Read more by signing up here.