Last update posted on October 1, 2008 (last Update actually dated September, 2008)

Monthly Update
September, 2008

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!)


Monthly Update
June, 2008

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.

More later.


Monthly Update
May, 2008

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.


Monthly Update
January, 2008

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.


Monthly Update
December, 2007

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.


Monthly Update
October, 2007

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.


Monthly Update
July, 2007

Whew!

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.


Monthly Update
April, 2007

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 cstu@loc.gov 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.


Monthly Update
February, 2007 (part deux)

(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.


Monthly Update
February, 2007

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.


Monthly Update
December, 2006

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.


Monthly Update
October, 2006

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.


Monthly Update
August, 2006

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.


Monthly Update
July, 2006

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 Authenticity

I'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.


Monthly Update
April, 2006

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.


Monthly Update
March, 2006

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.


Monthly Update
February, 2006

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.


Monthly Update
November, 2005

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.


Monthly Update
September, 2005

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.


Monthly Update
August, 2005

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?

Urgh.

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.


Monthly Update
June, 2005

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.


Monthly Update
March, 2005

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.


Monthly Update
January, 2005

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).


Monthly Update
October, 2004

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.


Monthly Update
July, 2004

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.


Monthly Update
May, 2004

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.


Monthly Update
January, 2004

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:

(


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!
k.walter

Now the repsonse from Barbara

I 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,
karen


We'll start things out with a letter from Barbara:

October 2, 1999

It was suggested to me, now that I have an official website (thanks to the kindness of Deb Thompson for continuing as the Sitemistress), I should write a couple of paragraphs every week or so to post and let people know how and what I am doing. (I have to assume that people are at least mildly interested or else they wouldn't be visiting the site.) If Deb sends me any particularly interesting questions she gets via e-mail I'll answer those, time permitting: everything in my life comes with the rider, Time Permitting.

At the moment I'm wrapping up my share of a fantasy collaboration with TWILIGHT ZONE COMPANION author Marc Scott Zicree called MAGIC TIME, to be published next year by Harper-Collins. It will be the first of three novels in the series, spun off the pilot episode of a TV show Marc wrote, not yet produced. The other two novels of the series are being done by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff and Robert Charles Wilson, but this will be the first, co-written by Marc and myself. (And boy, don't I feel out of it being the only person around with two names instead of three).

Essentially, Marc is novelizing his pilot script and I'm doing a B-story around it, with the stories dovetailing at the end. It's the first time I've done a collaboration and it's a whole nother ballgame from writing solo. As Larry Niven says, each of you does 80% of the work.

This part of the writing -- the cleaning-up and re-writing -- is actually easier than my other current project, the rough draft of the fifth Benjamin January mystery, called DIE UPON A KISS (from the last line spoken by Othello: "Killing myself, to die upon a kiss.") I've just turned in SOLD DOWN THE RIVER -- Benjamin #4 -- and those lovely and efficient folks at Bantam have already copyedited the manuscript and returned it to me covered with a zillion little yellow post-its, the part of the writing process I dislike the most.

(I sent in the sequel to DRAGONSHADOW -- THE KNIGHT OF THE DEMON QUEEN -- recently as well)

The "back burner" of my mind is metaphorically stacked with other projects waiting in the wings -- the third of the DRAGONSHADOW series, another vampire book, the other Ben January novels, a stand-alone fantasy and a couple of historical thrillers -- characters all suited up and playing pinochle in the locker-room until I have time to write their stories.

Thank you all for coming by the Website. In the hopes that you will return, I'll continue to keep everyone posted.

All best - Barb