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

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.


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


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.