Well, most of the summer - in fact, all of the year since January - got swallowed in the rewrite of Homeland, a.k.a. The Re-Write From Hell. Like many events that are later described as "The ______ From Hell," (and you have no idea how hard it is not to use the phrase, "Subsequently so suffixed"), the Rewrite was very much for the best, turning a too-long and insufficiently-focussed Civil War novel into a story of the survival of the heart through friendship and fiction. But, it truly destroyed any type of schedule or timing on other projects.
I have a couple of projects in the works. The revival of the January series is hanging fire - maddeningly - for reasons which cannot be gone into right now, and itís driving me insane. The Project Which Cannot Be Spoken Of is on-schedule. I started teaching my Wednesday Night class again, which always takes me out of myself, and - with the conclusion of Homeland - have returned to the laborious process of trying to teach myself to play - and eventually, to write for - videogames. Though I am having entirely too much fun playing Tomb Raider, itís an extremely stressful experience because Iím so fracking BAD at it. Iím fascinated by the structure of games, by the nature of quests and the beauty of the strange landscapes, but because I was 56 instead of 10 when I started trying to learn how to handle a Controller, Lara Croft spends a lot of her time standing around scratching her butt, fixing her hair, tying her shoes, etc waiting for me to look up whether itís A=jump, B=crouch, or vice-versa.
And, I am a TERRIBLE loser. Which I suspect is the thing that I need to learn from the whole killing-jaguars-in-the-jungles-of-Bolivia thing (I ran into the same thing killing rats in the dungeons beneath the Imperial City of Cryodil): I become WAY too invested in not getting "my" character killed... and they arenít even MY characters. I finish my hour-every-other-night with a crashing headache and itís hard to get to sleep. I approach the games as a writer, not a player. These are printed on kleenex, not sculpted in marble.
I also suspect that at the age of 10, one has a LOT more time to spend practicing, than someone who is essentially holding two jobs and trying to keep relationships going with family and friends.
On the upside, the first graphic novel of the ANNE STEELYARD trilogy is finished (with an unbelievably gorgeous cover by Glen Orbik and Laurel Blechman) and Due Out Soon.
And, Little Nemo (who, though he now weighs 15 pounds or so, is clearly never going to graduate to being Captain Nemo) has finally learned, that when he climbs over the desk to sit in my lap while I work, NOT TO STEP ON THE KEYBOARD.
If he can learn that, I can learn to send Ms. Croft vaulting into danger with guns blazing.
Pass me that Potion of Restore.
(the sitemistress notes, with some amusement, that she got her World of Warcraft characters killed a lot at first, too!)
A very quick update. I have been, since January, buried in the Re-Write From Hell: having turned in Homeland and been told, throw out half of it and completely re-write the other half.
I finished that last Wednesday and turned it in. The editor loves it.
It is now, basically, an epistolary novel about emotional survival: about the friendship of two young women who meet literally on the eve of the Civil War. Susanna is the daughter of a Tennessee tobacco-planter who wants to be an artist; Cora, the daughter of a Yale divinity professor, has just married a Tennessee Unionist who has gone to practice law in Boston. They maintain their friendship through letters, come hell and high water in both their lives: both of them out of step with the war-absorbed people around them, both of them trying to hang on until they can get their lives back again.
Thereís still work to do on it, but I think the worst is over.
The big news is that Iíve had an offer from a UK Publisher for the next two Ben January mysteries. Passe-Blanc, the first of them, is the backstory on Hannibal. I am beyond delighted... and will be beyond busy.
A difficult and frustrating few months, during which all things felt so log-jammed it was hard to write anything besides the Re-Write from Hell on Homeland.
I think as of our last installment, I had just turned in - or was about to turn in - the massive manuscript of my Civil War epic. My editor - who is EXTREMELY savvy about such things - requested me to throw out half of it and re-write the other half, extracting the single story-line concerning friendship, fiction, and emotional survival. That is, in fact, what Homeland has always been about: the friendship between two women, one in Maine, the other in Tennessee (actually, originally it was three), and how that friendship got them both through the awfulness of the war. This was a terribly difficult and frustrating process, and has played hob with my scheduling of other projects (which fortunately I was able to work on between rounds of re-writing).
I appear to be at least on track as to what Iím going to do, and am roughly a quarter of the way through what I hope will be the final version. But, for several months I have been doing NOTHING but working and sleeping and teaching my class...
...and going to New Orleans, for the first time since three weeks before Hurricane Katrina.
That was the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, held mostly at the Bourbon Orleans Hotel in the Quarter... which incorporates, of all things, the old Orleans Ballroom where the quadroon balls were held. The panels were held in the Ballroom itself; the friend with whom I traveled is mildly psychic, and it was interesting to walk the room with her while the sound crew was setting up. "Thereís nothing malevolent here," she said, "but the roomís definitely inhabited."
The Festival itself was lovely, the panels I was on lively and fun: Historical writing in general, and one on Presidential Ladyfriends. I was able to re-connect with my dear friend Jill, who runs the Chimes Bed Ďní Breakfast, and she was good enough to drive us through the Ninth Ward. Eerie to see empty green lots, where I remembered a neighborhood: here and there a flight of concrete porch-steps led up to nothing, or a single leaf of a gate stood alone in the weeds. I was - and still am - extremely shut-down about going: I simply observed, mentally logged the information, and didnít, or couldnít, let it sink in much. Going back was more difficult than I let myself be aware of. Iím very glad that I was with a friend. (Being, as I said, mildly psychic, she found the trip through the Ninth absolutely appalling.)
Yet, it was wonderful to walk around the back of the Quarter early Sunday morning, before leaving for the airport again; picking out where Benjamin Januaryís mother lives, and his sisters; walking past the house that I use as the model for the school he opened with Rose. When I got home I dug out the outlines for the next four of the series, and read them over. One way or another, Iíll get them written. Itís just as well, I suspect, that thereís been a hiatus in the series. I donít think I could have written them just after George died, or just after Katrina.
I will say - and itís an awful thing to observe - that the street-music in the Quarter is ENORMOUSLY better, due to the fact that so many really fine musicians are out of work. I will put in here a GREAT BIG PLUG for a group called the G-String Quartet (who can be seen on YouTube in a couple of places); they brought in a piano on a hand-truck and played for about an hour on Royal Street (stepping back every now and then to let a car go by). A lovely warm evening, and about a hundred people sitting on the sidewalk, the curb, and the steps of the Police Department building across from Brennanís, outside which this was all taking place. One of my best new memories of the city.
In the meantime, back at home, Iím doing what I have to. I enjoy teaching; the roses are in bloom, I think Homeland is going to be a hell of a book. Like everyone else I know, things are a struggle right now. Because Homeland is so deeply about fiction as a means of emotional survival, Iíve been reading tons of nineteenth-century fiction - mostly Austen and Dickens ("tons" is how Dickens comes) - and now that Iíve got a better handle on how to tell the story, I may even go back to gaming on the long-neglected X-Box. The weather has been mild and lovely; Iíve spent time with my family; periodically I get to explain to Community College students about the Black Death and Popes Behaving Badly.
Everyone be nice to your Moms on Motherís Day.
Itís been a long and stressful month.
The holidays went well. I took my Christmas decorations down promptly. (I always feel so sleazy if theyíre still hanging up by the end of January - like Iím still in my pyjamas and havenít taken a shower by 3 in the afternoon.) I donít really believe in New Yearís resolutions, but one thing I would like to learn to do (or begin to learn to do) this year is study how video-games are written, which I pretty much canít do until Iíve played them. So, I got an X-Box360, and am laboriously thrashing around in a dungeon killing giant rats and getting killed by goblin berserkers. The map disappears every time I get killed.
I also got a big-screen TV - the opening credits for the new Dr. Who scare the daylights out of the cats at that size - so that dungeon makes enough of an impression that I dream about it. I now also find myself thinking in terms of those little gauges down in the lower left-hand corner of the screen: going into the third hour of being coached on setting up a Class Web-Site for the history class I teach, I could almost see my fatigue-gauge sliding down into the zone where a couple of giant rats might finish me off. (Time to start looking around for a Weak Potion of Restore).
HOMELAND got turned in right after New Yearís, and I just got back notes from the Editor on it: MASSIVE re-writes. But oddly, I feel very good about it. (Whew!) Other projects are lining themselves up for the coming year, several of which I've been asked not to talk about. And of course, there's one research book that I have to find for the re-write of HOMELAND and of course it's grown feet and run away. And, I'm knee-deep in research books and printouts for the portions of the novel that are going to end up on the cutting-room floor.
Class starts up again a week from Wednesday - with a Web-Site to back me up, this time, so thereíll be no more of this, "Ms. Hambly, I lost my syllabus..." The LiveJournal blog seems to be a success: at least, people keep adding me to their "Friends" lists. It reminds me very much of the old GENIE chat-rooms that SFWA members used to have in the early Ď90s. I donít talk about much there (although youíll find chunks of this Update have been cribbed from my latest post): usually itís just the weather and my cats.
Having had the "We Have to Talk" talk with my editor this morning, I'm now in the "meditating" phase of re-writing, which is: Have Received Notes > absorb them and make them part of me THEN > Start Writing Again. It's hard to convince people that making a shirt or drawing silly pictures of the Beatles or Dr. Who is actually part of my working process, but it is. I think all pro writers out there have run into the problem of: most people around you assume that because you're not sitting at the computer actually pushing those little buttons, your time and your energy are free for you to devote to them or to errands. Now, having lived with a pro writer who used this scenario against me - who, though he seldom produced work when left to himself, got bent out of shape if I asked him to pull his weight in household chores - I understand the other side of this coin all too well.
I suspect this is one reason why substance abuse is so common - and so deadly - an occupational hazard of writing.
I have no answer to this dilemma. I'm disciplined to the point of OCD and have boundaries the size and impenetrability of the Deadly Desert that surrounds Oz, and I live in a welter of cat-hair and undone dishes, and cannot find books when I need them.
In any case, I'm going to spend the evening killing goblin berserkers and trying to get myself out of the damn Natural Caverns (lugging an assortment of weapons and potions and spells that I have no idea how to make work... not to mention my damn Ez-E-Rase map). Tomorrow will be soon enough to put on my blue or gray (or red, but that's another project) uniform, and head back to The War.
HOMELAND is finished.
Well, yes, thereís another polish cycle, and then on these large historicals, my editor usually asks for a number of changes - she has a marvelous eye for sharpening a story. But, to all intents and purposes, itís done: and I am very, very pleased with it. The more research I did, the more disturbing I found it to work on, because some of it sounded eerily contemporary, particularly to one who was in college during the Vietnam War; and, of course, living in the border-states - particularly eastern Tennessee - was like living in Iraq.
After so long of being so absorbed in the lives of the seven main characters, Iíll really miss them.
As usual when Iíve finished a novel, I need to set it aside for a week or ten days before the final polish cycle, to let it cool and let my inner eye readjust; and as usual, the prospect of ten days away from the story fills me with anxiety and guilt. I SHOULD BE WORKING!!! I SHOULD HAVE MY SHOULDER TO THE WHEEL! TERRIBLE THINGS WILL HAPPEN IF I RELAX!! The Protestant work-ethic is a dreadful thing.
One of the problems is that I tend to use my work as a drug (as many people do, I understand). If Iím slogging away at the Most Important Deadline In The World, I canít worry about things like global warming and the national debt and the impending collapse of human civilization, all matters that disturb me greatly if Iím not focussed on how to keep a character sympathetic to the reader when for purposes of the plot he or she is behaving like a jerk.
There are, of course, new projects coming up: pre-Revolutionary Boston, and stirring around ideas and characters of the Next Big Historical (please, God); a Hellboy short story for the new collection, ODDEST JOBS, and putting together a graphic novel series.
On the subject of graphic novels, the first volume of ANNE STEELYARD should be out, from Penny-Farthing Press, in the spring; Iíll try to send a scan of the cover to Deb to put up on the site.look here! (I never know how well these things will work). Itís HUGE fun, and Iím extremely pleased with it: rootiní-tootiní two-fisted adventure in the deserts of Arabia just prior to World War One. Djinns and lost cities. Evil plots and star-crossed lovers. And GORGEOUS artwork.
For the moment, itís time to catch my breath, and remind myself that for a writer, resting IS working. The holidays are coming up, and Iím looking forward to (I hope) less travel in 2008, though I will be at the Tennessee Williams Festival in New Orleans at the end of March, and will be Guest of Honor at World Fantasy Con in Calgary in (yipe!) early November.
Everyone is welcome to drop by my blog at LiveJournal.com (which is less about my work and more about day-to-day trivia, like what the cats are up to and what the evening smells like when I take my dog for a walk).
Everyone have a lovely, lovely holiday. I will continue to keep you all posted here.
At the moment, Iím taking antibiotics in the hopes that Iíll be well enough to get a flu shot before I leave for Baton Rouge next weekend. Iíve had this cold for about six weeks.
Thank you all for your patience.
There are events and travels upcoming, new announcements, and another timid step taken into the twenty-first century. With luck, I hope the waters will be a little smoother after the first of the year.
For over a year now Iíve been working, pretty much exclusively, on HOMELAND, a novel of the Civil War: a difficult period to write about, and for a long time a difficult novel as well. I wanted to write about the part of the Civil War that isnít much taught - the horrendous war fought in the border states (specifically, Eastern Tennessee), and the profound unpopularity of the war in the North. And, six weeks out from the deadline (with MILES of text to go!), I am very, very pleased. I only hope my editors share my opinion.
But, one reason for my long silences this year has been the difficulty in talking about what I was writing - and the fact that for much of the year, it was the ONLY thing I was writing.
Iím used to having two or more projects going.
Since I sold the Abigail books, Iíve felt much better, and hugely look forward to starting NINTH DAUGHTER OF EVE. The name under which theyíll appear is Elizabeth Evans - a nice, scholarly-sounding mystery-writer name, which has the advantage of linking me with my paternal grandma, whose maiden name was Evans. Certainly much more memorable than Hambly, which despite its solid English-ness is in fact a rather odd one.
In addition, since Iíll be Guest of Honor at next yearís World Fantasy Convention in Calgary, Iíve been asked to do a Fantasy Sherlock Holmes story for an anthology theyíre putting out. Figuring, - Whatís the other big Victorian fantasy? - I decided to do Sherlock Holmes Meets Peter Pan: "The Adventure of the Lost Boy." Iíll keep everyone posted as to when and where this will come into print.
And, thereís been teaching as well, which takes time but smooths out the finances, which like the finances of writers everywhere, have become rather rocky of late. Teaching the History of Western Civilization is great fun, but it is tiring, and I signed up for WAY too many conventions this past year.
Baton Rouge this weekend - the Louisiana Festival of Books, on 3 November in Baton Rouge - will be the last travel for the year, though I will also be at LosCon, the local Los Angeles science fiction convention, on Saturday and Sunday of Thanksgiving weekend.
In addition to all that, I have, as I said, taken the next hesitant step into the 21st century, and gotten myself a blog. You are all welcome to stop by http://barbara-hambly.livejournal.com/ (I think thatís how theyíre set up) - that includes you, please, Deb - for bits of chat that will more likely than not mostly concern my cats, the blue-jays in the back yard, my family, and the trivia of a life lived mostly in front of a computer screen with a cup of tea in my hand. Writers generally donít live very interesting lives in Real Life. But, youíre very much welcome to stop by and chat, and I would love to see any and all of you.
I WILL CONTINUE TO WRITE UPDATES ON THIS SITE TO KEEP EVERYONE APPRISED OF PUBLICATIONS AND APPEARANCES. Please do continue to drop in here.
I may turn out to be as rotten a blogger as I am an update-er.
In the meantime, itís good to see you all.
Back from travel. Done with jury duty. Finished cleaning up after the big Family 4th of July barbeque.
Many things accomplished.
Very tired of airports, and of association with humankind.
The bad news is that Benjamin January is still on hiatus. But the good news is, I have sold another historical murder mystery series, of the Famous Historical Sleuth variety - something Iíve wanted to do for some time. For reasons too long to go into, it will be under another name... and Iím not sure yet what that name will be. But, the Famous Historical Sleuth in question will be our old pal, Abigail Adams - who probably would have been a lawyer herself if she hadnít been either pregnant or nursing for the first decade of her marriage. The first book, NINTH DAUGHTER OF EVE, will take place in Boston just before the tea-party (and Matt, Iím relying on you to tell me: was the tea they dumped in the harbor in the form of loose leaves, or compessed into blocks?), and involve the Sons of Liberty.
I wonít even be able to start on it until the manuscript of HOMELAND is done (which will be in December), but Iím extremely pleased. I think the series will be great fun, even though, with the changed conditions Iíve been griping about for the past two years, itís nearly impossible to make a living with category fiction. It still gives me enormous joy.
On the subject of making a living, I have also just finished my first year of teaching - one class a week, at the local community college. Because my degree is in History rather than English, they wouldnít hire me to teach Creative Writing (just about no one will)... but they did hire me to teach Western Civ. Which is what Iíve been imparting, 7-10 Wednesday nights, to the youth of America.
Beyond that, Iíve been traveling - intermittently but frequently enough to exhaust me - since mid-April: my poor little dog has got a Frequent User discount at the kennel. The research trip - my friends call them Death Marches, with some justification - for HOMELAND was enormously useful (though I swear one of the bed Ďní breakfasts I stayed at in Tennessee was haunted); strange, beautiful backroads in Appalachia (which pretty much fought its own version of the Civil War for several years after Appamattox); amazing stories about people (including a lady named Adelicia Acklen, upon whom, it is speculated, Scarlett OíHara was based, except they had to tone Adelicia WAY down to make her believable as fiction); curious things seen on streetcorners in Nashville, TN. (Thereís apparently a car dealership there which has as its mascots life-sized pink fiberglass elephants wearing sunglasses. Who knew?)
This coming weekend I go down to ComicCon in San Diego; something I face with trepidation, since last year it was so crowded they stopped letting people in about mid-day Saturday (total attendance that day was 150,000). I will bring a lunchbox rather than try to purchase anything at the concession stand. Iíll be on a panel about story-telling with pictures (since Iíve just turned in the script for Part III of a graphic novel with Pennyfarthing Press), and will be signing at the Pennyfarthing booth Saturday at noon.
The FOLLOWING weekend - August 1-5 - Iíll be in St. Louis, where I am Guest of Honor at NasFic. I understand theyíre expecting Hot and Muggy. Later in the autumn - October 5-7 - Iíll be Guest of Honor at SiliCon in San Jose, and the first weekend of November (rather to my astonishment) Iíll be at the Louisiana Festival of Books in Baton Rouge. Thereís also a Family Reunion in there someplace.
There are many projects Iím still trying to get off the ground, but itís a giant fight for time at the moment: Iím working on getting a shed built so I can quit paying blackmail to the Storage Area. (With the money Iíd have saved by doing that fifteen years ago, I could have paid off my medical expenses. Who knew?) And, Iím still finding little notes to myself in my journal, of things Iím supposed to do ("Lead Meeting - 10:30") with no indication of where or when.
Thank you all for hanging in there with me. I keep promising myself, one of these days Iíll set up a MySpace page and start doing a blog, but I have the awful feeling it wouldnít make me any more prompt about keeping in touch with you all.
I will post again after I get back from NasFic.
Having just got back from probably my only for-pleasure road trip this year, which included going to see "300" with a friend, I would like to say this about that: There was no Rhinoscerous Attack Corps attached to the Persian Army in 490 B.C. Nor, I am sure, did His Majesty King Xerxes habitually dress like a Las Vegas transvestite impersonating Liz Taylor as Cleopatra. That said, I will simply append the Glyph of Ranting and move on. I certainly hope someday someone gives all those people connected with that film a library card. (Deb's note: according to a reliable source of mine, all the figters had the exact same ab muscles, too, suggesting either group-training or identical fake body plating!)
The situation has not materially changed since my last post, though Iím coming down with another cold, having had yet ANOTHER cold in between - a bad one, entailing three weeks in bed and antibiotics which worked for about five days. I have two more major projects out, and am waiting to hear. Meantime, Iím putting together plans for a research trip (my friends have taken to calling them Death Marches) to East Tennessee and the "down east" coast of Maine, in connection with the Civil War novel HOMELAND.
It looks like it is shaping up to be an EXTREMELY busy year.
At the end of this month (Apr. 26-29), Iíll be attending the Romantic Times romance convention in Houston; the weekend immediately following (May 3-7) Iíll be in Washington DC for Malice Domestic, a mystery writerís convention that specializes in cozies and historicals. Iíll be coming home late from that one because on Monday, May 7, Iíve been asked to speak at the Library of Congress (whoo-hoo!) about Research and World-Building - contact Colleen Cahill at email@example.com for more information.
June 8-10 Iíll be in Charlotte, NC, at ConCarolinas, after which Iíll rent a car and take off for Greeneville, TN across the mountains, mostly because there hasnít been a passenger-train over those lines since the Civil War. But, I look forward to what promises to be a gorgeous (if lengthy) drive. From Greeneville Iíll drive to Nashville (another 4 hours on mountain roads) and look at battlefields, then take a plane to Maine for the "blue" portion of the story. (Not that anyone involved in the guerilla fighting in Tennessee wore gray for more than a couple of weeks, if at all).
In July I get to be at the 20th anniversary convention of Beauty and the Beast, (which is near my house, thank God), and the first weekend of August Iíll be at NasFic in St. Louis. (My poor dog will be very tired of kennel chow by that time). Iíll be a guest at SiliCon in San Jose the first weekend in October, and the first weekend in November, Iíve been asked to be a guest at the Louisiana Festival of Books in Baton Rouge - the first time Iíve been back in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina. Iím not sure whether Iíll be able to get down to New Orleans on that occasion or not Ė nor whether, at this point, with the shape my immune system will be in after a summer of travel, it would be a good idea for me to go.
So thatís the year so far, give or take a few family dinners at my parentsí. I will keep everyone posted.
In the meantime, I hope everyone had a lovely Easter, and will bear in mind what I said about the Persian Rhinoscerous Attack Corps.
(See Barbara's interview)
Sorry itís taken me awhile to get back on the subject of The Big TV Appearance. Not much to my surprise I came down sick immediately afterwards, and itís always difficult to get myself organized when all I want to do is lie down.
Itís fortunate I knew already that Morning Talk-News TV is one of those absolutely last-minute deals; I got e-mailed by the Bantam Publicity Department with, "Can you be on Monday?" followed up almost immediately with an over-the-phone coaching-session by two Bantam publicists, an invaluable lesson in strategies to use in 3-minute interviews. They emphasized that the combination of unnatural circumstances and high pressure Ė plus the fact that I have only 180 seconds to sell the book to the largest number of people Ė make it essential to a) break down what I really want to say about the book into 3 simple sound-bites and b) MEMORIZE these. (Iíve been in enough pressure situations to know how one does forget).
The publicists were super: they coached me in what is best to wear on TV (dark blazer and jewel-toned silk shirt if youíve got Ďem - which, fortunately, I do - no stripes, no polka-dots, no big glittery jewelry or big earrings - thank goodness I had the pearl studs left over from my wedding... in short, NOTHING that will be distracting on-screen), and things like, Donít talk with your hands. (Also distracting). I felt like a forty-year-old old maid whose mother is coaching her for a date with a Gentleman Caller... "Donít wear that dress, dear, it makes you look fast... Donít talk about politics or religion... Just pearls...No bright-red lipstick...."
Weíre so used to seeing things on TV we forget that TV ISNíT real-life, and is, in fact, a highly unnatural medium. They also informed me that not only would there be no one there to do hair and make-up for the camera (and you need to wear MASSIVE amounts of make-up in order not to be washed-out-looking), but there would be no one there at all. Iíd be interviewed from New York, via satellite, in front of a green-screen, staring into a camera in a bare studio with a wire in my ear, which is fairly surreal at quarter to six in the morning. (The black blazer is so the wire doesnít show.)
They said to e-mail a set of Fun First Lady Factoids to the producers to make up questions from. I got up early Sunday morning, for a "pre-interview" with the producer to make sure I knew the drill (and probably so they could gauge how articulate I was and whether I could be trusted to keep to the topic - something critically important in TV.)
Iíd have four minutes, they said... IF there was no breaking news that morning, in which case I might get bumped entirely. (I tried not to think, "Thank God Anna Nicole died LAST week...." which Iím sure would be bad for the karma.)
It also rained.
And, at Mount Hood in Oregon, it snowed... so the Breaking News that morning was, would they rescue those three climbers who fell over a cliff? - that, and Brittney Spearsís shaving her head. My time got cut to about 90 seconds and they asked me a few quick questions about the First Ladies and didnít give me a chance to even mention whether PATRIOT HEARTS was fiction or non-fiction, and then they cut back live to the rescue base-camp in a blizzard. And this is absolutely the nature of Morning Talk News, and Iím glad those three people got rescued okay. I do not grudge them a moment of screen-time. (Iím also quite well aware that the people who really want to hear about Brittney Spears outnumber the people who really want to hear about Martha Washington by a factor of at least 100:1)
The whole experience made me very glad that a) I hadnít cancelled out on the Philharmonic with dear friends the night before in anticipation of the interview and b) that I donít make my living in television: I simply donít have the temperament to deal with the pace.
My agent tells me there was, in fact, an uptick in Amazon orders for PH that day.
Within two days I was down with a chest cold, the usual result of stress, sleep deprivation, and getting chilled. (And yes, I was taking Airborne the whole time!) The cats were astonished to find me in bed in daylight, but were delighted to join me there: thatís where THEY spend the daylight hours, after all.
Signing at Vromanís Books tonight (Monday, Feb. 26). Revisions on the New Projects outlines, and zilch so far (nine months and counting!) on the vampire project, though people tell me that isnít at all unusual, even for name authors, in the current book market. (!)
Many, many thanks to all those of you who tuned in.
February, 2007 (part deux)
This just in.
As things look now, it appears Iíll be on the Fox Network morning show Fox and Friends next Monday Ė Presidentís Day Ė to talk about PATRIOT HEARTS. I have NO details (and only heard confirmation of this today) Ė Iíll try to get a confirmation to Deb to put up on the site later this week (possibly as late as Friday, alas, but thatís the nature of talk-show TV).
Check back for details (Deb's note: I'll post information here and on the front page).
I will also be doing a book-signing at Vromanís Bookstore in Pasadena 7 pm, Monday, Feb. 26 (the day after the Oscars).
And, March 11 (a Sunday) I will be signing at the Paperback Book Show and Sale at the Guest House Inn in Mission Hills, CA Ė something I do every year. (Last year, as I recall, I was coming down with the worst case of flu Iíve ever had Ė I finished the night in the hospital).
Commitments I took on last fall Ė and this past January Ė have impacted my life more than Iíd thought they would, and have begun to take a toll on my health; with luck, Iíll get through them okay by mid-March and be able to do things like clean up my study and clear off the dining-room table. I felt a little better when I took a walk in the evening of Superbowl Sunday, to enjoy the weirdly magical silence of the empty streets in my neighborhood, and encountered, sitting out by someoneís curbside garbage-cans, an extremely brown Christmas-tree. It told me that Iím not the only one whoís been having a little trouble keeping my act together this year.
Still havenít heard one single solitary thing about the vampire-novel outline I sent out last April. Iíve sent out another batch of potential projects Ė both fantasy and historical Ė and have started the tiresome back-and-forth with editors about, Whatís the next project?
I will let everyone know whatís going on as soon as I know whatís going on.
More later about Fox etc.
Itís the Saturday before Christmas, the night I always think of as Friends-Christmas, as opposed to the traditional Family-Christmas on the 25th. Tonight is the night for everybodyís Christmas parties.
There are the usual amazing things rampant in the neighborhood Ė Who invented the inflatable lawn-deco, anyway? There are some houses with puffy plastic armies in front of them: snowmen, Santas, snow-globes with real swirling snow, polar-bears, not even pretty. Just BIG. There are also some amazing light displays, very gay and sparkly, though I could do without the one that broadcasts "Jingle Bells" while itís on. Iím very grateful that after Monday itíll probably be a year before I hear "Jingle Bells" or "The Little Drummer Boy" again.
Itís been a tiring and disconcerting year. I STILL havenít heard on whether the Asher and Ysidro books are going to be reprinted (with a third installment to be written); Iím putting together outlines for other projects, to go out, hopefully, early in the new year. Iím working on a vampire short story for the second Dark Delicacies anthology (not an Ysidro story, though Ysidro makes a brief appearance); also on HOMELAND, the Civil War home-front novel that involves, in part, the rather bizarre family dynamics of Andrew Johnson, the President who succeeded Abraham Lincoln Ė notorious for being (I think) the only U.S. Vice President who showed up to his inauguration so hammered he could barely stand.
Iíve avoided the Civil War for most of my writing career. Now Iím learning all sorts of things that got left out or glossed over in history classes, not to speak of epics like Gone With the Wind. Research involves going up to UCLA Library, a horrid journey involving much thrashing through traffic and waiting for shuttle-busses. The Lincoln research I did a couple of years ago seems transparantly simply by comparison.
Later: Christmas is safely past. Imperceptibly, the days grow lighter, longer again. As usual, I slept through the midnight hour when the animals gain the ability to speak: Jasmine in any case is perfectly capable of communicating to me all she wants to say (which consists of, "My dish is empty Ė or almost empty Ė or will be almost empty soon...").
Next month PATRIOT HEARTS finally makes its appearance. My apologies to those who thought PATRIOT LADIES would be a better title Ė my editor and I thrashed back and forth on that one for months. I wish I could announce a release-date on the first of the Anne Steelyard graphic novels, but Pennyfarthing has sent me no information so far. In the upcoming year, Iíll be appearing at (I hope) the Romantic Times convention in Texas Ė Houston, I think Ė and at the Malice Domestic mystery convention in Washington DC. In June Iíll be GoH at ConCarolinas Ė I believe thatís in Charlotte, but please, donít take my word on it Ė in early August at Archon/NasFic in St. Louis, and in October at SiliCon in San Jose... which is a LOT of travel for me.
In the meantime, many thanks to you all whoíve hung in here with me. One of my resolutions Ė or as close to resolutions as I ever get Ė this upcoming year is to see about getting a MySpace page (unless thatís hopelessly passe by this time?) I will keep everyone posted.
Have a lovely New Year, everyone. Personally, I plan to (as usual) leave the New Yearís Bash at 11, drive home when the very few drivers on the road are still sober, and be in bed with the cats up to my chin when everyone else is celebrating an event thatís already taken place three hours previously in New York.
Itís just another winter day to me.
On the subject of whether the universes in my fantasies are linked Ė Not really. Not intentionally. (Despite the old rabbi in SUN CROSS having met Ingold Ė we already KNEW our world was linked with Darwath).
Similarities in magic between the universes stems from my feeling that using magic takes its physical and mental toll on the user; there are differences between how magic works, in the various universes I write about, some of it a matter of degree (how common is magic?). Sun Wolf Ė and other mages in his world Ė have to undergo a horrible physical ordeal to access their magic. For millenia, the only ones in the Seven Realms and the Yellow City Ė the world of SISTERS OF THE RAVEN Ė who could cause changes in the physical world without physical instrumentality were some males; now itís only some females who can do it.
Why is it that way?
As the character Puahale says at the end of CIRCLE OF THE MOON, nobody has the slightest idea how or why magic really works.
Personally, I havenít the slightest idea why the adventures of those silly people on that island can be stored on a flat disk that I can play by sticking it in a machine (that works by a power that I donít understand either). I only know I hit the correct switches in the correct order and this solemn voice comes out: "Previously, on LOST..." (And I must say, my respect for those actors borders on awe-struck, that they can say those lines with straight faces. What consummate professionals!)
For that matter, I have no idea where it is that I go in my mind, to find the stories I tell. I know I just climb into the driverís seat, pick up the reins, and weíre off down those strange, beautiful roads.
Itís a long way around from "Could Ingold and the Icefalcon meet Benjamin January...?" to where it is that I go when I write, but Iíve been giving a lot of thought to why I write, what I write, and why I write what I write. Mostly, I think, because of the changes in the publishing market that Iíve been whining about for the past eighteen months. The contemporary ghost-story I had in at Publisher B got kicked back (after five months): Iíll see how much it needs altering, then send it out again, because itís fun and I love it. The third Asher-and-Ysidro book is STILL at Publisher C (going on six months) (theyíre waiting on sales figures from RENFIELD, they tell me)...
Itís sometimes difficult to write an Update, deeply as I do appreciate you all being there.
Part of my silence has been simply poor health. I did go to the Family Reunion (and to my delight, my nephew is well on his way to becoming a historian of the "Barbarian Migrations Era," previously known as "The Dark Ages.") It was in San Francisco, it was lovely, it involved getting very chilled and riding in public transportation which led almost at once to a week-long cold and eight weeks of not-quite-being-over-the-cold: fatigue, sore throat, upper respiratory inflammation. The usual. The only thing that seems to help is sleep, and that isnít always an option.
I also did get to WorldCon in Anaheim, which was massively useful: I got approached by a publisher about a new fantasy project Ė a new series, with luck Ė so Iím piecing together outlines (and probably a sample couple of chapters) in between work on HOMELAND, the third of my American straight historicals, this one about the Civil War homefront: the women who had to keep their lives going while the guys were off killing each other. One of these ladies is Eliza Johnson, the wife of Abraham Lincolnís VP and ill-fated successor Andrew Johnson (the FIRST U.S. President to be impeached Ė and for something a lot more dignified than boinking an intern)(which brings up the subject of what is LESS dignified than boinking an intern?). Anyway, writing about Eliza is like writing about the Invisible Woman, because sheís another one of those First Ladies from whom not one scrap of correspondence remains, though what Iíve found out about her is both interesting and suggestive.
Ben January is still on hiatus, though one short story ("Libre") about him came out in Ellery Queenís Mystery Magazineís New Orleans issue recently; another ("There Shall Your Heart Be Also") will be in an upcoming anthology called NEW ORLEANS NOIR, the proceeds of which will go to helping New Orleans writers washed out by Katrina.
In a way, having the January series on hiatus right now is less difficult for me, because Iím not sure Iíd be able to go back to New Orleans to research. First and foremost, because it would be just too painful. Iím not sure I could write anything objectively about the city at the moment. Secondly, though I feel like an awful wus to say so, as I mention above, my immune system isnít terribly robust, and an awful lot of people are coming out of that town with whatís described as "the Katrina cough."
So, I will settle myself down to work on HOMELAND and to see about achieving orbital velocity with a fantasy series that has begun to intrigue me very much. (Please insert the usual vows to be better about Updates in future). And Ė when I get a little time Ė Iím going to see about doing a MySpace page, which everyone tells me is dirt-simple to put up.
In the meantime, Christmas is on its way.
Everyone have a nice Halloween, and a happy Day of the Dead.
I'd promised myself I'd write an Update immediately after Comic Con (which always makes for some interesting tales); events arising at Comic Con sort of overtook me.
It's been a long, hot summer.
In previous years, the nice folks at Pennyfarthing Press have asked me out to dinner at Comic Con, and to do a signing at their booth for work I've done on their graphic novel series, The Victorian. (And one of these days the graphic novel I did for the series, The Invisible Labyrinth, will appear: it was delayed due to changes in the timing of the series itself). Comic Con dinners being what they are, I always had to leave in the middle of dinner to catch the last train back to Los Angeles. This year, because I've been doing a series of three graphic novels for them about a pre-WWI adventure heroine named Anne Steelyard, they put me up at a hotel across the street from the convention center, so I could take the train down Thursday and back home Sunday.
The first thing that awaited me when I plugged my laptop in at the hotel room was an e-mail from Bantam Books, saying that yes, they are buying my Big Fat Civil War Novel Homeland.
I immediately felt much, much better.
The two fantasy projects I have out are still out, after nearly three months. My agent, and editor friends, tell me the entire market is frozen. (One of the houses has just been sold by one multinational to another multinational, so it'll probably be awhile before I hear on that one). It's frustrating, because I love - and need - both sides of my career, the fantasy and the historical (which includes historical mysteries, although that is still on hiatus as well). But knowing that Homeland had sold made it possible for me to have a really, really nice time at Comic Con without worrying how I was going to pay the mortgage in September.
At Comic Con (I'll get back to Homeland later) the first thing I saw - other than 130,000 people in WAY not enough space for them - was this immense illuminated poster of the cover-art for Anne Steelyard on the Pennyfarthing booth. I was slack-jawed at how beautiful the artwork is. (I've sent some to Deb to put up on the site and will send more as I scan it in). Alex Kosakowski is phenomenal, a very young Chicago artist (well, he seemed young to me, but I'm going to turn into a Senior Citizen in 18 days) who's going to go far. I wasn't able to meet James Taylor, who does the inks, but Mike Garcia, the colorist, was there, too, and it's the beauty of the coloring as much as the excellence of the images that impress me about it.
They don't have a firm date on Part One, "An Honorary Man," but at the convention I was able to turn in the script for Part Two, "The Gate of Dreams and Starlight." Thank you George, for leaving me that great big pile of books about Arabia and the Middle East!
And as usual, Comic Con was hugely entertaining. There's a group of San Diego costume fans who do a perfect squad of Imperial Storm Troopers, white PVC armor marvelously personalized. Lots of anime and manga fans, including a couple of Asian girls who did themselves up as perfect geisha, a delight to see. A number of the comic book companies hired actresses to don superheroine spandex, so the bodies were exactly what one sees in comic books... there was one young lady in purple and big black combat boots who seemed to have a permanent squad of guys around her with cameras (or taking her picture on their cell phones, if they didn't have a camera). On Saturday the crowding got so bad they closed the doors at 2. Saturday morning, several friends and I ditched the convention and went antique shopping in Point Loma, so I missed the worst of it. But even Friday, the lighter day, made the street-scenes in Blade Runner look like the deserts of The Sheltering Sky, and coming back late Saturday afternoon, there was a trash-line all around the edges of the convention center, like seaweed on a beach.
I took the train home, and was very glad I'd paid extra for a guaranteed seat in Business Class: the 10:30 train (which had been pretty much sold out) was cancelled (because the crew hadn't shown up for work!!!), so the line for the noon train went out of the station and around the block. I'm told it was standing-room only in the coaches, and even then a lot of those folks didn't get on. Not pleasant, considering how hot it was.
And I settled down, to start researching for Homeland.
I still have high hopes for the fantasy projects that are out. As I think I said in my most recent update, the two Asher-and-Ysidro vampire books are out for re-sale, along with a third in the series, Blood Maidens (working title - and it's not how it sounds): I suspect the publisher is waiting for preliminary sales figures on Renfield, which will be out in September. And the contemporary urban horror, Spider Season, is also still in limbo.
And I seem to be out of space, so I'll talk about Homeland next time.
I'll be doing a signing for Renfield at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego on September 16, 2-4 (I think), and will be at the World Science Fiction Convention in Anaheim, August 24-27. Next week I get to drive up to San Francisco for the Family Reunion: a long peaceful road-trip, with time to think as I contemplate the boring stretches of I-5.
Everyone stay cool.
It's been a dark time in the history of the galaxy - sometimes it's been a little hard to sit down to talk about what's going on.
First, RENFIELD will be out in September (though they insisted on subtitling it, "Slave of Dracula," for those who don't know.) (take a look here for more information) It's been a long road for that one - poor George talked about it for ten years before starting it, and by the time he did, was no longer able to focus sharply enough to get much done. I hope he would have liked where I took it: most of the ideas started out as his.
And, we finally decided on a title for PATRIOT LADIES (passing through some of the God-awfullest suggestions from all conceivable sources). It will be out in spring: the title is PATRIOT HEARTS. The cover is gorgeous, taken from Gilbert Stuart's beautiful portrait of Dolley Madison.
In quest of what the hell was it that Marie Antoinette sent to Martha Washington in the spring of 1782, I tracked down the shipping-records of all prize cargoes that were auctioned by British privateers on the docks of New York. Weirdly, I found what HAS to have been the ship it was on: a French barque, the Sophie, the only captured ship to have come from France rather than the West Indies (which was where most of the captured shipping originated). The cargo listed was completely different from the usual flour, guns, and uniforms of the West Indies prizes: the Sophie carried wine, silk, and 26 horses (!). There was no mention of a specific gift, but few ships had all their cargoes listed. On many of them it said, "Cargo on view at the shipping offices."
That being the case, I meditated a little on the kinds of things Marie Antoinette MIGHT have sent Martha Washington (because we know she did sent SOMETHING) and figured, it has to have been either a watch, or a kit of some kind: a sewing kit (very elaborate, of course - Martha was known as a seamstress) or - what I eventually settled on - a "necessaire de voyage" kit of the kind that was popular then: combs, brushes, mirror, night-light, pin-box, etc. If anyone challenges me on it, I'll ask them their source. I really would like to know.
Everything else still seems to be stalled, though I have two projects out. People ask, "Why don't you do another Antryg novel?" and "When are you going to get back to Darwath?" and I wish I had answers to those questions. When I went back to New York last April, I asked editors, "What are you buying these days? What do you want?"
The market has changed, very unsettlingly.
I bought back the rights to the two vampire books (THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT and TRAVELING WITH THE DEAD) and wrote up an outline for a third in the series, which an editor said she'd be interested in looking at. I haven't heard back on it yet.
I also wrote up an outline for what I think is an absolute pip of a contemporary occult story - since that, apparently, is just about the only thing editors are looking for - and I haven't heard back on that, either.
And, my editor at Bantam and I are still circling the topic of the next Big Historical, and have not settled on anything yet. It's been a year.
When people say, "Gosh, Clarabelle Starhammer seems to have been getting away from doing fantasies lately," that doesn't mean Clarabelle Starhammer is tired of her fantasy series: it just means the multinationals that have bought out most of the major publishing houses aren't buying fantasies from anyone who hasn't sold as many copies as Robert Jordan and Railroad Martin. If Clarabelle Starhammer has a mortgage, or if, God help her, she has to pay for her own health insurance - or if she has, like one writer I know, a chronically ill spouse -- she may be looking into romances or whatever else will sell.
I've bought back the rights to most of my Del Rey fantasy serieses, with the intention of writing up outlines for future books about Antryg, or Darwath, or Sun Wolf. It's a bit discouraging to be told that the ONLY thing publishers look at is how well they sold.
My apologies, if I sound a bit frustrated at the moment. It's a gorgeous day here in LA, my faithful Rocket is dozing behind my computer screen (she's finally figured out she can't lie on top of it the way she did with the old one); the boy-kittens are asleep. (Thank God - they've decided they want to grow up to be velociraptors and spend a lot of time practicing). A woman I met at the Malice Domestic convention in Washington DC asked me if I'd write up some of my experiences in quest of historical verisimilitude, and I'll append that, for Deb to put up somewhere on the site (currently, it's below this entry; it will be moved when the site undergoes re-organization), as a thank-you to you all for all being such faithful friends during this rather bumpy time.
For those who follow such things, I'll be down at Comic Con in San Diego later this month, and will drive down to WorldCon in Anaheim, probably on the Friday and Saturday. I'll be Guest of Honor at V-Con in Vancouver the first full weekend of October, and plan to attend World Fantasy Con in Austin, the first weekend of November.
Everyone have a lovely 4th of July.
Things I've Done in my Quest for Historical AuthenticityI've gone to a number of historical re-creationist events - having built myself costumes for them, including camisole and drawers, corset, petticoats, bustle, ballgowns and day-dresses. It's impossible to drive a car wearing a corset and bustle and almost as difficult to use a modern toilet (there's a trick to it, but it's not dignified). For this reason, womens' drawers up to the 1890s were not sewn up the crotch - which is why the can-can was considered so racy and why men paid SO much attention to the dancers: they were getting a peek-a-boo show every time those skirts were lifted. The toilet situation becomes even more difficult in an Elizabethan corset and one of those Queen Elizabeth kitchen-table Spanish farthingales, but of course the Elizabethan ladies wore no drawers at all. From a very early age I knew I wanted to write historical fiction, so went out of my way to do and learn things for that purpose: horseback riding, fencing, and hand-to-hand combat (karate, in my case). I was never very good at any of them, but at least I know how it feels to square off against somebody a lot bigger than you who'll hurt you - and a small number of the guys in those karate classes DID get off on hitting women. (And all the women in the dojo knew who they were) I never learned to ride sidesaddle, which I'd still like to try, though I've talked to people who've done it; one day I'd like to learn to drive as well as ride horses. I've fed, brushed, and saddled a horse, which probably most people in the nineteenth century did without even thinking about it. When I travel, I always visit historical houses and snoop around as much as possible. The Hermann-Grima House in New Orleans had before Hurricane Katrina - and may still have - a wonderful nineteenth-century kitchen, in which they gave open-hearth cooking demonstrations every Thursday. My dear friend Victoria is a historian of costume and domestic arts, and is very adept at pre-industrial cookery technique: she's my main source on any kitchen information. When I'm doing a historical novel, I always try to travel to the location and see as many old houses as possible: my traveling companions to Virginia for PATRIOT HEARTS refered to it as the Colonial Death March. Colonial Williamsburg is especially good at Living History. Mostly I'm seeking a feeling of how big the rooms are, how wide the courtyards, how narrow the corridors. How would my characters be able to move around within these spaces? I think I mentioned going to Vienna for TRAVELING WITH THE DEAD, and discovering that the chase through the back alleys of the old city would have to be re-written because there ARE no back alleys in old Vienna - though there are some darn narrow little streets. There are no alleys in the oldest part of New Orleans, either. Carriages came in from the street and were stored in the courtyard. (This was true of the great houses in Mexico City as well). On the same journey, I found that the quality of the light in Istanbul is like nowhere else: a very light, dry, glittery quality that always seems golden. I saw that the gold backgrounds of Byzantine mosaics, that always look so flat and drab in photographs and prints, look that way because of the floodlight quality of flash photography. The mosaics themselves were designed to be viewed by candlelight, and random tiles within them are angled slightly, to sparkle sharply in the wavering glow of flame. I think people who've grown up since mid-century in America - since the invention of air-conditioning - sometimes have difficulty imagining true unbuffered environmental discomfort, either of heat or of cold. As a born-and-bred Californian, it took me a long time to write snow convincingly. My friend Laurie, who grew up in very rough circumstances in the Bitterroot Mountains of Idaho, tells me I still write like a warm-weather girl, but I think I'm better. One of my first experiences along those lines was when I wrote a swordfight scene in deep snow in the fantasy THE ARMIES OF DAYLIGHT; that weekend Laurie and her sisters and I went up to stay in a cabin in the mountains, and it snowed. Afterwards I went home and re-wrote the scene. Laurie is another great source of information on the nineteenth century, since she - although she is barely two years my senior - had a very nineteenth-century childhood owing to a father who wanted to "get back to the land." I went upriver on a steamboat while researching the Benjamin January book DEAD WATER, and learned how cold the wind blows down the Mississippi. While living in New Orleans, I learned the burnt-sweet smell of refining sugar, and how it permeates the thick fog that blankets that city in winter. I learned how cold New Orleans gets in winter, when the wind blows straight down the Mississippi River corridor from the Canadian tundra. In January of 2005 I was in Boston for a science fiction convention, and was caught there by a blizzard that snowed the city in for two days. Even before the blizzard it was extremely cold and the snow was deep and squeaky. Committee members took me to the house where Abigail Adams sat out the Revolution; it seemed more real somehow with snow up to the window-sills, than it would have been in summer. They also took me to Old Sturbridge Village, a wonderful place where the early nineteenth century seems very close: no telephone lines, no airplanes, no noise of car-engines. It was two degrees outside and we were the only tourists in the place. We literally went from building to building seeking warmth because that was as far as we could go in the cold. It was jaw-droppingly beautiful. But cold. Increasingly, over the past year I've found myself returning to pre-industrial levels of artificial light at home at night, except when I have to read. Since I have cats I can't have open candles, but purchased "cold candles," flickering LED fake-candles that throw the same light as real ones, and use those to light most of the house at night. I started this as an experiment, but find the effect very soothing. I have one friend who doesn't use ANY electricity after dark. Another thing I set out to experience was black-powder shooting: some friends took me out to the desert with an assortment of muskets and pistols. They took me through the loading procedure, and I learned the difference in the kick between a black-powder load and a modern smokeless powder. I observed the little lag-time it takes for the spark to jump to the powder in the pan. I couldn't hit a thing. Likewise, Victoria took me through the procedure of striking flint and steel, which she's very good at. I understand now why everyone was so careful not to let the kitchen fire go completely out: flint and steel can be a nuisance, especially if the tow-lint you're trying to get the spark into is a bit damp and the spark won't catch. I have a lot of friends who've done things the old-fashioned way, whom I can use as resources for things like herb gardens (I am not one of nature's gardeners) and the differences between horses and mules as riding-beasts (they are significant, apparently). I also have as many book resources as I can accumulate, on herbal medicines, old-fashioned housekeeping procedures (the Foxfire series is wonderful; so is the Book of Buckskinning series), old city maps, manners and social interactions. (There were an awful lot of things that a woman just DIDN'T do). One of the most useful resources are the Little House on the Prairie books, especially the early ones, when the author speaks of her mother making cheese, or the daily routine of the dairy, or pig-slaughtering time, or candy-making. Another useful book is The Diary of an English Country House, which deals with the daily routines of living in the early part of the 20th century.
Being more or less in a state of advanced exhaustion, I'll take the time this afternoon to update everyone on what's been going on for the past month. I have just returned from the Malice Domestic convention in Arlington, VA (alas, I didn't get a chance to go visit Mr. Lee's house): I'd forgotten how much fun that con is.
I will not, alas, be making it to the Romantic Times convention in Daytona Beach next month after all, due to a chain of events that started with my attempt to track down Martha's present from HRH Marie Antoinette: I returned to the LA Central Downtown Library to have another rummage. Since it was a Saturday, I thought the traffic would be light enough for me to take my own car - I wasn't sure how frequently the LiteRail ran on weekends. Unfortunately, since I only check on news from English-speaking sources, and don't listen to Spanish radio, I entirely missed the fact that there was going to be a demonstration against the Anti-Immigration Bill that day, and ended up being gridlocked on Sixth Street along with a lot of other folks by half a million people all wearing white t-shirts and trying to make themselves noticed by the government of the country to which they'd come to work.
I'm not saying that this had anything to do with what happened to me the following day, but I know I do sometimes get sick in situations when I'm in contact with large crowds, though usually this involves public transport and not demonstrations. In any case, I spent the following day having burning stomach-pains and shivering under a pile of blankets: originally I thought it was food-poisoning, or stomach flu, but it wasn't behaving like either of those ailments and by eight Sunday night I asked a friend to take me to the Emergency Room, where I was initially diagnosed with appendicitis. I was admitted to the hospital around daylight Monday, and extensive tests showed that it wasn't appendicitis, though because of the fever they never really figured out what it was for sure. However, the Gastric Flu From Hell was indeed going around LA (and New York, I found out later) - the woman in the room with me at the hospital had the flu so bad they called a priest in to talk to her. They gave me IV's and sent me home around six, first making sure I paid them a great big chunk of money (which takes care of my insurance deductible for the rest of the year - I have to take comfort about this where I can.) I'd much rather have gone to the Romantic Times Convention in Daytona Beach than taken a little 24-hour vacation in Daniel Freeman Hospital, but I couldn't do both.
It was weeks before I recovered completely.
However, I'd already paid up front for Malice Domestic, and for three days in New York in a marginally-affordable hotel-room the size of a kleenex-box. I paid extra for Internet hookup there but the first night the only place my computer would detect the wireless network was if I was sitting on the floor of the third-story stairwell, and there was only one square foot in my room (in the bathroom, actually) where I could get cell phone reception.
On the other hand, I got most of a Benjamin January short story done for a special New Orleans issue of Ellery Queen Magazine (the story is called "Libre" and I'll let everyone know when the magazine will be out, as soon as I learn this myself), and talked to various editors about new projects. This was a strange and often discouraging process, since a lot of the things I pitched were deep-sixed with barely a blink: I ended up a bit baffled and bemused about what's considered "hot" (or even marginally acceptable) in the book market these days. Certainly a number of things I very much want to write just got fishy stares.
But, there's a fair chance that I may indeed be able to write another Asher and Ysidro book (yay!), and the deadlock over the next historical project, if not broken, seems to be breaking up at last. The January series still seems to be on hiatus, but we haven't given up on it by a long shot.
I returned home from the East Coast today, and am only waiting til the dog is done at the kennel, for me to go pick her up (they dry-clean them before returning them); the cats have been all over me, delighted to have me back. I am in turn delighted not to be around large crowds of people, either at a convention or on the streets of New York. Or Los Angeles for that matter.
It is very good to be home.
First, many thanks to those who sent suggestions for tracking down Marie Antoinette's "elegant present" to Martha. I'm still hot on the trail (at least I will be when I return home), and will keep everyone posted if and when I finally find what the damn thing actually was. (A diamond-studded backscratcher? A chamber-pot with George III's face painted on the bottom?)
I am at the moment, however, sitting in a "Camping Cabin" on the far side of Catalina Island, a Spartan little cell in what is a camp-conference center in the summertime: in winter they rent out the cabin units by the each, for those who prefer hiking and scuba-diving to the pleasures of Avalon. I think I mentioned the necessity of putting the pets in storage and moving out of my house for three days to get it termite-tented (something I haven't had done for twelve years, which is the outside limit for Southern California). My friend Robin long ago recommended Two Harbors for quiet and solitude (if one doesn't mind making one's own bed and trekking fifty feet with a flashlight to the bathrooms).
The Termite Guy set the date for the tenting, which coincided with a) the Catalina Marathon and b) Spring Break. At the moment there's a gang of very nice college kids drinking vodka and cherry coke (!) on the communal deck outside my cell, and an even larger gang of them down the hill partying in the communal kitchens. There is supposedly a Middle School Nature Expedition somewhere on the premesis as well: I can only be grateful they aren't in this unit. Fortunately I took the precaution of bringing a) a little work (I've been asked to do two Ben January short stories for New Orleans charity anthologies) and b) a couple of movies (Sense and Sensibility and Godzilla). I've done some hiking, and this morning I got up early enough to watch the Bird Show between first light and sunrise: the island hosts large numbers of ravens (who live quite happily on the contents of the dumpster behind the Harbor Reef restaurant). But solitary it has not been.
I have, however, had a little time to contemplate future projects, once I can get myself out of the current stalemate; I'll be in New York and in Washington DC for the Malice Domestic mystery convention (which specializes in historicals and cozies), and will talk to various editors about what directions are open to me. As I've said, it's an uncertain and discouraging time, and there's a great deal that I'm simply not able to talk about. With luck I'll get the chance while in DC to visit Arlington again, not so much because I'm a Robert E Lee fan (though I am), but because Lee's wife was Martha Washington's great-granddaughter, and much of the Washingtons' stuff ended up at Lee's house. (It was saved from marauding Union troops by a black housekeeper, by the way, and carefully stored in the basement of the Patent Office until the war was over). There's also a lock of George Washington's hair there, and - which I find very touching - strands of Traveler's mane.
I will keep everyone posted, and will try to be better about writing Updates even when there's no definite news to impart; it is good to hear from everyone.
It's been difficult to write Updates lately - partly due to health reasons, partly because of the bitterly frustrating time I've had with editors and getting new projects off the ground. As always, I will try to do better in future months.
Thank you all for your patience, and please don't think that it's through choice or negligence that I "haven't done" books about Antryg or Don Simon Ysidro recently. I assure you, it isn't - but since a website isn't a private communication, I don't feel I can go into details.
I did get PATRIOT LADIES turned in, and am awaiting editorial focus'n'fix notes - and am in the midst of a very odd treasure-hunt, for a piece of information. If anyone out there knows how I might find this information, I'd be grateful.
It seems that in either 1775 or 1782 (the citation isn't clear), Marie Antoinette of France sent an "elegant present" to Martha Washington - not as the wife of a Head of State (because George wasn't, then) but as the wife of the current pop-culture hero in France. (The French were very enthusiastic about anyone who kicked British ass). The ship that carried the present was intercepted by the British, and the present ended up being sold at auction in New York, which was the British stronghold.
When I get back from my journey this week I'm going to track down the Martha Washington Papers and check the citation, but my guess is that if she'd mentioned to her correspondent what the "elegant present" was, the secondary sources would have said so. (If Marie Antoinette sent it, it probably had diamonds on it, whatever it was). I've e-mailed the Library of Congress and haven't heard back yet. If I have money for a few extra days, when I'm in DC in April I'll go up to New York and see if the NY Public Library has newspapers from the British Occupation that might advertise it (how did Martha know it ended up for sale?), but if anyone has any suggestions beyond that, I'd appreciate them.
Many thanks for all your letters; it does help to know there are people who read and like my work. The reason there's a dearth of my older stuff is because, due to new tax laws and the changed nature of the publishing industry, most of my Del Rey fantasy was allowed to go out of print. I have finally re-acquired the copyrights - which will allow me to continue the Del Rey serieses IF a publisher is willing to pick up a series with a backlist - but between PATRIOT LADIES and RENFIELD (which will be out in September, yay!) I haven't had time to work up outlines for new books to continue the old serieses with.
Another thing to do when I return from my travels.
In the midst of a rather difficult time, I did have a nice piece of bright news. THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE is apparantly one of three finalists for the Michael Shaara Prize for Excellence in a Civil War Novel: I gather it's a Big Deal Award (and at this point I know I'll never get nominated for a Nebula or a World Fantasy Award.)
Though plans may change depending on what new project may come through, it looks like I'll be doing a good bit of travel this spring. In March, while I'm getting the house tented (apparantly the termite civilization in the attic is about to achieve spaceflight capability and WMDs), I'll put the pets in storage and take a solitary hiking-and-meditation retreat; in April, I'm scheduled to go to the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention in Washington DC; in May, to the Romantic Times Convention in Florida. As I said, RENFIELD is due out in September (they've tagged, "Slave of Dracula" to the title, for those who don't know who Renfield was), and they sent me a cover that my computer won't read, much to my annoyance.
So, it will be busy times. I'll do my best to keep up on my updates, and to keep my head up til things get a little better around here.
Everyone else please do so, too.
It's always a little difficult to write an Update when the next project is still hanging fire in the approvals stage, particularly these large historical projects. They affect everything else I will be doing, so I can't even plan for what I'll do if they DON'T get approved: very unsettling.
Since my last update, pretty much all I've been doing is working on PATRIOT LADIES, and I am extremely pleased with the result. Four sections still need to be re-written before the manuscript goes in in December. More and more, I've found that the book seems to center around Thomas Jefferson, Ol' Mr. Smoke-and-Mirrors himself, and in the almost two centuries since his death, NOBODY has been able to figure him out. Going back to the re-write of RENFIELD will be a pleasure.
Next week I travel again, to a speaking-gig at the Lincoln Library in Springfield, Illinois, where EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE was the chosen book for the "One City, One Book" reading program. I'm apprehensive about facing people who are REAL Lincoln buffs, who have all the tiny details that I simply hadn't the time or resources to trace down (never mind dumb errors like Coles County being in Illinois rather than Indiana, as I had in my notes, or Lake Springfield not being in existence til the 1930s. I DID look at a map, dammit!). I'd toyed with the idea of staying an extra day to drive out to Lincoln's New Salem, the re-created village where he lived before becoming a lawyer in Springfield; one of my favorite places during the research phase. And then I thought, We are talking about Illinois in November. Do you REALLY want to risk staying on to maybe get caught in snow?
Besides, given my recent track-record of travel=get sick, staying an extra day might be pushing my luck. It took me a record ten weeks to shake the aftereffects of the bronchitis I picked up in New Orleans (with time out for a fake heart-attack).
The final results of the fake heart-attack seem to be that it was definitely deep-muscle spasms probably caused by stress. I've had three very mild recurrences of symptoms, all of them much more typical of muscle rather than heart problems (though all a little spooky at the time). I've assiduously practiced yoga every night, and have stayed away from caffeine. With a 6:45 a.m. flight Tuesday - and allowing a couple of hours for security, check-in, etc -- I may want to re-think that.
I have, however, heard news of most of my New Orleans friends, and the news ranges from Glad-it's-no-worse to Oh-shit. One old pal, a frail old gentleman in his eighties, lost a lifetime collection of science fiction books - his house was in one of the lowest-lying areas of the city - but the house is still standing and the doc himself was out of town at a physicists convention, so didn't have to deal with the evacuation process. My best friends in the city, who run a bed Ďn' breakfast on the high ground near the river, had the whole place rented out by Reuters News Service for two months to cover the clean-up AND the husband of the couple was apparantly hired as chief cook and bottle-washer: good fortune that could not have smiled upon more deserving people.
But I still feel very strange about my memories of the town, which I do not think will be the same again.
Between that at the beginning of September, and the journey to Springfield, I've had a mercifully quiet seven weeks or so to get PATRIOT LADIES in shape (except for the ongoing puzzle of Mr. J). On the Saturday before Halloween my friends got up a live game of Clue in an old Pasadena mansion, in 1920s costume; on Halloween itself I was the guest on a cable-TV talk-show called Brunch, on the Q Network, which I didn't find out til I accepted is a small gay-marketed cable network that isn't even shown in LA. They said, "Come in costume if you want," so I showed up in my Pirates of the Carribean suit, complete with skanky blonde dreadlocks. It was either that or a bellydance outfit, and driving anywhere dressed as a bellydancer always brings up issues of, What if the car breaks down? I talked about vampire books, and it was all very silly.
On Thanksgiving weekend I will, as usual, be at the LosCon Science Fiction Convention in LA, and I'm booking into conventions next year already: a big Romance Writers convention in Florida, the Malice Domestic mystery con in Washington DC, and World Fantasy Con in Austin. I will also be Guest of Honor at the 2007 NaSFic (National Science Fiction) Convention in St. Louis.
With luck, in between-times, I'll get to stay quietly at home.
Everyone have a nice Thanksgiving.
What I'd thought was a truly strange summer got a whole lot stranger in the past three weeks. People keep asking me about New Orleans, and aside from the politics of the issue - which I will not and cannot discuss - I feel weird and very, very sad.
But since the story of the past three weeks can be interpreted as a cautionary tale about stress, I will start out by saying that what I experienced on the 30th of August was NOT actually a heart-attack and that according to the best medical diagnosis available, I am absolutely fine.
I was sitting at my computer minding my own business, trying to get some work done despite the fact that I have some very good friends who live in New Orleans - one of them a quite elderly and frail old gentleman whose house I knew to be in one of the lowest-lying areas of mid-town - when I got the whole cornucopia of symptoms that I remember TV commercials warning people about in the Ď50s: heavy pain and pressure in the left side of the chest, left arm numb, vision graying out, intense dizziness, shortness of breath. And my first reaction was: Naah! Can't be.
However, the whole thing was so classic that as soon as I could stand up, I went to my next-door neighbor and said, "Should I call 911?" She replied, "Sit down, honey, I'LL call 911." While she called 911 I rounded up the cats and locked them in the bedroom, and the ambulance guys showed up within minutes and took me to Daniel Freeman Marina Hospital where I spent the next 7 hours in the ER before being admitted for 3 days of observation and tests. I called my friend Laurie from the ER and she called a pet-sitter and my parents, and went in and let the cats out of the bedroom and got me my toothbrush and a LOT of books, God bless her.
And since the woman in the bed next to me had the TV on 24/7, I did very little for three days but try not to think too much about what was going on in New Orleans. Most of the time in the hospital I was simply re-visiting New Orleans in my head: walking my old dog Nicky down Magazine and Chestnut Streets near the apartment George and I had there; biking out past the Cemeteries on hot Saturday mornings or around Audubon Park; walking with George to Cafť du Monde. And thinking, Is all that really gone?
The city was so much a part of my life. I was relieved when I learned (from a friend who'd been watching different news than I) that the Quarter only flooded a foot or two at the worst - I knew the Garden District, also along the river, wouldn't flood any deeper than that, so one group of friends at least wouldn't lose their house. The fact that I had just been there - to what was ironically already proclaimed to be the Last Crescent City Con - made everything seem much stranger.
They took my blood pressure four or five times a day, woke me up at 4 a.m. for blood-withdrawal, and gave me a couple of EKGs, an echo-sonogram, several very weird scans and a chemical stress-test. I was hooked up to a heart monitor the whole time and ate nothing but unsalted library paste. (If you go into a hospital with "cardiac" anywhere on your chart, you better get into the Zen of Instant Potatoes real fast). They found a slightly leaky heart-valve that has nothing whatsoever to do with The Episode but which it's useful to know about in avoiding things like endocarditis when you go to the dentist, and... nothing else. Zip. My heart is perfectly fine and there was no evidence of a heart-attack.
My chiropractor friend says it could have been a muscle-spasm of the muscles around the heart. I asked the (very expensive) cardiologist, "Could it have been stress?" and he said, "Could have." Apparantly this sort of Episode isn't uncommon and in about a third of them, the doctors NEVER figure out what caused them. About a week after being released I had what felt like a little aftershock - little twingies in the chest muscle and neck - which went away after about ten minutes.
A little speed-bump on the Highway of Life?
In any case, I'm back to recuperating from bronchitis (because of what is probably a mild form of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome it takes me sometimes as much as seven weeks to get over a cold) and working on PATRIOT LADIES. Since I already exercise regularly, meditate, and eschew smoking, drinking, TV, and matrimony, the only stress reducers I could think of to add have been a little yoga before bed and giving up caffeine. (They took me off it in the hospital and I figured, Hey, I've already HAD the headache, why go back?)
I've also had happy news about the friends with whom I'm closest in New Orleans. However, if anyone out there knows anything about the New Orleans fan communitity - specifically Peggy Ranson, Dr. Jack Stocker, O'Neill deNoux or the folks who ran Crescent City Con - please let me know.
Thank you all, as usual, for hanging in with me; it's been a very odd and fragmented summer.
There's an expression, "being nibbled to death by ducks," and that's how I've felt since June: one little niggly thing after another taking me away from work on PATRIOT LADIES, and lots of things hanging fire. The January series still in hiatus; whatever fantasy I might next tackle will depend a great deal on what the next historical project is, if any. (I've got an outline in that I'm VERY pleased with, but haven't heard on it yet). In June I had a family wedding that involved a long road-trip - 24 hours behind the wheel and because of misrepresentation and misdirection, I actually missed the wedding - then assorted family obligations including the Family Reunion for a day at Disneyland for which nobody thought to check, was that date the actual 50th Anniversary of the opening of The Park and would The Park thus be so jammed with people that they locked the gates at 10 a.m?
And then there was Crescent City Con, in New Orleans. It was a very odd experience, rather sad and unsettling, because the last CCCon I'd been to was in '98 or '99, either right before my marriage to George or right after it: either way, George and I attended together, and it was in his hometown (and my part-time hometown). This one was also the last one; the committee's retiring, after running the convention for 20 years. In honor of that, Wendy Pini (of Elfquest fame) and I borrowed get-ups from the local tribe and belly-danced at the Masquerade.
However, because more and more I tend to get sick after air travel, in New Orleans I came down with the worst case of bronchitis I've had in nearly 30 years. After a week in bed I've worked up to being up and around for a couple of hours a day, but I'm still feeling a bit fragile. While laid out I did manage to put together an outline for a graphic novel project for PennyFarthing Press, that sounds like ENORMOUS fun. More details on that after they get back with me.
My apologies, again, for fans of Antryg Windrose and other series I started with Del Rey: I have gotten back the rights on those serieses, but selling new books in them will still be a bit of a juggling-act. As I've said, the publishing industry is odd these days. I can only plead for - and thank you all for - your patience.
With regards to that long letter about the flaws of the last three books of the Winterlands Quadrilogy - I'm not sure what I can say, other than that I obviously didn't do a very good job of explaining Draconian metaphysics, and probably shouldn't have tried. With regards to the Demon Queen, of course, she DIDN't "become nice" at the end - she remained as she always had been. Her intent was never more than to use John as a pawn to protect her own Hell from the demons of another Hell. Having done that, she returned to the Hell behind the mirror, secure in her rule there. Her only "nice" act was to set up the little demon-slaying episode in the chapel so that John would be absolved of the charges against him for demon-trafficking.
I've also gotten a couple of queries about a fourth Marid Audran novel, from George's Budayeen series. It was started but not finished, and because of various negotiations going on regarding the series - and the way rumors spread around the Net - that's all I feel able to say.
Regarding the location of Peshtigo, Wisconsin... I'm afraid with historicals, my story is only as good as my sources, and it's hard to check them all. I'm just glad it wasn't worse.
Yes, indeed, there is a sequel to SISTERS OF THE RAVEN coming out, next month, in fact: CIRCLE OF THE MOON. (It should probably be on the stands soon, though they haven't yet thought to send me a copy!)
Since coming back from Crescent City Con, I've got a couple of projects in the proposals stage, including another Big Historical, and won't be able to map the rest of my upcoming work until I know the status of that. The next fantasy/horror project, RENFIELD, has been okay'd to go into the rewrites-and-production phase. Other than that, it'll be a quiet autumn of finishing PATRIOT LADIES and waiting to hear on other projects.
I did get new kittens, by the way - Nemo and Saffron - and the adult cats of the household (Rocket and Jasmine) are still in a tail-fluffing snit. Damsel, the surviving Pekingese, would really, REALLY like to chase the New Boys and is very frustrated because they can hop over into the Non-Dog portion of the house and she can't. (If anyone has ever had dogs and indoor cats in the same house, you'll know why there has to be an area of the house to which the pooch has no access. There's just something about Fido bounding up wanting kisses with cat-sand all over his whiskers that kinda kills the mood.)
Everyone drive safe over Labor Day.
Apologies again - I had meant to get an update written immediately after returning from what my traveling comanions unkindly referred to as the Barbara Hambly Colonial Death-March, but a Whole Lot of Stuff intervened. I traveled with a rotating crew of friends: Laurie, Ev, and Nina in Williamsburg and Charlottesville, then Nina went home, we went to DC, Hazel joined us, then Ev went home, then Hazel and Laurie (my dearest friends, sisters with whom I went to High School when the world was new) went home and I went on to Philly for a 36-hour search-and-destroy raid on my way to New York for editor lunches. Just as I was about to reserve plane tickets and was locked in on United Airlines (the others had already ticketed) I received word that I'd been voted a Lifetime Achievement Award by Romantic Times Magazine in the Category of Historical Mysteries, and that the awards banquet was in St. Louis on the day I was intending to come home (i.e. the 28th of April).
Since one of my intentions is to impress upon the Powers that Be at Bantam Books that they really ought to contract for more Ben January historical mysteries (a series which is still up in the air, dammit), I thought, I'd probably better get a nice picture of myself at the banquet receiving the award in RT.
And since there are no direct United flights from NYC to St. Louis, or from St. Louis to LA, this meant that on Thursday the 28th I was on 4 short-hop airplanes with a 7-hour layover to have lunch in St. Louis. Wisely, I shipped my luggage home from New York. I knew that with 4 airplanes in one day, SOMEBODY was going to lose my suitcase.
By that time I had the Cold From Hell and was half-stoned on decongestants (antihistamines make my sinuses bleed) and very, very tired. (Laurie kept saying how I should really get Broadway tickets and see some shows while I was in New York, but all I wanted to do was sit in bed in the hotel room and watch pay-per-view.)
But, Colonial Williamsburg was marvelous. Monticello was marvelous. Washington DC was marvelous, as always, and everyplace was much colder than I'd been led to believe they would be, and New York, even with the Cold From Hell, is always fun.
Then a week after I got home my dog died, the second pet I've lost in a few months. This was Bo, the new guy, barely two years old. It's been a rough spring.
Anyway, thank you all for hanging in there. Please insert the usual promises for better behavior in the months to come.
The error about Coles County Illinois in the Emancipator's Wife was simply that: an error. During one of my editor lunches in New York I arranged to have it fixed (as well as the even dumber error about Lake Springfield, which was on the map of Springfield that I looked at and of course was a product of the WPA.).
A number of people have alerted me to the play "Free Man of Color" by Charles Smith, and since titles cannot be copyrighted there isn't much to be done about this. I'm fairly certain Mr. Smith had no idea that a novel of that title even existed. These days, if I think up a really super title, I'll go on Amazon.com and enter it, and see if anybody else has used it, and if so, for what.
On that subject, I was informed by a friend just before I turned in the completed manuscript of RENFIELD (my novel about Dracula's bug-eating henchman) that a fellow named Tim Lucas had ALSO written a Renfield novel, which came out in June. (Renfield, of course, like all characters in DRACULA, is in public domain and anyone can write whatever they want about him.) After my manuscript was in, I got Lucas's THE BOOK OF RENFIELD and read it, and was bemused (and relieved) at the extent to which two authors, given EXACTLY THE SAME excerpts from the same book, can produce such TOTALLY different stories. Lucas's is much darker in tone than mine, and has a completely different take on the story: very interesting.
Alas, as I said above, the Ben January series is still on hiatus... but I am still working on changing that. Ditto with the Windrose series. The publishing industry is very odd and difficult these days, owing to consolidation of the publishing houses and the fact that so many publishers have been bought out by the larger corporations. I haven't forgotten. I love those serieses. Please believe that I'm doing the best I can.
I DO have a new fantasy coming out fairly soon, CIRCLE OF THE MOON, from Warner's, a follow-on to SISTERS OF THE RAVEN (and a better book, I think). I'll have to check on the pub date. And, I will be a guest at Crescent City Con in New Orleans, 5-7 August of this year.
Many, many thanks to you all for writing in. It's always good to hear from you, always encouraging, even in months when I feel very frustrated and futile about my work, and I lose pets (or friends). Things are going better, I'm feeling better, I'm going up to Northern California for the summer solstice wedding of my nephew, I'm auditioning new kittens, and I'm learning to dance with swords balanced on my head.
I hope everyone has a lovely summer.
The usual apologies, again, for the length of time it's taken me to write. I meant to settle down to this two weeks ago, but the sudden death of my much-beloved cat Sinbad cut out from under me any energy or inclination to do much of anything. I'm still sort of in shock over it. He died of congenital heart-failure, at just under 2 years of age; a thoroughly sweet little gentleman whom I'd hoped to have in my life for at least another 15 years.
It's been a very tough couple of months. In the six weeks I was off work, I didn't manage to get a single day of actual rest. The Boston trip was lovely and the wonderful folks at Arisia arranged for me to visit John and Abigail Adams's houses (which are usually closed in the wintertime), with a marvelous trip out to Old Sturbridge Village, a re-created early-nineteenth-century New England town. The day we went - the Friday before the convention - it was two degrees outside and my escort and I were the only two tourists in the place. Deep-drifted snow, icicles on everything, not a phone-line or airplane in sight: truly magical.
And it's a good thing I went Friday, because the blizzard started Saturday afternoon. When anyone could leave the hotel at all, finally, on Sunday night, it was truly weird to see the streets of a major city utterly empty and blocked with snow - three feet of it. The convention, God bless them, paid for another night for me at the hotel (since my flight had been cancelled) and I finally got out of there on Wednesday, in time to go to Las Vegas on Sunday and do another signing in LA a few days after that, and in between, I was washing down walls, sanding woodwork, and painting the study, a very long and laborious process. About the time I finished, the manuscript for CIRCLE OF THE MOON came back for a complete re-write, and that was it for my time off.
The study is lovely, though I haven't had time to put the books back on the shelves (I hope to do that this afternoon - this morning I did another signing at the Paperback Book Collector's Show in Mission Hills). It's very primitive-looking, with spongework walls that look a bit like very red adobe, and bright blue bookcases, and the infamous tile floor. I love it, though I feel a bit resentful, since I will not get any more time off for the rest of the year.
I don't really count as "time off" the upcoming trip to Colonial Williamsburg (continuing on to Charlottesville to see Monticello, then on to DC, Philly, NYC, and, God help me, 7 hours in St. Louis for reasons I'll talk about when I get back).
Thank you all for hanging in there.
I knew "feminist" was used in the nineteenth century: I'd thought it was used earlier than the Ď90s (which is when the OED first notices it) and I think is actually an older term than "suffragist," though I'm not sure on that. (Deb's note: this was in reposonse to a querry about when these two terms actually came into use)
With regards to the name "Jothum," I can no longer remember the exact processes that led up to it, but knowing myself, I know I do use a lot of J- words and th's, and it's vaguely Biblical sounding. I probably simply made it up. I have no recollection of ever hearing of an actual place or person of that name, if that's what the question actually means (Jothum is a place-name in Dragonshadow; a question came in regarding how the name was generated).
My apologies about Lake Springfield. I keep forgetting the WPA. Two words out of 250,000 isn't so bad, though, is it? I'll speak to my editor about removing that, and re-arranging the Niagara Falls sequence, in a future edition if there is one (Deb's note for the confused: Lake Springfield, as pointed out by alert reader John Neylon, was not constructed until the 1930s, and Helga Ruppe wrote in to mention that Lake Erie is upstream from Niagara Falls ).
With regards to agents, the best bet for any new writer is the Research Desk of the local library. There's a list of Agents and Authors Representatives, probably most of them with e-mail addresses these days.
In the midst of work on the CIRCLE OF THE MOON rewrite, I did manage to get away for a few days to visit Victoria, and as usual I found the road-trip restful. I've gone back to work on RENFIELD, which I hope to have substantially completed (except for a final fluff-n-fold) by the time I leave for Williamsburg. I am enjoying it thoroughly. After that, it's back to work on The Girls until Christmas, by which time I should know the status of the Ben January series.
To make up for my dilatoriness about writing, I'll include with this the little squib I wrote for the Arisia Program Book.
With luck, I'll get a chance to check in before I leave for Williamsburg.
Whew! Let me get this taken care of while I have the chance.
First, my apologies for falling off the face of the earth for the past three months.
I suspect that at some point, too many authors signed contracts with Bantam and then stiffed them for the book - the contract for PATRIOT LADIES stipulated that the first half of the book had to be turned in January 15, 2005 (and I think the contract was signed sometime in the summer). This isn't the way I usually work - I'll finish the whole first draft before I know what needs to be done in the final version - and in any case it's an awfully research-heavy project.
Suffice it to say that from mid-September on, I did, almost literally, nothing but go to meetings in my 12-Step Programs, sleep, and work. I got the manuscript into the FedEx on the 14th.
While all this was going on, does anybody remember when my study flooded last February? Since I was booked to go to Boston on January 19th, for the Arisia Anime convention (where it's zero-to-12 degrees, I might add), I figured, once I got back and had a little breathing-space, I'd FINALLY clear out the study, tear out the carpet, evict the mold which achieved sentience sometime back in August, and, while the room was bare anyway, re-paint the walls. It was then suggested to me that my friend Hazel could tile the floor in my absence (and more importantly in my pets' absence) - but that meant that the room had to be cleared out AFTER the Jan. 14th deadline, and BEFORE I got on the plane on the 19th (i.e. tomorrow, as I sit here at the dining-room table surrounded by 120 boxes of books, writing this).
Two of the cats are puzzled and upset (but not nearly as upset as they'll be Thursday when Hazel starts running the tile-saw). Jasmine, of course, lives in the eternal sunshine of a spotless mind and probably has noticed nothing amiss. (It's hard to tell what she DOES notice, if anything).
So, my apologies for not making the time (or finding the energy) to sit down and keep up with my updates. When I'd finally finish the alotted work for the day I was usually too tired to even write letters to my family (God knows how Abigail Adams wrote those REAMS of letters to everyone under the sun... but boy, am I glad she did!). Even if I'd written updates, of course, they'd have been very short. "Got up - went to meeting - worked - fell asleep." I got a 72-hour furlough for Christmas, which was interesting, because it meant that Christmas was actually a little 2-day holiday like it used to be in the 19th century, instead of a bloated buy-a-thon that starts the day after Halloween. (The decorations are still up. I've vowed they HAVE to come down by Valentine's Day.)
And by the way... when I was grocery shopping for Christmas dinner with my family, on the 23rd of December, the market was already stripping Christmas stuff off the shelves and putting out Valentine's Day candies and cards! I was outraged! (I outrage easily when I'm tired).
I will, as I said, be in Boston for Arisia. Bantam is flying me to Las Vegas for a 1-day speaking gig at the Clarke County Library on Flamingo Road, on January 30th, for anyone who's in Vegas. I will undoubtedly have paint in my hair.
Many, many thanks for your patience and support. EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE should be out by the time I get back to town.
Everyone stay warm (which is more than I'll be able to do).
Well, I did warn everyone that it was going to be a rather busy summer. On top of all else, my dog died: a very gallant little soul. Nicky was the model for Chang Ming in BRIDE OF THE RAT-GOD, bright gold, incurably bouncy, and wildly enthusiastic about everything. His successor - I couldn't leave poor Damsel without a partner - is the biggest Pekingese I've ever seen, 16 pounds of pure marshmallow: I'd swear he was part bulldog except I have his pedigree back ten generations.
Nick was fourteen when he died; we'd been through a lot together. I didn't feel much like writing, except for work, after that, or doing much else.
I still have to make time to tear out the mold-ranch underfoot in here and paint the study.
Many thanks for all the letters - it's always good to hear. Yes, I have danced "Childgrove" and "A Trip to Paris," in a Regency dance group rather than strictly English Country Dance; they do a lot of the country dances as well as early waltzes and quadrilles. I haven't done it regularly in close to twelve years, but a friend and I have been talking about digging out (or in my case, re-making) costumes, and slipping back into it. Regency dance is still done at a number of science fiction conventions.
Since I was told by a Berkeley-ite that Mount Diablo was "in the vicinity of" Berkeley - and in fact, 20 miles isn't that far - I accepted that as local information. My apologies if I offended.
With regards to the weight of gold (take a gander at the original question if you like), I had a friend who deals in gold and silver coinage calculate the weight and bulk of the missing $100,000 in DEAD WATER, and because the figure was between five and six hundred pounds, I said, six hundred pounds because I figured Rose wouldn't know that it was five hundred and fourteen and a half: because Rose is a cautious soul she'd calculate on the high side. My only intention was to point out that it wasn't something Oliver Weems could carry himself in a suitcase. In the context of the story, there didn't seem to be any need to go into the specifics.
With regards to DRAGONSTAR feeling a bit incomplete... in fact, a lot of my stories feel incomplete because I feel that the lives of everyone in them (everyone who survives, anyway) go on after the end of the tale. John, and Jenny, and Morkeleb will in fact have more adventures. I may be able to write about them - I will if I can.
In the meantime, things are quiet here. I'm working steadily on the Patriot Ladies (I just wrapped the first draft on Martha); straight historical fiction is exhausting because, as I think I said before, one has to keep track of exactly where everyone was at any given moment, something biographers frequently don't mention: was Jefferson still in Philadelphia on X day? Was his daughter visiting him that month? Did Martha's oldest granddaughter get married in February or March? Did she stay with them at Mount Vernon that summer? Who would have been at the breakfast table? With four couples to write about, plus their children and grandchildren and Aaron Burr (who orbits the Founding Fathers like an erratic dark star) it's sort of like playing anti-gravity ping-pong with a hundred balls.
Thank you, Matt, for the tip on the book Federal Philadelphia: I've put in an order for it.
In addition to all that, I visited my dear friend Victoria up north, and made the mistake of a) not getting a flu shot before I left (not that there were any available) and b) going into San Francisco in the rolling Petrie-dish referred to as BART. I feel like a sissy, but since an extended period of poor health in the late Ď80s, when I get sick, I STAY sick, with bouts of fatigue hanging on for months sometimes. Right now I'm more or less recovering, but I'm still sleeping 9 or 10 hours a night when I can get it, and a 20-minute walk will knock me out for the rest of the day. (And yes, I take my vitamins).
I hope everyone else is doing well, and I'll try to do better about getting an Update written promptly next month.
Everyone make sure to VOTE.
All the usual apologies for the delay. It's been, as I've said earlier, a difficult year so far. In the middle of last month my very dear friend Allan Rothstein passed away, leaving me badly shaken up; almost directly on top of that came unwanted information about a medical condition which, though not fatal or even severely limiting, is disquieting. The last thing I need is for my daily routine to be any higher-maintenance than it already is.
On the other hand, Projects Pending have solidified nicely.
As one letter-writer said, yes, I am doing the book RENFIELD for Berkeley (not Bantam) - it sounds like he read the portion of the manuscript that my agent circulated in New York.
And, Bantam has picked up a follow-on to THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE - a historical novel about the First Three Ladies: Martha, Abigail, and Dolley... and, of course, Sally Hemmings as well. With luck, when EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE comes out (January, not February, of '05), I can finally get an answer about what they want to do about the Ben January series.
On top of this I've just wrapped the follow-on to SISTERS OF THE RAVEN, working title CIRCLE OF THE CRAFTY ONES (one of a long list of working titles equally bad), a book I've thoroughly enjoyed, more so than SISTERS, I think. It may be just my perception, but I think CIRCLE (or whatever it will be called) is lighter in tone (it would be difficult to be darker) and less violent; though I am rather bemused that I'll be going from working on one band of Magic Girls, to working on another band of Magic Girls (which I how I think of the First Women).
It'll be nice to be dealing with a) the Revolution (I NEVER liked the Civil War) and b) sane heroines.
On the subject of Benjamin January, I deliberately had Werther Bremer (the valet in DAYS OF THE DEAD) come from Lubeck because there was such confusion about who actually governed that city: Werther, in Mexico, HAD to take matters into his own hands because there was nobody acting for him. If he'd been a Prussian he'd have had a consulate to go to and a government to back him up. (Deb's note: see the Letters Page for the question this answers.)
The word "Creole" gave me a lot of trouble, because the first sources I used, which were older, emphasized that "Creole" in regard to New Orleans meant specifically descended from white French or Spanish with no admixture of African bloodlines. Later interpretations of the word emphasized that, in fact, "Creole" meant ALL American-born, black, white, or mixed-race - at which point I started making the distinction of French Creole or Spanish Creole. I'm still not sure which usage is "right" for the time I'm writing about. It's another example of the problem of historical writers: at some point you have to actually start writing. Had I not found ANY definitions of who was called "Creoles" I would have gone on hunting. As it was, I'd found several - only they turned out to be disputed by later research. All I could do was apologize and make a clearer distinction in later books. (Deb says: see the Letters Page again for the question.)
Other than that, life is peaceful and good. I still haven't had time to tear out the carpet in the study (and with deadlines re-arranged the way they've been I'm not sure when that's going to happen. I want to get an actual floor in here instead of the bare -- and uneven -- cement that's under the rotting carpet-pad, and, as long as I've got to interrupt work and strip the place anyway, to paint the walls). I'll be at ArmadilloCon in Austin August 13-16, at World Fantasy Con in Phoenix October 28-31 (including a signing at Poisoned Pen), at TusCon in Tuscon Nov. 5-8, and at Arisa in Boston January 14-17 (taking an extra day to go up to Quincy and have a look at John Adams's house). (Deb again: see the Appaerances page for more details of these and other cons.)
I'll try to be a little better about getting Updates in on time, though August is going to be rather busy.
Everyone have a pleasant summer.
THE UPDATE AT LAST!
Many, many thanks for everyone's patience. From the time the study flooded in February, through Contractor Hell in March (the diggers of the drainage ditch managed to chop through a city power-line and blacked out street-lights for blocks - they're lucky they weren't fried in the process) and the combination of depression, visiting relatives, and a pinched sciatic nerve in April, it's been a tough spring. I knew Deb was changing her residence so wasn't in too much of a hurry, but I admit things got away from me a little, particularly once it became difficult to walk, sit, stand, or lie down.
I am feeling much better now.
THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE - Mary Todd Lincoln - will be out next February: I get the copyedit manuscript tomorrow, which needs to be turned around inside a week.
The second of the SISTERS OF THE RAVEN series - we're still going back and forth on the title - is due in September (did I mention the computer had a nervous breakdown in there also?) and I'm very pleased to be working with King Oryn and the girls again.
I said at the end of January I hoped to have news of Projects Pending in a couple of weeks. Well, I didn't. And didn't. There's still nothing on existing serieses, which are all in limbo at higher levels of Publishing As We Know It, BUT I sold - to my eternal delight - a stand-alone, mainstream horror novel that George started years ago and that I've been frantically trying to find time to work on. More news on that - and on another project in the works - next time. (I don't do this to tease, by the way; there are actual reasons I can't talk about some of these projects for awhile. But they are real and they did come through).
Thank you all for hanging in there with me. I appreciate those loyal words of encouragement concerning Bride of the Rat God and the Antryg Windrose books - I've been re-reading them and enjoy them as much as ever. I'm still a bit amazed that Rat-God was ever published - I piggybacked it onto a contract for a book the publisher really wanted, and it never sold well. That wouldn't even happen in today's market. The projects that are in the works now are a couple of longtime dreams, long put off, but I promise I'm working my way back toward a position where I'll be able to return to old favorites.
And for the lady who hated DEMON QUEEN but took comfort in the fact that "a sequel is planned," that's exactly the frustration I've had with that series: the sequel came out in 2002 (DRAGONSTAR) but they apparantly never told anyone about it (and then they wondered why it didn't sell well). Had I known the upheavals that would take place in publishing, I would NEVER have tried writing a trilogy: at one point they were simply not going to buy (or publish) the third book. (This was part of the reason I switched over to Warners, in spite of the fact that it meant temporarily abandoning the Del Rey serieses).
I am indeed going to be Guest of Honor at Arisia in Boston in January of 2005 - and I've completely forgotten the date. (Is it MLK weekend? January cons usually are).
(Deb's note here: see the "Barbara-Spotting Page" for more information on these cons if you're interested)
I will also be Mystery Guest at ArmadilloCon in Austin this coming August - not the month I'd choose to visit Austin, but a welcome reunion with old friends. And, I'll be GoH at TusCon in Tuscon in early November... which means it's shaping up to be a busy year. My back - and my life - is pretty much returning to normal (they even got the street-lights working again, though I'll have to get rid of the rug in the study). At one point in my back problems I filled up the bathtub with hot water for a soak, something I NEVER do (I'm a shower kind of girl), and Jasmine the kitten hopped up on the edge to investigate - she'd never seen that much water in one place. She promptly fell in, and when she scrambled out she wasn't upset: she was just puzzled. She'd never been wet before. She didn't understand why the fur on her butt felt so weird. So she tried to get behind her own butt to have a look at what was going on and of course couldn't, but she tried hard - whirling in a circle for several minutes while I howled with laughter. Everyone have a pleasant spring - I'll be back with more news in June.
Delighted as I am that people out there love the Antryg stories as I do - so much that they're hunting around for Antryg fanfic - let me say this about that:
Authors don't go after fanfic writers simply to be greedy or bloody-minded: they're protecting themselves. I've had a couple of fans come to me about writing fanfic in various of my universes, and each time I've had to say, "Please don't do that. I know you mean well and I know it's all done in love and I know YOU personally can be trusted... but I've met some darn weird folks out there in the fanfic field. I simply cannot afford to open that door."
I'm sorry it is this way, but it is this way.
Now, all this is different from media-zine fic about existing shows or films: I have NO idea what's operating there in terms of intellectual property issues.
Matt, thank you as usual for updating my information about kitchen fire-hazards. As I've said many times, my books can only go on what my research turns up. If the source I'm using is wrong, sometimes I have no way of knowing that, particularly about essentially anthropological issues like, how safe WERE open-hearth kitchens? Stuff most historical texts don't bother to tell you. My only other thought is that if a woman's been working in the kitchen for days, a mist of grease and soot might well have settled on her clothing over time, rendering it more flammable. But, I have no data on that subject.
I do remember a friend of mine who used to annoy his cat by sticking one of its paws into half a walnut shell: somehow the "humane alternative to declawing" reminds me of that. I live in Los Angeles, and believe me, there are not only pet psychologists and therapists, but pet acupuncturists, masseuses, and psychics. In fact I did take my first two Pekes to a psychic, to ask about Smudge's housetraining problem (which turned out to be neurological). The psychic looked each of them in the eyes, and said, "Your boyfriend played too rough with Smudge" - Allan had in fact, following the trainer's instructions, rolled Smudgie onto his back and scruffed him as a means of establishing dominance, but for such a tiny thing Smudge was VERY strong-willed and didn't think he should have been subjected to that kind of treatment. I then asked what the Eternally Beautiful Kismet thought of Allan - the reply was, "Oh, that guy?" and a very brief physical description of Allan that was absolutely dead-on, although the psychic had never seen him.
Smudge was the original of Black Jasmine in BRIDE OF THE RAT-GOD; Buttercreme in the book was based on the Eternally Beautiful Kismet. Blessed little souls.
And, thanks for the corrections to my Spanish - you're absolutely right. I just re-read the galleys of DAYS OF THE DEAD for the mass-market edition, and though it's one of my favorites also, I was struck by how many places in it needed editing or tightening up, as if I didn't have my mind on the project. And, of course, I didn't. I finished the rough draft the night my husband died, 2000 miles away (I didn't hear about the death until the following afternoon). All the rest of the work on the book I did for the next five months was pretty much done in a state of shock. I'm astonished it turned out as well as it did.
January's been a pretty calm month, other than a quick trip to Colorado Springs for a small convention called CoSine, very peaceful and pleasant. I got to go hiking a little, though at 6200 feet a little is about all I could manage. Other than that, it's been pretty much dance and work and occasionally have dinner with friends (including, in Colorado Springs, an old pal from my karate days). I had a medical scare and got tested for both carpal tunnel and rheumatoid arthritis, but it turned out that the culprit was Yet Another food I'm allergic to. With luck, February will be just as uneventful and in a few weeks (I hope) I'll be able to report on Projects Pending.
Until then, everyone drive safe and stay warm.
Well, having completely missed the chance to pass along an inspirational Thanksgiving message (like: Thaw the turkey in an ice-chest in the bath-tub), we're running up on Christmas fast. As usual I hope to be awake at midnight Christmas Eve when all the animals acquire the power of speech in order to praise God, but I expect I'll only hear the usual bickering about who gets more wet food. Jasmine will probably sleep through it.
Though I haven't had time to go back and check on the Arabic and Turkish words I used in TRAVELING WITH THE DEAD, I remember that hamam is the word for the public baths, and the Burned Column is a Roman monument that stands - or stood - close to the Grand Bazaar. I used an early-twentieth-century Baedekker's for my knowledge of Istanbul. Where the notes are now I can't even imagine.
One day I may do a backstory on Ingold. I'm not sure whether the Ingold fan who wrote has read MOTHER OF WINTER or ICEFALCON'S QUEST (which didn't get nearly as wide a distribution as the main trilogy) - but yes, Ingold very much deserves his own book.
Thanks also to those who encourage me to do a sequel to RAT-GOD. At the moment I'm sorting out possibilities for the next-up project after GLASS OF SHADOW, the follow-on to SISTERS OF THE RAVEN (for which the folks at Warner were incredibly nice enough to wait while I pulled EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE together). Naturally, I suspect nobody in New York is going to give me an answer on anything until after the first of the year - giving me a clear shot at getting GLASS well under way!
I have finished with the quite-minor re-writes on WIFE, by the way, and sent it in: I can't wait to see it in print. I suspect that, like the editorial staff of Bantam Books, I've slipped over the edge of the annual Christmas/New Year gravity well and won't really be able to get back to work until after Christmas at least. In addition to shopping (which I hope to finish tomorrow) there is wrapping, and doing Christmas cards (and I have the horrible feeling I left the stamps on the counter at the Post Office), and I am also having my back yard landscaped (YAY!! AT LAST!!), which entailed a lot of subsidiary errands. Since my dear pal Victoria is coming to stay for the weekend (Rose Bowl Swap meet! Opera at the Dorothy Chandler!) I had to put in a day of shoveling out the accumulated clutter of eighteen months of immersion in the Civil War. Some of the stuff I chucked was coming up on the tenth anniversary of its sell-by dates.
So, I've been putting in a bit of time doing introductions to stories for the second anthology of George's short fiction (George Alec Effinger, my late husband, for those who came in late). The first volume, BUDAYEEN NIGHTS, got a starred review in Publisher's Weekly - George's first, I think. ("What do you got to do to get a starred review out of PW, die?") The second, GEORGE ALEC EFFINGER LIVE! FROM PLANET EARTH contains some of his funniest, saddest, and weirdest stuff; it's good to get a chance to re-read it.
Everyone have a joyful Christmas!
Halloween Night, and the commencement of the Days of the Dead. I've set up an offrenda for George - green Depression glass, a bottle of Coke, my favorite picture of him and a wildly out-of-season gardenia that bloomed yesterday on the bush he bought: gardenias were his favorite flower and he wore one at our wedding. I'm going to Larry Niven's Halloween party this evening as War Goddess of Barsoom, basically a belly-dance costume and LOTS of weapons.
The friends and family members who live in the fire areas are all still okay and all still have houses, albeit in some cases a bit smoke-blackened.
My editor at Bantam says THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE is the best thing of mine she's ever read and she's over the moon with delight.
I'm over the moon with the thought that I won't have to do major re-writes.
I just wrapped DEAD WATER - Benjamin January #8, otherwise known as "The Steamboat Book."
Future projects are pending.
Thank you all for your letters - it's always good to hear from you. I'm delighted someone asked me about a sequel to DRAGONSTAR, considering the execration I got a year or so ago about that series. Admittedly it's a bit dark, but I enjoy it nevertheless and I'm glad to see I'm not alone in that opinion.
Aohila is pronounced AY-oh-HI-la, and I think I came up with the name from playing around with Biblical names; I don't really remember now. The Demon Queen herself is one of the very old characters in the locker-room of my head: I've been making up stories in which she's the villainess since I was about eleven, and I think the original image for her came out of a movie I saw, though like everything else it's been added to since. Like all the characters from the locker-room, her name changes from story to story. I was glad to be able to finally use her.
Regarding who I'd cast as January: although I describe him as being very large and rather scary-looking, in fact I could see him being played by either Washington or Poitier. The actor I think most like him (except for not being six-foot-three) is now too old for the role: Louis Gossett, a very fine actor who never quite got offered roles up to his abilities.
Yes, there are Ben January books out in French, from Editions du Masque: certainly the first two, perhaps the first four (though I'm not certain of that).
And you're right, I did goof up about how long Hannibal was in New Orleans before January got there. I didn't start working on a concordance until the second or third book of the series, and even then, there were so many small details that they got away from me.
I picked the name "Dillard" for the Texian romantic interest in DAYS OF THE DEAD out of a list of Alamo defenders; presumably there were several members of the same family who came out to Texas in the 'teens and 'twenties. While researching I encountered the story about Santa Anna being apprehended disguised as a woman, but the way it was worded made me wonder whether that was true or just one of those legends spread to disgrace and humiliate a fallen enemy leader. (Jefferson Davis was also described as trying to escape in a woman's dress). Now, both stories may very well be true. Drag is a fairly good disguise (as Hannibal finds out at the end of DAYS OF THE DEAD), though at six feet I can't imagine President Davis thinking for a moment he'd make a convincing lady. Santa Anna was of medium height and might have thought he could get away with it. Considering the feeling in the Texas army after the Battle of Goliad, he may have been worried enough about surviving capture to try anything.
Regarding crinolines, I hadn't heard about the sugar, though I did read that in the 1940s and '50s (and probably MUCH earlier) the mothers of little girls in the South would slick their daughters' hair with sugar-water, to hold spit-curls stiffly in place. This evidently attracted every bee and wasp in the neighborhood. I should think that alone would discourage you from loading up your petticoats with the stuff - besides, sugar was expensive. But it's an interesting piece of information.
I've had the outline for a sequel to RAT-GOD in my desk drawer for six years now. I was let know in no uncertain terms that the profits on the original didn't justify a sequel - it's another of those that I'll probably end up working on "on spec" and seeing if I can sell, already finished, to a small press. There are several like this on the back burner.
And Matt, thank you for the word on "Travelers' Picquet". I'll definitely have to check on the Public Domain URL.
Many thanks to all, and have a lovely Halloween.
If I don't get this Update finished today, it'll be the October Update, not the September one.
It's been a busy month. I meant to write something around Bilbo Baggins' birthday (Sept. 22) but went to a really, REALLY bad opera instead. (I kept expecting Dan Ackroyd to come out on-stage and say, 'And tonight on "Really Bad Opera" we present scenes from....')
I did, as I said, finish Mrs. Lincoln and get her out the door and on her merry way to New York. The manuscript is the size of a cinder-block and I'm climbing up the walls waiting for editorial comment - with 43 years to cover, any appreciable cutting is going to involve major structural change. I've done my best not to have sentences like, "Ten years later, her feelings about him were still the same...." after a decade encapsulated into three little stars and an extra line of spacing.
To keep from going insane waiting, I took a little road trip up to visit a friend in San Jose, and spent a couple of days shopping, doing handicrafts, and watching silly movies on the video. Back in LA, I went to the LA County Fair, and watched horse shows and pig-races and veggie-chopper demonstrations, and walked til I couldn't walk anymore. (Every year I resolve that the next year, I'll enter the Table-Setting Competition, but I guess that gets filled up REALLY fast - it's a blood-and-cutthroat event.)
This past week, I sat down and did up outlines for future projects, with the result that I want each of the six books I plotted to be the Next Thing Up. One of them's a horror novel that George - my deceased ex-husband, for those of you who might have come in late - was going to write: we worked out the plot together, and I was always sad that he never got more than a chapter done. I'd write that one under both our names. The others are a straight historical novel, a historical murder mystery in a different era than the January books, two more January books, and a sequel to SISTERS OF THE RAVEN, since the next book I owe is to Warner's.... There are two more fantasies in older, Del Rey serieses that I'll put together while finishing up DEAD WATER (Ben January #8 - the Steamboat Book), but since the Warner contract takes priority there's no real hurry on those (Deb's note here: she's not giving out details about which serises yet!).
So I feel a bit disoriented, to say the least.
In a couple of weeks I'll be flying to New Orleans for a signing and posthumous publication party at Octavia Books for George's short story collection, BUDAYEEN NIGHTS (Deb's note: more information on this project can be found on the publisher's web site). It's being organized by the writing group he led for so many years - the group that produced authors Laura Joh Rowland (SHINJU, THE CONCUBINE'S TATTOO, THE SAMURAI'S WIFE) and Andrew Fox (FAT WHITE VAMPIRE BLUES - though since there is so little fat content in blood I don't think one CAN have a fat vampire, white or black). I'm traveling with my two high school girlfriends - still friends after coming up on four decades - which I hope will alieviate the depression that hit me last time I was through New Orleans. Even after 18 months, it's hard to think about going back.
After that I'll be staying home - thank goodness! - until January, when I'll be Guest of Honor at CoSine in Colorado (Colorado Springs, I think - there's a website for them, anyway) (A link to more info on this con can be found by clicking here). It's nice to be getting out a little again, and putting my life back in balance after spending YEARS reading books about the Civil War.
I'll let you know when I hear anything about Mrs. L.
In the meantime, everyone have a nice month.
My apologies to everyone for the length of time it's been since last I did an Update. Some deadlines got swapped around, and by the end of next week I hope to have Mrs. Lincoln packed up and sent on her way to New York.
The usual cycle of post-partum depression and anxiety was interrupted last night by a very lovely birthday party, a back-yard picnic by the light of tiki torches and "flame lamps" (those silly fake-fire things with the ripply silk and red lights - I keep wanting to set them up in my bedroom and keep realizing that there is NO way I could keep the kittens out of them) Very pleasant. And thank you for hanging in there and being patient.
I tried to get a signing set up for Days of the Dead in the LA area, and I realize now that the bookstore never called back - I got so involved with Mrs. Lincoln that I didn't notice. And now I suspect that because it's not "hot off the press" it's too late for most bookstores. I'll be doing a signing sometime during Thanksgiving weekend at the local LA-area science fiction convention, LosCon, which I THINK will be at the Burbank Hilton again (though the person who asked about an LA area signing should probably check LosCon 2003 on their web browser to be sure).
Regarding fire-related deaths of frontier and 19th-century women, I can only pass along what I've heard on the subject. I haven't done any statistical studies on it, since I'm not really a scholar (I just play one in my books). Perhaps a woman's clothing was rendered more flammable by the absorbtion of cooking-grease? I don't know. I did read someplace that the really flammable part of a woman's apparal was her crinolines, which I think were stiffened with glue or sizing of some kind. I, too, would be interested in some more factual information.
On the subject of factual information, I recently finished reading a previous well-known Big Novel about Mary Todd Lincoln, written in the 1950s, and was truly startled by the number of things that I'd found in my researches that the Author More Famous Than Me simply left out, or downplayed into a whisper of near-invisibility. (Compulsive spending? What compulsive spending?) I kept thinking, "The names are the same but these AREN'T the people I've encountered in my research." Very odd. On the other hand, I've read at least one biography of MTL which simply denies that she was ever incarcerated for insanity - it just said she was in Europe at the time, in spite of the fact that her trial was covered in several newspapers, the documents connected with it are in the public record, and I've read the day-book from the asylum where she spent May-September of 1875.
Once MTL is out the door, yes, I will be doing more fantasy. I've now done three historicals in a row and really miss the freedom of writing about magic, strange monsters, and someplace other than nineteenth-century America. I did take a little break and wrote a contemporary occult romance novella, "Someone Else's Shadow," for Harlequin, but I haven't heard back from them - I'm sort of afraid I might have alarmed the editor.
But it was nice to write about belly-dancing and the Tarot.
Hope all is well with everyone - take care of yourselves, and I'll try to be better about updates in the future.
My apologies for being a little late with the Update this month. There was some sadness here shortly after I turned the last one i nG
6 tsp flour
3 heaping tbsp granulated sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
ľ tsp salt
ľ tsp vanilla
2 cups cooked rice Mix flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt, vanilla, and nutmeg. Beat the eggs and add rice to them. Add the dry ingredients to the rice and egg mixture. Mix thoroughly. Drop by spoonfuls (or roll into balls slightly smaller than golf-balls) into hot, deep oil (about 360 degrees) and fry until brown. Drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and serve hot. The Old Coffee Pot restaurant on St. Peter Street used to (maybe still does) add chopped pecans to the mixture, and serve them with grits and maple syrup. Not a calorie in the carload. This recipie is from Leon Soniat's LA BOUCHE CREOLE. I thought we'd established a few months ago that I was actually Deb, so how could I be Martha Wells also? I am, in fact, neither one - I really am just myself. A rather tired self today - I just finished the second draft of DEAD WATER, and have a couple of small projects and a road trip before starting on the third draft. It's chilly in Los Angeles - not unusual for May, actually, the coastal clouds-and-chill zone generally extends until nearly July - and as usual the cats are asleep in front of the office heater. Yes, I started out my researches on DEAD WATER with LIFE ON THE MISSISSIPPI - Twain beautifully captures the flavor of the riverboating era, in the way more scholarly works do not. But Twain couldn't be my only source, since Twain learned his trade in the late Ď50s rather than the Ď30s, and there had been many advances even in twenty years. Also, there were things Twain didn't mention, like some of the finer details of low-water navigation, and the layout of steam-boats - where exactly DID they serve dinner? And would free people of color be able to get a stateroom, or dine with other passengers, or not? (That seems to have depended on the boat). I admit I did a certain amount of guesswork, but in the Ď30s, steamboats were far from the "floating palaces" of the postwar era. I'm delighted to hear that FREE MAN OF COLOR is required reading in courses on history - I always loved having a novel that could make what I was learning real. EVERYTHING in it concerning slavery and relationships between blacks, whites, and free colored is as accurate as I could get it from the research that I did. Marie Laveau definitely existed, though not a great deal is known about her - there are accretions of legend and folk-tale, but many of those were designed to be sensational. Details about the free colored demimonde of the 1820s-40s are VERY scanty - it was one of those things that everybody knew about and nobody talked about or wrote about, except travelers who were trying to impress the folks back home. But most of the free colored property-owners in New Orleans were women, to whom white men willed houses and money after long relationships. I got as close to the facts as I could find them, and didn't knowingly say things that contradicted what I could learn or deduce. I always look on my books - certainly the January books, and others with historical background as well - as teaching tools, to show people things they might not have known. I know I have a tendency to explain too little about, for instance, local New Orleans idisyncracies, like the fact that the sidewalks were called banquettes or that proper Creole manners dictated that you came in through the bedroom, not the parlor. But as Benjamin is a New Orleans African Creole himself, these wouldn't be things he'd even think about. Detail is one of the things I use - to answer another question - in making my worlds Ďbelievable.' Once I've researched what would be in any given environment where Our Heroes are dealing with the latest of their problems - or sitting taking a break between plot points - I try to see what they would be seeing, smell what they would be smelling (and believe me, New Orleans is a world of smells!). What is it actually like to be them, in that place, at that time? It takes practice. I am sorry if I gave the impression - as I seem to have done - that I don't think much of creative writing programs. I've had a couple of bad experiences with writing classes and writers' groups, but I know also that they can be of tremendous help. More power to you! To answer the question regarding my late husband George's last novel, WORD OF NIGHT, it was never finished - barely even started. The first two chapters will appear in an upcoming collection of some of his short stories called BUDAYEEN NIGHTS, from Golden Gryphon Press. Golden Gryphon is doing several collections of George's short stories, which I think would have pleased George very much. With regards to Starhawk's cribbage technique, I'll often drop into the middle of conversations between characters, so I don't know how many points she counted up earlier. I assume they were either using the point-count system from the convent where Starhawk went to school, or that there were extra points awarded for winning the hand. Being raised in a convent, of course Starhawk would never think of cheating. And with regards to John Aversin's abilities to make double vanilla lattes in DEMON QUEENÖ think about the place he was working in! It was a mix he squirted out from a hose under the counter, of course.
Last Wednesday afternoon I finished the rough draft of DEAD WATER, took time out for a brief nervous breakdown, went to UCLA to research a little bit about banking in America in the late 1830s - which was completely unregulated to the degree that banks and merchants had weekly registers of which other banks' paper money was discounted and by how much on the dollar - and hope to get rolling on the second draft tomorrow. Second draft is always my favorite part of a book.
It's gorgeously beautiful here and I have a terrible case of Spring Fever which comes out in Nesting Behavior: making curtains and redecorating.
As usual, thank you all for your questions and comments - I do appreciate hearing from you all.
I have not yet read any of the Harry Potter books, nor have I met the author, so I truly have no opinion of them. One of these days I'll rent the movies, which I'm told are entertaining - sometimes I'm too tired to be entertained much.
No, I never wrote more than those few lines of the song about the dragons and their colors. And yes, I got the count of the dragons in DRAGONSTAR mixed up, where they are moving in and out of the power-crystals at the end. That's something my usual line-editor catches, and of course for reasons too long to go into, among the MANY other problems I had with DRAGONSTAR (including the entire - hand-corrected - manuscript being LOST during the editing process and having to be re-doneÖ don't even start me on that) was that I didn't have my usual line-editor working with me.
Had I know there would be that much trouble - and that many delays - with DRAGONSTAR, I would NEVER have done what I did in that series, making the first and especially the second books so grim and dark. But I am still a bit disconcerted that so many people found DRAGONSHADOW and DEMON QUEEN as horrifying as they didÖ don't other people write grim, scary stuff too?
Isn't the POINT of getting your hero into and out of trouble, to see how horrifyingly awful that trouble can be?
When I write about demons, I'm not talking about cute little squeakers with pitchforks. They're as close to Pure Evil as I've gotten - uncaring and obliviously selfish appetite.
But yes, if you want to find the real nastiness in my stories, it's usually the human villains, simply because humans should know better, and - for whatever reasons seem good to them - choose not to know.
Regarding my characters, some of them are semi-based on people I know - usually amalgams of several people - and others simply emerge from my head. As I think I've said elsewhere, some of them - like John Aversin and the Icefalcon -- I've been making up stories about for years, in one incarnation or another. There's a bit of the Crocadile-Dundee, Wise Barbarian archtype in John, and a bit of him in Abishag Shaw, the policeman in the Ben January series: but John and Shaw are very much individuals. I generally don't think of any of my characters as archtypes (which I tend to regard as sloppy writing).
Sewing is something that comes in and out of my life - for a long time I did historical costuming, but now I generally just turn out an occasional Hawaiian shirt. Some of the Simplicity Civil War patterns are quite accurate, and others areÖ wellÖ let's say they're designed for Halloween or School Play level costuming. There's a wonderful establishment called AlterYears (or Alter Years) that specializes in historical patterns and costume notions (coset-bones, fancy clasps, etc), and they act as a sort of clearing-house for the various historical pattern companies. Unfortunately, they're sufficiently disorganized that they haven't put out a catalogue since '98, but if you do a Search on your Browser and look them up, they may have a catalogue or partial catalogue on-line, and I know they do mail-orders.
For the person going to New Orleans and looking for used bookstores, I most recommend the Librairie (I think it's called) on Chartres Street in the Quarter. The Faulker House Books, on (I think) Pirates Alley in the Quarter is also very good, though more expensive and dealing more with rare books. The Garden District Book Store on Prytania at The Rink shopping center (my favorite in New Orleans) has a case of rare old books, which they used to leave open for browsers until they discovered that some browser had been helping him or herself and walking out with the books under their coat. But if you ask, they'll unlock it for you.
With regard to the nit-picks: It's sometimes very difficult to figure out coinage in the 1830s, and that's something I'll double-check next time it comes up. As far as I could figure out in the upcoming Mexico book, DAYS OF THE DEAD, a reale was about two pesos (or vice versa - I can't remember now) and wasn't very much; I could easily have mistaken myself and used a reale and a Mexican dollar interchangeably. That's something line- and copy-editors frequently miss, too, though the one I've had is usually VERY good.
All I can do about Sephiroth/Sephira is say, Oops. My bad. (see the nit-picks page if you're curious)
Callista was in her early-to-mid twenties when she was killed on the Eye of Palpatine; she lived her early life on a water-planet (and I'm blocking on the name of the planet) where her father owned a floating ranch. She grew up riding essentially dolphin-equivalents, herding enormous fish. Other than the two Star Wars books, I did write a short story about her for the Star Wars Adventure Journal in (I think) August of '97 or '98Ö you might want to track that one down, if you haven't read it. It's a murder-mystery that takes place on the planet of the Pig-Guards, and is called "Murder in Slush-Time."
And yes, I meant Toadsuck Arkansas, not Alabama.
One of the things everyone kept telling me when I was in High School was, "Write what you know," discouraging news if all you know is how to be an overweight socially inept Southern California virgin in the early 1960s. However, that advice is a little easier to follow if you take it to mean, "Know about what you're writing about."
Since the next Benjamin January book, DEAD WATER, takes place on a steamboat going up the Mississippi in the summer of 1836, I booked myself onto the sternwheel steamboat Mississippi Queen and went upriver from New Orleans to Vicksburg, a thoroughly entertaining journey.
The Mississippi Queen is a genuine steamboat - that is, powered entirely by steam and propelled by a paddlewheel - though it's about twice the length and many times the volume of any steamboat on the river in the 1830s. One of the things I noticed in my studies of medieval history - which was my field of study in college - is the tendency of so many people to generecize: they think everyone in the Middle Ages wore fourteenth-century houppelandes and henins, for instance, or that all warriors then wore plate armor, forgetting that the "Middle Ages" covers everything from sixth-century scale-mail up through the Renaissance and guns. Unless you're in the SCA or a grad program there's no reason to know any different, and the same blurring is in effect about the antebellum period in the U.S.
Steamboats changed a lot from 1811, when the first one cruised down the river, even up to the heyday of the "packet boats" in the 1850s, let alone the big excursion boats after the War. I goofed up in several of the earlier January books by describing them as white-with-gingerbread - an 1850s phenomenon that didn't exist in the 1830s -- and by speaking of their whistles, which weren't invented (I now know) until 1844. (Oops.) God knows the Mississippi Queen is NOTHING like anything to be found on the river during January's rather ill-fated voyage.
And, of course, the river is very different since the invention of snag-boats, locks, and erosion control. The ground on which the formerly notorious river-port of Natchez-Under-The-Hill stands is about a sixth the size it was when Abraham Lincoln and his assorted cousins and step-brothers stopped there to get drunk, laid, and probably robbed on their way down to New Orleans by flatboat in the late 1820s - the old buildings and the land they stood on have literally washed away. Naturally, it's a Disney-oid tourist attraction now.
But I did get to see that most heart-shaking of sights, the night sky away from any city or lights, clear velvet black down to the horizons and burning with more stars than you'd think are possible. And I did get some astonishing shore tours, including a visit to Angola Penitentiary. The museum there was a monument to human ingenuity - I didn't know how many things could be made into weapons or whittled into keys. (One fellow carved the handle of a black plastic comb into a key so accurate they had to change all the locks in the prison). There was a 40-cup coffeepot that had been converted into a still - somebody didn't have to worry about cigarettes for the duration of his stay. I also had a nice walk around Natchez, saw an amazingly idiosyncratic museum in Vicksburg, visited a working reproduction of an old cotton-gin, and on one Cajun Music shore tour there was a prize-ticket drawing at the end and I won an accordion.
And, the voyage itself was great fun. It was a "Big Band Cruise" and most of its population were retirees; there were four very nice "dance hosts" in the employ of the boat, whose job it was to make sure that the singleton ladies all got danced with. Very nice fellows, handsome well-dressed well-mannered gentlemen between 45 and 70 who doubled as escorts on the shore tours. Mostly I spent my evenings in the Paddlewheel Lounge at the back of the boat, listening to the house band - banjo, piano, drums, very Kingston-Trio-like. Fun, mellow, peaceful evenings and unlimited quantities of popcorn.
I'm glad I went.
Since the house has been invaded by the Window Guys (Installment Associates of Five Points Sash and Door, with a LONG-needed upgrade of the cheesy post-WWII aperture hardware this place came with), I will utilize the day of hiding back here in the study to check in and say hi. With the distraction of minor construction going on, I'm probably not going to get much actual work done. (When I had the Remodel done in '89 I took my laptop up to my friend Laurie's apartment in Venice and worked there, with her old cat Dinah hovering like a vulture over the keyboard. Dinah did once venture to tap a key - just to see why I was doing it, I think - thereby making her contribution to the Star Trek novel GHOST WALKER.)(Rocket and Baby, needless to say, are imprisoned together in the upstairs bedroom).
Many thanks to everyone for their letters. It's always good to hear. I especially owe thanks to Matt in Philadelphia for the heads-up on Thomas Gunn's THE PHYSIOLOGY OF NEW YORK BOARDING-HOUSES. It is delightful, quite funny if you're into the Dickens-Twain type of nineteenth-century humor (I found it hilarious), and ENORMOUSLY helpful. I especially liked the chapters on Spiritualist Boarding-Houses, Vegetarian Boarding-Houses, and Boarding-Houses Where You Are Expected To Make Love To The Landlady. I scored a copy through Books Redux in Yorba Linda, California, and I recommend anyone who's looking for old or rare books to contact Miriam there: she's a great searcher and I've never found her prices to be outrageous.
With regard to the theory proposed by another reader, (Deb's note, the letter is on the letters page) as far as I know, Deb and I are not the same person. I can't be sure of this, since we've never been seen in the same room together - we've never actually met. So she may, in fact, be me when I sleepwalk, or she may be a nom-de-Net used by Damsel, the only one of the Fearsome Foursome clever enough to get on-line. (I'd suspect Rocket, but Rocket, though she gives the impression of brightness, hasn't yet figured out that the mice that live behind the kitchen baseboard are nocturnal, and that if she wants to catch them, she has to give up sleeping on my feet for a night or so and pull a swing-shift).
If our writing styles are similar it may be due to my style influencing her, or us sharing similar influences. My British editor once asked if I were English myself, since my style sounded very British to her - the result, I'm sure, of reading lots of Doyle, Kipling, and Wilde in my formative years.
On the subject of British, while it's annoying - and troubling - that stores in London aren't stocking my backlist, it isn't surprising. I don't know what the book business is like in England these days, but in America the combination of rising costs, buy-outs by multinationals that haven't got a clue about reading, and what appears to be just general confusion in the publishing business, has made it very difficult to buy anything BUT current best-sellers in regular bookstores. This means readers need to dig a little more - and it means, alas, that a lot of people simply don't have the time or patience to dig. It can be an extremely aggravating process.
By all means, order DRAGONSTAR, either from Waterstones or whatever local independent bookstore is closest - if that doesn't work, order it from Amazon. DRAGONSTAR wraps up the mess everyone was in at the end of KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN, an arrangement I made before I realized the impact the current chaos in publishing would have on multi-book stories: I promise that everyone comes out okay and lives happily ever after.
And yes, I did in fact run across reference to Toadsuck, Alabama, (Deb again: see the letters page again for the reference to this) in my researches in nineteenth-century America (in which I'm now, God help me, being perceived in some circles as an expert!), and the name was so wonderful I had to use it.
In the interests of my researches in nineteenth-century America, in February I am booked on a steamboat cruise from New Orleans to Vicksburg. I'll be taking notes frantically all the way in spite of the fact that when January, Rose, and Hannibal undertake the same journey in the summer of 1836 (for reasons to be explained in Chapter Two of DEAD WATER) the River was MUCH different than it is now, full of snags and sandbars and assorted debris (including the hulls of crashed, snagged, or blown-up steamboats) and much more inclined to alter its course without warning. Still, it's as close as I can come. Having bumped off poor Mr. L, I put THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE on hold for the time being to get DEAD WATER started. Though I will miss Lincoln as a character (I've become EXTREMELY fond of the guy), there really wasn't any way around killing him. (Though I may work on that in another book). I comfort myself with the fact that when I go back to WIFE I get to burn down Chicago, a town in which I've had some truly bad experiences.
There's an old saying about never piss off a writer, because we're capable of literary vengeance.
Everybody have a lovely Valentine's Day.
Many thanks for all the info on public baths. I did get the Great Unwashed book, and that provided me with a good guess at what kind of facilities the Lincolns would have had at their disposal in '48Ö that is, they probably tipped the housemaid to heat water and tote it up, once a week, for a sit-down in front of the fireplace in one of those little tin hip-baths, which must have been quite a cope for a man six feet four inches tall. You washed your feet separately.
Little mysteries of History. By the time they got back to Washington, of course, the White House had running water (coldÖ the servants still had to heat baths on the downstairs boiler and haul the water up the servants' stair to the little bathing-room on the second floor). Probably Washington had public baths by then, so Lincoln's two secretaries - who shared a bedroom across the hall from him - bathed out, the same way they ate their meals at a near-by boarding-house. Mary couldn't stand either of them and they called her "the Hellcat."
What a pity the TV series about the Lincolns in Washington was turned into a sit-com that was, by all accounts, a comprehensive exercise in bad taste: it was an amazing household. The TV series should have been done as the 1860 version of The Sopranos. Which reminds me of one of the weirdest things I've ever seen on TV: some small history show did an episode about Robert E. Lee, and used - I'm not making this up - what were purported to be Robert E. Lee's home movies: black-and-white, silent, "Wave at the camera, dearÖ." VERY silly, but hugely entertaining.
Sorry it's been so long since I updated. Hawaii was lovely. My friend and I rented a house essentially next door to the one I - and other friends - rented last year, on the North Shore of Kaua'I, about ĺ of the way from Hanalei to Ke'e Beach. We took a helicopter tour of the island - during which I found it is possible to be awestruck by wonder and beauty at the same time as one is utterly terrified - but other than that we did nothing. Lay on the beach, and a little bit of hiking. We hiked the first two miles of the Kalaulau Trail, down to the first beach (after that one needs a Parks Department permit). I didn't realize at the time that it's one of the most challenging hikes in the world. The muscles in my knees and ankles grew so fatigued that they wouldn't bear my weight and I fell a couple of times going over rocks, but fortunately it didn't start to pour rain until we were about halfway back. Then it washed off all the bug-spray and I got bitten all over, aside from having my glasses get wet so I couldn't see and had to guess the angles of these wet slick rocks underfoot. I take great pride in the fact that I finished the hike and didn't have to be airlifted out. The annoying thing was we kept getting passed by these little surfer-girls, who would dart past us - barefoot - with a surfboard under one arm and a six-pack of Cokes in the other, on their way to the beach.
Mostly we just put in beach-time, watching the interactions of the thousands of tiny sand-crabs who would emerge from their holes and chase each other around, sort of a Thimble Theater version of Wild Kingdom. Since we were there for the Days of the Dead, we put up an offrenda at the house (my companion is also a widow), very peaceful and sweet.
Thanksgiving was also very pleasant: an afternoon with my family, and the evening spent with my best friend (and sometime editor) Laurie, at the house of her sister who still owns the house they all grew up in - great fun with old friends. Then I was at LosCon, the local LA science fiction convention, signing a few books but mostly talking with old friends.
And the next things I have to deal with are the Civil War, and Christmas.
December 2, 2002
Everybody have a lovely holiday.
Does anybody here know anything about public baths in mid-Victorian America?
I'm attempting to pinpoint how the inhabitants of boarding-houses (specifically in Washington DC in 1848) bathed - did they heat water in the landlady's teakettle and have a quick scrubbie in their rooms, or did the guys at least have the option of going down to the local suds-a-torium, with or without prostitutes as part of the deal? Since most of the Congressional Representatives lived in boarding-houses (which divided up by State, party, or both), we're talking about the governing body of the country . It is extremely clear to me why Mary Todd Lincoln HATED boarding-houses - in which she unfortunately had to live many years of her life, both with Mr. L and without him. (Of course, she didn't even have the option of a bath-house, if there were any, with or without hot and cold running prostitutes. In 1848 it wasn't respectable for a woman to enter a restaurant.)(Except perhaps in that Gomorrah on the Gulf, New Orleans).
I've also discovered that Mr. L loved to bowl, and did a lot of it while a Rep for Illinois - presumably after his wife got fed up with bathing herself and two children under the age of five in a dishpan in a corner of the bedroom, and went back to Lexington to live with Daddy for the duration, and small blame to her.
Little Lessons in American History.
Anyone with information about where I could look for stuff on this subject, please let me know. ("Public Baths - history" on various search-engines has only netted me 94,000 sites devoted to Ancient Rome and Istanbul Through the Ages.)
Many thanks for all your kind letters.
Why did I drop Callista? It's a long story, the short version of which is that having been asked to write about the great love of Luke's life by the editor of the Star Wars novels at that time, when the editor was replaced, I was told that another author (and presumably another author's numerous fans) wanted to have his female lead end up marrying Luke. Since it's not my driveway and not my toys, I complied. That's the one pitfall of writing in someone else's universeÖ It's someone else's universe.
I love Callista and I was glad to have had the chance to write the two novels about her that I did. I also wrote a short story - for the STAR WARS ADVENTURE JOURNAL - about some of her adventures after the end of PLANET OF TWILIGHT, when she's traveling on a Gamorrean trading-ship. It's called "Murder in Slushtime" and I think it was out in August of '97 or '98.
Both e-books and audiobooks are a rather ticklish subject as far as rights are concerned. It's something I leave up to my agent.
With regard to having my Russian translations re-translated, I'm not sure how long my Russian contracts will bind, and what their provisions are. I also have no idea what placing the books on the open Internet might do to my OTHER rights to those stories: that is, if doing so would kill any chance of a film deal, for instance. So it's something I haven't looked into. There are TERRIBLE tales about authors who weren't sufficiently careful with rights, who ended up having to abandon books or, in one case, who lost rights to a major character and had to essentially drop the whole series. I don't like to be picky and niggly - or greedy and unreasonable - but it's a bizarre world out there, so I err on the side of caution.
I've never done an official "Benjamin January's New Orleans" piece for any guidebook, but if you're going there, walk along DuMaine Street between Dauphine and Burgundy, and then along Burgundy, to get an idea of the neighborhoods where his mother and sisters live. In the 1840s and Ď50s the neighborhood got very bad, and, I believe, worse after the Civil War: nobody cared very much about protective zoning for primarily free colored neighborhoods and for a time every other house sheltered prostitutes. But in the 1830s it was very much a "respectable" free colored neighborhood.
The streets where Rose had her first school, and where the original Charity Hospital stood, have all been obliterated by the Interstate: it's that whole strip behind the Quarter that used to be the heart of the free colored culture in New Orleans. (What a surprise that they put a highway THERE, hunh?) The French Market is pretty much what it was - stalls under a brick roof - though the "Moon Walk" didn't exist. The levee was much lower and that whole area was thriving steamboat wharves. Congo Square - now Louis Armstrong Park - has been way spruced up, of course. Back then it was a dusty marketplace surrounded by plane-trees, where the slaves would sell produce from their own gardens on Sunday afternoons, and would dance until curfew. Their masters would usually pocket some of the money they earned, but they could keep a portion of it, either to save toward their freedom (increasingly difficult after the cost of slaves skyrocketed) or to buy little luxuries that made their lives more bearable.
Mme. Lalaurie's house still stands on the corner of Royal and Ursulines, but it's been largely rebuilt since the Civil War. The Orleans Theater and Orleans Ballroom (where the quadroon balls were held) are now the Omni Hotel, probably much rebuilt.
Look for a copy of Lillian Crete's LIFE IN NEW ORLEANS IN THE 1830s for more info. I could go on for FAR longer than there's time or space for here.
And yes, I am a seamstress.
I'll try to keep those happy endings coming.
October 22, 2002
As I think I've said before, one of the difficult things about being a writer is people ask you, "How are things going?" and if things are going well there's NOTHING to tell them. "I sit all day in front of a computer screen and then I go to bed."
Which is a lovely way to live, actually.
I'm feeling much better (though actually not at this moment, since I have a mild cold and am NOT looking forward to getting on an airplane tomorrow - Foolscap is in Seattle, not Portland as I'd thought. Sorry about that.) I had an interesting and restful time at CopperCon, which is a nice little convention. Phoenix has always been one of my favorite road-trips. In the mid-70s the UC Riverside Karate Club would car-caravan across the desert - an all-day sojourn - to do battle with the Phoenix club. We'd spend one night in a hotel sleeping on top of each other 12 to a room, do the tournament, have a large Mexican dinner in Tempe, and then trundle slowly back through the darkness so we could all show up for class Monday. I remember writing a strange little novella called KARATE MASTERS VS. THE INVADERS FROM OUTER SPACE as a spin-off from one of those trips - it never got published, but I should probably dig it out and see if it can be re-worked. It's good to remember those days.
I keep wondering why I have so little recollection of the Ď70s and I realize it's because I was in the dojo pretty much the entire time. That's what got me out of the habit of watching TV, and though I quit karate with knee-injuries in '82 I never went back to watching TV in the evenings. (I now spend a couple of evenings a week at dance classes - same thing, except you don't come home with a black eye).
I rather like this business of not frenziedly juggling projects. I find I can think, at let ideas bubble to the surface naturally while I'm dealing with such questions as why any woman in her right mind would have married Abraham Lincoln. (Of course, as the Cook County Courts later certified, MTL wasn't.)
Everyone have a lovely week.
My apologies if I flew off the handle a bit in my last update; I didn't mean to sound snappish. One is warned, of course, that "anger" is one of the first stages of grieving, but one isn't generally told that it isn't necessarily "anger at X's death." It's anger - or annoyance in this case - at unexpected things that would ordinarily pass unblinked-at.
I just had my birthday, and as I feared it's been a difficult week for me. I'm recovering from George's death pretty much as if I were recovering from a head-injury, slowly and with a lot of flashbacks. I'm doing an intro for a collection of his short stories, which is proving much harder than I thought it would be, especially at this distance. I find I still don't want to be around people much: with everyone except about a half-dozen very close friends, I get overwhelmed by the desire to just run screaming from the room.
I'm told I will get over this.
Fortunately I had the week pretty much off. I wrapped DAYS OF THE DEAD (yay!) and the graphic novel I was asked to do for Pennyfarthing Press's comic-book series THE VICTORIAN - something I don't think I've mentioned, mostly because I was a little uncertain of myself in writing it. I seem to have acquired a reputation as an expert in nineteenth-century America, rather curious, since it wasn't one of my major fields in college. (I've seen real scholars, and I know I'm not one - I just like to do research and fortunately was taught how to do it). Since a lot of THE VICTORIAN series (which is being written at present by my pal Len Wein, of Wolverine fame) involves New Orleans, I was asked to do a one-shot graphic novel about the villain, who is from there more or less.
It turned out to be a lot of fun, a very different fashion of storytelling than prose; it was as if I were seeing the story in a series of Norman Rockwell paintings, four or six to a page, which I described in detail, plus as little dialogue as I could manage to tell the story not only of a single individual but of the secret organization which he betrayed. The folks at Pennyfarthing are REALLY nice, and what I've seen of the series is both interesting and beautiful. The graphic novel will be called, as far as I know, "The Invisible Labyrinth" and I'll keep everyone posted as to when it will appear.
Having finished that, and DAYS OF THE DEAD, I took off what turned out to be almost two weeks, mostly to finish sewing projects that have been stacking up for years, and to sleep. It's nice to have only one major project in the offing (though once I get most of the Lincoln draft done I'll be starting on the next January book, DEAD WATER). Nice to think, and rest, and regroup. I usually throw a big garden-party around this time of year but I'm simply not up to it - instead a couple of my friends are taking me out for Moroccan food.
As I said, I'll be at CopperCon in Phoenix, at Foolscap in Portland, and at Bouchercon in Austin.
And then it'll be Christmas.
Everyone have a nice Labor Day.
end of August, 2002
When I was pushing last June to meet the deadlines on three novels at once - WET GRAVE, DRAGONSTAR, and SISTERS OF THE RAVEN - I was sort of under the impression that their release-dates would be staggered, and that they wouldn't all be put on the market in one big lump. I think I got that impression from the publishers, but as I learned many years ago, publishers aren't to be relied on for any assurances they make because THEY are subject to Higher Authorities these days - large mega-corporations that move in their own mysterious ways.
The result is that SISTERS OF THE RAVEN is about to appear, and I really hope those of you who've faithfully purchased DRAGONSTAR and WET GRAVE will go out and get it, too, because it's a story I'm very pleased with and proud of. It's the first new cast of characters I've done in many years (more on that, later) and it's much more an idea-story than I've done in awhile: I have no idea whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, market-wise. (But then, I have never been market-wise).
But it does bring up a rather uncomfortable issue raised by the person who wrote in that grumpy letter about how he wasn't going to buy any more of my books until I finished the series he wanted me to finish, i.e. Sun-Cross.
And that is, books don't get published in a vacuum.
Sun-Cross was a very different book, as originally written. It was one hugely long volume, over which I fought - bitterly - with my editor, resulting in a much-changed ending, and the splitting of the story into two. It may have made for a better book - my editor was a very wise man and had the most amazing story sense of anyone I've ever encountered. Whether he saw or understood the story I was originally trying to tell, I don't know. Nor, now, can I ever find out. He left Del Rey before MAGICIANS OF NIGHT came out and I'm only glad that I was able to mend my fences with him and visit him in friendship three weeks before he died: I was probably the last of his authors to see him.
Maybe if I'd been at some publishing house other than Del Rey, with a different editor, Sun-Cross would have appeared as originally intended. Maybe he was right and it needed the massive changes it got, or some other massive change that it didn't get. That's another thing I don't know.
It's also a bit disconcerting to be urged, "Write a sequel to X," or, "Let's have another book in the Y series," and then be dissed for being "allergic to endings." Editors like sequels because serieses can be profitable. I tend to leave my endings a little loose and ragged because life goes on beyond the edges of the book.
If the editor who champions a certain series leaves the publishing house, your chances of selling another book in that series largely depend on who steps into the job.
In the year 2000, for a lot of reasons, some having to do with the buy-out of Del Rey, I signed a contract with Warner Books for the first fantasies I've written outside the Del Rey umbrella in a 20-year career. This meant the chance to work with different editors and different marketing departments - to get different advice and different choices - but when you switch houses, it usually means you have to start a new series, since no publisher is going to pay you to write in a series whose backlist belongs to another publisher. (Well, they probably will if you're Larry Niven or Marion Zimmer Bradley).
This gave me a chance to meditate on - and bring to fruition - a story I've had in mind for many, many years: the story of what happens to a world where magic has always been accessible only to men, when men lose their magic, and women begin to develop power. This story became SISTERS OF THE RAVEN. (At some future date I'll talk about the hair-tearing nightmare of picking titles).
They'd like me to do a second book about those characters, but that, too, has been slipped to the back burner by a chance to do a major historical novel, something I've been angling to get the chance to do for years.
But what it means is, that it will be awhile before I can get back to any of the Del Rey serieses. They have a new editor at Del Rey, whom I've worked with beforeÖ but particularly these days I feel uneasy about even considering what the future may bring. "Always in motion, the future," Yoda said.
All I can promise is that I love Antryg, I love Sun Wolf, I love John and Jenny, and Ingold Inglorion, and Norah Blackstone and all the others; and I assure you, I'll absolutely do all I can to see them again.
That said, SISTERS OF THE RAVEN will be out soon (if it's not on the stands already - I've been so buried in trying to wrap DAYS OF THE DEAD I've barely been out of the house). (That's another problem lately: I finished the first draft of DAYS OF THE DEAD approximately four hours before my husband died, and though I continued to work on the manuscript, I shouldn't have. It all had to be re-written and I lost six or eight weeks of work).
To the unfortunate person who got a copy of CHILDREN OF THE JEDI with duplicated pages, take it back to the bookstore where you got it, show them the problem, and they should be able to send it back to the publisher for a refund.
Regarding Gottschalk, the New Orleans piano prodigy, in 1835 (which is where Ben is in WET GRAVE) Gottschalk would have been 6, probably a little young to enter the story.
Regarding Gar and Judy - two of the absolutely nicest people in the entire world - they, too, ran into the editor-left-series-stalled conundrum, and, like me, headed down another road while waiting for things to un-stall. They're always swamped with work - frequently co-authoring William Shatner's Star Trek novels (and they say he's a prince to work for, generous and pleasant), and story-editing and now co-producing The Lost World TV show, which involves long periods of living in Australia. (Gar, by the way, looks like the square-jawed blond hero of a Victorian boy's adventure novel - stalwart, except for the devil sparkle in his heroic blue eye).
I'll be at Comic Con in San Diego in early August: at CopperCon in Phoenix 6-8 September, at Foolscap in Portland 27-29 September, and at Bouchercon (mystery convention) in Austin October 17-20. (Dinner at Threadgills, yay!). After that I'll be in an isolated beach cottage on the north shore of Kauai, listening to the waves break and watching feral chickens.
Many thanks for all your kind words and thoughts.
July 29, 2002
Everybody stay cool.
Heartland Trip Report
First, many, many thanks to all those who sent such kind thoughts and wishes of condolence. They meant a great deal to me. I'm feeling a bit better, or I would be if I weren't too tired to feel much of anything at all. Ten days is entirely too long to travel, particularly if you have mild food allergies and start feeling REALLY funky if you consume too much wheat or coffee or caffeine, substances that are fairly difficult to avoid.
This was my big Lincoln Research Trip and I hit Lexington, KY (where Mary Todd Lincoln grew up), Springfield IL (where she and Mr. Lincoln met and lived most of their married life), and Chicago, where Mary went after Lincoln's death. I talked to a number of very prominent Lincoln scholars who were all extremely nice in sharing their knowledge, and I stayed in some lovely places. If anyone has occasion to go to Lexington, the Sills Inn was wonderful - not in Lexington, but in near-by Versailles (pronounced V'r-sales). I LOVED Springfield, and the near-by re-created village of New Salem, which was where Lincoln drifted to after leaving his father's house and where he got his start in politics and the law. In Springfield I highly recommend the Mischler House Bed Ďn' Breakfast, just across the street from the two-block area around Lincoln's old house that's been restored to its 1850s appearance (and quiet). The Mischler House is a big old Victorian dwelling that's been beautifully restored, very comfortable and with lovely patio breakfasts.
I got a lot of excellent research done in Chicago, but I have old, distasteful, disturbing memories of bad times in Chicago in the past and the fact that all the streets around my hotel were either barricaded, torn up, or one-way didn't help. I rented a car and had lovely long drives through the Illinois countryside, and that helped.
The cats were glad to see me return home. One of them - I presume it was Rocket - feared that I would be hungry upon my return, or else thought to coax me out of wherever I was hiding, and left the front half of a very dead mouse on my office chair for me, which was sweet of her. I must say I inspected the bedclothes VERY carefully before retiring for the night.
With regards to the tignon worn by both slave women and free women of color, I have heard many times that the way it was wrapped, and the number of points allowed to stick up, contained coded information, which varied from place to place and from time to time. I've never found any "hard" examples, except that one person told me that one point meant single, two points meant married, and I think three meant, "I'm shopping around," but don't ANYBODY quote me on that because I may be misremembering that part. It was different in New Orleans than it was in the Carribean, I have been told. I'm sorry I can't say more than that. I suspect the lower-ranking voodoo queens wore more points - possibly five - but again, that's only surmise on my part. These were things that never got written down, like an awful lot else about the free people of color.
I've heard someone was asking my agent about the Darwath Trilogy movie rights awhile ago, presumably in the wake of Fellowship's multiple Oscar nominations, but I haven't heard further than that. I'd love to see it done - it's still one of my favorites.
So: I am home, I am VERY tired, and I will spend the next week or two wrapping up DAYS OF THE DEAD before starting in on Mrs. Lincoln in earnest. I discovered that George's death affected my work more than I'd thought: I kept on working through the worst of it, and was glad I had DAYS to work on, but a lot of the stuff has got to be re-written. I'll be at the Westercon science fiction convention this upcoming weekend (July 4) but only because it's right down the street from my house. It's extremely difficult for me to be around people still and though I'm hosting a memorial party for George on Friday night, I keep wondering if there's a way I can sneak out early and go to bed.
Everyone have a safe holiday weekend.
June 29, 2002
Last week I traveled to New Orleans, to participate in a memorial reading of the works of my late husband, George Alec Effinger, and to wrap up his mortal affairs.
I still can't believe I'm never going to see him again.
He died peacefully in his sleep about 2 a.m. of the morning of April 27, of intestinal bleeding, possibly from an ulcer. I saw him a month prior to his death, at Coast Con in Biloxi. If both of us had been asked what we'd like to do for the last time we'd see each other, we'd have picked what we did: dinner at Antoine's, a fun movie, and hanging out together all weekend at a convention.
Since the divorce two years ago we'd talked nearly every day. It's as if the marriage per se was just a sort of sidebar on the ongoing relationship, whatever that relationship was: soulmates, colleagues, friends. The first time I met him it felt that I'd known him - and would know him - forever. He was a difficult man to live with and a wonderful man to know.
His life was a difficult one, especially in his later years. I never knew anyone who had such lousy luck and such terrible judgement. He didn't leave much, and what he left was in shambles. Two unfinished projects - one of which I'm going to complete - and a marvelous legacy of tales, nearly all of which are out of print now. A little bit of jewelry. The biggest collection of 30-day sobriety chips in South Louisiana. His old teddy-bear and the pack of Tarot cards he got in the East Village in the sixties. A fat old black-and-white cat who's been living with me since George went back to New Orleans. A whole lot of George-stories among the people who loved him. A staggering heap of medical bills.
Everybody's being very, very nice but I'm not doing real well right now. I'm working, and exercising, but there are very few people I can stand to be around - fortunately, one of them lives in New Orleans. Most of the time I'm just numb, and a little confused.
Thank you all for your very kind wishes, and for the messages of sympathy I've gotten from all here. They mean a lot.
In the meantime, DRAGONSTAR is FINALLY coming out this month: I went through the copy they sent me and re-read my favorite bits, and I'm very pleased with it, and with the DRAGONSHADOW trilogy as a whole. (The Darwath Trilogy had two single-book sequels - the single-book DRAGONSBANE had a trilogy for a sequel). WET GRAVE will be out in June and SISTERS OF THE RAVEN in August, I think. In June I'm going on my little pilgrimage to Lexington and Springfield to do Lincoln research, but I'm heartily glad I'm not working on Lincoln at the moment. I don't think I could write particularly well about a woman grieving the death of her husband, though I suppose I'll be able to do so quite accurately later. I've always said no experience is ever wasted, but this wasn't what I had in mind.
So life does go on. And once I quit waiting for him to phone, I'll be fine.
May 20, 2002
Just a brief note to add to the Update, to say that my ex-husband, science fiction writer George Alec Effinger, passed away quietly in his sleep last night in New Orleans He was 55. Sitemistress' note: an article in a New Orleans paper gives some more information: here. (I have been told that this link is now down)
April 27, 2002
Well, let's start with the head-crash.
The good news was that I DO back up my stuff by printing it out - a lot of that stuff is around here somewhere. And I ALWAYS print out what I'm working on.
The bad news, of course, was that - mostly due to stress, I think, and the pressures of what I know is over-work - I wasn't backing up the way I should have been. I never COULD get that damn zip-drive to run.
So, my dear, sweet mother is now keying in the first ten chapters of DAYS OF THE DEAD and the first eleven or so of THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE, and I'm backing everything up like crazy on the new system. I'm very angry at myself over the stuff that I did lose - all my correspondence, plus files that I've transferred from computer to computer for years.
This sort of segues into the letter that someone sent, mentioning the discussion of whether my writing has become darker over the past few years. Yes, it has - particularly, of course, the John-and-Jenny books, though I've pretty much come out of that (I think) with DRAGONSTAR, and the series comes to a very happy ending. But thinking back, very few of my books have EVER had unmitigatedly happy endings. Even Sun Wolf and Starhawk finish each book by lighting out of wherever they are as fast as they can ride. As dark as the January books are, they mostly end happily (WET GRAVE especially, I'm pleased to say), or as happily as they can for someone who's still black in Louisiana in 1834.
But I think the heavy darkness on DRAGONSHADOW and DEMON QUEEN, and also on ICEFALCON'S QUEST and MOTHER OF WINTER, were largely the effect of my marriage. In the midst of that particular horribleness there was also tremendous upheaval at Del Rey books resulting from their buy-out by Bertelsman, resulting in my editor being fired and my having to look for another publisher VERY QUICKLY. This meant that I was unable to contract for anything in my existing serieses - but the upside of that was that I was able to write SISTERS OF THE RAVEN, which (though the ending isn't precisely happily-ever-after) is one of my favorites (mostly because I've got a terrible crush on the King). Since they asked for a 2-book contract, the next fantasy I do will be in that same series - and whether I then return to Del Rey, or talk the Warner editors into continuing the Del Rey serieses, I don't know.
(We won't even go into the contractual - and editorial - morass that DRAGONSTAR turned into, largely as a result of the buy-out I think.)
That's all sort of in the future because of THE EMANCIPATOR'S WIFE, which came to me through the Ben January series and which I think is going to be stunning. I am enjoying both the writing and the research HUGELY - but it's a terrible juggling-act in terms of time and commitments.
I love Antryg and Joanna. (I just re-read DOG WIZARD, and enjoyed it as much as I did when I wrote it). I love Asher and Ysidro and Lydia. I dreamed recently about Sun Wolf and Starhawk, from whom I've been parted entirely too long. Digging around the files I came across the outline for CURSE OF THE SWAMP MONSTER and God knows who I'll ever be able to talk into letting me write that.
I'm delighted that you all love them the way I do. And I will return to them, when I can, if I can. I promise. I originally started writing multiple serieses because I didn't want to end up one of those writers who's locked into a single series - a single world - until they're bored and writing the same book 37 times (or until they can't think of anything to do but start killing off main characters). But the other side of that is this immense juggling act, trying to do justice to both new and old.
I hope you like SISTERS OF THE RAVEN. I hope you like DRAGONSTAR. I hope you like WET GRAVE. I feel I'm out of the darkness, but there are so many roads to walk down.
On a more mundane note, Abishag Shaw's name is the fault of the compiler of the name-list that I took it from - I was not aware it was a female name. And when I did find that out, I figured there are so many women running around with male names (starting with Shirley and Evelyn and going on through Morgan, Ashley, etc) that it really isn't that important to me. Presumably Shaw's mother was illiterate and didn't know the source either.
I tried to track down the date cocaine was isolated and couldn't at the time - thank you very much for the information. If I do another edition of GRAVEYARD DUST it'll be simple enough to alter that to an herbal Indian powder. Goodness knows I've made worse goofs than that in the series.
Yes, "Horsemen" was a story that came out in a World Fantasy Convention anthology with a total print-run of about 250 copies - I didn't know whether that qualified as "original" for Nalo's anthology or not.
April 22, 2002
Everyone drive safely and be sure to back up your files.
Many thanks for all the letters. They are read and appreciated, and it's good to hear from you all.
A lot of news this time. I've got 3 short stories finished and turned in, though goodness knows when the anthologies they're in will appear: "The Horsemen and the Morning Star", a voodoo story for a collection of Mojo Conjure tales being edited by Nalo Hopkinson; "The Adventure of the Antiquarian's Neice" (a.k.a. Watson's Brain) for the Sherlock Holmes vs. Chthulhu anthology; and "The Dollmaker of Marigold Walk" for the Friends of Sherlock Holmes anthology being put together by Michael Kurland. Three short stories is something of a record for me, but who can pass up doing Holmes?
The big news is that I'll be doing a straight historical novel for Bantam about Mary Todd Lincoln, something I've been putting together research for since June. (I now know more than is anybody's business about the Lincolns' marital affairs, to the extent that I dreamed about Mr. Lincoln the other night. He was, as I had been led to believe, VERY tall.)
At the moment I'm putting together the January book that's due in June, DAYS OF THE DEAD, and having a huge amount of fun with that, and have just finished the re-writes on DRAGONSTAR, which is grinding crunchily through the production phases at Del Rey. I leave for New Orleans the day after tomorrow, to be Guest of Honor at CoastCon in Biloxi (and to hang out for a few days and see friends, including my ex-husband George).
A reader queried about the name Starhawk: THE LADIES OF MANDRIGYN, of which the heroine's name is Starhawk, came out in 1984, about a year before I saw the New Age writer Starhawk's book (CIRCLE DANCE??). They came out so close together I think this was a case of true synchronicity. I certainly had never heard the name before I invented it for LADIES, and she was clearly calling herself that before LADIES came out. (I actually first used the name in a Star Trek fan story in the '60s: the Starhawk was the name of a ship.) As for the second part of the question, I have pagan friends, and I'm curious about the varieties of religious experience as I'm curious about all aspects of human experience - I'm very cautious about talking about my own personal spirituality in public print. When I do write about anything spiritual - for instance, voodoo - I try to get the facts as accurate as I can out of respect.
On the subject of other names, yes, both Ingold and Inglorion are Tolkien derivatives: I just thought they sounded great together. As anyone can tell reading my fantasies, Tolkien was an enormous influence on my, a life-changing influence, which is one reason I'm SO delighted that LORD OF THE RINGS is being done so well. I've waited for 35 years to see that film and it was worth it! Everybody looks EXACTLY like they should.
Now, with regard to the Grieb-Strieblings.... The name comes originally from a sketch by Monty Python. My friends are all Monty Python fans. And among my friends are the wonderful writing-team of Gar and Judi Reeves-Stevens (who in addition to being probably the best Star Trek writers going do EXCELLENT techno-thrillers). With a name like the Reeves-Stevenses, it's impossible not to distort that into the Grieb-Strieblings when we send them party invitations. That's how the name ended up in my books.
I am very touched by those who have shared with me that my stories have helped them, have been a gate out of a painful world into a temporary haven in which they could rest until they were ready to go on. This was what Tolkien did for me. This was what Oz did for me, and Sherlock Holmes' adventures. Like meditation, these other worlds disengaged the brain from the stress it was under, like immobilization and anti-inflammatories that permit a wound to heal. This is why I write. I'm glad I can make enough money as a writer to support myself, but this is really why I do what I do. I am very glad that I'm able to help.
Everybody have a nice Easter - WET GRAVE comes out in June.
March 10, 2002
When you realize that you know on which concourse of what hub airport the best food-concessions are located, it's probably time to make some changes in the way you live. Mind you, I flew non-stop both ways this time (a pity in a way, there's a swell bbq joint on D at DFW), but the middle leg of the trip was by train from New York to Washington DC. This meant that I had to figure out how little clothing I could take with me for 10 days the northeast in the dead of winter, with the understanding that whatever I took, I'd have to lug it through Penn Station with my laptop in the other hand.
However, I had a very pleasant time.
The DC leg of the trip was in connection with the Big Project (which I HOPE will have a contract signed by my next Update, so I can at least say what it is - my agent has the contract now). I couldn't get into the White House, of course, but did manage to do a little work in the Library of Congress, a thoroughly fascinating experience. And I stayed at a wonderful hotel called the Tabard Inn - three Victorian town-houses joined together. My room was at the top of two flights of what were obviously servants' stairs. The New York hotel was less wonderful but probably nearly as old - I'd read THE SHINING recently so was convinced there was a dead lady in the bathtub when I wasn't looking. It was that kind of bathtub. I had wonderful lunches with three editors and saw the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Guggie - jawdropping. And in Washington I saw the last bits of mortal remains - i.e. locks of hair - of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, and several strands
of Traveller's mane, which for some reason brought tears to my eyes.
I came back, of course, to a copyedited manuscript that had to be back in New York in 2 days (I'd had lunch with the editor a few days before - she hadn't mentioned a thing).
Regarding the fate of the free colored in New Orleans in the period immediately prior to the Civil War: As sectional conflict heated up, the free colored continued to lose their status (which had slipped even between the 18-teens and the '30s). Though they were not, as a class, enslaved, they were further and further restricted by increasingly strict "black codes" as white Southerners grew more angry about the northern abolitionist movement, and more concerned that abolitionist "agitation" would trigger slave revolts. This drove the community in on itself (rather like what happened to the Jews during the Babylonian exile), strengthening the customs and sense of community. Some of those who were 1/32nd or 1/64th African simply moved north and "passed", trading their heritage for the ability to get better jobs and a better living for their children: trading their past for their future. A hard choice.
Benjamin and Rose, I am guessing, would stay on in New Orleans, because that's where their family ties were, and often family ties (both white and black) were the only way you could get money or credit. Though I haven't thought this all out, I suspect Ben did some espionage during the Civil War (he'd be 68 when it started); his sons would have gone into the Union army as soon as it started taking blacks (which I think was in '63). (Sons? you say.) Of course, Ben's mother could survive anything, including the Civil War: she was undoubtedly one of those women who dumped chamberpots on the heads of the Yankees.
Someone asked, too, about what Benjamin meant in SOLD DOWN THE RIVER by referring to the indefatigueable Harry as a machine: it was only a sidelong comment about Harry's energy and enterprise, and did not contain any sinister meaning. From everything I could read on the subject, it sounded like the slave-quarters of plantations were part African village, part co-ed minimum-security prison, and in most institutions you'll find a hustler who can get anything or finagle anything, like James Garner's character in THE GREAT ESCAPE. (Mentally I cast Will Smith in the role - as I would in a remake of ESCAPE, for that matter).
To the anxious reader who inquired about whether the January books need to be read in order: as he'll have probably learned by this time, No, not really. I work hard to make each book a stand-alone, though of course it's a bit complicated to do so, given the Dickensian scope of the regular cast.
As for further tales of the Darwath series, they're there, pushed to the back-burners of the stove like dozens of other projects. I'm glad you enjoyed the existing five enough to want more. I love those people, too.
February 1, 2002
And yes, film-rights to the two vampire books have been optioned, though of course that means almost nothing. Most of the things that get optioned NEVER get made. It's like finding $2500 on the sidewalk - you put it in your pocket and walk on. Thank you all for your letters; it is good to hear from everyone, even though it's sometimes hard to steal time to write Updates. They are read and appreciated. Everyone have a lovely Valentine's Day.
Since coming back from Mexico everything feels like it's slowed way down, which is extremely pleasant to live but boring to write about. The Major Mainstream Historical Novel is still in contract negotiations, but I've started work on it and am having a great time. I wrapped up the rough draft of DAYS OF THE DEAD, Benjamin January #7 - the one where Hannibal gets accused of murder down in Mexico - to be thought about and meditated on and returned to in a couple of months, during which I get to do research about Civil War Washington, spiritualism, and pre-Freudian proto-psychiatry. I've already found some AMAZING stuff in the UCLA library. The halls are decked, the tree is trimmed, the gifts are wrapped, and I'm getting myself organized for a trip to New York City and Washington DC in January, for the abovementioned research and some editorial shmoozing. I haven't been to NYC since the week after I separated from George, nearly two years ago: a phenomenal amount of water under the Brooklyn Bridge since then.
I've also been working on a couple of short stories, for two separate anthologies both curiously enough about the same person. One anthology is Friends of Sherlock Holmes - I write a story from the POV of Mrs. Watson and Mrs. Hudson - and the other is Sherlock Holmes and the Cthulu Mythos. It's harder than you might think to write a Lovecraft story (though I've been heavily influenced by Lovecraft throughout my writing career): most of Lovecraft's tales, once you break down what actually happens, involve Our Hero discovering Something Unspeakable and fleeing screaming into the night The End. ("My God, Watson, it is the footprints of a gigantic shuggoth!" Did anyone ever encounter a medium-sized or tiny shuggoth?)
My other big project this month was to pack up 60 boxes of George's books - which have been clogging my garage for 4 years - and finally get them shipped away. I'm now the only householder in my neighborhood who is actually able to put the car into the garage, with the result that the local children come and play in my driveway, never having seen at their own houses a 17x24 concrete pad without a car on it. Additionally I helped my best friend and sometime editor Laurie move - from her apartment into her first house, with her gentleman friend Mel Gilden, author of SURFING SAMURAI ROBOTS (which is some of the best fake-Philip-Marlowe I've ever read).
I guess this is what is called Having A Life. It's very pleasant.
December 21, 2001
Everyone have a lovely Christmas.
My apologies for not doing an Update sooner. I returned from Mexico - where I was researching Benjamin January #7, tentatively titled THE DAYS OF THE DEAD - to find a polite request from Warner Books that I make certain small changes in SISTERS OF THE RAVEN by the week before Thanksgiving.
Now, these were in fact minor changes - mostly having to do with sharpening the focus of the story - but even if there's no structural alterations ("Can you get rid of the whole love-story thing?"), the ripple effect carries through the entire book, and at just over 600 pages (my average manuscript runs about 450) this is pretty severe with a ten-day deadline. My suitcase from the Mexico trip is still sitting on the floor of my bedroom; the rest of the house looks like a sty... But SISTERS will go into FedEx tomorrow.
Mexico was WONDERFUL. What a lovely, amazing country! Mexico City is astonishing, combining all the worst aspects of Manhattan and Los Angeles. Not speaking Spanish or having ever been to Mexico before, my friend Victoria and I elected to go the safe tourist route most of the time, but on the last day in Mexico City, we went down to the Z-calo - the main city square in front of the Cathedral - for the celebrations of the Day of the Dead. These were astonishing. The Days of the Dead are very much a family holiday, people setting up offrendas - altars - to welcome back the spirits of those family members who have gone on to the next phase of existence. These are furnished with all the stuff Grandma and Grandpa and all the others loved in life: Grandpa's favorite brand of tequila, Grandma's rings or cameos, plus lots of candy, and cigars, and skulls made out of sugar and decorated with colored icing. And marigolds, the flowers of the dead.
The offrendas are like Christmas trees. They're set up in hotel lobbies, in restaurants, in gas-stations on the road between Mexico City and Puebla. There was a giant offrenda competition in tents in the city square - gorgeous altars with full-sized skeletons and bread baked with cross-bones on it - and the place was like a mosh-pit. There were Aztec dancers, shamans smoke-blessing people, a life-sized replica of the Aztec skull-rack with green and purple plastic skulls, marigolds blazing everywhere you looked, wall-to-wall riot-police, and street-food to die for. (I told Victoria, "If you see me going for the street-food, slap me." We'd pinched empanaditas from the hotel breakfast buffet and ate them sitting on the curb down a side-street with all the Mexican families eating THEIR lunches, and neither of us ever got sick the whole time we were there. God knows what would have happened if I'd gone after the sweet-potato candy.)
Everyone was friendly, everyone was cheerful, there was no trouble or unpleasantness, though Victoria and I kept a darn close eye on our purses. But that's only what you do, in a crowd in a big city. I got stopped and interviewed by a very sweet high school girl named Marisol, who needed to interview a tourist for her English class. She had, very properly, a brother or cousin or boyfriend along to keep an eye on her in the crowd - which was mostly locals, very few tourists in sight. All one billion of them.
We climbed the Pyramid of the Sun and walked down the Avenue of Souls at sunset on Halloween night; we gaped in delighted awe at the frenzied Aztec baroque in the Church of Santa Maria Tonanzintla and saw old Mexican ladies scattering trails of marigold petals along the village streets to guide the spirits into their open doorways; we got caught up in a village fiesta in Oaxaca with torchlight parades and brass bands playing the Beer Barrel Polka and shooting off fireworks and swear-to-God actual dancing in the streets - it was a beautiful warm tropical night, why stay indoors and watch TV? We wandered around markets in the non-tourist areas of town. We had local experiences with restroom facilities under town square bandstands. We bought candy skulls and pottery. We didn't do nearly enough.
And in Mexico City I got a phone call from my agent saying that it looks like I'll be doing a major mainstream historical novel for my next project.
So it's just as well I got SISTERS OF THE RAVEN, and DRAGONSTAR, pretty much wrapped.
November 20, 2001
I hope everyone had as lovely a time as I did, and wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving.
If it's all right with everyone, I won't make any commentary on the events of the past month beyond saying that I don't deal well with periods of international crisis. Friends and family, including the ones who live and work in NYC, are well.
Mostly I've been staying quiet since last I wrote an update, working on THE DAYS OF THE DEAD (Ben January #7) and on a short story for a "Friends of Sherlock Holmes" anthology, about Mrs. Watson. Wednesday I get to travel by airplane, o joy - less of a nuisance for me than for some, since I NEVER took much cabin baggage (and to tell you the truth, I won't be sorry if it turns out that things that are now excluded are strollers and those immense "suit-bags" that take five minutes to stuff into the overhead while everyone else stands packed in the aisle). (Although I do understand that strollers make travel with children VASTLY easier).
In any case, I am going to Albuquerque, to speak at a conference of the Literacy Volunteers of America, one of the largest organizations for adult literacy in the country. Check out their website for more information (literacyvolunteers.org). Having been raised by parents who loved to read and who made reading a part of household life, I had never (I am ashamed to say) given a lot of thought to people who through dyslexia or other conditions (which up until a few years ago were neither recognized, understood, nor treated in our school systems), or simply through circumstances beyond their control, reached adulthood unable to read. (When you're a child, MOST circumstances are beyond your control.) These people are champions, both the volunteers and the students, and I feel like such a fraud beside their dedication and courage.
Then I get to come home, do a load of laundry, and head down to Mexico for the Days of the Dead.
After which, in appallingly rapid succession, it will be Thanksgiving and then Christmas.
Other than that, all has been quiet. I did a lovely road-trip a few weeks ago, to see the friend of a friend in the San Jose Opera production of "Falstaff"; on our return we found that the off-ramp that led to my parents' house was in the middle of a brushfire that encompassed huge portions of the foothills around I-15, with much smoke and excitement. It appalls me how many people thought it was a good idea to load their kids into the family SUV and have a tailgate party watching the blaze. I'm sure an audience was just what the San Bernardino County Fire Service wanted just then.
I still haven't heard on the possible new project; I'm bemused by the widely various speeds at which different publishing companies process manuscripts (WET GRAVE is already through line-edit, and I have not heard a single word about DRAGONSTAR since I turned it in). All projects are complicated by security in the mails, of course - security which extends to FedEx as well, though I think they get things through more quickly. A new and ghastly meaning to, "The check is in the mail." It's a time to sit tight, keep my head down, and tend my roses.
I hope all is well with all of you.
October 14, 2001
I never know quite what to say about MAGIC TIME. It was a difficult collaboration, and the characters and portion of the storyline that I contributed were tailored closely to dovetail with Marc Scott Zicree's novelization of his screenplay for an unproduced TV pilot. Thus it isn't any of my usual casts of characters or even the type of characters I generally write about. Marc is a very fine writer, but as a TV writer he tells a story, and uses his characters, quite differently than I do.
The last book of the John-and-Jenny tale is DRAGONSTAR. The new fantasy - which will be out from Warner's (I hope not at the same time as DRAGONSTAR) with a new cast and some interesting stuff about deserts and magic and how people react to crisis - is officially titled SISTERS OF THE RAVEN. Watch for it next spring.
Thank you all for your letters; I do so much appreciate hearing from you. It's been a very busy end-of-summer. I celebrated my fiftieth birthday with a luau in the back yard - well, we didn't exactly bury a pig, but there's a wonderful Hawaiian restaurant in Torrance where we got all the fixings. And the backyard was lovely, tiki torches burning and twinkle-lights in the tea-house and the shrubbery, and little tables scattered around. It was like a nightclub, lots of talk and good feeling; I wandered around in a sarong and a tank-top looking like a character in a WWII movie who's been on the island too long.
After that I painted the kitchen, and built cabinets and shelves. For the first time I have usable work-surfaces in there, and adequate storage space. I am exceedingly sore and extremely glad to get back to doing my real work.
Thank you for the various comments about KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN (which, for those who didn't see it - I don't think the distribution on it was particularly good - is the sequel to DRAGONSHADOW.) DRAGONSTAR is being edited at Del Rey now. Yes, my goal in DRAGONSHADOW and KNIGHT was to investigate what demons are and can do, and since I take villains and dangers VERY seriously, I wanted to go into what demonic possession could do to not only the possessed, but to those around him or her - and to what it might do to the exorcee's relationships even after "deliverance." Sometimes I think fantasies tie things up too neatly, like TV sitcoms that always end with a hug. Sometimes healing takes longer than that.
But of course John and Jenny return to one another. And of course I don't burn him at the stake. (You all should know me better than that.) (And I think I set up his extrication from the barbeque very nicely, if I do say so myself.) I also had a great deal of fun writing the Bladerunner-esque, science fiction sequence of KNIGHT - and I must say, I love the Demon Queen.
Other queries: Yes, I did want to give an impression of a patronymic formula with the names of Eldor Andarion and Altir Endorion. I thought of it as certain House-Names carried down the generations, which every nobleman knows about every other noble House. The song Antryg sings to Seldes Katne - well, I didn't know whether it would be legal for me to use even half a line from "Yellow Submarine." But I agree that it's very like him. On the subject of songs, quite some time ago someone asked me about the song that Luke Skywalker hears whistled in the empty corridors of the Eye of Palpatine in CHILDREN OF THE JEDI: the tune I hear in my head is "Mockingbird." (The lullaby version, not the James Taylor/Carly Simon hit).
Where did I do black powder shooting? One weekend in the California desert, with a couple of very dear if rather crazy friends (the same ones who taught me historical costuming). We also shot off illegal fireworks in a river-wash, to amazing effect.
One day I'll write more about Aunt Min's disreputable youth. I realize now, re-reading SILENT TOWER, that the computer stuff sounds dated, as all science-fiction stuff does in a VERY short time. Reality overtakes one so quickly. Ormolu is imitation gold leaf, frequently made with copper and tin, a favorite decorative material in the eighteenth century. SORCERER'S WARD is the British title of STRANGER AT THE WEDDING - there was much to-ing and fro-ing about that one, as there was about the book whose original title was DAYSTALKER and which got changed to THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT in the States and IMMORTAL BLOOD in the UK. (I'm not lucky with titles. No one would EVER let me call the Ancient Roman Murder Mystery THE BABY-EATERS like I wanted to.)
As for Nic Cage.... Well, much as I adore him, he isn't who I'd cast as Ysidro. Though, mind you, if his agent phoned and said Mr. Cage was just DYING to play Ysidro I certainly wouldn't take out any full-page ads saying what a bad idea I thought that was. I think Cage gets cast as vampires because of that notorious film he did early in his career about someone who thought he was a vampire. He has a crazy edge that a lot of people find fascinating (I do.) Myself, I'd cast Johnny Depp.
Everybody have a lovely weekend.
September 7, 2001
Thank you all for the enthusiastic response to the suggestion that I might finally get CURSE OF THE SWAMP MONSTER written and published at last. Coming to the end of the June deadlines - WET GRAVE, DRAGONSTAR, and the book whose title is now SISTERS OF THE RAVEN - has left me feeling a bit breathless, but it's wonderful to contemplate having extra time not only to do non-writing projects like painting the kitchen, but to write purely for pleasure again. I'm still to-ing and fro-ing about the Big Maybe Project, but at the moment it's been very nice to take a little time to go on a road-trip and indulge in a little carpentry.
It's funny, other people have told me I looked and sounded exactly the way they thought I would. I never quite know what that means, but thank you. I'm glad I didn't disappoint you.
With regard to the Grieb-Strieblings... Actually that's a double reference, because for awhile our mutual friends referred to authors Gar and Judi Reeves-Stevens - who co-author William Shatner's Star Trek books - as Gar and Judi Greib-Striebling. (They say, by the way, that Shatner is an absolute prince to work with, honest and fair and intelligent).
Yes, I knew there were Abolitionists around in the 1830s, but my impression has been that it was a movement that moved from north to south. In the next book after the one I've just started working on, January crosses their path, but aside from the fact that January avoids Americans when he can, I didn't feel the movement was something I could get into without making the book ABOUT the Abolitionists. I've been mostly working with things that were specifically of New Orleans: placage, yellow fever, voodoo, sugar plantations, opera... Jean Lafitte's treasure. DAYS OF THE DEAD is the first time I've really broken out - it takes place in Mexico City on the eve of the Texas revolt.
Which brings me to the subject of Real People in Fiction, particularly those about whom not a lot else has been written. With someone like Abraham Lincoln you have LOTS of accounts of what he was like, even if they don't always agree. With someone like Robert Todd Lincoln, you have to look at his actions and extrapolate, although you still have lots of his own letters to go on. When you get down to people like Judge Canonge and John Davis and Dr. Ker of Charity Hospital it gets a little tougher, though they are still mentioned in biographical works and you can get a little bit of an idea of what they might have been like. (Dr. Ker, the physician who ran Charity Hospital in New Orleans during the 1830s, was in New Orleans because he'd been the British Army Surgeon at the Battle of New Orleans. After the British were defeated he allowed himself to be captured by the Americans in order to take care of the British wounded who'd been taken prisoner. He stayed on in Louisiana and ended up a respected citizen).(You can't make up stuff like this).
But for truly unknown folks - people of whom the ONLY information is police records, or perhaps a scrap of letter or diary - I'd probably study everything I could about the time and place where they lived, read other peoples' diaries and letters, do whatever I could to get a feeling for who people were in that time and place, what they thought about and felt. From there I could look at and extrapolate actions, and make deductions - where possible - about why this person might have done what it is recorded that they did. (The author of IN THE HEART OF THE SEA - whose name I'm blocking on - did a wonderful job of that, studying not only the local culture of the Nantucket whalers and their families, but psychologists' studies of how people react in similar situations of stress or deprivation). (None of this is made any easier by the nineteenth-century custom of not printing any of the REAL news in the newspaper: it was assumed you'd find it out through gossip and grapevine).
As to WHY I do this - why I put in the real Judge Canonge or Delphine LaLaurie... I guess it's part of the time-travel effect of historical novels, which I guess is what we write them for and read them for. (And boy, am I having fun writing about General Santa Anna!) I try to be as fair as I can to the known facts, but sometimes you have to just gather all the information you can and then take your best guess.
Tim Powers once told me about researching for (I think) THE STRESS OF HER REGARD. When he found himself calling long distance to a pub in London to ask what the color of the carpet in the upstairs room was, he realized he really needed to get a grip.
Besides, they'd probably re-carpeted since Byron's day anyhow.
August 1, 2001
I'd hoped to have good news about an interesting new project in the offing; then I feared I'd have bad news, about the illness of a dear friend. But as both situations are simply hanging fire, all I can report is that there's a big pile of paper here with DRAGONSTAR printed on the top sheet, ready to be copied and sent off to Del Rey - and here it isn't even the end of June yet.
I had a nice massage to celebrate, and will start on Benjamin January #7 - tentative title DAYS OF THE DEAD - as soon as I get off jury duty.
My neice graduated from UC Santa Cruz at the beginning of the month, and my sister promised her a trip to New Orleans as a graduation present: I went along as a native guide and did a signing. We missed Tropical Storm Allison by 24 hours; the streets were just drying out as we arrived. We rode the steamboat, visited my favorite plantation, had the Cajun Roadhouse Lunch Experience (which included the Stuffed Alligator in the Ladies Room Experience), and had Close Encounters with Very Large Insects in the laundry-room of the bed 'n' breakfast where we stayed, to my sister's unmitigated dismay. I am extremely glad to be home.
Thank you for all the communications, and my intense apologies for being so remiss about updates. I lost about ten days of work between the graduation and the New Orleans visit, and the deadline on DRAGONSTAR was June... as was the deadline on FADING OF THE LIGHT, and WET GRAVE. I feel like I've done nothing all year but make up stories about people I like.
On the subject of stories about people that I like, a few years ago I wrote up an outline for CURSE OF THE SWAMP MONSTER (sequel to RAT-GOD) and had it turned down. RAT-GOD was always a quirky book, and the marketing department never had the slightest idea what to do with it: thus, it was something I could sell in the late eighties, but probably couldn't sell now. It'll probably have to wait until the book market sorts itself out a little and all the editors start to breathe a little. I can hardly wait, because SWAMP MONSTER will be ENORMOUS fun.
I don't, however, (in answer to another question) cross universes: have characters from one series show up in another one. That's just not something that I do, I suspect because I encountered some writer way back in my childhood who did it badly. The closest I came was having the old Rabbi in SUN-CROSS mention meeting Ingold Inglorion.
I never wrote a third book to SUN-CROSS because the story is, basically, about Rhion's exile to Germany - the prequel was more or less done at the insistence of an editor who wanted it to be a more "standard" fantasy. One day I may go back to that world, but there are many other projects on the list. SUN-CROSS will always be one of my favorites, but it was a difficult book to write: I probably didn't do research that unpleasant again until SOLD DOWN THE RIVER.
In the meantime, my thanks to everyone who's hung in there with me while I've been buried in work. The comment about discrepancies in the John & Jenny books didn't upset me, really - I do need to know about things like that. It's just a measure, to me, of how stressed I was at the time I was working on the middle two. I'm glad to have been able to finish DRAGONSTAR happily, something I didn't think I was going to be able to do a year ago. I'm now reading the final galleys of MAGIC TIME, which should be out in December: I'm quite pleased with it, except for the extreme discrepancy between my pessimism and my collaborator Marc's optimistic view of the story, which never quite evened out. (He made me take out several thousand corpses, which I put into DRAGONSTAR - waste not, want not).
I hope I will have good news - and will not have bad news - when next I write.
June 28, 2001
Travel Report - Kauai
About eight months ago, my friend Bill and I were talking about his love for Hawaii and his plans to spend another 2 weeks in the islands - as he does every year and sometimes a couple of times - and he said, "Would you like to come with me and my wife? I've noticed you haven't taken a non-working vacation since I've known you... And I've known you about 16 years."
So, I've just got back from two weeks on Kauai. I wasn't able to completely dispense with work - I have serious deadlines in June - but thought I had to work every evening, the days were restful: though I didn't experience the "sell everything and move here" impulse so many people do with Hawaii, it is an extremely beautiful place, slow-paced and peaceful. Bill and his wife are avid snorkelers: I snorkeled once and found the experience nightmarish, and thereafter they'd snorkel and I'd lie on the beach looking at the waves and the sky (and the mile or so of completely unoccupied sand on either side of me). The place really does have these pink beaches with coconut palms growing out over them, and water in exquisite gradations of turquoise, blue, and indigo.
The week we spent on the north shore near Hanalei it rained most of the time, brief showers that swept across the woods where we were renting a plantation-style cottage. There were cows in the pasture near-by and they'd walk through the woods behind the cottage every evening, mooing. There are also hundreds of wild chickens that live all over the island; you see them everywhere. In the morning they'd start crowing at about 4. By first light all the rest of the bird would join in, a beautiful sound. I'd wake up, meditate, then go for a walk on the beach (if it wasn't raining). The second week we were in Poipu on the south shore, more touristy but only slightly so. I found the black lava flats fascinating.
We took an off-road movie tour - saw all the places on Kauai that had doubled for other places like Costa Rica and South America - and got as close as we could to the center of the island, the fabled "blue hole", a swamp in the center of the extinct central volcano, Mount Wai'ale'ale. I NEVER saw the peak of Mt. W. Like Kong's Island, it was ALWAYS covered in cloud, but beneath that cloud the inner walls of the crater are covered with fern and trees, and hundreds of waterfalls pour down the old lava. Breathtaking. And we drove entirely too far on battered dirt "haul cane" roads around to the last place where the roads go on the west side. Beyond that is the Na Pali coast, green cliffs going hundreds of feet straight down into the sea, accessible only by boat or helicopter. Beautiful beyond words.
I could go on at much greater length, but won't. You've all seen Kauai anyway - it looks just like Jurassic Park. (Goodness knows how they got all those cows zipped into latex dinosaur suits).(And how they kept the chickens out of frame).
Many thanks to those who wrote me. The letter about the extreme discrepancies in the Dragon books really bothered me, because that isn't the kind of mistakes I usually make (though I made a similar goof about the age of Olympe's daughter in the Janvier books, too). I'm not trying to excuse myself, but I did notice the mistakes all took place at the same time, books written during a period of great stress and unhappiness when I simply wasn't paying the attention I should have been. I apologize. I'm working on arranging my life so that kind of thing doesn't happen so often.
By the way, if people have attempted to e-mail me, I am now deleting unread any communication whose address I don't recognize, so please put in the subject line some specific word or topic that will let me know that this is, in fact, something directed to me and not just yet another virus-bearing piece of spam.
I should not speak ill of spam. Among the things I investigated on the island was "island food," not restaurant fusion cuisine but the kind of stuff locals eat. It includes a lot of spam - though I was not impressed by the spam sushi. I did learn to like poi, and also the beauties of slack-key guitar. I never gained much appreciation for either Hawaiian quilting (very different from mainland) or those fleshy red Martian-looking flowers.
Everyone have a lovely Mother's Day.
May 9, 2001
Whew! And also Aargh.
I will write my update now because by the 1st I will be buried again.
I finished THE FADING OF THE LIGHT yesterday. I try to pace my books so that everything comes together at the end: revelations, self-realization, confrontations, battles with monsters and magic, if possible something burning down (all I managed this time was a couple of cafťs, but I did have a sandstorm - I'll do better next time)....
And then all of a sudden I'm shaking hands with the cast, giving everyone a big hug, get in my car and drive away.
I feel like I've stepped outside without a sweater. Chilled and desolate. I miss them. (I sort of developed a crush on the King). Even reading the first chapter of the rough draft of DRAGONSTAR only helped a little, although it'll be great to be with John and Jenny and Morkeleb again.
So, it's time to take a day in my real house, with the cats and the roses and cleaning up the really alarming mountains of paper heaped on all sides of the desk. Family is coming for lunch Sunday, and after that it's back to work at a fairly fierce pace, so I thought I'd say Hi to everyone now, and answer the questions that Deb has sent me.
Gil Patterson of the Darwath Series pronounces her name with a hard 'G', as in 'go'. Her real name is Gillian, which she also pronounces with the hard 'g'. (I've heard it both ways, and for some reason there's never been a question in my mind that this is the way she says it).
Actually, I think Nic Cage comes across as a little too much of a homeboy to correspond with my image of Ysidro. Johnny Depp could probably do Ysidro, also Daniel Day-Lewis: the quality of brooding is different. Other candidates would be Alan Rickman or Steven Rea (although I'd take Rea as Asher). (Any competant actor with a voice coach can manage a Spanish accent.)(Er, well, having just seen WEST SIDE STORY again for the umpteenth time, I take that back - all apologies to the late Ms Wood. For a sixteen-year-old seamstress newly arrived from Puerto Rico, Maria spoke AWFULLY good English).
A number of people have commented on how dark DRAGONSHADOW and KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN are. I apologize for that. I was in a very, very bad place when I was working on those; I didn't realize at the time how much my own pain was coming out in my writing. (And curiously, it doesn't seem to have affected the Ben January books I was working on at the same time. Maybe things don't GET much grimmer than being black in New Orleans in 1834). I think DRAGONSTAR comes back up out of the darkness as John, Jenny, and Morkeleb set about mopping up the demons. I am certainly much happier now, and besides, as I said, you all know I wouldn't actually barbeque John. (He knew the job was dangerous when he took it.)
I'm shooting to get DRAGONSTAR in by June. After that it's up to Del Rey Books.
Many thanks for your patience and your comments.
Everyone have a nice day.
March 28, 2001
UPDATE - MARCH 5, 2001
My sincerest apologies, in advance, for the next couple of updates: they are going to be extremely boring because I have not been, nor do I anticipate, doing anything since my return from New Orleans except sitting in front of a computer screen telling stories. This is a situation which is scheduled to last until June.
It's an extremely pleasant way of spending one's days, by the way. I wake up early, go to 12-Step meetings, take a long walk on the beach, come home about 10 a.m. and work until bedtime. I've wrapped WET GRAVE (Benjamin January #6) all except for a final polish and the re-write of half a chapter that I couldn't figure out why it wasn't working; I just finished up the final rewrites of my sections of the long-gestating MAGIC TIME (with Marc Zicree); I'm doing well on THE FADING OF THE LIGHT, which started life as a very grim and serious book and isn't anymore. I'll get DRAGONSTAR in under the wire in June, which is fortunate, because the Los Angeles Supreme Court has told me in no uncertain terms that they want me in a jury-room on the second of July, no ifs, ands, or buts. (They no longer care that you have no other means of support than meeting your deadlines. At least the Inglewood courtroom is close).
Considering the unholy amount of amusement I derived the last time I as on a trial jury, things could be worse. This was out in what are referred to as the Cow Counties of California and the entire proceedings was like something from Geraldo: White Trash On Parade. In addition to people changing their testimony on the stand and repudiating their formerly sworn affidavits, it quickly became clear that the killer, the victim, and a number of the witnesses were all sleeping with the Star Witness.
On the other hand, I was on Food Stamps in those days and didn't have house payments.
So, here I am and here I'll be. Fortunately the chair is a comfortable one, though the cats don't understand why Mommy doesn't like them to sit on the manuscript.
I will, by the way, be at Rok-Con in Little Rock in mid-May (typing frantically away on DRAGONSTAR on my laptop in my hotel-room, I can tell you that already), and I will be a speaker at the national convention of the Literacy Volunteers of America in October, in Albuquerque. I can't express how proud I am to have been asked, but given the scope and importance of the work they do I feel like an impostor by comparison. And, I'll be in New Orleans briefly again in June, getting ready to start on Benjamin January #7 (which I'm still trying to negotiate a title for).
The cats are staring at me and looking pointedly at their watches. It must be time for bed.
Everybody have a pleasant couple of weeks.
March 5, 2001
WET GRAVE, FADING OF THE LIGHT, and DRAGONSTAR are all due on June.
That's what I've been doing since returning from New Orleans in mid-January, and what I'll be doing until June.
It makes for dull Updates, but there you have it. Generally these days I go to my morning 12-Step meeting (you didn't think I got even this sane by myself, did you?), take a walk on the beach, come home around 10 a.m., and work until bedtime. And that's it. Oh, and I walk the dogs.
I had a wonderful time in New Orleans, doing a different type of research: talking to people, other experts in various fields. Had a couple of great encounters with a lady named Jessica Harris, who specializes in history of cooking: there's a great shop called Lucullus on Chartres Street that has a kitchen set up in the back room - gallows-irons, coffee-roasters, clockwork turnspits, and all. (My friend was shopping for absinthe glasses - she collects 19th-century drug paraphernalia). We were directed to the Hermann-Grima House, which has cooking demonstrations from exactly the period of the Ben January books every Thursday in the kitchen, amazing efficiency of cooking with cast iron and hot coals. We got a private tour of the St. Louis #2 Cemetary (which is in such a crummy part of town that most tours don't go there): beautiful stuff. It rained a lot and was FREEZING.
And, it's freezing here too at the moment.
But I'm extremely pleased with all three manuscripts - I'm working on WET GRAVE at the moment, and can't wait to get ahead on the next round with FADING OF THE LIGHT. I'm also putting together outlines of future projects. The days seem very short. All kinds of business is falling through the cracks. I'm already planning what I get to do when everything is finished: I'm going to paint the kitchen and have a nap. (I don't have time for a nervous breakdown, so a nap will have to do.)
I am extraordinarily happy.
February 8, 2001
And how it got to be Dec. 19 I have no idea.
It occurred to me the other day that I have been working on first
drafts - easily the most exhausting part of writing a book -- since September,
first for WET GRAVE, then for DRAGONSTAR. Last night I wrapped up the first
draft of DRAGONSTAR, sat back, and stared at the walls in blank confusion.
I'm on vacation.
Back in November I took a few days to go up to Dickens Faire, the San
Francisco Victorian equivalent of the Renaissance Faire. Great fun scurrying
about in corsets and a feathered bonnet. Someone at the MacDonalds where we
stopped for a Coke asked if we were carollers and my friend and I promptly
burst into "Three Old Whores from Winnipeg" sung to the tune of "We Three
Kings of Orient Are." But other than that I've literally been doing nothing
but writing, and the house is knee-deep in papers and covered with tile-dust
from the contractors re-doing the upstairs bathroom. I'm getting very tired of
taking showers off-site, not to speak of sneaking downstairs to use the other
bathroom in the freezing cold middle of the night and getting barked at by my
But the Christmas Tree is up, the shopping is done, the virus in the
main computer is allegedly fixed (I've been hunched over my laptop for two
weeks) and all is well with the world.
Many thanks to everyone who's written in over the past few weeks (and
been so patient about me not doing an update in so long. I really was working
on DRAGONSTAR, honest).
To the person who wrote the long defense of Livia Janvier, yes, of
course she is all that you say: a strong woman who has never, ever let the
world bring her down. I adore writing her just for that reason, for her
strength and for her selfishness, hard in a world where one had to be hard to
survive. It's been interesting, in DIE UPON A KISS (of which I just finished
the final pass on the galleys) and WET GRAVE, how her relationship with Ben has
changed now that he's no longer living under her roof: in many ways it's easier
for both of them.
I also very much enjoy writing Mamzelle Marie, trying to get to the
bottom of what she must have been like to have commanded the position she did.
The stories about her are contradictory and generally drenched in prejudice and
mis-understanding of what voodoo was and is: she must have been an
extraordinarily charismatic woman, and a brilliant one as well. Part of the
fun of doing a historical series is trying to get into the heads of historical
characters - not the well-known ones, but the peripheral ones, like Mamzelle
Marie or Delphine LaLaurie or Judge Canonge or Dr. Ker, the head of the Charity
Hospital, who was the British Army surgeon at the Battle of New Orleans and
allowed himself to be captured by the Americans so that he could take care of
the wounded prisoners. I guess he stayed on, and ended up head of the hospital
and very well respected by all.
Since DIE UPON A KISS is about opera in New Orleans, one of the main
characters (one of the main suspects, in fact) is a fellow named John Davis,
who owned the Salle d'Orleans where the quadroon balls were held - another
fascinating local character.
To Matt Near Philadelphia, who asked about how long it took to get TIME
OF THE DARK published: yes, it did take a couple of years, from the time I got
the offer from Del Rey until the time it came out. They were almost a year
just wallowing around on the contract, although I think I mis-remembered the
date, because it wasn't anything like four years. They must have bought it in
'79. I know I was working on it when I worked at General Dynamics, and I left
GD in January of '81, two days after I signed the contract.
For the time being, ICEFALCON'S QUEST is the latest of the Darwath
books, though I know of no reason why I wouldn't write others in that universe,
about those people, in the future.
It's just that I have all these projects - not just the three that are
due in June (all of which are turning out to be great fun, in spite of the
panic I was in about DRAGONSTAR), but future historical mysteries, and another
Hollywood book, and at least three straight historical novels I'd like to do.
But for the time being I'm on vacation, which I'll spend digging out
the accumulated debris, and wrapping packages in pretty gold paper for Damsel
to chew on under the Christmas Tree. (She really is an awful little
Everyone have a Merry Christmas.
December 19, 2000
This is the season of the Santa Ana winds in Los Angeles. Raymond Chandler wrote about them in a book called RED WIND, but in fact there's a crystalline quality to them, as if the air turns to diamonds. Very DRY diamonds. Closer to the mountains - and sometimes here at the beach - you'll get howling winds, but mostly everything feels a little wild and strange. Biking along the Marina this morning I could not only see the Getty Museum up on the Sepulveda Pass, but the Hollywood Sign, which is way off more or less above the house where L. Frank Baum lived. I remember as a little kid I really, REALLY wanted to emigrate to Oz, and of course reading the Oz books now I realize that the Emerald City sounds an awful lot like Los Angeles in the early nineteen-teens.
So of course, I DID go live in Oz after all.
And speaking of going to live in wonderful places, I hope that Deb, my wonderful Sitemistress, is settling into her new place in Cambridge, England. (It's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it.) I truly hope it hasn't turned cold there yet, and that the apartment is heated. My recollection of English housing is of very small electric heaters and doing a lot of shivering - and of some fairly eccentric sleeping-quarters. (One b-n-b chamber had obviousy been a kitchen - complete with a tiled counter and sink - and another was in the library of an old farmhouse. You couldn't walk down the hall to the bathroom without being barked at by three of the biggest Irish wolfhounds in creation.) Mostly what I remember about England is the smell of burnt toast, which seemed to permeate the airport and every hotel I stayed at.
My usual excuses for not doing a mid-October Weekly Update. I really do have a LOT of work that needs be done this year, and I find I simply don't have the energy to work the kind of hours I used to. I sleep a lot, and I work a lot, and the office hasn't been cleaned since about May. (I think it was May).(I don't remember May very clearly, though.)(Or most of October, for that matter). The situation will probably worsen when the fellow comes in and starts re-tiling the upstairs bathroom next week, and I'll be over working at my friend Laurie's apartment on my laptop. I've done this periodically over the years when there's been work going on here. I remember working on GHOST-WALKER at her dining-room table, being overlooked by a very old calico cat named Dinah, who would watch my fingers on the keys with great intensity - then reach out, very deliberately, and hit one key.
Back in the mid-sixties, during the second half of the first season of Star Trek - when nobody had ever seen Star Trek before, EVER - my family went to Australia for six months, dragging me kicking and screaming: I knew I was missing a phenomenon, and couldn't make them understand how important this was or why I was upset. And Laurie, God bless her - in those days of no videotapes, no cable TV, and no allowance (her family was really broke) - would type the weekly synopsis of each week's episode of Star Trek, plus the best dialogue bits, on the one pale-blue airmail sheet that she could afford from her meager gleanings of returned Coke-bottles. That is true friendship.
On the up-side of this week, I've finished the rough first draft of WET GRAVE, Benjamin January #6. Though it is, I hope, a good mystery, I find myself just as interested in what's happening in Benjamin's life, and in the lives of his family and friends. Is his sister going to be okay when her protector gets married? Will he ever marry Rose? I'm trying hard not to make the books of the series too self-referential - trying to keep them as stand-alones, so that any new reader can come in anywhere - and yet, to me, these are real people: servants, as are we all, of the God of Time.
I will REALLY try to get another Update out before Thanksgiving, but in case I don't, I'll be at the LosCon Science Fiction Convention in Burbank on Thanksgiving weekend.
In the meantime, everyone have a nice week.
November 3, 2000
I have not the slightest idea how it got to be October 1 so quickly.
Probably because for the past month - since my return from New Orleans - I've done very little but work (and go to the opera, but that's another story). I wrapped the second draft of FADING OF THE LIGHT, very satisfactorily (although I realized I need about two more scenes on one of the several intertwining stories of this ensemble piece), took a week off of which I haven't the smallest recollection, and now am back working on the next Benjamin January, WET GRAVE. After the complex juggling of FADING it's sort of nice to be back telling a straightforward tale. Also, since it's mainly about pirate treasure, it's no grimmer or heavier than DIE UPON A KISS was - or anyway, as light as it can be given the grim social darkness of the setting in the antebellum South.
It is fun writing about Jean Lafitte & Company, who are very different, upon close inspection, than they're usually portrayed in American History. Lafitte himself, although he must have had some shipboard experience before coming to New Orleans (I can't imagine him holding the alliegence of the out-and-out Gulf pirates if he hadn't), was for most of his career more of a racketeer and a broker of stolen goods than a cutlass-wielding pirate: he got into the pirating business fairly late, after being called in to mediate between rival gangs. Though he had his own ship (various names for it are given), he was mostly the front-man to sell stolen and smuggled goods - usually slaves - up until after the Battle of New Orleans.
There's a Jean Lafitte Society - I was greatly helped, and occasionally very entertained - by their publications. Now I wonder if they have a Web Site? I'll have to go look.
Many, many thanks to those who contributed to the lovely birthday-greeting book that Sitemistress Deb put together. I was very surprised and feel very honored. Thank you, also, to those who sent kind wishes about my friend Adrian's death, and about the loss of my pet.
With regard to CHILDREN OF THE JEDI and PLANET OF TWILIGHT, I don't think I can say more than, An author who works in a series evolved from someone else's universe, like the Star Wars universe, doesn't get to make certain decisions. Anything further that I may write in the future concerning Callista - which I would love to do - will of course have to be cleared through Lucasfilms.
Someone wrote asking about George Alec Effinger, to whom I was married for a short while: I'll have to ask him if it's okay to pass along his e-mail address. He's a very private person, and something of a hermit. I know he's done some work on the fourth Budayeen book (the working title is WORD OF NIGHT), but at this point I don't know how much. Because of severe depression and illness, it's been a long time since he's had anything new come out, and most of his works are out of print. You might search on ABEBooks.com for used copies, but I have no idea what the status of new stuff is or might be.
(I might add that George and I are still very dear friends - we had a lovely day together when I was in New Orleans and he took me to one of his groddy "for locals only" hangouts. Do people still say "groddy?")
In reply to a question about what's my most recent book: my most recent book is SOLD DOWN THE RIVER, Benjamin January #4. Due to various upheavals in the publishing industry and problems with contracts, my next book is probably going to be Benjamin January #5 - DIE UPON A KISS. This is the first time in almost two decades when I don't have a fantasy novel actively in production, and this bothers me a lot, since I do not intend to give up the fantasy side of my career. MAGIC TIME, which I wrote with Marc Scott Zicree, will be out at some point next year - September, I think. I'm working as hard as I can, folks.
Everyone have a nice week.
October 1, 2000
It was very nice to be back in New Orleans again. Hot mornings and peaceful breakfasts at The Chimes - the bed and breakfast to whose wonderful hospitality I've returned over and over for years; the metallic roar of cicadas in the trees and those disturbing little blue signs along the streets that say, Hurricane Evacuation Route....
The folks at the Historic New Orleans Collection were enormously helpful, as usual, in my quest for information about Jean Lafitte's smuggling organization. The Collection is in an old police station on Chartres Street, directly next door to K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen. August in the French Quarter is quiet and you can walk right in and get a VERY nice lunch without waiting in line (at K-Paul's, I mean, not the HNOC.) This seemed to be my trip to investigate down-home dives, because George (Effinger, my ex) took me to Port of Call, one of those quintessentially New Orleans burger hangouts that tourists never get to. More on down-home diving later.
In quest of further enlightenment regarding Jean Lafitte, I drove the two hours or so down Bayou LaFourche to Grand Isle, one of the barrier islands that separate Barataria Bay - that vast marshy labyrinth of water and reed-beds - from the Gulf of Mexico. Lafitte and his gang had a headquarters there for about four years.
It's a different world down there. Nobody wears a watch, or knows what time it is, or cares. There's a lot of pelicans, flying around practicing to be pteranodons. It was hot. On the way down the bayou I encountered a kind of agricultural pest known locally as "love-bugs," so-called because they only appear for a week or so a year when they mate: black, small, pod-shaped bugs seemingly permanently paired off in eternal fornication. They don't bite or sting, but there are SQUILLIONS of them. Driving through clouds of them sounded exactly like driving through a rainstorm, spattering wetly on the windsheild.
They weren't on Grand Isle, though. Thank God. Sue and Andy Galliano, who ran the bed and breakfast on Grand Isle, made me welcome as if I were a member of the family and showed me around. I said I wanted to go across to Grand Terre - which used to be a sort of headland where Lafitte had his HQ and is an island now, due to erosion and one of the many hurricanes that have swept the area - and Sue said, Well, there's no bridge and no road going there and nothing there now but a research station, but Ricky that lives in the trailer behind the house has got a boat.
Ricky's boat was a camo-painted fiberglass shoebox with an Evinrude on the back. Armed with plastic buckets and garden-forks, Sue, Ricky, Ricky's wife Melanie, Ricky's dog Pepper, and myself went blasting across the choppy waters of the bay, pursued at a distance of about ten feet by large numbers of curious dolphins and getting absolutely soaked with spray. Pepper tried to convince us she could leap out of the boat and catch a dolphin. On the north side of Grand Terre - the bay side - we scrambled around the shell ridges and "flottants" of root-matted grasses, digging for chips of broken dishes. In the 1870s and '80s there were numerous resort hotels on Grand Isle and the near-by Chenier Caminada. In 1893, a hurricane passed across the place like a razor in one of those animated commercials. Hundreds were killed. Every hotel was flattened. The broken china still washes up, little wave-smoothed bits of it among the shells.
We investigated the ruins of Fort Livingston on the south side of the island. The center of the fort, as we crossed through it, was a thick mat of trees, brush, undergrowth, and hidden pools and ponds, and mosquitoes rose up and covered me like a brown blanket - ignoring my companions, I might add. I ended up having to wade out into the Gulf of Mexico to get rid of them (I was fortunately soaked already - see boat ride, above). I waded around the fort's broken walls to get back to the boat. There was no way I was going back through the middle of the fort.
In the upcoming Benjamin January book, somebody - I don't know who yet - is going to have a Really Bad Experience with mosquitoes.
That evening, after spending the afternoon reading the copy-edited manuscript of DIE UPON A KISS which my editors had thoughtfully FedExed to me at The Chimes on my first morning in New Orleans, I was invited out sailing with Sue and Andy and THEIR dog, Harry, this time in a beautiful 35-foot sailboat. More dolphins, more pelicans; watching the sun set and the shrimp-boats line up in the pass between the islands, where the shrimp all rise when it gets dark. We came ashore and had phenomenal fried catfish at one of those Cajun roadhouses that look like they've been there forever. The shrimp-boats dock just past the edge of the parking-lot, and the whole hot darkness smelled of brine and fresh crustaceans.
I spent the night scratching.
On my way off the island in the morning I stopped at the State Beach and met some very nice ladies who showed me how to set crab-traps. More wading around in the Gulf of Mexico, this time with a crab-net. I don't know where the love-bugs went, but they were mostly gone by the time I drove back along Bayou LaFourche back to town. If I never see another one - or another mosquito - it will definitely be too soon.
New Orleans, or, Love Bugs on the Bayou
September 1, 2000
There's something enormously comforting about a road-trip across the Mojave Desert. I can't say much about my friend's memorial service except that it was very simple and peaceful, held in a redwood grove, with a picnic afterwards: she was present, her ashes packed in a box which had once held a bottle of her favorite port.
Visiting with that community is always useful as well as entertaining. Adrian was an avid historical re-enactor, as her partner still is, and I raided the library up there and gained both knowledge and "feel" for a number of aspects of the world of Jeffersonian/Jacksonian America. This ties into a couple of questions that were forwarded to me from the letters: eventually, yes, I'll do a book that's connected to Abishag Shaw's backstory. I'm very fond of Shaw as a character, and yes, I think it's pretty obvious he hasn't much use for slavery as an institution - but he also tends to keep his opinion to himself.
Alas, regarding my sources about sixteenth and seventeenth century pronunciation, I am a victim of my own untidiness. I remember reading about the sounds I describe - I believe in an enormous reference-book about English dialects in either the Loyola University library or that of the University of California at Riverside - and taking notes, but what the title was, or the author, I haven't a clue. I may have picked bits out of Mario Pei's THE STORY OF LANGUAGE, or out of something by Bill Bryson, but I can't guarantee either of those as sources for things I put into the two vampire books. I'm sorry. I know I read it - I just don't know where.
To the question about, Do I work out the characters and then have them interact to produce the plot, or do I not worry about the characters and just flesh out the idea? The answer is, Yes. Most often, I have a couple of the major characters first, then the plot, then the minor characters filling in as needed for the roles. Sometimes I base characters on people I know. Sometimes I see the role the character fills in the story and think, "What would a person be like, who'd be there doing that?" And then, I have the Locker-Room: dozens of characters who sort of live in my head, waiting in the wings for a story to star them. Some of them I was writing tales about when I was in grade-school or high school - evidently other writers (most notably the BrontŽ sisters, I heard someplace) do or did the same. Others, like Ysidro and Ben January, more or less appear out of nowhere, fully fleshed-out and ready to start work on Monday.
Never, to my knowledge, have I gotten characters mixed up, or stories or back-stories mixed up. That's not how I work - it's not something that happens to me. Never have I had characters "take off" with a story, or go in unexpected directions.
I've just finished reading the galleys for the mass-market edition of KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN, and was surprised at how thoroughly I enjoy that story (considering the painful and unhappy circumstances under which it was written). Jenny's incarnation as a white dragon - rather than the more colorful patterns that develop on young dragons - is indicative of a couple of things: she ISN'T a typical dragon, because she has a human nature and human origins, and a human's soul and spiritual development.
Having gotten that task done, I can now settle down to work on THE FADING OF THE LIGHT (or whatever it's going to be called) and to the enjoyment of those big white spaces on the calendar for the next three weeks, until it's time for the next research trip to New Orleans.
Everybody have a nice time until then.
August 1, 2000
A very dear friend passed away Tuesday night. The news that her illness had gone into its terminal phase reached me about two days before I had to make the decision to put my dog to sleep - the Eternally Beautiful Kismet, upon whom I based Buttercreme in BRIDE OF THE RAT-GOD. It hasn't been an easy month. I'd like to say something more about Adrian - or write a little about Kismet - but I can't. I've put both of them in books, at different times: made characters in their image, like painting pictures, trying to take at least part of them out of the time-stream. I now find that this doesn't help. They're still gone.
All this has made the month of July seem extremely long. For a good portion of it I haven't been able to work much - just sit in my red chair and stare. I'm doing better now, feeling a little more like myself. But I feel pretty old.
I finally got - and signed - a contract for DRAGONSTAR, and am looking forward to being able to start it; there's also a sizeable heap of first-draft pages for FADING OF THE LIGHT (and a couple of alternative titles) - with any luck I should have the first draft done by the end of next week. FADING is a multi-POV, multi-plotline book, something I haven't tried to do before; it feels like driving a strange car. DRAGONSTAR - and the next Ben January book, which I'll be starting soon also - are pretty straightforward by contrast.
Thank you to everyone who's written in. To Evelyn, yes, the aol address that you have for George Effinger is correct. (Far be it from me to imply that he's poor about getting around to answering his e-mail or anything like that....) And yes, I'll cheerfully sign and mail back any bookplate that someone sends me, provided the send a SASE with it. Sometimes it takes me awhile, though. Although I have no sense of being under stress - at least I didn't until the beginning of this month - I've been exhibiting major stress symptoms since the breakup, chief of which is absent-mindedness.
Definitely I will get back to Asher, Lydia, and Ysidro, but it may be awhile.
It's the end of another hot day in Southern California. I've just returned from a signing at Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore in San Diego, and as Adrian would have said, I have been beat really hard with the Freeway Stick. The new puppy, Damsel, is lying under my chair licking my toes: a sort of animate cotton-ball the color of a scorched biscuit. (The cats are in Major Snit Mode and haven't been downstairs since she arrived).
I deeply appreciate you all hanging in here with me.
Everybody have a good week.
July 22, 2000
Less Weekly Than Ever Update
Please insert the usual apologies.
I DID start an Update for mid-June and I can't even find the file for it - I haven't the faintest idea what I said. I wrapped DIE UPON A KISS on the 14th (the due-date was the 15th) and immediately went out and bought paint: I spent a lovely 10 days painting the living room and the downstairs bathroom, which formerly had fussy "country cozy" wallpaper and looked like a kleenex box. I cooked myself for two days out in my driveway building a new entertainment center that didn't take up 1/3 of my not-very-spacious living-room, and got the old one (referred to generally as "Stonehenge") hauled away. I had a massage and got my hair cut and tried yet again to find out from the podiatrist what the heck is actually wrong with my foot.
I'm now back at work on FADING OF THE LIGHT, an odd feminist fantasy-mystery I've had in mind for many years now, and waiting for a contract that will let me begin on DRAGONSTAR, at long last. (Don't even ASK about why I have to do FADING first.) I'm very pleased with FADING - it's been awhile since I've done an out-and-out mystery in a fantasy background (I think the last one I did was THE WITCHES OF WENSHAR), and I very much like the cast - The Girls, as I think of them, since part of what the book is about is what happens when women, who have previously been completely unable to work magic, start acquiring the ability, and men, who were formerly the only wizards, all slowly lose theirs. Raeshaldis, who is more or less the central character, is the first female to be trained as a wizard.
But I haven't forgotten about John and I WILL get him out of the mess he's in. I am very, very sorry about the scheduling tangle.
Reply to the question about karate: I made first dan in Shotokan Karate in (I think) 1979 or 1980 - I had to quit in '82 because of knee injuries. (I got a clue when I realized I was routinely going upstairs to my apartment on my hands and knees because my knees hurt so bad. You put up with a lot when you don't have health insurance.) I frequently wonder why I don't remember much about the '70s and then I remember - Oh, yeah. I spent most of that decade in the dojo. At the time our dojo was affiliated with the JKA, though what with the general messiness of karate politics I have no idea what's happened since. I still dream about karate.
Up until a few months ago I was taking ballet, but, as I've mentioned, there's SOMETHING wrong with my foot and that's on hiatus until the situation gets sorted out. I can walk - and ride my bike - but the thought of hopping up onto my little pink toes for a pirouette makes me flinch.
On the 22nd of July I'll be down in San Diego, at Mysterious Galaxy, for a book signing, and I'll be in New Orleans at the end of August. In fact, I'll spend a day down on Grand Isle, which is where the next-after-the-opera January book takes place. I'll spend a day, that is, if there isn't a hurricane - August is the heart of the season for them and Grand Isle is where they come ashore. (I must have mentioned that the stilts on the houses get taller and taller as one drives down Bayou LaFourche, until on Grand Isle itself almost literally EVERYTHING is 12 feet above the ground.)(Not where I'D want to be in 180-mph winds...!)
And, in the meantime, plots for other novels - the next six Ben January books, and a couple of straight historicals, and a different series of historical murder mysteries - keep appearing in my mind. It's a fertile time for me, but it's going to be a damn busy year.
July 3, 2000
Thank you, Matt From Philly, for the letter about opera in New Orleans - substantially, it's against that background that the next Ben January book, DIE UPON A KISS, takes place. (Not the one that's coming out in July, but the one after it - which I'm in the process of finishing up, or should be.... I'm taking the evening off and putting in a few hours of transferring old Folk Legacy and Elektra vinyl to CD.) The John Davis mentioned in the article you speak of is the same fellow who owned not only the The‚tre d'Orleans, but the Salle d'Orleans where the quadroon balls were held, and is a major character in KISS - along with his rival theater-owner, W.J. Caldwell, on the American side of town. In fact, New Orleans was pretty much the top opera venue in the U.S. in the early 1830s, the fact that started me off on doing a book about grand opera in the first place. And believe me, after writing SOLD DOWN THE RIVER and studying slavery up close for a year, I was really ready to write about something as damn-fool silly as the Opera Wars between the French and American opera houses (which actually did take place, including the phenomenon of one company trying to steal the other's thunder by putting on the same opera a week or so earlier).
As one of my friends said, it's about time Benjamin got a break.
My apologies - again - to everybody about KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN. It'll all be okay, I promise. I'm working as fast as I can. I lost about 4 weeks' work with the divorce, which actually isn't bad, but it was an upheaval; I'm doing what I can to catch up.
No, I didn't write a prequel to DRAGONSBANE, about John and Jenny meeting. It's just that these people are so real to me that I have the sense of just dropping into their lives mid-event. Of course they have a long history with one another.
And thanks for the word from New Zealand. I'm glad my stuff is getting down there, but I gather from my agent that rights for Australia/New Zealand are a stiff bone of contention between British and U.S. publishers. Having tried to buy used books in Sydney for a plane-trip home, I sympathize about the problem. (Finding airplane books is always a bit tricky for me, because they have to be interesting enough to keep my attention but not actually demanding of anything in the way of concentration, which I don't have much of in flight, especially not on that ghastly marathon between Sydney and LA. I ended up with George RR Martin's FEVRE DREAM and MZB's MISTS OF AVALON - and I finished FEVRE DREAM in the airport before even getting on the plane!) (This was a couple of years ago - I came back from Australia with a horrific depression brought on by, of all things, the violent switch in length of daylight hours.)
Regarding Ysidro's changes in living arrangements: I suspect he abandonned some of his nests and didn't abandon others, and that he underestimated the extent of Lydia's researches. Also, Lydia searched for quite some time to locate Ysidro's various aliases. She didn't hit the house on Spaniard's Court right off the bat.
Regarding costuming, and is there a club for it? Yes, in fact - there's an outfit called the Costumer's Guild, of and for people who like to costume, either historical or fantasy, for a hobby. The woman who founded it has - or had at one time - a store in Pasadena whose name I knew up until five seconds ago, specializing in costuming books and paraphernalia (things like corset-bones and fancy latches for bodices, that kind of thing.) Check in the Pasadena Yellow Pages under both bookstores and fabric. The Costumers hold a convention every year. Great fun. One year I built a fully-rigged kitchen-table Elizabethan - those things with the enormous farthingales like Judy Dench wore in SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE - and wore it with full werewolf makeup.
While in Washington for the Malice Domestic mystery convention, I was turned on to a marvelous series for all those interested in further reading about slavery in the antebellum south. As everyone probably knows, back in the 1930s it occurred to somebody that all those folks who had actually been slaves were going to die off fairly soon, and it might be a good idea to get first-hand information on the subject - and besides, there was a depression on, and writers needed money. So the WPA paid writers to go interview these folks... And pretty much shelved the results. I've seen some of the slave narratives republished, but never well organized.
Now, a woman named Donna Wyant Howell is undertaking the monumental task of organizing this information in a form where it can actually be made sense of: publishing it by topic, instead of by narrative. So far she's put out six thin volumes - about 50 pages each - on the lives of slave men, the lives of slave women, childhood in slavery, slave-breeding, slave auctions, and plantation life in general, essentially chopping each narrative into what was said on each topic. She plans another 20 or so.
If you have any interest in American history, check out these books and this woman's web-site www.iwasaslave.com. It's amazing stuff.
Everybody have a nice week.
May 31, 2000
If I sit down and write my Update NOW, I won't end up procrastinating until the end of the month.
Thank you, everyone who wrote in. On the subject of the meltdown, yes, I regret to say that George Alec Effinger and I are separated now: he has returned to New Orleans to live, I have remained here in Los Angeles. We're still good friends and wish one another nothing but joy.
Yes, I did used to work as a book-shelver in the Ontario Public Library in Ontario, California. That was between getting laid off my last regular job - at General Dynamics - and the time when I was clearing enough money from my writing to support myself. I shelved books, did a little modelling for local college art classes, and, ultimately, started writing animation scripts for what they used to call "Toaster Shows" - you know: 68 half-hour episodes that were commercials for vehicles that turned into superpowered robots. (I'll say more about the celestial mechanics of Outer Space in those shows another time).
I just got back from the Malice Domestic convention in Washington DC. After nearly 20 years of going to science fiction conventions, a mystery convention is very different: much more reader-oriented, more a sense of it being about books, and far more authors present. I renewed acquaintance with the few mystery writers I know -- Ann McMillan and Elizabeth Peters among them - and spent a couple of very instructive hours in the Smithsonian, looking at the sort of pianos Benjamin January would have played. Some of them looked pretty strange, I must say. The small square ones were to be expected, given the limitations of string-tension and wooden framing, but there were things called "giraffe pianos", like baby grands stood up on end, which included keys for drums and bells, to provide sound effects for the dramatic "battle symphonies" that were popular just then. (The exhibit also had one of Liberace's diamond-covered grands, and manuscripts of music in Mozart's handwriting.!)
Yesterday was spent in Philadelphia, being given a tour of the place by my agent (who sends me recipies and reminds me to take a sweater if I'm going to a convention in Chicago). I will put in a plug here for a restaurant called Tangerine, in downtown Philly - wow! I'm a sucker for Moroccan food, especially a thing called bistilla, and this was excellent. Foxy waiters, too. I spent half the evening trying to figure out where in my house I could put a wall of lamp-niches, like the ones they have in Istanbul (and in Tangerine). (I alternate between wanting my living-room to look like a Mexican restaurant, or the harem at the Topkapi Palace.) If you're in Philly, go there.
I'm glad I'm home.
May 10, 2000
Stress sneaks up on you. I would have said I wasn't all THAT stressed by the emotional meltdown that - even in the most amicable of cases - inevitably surrounds divorce. But I would also have said that writing down on my calendar the two book-signings I was supposed to do at the UCLA Festival of Books yesterday was sufficient to get me there, and I was obviously wrong about that.
To the people (if any) who showed up at the Dangerous Visions and Mysterious Galaxy booths in the hopes of seeing me, my most abject apologies.
In truth, I'm sort of glad that things worked out that I didn't go, since parking at the Bookfest is always just dreadful, and it's invariably a horrible walk, even without whatever it is that's had me icing my swollen-up left foot for a week. I'd like to say, "Oh, I didn't go because I have a stress-fracture of the metatarsal..." or whatever the doctor's going to tell me it is when I see her this afternoon (gout? Housemaid's knee? Advanced hypochondria?), but in fact, I haven't looked at my calendar in about three days.
Or done much of anything else.
I'm back at work now on DIE UPON A KISS - Benjamin January #5 -- after an enforced vacation of a week, and I'm feeling much better. As a raving workaholic, my solution to everything is Unbridled Frenzy - not, I must continually remind myself, the best way to get a book written. It's no good to have an extra 25 pages if you're going to have to re-write them anyway because they're awful.
Once I finished packing up mass quantities of George's books to ship to him in New Orleans (where he's doing well - we talk just about daily), I had time to sit down and re-read A FREE MAN OF COLOR - and ended up wincing and gritting my teeth over all the continuity errors I've committed since. Most of them are small (like the name of the old Wisewoman on the plantation where January was born); some are embarassingly major. Some are simply the result of facts I hadn't come across at the time I wrote the first book, that I learned since. (Like, steamboats didn't start looking like the classical "steamboat gothic" palaces until about the 1850s.) That's a problem with writing about an era that wasn't your primary field of study: if you wait til you know EVERYTHING, you'll never get a story written, but somebody's going to send you a letter about what year the Nazis started using Schmeissers. (And it's usually guns, cars, or WWII that brings the experts out of the woodwork.)
I also do owe an apology about vocabulary, which I gather is more of a concern than I was aware of, both in fantasy and in historicals. I delight in obscure words - and in making up words - without taking into account that lack of explanation can be mystifyingly annoying. I mean, I'VE been working with these words for months or years, surely they're clear from context, right? Thank you all for the hint. I'll try to be better about either glossary or clarification as I go.
And thank you, all of you, for hanging in with me through deadlines and separations and all the upheavals lately. I THINK I've managed to cover most questions Deb has sent me, if a little belatedly. Yes, eventually I DO plan to write a third in the Sun Cross series, but since the story was originally planned and structured as a single volume, it will probably be awhile before I'll be able to sit down and work out implications of Rhion's return and the war of the wizards against the priests of Agon. Also, with the changes that have taken place at Del Rey books lately, I'm not sure that it's a series that the editors there will want to make a priority.
Thursday I'm off to Washington D.C. for Malice Domestic, my first large murder mystery convention - I'll be there May 5-7, armed with shopping-lists of out-of-print mysteries to look for in the dealer's room. Thank goodness for a reliable laptop. The deadline on KISS is coming right up.
Hope everyone has a calm and peaceful week.
1 May, 2000
In the words of Sam Gamgee, "Well, I'm home."
New Orleans was lovely as usual. In between helping George hunt for an apartment for himself (he moved back to New Orleans for good the middle of last month), I got massive amounts of research done, both in the Historic New Orleans Collection and of the more hands-on variety. I visited Jean Lafitte Park, and walked about five miles on duckboarded trails among palmettos and cypress knees, simply enjoying the silence and figuring out how Benjamin January and Hannibal Sefton manage to evade smugglers; enjoyed the more mundane amusement of people-watching on the way back as well. (I'm sorry - I derived a disgraceful amount of amusement from two high-school girls who were trying to convince a young male companion to catch a baby alligator with his bare hands.) New Orleans was just recovering from Mardi Gras when George and I arrived - the trash was still in the streets - and was followed immediately by St. Patrick's Day, which was naturally the occasion for still more parades.!
At Mardi Gras they throw beads. On St. Pat's, the Irish float krewes throw - I kid you not - cabbages and potatoes. (Ow!)
George found a beautiful little bachelor apartment in the French Quarter and we parted on amicable terms.
The following weekend, of course, we were co-guests at LunaCon in New York (an arrangement made before the meltdown occurred). We had also arranged to stay together in New York for four days after the con for a round of editor-lunches, and this went far better than one might have expected, all things considered. I touched bases with the editors of all my upcoming projects: Betsy Mitchell at Warner's for FADING OF THE LIGHT, Shelley Shapiro at Del Rey for DRAGONSTAR, and Kate Miciak at Bantam for the Ben January books. We also had dinner with my agent, Fran Collin, at probably the hands-down best Italian restaurant I have ever eaten at, Forlini's on Baxter Street in what is now Chinatown, though when the restaurant was established nearly a century ago it was still Little Italy.
I also had the chance to re-visit one of my favorite spots in New York, the Old Merchant's House on Fourth Street. Back in 1833, when the house was built, Fourth Street was on the fringe of the open countryside; it was purchased in 1835 by a wealthy merchant named Tredwell who had five daughters - a sixth, Gertrude, was born the following year in the house. When Mr. Tredwell died there were still four daughters unmarried, and of course since it was unthinkable that any of them would get a job, they all continued to live in the house, eking a living on what was left of Papa's money and investments, while the neighborhood turned to slums around them (they couldn't afford to move).
Gertrude died in the house in 1933. It is the only single-family Federalist house to have been continuously occupied as a family dwelling in New York City. In 1936 the cousin who inherited it from her turned it into a museum: they found trunks in the attic containing all the girls' dresses, corsets and shoes and purses with playbills still in them. It's astonishing - and a little eerie - to be there, to look at the things that were ACTUALLY THEIRS: not the usual museum fare of, "This room was recreated and furniture from the same period has been reassembled...."
Since I was there on a week-day there was no tour. It was "self-guided," which meant I was wandering around alone in these old rooms in the dim afternoon twilight, trying not to remember several of the spookier scenes of SIXTH SENSE. It's a lovely old house, beautifully restored: "Just like Papa would have wanted it," is their motto. The bed in the master bedroom, in which Gertrude Tredwell died, in 1936 had the tattered remains of red wool curtains on it: when they cleared out the attic they found THE REST OF THE BOLT OF THAT SELFSAME WOOL. They made the new curtains for the bed out of literally the same stuff. The whole house is like that.
If you're in New York, go see it. It's wonderful.
And eat at Forlini's. That's wonderful, too.
There were the usual joys of New York as well: wandering around Chinatown and seeing the stores with these big boxes of live crabs, tanks of live eels (disgusting!), glazed ducks hanging in windows. Tuxedoed waiters walking to work in the early evening chowing down on french fries out of styrofoam boxes. Strange spooky folks in mismatched garments striding along the sidewalks in loud conversation with invisible companions. Chassidic teen-agers in the upper '80s with tallis-fringe trailing below the hem of varsity jackets.
Saxophone wailing through the cement corridors of subway stations.
An amazing town.
April 1, 2000
Well, maybe not quite the Weekly Update, but things have been sort of busy since the Arizona Adventure.
Unfortunately, when a writer says, "things have been sort of busy," all it usually involves is a big pile of paper and a lot of staring into space. I'm coming down to the wire on DIE UPON A KISS - a book whose starting-date was delayed for a couple of months because of my work on MAGIC TIME with Marc Scott Zicree - so it's looking like I'll have to go into that sort of holed-up mode that writers sometimes do, to get a project finished. However, unlike some writers I've talked to, I at least will not alternate doses of qualuudes and amphetemines in a motel room for thirty days. (I read the book that got written that way and it's pretty good.)
Thanks to everyone who's written in. I will say, in answer to one note, that I try to be fairly careful about avoiding the Dreaded Expository Lump, otherwise known as the Mitchner Effect: "I paid for this research so you're jolly well going to read it." Maybe that comes of writing fantasy - world-unfolding rather than world-building. Maybe just of seeing everything as a movie. I started out as an historian, but a lot of history I learned as a child exactly from reading historical novels, some of them fairly sleazy. I came to perceive history as one giant, fascinating novel, with hordes of characters and lots of stink and gilding. Some of the best history teachers I had - thank you Liz Blair, thank you Jeffrey Russell, thank you Charlotte Brockway and Bruce Haines - had, I believe, the same perception of the subject. It was like time-travel.
Someone asked about Callista from my two Star Wars novels, a character of whom I'm extremely fond. Actually, when the illustrator for the cover of CHILDREN OF THE JEDI asked me what Callista looked like, I said, "If I had to cast her, I'd cast Uma Thurman." Except maybe with features a little sharper and a little stronger. I'm not sure she'll be back in any other Star Wars books written by others than myself, though I'd certainly enjoy writing another and bringing her in. At the moment I'm not scheduled for one.
Regarding the Elder Droon, Morkeleb, being a dragon, has destroyed lots of things in his lifetime. I'll get into that, probably, in the third book of the current trilogy, DRAGONSTAR - which I'm told my agent now has a contract for, after delays caused, I think, by the merger of Random House into Berttelsman Publications.
March is going to be a time of journeys and changes. I'll be in New Orleans for a week doing research for DIE UPON A KISS (mostly squishing around looking at bayous); then home for long enough to do a load of laundry, then to New York for Lunacon, 24-26 March. George and I will spend a few days after that having lunch with editors in New York City and looking at teensy little dioramas of cities in the Natural History Museum, and re-acquainting ourselves with the menu of the Brooklyn Diner on 58th Street. (Every time I'm in the place I think about the Valrhona Chocolate Pancakes - and every time, I chicken out. There are things humankind was NOT meant to tamper with.)
My agent also tells me that THOSE WHO HUNT THE NIGHT and TRAVELING WITH THE DEAD are going to be published in Russian.
February 28, 2000
Sunday I finished up - finally! -- the rough draft of Benjamin January #5, DIE UPON A KISS. And Monday got started on - finally! -- the new fantasy, FADING OF THE LIGHT (or whatever they're going to call it. My editors at Warner tell me they've already got two titles with "Light" in them, so I have to take another word from the hat.) Of course, I still need to find out things like where European countries had their consulates in the United States in the spring of 1835 and how special effects involving fire were done on-stage, but that's the fun part.
It's very nice, after years of having the cast of FADING sitting around the mental locker-room drinking coffee in their bathrobes, to finally see these people, and go to this place. And of course, once I started writing about it, it immediately looked different than I'd thought.
I'm also informed that KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN goes on sale today. I'm looking forward to that, too. It's a bleak book, and a dark book, but it has some of my favorite stuff in it, and I'm very much looking forward to starting on DRAGONSTAR (in my copious spare time.)
I'm sorry about the cliffhanger ending. That sometimes happens. I assure everyone that everything will be all right. (You know I wouldn't REALLY do that to John!)
Thank you to everyone who wrote in to the Site in the past couple of weeks! Yes, I will eventually write another vampire book. I have ideas for it already - where it takes place, and what they're trying to accomplish - but the thoughts aren't quite ripe yet. Does anybody remember the book in the L. Frank Baum Oz series, TICKTOCK IN OZ? There's a fellow in it who has a book tree (making him the most educated man in the kingdom.) If you pick the books from the tree before they're ripe (the covers are still green), you can read them, but the plots are sort of dull and obvious, and the dialogue is unconvincing, and the illustrations are cheap and crummy. If you wait til the covers turn red, then the dialogue is snappy, the plots are exciting (and presumably the research is correct and you don't have Transylvanian vampires speaking to each other in English, or people using guns that have both a cylinder and a clip.) God knows what you get when they're overripe. H.P. Lovecraft?
In any case, yes, there will be another vampire novel (probably two), just not immediately. I will probably, eventually, return to Darwath also, but that's farther in the future. Someone asked about THE QUIRINIAL HILL AFFAIR, which was published in paperback under the title SEARCH THE SEVEN HILLS. (I've never understood why neither St. Martin's nor Del Rey would use my original title. What's wrong with calling a book about the Early Christians THE BABY-EATERS? That's what the Romans called them.) Try ABEBooks.com. They specialize in used-book searches. Bibliofind.com is another.
One book I did not write was something called CoDa which someone said she saw listed under my name. The only CoDA I know about is a 12-Step Program for Co-Dependents Anonymous: people who are obsessed with their partners to the exclusion of their own or anyone else's well-being. I have the feeling that what the questioner saw was a mis-print or a catalogue code for something else.
I'm sorry about the confusion concerning Jenny's age in DRAGONSBANE - DRAGONSHADOW - DEMON QUEEN. Originally Jenny was slightly older - 42 or 43, I think - and Lester Del Rey made me change that because I think it bothered him that she was seven years older than John. I tried to return to my original chronology in DRAGONSHADOW and the copy-editors said No, she was 40 in the first book and you have to stick with that.... So I really don't know what the status is now. It's one of the things I'll have to check on carefully before I start DRAGONSTAR.
February 1, 2000
(Note here - see the letter she's responding to if you're confused.) Someone also pointed out to me that Canada Geese are not, in fact, extinct. That was an outright mistake on my part. I had thought they were when I wrote SILENT TOWER, and the copy-editor didn't catch it. (That was before I had my friend Laurie for a copy-editor). There's a lot about SILENT TOWER that, looking back, I think is pretty ragged, owing to the conditions under which the book was written. But that's a story for another time.
The last time I did the drive from Los Angeles to Arizona was about 9 years ago, for a World Fantasy Convention. I got familiar with the route in my karate days - a whole squad of the Inland Empire Karate Association would car-caravan to Phoenix every year for a tournament, halting at rest stops out in the middle of nowhere and coming back exhausted and slightly gritty Sunday night, ready for classes Monday morning. (As a history grad student I had a Ren/Ref proffessor who liked to hold his classes at 8 a.m. I recall he had the disconcerting habit of chewing on his tie when gathering his thoughts, but he was really excellent on the subject of the Spanish Armada.)
Anyway, even since the Tuscon World Fantasy Convention, the route has changed considerably. That is, the route is the same - you get on I-10 in Santa Monica and plow east through the desert til you hit Phoenix - but the roadside attractions have altered. Barbara Peters, owner of the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, asked me to come out for a one-day mini-conference on Historical Murder Mysteries, with Lindsay Davis and several other writers of historical mysteries. The conference itself was lovely. What a delight to talk about history and research and fairly obscure historical figures like Akhenaten and Sir John Fielding with people whose eyes don't glaze over. And if you're ever in Scottsdale, definitely visit the Poisoned Pen bookstore! It's huge - and great. (And has gargoyle lamps on the back.)
But equally delightful to me was the road trip. Nine hours of driving through these vast lizard-colored expanses of sand, rock, and jumping-cactus, intense crystalline light, listening to "Northwest Passage" and watching the chewed-up-looking mountains of the desert rise and then sink away. Passing the same cars, the same trucks, over and over again every time I'd stop at a Rest Area, like that strange old film ROAD GAMES. On the drive back it rained. What a scent! Magic.
People chide us, here in L.A., about our rivers. At least we have the decency to pave ours. The ones in Arizona are all bushes and sand and tire-tracks.
Once you get past about Banning, they start to advertise the Rest Areas 20 miles ahead, just so they have something to put on the signs. Of course, when you see a sign saying, STATE PRISON. DO NOT PICK UP HITCHHIKERS. REST AREA AHEAD you do not feel much like getting out of the car no matter how tired of driving you are. (Another sign announced, STATE PRISON - WILDLIFE WORLD ZOO, wording to which I thought they might have given a little more thought.) A farmer in Buckeye, for reasons best known to himself, has erected a plywood cut-out of a 30-foot tall infant sitting in the middle of his field. And in the burnt wilds of Maricopa County there was a lone sign saying, 762 ACRES FOR SALE. Cheap, I bet.
But the treat of the trip was the Cabazon Monsters.
I remember seeing them looming out of the twilight as a teen-ager, when we'd drive back east, or later as those karate car-caravans would pass them by. A few miles east of Banning, in the miniscule town of Cabazon, there was a small roadside inn and beside it, a larger-than-lifesize brontosaurus with a little museum in its tummy, reached by a stairway up inside its tail. (On the desert side of the dinosaur there are two gable windows and a fire-escape, but you can't see this from the freeway.) Later a somewhat unconvincing-looking T-Rex was added - unconvincing by daylight, that is. Comic writer Len Wein and I stopped there on the way back from World Fantasy Con at eight or nine at night, and saw the thing floodlit against the backdrop of those lightless hills, it is disconcerting how spooky the thing actually looks.
Driving out to Phoenix this time I passed the Monsters, and saw that the Wheel Inn had been joined by a Burger King and a Sizzler, cutting off the creatures from the road. Cabazon had also grown. Remembering the dilapidated dinosaurs from the WFC trip - Len and I ate at the Wheel Inn and spent some time walking around the silent, deserted creatures - I figured if necessary I'd get a Diet Coke at the Burger King, if Burger King now owned the land they stood on.
Returning this afternoon through the beginnings of the rain, however, I was delighted to find that the Monsters were bought about 7 1/2 years ago by a very nice fellow named Ken Garland, cleaned up, given a new coat of paint (Rex now has the Spielberg/Jurassic Park color scheme of green with brown stripes and Dinny has a sort of yellow tummy), and, best of all, made into a sort of park called Dinosaur Delights. There are lawns around them where last I saw just sand and gravel. What used to be a little "museum" in Dinny's interior is now a gift-shop - whose proceeds keep Garland from having to charge admission - and Rex (who has a door in his hip that used to lead up to a viewing-platform, I think) now has red-and-black glass light-up eyeballs that glow and rotate.
I bought two coffee-mugs and a poster and drove on my way feeling absolutely delighted and at peace, having seen this memory of early years, not falling into decay like the house I grew up in, but restored. It's good to know silliness survives in the world.
Jan 17, 2000
Insert glyph here linking to hypertext paragraph explaining how chaotic my life has been and that I haven't had time to keep up regular correspondence but I promise I'll never, never let that situation occur ever again.
(The Sitemistress notes here that she cannot seem to find said glyph, so we'll all have to imagine that it's there).
I'm not sure I even sent off the Weekly Update describing being taken off the airplane at Baltimore by the paramedics -- and carried past the disconcerted representatives of the Darkover Grand Council who were there to meet me -- with oxygen tubes up my nose. God bless them, they tracked me down to the North Auburn General Hospital in the wilds of the Maryland countryside (not far from Blair, I'm sure) and got me out of ER at about one in the morning: I'd passed out on the airplane, owing to traveling while sick with the flu and taking everyone's very good advice about swallowing an antihistamine before getting on the plane so I wouldn't have horrendous problems with air pressure changes. I became, naturally, extremely dehydrated, my blood-pressure dropped off the scale (though they assure me I never lost the carotid pulse -- they evidently couldn't find one in my wrist), and I turned a fairly scary color. Lots of in-flight drama.
But after that fairly shaky start, the Darkover Grand Council was a very fine convention: well-run, good people, and the Hallelujah Chorus sung in the indoor pool area at midnight one night - beautiful! My agent came up; I stayed an extra day and took the Metroliner up to New York, had lunch with Kate Miciak, who edits the Ben January series, and was able to talk to Betsy Mitchell from Warner Books, who will be working with me on FADING OF THE LIGHT (if indeed it keeps that title). FADING will be published by Warner, and should be more fun than is legal - I am looking forward with huge delight to starting work on it. JUST before I got on the airplane I got word that Del Rey gave the go-ahead for DRAGONSTAR, something which had concerned me greatly considering how KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN ends.
Then I came home and it was Christmas. I always look forward to Christmas, because, as everyone knows, on Christmas Eve at midnight all animals in the world obtain the power of speech that they may praise God (since animals were the first witnesses to Jesus' birth in Bethlehem). I keep hoping they will, but every Christmas Eve all they say is, "Is it lunchtime yet?" and, "Rocky gets more wet food than me."
The day after Christmas the motherboard of the Big Computer burned out and I've been working for the past 10 days on the laptop, which now thinks it's January 4, 1980.
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.
Jan 3, 2000
No sooner do I get one set of galleys out of the house - KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN - than the next set, for SOLD DOWN THE RIVER, showed up. And as always I read the galleys, compare them to what I've been working on, and think, Ohmigod, the new stuff is AWFUL! What's happening to me?
What's happening to me is I'm comparing final draft - on which I worked for a year, on and off, with first draft, about which I'm still making decisions like, Is Consuela a nice person or is she rotten and vile (or do I need her in this scene - or in this book - at all?) Things look different when you're writing an outline, roughing in how things might go and talking about people half of whom (or sometimes all of whom) you've never met. Depending on how long it's been since you turned the outline in, you may have rearranged your thinking or learned more facts about coal-mining or had an absolutely fatal fight with the person on whom you WERE going to base that winsome hero. I recall on one occasion writing an outline for a Star Trek novel which said, And then these four guys take over the Enterprise. Two years later, when it came time to ACTUALLY WRITE this scene, I read that outline and wondered, How the HELL do they do that?
As they say in writing classes, "With a mighty leap...."
In any case I'm extremely pleased with SOLD DOWN THE RIVER, as indeed I am with DEMON QUEEN. The weather is cooler, I'm feeling much better (whether my problem was stress or a low-grade flu virus it seems to be abating) and I may even start hiking again - I trust the pictures came through okay? I turn the heater on in the office in the mornings and when I have to switch it off again to leave, Rocket the Flying Kitten gives me her Academy Award-nominated performance as The Little Match Girl about to freeze to death on the rich lady's doorstep.
The hiking, of course, will stand me in good stead the next time I go do research at UCLA, whose parking situation gets worse every time I go there. Last time I went I took my bike on the back of the car - mostly because of the fatigue problem -- but ended up having to carry it up several flights of steps anyway. Still, where else can you find several volumes dedicated to popular tunes of the 1820s and '30s?
All best - Barb
Nov. 5, 1999
Many thanks for all the communications that have come in over the past ten days or so. It's been quiet - other than getting a new monitor, which means I'm more comfortable, and having lunch with a romance writer colleague the other day, always entertaining. One of the cool things about being a writer is getting to hang out with other writers (including my husband). With how many other people could one have a conversation about domestic arrangements at the Palace of Versailles during the reign of Louis XV? How many other people would CARE?
(Writing murder mysteries has made me a terrible snoop about historical domestic arrangements. When I'm in New Orleans I can't have dinner at old French Quarter restaurants without sneaking away on pretext of visiting the Ladies Room and investigating as much as I can of the building. I think the layout of the Jumon townhouse in GRAVEYARD DUST was more or less based on that of a very nice cafť on St. Peter street where I used to get callas and grits. Who but another writer would understand that?)
I hugely enjoy hearing how other writers write, even those maddening ones, like my husband and Harry Turtledove, who can turn out award-winning novels in the first draft with just a couple of touch-ups. (My first drafts stink.) Another writer told me, "In the first draft, it's as if the characters are all sitting around in their jeans and sweatshirts reading the script. Subsequent drafts supply setting, costume, and the expression in their voices."
Someone asked me about the sequel to DRAGONSHADOW, which will be KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN - I just got queries from the Del Rey production department about it, so it should be out in (I think) spring. I understand the offices of the entire Random House complex are moving, so God knows what's actually going on. I realize, looking back on both DRAGONSHADOW and KNIGHT that they ARE very dark, grim books - possibly because I was going through some of the grimmest stuff of my life while I was writing them (and GRAVEYARD DUST). Although I did have a lot of fun with the cyberpunk sections of KNIGHT: John Aversin chasing demons around deserted subway tunnels in command of a flock of geeks. I am also becoming very fond of the Demon Queen as a character, horrible as she is, and look forward to starting on DRAGONSTAR.
In the meantime I'm working on DIE UPON A KISS and enjoying the research - opera in the 1830s, which means I get to watch Mozart operas and am trying to find detailed plot summaries of some of the sillier opuses (opae?) of the genre which involve the Devil masquerading under the name of Bertram, and plot resolutions requiring Vesuvius to erupt on-stage.
In answer to Stephanie: I have gone to Armadillocon (the Austin sf convention) in the past, and will in the future, but not this year. George and I both have a lot of friends in Austin and really enjoy that convention. And, I apologize to Matt about the double eagle, and thank you for the information (see the letters page if you're interested). The source book about coinage wasn't specific. Every historical I write contains this kind of mistake, and all I can do is promise to do better next time - if I waited until I knew EVERYTHING the stuff simply wouldn't get written. I do the best I can.
Everybody have a nice week.
October 25, 1999
Well, maybe not quite weekly update. Just got back from the doctor, and various blood-tests to see if what she called "non-ferrous anemia" has recurred - meaning that as long as I'm sitting quietly in my study I'm fine, but if I get up and walk around I want to lie down and rest again. (Actually, that sounds like a perfectly decent way to live....) A month ago I could do two ballet classes back-to-back and now I can barely make it through a beginner class without losing my breath. Since I apparantly accidentaly left my veins at home (they couldn't find one, though mind you, they ran several test-bores) it was a rather dramatic session, ending up with me fainting as usual. I write about heroes who can gouge out their own eyes and stick flaming torches in the sockets and it's really sort of embarassing to admit that I pass out when I get blood taken.
Fortunately, about two years ago I set up the study with an Eames chair and a lap desk (and my favorite painting, a print of a Boucher nude of probably Madame de Pompadour, over the monitor), so it's all very comfortable and I can sit here most of the day without feeling awful. The fatter of the two cats watches me all day waiting for me to stand up so she can sleep in the Eames chair (which George and I refer to as The Command Chair); the kitten (who will be two at the end of this month) just hops up on the monitor itself.
I did get a request for what Antryg and Joanna have been doing - I hadn't realized it was 8 years since DOG WIZARD. I'd intended to get back to them after DRAGONSHADOW - actually, there's another stand-alone fantasy in there, too, called THE FADING OF THE LIGHT that was part of the original DRAGONSHADOW contract - and just after I finished DRAGONSHADOW, literally the day I was going to take the manuscript to get copied to send, I was biking along the street and realized I'd neglected to tell about 2/3rds of the story. I phoned my editor and got contracts shuffled around - FADING replaced by KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN (John & Jenny III) - and the contract for DRAGONSTAR (John & Jenny IV) got tangled up in the buy-out of Del Rey.
So the answer is: Yes, I will get back to Antryg and Joanna (whom I've missed). Yes, I will get back to Asher and Lydia and Ysidro (whom I've also missed). I just couldn't resist writing DEMON QUEEN and its sequel.
George just came downstairs (this is George Alec Effinger, by the way - Hugo- and Nebula-Award winning science fiction writer) to ask, "Will you finish my book for me?" (He's on Chapter Two) We're trying to teach the dogs to ghost-write but it's slow going, since mostly all they want to write about is how good dirty socks smell.
October 11, 1999
Not technically a Weekly Update, but a question-and-answer from September that I found amusing.Here's a set of three letters (or one letter, a response, and then one ecstatic reply). We do aim to please here. :) Hi Deb. I have read only 2 of Barbara Hambly's books...the 2 Benjamin January mysteries. Is there any way to e-mail the author and ask her a question? I have searched and researched and have had other people do the same on a particular word she used in "Fever Season." NO ONE, but no one seems to know what it means! The word is TETOTACIOUS. If you have any way of asking her, could you let me know? I would be most appreciative....and I will put on Delphi to let all the kajillion poeple who have been looking for me too! Thanks heaps!
Now the repsonse from BarbaraI made that word up. I've read a lot of stuff about the flatboat and keelboat types, the Mike Finks and Annie Christmases, and their way of bending and playing with the English language has always fascinated me. They used words like that: "absquatulate" for "get out of here" and "horripilate" for "horrify" and, to my surprise, "bodacious" for "excellent" or "grand." (Thought that was a Valley Girl word, didn't you?) Teetotatious was the kind of thing that I think one of them would have said for "terribly" or "awfully," -- "I wasn't awfully surprised...." Just a little playing with the language in a fashion now long out of use. Sorry to have confused people.
And the happy person at the end of the word quest...Deb, you wonderful person you! That word has driven us all nuts! I am tetotaciously thrilled you have solved the mystery...and do thank Ms. Hambly....I adore the Benjamin January series! Most sincerly,