Friday, November 14, 2014

This week in obsessions

















Just in time for the holidays: I may do all my shopping on The Grommet this year. Whimsical and clever gifts for all your whimsical and clever friends and family members. Unfortunately the very clever Sorta notebook is out of stock until 2015. It's a notebook that lets you rearrange the order of its pages--a cross between a three-ring binder and a Moleskin. I try to keep a notebook for each writing project I'm working on, a place to work out plot problems and keep track of the color of each character's eyes, that sort of thing, but as you can imagine, inspiration doesn't always come in sequential order and so I'm forever flipping back and forth through the pages. I'm dying to try out the Sorta to see if it might be the answer to my problem.

(I am looking for suggestions for holiday gifts! Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comment section.)
















I love the HBO series Game of Thrones and so I find it amusing that the Turkish military is banning its troops from watching the show. This show is too intense for Turkish soldiers to watch? Like they can't sort out the issues presented on the show for themselves?














Speaking of HBO, did you watch the miniseries Olive Kitteridge? I did and I loved it (so did this woman on Jezebel and she explains why here). It reminded me of my childhood growing up in New England, the hardbitten unapologetically curt people, the accents, plaid car coats. I made hot dogs and beans for dinner tonight after seeing the characters have it for dinner on the series. Only I didn't remember the story all that distinctly which means I will need to reread the book.














Recipe of the week: No, not hot dogs and beans. Even I can make that without a recipe. This week's recipe is pickled cabbage slaw from Smitten Kitchen. The reason I picked it is because it is on the healthy side (cruciferous vegetables like cabbage are very good for you), and we're about to enter the long season of bad eating what with Thanksgiving and the holidays. And because I am half-Asian and like all Asians, I grew up on pickled things. I had the pickled kind of coleslaw for the first time a few years back at a deli in NYC and you know, it's better than the mayonnaise kind. So whip up a batch of this to eat with your sandwiches at lunch instead of potato chips and feel good about yourself.






















Does this look like a fun place to read a book? (Thanks, Bookshelf Porn!)

Friday, November 7, 2014

This week in obsessions













Funny, last week's posts got quite a few more hits than the previous weeks. . . I wonder if it's because it had "IEEE" in the text? or big data analytics? If that's not your cup of tea, here is this week's recipe: Pumpkin Cheesecake (recipe from Food52, one of my new favorite food sites because I like to give edible gifts for the holidays).



















Book of the week: Michel Faber wrote The Crimson Petal and the White, a historical novel set in Victorian England. It came out about the time I was in grad school and working in earnest on the book that would become The Taker. I had an assignment for class to interview an author, and after a reading at a bookstore that no longer exists in downtown DC, Michel and his wife Eva kindly agreed to be my guinea pigs. We went to Kramerbooks so he could sign stock and then we got some cake and sat in Dupont Circle and I interviewed him. His wife Eva stands out in my memory, not only because she was obviously so proud of him and so supportive, but because she was just a wonderful person and after we parted, there were actually many times I thought of Eva and wondered how she was (I, too, am the wife of an artist, though in my case, a musician). Faber's latest book, The Book of Strange New Things, just came out and he's saying that this is the last novel he will ever write because Eva passed away this past summer. Having met her and seen the two of them together, I can completely understand why.










Thursday, October 30, 2014

This week in obsessions

The only reason there's a post this week is because I have insomnia. I was at the IEEE Big Data Analytics conference this week and am wiped out, but apparently not exhausted enough to sleep through the night.

















Are vampires over? This question has been weighing on my mind because I'm working on a vampire novel at the moment. (The first chunk is with the literary agent right now. As we speak.) Anyway, Anne "truly queen of the damned" Rice just put out a new vampire Lestat novel and if vampires are not dead to you, you can read an excerpt here (via TIME). And if you need more reading suggestions, The Guardian runs debut author Lauren Owen's list of the ten best vampire novels.



Twitter + fiction: RL Stine (of Goosebumps fame) wrote a short story on Twitter and you can read the entire thing here thanks to GalleyCat. I write about it because (a) he is an awesome guy. Maybe funnier than anyone you know. And I can brag that I was at his house once. It, too, was awesome. And (b) it is harder to write a Twitter story than you might think. It could actually be a good writing exercise. I know of what I speak: I was part of the Twitter Fiction Festival earlier this year and you can read my story here.  Another interesting example is Joe Hill's Twittering from the Circus of the Dead (which, naturally, sold film rights. Only Joe Hill could sell movie rights to a story told in tweets.) 



















I would so be there: the Metropolitan Museum of Art just opened an exhibit of mourning dress. What are you waiting for?


Friday, October 24, 2014

This week in obsessions














"There is no psychology in fairy tales," says novelist Philip Pullman. And many modern stories reference fairy tale tropes. A fine review in the Guardian of a new book about fairy tales, Maria Warner's Once Upon A Time.


















If you ever studied psychology as an undergraduate, you will probably be entranced by Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves -- particularly if you are of a certain age, when the kind of behavioral studies like the one described in the book were taking place. Nominated for the Man Booker (and probably other prizes to boot).

Again from the Guardian: this article about an author who stalked an onliner reviewer generated a lot of discussion in book circles on Twitter and beyond.













Recipe of the week: This is one of my three favorite dessert recipes, cream cheese pound cake. I'm not a pound cake person by nature, I like my desserts more complicated and with more variety in texture, but I love this cake because it stands head and shoulders above other pound cakes. It's rich, simple yet with great depth of flavor and stands well on its own or as the background for fruit toppings, chocolate sauce, whipped cream, toasted almonds--you name it. Recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

What will you be doing for Halloween? We'll probably be watching Ghost Hunters

Events: For NaNoWriMo I'll be presenting a workshop on putting conflict in your fiction on November 2 at 2:30 pm, Gum Spring Library in Stone Ridge, Virginia. I've taught this workshop at several writers conferences and gotten good feedback, so I think you'll find it worth your while.



Friday, October 17, 2014

This week in obsessions







Hey, if you were intrigued by last week's mention of Susanna Clarke's classic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, they're doing a reread of it over at Tor.com























Because if that picture doesn't say 'delicious' and 'autumn' then I don't know what does. (From Honestly Yum via Remodelista) And suggestions for putting together the perfect cheese platter from Real Simple and The Food Network.

Where will the next generation of writers come from? Possibly YouTube, as book publishers continue to chase authors with ready-made platforms.







What's your decorating style? It appears mine is "darkly romantic" (go figure). If this sounds like your taste as well, you might want to check out this article at Houzz.











If you're like me, you want to make your house as efficient as possible. As the husband and I are contemplating a big house remodel, I gobble up articles like these about maximizing storage. A whole week's worth of ideas for architectural storage via Remodelista.



















Ready to go all Ghost Hunters in honor of Halloween? Here's a list of twenty haunted houses in America--surely there's at least one near you.

Friday, October 10, 2014

This week in obsessions

What's caught my eye this week:


What I'm reading this week: The Secret Place by Tana French. Not because I'm a fan of mysteries and police procedurals but because I'm a fan of hers. But I'm also reading Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke, the early-2000s fantasy classic. I started reading it about a year after it came out, didn't get very far for reasons I don't remember, and shelved it. Somehow managed not to give it away in the intervening years. Picked it off the shelf during a night of insomnia and enjoyed it so much that it kept me up later than I wanted. Also, the awesome Keith Donohue's latest novel, The Boy Who Drew Monsters, is just out and is getting rave reviews. Just thought you might like to know.







What we're eating: Pasta with eggplant and tomatoes sauteed until meltingly tender. Yes, please. Get your fall veggies at your local farmers market. Recipe from NY Times.

What is he? 50 Shades of Grey
Not too early to start thinking of costumes for Halloween. Don't forget Pinterest. Clever ones, funny ones too.

Don't we all dream of having a cozy nook in our homes, someplace we can escape to? Funny how often a nook includes books. Some great nooks in this article in Houzz.








Where I'm at: I'm at Capclave, the Washington DC-area science fiction and fantasy convention this weekend (October 10-12). Capclave is focused on literature, not media, so if you like sci fi/fantasy books you should be here.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

This week in obsessions

Going to try something new, a weekly link wrap-up of things that have come across my radar during the week, in an attempt to rejuvenate the blog. It will include things bookish and not-so-bookish. Let me know what you think in the comments.

What I'm Reading This Week: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell gives his take on the soul's place in the universe. The link will take you to The New Yorker's review. I'm a huge fan of Mitchell but haven't made up my mind on this book. However, he has such an amazing imagination that the book is helping me to push the limits of my own imagination as I work on my next novel.

The iconic house from Gone With the Wind is getting a second life, thanks to a Civil War historian. (via ElleDecor.com)












Are you a design maven and live in the Hudson Valley area in New York? You might want to go to Field + Market next weekend, a modern craft fair.












Fall, my favorite time of year, is coming to this corner of Maryland. Perfect time to make these Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls, recipe courtesy of my favorite food blog, Smitten Kitchen.














Speaking of fall, next weekend I'll be at Capclave, the annual conference of the Washington Science Fiction Association. The wonderful wonderful Holly Black is one of the guests of honor; Paolo Bacigalupi is another.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why does social commentary frequently bring out mob mentality?

A few years ago, my work involved analyzing social media. This was in the early days of social media, when new social platforms (Facebook, Twitter et al) were seemingly springing up overnight. The very common, almost throwaway criticism of social media--usually made by people who spent little to no time on social media--was that it was all so nasty, all that flaming and trolling, so much negativity. As a researcher, that was all part of the environment and I didn't think much about it (or tried not to) anymore  than a zoologist notices the rotten banana peels on the ape house floor.

Then I also became a novelist, my first novel coming out in 2011, when social media and the book publishing business were just getting to know each other and working that relationship hotly. In short order, I got to see what it was like when anyone and everyone had an opinion about your work and the ability to voice it. Ouch.

But after a short while, I learned to ignore it, to stop reading the reviews. You thank people when you find out they've said something nice about you but you learn not to click on links that will only take you to someplace you don't want to go.

Because I've trained myself not to look at the comments that follow a blog post or to dig into forums, I was a bit taken aback by this article in ELLE DECOR, "The Ugly Side of Beautiful Rooms: Design in the Age of Internet Comments". The sub-title says it all: "You'd never walk into someone's home and say 'vomit'. So why is this happening so often online?"

To be honest, my first reaction was deja vu. If you think "vomit" is a harsh reaction from a stranger to someone's hard work (in this case, interior design), try reading some book blogs. Try being pilloried by a reader who has obviously skimmed your novel at best and seems to be channeling another review (a phenomenon that was even mentioned in David Mitchell's latest novel, The Bone Clocks, in which one of his characters, a novelist, sniffs that reviewers in the internet age just seem to google what others have written about a book and sample liberally. If you don't think this happens, you aren't paying close attention. Talk about mob mentality.)

My second, more measured reaction, was surprise. Yes, surprise to hear that there are still people who practice widespread negativity in online forums. That's not naivete on my part; there have been several recent studies on how hopeful, cheerful, optimistic items are circulated more on social media than negative ones. People don't tend to share, retweet or otherwise spread negative items with their social networks, and from a commercial (non-personal) perspective, that's the whole point of social networking. People tend to drop or shy away from someone's vitriol-spewing diatribe. The picture that gets shared a million times on Facebook is not of someone stoving in another person's head with a shovel.

What's the point of this post? I'm afraid it's fairly pointless because you can't say anything definitive about online behaviors. Ten years (roughly) into social media and people are still pointlessly vicious to each other while at the same time 'liking' and sharing simple-minded photos of kittens smiling or babies dressed up as flowers. You'd think these can't be the same people doing both these things and you'd be right and wrong. In the end, social media is about human behavior. It's remarkable in that it makes observing that behavior easier and readily countable. But it doesn't appear to change human behavior, at least not yet.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"My Writing Process" blog tour

I was asked by my friend, author Alia Yunis, to participate in a blog tour of authors sharing their writing processes. I'm honored to a part of this tour. At any live event I've done people--whether aspiring writers themselves or avid readers--seem most curious about the writing process (how do you get your ideas? how to you go from concept to a full-blown novel?) If this describes you, I hope you'll take a look at the posts by all the writers participating in the blog tour. I'm sure we'll all pick up some valuable tips along the way. (And you can start here and follow the links: Alia's post; Myfanwy Collins' post; and Patricia Dunn's post.)

I met Alia at the Squaw Valley Conference of Writers. The conference organizers invite alumni to come back to the conference to do a reading after they've been published. Alia and I attended Squaw during different years but we did our debut reading the same summer and this is where I got to meet her. When I first arrived, everyone kept mistaking me for Alia. Okay, our first names are similar and we're both women, and we're both on the short side and have dark hair. But that's where the similarities end. She is younger and prettier than I am and has a bubbly, fun and wildly creative personality. I honestly can't imagine how anyone who knew Alia would mistake her for me. She is enormous fun to be around especially if you are a creative person. We were roommates, too, which gave me time to get to know her. I love getting to spend time with Alia but since she lives in the UAE, where she teaches at university, those times are all too rare.

Okay, let's get to the questions . . .

What are you working on?

I handed in a manuscript to my agent recently and so am shifting between ideas, trying to decide which will be the next project, while knowing that once notes come back from the agent I'll probably spend a few months (at least) tied up with that. I'm thinking about a rewrite of a book I was working on before the one I just handed in, a historical fantasy that has some knotty problems to be worked out. But I also had an idea for something new and I'm working on the outline and writing some scenes to try it on for size. Since I much prefer creating fresh to rewriting, I find I'm being drawn to the new project . . .

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

I'm going to give an oblique answer to this question. I was a music journalist many years ago and noticed that bands (especially new, young bands) used to hate it when I asked them about their genre. "Don't label me," they seemed to be saying; judge us on our own merits. Which is all well and good--we all want to think as artists that we're doing something fresh and unique--but at the same time, it's really important for people to be able to quickly grasp what you're about so they can determine whether it's something they think they'll like. So being part of a genre is not a bad thing.

When my first book came out I bristled at the question of genre because I felt my book was different from most of the books it typically got compared to. Now I see that this resisting categorization hurt me.  So now I embrace my genre, though I think it's a pretty broad genre. (I'd put Diana Gabaldon in there as well as Audrey Niffenegger, and Anne Rice, too, though lots of people probably wouldn't think of those three writers in the same breath). So, how are my books different? I think all our books are different in some way. The Taker Trilogy put the reader very close to the narrator; "so much emotion" was how one reader described it or, as another reader put it, "All the feels!" I think the next book will be a little different from the Taker books in that it might not take the reader on such an emotional rollercoaster ride.

Why do you write what you do?

It's the way my brain works, I'm afraid. The book I just handed in is a historical, no fantasy, and I have to say that in some ways it was a much easier book to write. More straightforward. But since then, the stories I've been able to think of all have fantastical elements in them. I must be trying to escape from the constraints of life.

How does your writing process work?

Usually, I come up with the premise and broad outline for a story quickly and start throwing down chapters, broad brush, in sequence.  At this stage, it's like a strawman. It might not even have much personality. The true nature of the characters and all the deepening and enriching comes in when I go back and expand those chapters. Anyway, that's how it usually happens but the book I'm working on now is being written out of sequence. I like to mix things up for the fun of it, and to keep my writing fresh.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Ebooks on your desktop

The vast majority of you are not going to need this post. I'm writing it because every time an author (ahem, like me) lets her readers know that the ebook version of one of her books is on sale, there are always a few number of people who will write that they'd like to take advantage of the sale but that they don't have an ereader. 

The fact is, you don't need an ereader to read ebooks.

So for that tiny minority who think apps are restricted to smart phones and tablets, I'm going to post instructions on how you can read ebooks on your computer:

You download the desktop app of an ereader program (if there is one) to your computer and then you can use the ereader's store to purchase books and open the application on your computer to read them. For instance, here is a screen shot of the page where you go to download the Kobo desktop app:


Click here for Kindle desktop apps (for Windows and Mac)
From the Kindle app page: psst, links are down here, under the devices!

Click here for NOOK for Mac and NOOK for Windows

What about iBooks? Well, it doesn't look as though Apple has come through with a ereader app for Macs though it said it would last year. There are other apps you can buy to make reading books in the most popular ereading formats on your Mac, though, and here's a good article on the subject. Similarly, there are apps to let you read ebook formats on your Windows machine. (And where are they? That's what Google is for :-)

This just solves the problem of "how do I physically read the ebook". I understand there are people who are politically opposed to reading a book if it isn't printed on paper. That's fine, though you should know that some independent bookstores sell ebooks, too. Then, once you decide to go ahead and read ebooks, you have another political decision as to which vendor you're going to support. Just remember that you probably want to stay with one ebook provider so you don't have books shelved electronically all over town.

There! So you really have no excuse not to buy that tantalizing novel when you see the ebook version is on sale.






Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Win a Vial necklace - AS SEEN IN TRUE BLOOD

If you're like me, you're hanging on every episode of TRUE BLOOD as it airs on Sunday evenings, even as you're mourning the fact that it will all be over soon. 

So you can imagine how happy I was to learn that one of the characters in this season, Mr. Gus (portrayed by Will Yun Lee, whom you've seen in movies like Wolverine) has been wearing the necklace as his character's signature piece.

In honor of this fact, I'm giving away a Vial necklace! To win, all you have to do is email me at contest@almakatsu.com. The deadline to enter is August 19th at midnight ET. The winner will be chosen at random. (Please note: the contest is open to the US only. See complete rules below.)


The necklace was designed by Janet Cadsawan, who is the official designer for lots of literary works such as Diana Gabaldon's Outlander, EL James' Fifty Shades of Grey and Deborah Harkness' Discovery of Witches trilogy. It's been an honor being represented by Cadsawan Jewelry, being among such great literary company. In case you can't wait to see if you win, you can order a necklace or bracelet from Janet right here

For those of you who are unfamiliar with The Taker Trilogy, the books for which the necklace was designed, please do me a favor and take a minute to read a little bit about them here. Charlaine Harris herself had some nice things to say: "I was really grabbed by the narrative voice, and I was fascinated by the story--what a story!"

CONTEST RULES:  One entry per person. Contest is open to US only: the prize must be sent to a valid US mailing address. Not responsible for items lost or stolen in shipping. Contest ends at midnight ET on August 19th and winner will be chosen via random number generator. Winner will be notified by email within 24 hours of the end of contest and has 72 hours to respond to claim prize. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours a new winner will be chosen, and the same rules will apply. 

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A world of one's own

Game of Thrones' new season starts tomorrow. I can't say that specifically gave me the idea for today's post, but it's in keeping. I've been watching more television than I usually have for the past few years. I tell myself it's so I can study how television screenwriters do story but really it's so I can have some together time with my husband. We tend to watch shows that we can both live with. Lately it's Justified, the story about a federal marshall who sometimes steps over the line in trying to bring justice to a wild part of Kentucky (terrific writing, amazing characters) and Vikings. I'm not sure how we got into Vikings. It's visually striking--the landscapes, the costumes and architecture--but not as rich a story and, of course, pretty gory. We just started watching Deadwood, the old HBO Western that starred Timothy Oliphant (of Justified), though it's too soon to tell if it will become a favorite.

Which brings us to the point of the post today. I was thinking of Justified and how it's about to wrap up this season and as we type, the show's producers are working on next season (which will also be the last season). Which is the real world of the show: the world of the viewers or the producers? Are they living in the future or are we living in the past? The producers and directors, actors and set designers, all working away in secrecy for others to enjoy a year later. By the time the audience gets to see it, it's a memory for all the people who worked on the show. It's almost impossible for them to have the same experience of the show.

This came to me because I'm working on a new book. A new book is a really personal thing: it's really just you, the author. You may tell some of your friends about it or share chapters with other writers for their opinion of a passage. But mostly it's just you moving through that world all alone. Like paddling a boat down a river while the river world unfurls around you. You try to capture the unfurling and to bring it back to tell others, but mostly you're alone in this lush, rich new world. 

The new world is Georgian England, around 1780. The country is highly divided between rich and poor. Although the war with the colonies is stretching the country pretty think both economically and politically, England has for years been steadily growing richer; more people have more money, although there are still a lot of poor. On top of that, there is are not many instruments of authority. Crime is rampant with no organized police forces yet, except in London and it is still experimental. Many men try their hand at highway banditry: robbing travelers but at the peril of their life if caught. Two of the main characters of the new book are brothers, twins, who have decided to seek their fortune as highwaymen. Into their lives stumbles a young woman, a servant just turned out by the family that employed her, left to make her own way. The three strike up a very unusual arrangement and set out to see if they can define their own place in the world.

Only time will tell if the book ends up bring published, which seems to me analogous to the moment when a television series goes on the air, the time when the vision of its creators is shared with the rest of the world. In the meantime, it's just me whittling and polishing my private world, hoping to make it luminous enough to draw other people to its light.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

How do you tell a story in tweets?

Twitter is holding its second Fiction Festival in a few days, March 12 - 16, and I'm happy to say that I'm one of the featured authors.

People have been toying around with Twitter as a platform for fiction. As far back as 2008--when Twitter was just starting to get really big--"twitter novels" were starting to become popular in Japan, for instance, but didn't gain much traction here. Over the years, people have continued to try different approaches, everything from flash fiction on Twitter to six-word sentences, to long form told out in hundreds of 140-character tweets.

If you go to the Twitter Fiction Festival website, you'll see the story ideas from a couple dozen writers of all genres that will play out over the next few days on Twitter. The first Fiction Festival was perhaps a bit more international, whereas this year's features mostly well known writers (myself excluded, of course) from all genres, from poetry and playwriting and non-fiction, to literary fiction, mystery, science fiction and young adult. I am amazed at the creativity of my fellow participants. That's one of the nice things about participating in an experiment like this: you get to get out of the ordinary. Get out of your rut. When I first thought about it, I was more than a little nervous. The constraints of writing on Twitter mean that you can't write the kind of fiction that you're used to as a novelist (or can you?). No exposition. You can't go waxing poetically about the setting or scenery--you can't go waxing long about anything, not in a tweet. What about dialogue? And if you're telling a story from a particular character's point of view, does that mean you set up a Twitter account for that character from which to tweet the story? As you can see, there are a lot of considerations and restrictions.

On the other hand, you can put in things that you can't normally have in a novel, like images, and this is what sparked my imagination. I decided that I would tell a story with images and I wanted the images to be strongly linked to place. It made sense to make Washington DC the place since, this is where I live (okay, technically I live in northern Virginia) and after 30 years here, I think I have a good sense of the character of the people who live here (or a subset at least, the army of employees of the federal government who live here).

After coming up with a rough idea of what the story would be about, I drafted my husband into chauffeuring me around the city so I could take the pictures that would be sprinkled through the tweeting. This is a bigger deal than you might think because even on a Sunday afternoon, (a) traffic in DC is terrible and (b) parking is even worse. I spent a day deciding which sites we'd visit and plotting out the most economical route possible. In the end, we left out about a third of the sites because it took even longer than we thought to make our way across the city. I'd wanted to photograph some lesser-known, not your usual DC tourist type places for the story, so you won't see monuments or the Capitol building. Unfortunately, some of the quirkier spots ending up getting cut because of the dang traffic.

I hope you'll join the Twitter Fiction Festival. If you're a reader, I think you'll be treated to some inventive storytelling that you won't see anywhere else. And if you're a writer, I think you might see storytelling in a whole new--and maybe liberating--light. I'm in the process of finishing up my story--over a hundred tweets so far, and growing--and have been amazed at how liberating it is to put a story together in a completely different way.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What is a descent myth?


If you've read anything about The Descent, you know that it's about Lanny, the heroine of the trilogy, going to the underworld to beg for the return of Jonathan, the man she had wronged by drawing him into her eternal punishment. I knew from the very beginning, from when I was just starting to piece the story together, that it would end this way. Her dilemma is made all the richer by because the only way she can get to the afterlife is with the help of Adair, the man she fears (and loves) the most, the only one with the ability to access the magical world.

Underworld myths abound throughout all the cultures of the world. These myths are meant to teach us several lessons, foremost being the finality of death. At the same time, these myths are often highly romantic, sending a hero or heroine into the underworld on an impossible quest: to bring someone you love back to the land of the living. We're probably all familiar with the story of Persephone, daughter of Demeter, Greek goddess of the harvest. The story that sparked my imagination was actually about the wife of a general (Roman, I think) who went to the underworld to beg for the return of her husband, who was being kept by the goddess of the dead. Or something like that: I'd heard it a long time ago in a class at Johns Hopkins from a poetry professor and by the time I decided to use it in the trilogy, many years had passed. I didn't know the exact story the professor had cited and he seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth. I was able to find a few myths that fit the general story but was not able to trace it back to the exact story. 

If you're unfamiliar with underworld myths, here are the two most famous ones to get you started:

   
Persephone’s story is the most famous of all the underworld tales and one that is full of love: love of the dark lonely god Hades for Persephone, the love of a mother for her daughter. Demeter’s daughter Persephone was abducted by Hades, the god of the underworld, so that she would be his bride. Demeter petitioned Zeus on her daughter’s behalf, and Zeus determined that Persephone could return as long as she had not eaten the food of the dead. While Persephone had refused to eat for most of her time in the underworld, she slipped up once, eating six pomegranate seeds. Zeus makes a King Solomon-like decision by allowing Persephone to split her time between the world above and the underworld. Every time Persephone is in the underworld with Hades, the mourning Demeter covers the earth in cold and snow, explaining the changing of the seasons.

·       The story of Orpheus and Eurydice is the inspiration for my book The Descent. When Eurydice, wife of the famed Greek minstrel Orpheus, dies, Orpheus goes into the Underworld to convince Hades and Persephone to let his wife return to him. His songs move them to grant his wish, with a catch: during their trip to the surface, Orpheus cannot look back at his wife. If he does, she must remain in the Underworld. You know what happens next: at the last minute, Orpheus’ curiosity wins out (can you blame him? The Greek gods are a notoriously tricky bunch) and he turns around, only to see his wife's shade disappear.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Soliloquy on a lesser demon

I had a Skype session with a lovely book club in Georgia this evening when the question of the character Stolas came up. Had we met Stolas earlier in the trilogy, they asked. It seemed he was such an important character that it was odd that he only showed up in the last part of The Descent.


Without giving too much away to anyone who has not yet read The Descent, I thought I would tell you a little bit about where the idea for him came from. Stolas is one of the hundreds of named demons from Hell.  He was not a minor one, described in Johann Weir's grimoire Pseudomonarchia daemonum as "a high prince of Hell commanding 26 legions" of demons. He is also learned, knowledgeable about astronomy, botany and the like. Which seemed to make him suitable to be a servant of Adair. Of course, he is not an owl but as I wrote his part I pictured him as having an owl-like appearance and you can feel free to do so, too.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

From the book launch on January 14

Sometime before the book launch party at One More Page Books, I got it into my head that I should videotape it and put excerpts up on YouTube. Not because I thought there was a great hungering out for videos of me talking about my books--far from it. But I knew I wouldn't be doing many events for the release (it's a bad time of year for travel), and there were readers who asked when I'd be coming to their area, and so I thought they might be interested in seeing a clip from an event and see that they weren't missing much (haha).

I asked my husband to tape it and we decided we might as well do it on his iPhone. Since it was first and foremost in our minds that this wasn't going to be a big deal, we didn't do much. Got a stand so the picture wouldn't be wobbly. (If you're looking for some good straightforward advice on taking movies on your cell phone, this NY Times video is great.)

All that was the easy part. The hard part was downloading from the phone to the right computer, getting a video-editing package to work, etc. Long story short: I finally managed to snip out three fairly short videos from that evening.

The lovely woman to my left is Jenn Lawrence, from Jenn's Bookshelves. She is a friend and prominent Northern Virginia book blogger and she graciously agreed to interview me for the event.

In the first video, we talk about the inspiration for The Taker:





This one is about living in "Colonial Ground Zero" and researching the past:





And this last one is about the characters in the novels, especially the one you love to hate:




I hope you enjoy them.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Winners; what happens after the Descent? and upcoming events

Jenn Lawrence, Terry Nebeker, me, Allison Leotta
and Kathy McCleary at the book release event at
One More Page Books, Arlington, Virginia
We're almost at the end, friends. The book has been out for a couple weeks and the hub bub is dying down. Such is life. We have our 15 minutes of fame but now things get back to normal. Let me tidy up a few loose ends:
  • Congratulations to the winners of our giveaway (the complete trilogy in trade paperback and a $50 gift card): Laura, Michaela and Robyn! We had almost 3000 entries, a great turnout. Thanks to everyone who helped spread the word.
  • You've read The Descent but you want to know what happens next? At A Dream of Books I give a day-in-the-life for Lanny after the conclusion of The Descent. Massive spoilers!! Read at your own peril.
  • In The Taker books, alchemy crosses over into the magical. Is this an accurate reflection of how alchemy was viewed and practiced, historically? I discuss this at SF Signal.
  • Nice review for The Descent and the series at Bookreporter.com and 20something Reads.
  • I loved this review at akiiKOMORIreading so much that I made this image and will share on Instagram and Pinterest. Do you have a blurb for any of the books? Put them in the comments below and I'll make images and send them out.

I'm not doing too many events for the book release, but if you're in the area I'd love to see you:

  • January 29th, 7 PM: George Mason Public Library in Annandale, Virginia
  • February 12th, 7 PM: Falmouth Historical Society and Museum. I'll be talking about writing historical novels.
  • February 13th, 6 PM: UConn bookstore at the Storrs Center. Discussion, reading and signing.
  • February 15th, 2-3 PM: Ashburn Library, reading and signing.
  • February 20th, 7 PM: Gum Spring Library, Stone Ridge, Virginia. I'm meeting with the library's book club to discuss The Taker, but all are invited.
Details (locations, links) to all these events are available on the website.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Still more news and interviews: The Descent round-up continues

But first, this interruption: reader Meg Gregory passed along this article about an apartment in Paris that had been abandoned by its owner when the Nazis invaded and was now a virtual time capsule of 1942. Meg said it made her think of Lanny's townhouse in Paris, a jumble of mementoes of the past. If you haven't seen the photos of the inside of the apartment it's definitely worth a look. The painting is of the owner herself, who had been an actress.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

  • Falcata Times gets me to talk about my dangerous childhood in Alaska and why the cold figures so prominently in The Taker books. Also there's a super nice review of The Descent: "all around a great book".
  • At One More Page, a wonderful UK book blog, an interview. Here's an excerpt: "What was the biggest surprise for you in character development over the course of the trilogy? What happens to Adair—going from being quite evil (if charismatic) where everyone hates you, all the way to having readers root for you—was a pretty tricky thing to pull off. I wasn’t sure readers would go along with it but so far (knock on wood) from the reviews and feedback I’ve seen, readers are finding his journey to be quite rewarding."
  • An interview at science fiction/fantasy site SF Signal.
  • My top ten underworld myths and a chance to win a copy of The Descent at All Things Urban Fantasy.
  • Over at Mass Movement Magazine, I show the inspirations for The Taker in books and movies.
  • A review by one of my earliest reviewers, Christa S. at More Than Just Magic.
  • The wonderful Lelia at Pop Culture Nexis gives a shout out for The Descent: "A shocking and satisfying conclusion."