Sunday, September 13, 2020

So the audiobook for Songbird is finally up everywhere! It actually arrived on Audible sooner than expected. ACX, the technical name for Audible, has really high production standards and will bounce books that are accepted everywhere else. I was a little nervous, until it appeared.

Then, because things never run completely smooth, it ended up somehow categorized under literature, fiction, and erotica. While there are a few... Interesting scenes in the book, anybody who purchased it looking for erotica would be sorely disappointed, and readers not looking for that would avoid the book, so I waited to really promote the Audible listing until my publisher reached out and had Amazon correct it. We're still not sure how it happened, because I know the categories that the book is in, and since it's a book already on Amazon, the categories should have simply carried over.

Who knows? Technical glitches happen, and this one is sorted now.

All this is to say that I have free codes for the audiobook, and all you have to do - you knew there'd be a catch, right? - is to sign up for my newsletter (which is on the sidebar) and respond to the newsletter email, saying you're interested in being entered to win a copy of the audio.

If you're on Facebook, you could also like and share my author page. I didn't make that mandatory, because I know a lot of people aren't fans of Facebook these days. Truth to tell, I'm not always either, but I have to reach readers where I can find them.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Progress on Book 3

Should I be talking about book 3? When book 2 won't be released until April?

Maybe not, but I am, because I've hit a really interesting part of the process. I'm working on the first draft, currently titled Lady, in Waiting (crucial comma). Like Robin in A Wider World, Margaery, my main character, was a secondary character in AWW who required her own story.

She's 24, English but raised in France, and newly married to a man she barely knows. It was a self-arranged marriage, because she met him and thought he was a far better option than the men put forward by her mother and stepfather. But it's still an odd situation - they're two very nice people, neither of whom had planned to marry, and they're learning as they go. To complicate things, they both work in the Tudor court: Margaery as a minor lady in waiting to Elizabeth I, and her husband as an assistant to William Cecil, the queen's chief secretary.

Technically that means they have the same boss and the same loyalties, but in fact, it does not. Elizabeth's women swore an oath of loyalty to the queen, and while Cecil and his men are also loyal to the queen, they're working on behalf of the government, and their aims might be somewhat different than Elizabeth's.

What went on in the queen's chambers stayed in the queen's chambers. Which makes evening conversation with a husband somewhat limited.

I've been working on this story for a while, but it's only in the last few days that Margaery has really come to life and started acting independently, choosing courses of action I wouldn't have thought of and saying the occasional unexpected thing.

It's my favorite part of writing, even though it means I'm going to have to go back and edit her earlier words to reflect this more fully developed personality. When my people make me swear at them because they don't behave, I know I'm getting somewhere.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Audiobook is (almost) everywhere!

And by that, I mean it's everywhere but Audible. Because...Amazon. It takes its time. Like the Grinch's small heart, no one quite knows the reason.

Although - of course - Audible is the chief method of audiobook listening out there, can I make a few recommendations? Chirp is a relatively new audio provider. There's no fee to join, and by becoming a member, you get discounted audiobooks.

Discounts are good.

Also, Scribd is a program very much like Kindle Unlimited, except that you can also get audiobooks through them.

Either way, if you're interested in giving Songbird a listen, there's a free audio sample on any provider's website. If you give a listen - much less buy - I'd love to hear what you think!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Harvest Day

August is definitely when the garden starts earning its keep. It's just a shame that August is also when I start to flag.

Pictured here is ONE DAY'S harvest from the pepper plants. One day.

Did I maybe plant too many peppers? Nah. I'll think of something.

Red bowl: Padron peppers, a Spanish variety used in tapas. We eat these a LOT. They're also topped and de-seeded and vacuum sealed in the bags, because they cook up well after being frozen. Win/win.

The big peppers in the front are an Italian sweet pepper called Carmen. Almost large enough to stuff. But we visited NJ this past weekend to talk to Mario's mom at the nursing home window, and stopped at an Italian sausage shop in town, so sausage and peppers is on the menu.

The red peppers are Padrons that got away from me. They'll be chopped and mixed in the jalapenos, behind them, for another big batch of candied peppers.

You don't even want to see the tomatoes. Trust me. It's going to look like a bloodbath in my kitchen when I get started on them.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

COMING VERY SOON

So this is exciting.

I've been working for the past few months with my friend, Jennifer Summerfield, to record the audiobook for Songbird, and a few days ago, I uploaded the last chapters to the publisher's shared drive for final mastering. I heard from them yesterday that there's a very good chance that the audiobook will be available across most platforms by this weekend!

This weekend! Eep!

It may take a little bit longer to arrive on Audible, or it may not. They've been a bit slower lately on uploading independent and small press audiobooks, but let's keep a good thought, shall we?

I'll be able to post a sample from the audio soon so you can check out how Jen brought my imaginary friends to life.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Hot time in the kitchen

It makes sense that vegetables grow best in hot weather, but that also means canning and preserving take place in hot weather.

Yesterday I made a small batch of cowboy candy - candied jalapenos - one of our favorite snacks.

All the peppers have been coming in well, but the jalapenos arrived all at one time, and to add to the pile I picked up two bags at the Aldi so I could make a batch worth heating up the kitchen.

Candied jalapenos are a wonderful invention. Hot enough to still be classed as peppers, but with a tangy syrup that I use on fish, meat, and even over vanilla ice cream.

Here's the recipe for anyone who wants to give it a shot:

2 lbs. fresh jalapenos
2/3 cup cider vinegar
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons mustard seed
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon celery seed
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Chop jalapenos, discarding some ribs/seeds if you don't want extra burn. Mix cider, vinegar, and all spices in a pot, and bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the peppers, and simmer for 5 more minutes.

Load sterilized jars with jalapenos and then add liquid, filling the jars and leaving a 1/4" head space. These can be processed in a water bath for 15 minutes or if you're like me, and you're planning to eat them quickly, let them cool on the counter (so the lids seal) and put in the fridge. WAIT TWO WEEKS BEFORE EATING. It helps the flavors to meld.

The original recipe called for only 1 lb. peppers, but I rough chop them instead of slicing, so you can get more in the jars that way. I sometimes add fresh garlic for extra zing. Usually there's syrup left over from this. Jar it and put it in the fridge. You'll thank me.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Publishing News!

Readers of Songbird, rejoice, for there will - officially - be another book.

I recently signed a new contract with my publisher for my second Tudor novel, which will follow the side character of Robin Lewis through his eventful life through the reigns of Henry VIII, Edward VI, and Mary I.

The book has already been submitted and first round edits complete. This is a big deal, because even though I tend to submit a very clean manuscript (possibly because it's been gone over 842 times), it doesn't stop me from thinking, "What if they hate it? What if they want me to change everything?" (Side note: I wouldn't. There are changes, and then there are changes. Most of what was requested in edits was a cleanup of my excessive love of commas -- yet not my even more excessive love of em-dashes. Go figure).

A Wider World won't be out until April, 2021, but I've started working on a third book, featuring a character who appears at the end of the second book, and I'm working on a novella that will be a freebie for members of my readers club. Not a member? Join here.


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.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

This will never get old

Book reviews are important, as I've said before, and I'm happy with every one I get - even the funky Goodreads review that called the second half of Songbird "tedious melodrama." (She still gave it three stars, so...)

But this morning I woke up to a review from the Discovering Diamonds book review blog, and this one - well, cue the music for my happy dance!

It's such a wonderful feeling to get a positive review from readers who "get" the book, and it's a huge compliment to me, as a writer of historical fiction, when they say "what I enjoyed was how those difficulties were based on problems which arose from the historical setting. No one here steps out of their period, even for a second. Their attitudes and their circumstances are very 'Tudor', but within that, of course, there is scope for people to behave in very different ways."

You can read the full review here, if you're so inclined. I might see you there - I've already gone back and read it twice. This is a feeling I hope never gets old.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Another Change

Change is good. I keep telling myself that. And I have to keep mentioning it here.

One upcoming change to the blog - because of this whole author-career-buy-my-books thing, is that I need a mailing list. For a newsletter. And also for cool things like recruiting advance readers for my next book.

What I'm going to try to do - and try is the operative word, because me and technology aren't the best of buds - is to move the blog over one tab, and have a landing page with a signup for the newsletter. That's ideal, because those of you who want to sign up can do so, and then move over one tab (or bookmark it) to get to the words. Those who don't want to sign up can do the same, minus that whole pesky signing-up thing.

If that doesn't work, there might be a pop-up form. I don't want the pop-up, and I'm pretty sure you don't either, so if everyone can just light a candle or cross fingers or something that I can do this without turning the blog upside down, I'd much appreciate it.

About the newsletter, if you're interested. Monthly, at least for now, because not a lot is going on to require more frequent contact. Progress reports (with snippets) from the work in progress. Random personal chit-chat from me (aimed at people who don't read here, but I'll try not to duplicate myself). Mention if there are any special deals on my book - the audio book will be coming out sometime in the near-ish future, and people might want to know. And the advance reader deal - I'm going to need a few brave souls to volunteer to read the next book before it's ready for publication.

Doesn't sound awful, does it? Hopefully not. I've got the account set up, now I'm just doing the fun stuff, like making a header graphic and figuring out what to call it.

EDITED: It worked! Here's the signup link, plus a permanent one alongside:



.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Dad's turn

Dad at probably age 10-ish. He was the kneeling
kid, bottom left.
It's not father's day, either, but yesterday would have been my dad's 108th birthday. He was born on April 18, 1912, not long after the Titanic went down - which, as a child, always made the Titanic seem real because it couldn't have been that long ago.

My dad was 52 when I was born, my mom was 32. He'd been the youngest of 12; she was an only, saddled with step- and half-siblings at 10. He wanted kids; she didn't.

They had one. I was the center of his universe, and he was the center of mine. Mom minded that, a bit.

He had a lot to do with me becoming a reader, and eventually, a writer. Mom did, too - she was always reading, and I figured out pretty young that there was something inside those book covers that was more interesting than real life. My dad wasn't much of a reader. He left school in 6th grade, and while he could read, it wasn't easy for him. Because he thought a child should be read to, he "read" to me every night, from a book of fairy tales open on his lap.
An early Easter picture

I didn't learn until years later that he was making up the stories he told me, because that was easier than reading after a long day at work. Once I learned to read, he had me read to him - my books, the newspaper, National Geographics. He'd come home from the firehouse, run a bubble bath, and lay in boiling water, soaking out the aches and pains, while I sat on the toilet lid and read to him.

Every kid's special time is different, I guess. Much of mine took place in a pink-tiled bathroom, sitting on the lid of the toilet, reading to a man completely submerged in bubbles. Only his head, and one foot, which he used to turn on the hot water, was visible. (Unlike my mom, who paraded around in her undies - or without them - my dad was pretty modest, so bubble bath was his solution to spending time with me).

He retired from the fire department in 1972, after 20+ years. He continued to work his part-time maintenance job at the college near where we lived, but in April of 1973, he got sick. What he thought was just a recurrence of his yearly bronchitis was actually lung cancer, very advanced. He was in the hospital for 10 days, and then he was gone. I got to visit him once, but no one told me how serious it was (I was 9, so I guess that makes sense).

Anyway, I like to think of it like this. I was 9 when he died, which wasn't actually a bad age. I was old enough to remember him, pretty clearly, and young enough that I'd never had a teenage "I hate you!" moment that would have tortured me for the rest of my life. When he died, he was still the center of the universe - but after that, Mom got more of a chance. She liked that; I didn't mind.


Friday, April 17, 2020

It's not mother's day

But I've been thinking about my mom lately.

Someone on Facebook started it. She posted a photo of her mom with something sentimental - which is fine, don't get me wrong, sentimental is good - but it's not something I've ever applied to thoughts of my mom.

As you can tell from this photo, she was...interesting. This was at age 17-18, only a year or two out of her ugly duckling phase (really, she did have one!) and a few months before her first marriage. Which she did because she was bored.

I've been dining out on Mom stories forever, and people always ask when I'm going to write about her. Memoir? Fiction? She's always been stranger than fiction, the kind of character that, if you create, people would say was impossible.

She was impossible. She also raised me, loved me to distraction - partly, I think, because she never wanted kids and if she was going to have one, she would love that child so hard she wouldn't remember what she'd given up for it - and embarrassed me for several decades running.

All that said, she was an original, and I wouldn't be the person I am today (or the storyteller, for that matter), without having had her in my life as inspiration, mortification, and she-who-I-would-not-become.

Honestly, is there anything more judgmental than a teenage girl? Especially if there's something legitimate to be judged? I don't think so. Somehow we got through it, and her phase of "I'm not your mom, I'm your best friend," and by the time she died in 2006, we were mostly friends, and only irritated the crap out of each other on a regular basis.

But look at that picture. Look closely. And then imagine yourself as a teenager, with a mom who, at 40, still pretty much resembled that photo (but blonde!) and dressed like that photo. Thus, my mortification. When your pre-adolescent crushes give you Valentines to give to your mom, she's doing something wrong. Or in her eyes, something right. Male attention, even of the 12-year-old variety, was a good thing.

I can't write about her yet. I can't be totally objective, and honestly, I don't know if I'm a good enough writer yet to do her justice.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Easter

It's hard to write about Easter as a non-religious person. It's a loaded holiday, carrying a lot of hope of resurrection and, well, hope that people can use right now.

But I didn't grow up with that, and it's not something I've looked for since. Growing up, Easter was tight white patent leather shoes and a dress I would refuse to wear ever again. It was bunnies and baskets and picking out all the black jellybeans for my dad, and trying to keep my mom from eating all my chocolates.

Today was a weird mix of sacred and profane, or at least sacred and secular. Since we're all staying home - and it appears my town is pretty well behaved - the local fire company drove around in the afternoon with the Easter Bunny in the back of their pickup.

I was ridiculously pleased to run outside and wave to a man in a rabbit suit.

Then I listened to Andrea Bocelli's concert from the Duomo in Milan, which was lovely and brought tears to my eyes the same way the firehouse rabbit did.

It was eerie, hearing that voice echo inside the enormous, empty Duomo. It must have seemed particularly strange to him; lacking sight, his sense of hearing and space in the empty marble building must have felt disorienting.

If you haven't watched or listened, here's a link. Also, for my sewing friends, check out the fabric of his jacket. Fancy stuff.

Whoever was in charge of the camera couldn't resist a little fun. This statue of St. Bartholomew was do amazing I took a screenshot so I could look him up after.

I hope you all had a safe and happy weekend, and whatever - if any - holiday you celebrated was good.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Book Review: The Lady Astronaut Books

I'm going to preface this review by saying I'm not a big fan of science fiction. Never have been. No Star Wars, Star Trek, or Battlestar anything of that ilk for me.

Which doesn't mean I haven't seen a fair bit of it, but...still. Not my thing, especially in books.

These books, however, are my thing, and let me tell you why. They're not really sci-fi in the way I think of sci-fi, even though there's plenty of space in them.

They're alternate history, which makes them entirely my thing. An asteroid hits Earth, destroying a large chunk of the east coast and pretty much anything that counted as government. Scientists (who are listened to almost as well in these books as they are in real life) warn that Earth will become uninhabitable sooner rather than later, so what's left of government starts to push forward with a space program that hadn't gotten off the ground pre-asteroid.

The main character is a Jewish female computer (think the women in Hidden Figures) who wants to be an astronaut. Her husband is also involved in the space program, which doesn't make her desire any easier - if she gets in, is it because of him? Because of her own skills? And how many more deserving candidates are there, who are also being ignored because (a) it's still the 1950s and they might be (b) black, (c) Asian, (d) some other minority, and definitely (e) female.

There are a lot of historic figures on the periphery, and a lot of commentary about life then that really reflects on our lives now. The author, Mary Robinette Kowal, is one of my favorite writing podcasters - you can check out her show Writing Excuses if you're so inclined.

The books in the series are The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky, and a novella, The Lady Astronaut of Mars, which should be read after you've read the earlier ones. (It's a standalone, but it's more touching once you get to know the characters. There's also a third book, The Relentless Moon, up for pre-order. I don't usually pre-order. I don't usually read sci-fi. I pre-ordered.

Have you read any of these? What do you think?

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Day to day

What does your new normal look like?

Honestly, for me, it's not that different from the Before Time. I know how lucky I am to be able to say that, and how lucky I am to live in a place where I can still get outside, to live with a person who makes me feel safe rather than not, and to have enough food in the house that we don't have to venture out too often. Mario's job has transitioned to working from home, and while there's not a lot happening on Etsy right now, and craft shows have disappeared, I'm continuing to work as if they were ongoing, just to keep myself feeling "normal."

I'm actually being more social than I would normally. I've had many (distant, shouted) conversations with neighbors. I've checked in by text and phone and DM with friends, especially the ones who tend not to reach out on their own. I remind Mario consistently to call his mom, who's in a nursing home in NJ and locked down to visitors. They've recently instituted a video call program, so it's been good that he's been able to see her, and vice versa.

Beyond that, I'm writing, when I have the focus. Loss of focus does seem to be one of the markers of this strange time we're living in, but I'm not beating myself up if I'm not productive. It's a pandemic, not a vacation. If I don't produce a new novel by the end of shelter-in-place, who's going to judge me - besides possibly me? No one.

The front garden is looking good, but I'm waiting on vegetable starts for the back yard. I have started some seeds in the cold frame, but other than radishes (which I don't like - growing for a neighbor) and lettuces, not much is happening. I have a new cherry tree to put in out front, just haven't decided where yet. It's a dwarf size, topping out at 8 feet, so it won't take over. But it's a cherry tree. I wouldn't mind if it did.

What about you? How has your life changed? Are you feeling okay? Need a virtual hug?

Monday, April 6, 2020

Robin

Young Surrey / Robin at Court
So my second Tudor novel, tentatively titled A Wider World, involves a character from Songbird named Robin Lewis.

Robin is first encountered at the age of 12. He is a socially awkward, obnoxious but talented chorister. He and Bess, my main character, don't hit it off, and it takes some time for them to reconcile as friends. They become close later, but Robin does a few things which appear to only be in his self-interest and are harmful to others.

I thought that was the end of Robin. It was not. After Songbird was submitted, and I started working on my Great Depression book, Robin spoke up and said he needed to explain himself. He didn't think he was getting a fair shake in my telling of Bess's story.

I decided to listen. He was right. He's got quite a tale to tell, which spans from his childhood as a foundling through the royal court, to Oxford, travels to the continent, a return to the court as an undersecretary to Cardinal Wolsey, and then, in the period of time succeeding Songbird, he works with Thomas Cromwell on the dissolution of the monasteries.

Older (wiser?) Robin
The monasteries were an important part of English life in the 16th century, and had been for hundreds on hundreds of years. I knew about the dissolution going in, because I've read a lot of Tudor history, but I only thought of it in terms of the monks, priests, and nuns who were displaced from their religious houses. I hadn't thought of it in terms of ordinary English people.

It turns out they were at least as affected as the religious themselves. From what I've learned, no village in England was more than an hour's walk from some religious house. The monasteries employed people as farm laborers and servants. Many people's homes were on monastery lands. Boys were educated in monastery schools. People ate food grown on monastery farms, sold at lower prices at the village market. Fisherman supplied all of the meatless days at the monasteries - and there were many. Since there were no hospitals, and few doctors, any healing that could be done was accomplished at the monastery's infirmary.
Robin as secretary to Cromwell

All this vanished in four years. I think people would have been content with Henry's change from Catholicism to Church of England, if the only change had been the removal of the Pope. People were Catholic, but their religion was much more personal, and the Pope was in Rome. The local monastery was in their village.

And suddenly, it was all gone. No jobs, no homes, no education, no medical care, and a sudden influx of poor people - who were formerly the ones who might have cared for them. It gave me a whole new perspective on the dissolution, and it is just one more nail in the coffin of Henry VIII's reputation.

Honestly, the more you know about that man the more loathsome he is.


The illustrations for this post are of Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, poet and the last man executed by Henry VIII. He was apparently quite a peacock, having had this many portraits done of himself. He also reminds me, in coloring and attitude, of Robin, and the Holbein portrait and the colorful portrait with the green background, are my inspirations for him.

See what I mean? Peacock. Definitely peacock.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

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?