Thursday, March 26, 2015

4th annual Chin Up for Writers Day

See that chin? It's elevated

I'm appalled to realize the fourth observance of National Chin Up for Writers Day somehow passed by me with proper parading, bannering, badging, and T-shirting. Yes, March 19 eluded notice, but I will still make my annual post.

I know why I was distracted; a month ago I had another novel come out under a pen name. I was caught up in events and social media for the launch.

And I have two things to say about that:

1. The Chin Up posts were as much for me as they were for anyone reading this blog. Although I had had two novels published, a desert of years had opened up in which I focused on offspring of the literal, rather than literary, kind. My Chin Up posts were me kicking the sand in that desert, reassuring myself and my chin that another publication day would arise. I don't regret those years; I think my husband and I have "authored" some pretty amazing people, but I needed a little bit of self-affirmation that my writer self still existed.

2. The book that just came out is a total poster child for keeping your chin up. The file is in storage that reveals the horrible truth of how very, very long ago I wrote this book (the file has the original handwritten pages I scribbled after the nightmare that engendered the book)--I don't remember the year offhand but let me say that it predated kids, predated my published novels and predated Richard the Third's original burial.

This rock is totally keeping its chin up

Books can thrive with undaunting cheerleaders (the writer!), fearless revisors (also, the writer!), and stalwart queriers (still the writer!). I didn't let my chin sink with this novel, nor did I stop trying to improve it, and the outcome has been wonderful: a book out in the marketplace that I'm proud of.

Chin up, writers: what you wish for can be accomplished.

If you'd like to read the previous years' posts on Keep Your Chin Up Day:
First year
Second year
Third year

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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Donner Party Later On...

NOT the Breens

The latest issue of the East Bay Monthly (out of Berkeley) contains my article about J. Ross Browne, a famous-but-lost-to-time author who dined with members of the Breen family after their rescue from what is now called Donner Lake. His imagination got the best of him and he imagined his hosts as blood-thirsty cannibals, which is actually very sad when we consider that they were not ghouls but people pushed to the outer limits of hunger.

How can any of us predict how we would act in the same circumstances? The urge to live is strong, and the Donner Party people lived under the hope that rescue was imminent if they could just hold out one more day. All accounts show how desperate and shamed the people were who had to partake in human flesh. Definitely not their first choice!

The article can be found here.

One unexpected bonus of this article is that I was contacted via email by a descendant of the Breens. She very graciously and diplomatically pointed out that the photo that ran with the article, identifying Patrick and Margret Breen, was not in fact of a photo of them. I thanked her profusedly, offered to collect an oral history, and let her know that I would pass the information along to the magazine. The magazine will be running a correction. In the meantime....I'm so excited to have had email contact with someone with a true connection to the Donners. She is my version of a celebrity!

J. Ross Browne's lithograph of a sperm whale hunt

The photographs and illustrations that ran with the story (including a great lithograph of a sperm whale surfacing, about to be harpooned: J. Ross Browne's harrowing stories of whale hunting inspired no less than Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick)  were under the magazine's art direction, and it'd be hard to fault them for using that photograph. That photograph is circulated everywhere with the misidentification of the couple depicted; it reminds me of another situation, in which a portrait has been repeatedly shared on the web as depicting Mary Bliss Parsons. It's not. There are no known portraits of Mary Bliss Parsons, my ancestor accused of witchcraft on at least two occasions. Here's my blog post about that particular situation. 

Anyway, I think it's important to remember that some people's lives continued after the disaster in the Sierra. Marysville, California, for instance, is named for Mary Murphy, another Donner Party survivor, and many went on to become important town leaders wherever they settled. Louis Keseberg: another matter.

Speaking of other matters, my friend Lynn Carthage's book Haunted: The Arnaud Legacy launched last week, and I've been watching her progress with interest. The book is a young adult neo-Gothic thriller (a fancy way of saying "haunted mansion story") and I highly recommend it.

Members of local Historical Novels Society help Lynn Carthage launch her novel. From left,
Erin McCabe (I Shall Be Near to You), Susan Spann (Blade of the Samurai),
Jennifer Laam (Secret Daughter of the Tsar), and Lynn Carthage.
Three other HNS folks were at the reading but unfortunately departed before
photo time: Mark Weideranders, Kathy Boyd Fellure, and Pam Munn.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Haunted bookstore dates and win a free ARC!

Some of you know that I'm now writing young adult fiction under a pen name, Lynn Carthage. My rule is going to be that I'll promote from Erika to Lynn, but not vice-versa. As an author with a historical novel featuring an unapologetic prostitute narrator (Woman of Ill Fame), I don't want young readers to google me and read that too. Of course, nothing on the internetz is secret, and I noted in the Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) that the title page just outright lists me as the author, but it's my attempt to keep the innocent sort of innocent.

I have two readings arranged to launch the first book in the series: Haunted: The Arnaud Legacy. The book launches Feb. 24, 2015, and I'll read in El Dorado Hills and Oakland. I'm also arranging an event in Morgan Hill and possibly one in San Francisco (all of these in Northern California). Haunted is a neo-Gothic thriller about a teen who moves to England with her family into the ancestral mansion that isn't...exactly...abandoned. Danielle Paige and Michelle Gagnon gave me great cover blurbs for the book. So the two events are:
  • 6:30 p.m., Friday, March 6 at Face In A Book bookstore, 4359 Town Center Boulevard, El Dorado Hills, CA, (916) 941-9401.
  • 7 p.m., Saturday, March 14 at A Great Good Place for Books, 6120 LaSalle Ave., Oakland, CA, (510) 339-8210.

And now about the ARCs. These are copies created in advance of the book's actual printing, to send along to book reviewers and newspapers and bloggers. My publisher Kensington is giving away 25 free ARCs now. You can visit the Goodreads page for Haunted to enter to win one. While you're there, please friend me and mark the book as "want to read" if in fact you want to read it!

After several years off from the publishing world to raise some offspring and oh, move, a couple dozen times, I'm thrilled beyond belief to have another book hit the world! I hope you will enjoy it.

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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 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:






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'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 to learn how you can help combat this vicious, despicable disease.

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