Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween!

The pumpkin was carved by my younger daughter when she was home this past weekend.

And here is my older daughter's rescue dog, Bella, dressed up for Halloween as a bumblebee.

Did you know you can have your vet test your dog's DNA to see its heritage? Turns out Bella is half boxer, half bulldog. And all sweetheart.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Polish Angels

I've started giving some thought to how I plan to approach making a book video for When Maidens Mourn, and so I naturally began by looking at what I had done for What Remains of Heaven and Where Shadows Dance. But when I went to YouTube to watch them, I was surprised to find this:

It's a book video for the Polish edition of What Angels Fear. Kinda neat, huh? And I must say, I really like their cover.

Funny, I hadn't realized until tonight that I had never actually seen my Polish covers.

Friday, October 21, 2011

How Something Once Simple Became Complicated

Once, long ago (but in this galaxy) anyone who wanted to submit a manuscript to a New York publisher made certain that said manuscript was printed in Courier. Courier was the industry standard because it was the font of typewriters. Editors knew that a manuscript typed or printed in Courier with one-inch margins was estimated at 250 words per page, or 100,000 words for a 400 page manuscript. Of course, there weren’t actually 250 words on each page, but that’s the way it was figured because publishers were aware of the fact that empty white space takes up paper, too. In other words, it’s irrelevant if all your lines are this short:

“Holy cow!”

Or this long:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, etc.

Because what matters isn’t the actual number of words but how many lines it takes for you to tell your story. In other words, how many pages will be in the final published book?

Fast forward to the age of computers. While they resisted at first, editors eventually started accepting manuscripts typed in Times New Roman (which gives you a lot more words per page), Century School Book, Palatino, whatever. And then people stepped into the abyss and started using computer word counts. Now everyone is confused.

I’ve discussed this issue with editors, agents, and other writers, and while they all say, Yes, they use computer generated word counts, they also generally frown and say, Yes, they are misleading, and No, they really don’t quite know how to judge a book's length anymore, either. A book that comes in at 95,000 words as counted by a word processor can be as much as 125,000 words if figured using the old method. That’s a big difference! Authors who write lots of short sentences (“Holy cow!”) can come up with a much shorter computer-generated word count than verbose, long-winded authors given to writing long paragraphs of text, even though their books will end up the same actual number of pages.

So what do writers do? Most simply switched to Times New Roman and just go with the computer count. But there are still lots of hold outs. A huge, megaselling author I know still stubbornly uses Courier. Another NYT selling friend of mine uses Palatino and is if anything more confused than I am. Personally, I use Century School Book because I find it readable and it gives me a nice, old-fashioned 250 words per page. But I’ll admit that when my manuscript is running long, I’ll switch to Times New Roman because I know it will look shorter.

Yes, at some level we are all still in school, fiddling with margins and fonts, and deluding ourselves into thinking the teacher won’t notice.

(Ironically, the above image is taken from a 26 April 2011 article on Haggard and Halloo entitled "No more typewriters," and is about the shuttering of the world's last typewriter manufacturer, in India.)

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And the Murderer Is… Um, Let Me Think About That Again


Full confession: I’m within some 75 pages of the end of Who Bells the Cat (working title only; I don't know yet if I can keep it), and I’m considering changing the identity of the murderer.

This isn’t the first time I’ve done this. I did it in the very first mystery I wrote, Midnight Confessions. I’ve even switched a couple of times in the Sebastian series, although never anywhere near this late in the writing of the story.

So why do I suddenly decide, No, wait! It’s not him. I think it's actually her? Sometimes I make the switch because I come up with a great new twist. Sometimes I realize that a sequence of events that seemed perfectly logical in abstract doesn’t hold together as well as expected once I get down to the nitty-gritty details. Once I even turned a murderer into a mere innocent suspect largely because I’d come to like him too much to turn him into a rat at the end. (No, I’m not going to tell who, so don’t ask!) Funny, I can kill off characters I like, but I have real trouble assassinating their characters.

I’m the kind of writer who likes to plot her books out very, very carefully in advance, so this kind of radical change is always both disconcerting and exciting. But my outlines have never been straightjackets. I recently moved a scene up over a hundred pages, from halfway through the book to about the 100 page mark; suddenly all the problems I’d been having with the manuscript magically disappeared. I’ve dropped everything from scenes and entire chapters to characters and motives. I dearly love adding new twists and subtle nuances. And just often enough to keep me on my toes, Sebastian will tell me, “No, you’ve got it wrong. He didn’t do it; he did.”

The photo above is from a great blog, Cemetery Travel: Adventures in Graveyards Around the World.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

When Maidens Mourn, Chapter One...

Camlet Moat, Trent Place, England, Sunday, 2 August 1812

Tessa Sawyer hummed a nervous tune beneath her breath as she pushed through the tangled brush and bracken edging the black waters of the ancient moat. She was very young—just sixteen at her next birthday. And though she tried to tell herself she was brave, she knew she wasn’t. She could feel her heart pounding in her narrow chest, and her hands tingled as if she’d been sitting on them. When she’d left the village, the night sky above had been clear and bright with stars. But here, deep in the wood, all was darkness and shadow. From the murky, stagnant water beside her rose an eerie mist, thick and clammy.
It should have wafted cool against her cheek. Instead, she felt as if the heavy dampness were stealing her breath, suffocating her with an unnatural heat and a sick dread of the forbidden. She paused to swipe a shaky hand across her sweaty face and heard a rustling in the distance, the soft plop of something hitting the water.

Choking back a whimper, she spun about, ready to run. But this was Lammas, a time sacred to the ancient goddess. They said that at midnight on this night, if a maiden dipped a cloth into the holy well that lay on the northern edge of the isle of Camlet Moat and then tied her offering to a branch of the rag tree that overhung the well, her prayer would be answered. Not only that, but maybe, just maybe, the White Lady herself would appear, to bless the maid and offer her the wisdom and guidance that a motherless girl like Tessa yearned for with all her being.

No one knew exactly who the White Lady was. Father Clark insisted that if the lady existed at all—which he doubted—she could only be the Virgin Mary. But local legend said the White Lady was one of the grail maidens of old, a chaste virgin who’d guarded the sacred well since before the time of Arthur and Guinevere and the Knights of the Round Table. And then there were those who whispered that the lady was actually Guinevere, ever young, ever beautiful, ever glorious.

Forcing herself to go on, Tessa clenched her fist around the strip of white cloth she was bringing as an offering. She could see the prow of the small dinghy kept at the moat by Sir Stanley Winthrop, on whose land she trespassed. Its timbers old and cracked, its aged paint worn and faded, it rocked lightly at the water’s edge as if touched by an unseen current.

It was not empty.

Tessa drew up short. A lady lay crumpled against the stern, her hair a dark cascade of curls around a pale, motionless face. She was young yet and slim, her gown an elegant flowing confection of gossamer muslin sashed with peach satin. She had her head tipped back, her neck arched; her eyes were open but sightless, her skin waxen.

And from a jagged rent high across her pale breast flowed a rivulet of darkness where her life’s blood had long since drained away.