Why I Heart Indie Writers

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I was thinking about the brouhaha over at Big Al's Books & Pals blog concerning the now-infamous Jacqueline Howett, who wrote THE GREEK SEAMAN. If you missed it and you're in the mood for some eyeball-pinwheeling excitement, click here.

Welcome back. Still dazed? Here, let me get you a chair. Sit down and catch your breath.

I'm sure that the unpleasant incident has spawned hundreds of blog entries about professionalism in publishing. But I'd like to use it to talk about something much more upbeat: the fact that I've been extremely accessible to other writers and readers on Twitter for almost two months now, and have only met one soul who was a bit clueless, but only because he hadn't done his homework. (Steven Umstead can tell you I was quite the ignoramus when I first landed on Twitter--shut up, Steve, and keep the dark secret about the crazy old writer lady! :D)

Running at the Image

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Yes, yes, I understand that this blog has been dark for three years, and yes, yes, I fell off the face of the planet. But the important thing is...

That in the meantime, I've discovered Twitter and have had a blast chatting with other writers, indie and published, about the craft of writing--one of my favorite subjects. And so I'm going to be devoting a good deal of time to talking about how to write. I'd like to think that after thirty-four novels, all published by the biggest houses and all but one of them still in print, that I've picked up a few tricks along the way. And I'd like to share them.

Since many of the writers I've come across are just starting out, I thought I'd talk about a problem that I discovered in my own writing when I was new to the craft, one that I think is common: a failure to run at the image.

What do I mean by "running at the image?"

Remember that book called THE BLOODIEST QUEEN? That became THE MEDICI QUEEN when it was pointed out that my UK and Australian readers would guffaw at the "Bloodiest" bit?

Well, after much deliberation, I came up with another title with a bit more pizzazz than THE MEDICI QUEEN -- one which shows Catherine's deep involvement with evil forces. The result?

THE DEVIL'S QUEEN. It'll be out spring/summer 2009, and I'll give an update as soon as I know the month.

P.S. That, plus I've heard my dear friend John Allen is running for President. I'm anxiously awaiting his text message to learn which lucky soul he's chosen as his running mate.

When my agent, Russ, first suggested that I try my hand at a historical, he mentioned that I ought to study an author who happened to be represented by my foreign agent, Danny. That author was Noah Gordon, who wrote a fine novel which became a bestseller in Europe, though not so much here: THE PHYSICIAN, set in the 11th century. THE PHYSICIAN is the story of young Rob Cole, a Londoner who is determined – after the loss of his mother – to learn all he can about healing. It’s a richly detailed look at the healing arts in the early middle ages. I highly recommend Gordon’s books.

Reads, Eats & Sleeps

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I’ve finally gotten around to reading my favorite blogs again (I took a no-blogs, no-Sudoku, no- crossword-or-logic-puzzles vow for the last several months of writing THE MEDICI QUEEN), and Notes from the Copy Editor mentioned the following upcoming title:

LITERALLY, THE BEST LANGUAGE BOOK EVER: ANNOYING WORDS AND ABUSED PHRASES YOU SHOULD NEVER USE AGAIN by Paul Yeager

Well. I suppose I’ll have to preorder it, as it’s due out the first week in May. It follows in the trail blazed by Lynne Truss’ magnificent Eats, Shoots & Leaves. Whereas Truss’ book focuses on punctuation, this one is for aficionados and protectors of the proper use of specific words.
If you – as I do – find joy in passionate discussions of the semi-colon or connotations, this one might be for you.

Book of the Month

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simmons-the_terror.jpg
Speaking of Dan Simmons, I just finished his novel, THE TERROR. The title suggests a horror novel – and the story is indeed very dark. But it is wrapped in an elegant historical novel, titled after the name of a nineteenth-century British ship which became trapped in frozen polar waters. Simmons’ ability to capture the sights, sounds and smells of the Arctic and the ships and crews that braved its seas is breath-taking. I was completely absorbed by the story, the setting, the characters, and the precise, stunning details.
His next novel, DROOD, focuses on Charles Dickens’ friendship with Wilkie Collins, the nineteenth-century author whose mystery THE WOMAN IN WHITE is considered a classic. His website states DROOD will be published in January 2009, although publication dates sometimes shift. I’ll be waiting…

One of my favorite authors

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Recently, I had the pleasure of stumbling onto Dan Simmon’s website. It includes the usual list of the author’s works, as well as a forum and a series of essays called Writing Well. The latter are so well-written and entertaining that I’ve linked to them for you here.

One of my favorite passages from Simmon’s essays includes the theory of developing a story (I think it’s a perfect description of what occurs when I write a novel):

Ah, Well

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My editor, Charlie, loved the book I turned in -- hooray! Just as delightfully, there are almost no editorial changes to be done -- double hooray!

The title, however, has been changed from THE BLOODIEST QUEEN to THE MEDICI QUEEN because the marketing folks are frightened that my gory title might scare off prospective readers.

Gee whiz. It is, after all, a book about a massacre (the St. Bartholomew's Day one, to be exact). And I would have thought, by now, that my readers have figured out that I like things, um, dark.

But the marketing folks also insisted on changing my title from PAINTING MONA LISA to I, MONA LISA, and I've had a number of US readers tell me they preferred the latter title, because it was far more descriptive of the book's content.

Further update: THE MEDICI QUEEN will be released in hardcover first, instead of trade paperback (translation: They really, really like the book and have faith reviewers and readers will, too). This has pushed us back a bit from a Winter 2009 pub date to Spring/Summer 2009, so that lots of reviewers and distributors can get advance reading copies.

In the interim, the author is catching up on some long-deserved reading of her favorite authors -- one of whom is Dan Simmons. More about him soon...

It's all over but the shouting, folks -- at least until I hear back from my editor, whom I utterly adore. I e-mailed the manuscript to him twenty minutes ago.

As of this instant, THE BLOODIEST QUEEN (whose US title might change to the UK title of THE MEDICI QUEEN) is scheduled for publication by St. Martin's in Winter of 2009 -- as things progress, I'll learn whether that means January, February, or March '09.

More to come this week. Thanks to all of you for putting up with my long absence.

Still Not Dead

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Okay, I said the book was due the fifteenth of March... but the finished manuscript runs very, very long -- 900 pages. I'm still working to cut *three hundred* of them.

I'm blind, I'm crazed, but I'm almost done.

Give me a week or two, my darlings, and I'll be back.

Not Dead

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Sorry for the lack of postings, dear friends. I'm in the frantic throes of finishing The Book That Would Not Leave, which is due the fifteenth of March.

The not-quite-finished manuscript runs over 200,000 words and will be cut down to 150,000. I'll check with the editor to find out whether the cut pages can be put up on the website for curious readers.

To Be Read

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On my nightstand, waiting to be read:

LAURA BLUNDY, a Victorian-era dark historical by Julie Myerson (a peek at the first page has already convinced me that I'll love it)

ANGER, by Thich Nhat Hanh (I recommend all of his books)

GOULD'S BOOK OF FISH, a historical novel by Richard Flanagan (recommended by the NY Times Book Review)

THE WISDOM OF YOGA, Stephen Cope

Since I'll have little time to read until March, these are currently gathering dust, but I've promised myself that this year, I'll read a lot more fiction.

Reading recommendations, anyone? Comments?