Wednesday, August 13, 2014
A year ago, I attended the Historical Novels Society conference (then held in St. Petersburg, Florida; the next stateside one will be Denver in 2015). It's an infamous custom that Diana Gabaldon hosts a Saturday Night Sex Scenes Reading where participants gamely step on stage and read a short sex scene from their fiction (no memoirs please!)
Diana selected a bunch of us randomly and emailed us to let us know we'd been picked. I never got a chance to say hello to her before the night of the proceedings. I sat at my table between Kathleen Kent and Alison McMahan (Xina Uhl was there too), nervous beyond measure. I wasn't going to permit myself a (badly-needed) drink until after I had gone up to the stage, and wouldn't you know it....I was picked second to last! I was a frayed nerve bundle sending random neurotransmitter blasts by the time my name was called.
So, picture the scene. We're in a hotel ballroom that holds 600 people. The acoustics are tough, and let's face it: a sex scene read into the vastness has special challenges as opposed to one read from a pillow. I knew that from the last Sex Scenes I'd watched in San Diego a few years earlier, so I'd deliberately chosen a funny scene. Many people can get away with breathy voices into the microphone (including La Dame Gabaldon herself) ...but I knew I couldn't. My best best would be to go with a scene where the sex didn't go right.
Although it was nerve-wracking for me to wait so long to be called, it was ultimately in my favor as many people had imbibed generously and were, let's say, receptive to my reading in a way they may not have been an hour or so earlier. My friend Alison offered to tape my reading on her phone and I shuddered as I declined. I would come to regret that, though, since the official conference video left an unused microphone in the middle of the shot... but at the time I didn't know the performance was being taped.
Diana introduced me and I climbed the steps to the stage without tripping (it's things like this I worry about) and began my little jokey introduction, channeling Justin Timberlake.When I sang the first line of "I'm bringing sexy back" there was one beat where no one laughed and I died a million deaths in that interstice. People were just not expecting something funny as previous readings that night had been intense, romantic, sexy, hot...everything but silly. And then, thank God, laughter came and I launched into the scene.
To be honest, I was surprised by how much people laughed (I've consulted with experts and we all conclude: alcohol), but it made me feel great.When I finished, one person sprang to his feet and gave me a standing ovation. It was C.W. Gortner, a writer I absolutely admire and look up to, and to get his endorsement meant everything. I'm thinking about engraving him clapping on my tombstone when that sad piece of rock is eventually required. Whatever ills may befall me in the coming years, you can't take that away from me.
I went back to my table where congratulations happened, so I didn't hear what Diana said in response. It was only after I got a copy of this tape that I realized she said, "Well, I hope that book's on Kindle so I can read it on my way home tomorrow."
Oddly enough, the book was not on Kindle. It had been published by a small press in Berkeley and the subsidiary rights still belonged to me, so I thought, wow, maybe I should release this as an ebook. And maybeeee that wonderful Diana Gabaldon would be willing to blurb it?
I sent her a copy, and she read it in the midst of all the hurricane of the Starz casting and filming. I can't to this day believe her generosity in taking the time to read my book and to give such an extravagantly kind blurb. I'm going to need a second gravestone to engrave her on, or maybe I should install some Scottish standing stones, some dolmens, maybe a variation on Stonehenge to thank her. (Yes, I'm morbid; this is the way I roll.)
Diana, if you read this long-ass post, thank you a million ways to Sunday for your hand extended to me. You are a rock-star author and you act like you're in the slushpile: humble, kind, giving, warm, real.
So, the last thing I have to address is, why did I not release the video until literally a year later? One might think I waited to time this with the Outlander Starz release, which would have been smart of me, but the reality is far sadder. The conference was in June 2013, and it took me a while to figure out there was a tape, order it, and then get working to have someone edit it down from literal hours to a brief clip (thank you, Jai Jai Noire!). I'm a natural procrastinator. And so by the time things were underway, I had learned about Jennifer Kranz's diagnosis with DIPG, a fatal brain tumor, in October. Jennifer was a six year old, the daughter of a friend. And suddenly promoting my video seemed endlessly vapid and stupid, so I put it aside and grieved along with everyone who followed Jennifer's rapid decline. She died Feb. 12, 2014. I hope you will watch my video, but I hope even more strongly that you'll visit www.unravelpediatriccancer.org to learn how you can help combat this vicious, despicable disease.
. . . . .
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
|The Kranz Family in 2013. Jennifer is in yellow.|
The other day, I met up with Libby Kranz during a trip we took to Gilroy. Libby is the mom of Jennifer, a six-year-old who died of DIPG February 12 this year. We met at a park. At one point, during respective kid tussling, she started talking to a woman a short distance away. I concluded it was a friend she had run into.
It wasn't. Libby came back, bristling with energy. The woman was a stranger, and Libby had just approached her--a cold call of sorts--to tell her about Jennifer.
She was being brave.
No one wants to walk up to strangers and tell them about a cancer that gives a 9 month life expectancy from diagnosis (Libby's daughter got a third of that time), tell them how only one cent of every dollar donated to the American Cancer Society goes to pediatric cancer, and tell them how the federal government funded pediatric research back in 2008 but then somehow the money has been held up ...
Nothing is going to help Libby's daughter. But something fierce, powerful and brave is going to save other people's daughters and sons. It's Libby, and the awareness she is raising for this devastating monster cancer that steals children. She was talking that day about business cards being printed up, so when she went to talk to people, she'd have a card to hand them. She is focused. She is committed. She is brave.
It's hard to talk about, and hard to think about. Libby admitted on her blog that before her daughter was diagnosed, she too would change the channel when the St. Jude's commercials came on. But the fact is, cancer is only easy to ignore if you don't know someone affected by it--and these days, that sliver of the population is getting smaller and smaller.
What can you do? Read and share Libby's blog. Contribute to the fund at Stanford University where Jennifer's cells are being studied--she had a very aggressive form of DIPG and thus her cells may contain valuable information to unlock this disease. If you feel proactive and want to physically get out there to help the world's children, consider "fluttering" . . . a genius plan of Libby's to both bring awareness to the cause and raise funds.
Being brave isn't just about doing things that scare you. Sometimes it's about stepping up the plate and helping when you can.
. . . . .
Friday, July 04, 2014
|Dad on the left, adjusting his watch. A newspaper clipping.|
Last month, I put myself and my family on a plane, flew from California to New Hampshire, all for the sake of running a ten mile race. Crazy? Yes! Of course! But this wasn't just any old race. It is named for my father, who was instrumental in getting running going in the 1970s in Montpelier, Vermont, where the race was held. We didn't always run for exercise, you know. That was a craze that developed just, well about 40 years ago, and this edition of the race was its 40th anniversary. I couldn't resist the chance to cross something off my bucket list.*
|Here I am, approaching the finish line. The slowboats all came in singly.|
My father is alive and well and wonderful. He wasn't able to run the race, but throughout my life he has a been a model of dedication to running. My older sisters tell me he would run 10 miles daily after working an eight hour day. I asked him if he ran with a canteen, because my running partner is very firm about bringing water, and "bottled water" as such didn't exist back then, nor the flasks that velcro to your hand so you're not even aware you're holding it.. He said no. See, Denise?!
It was an honor to run this race under his name, to get the race t-shirt with his name all over it (a delightful play on his name, with an envelope theme and a cancelled postmark), and most of all....drum roll....to get my entire extended family (minus one nephew, unfortunately, who couldn't make it) back to our hometown. We hadn't been there together for 19 years.
19 years! We ate the steakhouse, the Wayside, walked the streets I love, saw the Trombleys, saw the Quelches, saw Kellogg-Hubbard Library and Mrs. Downey and Scott Lovelette. I toured the capitol and it was a fascinating tour--I guess when I last lived here I wasn't quite so historical. In the capitol, I ran into Mr. Brooks, my old chem teacher and now Sergeant at Arms. I missed a few things: going out to get a creemie (I am kicking myself), my old scoop shop was missing (is it possible Ben & Jerry's couldn't make a go of it financially in the state capital??) and it would have been nice to go to a service at Bethany, esp. given that the race day was my sister's 30th anniversary of being married there! Can I just say, Montpelier, Vermont, is an extraordinary city. I'm so glad I got to grow up here.
|My nuclear family. There was also a handful of the next generation running around. I'm in purple.|
There's much more to say about this race and my (inadequate! ha!) training, but I leave that for another day. Suffice it to say, my nephews finished the race in good time, my sister and her husband walked four miles of it and heard an amazing tale from a concentration camp survivor who walked with them, and I completed the race with a time I was fine with (11:37 min.miles). I didn't blister the pavement, but as my dad said when I undertook training, "you're not a spring chicken anymore." No! This "winter hen" did the best she could. :)
|Paul Mailman (Dad) and me in the parking lot afterwards|
It turned out that keeping my maiden name did finally pay off--I got the #1 race bib!
*I don't know where this phrase originates from, or truly what it means. I think it came from a novel that then became a Paul Newman movie, neither of which I've read or seen. I may be using the term wrong, but I think the bucket list is things you want to accomplish before you kick the bucket. Accurate assessment?
P.S. This blog is supposed to be about writing and history--but a lot of great plotting and story resolution comes while running. That's my loose connection: live with it! :)
. . . . .
Saturday, June 28, 2014
This week I received the cover design for HAUNTED, Book One of the Arnaud Legacy trilogy coming out from Kensington Books this coming March. It's always a thrilling moment for a writer to see someone's interpretation of their book. It's been getting great reactions from people I've shared it with, and I love the moody somberness of the scene, and the great fonts. (I'm a font person!). I think this jacket really effectively conveys the idea of a ghost story/haunted mansion tale.
I have to thank old writers group friend Michelle Gagnon for the excellent cover blurb: she is a wonderful Y.A. writer whose novel Don't Turn Around blew my socks off.
If anyone is interested in preordering the book now, here's the link.
Friday, June 06, 2014
|The pseudonymous Lynn Carthage|
Today Publisher's Marketplace officially announced (I had "soft announced" a few months ago here) the sale of my young adult trilogy to Kensington Books. For my foray into young adult fiction, I'm going to use a pen name, Lynn Carthage, to keep my adult and YA writing separate. The first book in the trilogy hits bookstores next March. As the time comes closer, I'll launch a Lynn Carthage website, FB presence and Twitter handle. I'm really excited to join this new genre, to see a book I love hit the marketplace, and to see cover art. I love covers. And now...I have to sculpt and create the next two books in the series. It's fun to be writing on deadline rather than on spec. :)
From Publisher's Marketplace
Children's: Young Adult Bram Stoker finalist and author of Witch's Trinity Erika Mailman
writing as Lynn Carthage's ARNAUD LEGACY: HAUNTED,
about a teen moving with her family in the run-down ancestral
mansion in England which appears to still be inhabited, to
Michaela Hamilton at Kensington Children's, in a three-book
deal, by Marly Rusoff at Marly Rusoff & Associates (world).
. . . .
|4: my favorite number. Coincidence? I think not.|
**NOTE: there are plot spoilers, but I am unapologetic. This movie is 33 years old!
This week I had the incredible pleasure of seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen again, for the first time since 1981. Of course, I've viewed it multiple times since on TV and with rentals, but it had been a really, really long time since I'd seen it, and thus I watched it with very fresh eyes.
When my Dad took us to see this movie in 1981, I thought based on the title that it was going to be a movie about football. I can still recall my excitement when it dawned on me that it was a movie about archeology. I purchased the novelization and am kicking myself I don't have it today. I pored over that book like nobody's business. In the scene in the movie when Indy draws the sunbeam coming through the headpiece of the staff of Ra, and his chalk pulls so decisively on the flimsy portable chalkboard, I felt a visceral memory: that sound.
This movie holds up.
It's not dated. It feels like something wonderful the studios released last week.
I'm in awe of the storytelling. It's so well-plotted. For instance, the very first thing we learn about Marion Ravenwood is that she can drink large men under the table. That comes into play later when she tries to use that skill to extract herself from Belloq. (It's always bothered me that she doesn't wait until he's completely nodded out; he could so easily raise an alarm even as drunk as he is--but then Toht shows up so it's all moot anyway.) We learn right away that Indy doesn't like snakes...and so of course his climactic moment from which escape seems absolutely impossible also involves snakes. They are the hot fudge on the trouble sundae. We learn in an offhand reference that Indy and Marion like to eat dates. The dates later cause a mild panic in us, as we watch Indy carry a poisoned one around, thinking aloud as he delays eating it.
I wanted to be Marion Ravenwood. Perhaps this is why I'm so fond of Ravenswood wine. :) I could go on at length about Marion and how she shaped my ideas of what a strong woman is, but that's a post for another day.
I'd like to talk briefly about what it's like as a writer to watch a story on the big screen and try to dissect it on the fly for why/how the plot works. This movie has a wonderful ongoing motif: briefly having something and losing it. Besides the obvious triad of Belloq consistently grabbing things Indiana has procured at great trouble and danger to himself, there's the man at the very beginning, about to land a big fish by the way his line is bending ... but he must throw the entire reel into the river to start up the plane for Indiana. There's the fact that Toht temporarily has the headpiece, and that his hand bears its emblem albeit inadequately (I love that detail the most, I think, of any plot device in the movie. How brilliant is that??!! "And then deduct one for Allah"....oh my God: organic, credible, and game-changing.) I watched the movie most definitely as someone enjoying being entertained, but I also mentally kept track of how the scenes keep fortifying the story, each one moving the plot forward in demonstrable ways. There's nothing wasted in this movie. (well, maybe some of the kissing--but that added immeasurably to my enjoyment!) Then there's the idea that Indy and Marion once had each other.
I could go on and on for a long time, but wanted to keep this short. I so much appreciate this movie, and I thank Cinemark for including it in their summer classic movies queue.
. . . .
Tuesday, June 03, 2014
|View from my window at the Hotel Leger|
Earlier this month, I attended the Gold Rush Writers Conference, founded nine years ago by Antoinette May, author of Pilate's Wife and The Sacred Well. I was there to teach a workshop on how to outline your novel and to moderate a historical fiction panel.
The conference was incredible--I told Antoinette afterwards that she had built an event that had a wonderful vibe of supportiveness and mutual interest. It involved an interesting collection of people presenting and attending.
|Main Street. Hotel Leger on the left.|
I do have to take a few moments to talk about Mokolumne Hill itself. I'm still not sure of its pronunciation; I believe I've heard Mok-a-LUM-knee and Ma-KOL-um-nee...perhaps best to use the abbreviation: Mok Hill.
This is a Gold Rush town that still exudes history. It's not tourism-driven, just a small town with many original facades and structures. The walking-tour brochures lists dozens of extant structures. As I first drove down the main street, my breath was taken away. Checking into the Hotel Leger, built in 1871 on the footprint of the original 1851 structure that burned, I was so excited I was literally giggling as I keyed into my room on the second floor. Decorated in the style of the day with antique furnishings, the rooms (I popped my head into as many as I could as the cleaning staff vacated them on the day we all left) look as they would have to miners and their families. Some rooms do have their own bathrooms and fireplaces, but others require you to step down the hallway to a shared bath. I appreciated the historical accuracy; I found myself wishing there was a basin and pitcher in my room to wash my face.
|Rocking chair reflected in simple mirror. I'm in the 1800s!|
I took a run one morning and explored more of Mok Hill. Built into otherwise undisturbed hillsides, the homes have incredible vistas with nary a sign of civilization in sight. I'd always wondered if there were still areas of California that hadn't been touched by citification: this is one. I strongly considered telling my husband we should relocate here. I even had a bit of a race uphill with two chortling turkeys; they were faster.
|Yes, two swans were making out on my bed when I arrived. The nerve.|
Back to the conference. The whole weekend began with a lovely picnic in Antoinette's back garden with wine and a chance to meet everyone. It set the tone for the conference.
The keynote speaker was Christian Kiefer, who gave a wonderful, funny speech, delayed by his rapturous consumption of sherbert. He also gave a great seminar on setting in novels, referencing several classic novels and teasing out a great description of a barometer's pride of place in a Flaubert scene. The brunch headliner Lucy Sanna gave a great account of path to publication: like most of us, it wasn't an immediate slam-dunk but took a lot of work and persistence (congratulations!)
|Christian Kiefer's sherbet-fueled keynote|
The historical fiction panelists were Antoinette May, Bob Yeager (best.shoes.ever) and Brent Barker. We had a good session looking at some of the joys and challenges of our particular genre. I attended a poetry open mic and liked a lot of the poetry I heard; I didn't catch all the names but remember Kevin Arnold, Sally Ashton, and Kathie Isaac-Luke. I had some great conversations with people and don't want to start naming names in case I forget someone, but I thank Ann for the G&T, Kathy B-F for the birdseed giveaway with a book purchase, Pam for a great workshop and handout, and of course Ms. Luce for the fortifications.
|Boarded-up IOOF and yes that does say Blacksmith Shop!|
I didn't write at this conference, which is always one of my anticipated sidebars: being so inspired by being around other artists and hearing all the craft talk ordinarily sends me to my hotel room at some point to write. Ah well. Can't have it all!
Thank you, Antoinette and Charles, for a wonderful experience.
. . . .
Monday, April 21, 2014
This photo is from last weekend. We didn't get to Donner Lake, but I thought this image from the shores of Lake Tahoe gives the same dramatic impression: that the mountains can be snow-filled and dangerous while just down in the valley it's a beach day. A beach day with sweaters, but definitely a day we knelt in the sand and made castles.
My sister was here visiting and we watched the Ric Burns documentary on the Donner Party she had given me for Christmas. That documentary mentioned one thing I hadn't heard before (which I want to run by Kristin Johnson)--the idea that everyone else would've happily climbed the pass the day before snow fell, except they were waiting for the George Donners et al. to catch up.
Regardless of whether that's true or not, it kills me every time (reading or watching) that they missed it by one day. If the snowstorm had been delayed, they would have summited and been on the descent by the time snow flew. It's extraordinary to travel for months and months: and then miss your chance by one day.
I have an article coming out in Oakland Magazine about the aftermath of the Donner Party, when J. Ross Browne visited the Breens at their San Juan Bautista hotel after the disaster and couldn't sleep thinking that Mrs. Breen had the fearsome face of a cannibal. His imagination got the best of him. I'm hoping my article stresses enough that I pity the Donners. They have been the subjects of gruesome speculation, but truly they suffered almost unbearable agonies.
I can't imagine how much cold, low dread they felt as they saw the fast snow flying and realized they'd have to winter at the lake...when their food supply was already so low they'd sent others ahead to bring something back. A nightmare. Especially considering how many of the party were just children, including nursing babies.
. . . . .