Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Cover reveal for The Saffron Crocus




I’m so excited that a friend’s novel is releasing! Alison McMahan’s young adult novel The Saffron Crocus officially launches Dec. 13, but I’m giving you the jump on it—it would make a great holiday present for the young reader in your life. To pique your interest, Alison's doing a cover reveal. Isn't it a compelling cover?

I met Alison a few years ago at the Historical Novels Society conference through the Blue Pencil Café. We got to be friendly and enjoyed hanging out during the costume pageant. Afterwards, we stayed in touch and she has twice taken my mediabistro.com online novel writing class although she does not need my guidance and in fact has given me some on occasion! I think she takes it just to have a deadline to be held accountable for.

Alison’s a fantastic writer, and I’ve been privileged to be able to see her work in its beta stages. I know you will love The Saffron Crocus, and the other books she has in the works which will be finding publishers soon. I have a very special love of her Alice Guy Blache novel, for instance, still underway!

Without further ado, here’s more about the book itself.

Venice, 1643. Isabella, fifteen, longs to sing in Monteverdi’s Choir, but only boys (and castrati) can do that. Her singing teacher, Margherita, introduces her to a new wonder: opera! Then Isabella finds Margherita murdered. Now people keep trying to kill Margherita’s handsome rogue of a son, Rafaele.

Was Margherita killed so someone could steal her saffron business? Or was it a disgruntled lover, as Margherita—unbeknownst to Isabella—was one of Venice’s wealthiest courtesans?
Or will Isabella and Rafaele find the answer deep in Margherita's past, buried in the Jewish Ghetto?

Isabella has to solve the mystery of the Saffron Crocus before Rafaele hangs for a murder he didn’t commit, though she fears the truth will drive her and the man she loves irrevocably apart.

KUDOS for The Saffron Crocus

I adored this beautifully written, passionate book. The Saffron Crocus is a glittering, thrilling opera of a novel that plucked my heartstrings and kept me reading at fever pitch. Brava, Alison McMahan! Encore!

~ Nancy Holder, New York Times Bestselling Author of the Wicked Saga

WINNER: 2014 Rosemary Award for Best Historical for Young Adults

Author Alison McMahan


I know Alison was really excited about the cover for the novel, and rightly so. It was created by Mishi Bellamy. Mishi lives in both India and France, where she has her own art gallery, the Atelier des Colombes.


Alison herself has a pretty interesting background: she has “chased footage for her documentaries through jungles in Honduras and Cambodia, favelas in Brazil and racetracks in the U.S.”And she's a fantastic plotter, thinker, critiquer and writer. I heartily recommend this book! Surely there's a teen on your holiday gift list who could benefit--or perhaps you yourself.

Links to learn more:
Webpage for Saffron Crocus:

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Twitter:
@alisonmcmahan

Pinterest:

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/Alison.McMahan.Author

Alison's webpage:

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Capitol Book Festival

Me, courtesy of buddy Susan Spann

This last weekend at Sacramento's Capitol Book Festival was a great event. I enjoyed meeting authors and readers and reconnecting with a few folks from long ago. I noticed an interesting thread that went through several panels: the idea of a supernatural way in which a story presents itself to an author. Here's the rundown:

1. In my panel with Gini Grossenbacher and Kate Asche, an audience member asked about the word "muse" and how we see it operating in our work. I talked about my experience of not remembering writing entire pages of The Witch's Trinity, yet there they were on my computer so I must've written them. (Unless: elves?) I admit that there is a certain form of mystery around how stories and words funnel through our bodies and to our pens or keyboards. Toni Morrison has famously said that Beloved was channeled through her from the ancestors.

2. I then attended a historical fiction panel with Elizabeth Rosner and Bruce Holbert. They both were talking about how mysterious the process is, so I firmed up the deal by asking them outright during the Q&A if they believed there was something supernatural to it. They both agreed. Elizabeth said an old photograph of Steinmetz, the main character in her novel Electric City, appeared to be looking right at her, and she believes she was made to tell his story which has been lost to time.

3. Next was a panel with Cara Black, Rhys Bowen and Terry Shames. Cara talked about how she was loading her clothes dryer one day and a huge change just came to her; a voice spoke. It gave me chills--she literally heard a voice. [As a side note, I have to say I laughed heartily when Rhys Bowen reported coming to an unpleasant realization about a character and yelling at her computer for 10 minutes: "is she really French?"]

After this, I had to head home for childcare swap although there were many more things I wanted to see (and I was bummed that several panels were double-booked--including against mine--so I had to make some reluctant decisions about where to go and what to see.)

On Sunday, I returned kicking my heels up, without the responsibility of presenting. In fact, a volunteer asked me at the top of the escalator if I was an author and without thinking, I said, "No, just a participant." I hasten to say, I feel very grateful to have presented at this festival, which was magnificently orchestrated by Marion Englund, Kelli Hanniford, Fred Palmer and a field of incredible volunteers...it's just fun sometimes to go and not have to worry if I'm sweating. I circulated around the booths on the main festival floor and was impressed with all the offerings. I ran into friends Mark Wiederanders, Bethanie Humphreys, Christian Kiefer, Lois Ann Abraham and even Holly Brown for a millisecond in the hallway: old buddy from San Francisco Writers Group lo these many years ago! (I'm worried I'm missing someone...sorry if so!)

Then I attended a fantastic panel with Susan Spann and Jennifer Laam--they were great and had the crowd laughing.After that, at the Barnes & Noble booth we ran into Erin Lindsay McCabe, and we headed out for a historical novelist women writers (and reader: Erin had wonderful blogger friend Jennifer Wolfe with her) lunch nearby. I regret to say, I did not return to the festival and missed some more great presentations. But I was inspired by the whole weekend, and wanted to head to a cafe and do some writing before I returned home.

Suffice it to say, Sacramento has an incredible writing community (over 100 authors presented!) and I'm so glad to be a part of it. This was the inaugural Capitol Book Festival, and I can't wait to see what happens next year.


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Thursday, October 23, 2014

California Capital Book Festival

I'm delighted to be part of Sacramento's inaugural Capital Book Festival taking place this weekend. I'm going to be presenting on the all-inclusive topic, "Writing Your Book." Wow...I could cover a lot of ground with that!

Luckily, I'm presenting with two other authors to lessen the load: poet Kate Asche and young-adult author Gini Grossenbacher. Here's the link to my presentation and the link to the festival website. The festival is huge, with over one hundred authors! Who knew Sacramento had so many of us? I've just moved to the area a few years ago, so I'm excited to meet writers who are already part of the literary community and touch base with those I already know through the Historical Novels Society.

My presentation takes place this Saturday at noon in Room 305 of the Sacramento Convention Center. The entire weekend is free. There are events for kids as well...check it out!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

A saucy reading at HNS conference



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?

She was!

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.



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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Brave

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.



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Friday, July 04, 2014

The Paul Mailman Ten Miler

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! :)


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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Book cover design for HAUNTED



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.