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


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


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