Saturday, December 29, 2007

Down But Not Out

I took these snapshots of my tree (yes, you're right; it is grossly overladen!) with the intention of posting them on Christmas Eve, but a nasty stomach bug had other ideas. I don't seem to be having good luck with holidays this year. Anyway, here they are, albeit a bit late.

If there's a silver lining to spending Christmas week sick, it's that after the first few days I was able to focus enough to read. I plowed through a fascinating biography of Ben Franklin and another of his son, William (yes, it's research for the next St. Cyr mystery), two wonderful historical novels and another really awful one. More about that when I can think coherently.

In the meantime, I hope everyone is having a better holiday season than I am! Here's to a great new year for us all. Cheers!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Miniature Worlds

There’s something magical about miniature worlds. Doll houses, toy trains, Christmas villages—just looking at them fills adults with a childlike wonder and delight. Both of my grandmothers had villages under their Christmas trees. My father’s mother had several largish houses of cardboard and ducks on a pond, while my mother’s mother had a large village of wooden houses made by one of her sons and peopled with little lead figurines.

My villages aren’t large. One sits on the buffet in the dining room; the other is creeping across the bottom of the tree (the electric train was a Christmas present from Steve last year). Last night, the four of us spent about an hour just staring at the glowing tree and village and watching the train go around and around.

What is it about these miniature worlds that is so fascinating? Is it the nostalgia for a lost world of peaceful snow-covered villages and a less-hurried way of life? Do villages somehow help us recapture the magic of toyland? Why? How?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

On Contracts, Proposals, and Bouncing Back

We’ve just accepted a contract for two more contemporary thrillers—sequels to THE ARCHANGEL PROJECT. The new books will be published in 2009 and 2010.

This means that in addition to the Sebastian St. Cyr series, I’ll also be writing a contemporary thriller series featuring the characters from ARCHANGEL: October Guinness, a reluctant remote viewer dragged back into the Navy, and Jax Alexander, a cynical CIA type. At this stage, it’s a series still in search of a name. That’s the problem with duel heroes—one can’t simply call the series by the hero’s name.

While I haven’t blogged about it, the road to this new contract has been rocky. I originally planned the second book in the series to be THE BERMUDA EFFECT. I did tons of research on Cuba and South America and the Bay of Pigs and Iran-Contra. I liked the story so much I wrote beyond the necessary 35 pages/3-5 first chapters to the first turning point—nearly 100 pages. In other words, I invested a lot of time in that proposal, which I sent in last spring. After sitting on it forever, the publishers turned the proposal down in mid-August.

Yes, it can happen. I’ve seen it happen to two writers I know—multipublished, highly successful writers of established series. Which is why smart writers don’t continue working on a proposal until after they’ve heard back from their editors. I didn’t make that mistake, but I did make the mistake of spending too much time researching the book, I wrote too long of a proposal, and I plotted the book out in far more detail than was necessary at that stage. All mistakes I will never make again.

Having the proposal rejected meant I had to come up with a new idea, research it, and write the new proposal, all the while rushing to get SERPENTS in on deadline. Which is why my life has been very hectic, why I am now behind on my writing schedule, and why I am taking a much-needed break this Christmas.

The second book will now be called THE DEADLIGHT CONNECTION. I had originally planned this to be Book Four in the series (yeah, I was doing the alphabet thing with the titles, but that will now have to go away). DEADLIGHT is a neat idea involving Nazi subs and Russians and terrorists, and my publishers are very excited about it. The third book will, if all goes well, be set in Morocco (with Casablanca in the title, naturally).

Having the original thriller proposal rejected and thus having to invest another six weeks frantically coming up with a new proposal means the next ten months will be pretty tense, with two books to write in a scarily short span of time. Right now, I’m working on the proposal for the fifth Sebastian St. Cyr book. And I’m going to be careful not to overdo it!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Bring on a Character in Character

It’s a good rule to follow: if a character in your book is an actor, when he’s first introduced to your readers, he should be in a theater. A painter should be painting. A hit man should be killing someone or at least scoping him out. A character with a quick temper should be shown in a rage. I know this. Yet for some reason, in the first draft of WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP, I slipped up.

The hero of my historical mystery series, Sebastian St. Cyr, has a nemesis named Charles, Lord Jarvis. Jarvis is the Machiavellian powerbroker behind the throne of the weak regency of the man who will eventually become George IV. Yet the first time we met him in the original version of SERPENTS, he was simply in the library of his house. Yes, during the course of the ensuing scene he ordered one of his henchmen to do some dastardly deeds. But while I talked a lot during the book about how powerful and all knowing he was, I never actually showed it. Until, that is, my editor pointed it out. Bless her.

Now, in the new version, we first meet Jarvis when he’s dealing with the Prime Minister. There is no doubt that Jarvis is the more powerful figure. We see him controlling a network of spies and agents. In short, in the final version of WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP, I bring Jarvis on in character.

Perhaps I slipped up because this is book four of a series, and I was forgetting the need to reestablish each character in each book. Perhaps I slipped up because, after all these years, Jarvis’s character is so engrained in me that I didn’t even realize I wasn’t showing it. Whichever, I’m thankful my editor caught my mistake, and I intend to be very careful not to do something similar in future books.

In essence, it’s just one facet of the old maxim, Show Don’t Tell. Show me your character is a jockey or a drug dealer, don’t tell me.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Real-Life Stories that Resonate

Why do certain real-life stories haunt us for years, while others are forgotten almost instantly?

Several years ago, a friend of mine gave a party where the guests were asked to bring an object or a photograph and tell a story from their past. I’d just been organizing some old papers, and I brought a series of pictures my dad, a photographer in the South Pacific in WWII, had taken of a funeral in New Guinea. Since I found the photos after my father’s death, I never knew whose funeral it was. He must have meant something to my father, since he kept the photos all those years. But what horrified me about the photos was the background. Row after row of stark, newly dug graves. At the time I first found them, I was grieving over my father’s death. Those pictures made me realize he was one of the lucky ones; he survived and came home to marry his sweetheart and father two children and enjoy a long and rewarding career. Just this weekend, someone who was at that party told me her husband still retells that story. It obviously struck a chord with him.

I remember reading years ago about an American man and his Vietnamese wife who were on the last plane to take off from Saigon when the city fell to the North Vietnamese. The woman had just delivered a child by caesarian, and as they ran to catch the plane, her stitches burst open. But what etched the story in my mind was the fact that the newborn baby, still in intensive care, had to be left behind. The child survived, but it was something like twelve years before her parents were able to see her and bring her to the States. Twenty years later, I still remember reading about it.

I suppose we all have stories like that, little snippets of other people’s lives that affect us so profoundly that they become a part of us. What do you think those stories have in common?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Of Writers and Friends

You’re looking at an incredible group of people. We are the men and women of Sola, the Southern Louisiana chapter of the Romance Writers of America, gathered here for our third post-Katrina Christmas Party. Every one of these people has a story to tell, of heartbreak and trauma, of loss and triumph. Some lost family members to the storm, many lost houses or suffered devastating damage. Even those whose homes miraculously escaped nevertheless endured long periods of evacuation, survivor-guilt, and all the craziness that is a part of living in a devastated city still partially patrolled by the National Guard.

We held our first post-Katrina meeting just two months after the storm. We sat around in a circle in a half-gutted room and simply listened as, one after the other, we took our turn telling our stories. Some tales were harrowing, others hilarious. Together, we laughed, we cried, and we forged a bond that is still there and probably always will be.

Jamie, the woman who hosted this year’s party, has almost finished rebuilding. This house is in Lakeviw, about a mile from the levee break. There’s a plaque about six feet up on the entry wall, marking their Katrina water line. Many of her neighbors are gone, their houses now empty lots. But an encouraging number are back, or at least in various stages of rebuilding. As we drank wine and laughed through Sadistic Santa, we could hear the distant whirl of a saw and the steady tapping of hammers. The sounds of our city, coming back.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why we’re holding food packages, it’s because we also collected foodstuffs for the local foodbank.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Throw Me Somethin’, Santa!

You might think this Santa is waving at the crowds. He’s not. He’s on a float in a Louisiana Christmas parade, and he’s just thrown a pair of beads! Down here, a parade’s just not a parade if the riders aren’t throwing something. It isn’t just at Mardi Gras. They throw cabbages and carrots at St. Patrick’s Day parades, candy and toys at Christmas parades. And, of course, beads. Always beads. In this case, red and green.

Clinton (in East, not West Feliciana—sorry!) is a wonderful little gem of a town full of antebellum civic buildings and homes. In addition to putting on a fun Christmas parade, once a month—twice a month right before Christmas—they also hold a community market on Saturday. Every time we go, I’m stunned anew by how friendly people are up there, how much they laugh, how relaxed they are. Their next big event is the reenactment of the Civil War battle of Jackson Crossroads. We saw the photos of last year’s reenactment, and I’m determined not to miss it again.

Oh, and my back is much better. Thanks to all who wished me well. And the best part is, I’ve just sent off the revisions of WHERE SERPENTS SLEEP!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Heating Pad Blues


We spent the weekend up in West Feliciana Parish, enjoying their Christmas festivities and painting the lake house. One would think after living with this messed up back of mine for a couple of decades I’d learn, but when you’re up on a ladder and you realize you won’t have to move it again if you reach just a little bit further… Ouch. As they say, all suffering comes from greed, or at least laziness, which is a form of greed.

I took some great pictures of the town of Clinton’s Christmas Parade and Community Market, and I’ll post them as soon as I can sit upright for more than a few minutes. In the meantime, since I can’t do much else, the revisions of SERPENTS are coming along just great. I’ll have more to say on that, too, as soon as I get off the #$%@ heating pad.