Friday, February 26, 2010

20 Questions With Deanna Raybourn

“To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.”

With that killer opening line of Silent in the Grave (SITG), so begins the story of Lady Julia Grey, a sheltered woman of means whose sickly husband dies, what Lady Julia believes, a timely death. Only the enigmatic and often wily investigative agent, Nicolas Brisbane has another theory –murder most foul. Nicolas and Julia pair up to solve the murder, match wits, volley to stay one step ahead of each other, and have a jolly good time in the process. Silent in the Sanctuary and Silent in the Moor expand on their relationship and ratchet up the body count as well in these deliciously witty books.

Silent in the Grave won the 2008 RITA award for Best Novel with Strong Romantic Elements. All of her books have received numerous praise and are highly regarded.

And now Deanna is back with The Dead Travel Fast, the story of Theodora Lestrange, a young Scottish novelist, and her adventures in 1858 Transylvania.

I finally got my paws on this book (Unfortunately, it was not available during the time of this interview or I’d have peppered poor Deanna a lot more about it *g*). The Dead Travel Fast is a true Gothic romance, full of suspense, moody atmosphere, dubious characters, and a delectable yet tortured and mysterious hero who may or may not be a vampire. I read it in one sitting (damn my lack of self-control!) and loved it. Get your blanket out, brew up a good cup of tea, and curl up with The Dead Travel Fast; you won’t be sorry!

Deanna has that rare talent for creating Worlds, characters who we want to know, perhaps want to be, settings so rich and full, we feel part of it. This isn’t an easy thing to do, yet Deanna makes it look effortless. Her writing is clean yet rich, witty yet dark, fast-paced yet deep.

And I’m having a bit of a sqweeee moment in having her here. This is a real treat for all of us at ATWOP and hopefully will be for all of you as well. Please join us as we play 20 Questions with Ms. Deanna Raybourn.

On Writing and Craft:

1. You’ve been open about the fact that it took you fourteen years to get published. Obviously, tenacity is in your blood. (g) But what truly kept you going?

DR: I think some people are born to be storytellers, and it’s the telling of stories that makes you what you are. I never stopped creating stories for the same reason I don’t stop breathing—it’s what I am hardwired to do. I was still a writer; being published just made me an author. I always felt that if I just kept working, eventually I would crack it and end up writing the type of book that would find a publisher. It just took me about thirteen years longer than I expected!

2. I’ve read that those earlier unpublished books were romances. What drew you to romance, and what ultimately made you branch out into a broader scope?

DR: My first book two books were actually Gothics, after that one or two historicals, then came a few Regencies which I blame on Jane Austen. My early writing was hugely influenced by my favorite writers—I started my first book just after I finished reading Jane Eyre yet again and that set me up to write a couple of Gothics. Then I became passionately smitten with the Regency, a period I still find to be immensely charming. I was edging closer to creating my own voice as a writer, but I didn’t quite get there until my agent told me to take a year off from writing and just read. I realized during that year of reading that what was missing was the mystery element because they were my favorite genre. Once I figured out that I needed to write a British book that was essentially a mystery with a bit of romance to sweeten the pot, I was well on my way.

3. When you began Silent in the Grave, did it feel different than your earlier manuscripts? Specifically, was there something that clicked with SITG that hadn’t before?

DR: I had a tiny hiccup at the beginning of SITG. I started it with a Regency setting—1816, to be exact. I was about fifty pages in and realized something was just a shade off, and it suddenly hit me that the time setting was wrong. Regency London certainly had its problems, but compared to later in the nineteenth century, it was bright and sparkling and innocent with a sort of hectic glamour. I needed Victorian London, with foggy, gaslit streets and a bit more atmosphere. So I reset the book seventy years later, and suddenly everything fit right into place. I once heard Philip Margolin say that if you’re writing a scene and it isn’t quite working, change it around and write from another perspective—for example, let another character drive the scene. It will completely change the energy of the dynamic between the characters. In a larger sense, it worked perfectly for the setting as well. All I did was shift it in time, and an entire world of possibilities opened up. Of course, given all of the scientific, social, and technological advances, I had to clock about six more months’ of research!

ATWOP –love this bit of advice!

4. We at ATWOP are always interested in the process of writing. As every writer is different, can you describe your process for us? In other words, what gets you into that chair and the words flowing?

DR: Discipline! It’s not a sexy answer, but it’s the truth. People have this notion of writing as a terribly glamorous occupation, and they don’t always want to hear the gritty facts. The unvarnished truth is that you can be talented and you can have great ideas, but if you don’t get them down on paper, you are not a writer, you’re just a person with a good imagination. The single most important action I take as a writer is putting my bottom in the chair every morning when I’m writing a book because if you hang around waiting for the muse to whisper in your ear, you’re going to be waiting a very long time. I write every day when I’m drafting a book, and I write first thing in the morning because that’s when my energy is at its peak and the day hasn’t offered up any distractions.

5. We all know that first drafts are never perfect, but how much of the story comes together for you in that initial stage, and how much of it really shapes up during edits?

DR: I know it’s obnoxious to say, but the entire book pretty much comes together in the first draft. Occasionally, I will make major changes during the revision stage, but usually it is just polishing and refining. I have learned over time to love revising, though! I used to try to write a book and make it perfect the first time through and when I told my editor that she laughed out loud and told me that was an excellent recipe for killing myself. I’ve learned from her how to take that pressure off and just get the book on paper, but my first drafts still bear a very close resemblance to the final version in most cases.

6. One thing that really stands out in your books is the voice. It is so thoroughly British and Victorian, yet here you are, a native Texan living in modern day Virginia. Thinking of the Oscar Wilde’s quote: “We have really everything in common with America nowadays, except, of course, the language,” how did you achieve that authentic British voice? Or should I say voices, as you cover the whole scope of classes. (Follow up: and where there any character’s voice that was easier or perhaps more difficult to nail down?)

DR: Thank you! Developing my own voice was the most difficult thing I had to do as a writer, and it took a long time, but once I finally got there it was definitely a facepalm moment because I couldn’t believe I hadn’t been writing like that all along. My writing voice is different from my speaking voice, of course—Lady Julia can’t very well bust out with a “y’all”—but they are both definitely influenced by where I came from. My grandmother is English, and I read loads of British fiction as a child. I still do, in fact, and I think that watching British television is another great way to pick up the subtle differences between British and American English. Lady Julia’s voice has been the easiest to develop, which is helpful since she’s my narrator. I take pains with my characters who speak in dialect. I try to suggest their cadences and syntax, but I refuse to write dialogue in dialect because as a reader I find it annoying, so I certainly wouldn’t inflict it on anyone else!

7. Historical writing is always a challenge –getting your facts straight, finding the balance between authenticity and appealing to modern readers. How do you approach it? Do you research before you even begin a book, or are you more apt to write and research at the same time?

DR: I did masses of research on the late Victorian period when I wrote Silent in the Grave, so much of my research now is specific to each book. I will work on making sure I have the details correct on the physical setting, character hobbies, murder methods, etc. There are always loads of things I have to go and find out. Fortunately, I love research, so it’s always time well-spent. I read journals and memoirs, collections of letters, biographies, all sorts of non-fiction to ensure that I’m keeping as close to fact as possible, even in a novel. I remember a heater I tried to put into Silent in the Sanctuary, but after ages of research, realized it wasn’t invented for another six months, so out it came and my characters had to make do with coal fires! I keep researching as I’m writing, and I will do one energetic gallop through all of my notes between first draft and revision just to refresh my memory.

8. And the all important question when it comes to writing: In the great debate of method, chunkster vs. linear? Seat of pants vs. outline? (IOW, do you write in a linear fashion, or whatever scenes pop up in your mind, only to thread together later?)

DR: I am an organized pantser. I have a general outline in the form of my synopsis, which I should note for the purposes of strict honestly, I seldom look at during the course of my writing. But I know where the book is supposed to go; getting there is a matter of logic. Since my books all have a mystery at the heart, there is an orderly sequence of events and that dictates how things fit together. I also try to be mindful of whether we’ve just had a scene out of doors, whether it’s been too many pages since we’ve seen one of the characters, whether they’ve been eating too much. I always try to include one too many dinner or tea scenes and my editor reins me in. I had a letter from a reader recently expressing her concern about Lady Julia’s consumption of ham…


9. Let’s talk about series. When did you realize that Lady Julia and Brisbane would need more room to develop than just one book?

DR: I was probably halfway though Silent in the Grave when I realized I really didn’t want to turn loose of these characters. I also realized that with the extended March family and the mystery premise I had lots of future stories built right in. I was also being a little crafty—it occurred to me that a series would be far more tempting for a publisher, and I was right.

10. I love the ever increasing sexual tension between Brisbane and Julia, and the way they match wits, as though playing a game of intellectual chess –each of them daring the other to dig deeper, expose themselves to the other. It’s simply brilliant, but there is also a great deal of restraint in keeping things unsaid between them. How do you juggle the smaller plot of the mystery within each book alongside the broader story arch of their relationship? Is it mostly an organic thing for you? Or a product of careful planning?

DR: Almost entirely organic. I write like I live, by intuition with a bit of common sense thrown in for good measure. I knew that I did not want their relationship to reach any sort of firm resolution for several books, and as the relationship progressed, I knew I wanted certain new tensions to arise. Theirs is a very “two steps forward, one step back” sort of situation, and I like that they aren’t completely certain of each other.

11. Onto the new book, The Dead Travel Fast. Could you tell us a little about it?

DR: The Dead Travel Fast is my love letter to the Gothic novel. The action follows Theodora Lestrange, a Scottish novelist, as she leaves the security of her home in Edinburgh for the dark forests of Transylvania in search of adventure. She finds that and more in the person of Andrei Dragulescu, a Carpathian count who may or may not be a vampire…

12. I would assume (and I may very well be wrong) that there is a certain sense of comfort when writing a well-established series. What drew you toward writing this new book?

DR: I adore the classic Gothics and read them all when I was a teenager—the Brontës, Victoria Holt, Mary Stewart. I think it’s a genre that lots of readers feel a nostalgic fondness for, and I was thrilled to have a chance to cut my teeth on this book. It was also a good chance to prove to myself that I could write something beyond the series and be successful at it! When I sold Silent in the Grave, I thought, “I wrote a real book.” And when it won a RITA, I thought, “I wrote a good book!” And when Silent in the Sanctuary came out, I thought, “I had more than one book in me.” And now with The Dead Travel Fast, the thought is, “I’m not a one-trick pony!” I don’t generally consider myself neurotic, but that particular train of thought would suggest otherwise, wouldn’t it?

ATWOP –Actually, you sound a lot like us. It’s heartening to know that particular writer neurosis never truly goes away. :)

13. Do you have a favorite character in TDTF? And why?

DR: I am quite smitten with Theodora because she is so different from Lady Julia. I am the default setting for Julia—if I ever want to know what she would do or say in any given situation, I just figure out what I would do and go from there. Theodora is a cat of a different color. She is more intrepid and centered, and perhaps not quite as nice as Julia, although I think she is very likable. Julia is a bit more blithe in her existence; Theodora is more deliberate.

14. And because everyone will ask… Who is your favorite character in the Lady Julia Grey series and why?

DR: Julia, hands down. I adore Nicholas completely, but Julia is highly autobiographical. I always say that if you were to compare our perspectives on the world, the view from her townhouse in 1880s London wouldn’t be so different from mine. We have precisely the same sense of humor, and I think when you find the same things funny, it’s impossible not to like someone. But I should note that Portia is becoming very interesting to me as her character develops. She’s more self-assured than Julia, and I love her confidence.

15. What’s next? I understand that you have finished the latest Lady Julia book (yay!), entitled Dark Road to Darjeeling. Any hints on what Julia and Brisbane might encounter? And any plans to write another stand alone novel?

DR: I had the best time writing Dark Road! Julia and Brisbane travel to a tea plantation in the foothills of the Himalayas and encounter an arch-villain for the first time. I think readers are really going to enjoy the ride. I have several ideas for stand-alone novels, but I’m under contract for another Julia Grey after Dark Road, and I’m having great fun plotting what to do with Nicholas and Julia next!

ATWOP -I'm betting reader's will! Personally, I can't wait to get my grubby paws on the next book.

And the silly:

16. Favorite vampire: Dracula? Vampire Lestat? Or Edward Cullen? :)

I’ve only read Dracula, so I’ll have to go with the original.

17. Most delicious thing about the Victorian era?


In the world of epic investigative battles:

18. Nicolas Brisbane vs. Sherlock Holmes (pumped up Guy Ritche style)?

Brisbane was bare-knuckle boxing before Holmes even got his shirt off, so in a physical confrontation, my money is on Nicholas. In an investigation, I suppose I ought to give the edge to Holmes because Lady Julia is a bit more of a distraction to Nicholas than Irene Adler is to Holmes!

ATWOP –I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’d pay good money to see that fist fight. Le rowl… ;)

19. Amelia Peabody vs. Lady Julia?

Amelia always has her trusty parasol and Julia doesn’t carry a weapon, at least not yet…I would rather think of them taking tea together and exchanging tips on how to outwit the men in their lives.

ATWOP –that would be some tea!


20. I keep my RITA…

A. On my living room mantle with strategically placed spotlights to enhance her golden glow.

B. Discreetly tucked away on my office bookshelf.

C. She has her own pillow on my bed and tends to hog the covers!

DR: My RITA sits in my study where I can see her when I write. She’s an excellent reminder that I have done this and done it well in the past and I can do it well again! (I hand-carried her home from San Francisco and she was a superb conversation-starter in the airport.)

ATWOP –Assuredly so! And deservedly won! Thank you so much for stopping by, Deanna! It's been a pleasure.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I learned a lot and am suddenly inspired to get my butt in that chair and write.

And if having Deanna here wasn’t treat enough for you, there is also the chance to win one of her wonderful books. Leave a comment and be entered to win either The Dead Travel Fast or one of the Lady Julia Grey books –winner’s choice. We’re giving away two books so enter now. Deadline to enter is 12PM EST, Friday, March 5th, at which time two winners will be randomly drawn. Enter early and GOOD LUCK!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Big Squwee Reveal

Ah, yes, I know I said I'd keep tight-lipped on our guest interview until Friday but I could not contain myself any longer.

So... Yes, Erin, you are correct! Deanna Raybourn is indeed our mystery guest! Yay! Deanna has graciously agreed to play 20 Questions with us and will drop by to check out any comments left for her.

Claire, Jen, Rachel and I are supremely excited to have her here and cannot wait for tomorrow.

As for the contest, all who commented are in the hat to win and we'll announce the winner tomorrow. :) Good luck, and hope to see you all there!


This week, I intended to blog about the editing workshop I went to last weekend (it was REALLY good), but life has been rather curmudgeonly towards me of late and thus, that post remains in my head. Instead, I have some of my favourite blogs and websites for you, to round off our week of sharing the linkage ...

Writing Blogs

First up, Murderati - a group of thriller, mystery and suspense writers who, on a daily basis, hand out their pearls of wisdom with much hilarity and awesome generosity. I learn something new, and go away with much to mull over, with every visit. Bet you will, too.

One of Murderati’s bloggers, Alexandra Sokoloff, has a terrific blog of her own. A screen writer for many years, she focuses on craft, and what she doesn’t know about writing just isn’t *worth* knowing, IMO. Go there and LEARN, people.

I also visit Mysterious Matters, Murder She Writes and Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room, to get my fix of author blogs with a murderous bent – erm, cos that’s what I write about. I’m not some sort of psycho. Really. (g)

Agent and Editor Blogs

As with the rest of us here at ATWOP, I read Nathan Bransford, Janet Reid and Kristin Nelson without fail; and two other blogs worth keeping up with are those of Rachelle Gardner and Betsy Lerner. Rachelle is an agent, and shares her excellent, level-headed advice on a daily basis; Besty is an editor and … well, the advice is equally as good, but with more of a martini swilling, chain-smoking, dry as dust sense of humour, delivery. Hilarious.

Historical Fiction

And because the murder and mayhem in my book occur in nineteenth century Paris, two of my favourite sites for keeping up with what’s happening in the world of historical fiction are Historical Tapestry and Reading the Past. Loads of great stuff there.

And that’s about it from me. I promise to give you the low down on editing next week (ahem – yeah, right, a craft post from me. Good grief.) And I don’t know about you, but I am positively on the edge of my seat in anticipation of our author interview tomorrow! Can’t wait!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Epic Fail

Over in the Books and Writers Forum there is a thread discussing the infamous 10 rules of writing. These “rules” are often followed in an attempt to learn the craft of writing, to produce a superior product, if you will. Some people pointed out that those rules had a purpose because they’d seen newbie writers break them and to disastrous results. Which got me thinking… is it really so bad to fail?

I remember my first bike, a Pepto Bismol pink Huffy. That Huffy was totally hooked –silver streamers on the handlebars, white basket with hot pink plastic daisies on it, and the ultimate of cushy banana seats. It was awesome. Except I didn't know how to ride. Slight problem easily remedied by learning how to ride a bike. Now my father, who was never known for his common sense, decided the best way was to put me on the bike and put the bike on a hill… Let’s just say, me and the rose bushes, we danced that day.

Scratched, bruised and thoroughly ticked off, I vowed never to ride again. Only there were my friends doing lovely figure eights, zooming down hills, executing bunny-hops, and basically living it up in riding Shangri-La. I had to try again. This time with a very nice and sensible babysitter (sorry, Dad). We went slowly, going up and down a level street. Yeah, I fell over, and yeah it took time, but eventually I was flying free. Eventually me and my Huffy became one. Ten years later, I danced with a car. Same thing. Practice, learn, become one. :)

Writing is very similar. Regardless of whether a newbie writer follows rules or not, there is going to be failure. Suckage will ensue for most of us. People will say you have to learn the rules to break them. But what rules? Elmore Leonard’s arbitrary self-serving cannon? Nope. Basic grammar? That’s a start. But what I think really teaches a person to write is experience. We write, we learn. Within that learning curve is failure. Epic failure, sometimes. We learn what works for us, and what does not. We find our own style and our own groves.

It isn't about "never" do this or that. There are awesome writers out who don't follow Leonard's rules. Of course, people will say, but it works for them because they are so good. Right. Great logic. The reason it works for them comes down to experience, confidence in their own style, and natural talent.

The fact is I can go out buy Boy Meets Grill and follow a recipe step by step, but I am never going to do it as well as Bobby Flay. But that is a story for another day.

Until then, go throw yourself out on that ledge, dance with the rose bushes, or not. Fail, succeed, anything can happen. But don’t let someone else’s rules scare you out of experimenting and finding your own voice. That’s just simply NO fun. :)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A few announcements and a big SQWEEEE!!!

All righty, then! First up, the serial.

It appears that we're going to go and find this Ripper and see whodunit. Which means I've got to get my butt in gear and follow Jen's most awesome installment of our series. Ack!

And now, for the BIG SQWEEEEEE!!!

We ladies at ATWOP are super hugely excited announce that we have secured an interview with one supremely talented, award-winning, and -may I say- very generous author. Ack! I can't tell you how much of a treat this was. Hmm... I'm thinking WHO it is will be a surprise for now. Yes, I'm that sick. Mruwahahaha. But, just to be fair, I'll give you all some clues. Leave your guess in the comments section of this post and you get a chance to win one of said writer's books. :)

And the clues:

1. Two of the ATWOP ladies have her listed as one of our favorite writers in our profiles.
2. She's won a RITA.
3. She writes historicals
4. She has a new book coming out

You have until Friday to guess. Winer will be drawn by random number pick.

ETA: The actual interview will be put up on Friday. YAY!!


To add to Claire's wonderful list from yesterday -- and quite frankly, there's a lot of overlap already (g) -- I wanted to share some of my favorite blog haunts. Ummm, perhaps this is a large number, perhaps it is a small number -- I really have no way of gauging, so you tell me. I follow about 100 blogs. :) Most are writing pals at various stages in their writing journeys. Some are people who have NO clue who I am. All I know is they are a rather prolific bunch. If I leave messages unread even for a couple of days, I usually have to call it good and mark all messages read because I'm simply unable to catch up.

Like Claire, I follow most of the web-present agents -- Nathan Bransford, Kristin Nelson, Janet Reid... I, of COURSE, follow Maureen Johnson's blog, though I still haven't learned the fine art of Twitter. I don't know what a retweet?? (if that's even what it's called) is... I don't know that I'll ever know what a retweet is... Perhaps one of you can explain this to me. And if needed, provide me with the correct term. Yes, I have tweeted before...but I just don't get it. (g)

Anywho...on to some of my faves.

By far one of my favorite finds of All Time is J.A. Konrath's blog, A Newbie's Guide to Publishing. He's the author of the Jack Daniels mystery series. I enjoy his books, but his blog is FANTASTIC. If you want to hear it straight from an author in the mix of things, trying to survive in this crazy industry, read and enjoy. He's not going to sugarcoat anything. At the same time, he has some of the best damn advice I've ever read. I leave his blog PUMPED UP to write.

For whatever reason, I follow a gazillion YA authors. I don't know if it's because they simply have a better web presence..or okay, I'm just drawn to them a little more because they're such a whacky bunch. Either way, these are some of my favorites.

MAUREEN JOHNSON, people. Have we made it clear she's completely made of awesome yet? :) She hasn't blogged in a while *sob* which probably means she's cheating on us all over at Twitter. Gabnabbit. I may have to go over there now.

Libba Bray. Why? Because she cracks me up. AND she keeps it real about how damn scary it is to be a writer. It's quite reassuring to hear a Bestselling Author freak out from time to time about how no one is going to like her books. Reminds me that we're not alone in these insecurities.

Natalie Whipple's blog, Between Fact and Fiction. Natalie is a recent find of mine -- found her through Nathan Bransford, who reps her. She's a dynamo. I seriously have no idea how she has the time or energy to whip out book after book the way she does. Even though she's unpublished thus far, she has some seriously kick-ass writing tips and advice about this and that. Plus she cracks me up. (Do you sense a theme here?)

THE VLOG BROTHERS 2.0!!! No questions, just go! John Green...Hank Green. One a YA author (who is completely made of awesome), the other his fantastically wonderfully funny brother who totally rocks. They decided to communicate through video blogs for An Entire Year -- It's hilarious. Check it out. Or John Green's blog, Sparks Fly Up.

And lastly, another super funny YA author, Courtney Summers. Why? Because her Lady Ga-Ga obsession fairly cracks me up. And she writes some pretty kickass books.

Go forth and enjoy!

Monday, February 22, 2010

The wide world around us

I'm taking a slightly different tack today, and I'm not talking about the actual process of writing at all (despite the fact that I'm positively *quivering* with new plot ideas as each brick falls neatly into place in my new draft!).

Today I'm going to start a long-overdue trend and tell you a little about other sites that I like to visit. Some are great resources for writing and researching, some are inspiring authors and interesting agents, some are writing buddies, and some are just plain entertaining. These links will be going in our sidebar, and the others will be adding their own haunts to the list.

If you're not on the list, feel free to leave us a comment or drop us an email and let us know what we should be reading! We're always on the hunt for great sites, and we're excited to share our favourites with you.

So, without further ado, here are some of the places I hang out (by no means a complete list). And in the interests of clarity, I should say that sadly, not one single individual or group here has handed over the moolah for my ringing endorsement, nor has even asked to appear here. Most of them probably don't even know I exist *sob*. Ahem. Anyway!

Authors and agents

First up, I should point you in the direction of Best Author Blogs at the Internet Writing Journal, a site which lists the blogs of many published writers, plus a whole lot of other resources. The website that houses the list has many interesting articles.

Now, onto the select individuals whose blogs I actually read on a regular basis.

My first stop every day is Maureen Johnson's Twitter feed. She's a YA author who I discovered via our own Jen, and she cracks me up. She's hilarious. And her site also includes a blog in which she gives good writing advice. Love her.

For something completely different, another author I love is better known for his television work- super-chef and super-snark Anthony Bourdain. He blogs about travel, food and writing- three of my biggest passions- and he's articulate and fascinating, just like he is on TV. Go here and see what I mean.

For brilliant writing advice, it's impossible to go past Joanna Bourne, author of Regency romance novels The Spymaster's Lady and My Lord and Spymaster.

The original blogging author Neil Gaiman frequently makes excellent points and is entertaining at the same time.

Diana Gabaldon, who has sold well over 100 million books in her Outlander series, muses on writing and life at her blog and website. If you like her writing, you'll enjoy her blogging. And if you haven't read her books yet, then go get your hands on the first one and you'll never look back.

The first agent I'll mention is Miss Snark, the anonymous blogger who, for a couple of fabulous years, both terrorised and thrilled writers everywhere with her direct and deadly advice on the process of querying and publication. There are many guesses as to the real identity of Miss Snark, some now more accepted than others, but she gave up the blog a couple of years back. Thank goodness it's all still there (for now), because... well, read it and see. I defy you to get through a week of posts without laughing out loud at least three times.

A current favourite agent blogger is the lovely Nathan Bransford, who on top of giving great advice is also kind of hot, plus he runs frequent contests which are insanely popular. What's not to love?

Another of those excellent blogging agents is Kristin Nelson, who in addition to having two authors on the NY Times bestseller list right this second just happens to represent our very own Kristen.

Writing and publishing resources

The first thing in my mind when I consider fantastic resources for writers is the CompuServe Books and Writers Forum. Besides being the place where the four of us originally met, it's a haven for writers and readers alike, and a place where you can go to ask any imaginable research question, participate in insightful and interesting exercises (*cough* which Jen and I run), debate politics, discuss favourite books, or just plain hang out with kindred spirits.

Another great resource for writers- a rather indispensable one, actually- is the Preditors and Editors site. This one provides all kinds of amazing resources, for example sample query letters, but is best known for listing dodgy agents and operators who play on fledgling writers' insecurities and naivete to make a buck. Check here first before you send out your work.

Speaking of sending out your work, when you get to that stage, one of the best known resources is the Writers Market website and book. This is a fee-based service- as in, you have to either buy the book or join up as a member- but it has the details of pretty much every agent out there, and provides an easy submission process for many. I haven't used the site personally, but I do have an ancient copy of Writers Market, circa 1998, and the information in it is gold.

There are any number of Facebook groups out there which you can join to commune with other writers- but I'm not going to list any here since I don't participate in those.

Lastly a slightly amusing one- the Lulu Titlescorer, which is based on analysis of the titles of fifty years' worth of bestselling novels and gives you a rating for the probable success of your novel's title. For your entertainment, here's how we rate at the moment:

Between the Lines- 44.2% (phooey!)
Faking It- 20.1% (double phooey!)
West of the Moon- 22.9% (triple phooey!!)
Blood of the Heart- 10.2% (well, I do NOT know about all this!)

Will Lulu be right, or wrong?? Stay tuned to find out :) (hey, we ALL know the answer to that one already)

I think that's probably enough for now, though it doesn't nearly encompass everything I intended to put in this post. Besides, writing this post is taking up time in which I wish to be writing approximately 25,000 new words (I'm so, so excited about a few new plot twists I've discovered that for the first time in a while I just want to write ALL NIGHT). So, coming up sometime soon I shall continue with:

Friends who write
Research sources
And probably much more...

I'll add these links to the sidebar in the coming week, and the others will blog about their favourite places to visit sometime soon, too.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've gotta get back to work.

Friday, February 19, 2010


Howdy all…well, it's a week late, but I made this week's installment an extra long one to try to make up for it. I have a million and one disclaimers about how I'm not a historical writer…how I suck at research…how I can't do this or that. I'll save it. It's late. (g) I just hope you enjoy it. I'll admit it was a bit disturbing to write, but yet, fun. J

It really isn't all that graphic, but this installment does have some rather disturbing subject matter. If you get squeamish around violence and what not, you might want to skip this.

If that isn't the case…erm…Enjoy! (g)


For the first time Simon felt a moment of indecision. Too many had been lost already. Would it be left to him to make the final call between life and death for even more of his friends? The thought sent a shiver of fear through him and he took a step towards Samantha—Sam—needing nothing more than a quiet moment of reassurance. To feel her close. He stopped. She too was there, waiting. Needing him to decide in which direction they should go.

"Very well, we shall…"

He clamped his fists tight and turned away from her then. Her wide-eyed, gentle expression. Her innocence. She couldn't understand—couldn't begin to fathom—just what saving Frank might cost them all. What it had already cost him.

Simon bypassed the tea and grabbed a decanter of whiskey, pouring himself a solid three fingers and downing it in a quick, angry gulp. It burned a path down to his stomach but didn't succeed in filling the emptiness that resided there now. Livy. For just one moment he allowed the thought of her to overpower his senses. Just one moment before he clamped down on the memory hard, forcing it away from himself.

Brahman, Midnight, Clarissa, Nemo. Not all would survive this night. For them, he must be strong.

He placed the stopper back on the glass decanter and turned to face his comrades, his defenses securely in place again.

They hadn't even noticed the shift.

"We shall go to Frank—Sam and I alone. Brahman, Midnight—you know what needs to be done."


Sam glanced between Simon and Brahman. The latter's face remained expressionless, but there was tension in his shoulders that belied his otherwise calm exterior. Whatever it was Simon had ordered, it would come at a dear cost to them all. Midnight, though outwardly bedraggled, also calmly accepted whatever Simon was ordering, casting her eyes downward and for once remaining silent. A shiver of apprehension slid along Sam's spine.

"What's going on?" she asked, darting her eyes back and forth between the trio. No one would answer. Simon simply took her arm to lead her into a hallway that was dimly lit by small sconces spaced along the walls. She held back, but his grip tightened, forcing her to follow. At the last moment, she twisted in his grasp and took one final look into the library. Brahman stood there. Their eyes met and he raised one large hand in farewell. Midnight, she saw…Midnight was crying.


"What the hell is going on?" Sam demanded at Simon's back. He kept a steady pace, dragging her up a steep flight of steps, around corners, through rooms she barely had time to register. Her breath seared through her chest and she pulled back, trying to slow him down even a fraction.

"We haven't time to waste," he said, guiding them down yet another dimly lit corridor. "Cooperate or I shall be forced to carry you."

Sam had visions of making a stand—of forcing him to tell her everything that was going on. But from the look on Brahman's face, and the shocking tears she had seen Midnight shed, this was no time for such questions. She reluctantly allowed him to pull her through a house which seemed to go on forever. Finally, he pulled her through one last doorway. The room itself was quite plain…lots of open floor, very little ornamentation. It took a minute for her eyes to hone in on all the weapons hanging on the back wall. Swords of all shapes and sizes, all kinds of foreign looking weapons she wouldn't even begin to know the names of. It was a deadly arsenal that left her feeling more than uncomfortable.

Simon quickly loaded up at a back cabinet. When he was finished, he turned to her, hesitant.

Sam didn't need to be a mind reader to know which direction his thoughts were headed. "You volunteered to take me even though you lost…her."

For whatever reason, Sam couldn't bring herself to say Livy's name. Not to Simon. And not when she saw such fear in his eyes. He was scared to take her. She didn't know whether to feel flattered or insulted. In the end, she supposed she felt a little of both. Would he care so much if Livy weren't a part of her now?

"We should go," Simon said, not meeting her eyes. Perhaps Simon knew her thoughts, too.

Despite wanting to trust him, Sam couldn't help the vein of fear that ran through her. "What if I don't survive?"

Simon took a quick step towards her, shaking his head. "I won't let anything happen to you."

His blue eyes burned with such intensity that Sam very nearly turned away. She wanted to believe him, but he had lost Livy—a woman she suspected he would've died for—and who was she to him in the end? Just a vessel for another woman's soul.

"I won't let anything happen to you," he repeated, moving even closer. When he put his arms around her, she didn't shrink away.


The first thing Sam noticed was the smell: an oppressive mixture of human waste and filth that crowded into her throat to steal her breath away. A reflexive gag spasmed through her and she turned on her side, choking on the taste.

The second thing she noticed was that she was lying on the ground, and Simon…Simon wasn't with her.

Sam jerked into a sitting position and blinked through teary eyes. The abrupt motion only intensified her need to retch, but she swallowed hard and forced herself to stand. A wave of hysteria threatened to rush through her. Wherever she was, she was alone. The small room in which she found herself was windowless and dark—she couldn't detect even the slightest play of air moving throughout it. Nothing to break up the stagnation that lingered over it like sickness. And that's what this room was, she realized. Sickness. Death.

"I'm here," Simon said. A hand brushed hers in the darkness. Forgetting her resolve to keep her distance, Sam propelled herself towards his voice. Strong arms hesitated before encircling her waist to hold her close.

What if he had lost her? The question went unvoiced, yet hung there between them. The trip had been a study of disorientation. All flashes of color and the sensation of floating outside herself. Only Simon had been there to anchor her back down.

"Where are we?" Sam said after a moment, covertly wiping her eyes on her sleeve and stepping out of Simon's arms. A flush rose up her neck. She hadn't meant to appear so weak in front of him, but the trip had rattled her to the core. Then to find herself alone in the darkness… "Is Frank here?"

"Of course."

She ignored the hard edge of anger and impatience beneath his words. "What is this place?"

A spark ignited in the darkness, forming between Simon's cupped hands. They parted, spreading the light into the furthest corners of the room. It was a small room, barely large enough to hold the worn bed and table pressed up against the far wall. She couldn't explain why, but Sam instinctively shrank away from that side of the room. Simon's eyes followed her, emotionless.

"W-what is this place?" she asked again.

Simon motioned at the bed with a quick jerk of his chin. "This is where it all began."

The door swung open then.


"Do not fear," Simon breathed into Sam's ear. She struggled against him like a cat scrabbling to get away from water. She trembled in his arms and he held her tighter, pressing his lips to her temple, willing her to hear him. "They cannot see us."

Sam glanced up at him, her green eyes disbelieving. But when the man guided a young woman past them without taking notice of either, she at last took in a steady breath. "Neat trick," she muttered, fighting hard to hide the tremor in her voice. Simon would give anything to spare her the next few moments, but there was simply no other way to impress upon her the urgency of their mission. She had to see. To know what they faced.

"Who are they?" Sam asked, taking a hesitant step away from him.

"Have you no idea?" Simon asked, flicking his eyes over her, measuring for a reaction.

Sam studied the pair, almost as though she was willing herself to find the correct answer. To please him, perhaps? But Simon could see no recognition in her eyes.

"It's Lispenard," he said. "And she…one of many to have had the misfortune of meeting up with our good doctor."

Sam glanced at him sharply. "What?" But she knew. Simon thought deep down she knew. He watched as her eyes swept around the room, taking everything in. The dirty floor and linens covering the much abused bed…the stink in the air that no amount of fresh air would ever erase. And now, in the dim light cast by the small lamp on the bedside table, the dull instruments laid out for the doctor's use.

A shudder went through her. "He isn't going to…she isn't…" She choked on the word as the doctor led the young woman to the bed. She was plump and dirty—straight off the boat most likely. How quickly the men must have flocked to her, and she to them. All in the hope of finding comfort in this new world. "She isn't…." She stopped, unable to finish the question as Lispenard gently nudged the woman into a reclined position and lifted her skirts to reveal creamy white thighs that trembled beneath his hands.

The woman was muttering something under her breath in guttural, broken English. Her 'mon dieu's' were worthless at this point. Simon watched, hardening himself to the scene before him. Had he the ability to bend the past, he would gladly take the rusty implement Lispenard was contemplating with such fierce concentration and ram it into the man's skull. But it was not within his abilities to act. He was confined to mere observation. Now, that is. Things in the future were not nearly so…constrained.

"I can't watch this," Sam said, backing away and covering her face with her hands. Lispenard had placed a mesh mask over the woman's face, onto which he dripped liquid from a small brown bottle. Ether, most likely. The woman's eyelids fluttered and closed.

"You must step closer if you wish to see," Lispenard said, his voice rough with barely contained excitement. Sam flinched as though caught in a trap and turned terrified eyes to Simon. He shook his head and motioned behind her. She hadn't seen him yet, and the shock, Simon knew, would be immense.

He was barely more than a boy. Twelve…thirteen, perhaps..and rail thin. A shock of brown hair made him look wild—a young ruffian barely able to pass in civilized society. Simon knew his family took little notice of him, love being a luxury that did nothing to fill the hunger in their bellies. Most his age would eventually drift into a life of crime. It was their lot. Francis Tumblety, however, had stumbled into something of an altogether perverse nature.

"Frank," Sam gasped, taking in the younger version of her lover. She looked to Simon for an explanation. "Is Lispenard – is he Frank's father?"

Simon shook his head silently, and turned his attention back to the bed. Frank had moved into the dim circle of light, his eyes filled with so many emotions. A flash of excitement. Dread. Curiosity. Eagerness to please. To be a man in the eyes of this monster. There was also a deep rooted revulsion for what was transpiring. A small boy's fear and need to hide from the dark things of the world. It was upon this precipice all of their fates rested. Should the boy simply turn away—run away from this place. Leave before evil could settle into his soul, so many lives…so many souls could be saved. Perhaps even his own.

But alas, Simon knew such hopes were fruitless. What had transpired could not be changed.

"Mentor," Simon said quietly. "He is his mentor."

To her credit, Sam did not swoon or faint as so many women are wont to do. She simply moved in closer to him, placing her small hand in his and pressing her cheek into his shoulder. She watched, yes, but from the safety of his arms.


Dr. Lispenard ran a lucrative business servicing young females in the motherly way. Most were of the lower class, but occasionally a lady of higher breeding called upon his services. He enjoyed watching them grovel, lowering themselves down to his level despite their bred inclination to do otherwise. Some died, of course, but he could hardly be bothered by such trivialities. Occasionally, a particularly appealing specimen came his way and then his real amusements would begin.

This young Parisian slut was just such a creature. Oh how the boys must've loved burying themselves between her milky white thighs. She was simply delectable. Plump and rosy. He should like to amuse himself with her, but such games would have to wait. First he must deal with the boy.

"Come closer," he ordered, pleased to see the boy step forward immediately. He was scared, yes, but so desirous of pleasing him. He would do quite nicely, Dr. Lispenard thought. Just needs a bit of training up.

Lispenard's fingers danced over the various tools laid out on the bedside table. Glass rods, a large pair of sewing shears, hair tongs—even better when heated, though he had no fire upon which to do so now, several knives of varying lengths, and a rather large piece of scrap metal. Such an implement would shred such a petite young girl. The thought of the damage he could inflict curved his lips upwards. Yes, that would do nicely.

He took hold of the metal piece, but paused. "I think..." he said, as though the idea had just occurred to him in the moment, "Yes, I think it is time for you to prove your loyalty to me, Frank." And with that, Lispenard laid the tool in young Frank's hands.

The boy's hands shook, and his eyes couldn't position themselves on any one thing. They jumped from the girl lying on the bed, to the tool in his hands, to the doctor's face, and back again. "I-I—I can't," he managed at last, the metal bit falling from his hands to clatter onto the wooden floor.

Anger shot through Lispenard. Unable to control himself, he showed the boy the backside of his hand in a blow that left the boy's head spinning. "You miserable little fool. Is this how you repay my kindness to you?"

The boy, unable to control himself any longer, burst into tears. "I'm sorry, Doctor. I-I-I just can't . Please don't be angry."

The boy cowered away from him, which only stoked his anger to a heated pitch. Lispenard made to strike the boy again, but checked himself. He must be patient. The boy was young, perhaps, but he had been doing this for a very long time, and he knew young Francis Tumblety would be well worth the wait. Someday perhaps he would even rival the Master himself.

"Stop that crying this instant," Lispenard snapped. His patience could only be stretched so thin. If the boy insisted on mewling like a girl, he would flay him open like one. Young boys weren't nearly as satisfying as girls, but even they could provide some amusement. "Stand back and watch if that's all you can do."

The boy stifled his cries and stepped out of the circle of light to stand at the foot of the bed. Dr. Lispenard was glad to see that mixed in with the dread on the boy's face, there was also an eagerness to watch. A curiosity that left unchecked would perhaps dissipate over time. He, however, had no such plans. He tested the heft of the metal bit in his hands—the sheer size of it alone would destroy this young girl.

That thought alone brought back his good humor.


Sam was rendered speechless after it was over. Without a word, she turned from Simon and quietly retched in the corner of the room. He whispered no words of comfort to her—he didn't touch her or offer so much as a handkerchief with which to wipe her mouth. He simply let her be. Let her digest all that had just transpired.

It was too much, and she eventually succumbed and slid down the wall to stare numbly at the dead girl lying on the other side of the room.

"This is how it all started," she said, caught unaware by the wetness sliding down her cheeks. She brushed a rough hand across her face and steeled herself for whatever was next. This night was far from over. "Where did it end?"


The trip back—or rather, forward—this time was a mere blip on the screen. A couple of seconds of disorientation followed by a lightness in her limbs, and all came crashing back to reality again. This time she didn't pass out, and this time Simon was there when she same through, arms around her, holding on to her as though she were a precious artifact that might crumble in his hands should he hold her too tightly.

"This is it, isn't it?" she asked, searching his face. "This is what we came for?"

Simon nodded. "July 21st, 1865. The day Frank's father killed his mother."

This time they were outside, the night air cool against
their skin. A crescent moon hung in a sky dotted with silvery clouds that moved swiftly with the rising wind. Sam's hair whipped away from her face, a few strands catching in her mouth. She brushed them away, quickly realizing her hands were shaking. Whatever this night brought, whatever Simon had to show her, she didn't want to see it.

"This way," Simon said, motioning with his chin towards a four story building that was little more than a rotted frame held together by the sheer will of its tenants. Even from the street, Sam could hear the rising crescendo of an argument well underway. A man's voice blocking out the fainter, softer sound of a woman pleading for him to calm down. Brought up in a loving home, such sounds were foreign to Sam. A thing of fiction that had always seemed so distant. But this night was nothing if not a crash course on the uglier side of life. She hesitated, but followed behind Simon after a brief moment to steel herself for what was to come. Even then, there was no way she could've prepared herself for what the night would reveal.


Sam told herself the scene before her wasn't real. It was a movie. A stageplay. Actors putting on a show for a paying audience that wanted a lot of gore for their buck.

There was no way of telling what started it. Arguing was clearly a way of life for this family, as was a certain level of abuse. You could see it in the resigned faces of all the children—in the wife's face, even. This was a storm to weather, nothing more. Tomorrow they would go on living hand to mouth as they had the day before, and the day before that. Soon enough the tide of anger would recede. It always did.

The shock that registered in the woman's eyes when the father drew a knife and sank it into her soft belly spoke to the fact that the possibility of such an attack had never once entered the woman's mind. Frank's father was a wife-beater, yes. A bastard, yes. But a cold-blooded killer? No, even she, a woman who cowered at the sight of her own husband, had never dreamed he would dare take things that far.

Sam was all too aware of Frank as she watched this murder unfold. He stood with the other children, awkward in his body. He couldn't have been much older than he had been in Lispenard's little office—fifteen, max. But he was tall for his age and unable to control his awkward limbs. Large wrists stuck out of shirt sleeves that were much too short, and though his pants had obviously been let out several times, the bottom of his pant cuffs barely skimmed the top of his work boots.

An overwhelming urge to hold him to her breast and comfort him struck her. To take the memory of this night away from him forever. No child deserved such a fate as this. But even as the thoughts struck her, she couldn't help but notice the way he watched with a calm passivity. He was so like that young boy in Dr. Lispenard's office. Scared, yes, but also curious. He shushed the younger children and tried to comfort them as his mother lay dying on the floor, but his eyes kept wandering back to her prone body, eager to take in every last detail.

Whatever Dr. Lispenard had taught him, Frank had learned well.

"Let's go," she said. "I've seen enough."

Simon remained impassive, waiting, and she had no choice but to remain where she was, eyes averted to the sight before her.

The police weren't called, and no one came to the woman's rescue. Eventually Frank's father stumbled off into the night, no doubt in search of a drink. Tomorrow perhaps he would mourn his wife, but right now the call of liquor was much stronger. The children—those old enough to realize what was going on—cried themselves to sleep, not knowing what the future would bring. Soon Frank remained alone in the shabby room, hands tucked in his pockets as he studied his mother.

He bent over her, studying her face. The stab wound, every last detail. Eventually, when he'd gotten his fill of the scene, he stood up straight and spat in the dead woman's face. "Nasty slut. Had to get yourself knocked up again, didn't ya?"

Sam recoiled at the harshness of his voice. Frank had always been so good—so kind. She couldn't reconcile the two.

"You know what to do, don't you?" a voice said from the shadow of the front door. Sam hadn't noticed it had been left ajar. Dr. Lispenard stepped inside the apartment.

There was a moment of hesitation in Frank's eyes, Sam thought. A brief play of doubt that was gone almost as soon as it appeared. But it had been there. In the days to come, she would cling to the memory of it. Its presence meant there was hope for Frank. Some small outside chance that all would turn out okay in the end.

She clung to it like a talisman—even when Frank pulled out the knife in his mother's stomach and went to work on her womb.

(Dunt dun dun!!)