Archive for June, 2012

DARE ME: Chapter Two

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

For the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing the first seven chapters of a novel I began, just for fun, last summer. If you didn’t catch Chapter One last week, you can find it here.

And now… Chapter Two! In which we meet the hero of the piece….



Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Check out this wonderful summer reading list by Eloisa James on NPR!

She calls The Garden Intrigue “perfect for reading on a lawn chair in a flowery back garden with a glass of Pimm’s”– which rather makes me want Pimms Cup right now.

Garden Intrigue is in good company. Also on the list you can find Julia Quinn’s A Night Like This and Kristan Higgins’s Somebody to Love.

What’s on your summer reading list?

If You Like….

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Last week, I listed some of my favorite Scottish-set historical novels. This week we’re going modern. (Well, modern as in post World War II.)

If you like novels set in modern Scotland, you’ll probably like….

— Elizabeth Peter’s Legend in Green Velvet, in which a Scotland-obsessed American gets drawn into a rather bizarre intrigue involving a Prince Charles look-alike and the Stone of Scone.

— Along those lines, there’s also Lillian Stewart Carl’s paired mystery novels, Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust. Like the Peters novel, they feature an American heroine working on her PhD in Scottish history. The first is set in an American repro of a Scottish castle, stuffed with Scottish artifacts (and a handsome Scottish historian!), while the second moves the action to Scotland.

— Mary Stewart’s two Scotland set mysteries, Wildfire at Midnight, set on the isle of Skye, and The Stormy Petrel, set on the isle of Moila.

— Antonia Fraser (who also wrote a truly excellent biography of Mary Queen of Scots) set one of her 1970s Jemima Shore mysteries, The Wild Island, on a remote Scottish island, complete with slightly bizarre Royalist underground and an attractive– if treacherous– laird.

— While we’re talking romantic suspense, one of my absolute favorite Elsie Lee novels, Mansion of Golden Windows, is also Highland-set, circa the 1960s.

— Moving from mystery to women’s fiction, no one strums the (Scottish) heart strings like Alexandra Raife. These are my rainy day, I-want-to-move-to-1990s-Scotland books, always featuring some sort of house in need of restoration or renovation, a cast of dotty local characters, deep personal angst, and eventual growth and renewal through interaction with the landscape and those dotty local characters. My favorites are Wild Highland Home, in which a burned out London hotelier moves to a remote cottage and, after many struggles, learns to love the land (and the taciturn farmer next door), and Belonging, where the heroine has to move back to the family manor house to help turn it into a successful inn after her cousin runs off and abandons it. (Monarch of the Glen fans, this one’s for you!)

What are your favorite modern Scotland-set novels?

DARE ME: Chapter One

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Just because, and just because it’s summer, I’m sharing with you the first seven chapters of a novel I started writing last July. This was a “just for fun” novel. I was between books, a little burned out on Napoleonic spies, waiting to hear back from publishers about the 1920s book– so it seemed like a good time to try something completely different. Like a contemporary romance novel.

For the next seven weeks, I’ll be posting a chapter every Saturday, like an old time serial novel. I hope it amuses you as much as it did me!

Without further ado, here’s Chapter One of DARE ME:


DARE ME: Starting Saturday!

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Just a reminder that our summer serial, the random contemporary romance novel I started writing last July, premiers here on the News page this Saturday. Tune in Saturday for Chapter One of Dare Me!

If You Like….

Monday, June 18th, 2012

Since I’m honeymooning in Scotland (and like to theme read on vacations) this week’s If You Like is Scotland-set books. Which, it turns out, can be a very, very broad category. So I’ve divided it up into two. This week’s will be historical set and next week will be modern (including mystery/thriller).

If you like historical novels set in Scotland, you’ll probably like….

— Sir Walter Scott’s swashbuckling romanticized vision of the eighteenth century in Rob Roy and Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Master of Ballantrae. They set the mould for so many of the Highland dramas that were to come later.

— Sticking with the Jacobite rising, there is, of course, Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, which has probably done more to popularize the place and time period than any other modern novel. This saga, in which a 1945 Englishwoman catapults back to mid-eighteenth century Scotland starts a few years before the Rising and goes on from there.

— For a glimpse into a Scotland that Robert Louis Stevenson would have recognized, Darci Hannah did a wonderful job bringing early nineteenth century Scotland to life in The Exile of Sara Stevenson, in which an Edinburgh-bred heroine finds herself exiled to a remote lighthouse. Also check out The Angel of Blythe Hall, also set in Scotland, but in the 15th century, against a backdrop of warring clans.

— For those who like their history almost straight up, with a hint of fictionalization, there’s Nigel Tranter’s immense oeuvre, which covers most of the monarchs of Scotland, from the medieval on up. Back in my college days, working on a thesis about Marie de Guise, I was particularly taken with his James V Trilogy, but he’s also covered Robert the Bruce, William Wallace, Queen Margaret, and just about anyone else of who you can think.

— Margaret of Scotland has also been covered, more recently, by Susan Fraser King in Queen Hereafter.

— Moving a bit later in the Middle Ages, there’s Kathryn Lynn Davis’s Child of Awe, set in the troubled fourteenth century as a wealthy heiress becomes mixed up in the ambitions of the powerful Campbell clan.

— Of course, I couldn’t possibly leave out Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles, in which Francis Crawford of Lymond intrigues his way through the mid-sixteenth century. Much of the Lymond saga is set outside Scotland, but since the hero is a Scotsman, it counts all the same. If you haven’t read these yet, start with The Game of Kings and read your way through.

— Moving from the sixteenth century to the seventeenth, we arrive at my favorite book of 1990, Heartstorm. There’s a dashing Highland rogue, an evil English courtier, the evil English courtier’s spunky (and half-Scottish) daughter, Big Family Secrets, even bigger family feuds, a conniving Other Woman…. So much happiness and the Highlands, too.

— While we’re on the romance side of things, does anyone else remember Arnette Lamb’s highland rogues? (Of which my favorite was the aptly titled Highland Rogue). They had all the elements anyone would want in a Highland-set romance novel, dashing lairds, lost governesses, spunky clansmen– sheer fun.

— Also on the romance side, how could I leave out Julie Garwood’s The Bride, in which, if I recall properly, the English heroine is married off to a Scottish laird with the requisite Dark Family Secret and naturally, after much sparring, wins over both the laird and his clan. (I adored this book, but it’s been a while since I’ve read it, so apologies for the sketchy plot summary.)

— For those Julia Quinn fans out there, look for her hilarious short story, Gretna Green, in the anthology Scottish Brides. It is well worth tracking down a copy.

— I could go on and on, but I’m going to finish up with a quirky favorite: George MacDonald Fraser’s The Reavers, a laugh out loud spoof of the marauding Border clans of the 16th century. Seriously, it is that funny. Fraser is best known for his nineteenth century Flashmanbooks, but he also wrote one of the best non-fiction books out there about the early modern Anglo-Scottish border raiders, The Steel Bonnets. In The Reavers, he takes all of that information and uses it to create an Errol Flynn meets Mel Brooks sort of absurdity.

Okay, I’d better stop now. What are your favorite Scottish-set historical novels?

Pink X has a title!

Friday, June 15th, 2012

We interrupt our regularly scheduled Weekly Reading Round-Up for this special announcement: Pink X has a title!

Miss Gwen’s book, coming out in summer 2013, will henceforth officially be known as THE PASSION OF THE PURPLE PLUMERIA.

Here’s the official description:

Colonel William Reid has returned home from India to retire near his children, who are safely stowed in an academy in Bath. Upon his return to the Isles, however, he finds that one of his daughters has vanished, along with one of her classmates.

Having served as second-in-command to the Pink Carnation, one of England’s most intrepid spies, it would be impossible for Gwendolyn Meadows to give up the intrigue of Paris for a quiet life in the English countryside—especially when she’s just overheard news of an alliance forming between Napoleon and an Ottoman Sultan. But, when the Pink Carnation’s little sister goes missing from her English boarding school, Gwen reluctantly returns home to investigate the girl’s disappearance.

Thrown together by circumstance, Gwen and William must cooperate to track down the young ladies before others with nefarious intent get their hands on them. But Gwen’s partnership with quick-tongued, roguish William may prove to be even more of an adventure for her than finding the lost girls…

Now I just need Miss Gwen to start cooperating so I can finish writing it!

ASHFORD on Goodreads

Thursday, June 14th, 2012

As I continue to chart the progress of The Ashford Affair around the web, it’s now up on Goodreads!

Please feel free to be the first to start a discussion, add it to the to-read pile, or put it in a list….

Writing Wednesday: Time Management

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

A lot of you have asked me to talk about juggling work and writing or writing and social media. I can’t help feeling a bit like it’s the blind leading the blind here (my time management skills are far from stellar), but, for what it’s worth, here are my two bits, in a do as I say, don’t do what I do kind of way.

Since it’s a huge topic, I’m going to talk about time management and the day job today and save time management and social media for next week, even though the two intersect at points.

My first and only rule: know thyself.

Your efficiency will be predicated on your ability to understand your own writing patterns and habits. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise: you can waste a lot of time trying to follow someone else’s “more efficient” methods. You know– or you can figure out– what works for you. Are you most productive early in the morning? Late at night? Are you good at writing in short, interrupted bursts? Do you need a clump of time? If you do need a clump, how substantial does it have to be? A few hours? A few days? Don’t fight your own instincts; make them work for you.

I’m a clump-er. I need a solid block of time, preferably a whole day, in order to get real writing done. This doesn’t mean that I write for all that time, but it takes me a while to get back into my world. When I was in law school, I knew that days on which I had class were dead, writing-wise. I arranged long weekends. When I was at a law firm, I tried the early morning and late at night methods and completely crashed and burned. I hoarded my weekend time for writing instead.

Are you a write in small chunks person? In that case, try to maximize those little moments. I know people who write while waiting in the dentist’s office or driving the kids to soccer practice. (I envy them that ability to shut everything out and plunge back in. I get very picky about my own writing space and time. And very cranky if someone takes my favorite table at Starbucks. But I digress.) Most of them have very particular requirements for writing tools. Some work on iPads, so they can pick up seamlessly wherever they are; others use notebooks and transcribe from longhand later. I have friends who still swear by dictaphones. If you’re a writing at odd moments person, figure out what you need to make it easiest for you and do it.

Try to figure out how to use fragmented moments of time, or unexpected moments, for auxiliary tasks. Social media (more on that next week) is great for those weird little between times. Have a half hour between meetings and need to grind out a website post? Waiting for someone to turn a document back around to you at work and have some tweets to send out? These are generally tasks that can be accomplished in small bits of time with a distracted mind.

Then there’s daydreaming. So much of writing isn’t about the writing itself: it’s plotting and character development and generally thinking things through. You can do that while you’re walking to the grocery store, or taking a shower (note: a dry erase board next to the shower can be a very useful thing) or watching mindless television to unwind after work (I keep a clipboard next to me when I watch TV, so I can scribble down thoughts about the book as they come to me). Your brain needs these dead times to transition from work to writing, to rejuvenate and get back into mode. Even if you’re a clump-er like me, and need a solid block of time to really write, it’s useful to spend those fragmented moments thinking through things that have bothered you, scribbling out impulsive bits of dialogue, or reading other peoples’ books to refill the creative well.

Let’s face it, refilling that well is important. Sometimes, no matter how tight you are for time, you need to take that break and watch a movie or read a new novel. That might be just the thing that catapults you back into your own story. It’s not time wasting if it’s priming the pump. Beating yourself up for wasting time can waste more time than the original time wasting.

One good exercise is to think about your average day. There’s more time in the day, when you look for it, than readily appears. When I sat down and thought about it, I realized I was frittering away an hour or two each morning just scrolling around the industry blogs. (I’ll talk about this more in the social media post next week.) Half the time, I wasn’t even paying attention. I was just, as a Southern friend of mine calls it, messin’. We all have random, repetitive things we do, particularly internet-involved, that add little value to our day. My theory is that some of these are necessary brain down-time– but not all. By cutting my morning messin’, I won myself an extra hour of writing time.

Your commute can also be prime book time. As a city dweller, I never had a drive to work, but I did have a forty-five minute walk to work. (It was that or multiple buses and subways; I chose to walk.) I used that walking time to think through plot problems. I’d keep a notebook close at hand and scribble things down in unintelligible shorthand while waiting for red lights to change to green.

Primarily, be flexible. Don’t beat yourself up for not being able to do everything, all at once, all the time. Juggling is hard. Jobs are draining. Writing takes a certain level of emotional commitment. Sometimes, the stars just don’t align. But they will. And the best way to make sure they do is not to dwell on all the times you didn’t keep your schedule. Keep yourself open for opportunities, learn what works for you, and make sure you let yourself have time to rest and think.

What are your time management techniques? Particularly those of you with kids, since that’s not a topic I’m competent to address yet…. (If anyone wants to do a guest post on juggling writing with offspring, let me know!)

Teaser Tuesday: ASHFORD Origins

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

The Ashford Affair, my 1920s book, arose out of the confluence of three things:

1) A friend gave me Frances Osborne’s book, The Bolter, about the life of Idina Sackville, the much-married socialite who bounced back and forth between husbands and between London and Kenya.

What really struck me about the book was the foreword, in which the author admitted she hadn’t known that Idina was her great-grandmother until a chance media mention had brought the topic up. The family had papered over the scandal, presenting the second wife in guise of great-grandmother. At the time, my own ninety-one year old grandmother, who had been, up until then, very spry and entirely compos mentis, entered a sharp decline involving a number of disturbing hospital stays and entirely uncharacteristic mental confusion. (There’s a happy ending to that one: she got better, and she’ll be dancing at my wedding next week.) But the confluence of the foreward of The Bolter and my grandmother’s sickness got me thinking about how little we really know about our families and how much we– often groundlessly– assume we know. What if you took a busy modern woman who abruptly discovers, when her grandmother starts ailing, that her family is nothing like what she believed? What would that journey do to someone?

My modern heroine, Clemmie, is about to learn that there’s far more to her grandmother’s past than meets the eye– especially when it comes to her time in Kenya….

2) Nancy Mitford’s Wigs on the Green came out in print.

Wigs on the Green, suppressed by order of the authoress, was the only Mitford book I hadn’t read. A friend of mine had a bootleg copy, but refused to loan it out for fear of its not making its way back. Naturally, I pounced on it the second I saw it in the bookstore. This launched me on a massive orgy of Mitford-reading: all the Nancy Mitford novels, Jessica Mitford’s Hons and Rebels, with side journeys into Evelyn Waugh. I started speaking in 1930s slang, entirely unintentionally.

3) My little sister persuaded me to watch Downton Abbey.

This is a very topsy turvy list, isn’t it? But this was the order in which these things happened. Backwards. I was given The Bolter in late summer, went on my Mitford rampage in the fall, and watched Downton in January. I started writing what I then called Ashford Park in March, assembling the pieces the other way around: my book starts in an estate not unlike Downton Abbey, to which my heroine, Addie, has been shuttled after the death of her bohemian parents.

Addie’s childhood owes a great deal to my Mitford glom. Like the narrator of The Pursuit of Love, Addie is the outsider, the visitor to the household, admiring and relying on her dazzling cousin Bea. When I picture Bea, I picture the classic photographs of Diana Mitford, with that same sort of icy beauty. In character, however, Bea owes a lot more to Idina Sackville Wallace Gordon Hay etc, restless, troubled, and irresistible to all men– except the ones to whom she’s married.

Then, of course, there’s Clemmie, my modern heroine, who knows her Granny Addie only as an imposing old dowager and has no idea of the storms and upheavals she went through along the way– and is entirely unprepared for the biggest family secret of all.

The Ashford Affair comes out April 2, 2013. More soon!