Thursday, November 21, 2013

From The Descent: The Peacock Blue Book of Secrets

The old man slipped the deerskin off, then held the book  up to examine it under the light from the candelabras. He flicked through the pages, pleased. At length he said to Adair, "It's a lovely book, wouldn't you agree? And a very rare one. Do you know the provenance of this time?"

Adair shook his head.

"If you did, doubtless you would've fought harder to keep it." The old man gave him a cunning smile, pleased with himself. "It was reportedly made by a French monk who was a secret devotee of the occult arts during the Capetian reign,  prior to the time of eleanor of Aquitaine. The Church has a very long and intimate relationship with the occult," he said, clearly delighting in his new possession the way a man might extoll the virtues of a superb wine or a good spouse to whoever is within earshot.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Book recommendations for Small Business Saturday

I was driven to write this blog by the confluence of two events: 

(1) November 30th is Small Business Saturday and thanks to author Sherman Alexie (of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, among other books) I--along with many other writers--will be posing as a bookseller at an independent bookstore. Mr. Alexie came up with the idea, which is being touted under the name "Indies First", as a way for authors to show their support for independent bookstores. My favorite independent bookstore in the area is One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia whom, you might remember, was visited by the President last Small Business Saturday. I, along with area authors Ellen Crosby, Tim Wendel, Kathleen McCleary (among others) will be on hand at the store to make recommendations to holiday shoppers. And:

(2) I realized I'd fallen down on the job with this blog. I blame the long run of Social Media News for Writers, which got me off using the blog as a place to let folks know what I've been up to--particularly readers of my books, which readers of Social Media News tended not to be. I've been posting excerpts from The Descent in anticipation of publication in January, but they seemed awfully lonely as I was putting up nothing inbetween times.

So here goes.

I've been thinking about what book recommendations I plan to make on Small Business Saturday. It's a little hard to plan for since there's no way to know what shoppers will be looking for. There are whole swathes of the book publishing landscape that I am unfamiliar with: I'm no good on biographies for instance, or cookbooks or picture books. Even with fiction, I tend to read the classics. In new books, I lean towards ones that are interesting from a writer's point of view: they handle some trick thing especially well, for example. I'm sure my tastes are more quirky than most people would like. Nevertheless, I think I'm prepared to recommend the following books (should anybody ask):

THE LAST POLICEMAN by Ben Winters: This book is very interesting from a writer's perspective: a young man is vaulted up the ranks of the police force to detective and faced with solving his first homicide--as an asteroid hurtles toward Earth, destined to wipe out mankind. It's part police procedural, part science fiction. The question for writers is how do you sustain the reader's interest in the murder mystery when you have something else so huge at stake in the story? The novel is really about why it's important to behave morally and honorably even in the face of annihilation. 

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson: Although this big bestseller hardly needs a recommendation from me, I would recommend this book to aspiring writers who want to know how to handle a fantastical or supernatural aspect (in this case, reincarnation) in a book that is, by every other measure, mainstream fiction. I "read" the audiobook version, which was a long, lovely way to take in the story. This is the UK cover so don't bother looking for it in your local shops (unless you happen to be in the UK).

THE LOST BOOKS OF THE ODYSSEY by Zachary Mason: A collection of short stories that are all variations on the stories in the Odyssey. It's retelling after retelling, all slightly different, showing every possible mood and thought Odysseus could've possibly had (hmm, I'm noticing a theme here, with Life After Life), a real tour de force of writing, and was rightly a NYT bestseller and award winner.

THE ACCURSED by Joyce Carol Oates: This book broke my aversion to Oates. Up until The Accursed, I never could settle into one of her books despite (ahem) being told on more than one occasion that there was a similarity between our writing styles. It's a high-wire act of a book, fearlessly written. It has everything in it: real history, good ghost stories, vampires, love stories. It's hard to write a good Gothic without veering into campiness but The Accursed manages to pull it off. And big fat props for the twist at the very end. I don't like this cover as much as the one on the hardcover and I'm not sure why the publisher switched except maybe to drive home the point that it has vampires in it.

That's far from the complete list. I'm sure I'll try to get someone to buy Sheri Holman's The Dress Lodger or Emma Donoghue's Slammerkin, two of my favorite historicals and books that I have recommended time and time again, and probably will until I die.

Okay, that's enough from me. What about you? What books are you getting for friends and loved ones this holiday season? 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

From The Descent: Elena


Venice, 1262 AD

Though Adair knew he shouldn’t encourage her, he felt pity for the girl. At his positive response, her pretty face lit up and she dropped her gloveless hand on his, so their skin touched for the first time. She might as well have set his hand on fire. After a momentary dizziness, he recalled his earlier decision—to never take a wife and be married instead to science—and opened his mouth to speak. It would be caddish to mislead her.

“Elena, there is something I must tell you, however—”

Her dark eyes widened at his words. “Oh no. You are already betrothed! Is that what you were going to say?” She clutched his arm, this time digging her fingers into his sleeve.

“No, Elena. It’s not that, not at all.” The emotion in her voice caught him off guard. With Elena, his head was clouded. She was a thing of both extraordinary liveliness and tempting softness, from the glossy dark curls on her head to the organdy tucked along the neckline of her gown. The scent of warm lavender oil rose from her bare throat. She was a beautiful little present, wrapped in silk and lace.

“Then there is no problem if you were to kiss me.” She smiled at her own daring. She lifted her chin and closed her eyes, clearly expecting him to take up her offer. He tingled with fear and desire. He had little experience kissing in passion aside from a few experiments with his cousins back in Hungary. The few whores he had known did not expect, or even particularly want, to be kissed. He tried to put these thoughts out of his mind as he looked at Elena. Why not kiss the girl? They were alone, no chaperones hovering at their side. The bishop’s footsteps echoed down the hall, but he was still a distance away.

The seconds ticking by, Adair closed his eyes and kissed her.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

From The Descent: His Own Sleeping Beauty

From The Descent:

"He looked down on Lanore, laid out like his own Sleeping Beauty, fully clothed, her blond curls spread over the pillow like twisted ribbons, her pink lips moistly parted. He watched her bare sternum rise and fall. The edge of her bra was just visible under the neckline of her dress, tempting him to touch it, to finger the lace and the soft flesh under it. She was achingly molestable."