Books & Reading, Writing & Life
Hey gang. As part of the Smashwords-Wattpad promotion I am offering up my first mystery, The Bluejay Shaman, for free! Seven chapters are already up so you can dig in this weekend. More chapters coming every day too. There are tons of great stories on Wattpad, check it out! Mystery/thriller fans click here for more: Wattpad ☀️ Happy weekend!
Curtis Sittenfeld’s modern retelling of the classic Jane Austen novel, Pride and Prejudice, is sure to be a big hit. How can it not? It is based on one the most loved novels in the English language. This retelling, Eligible, is part of a series of modern takes on Austen that started with Joanna Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility. I read that novel when it came out in 2013 and was, well, underwhelmed. Taking on Austen is not a task for the faint-hearted. She has a special charm that is not easily duplicated. I’ve passed (so far) on Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma and Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey, even though I am huge fans of both of them. (Tell me I’m wrong!)
When a friend asked me if I had gotten Eligible I dithered. But the pull of Pride and Prejudice, my favorite Austen novel, re-read many times, was too powerful. I dove in, willingly.
Is P&P Sittenfeld’s favorite novel? It’s hard to say but she certainly knows it well. Maybe the fact that she was able to re-title her book (after a fictional ‘Bachelor’-type show) made it more personal to her. She’s transplanted the Bennett Sisters to America in the 21st Century, to Cincinnati, her own hometown. Not much else is changed. There are still five sisters named Jane, Lizzy, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia. A couple hot bachelors named Darcy and Bingley. A ditzy mother and a laissez-faire father. I did appreciate some of the changes, the way she updated the story, making Bingley a reality TV star and giving Lydia a boyfriend who is not a Witham but has his own peculiarities. (No spoilers!)
But getting into the novel was a little strange. First off, let me just say, there are 181 chapters! Some are no more than a paragraph or less than half a page. Luckily I read mine on my Kindle so many trees were saved. I’ve never read Sittenfeld before– is this one of her signature styles? Yes, we live in a Twitter society with tiny chunks of communication, but is that your point in slicing the story into so many parts? Is this a statement or just laziness or some deep strategy that went over my head?
My second issue is a little weird but must have occurred to other fangirls. It’s this: how can educated young women in contemporary America have NO KNOWLEDGE of Pride and Prejudice? I know, it’s a story, suspend your disbelief. But so many times in the first half I wondered: don’t they read novels? Haven’t they watched Colin Firth dive into the lake? They are five single girls in America! At least Helen Fielding had the good sense to reference the zeitgeist of Austen in her pastiche of Pride and Prejudice, Bridget Jones’s Diary.
I know. It’s silly. But it floated to the surface while reading. Possibly because the first third to half of the book, while enjoyable, is also awkward. This is the problem with “re-telling.” Either you go so far from the original that many readers don’t even get it (see Bridget Jones) or so close that it makes a Janeite’s teeth ache. So many events in Eligible are so similar to the original that your mind does a little WTF. Once you reach the halfway point and you feel like you’re in more capable authorly hands, things definitely improve. There are some laugh-out-loud moments, some contemporary twists that are genuine and true. I just wish they’d started a bit earlier.
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Have you read any Austen Project novels? What do you look for in these modern retellings? Curious minds want to know.
My own Bennett Sisters (no relation to the originals: Annie, Stasia, Merle, Francie, and Elise) take off on a new adventure, coming in August. Want to hear about it first, get an early peek, find out about giveaways?
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It’s almost the weekend… and while we’ll be jamming to our favorite Prince tunes, hoisting an ale for the death 400 years gone of the Bard, and thinking the Queen is looking pretty damn good for 90, reading time will come. Reading is comforting, entertaining, mesmerizing. A great novel is a friend and a lifeline.
The thing about writing a novel is that many of us have little time, or mental space, to read for fun. This really kicks it because the reason most of us started writing is that we love fiction, love novels, love to read everything from the back of the cereal box to the latest graphic novel. When I first started writing I was warned to not read fiction while writing, as it would affect my “voice.” And yes, this isn’t terrible advice for the beginning writer. Stick to your plan, dive deep into your story and your characters, and don’t let some other author’s style get in your head.
At this point in my career, and my life, I can’t do that. I MUST READ. That doesn’t mean I don’t have must-see television of course… Game of Thrones is coming! Who will die?!
A few weeks ago I mentioned my interrupted writing schedule and being behind on my next Bennett Sisters novel. Well, I can tell you that I finished the first draft this week. It is far from done but I am letting it percolate awhile to get some gardening, and other writing, done.
But I couldn’t resist having a wee moment of squee. The life of a writer allows few moments of celebration as grand as when you sell a book, or your very own creation arrives on your doorstep. Finishing a first draft isn’t that big a deal, but it’s something. So I squee.
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Congrats as well to Aaron and Diana who were winners in the Amazon giveaway of The Girl in the Empty Dress. I want everyone to be up to date on the Sisters! I still have one more e-book to give away, so stay tuned for that. Please sign up for the newsletter to keep up to date on all the giveaways. CLICK HERE
So… whatcha reading? I love to hear about good books. Here are a few I recently read:
It checks all the boxes: France, historical, art, intrigue. Well-done debut by British author Imogen Robertson, The Paris Winter is about a penniless art student in 1910 Paris who gets in with some nasty folks in an attempt to stave off cold and starvation while painting madly.
This one also ticks the France and history boxes, but it’s non-fiction, about the story behind the writer, Alexandre Dumas. The author of The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo was the grandson of a French nobleman and his black Caribbean wife. Their son was brought back to France and raised as a Frenchman. The Count’s swashbuckling life was the stuff of fiction, and there is no doubt Dumas learned these stories at his father’s knee. Pulitzer winner for Biography. Fascinating.
For the new book I’m writing I wanted to rediscover a love of gothic novels. I read, and re-read a few gothics, those semi-scary romantic thrillers usually set in a creepy old house and featuring an orphan on her own in the world. (I believe the orphan trope is wish-fulfillment for readers who both crave and fear independence/dislocation from their parents. Probably why gothics appeal to certain age groups of young female readers.) I picked something newish and read Mist of Midnight by Sandra Byrd. Set in Victorian England (as good gothics usually are) a young woman returns from India to reclaim her inheritance only to find she has been declared dead and a distant relative has taken over the country house. Well done, not terribly scary at all, faithful to the genre. I enjoyed it very much.
Yes, there is a creepy old house in the new book…. 😱
Stay tuned for a cover reveal, coming soon!
What does it mean to let your hair go gray? To me, it’s like the old ‘60s mantra: letting your ‘freak feathers fly.’ It is acceptance– of not exactly old age (not there yet) but accepting who you are, right now. Even if that means no longer being young and attractive. America runs on vanity, whether you buy into it or not. For vain girls like me, the loss of our looks, plus the elder stateswoman status that gray hair gives us, can be a bitter pill to swallow.
If I’m honest with myself going gray equates with the loss of vitality, of literally life in your hair, your body, your mind. It is, for many of us, the beginning of the end.
[Q: Which came first: the crime writer or the death obsession? 😀 A: The egg. Always go with the egg.]
But lately I keep hearing in my head: “Who do you think you’re fooling?” I am not young. I know that rationally but the mind bucks it. Denial, let us say, is a powerful weapon against almost anything. Ignoring the obvious is not a bad way to go. It keeps you on the positive. And if you say something over and over it becomes ‘truthy.’ (One look at the chaos of this political campaign makes everyone a believer in that, or some other whack-a-doodle notion.) If I deny that I’m old does that make me feel younger? Hmmm. Not really. It only makes reality, when it inevitably rears its ugly head, that much harder.
So who am I fooling? Do strangers and bystanders in my life think I am younger than I am? That would be cool… or would it? I mean, do I really know their opinions (or care) and more pointedly, how does their admiration for my fabulous agelessness make a difference to me? It is simple vanity, and a window into the fear of growing old.
Six months ago I stopped dyeing my roots and began the somewhat painful process of letting my natural color grow in. With help from my stylist and some highlights, I should say. It hasn’t been terrible, possibly because of a talented stylist. I am deep into my Diane Keaton period and am on my way to full Emmylou Harris. Or so we can hope.
Yesterday I looked at a photo from last summer, my nephew’s wedding, where my hair, still a rich brown, looked great. I mean, great. But then I recalled the reason for this journey, the itchy scalp, the reaction to brown hair dye that has been getting worse. I was up to five packets of ‘Equal’ in the dye to keep the itching at bay. (Pro tip: not every stylist knows the trick of adding artificial sweetener to brown dye to reduce its harshness. BYO.) And once a month at the salon, new stylists to be discovered as I move, it was all getting to be a drag.
My skin has always been sensitive. At one point it was described as ‘dermagraphic,’ that you could write on it with your fingernail and it would swell up. The fact that I got through years of hard-core permanent dye on my scalp is a wonder, and I don’t want to push my luck. But the decision didn’t come easily, even though lots of my friends have gone natural. At a reunion two years ago the majority of the fourteen friends were gray (or white.) Only the blondes—and me– kept on. One of my other friends let her hair go natural at 50, hated it, and went full-on blonde. Another tired of dyeing her roots in her forties. Some still dye their hair of course. It’s a personal decision for every woman.
But the emotional side of it, the acceptance of aging and with it the eventual final decline, comes with the territory. Going gray is freeing in a way, from the financial burden and time-suck of hours in the salon of course, but also of the charade of youth. I have my health – knock on wood – but I also have grandchildren. I adore them and would love to have more. So who am I fooling with dark brown hair? No one obviously.
My role models are a bit muddy on dyeing. My mother famously ‘frosted’ her dark hair in her forties to disguise the gray and was very put out that none of us noticed. I doubt she bothered again. (It’s shocking how little I remember of my parents in their middle age when I was living far away and busy being me.) Now 92 her hair is pure white. Many in the greatest generation never learned to handle their own locks; she goes to the salon once a week to get it ‘done.’ My mother-in-law, ten years younger than my mother and gone too early at 78, told me in no uncertain terms to never go gray. Originally a brunette she dyed her hair at home for years, a platinum blonde for most of the time I knew her.
The cool thing about going gray is that is reversible. And blonde-able. Keeping that in the back pocket should I have an emotional crash at my looks. (Oooh, purple!)
I guess it’s time to stop obsessively googling ‘Going Gray Gracefully.’ Don’t bother: there are no answers there. Because the answers are inside, not outside.
This is life, my grays– and Emmylou– tell me. Embrace it.
The Bennett sisters will have to deal with their gray hair soon… or have they already started? Read about them in the series starting with Blackbird Fly. Have you tried your luck at the giveaway for the second in the series, The Girl in the Empty Dress?
Just two more days to enter. Check it out at Amazon Giveaway.
Hurry! Ends Thursday, April 14
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I’m happy to report my Writus Interruptus has dissipated with the spring rains and I am back in the saddle, writing-wise. The saddle in this case is every chair in the house. Unfortunately I have my feet up these days as I tweaked my knee last week. As my pal Sherri asks, “Did you trip or fall in a hole?” Not this time! (I am a well-known klutz.) I was just walking along the trail by the canal and my knee started hurting.
My knee is a well-known irritant to pleasure. This same knee has had a meniscus tear, a lateral ligament release, and in the infamous ski accident — Park City 2005 — lost cartilage in the tibial plateau fracture. Yes, my bad leg. My bad knee. So no big surprise that something new would pop up. But very annoying.
The good news for writing is — always look on the bright side 🙂 –that I have no excuses for not getting some major writing done this week while I rest my knee. I am currently at 53,000 words when I should be done, so still about 20,000 words behind. This week though — it’s onward into the breach.
Keeping your enthusiasm for your project going is one of the main issues for the pro writer. Even if you’re so enamored with your story and in the full flush of story-telling that you’re getting up at 4 a.m. before you go to work to write, keeping your head in the game can be a struggle. I used a weekend a couple weeks back to simply re-read my entire novel. I wanted to make sure I remembered all the aspects of it, little hints of things to come I put in consciously or subconsciously, characters I wanted to flesh out a bit, stuff that might not make the final cut but still had some juice. By Monday I felt excited about getting back to the story.
This Bennett Sisters novel has only a splash of French sunshine in it– and is drenched in Scottish rain. It is mostly set in the Highlands of Scotland at Annie’s wedding. (I hope readers who love the French setting aren’t too disappointed.) It feels like more an ensemble piece than the other books in the series, although Merle, middle sister and tentpole, is still the core. I love getting into these characters more with each book, it makes writing about the sisters very satisfying. All five sisters are staying in a Highland hunting lodge that belongs to Annie’s fiancé’s family. But this is no simple romance about a wedding. There’s an upstairs/downstairs aspect as the staff gets involved as well. Lots of plates in the air here. But at least no one but the cat cares if I get up off the sofa. (Oh, occasionally my husband does like a hot meal.)
I’m working with a new cover designer, Connie Dillon, who is doing an original painting. I love Connie’s work and hope you will too. Check out her website. Connie lives in Billings, Montana, one of my “hometowns.” Stay tuned for a cover reveal!
The title of the new one? It’s another Beatles song title, like ‘Blackbird Fly.’ See if you know it from these lyrics. Give it a guess in the comments!
Follow my Pinterest pages to see images like this one that have inspired me as I write this new novel. (Who can resist a man in a kilt?!)
There’s still a copy of The Girl in the Empty Dress up for grabs over at Amazon! Try your luck!
May you feel the love from me across the miles today, wherever you are.
I think Valentine’s Day is a bit of a Hallmark holiday, and all I got my husband was a non-Hallmark card, but I am completely in favor of love. Love your mother, love your father. Love your siblings, your children, your spouse. If you’re in a relationship, tell that person how much they mean to you. You can never do that too much.
Just to show you how crass Valentine’s Day is I’m participating in a sale! Yes, grabbing the furry coattails of love! How mercenary. Just like the flower people, the chocolate folks, and Hallmark. I do apologize.
Fortunately many of these books are free. If you like chick lit or contemporary romance, you should be able to find something among these thirty-plus titles that tickles your fancy. My college romance, All Your Pretty Dreams, is in here, just 99 cents this week.
Lots of love
Delicious over-the-top fun!
The five mystery writers who put together the rollicking dark comedy, Beat Slay Love, have discounted the novel for the first time.
It’s now just 99 cents. But don’t delay.
Leave a review if you can! Much appreciated.
“You’ll never watch the Food Network shows the same way after reading Beat Slay Love. . . a heady mixture of reality television, misbehaving foodies, murder most-creatively-foul, and determined sleuths. Delicious over-the-top fun!“— Mysterious Galaxy
Oh, those pesky resolutions.
Does anyone even care what a person resolves to do in the new year, or how they are (or likely not) accomplished? I doubt it. If you want to lose ten pounds or run a marathon or write a novel go forth and do it. Like so much in the world no one cares about your ambitions like you do. And that’s the way it should be.
When I first started writing, sending off work and getting back rejections, I learned to toughen myself to inevitable failure. Being a writer is failing, generally. The novel is never as good as it seemed in your head. The reviews are never quite as glowing as you’d like, and often a lot less glowing. The money is never what you dreamed. The loneliness is crushing at times. And these are just side issues.
The work itself is harder, less satisfying, and relentless in a way that you are never actually done. Writing, editing, rewriting, publishing: that’s the beginning. Now, in the indie publishing world especially, the blogging, the marketing, the tweeting, the schmoozing goes on indefinitely. There’s some good to that, with the “long tail” — your books can be discovered by new readers forever — but there’s also the onus of endless salesmanship.
So what is failure then? Because, for an artist, the only measure of success is inside of you. That’s probably the hardest thing to accept. When you choose a creative career your output, the quality of it, the quantity of it, the starting, the quitting, the starting over, is all up to you. The world may beat you down or praise you to the heights you don’t feel you deserve. Your head may explode with ego; your heart may shrivel with rejection. But the bottom line is, if you feel you have succeeded, there you are: you have succeeded. Not by the world’s measure perhaps, not by your mother’s measure, or your teacher’s, or your friend’s. But those measures are false. Your only measure of success is in your own heart and head.
Getting to this point can be an emotional roller coaster. But hey, that’s life: ups, downs, highs, lows, and if you’re lucky, a measure of self-acceptance. A small measure? Perhaps, but knowing you are not a failure, knowing it deep down in your gut, knowing you have given it everything you had, is worth the struggle. That small knowing is golden.
My resolution was simple last year: review every book I read, online somewhere. I fell behind in the summer so yesterday I reviewed six books. I didn’t review every book — if I didn’t finish it I don’t consider it “read.” I left a few books unreviewed anyway so I guess I failed. I’m getting good at this. 🙂
This year I resolve something different. Small goals, hopefully doable.
- Write every day.
- Eat yogurt every day.
- Walk every day.
- Laugh every day.
I foresee the last one being the hardest. So I will check in here once in awhile with a laugh video and let you know how it’s going.
Ha-ha-happy new year! 😄
It’s not as cynical as it sounds. Really. There’s something so freeing about the holiday we call New Year, New Year’s Eve, or just The End of That Wicked Year.
The expectations for New Year’s Eve are so minimal. Drink, possibly-fireworks-probably-just-on-television, a smack on the lips perhaps. Not so much that you can’t just go to bed early and say “Happy New Year” and make pancakes in the morning.
After the hectic days of the religious and semi-pagan holidays, Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza if you will, family visits, babies and dogs and snow and travel and disruptions of schedules to the point that you welcome going back to work, the mini blip of New Year’s Eve is, well, a mini blip of light and champagne.
Some people are going out for big blow-out parties, I suppose. Good on ya! I haven’t been to one for years, being of a certain staid nature by now. (I’m actually reading a novel set in rural England in the ’30s where they have big parties and skating and merriment, along with vicious family intrigue. Oh, those were the days. Except for sexual repression. And Nazis.)
Do you go out and celebrate? For years now we’ve done home parties; if we’re skiing we watch fireworks and have a toddy but mostly it’s very low-key. The food extravaganza is hopefully over. The new year drink is a little champagne, and a nap.
So my wish for you this New Year’s Eve — a moment of light and love as the year ends, and a new one begins. May the best of times be on your horizon and a smile on your sweet lips. ❤️
That’s not to say I haven’t been working on book projects. One in particular has taken a lot of time. Writing, editing, designing, marketing: I’ve had my editor/publisher hat on for quite a bit of this one. (No not the one in the photo.) The book is a collaboration between me and my Thalia Press partner, Katy Munger, plus three other mystery writers. Well-seasoned, all of us – with tarragon and a hint of lemon.
On Thursday, October 1, my friends and I officially release our project, a group novel we call Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge. It’s a dark comic send-up of serial killer novels, food mysteries, chick lit, and an iconic book you may remember, Eat Pray Love. We offer our sincere apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert and hope she can appreciate our tongue-in-cheek swipe at all that is holy. For we spare very few in this thriller. Reality TV chefs: done for. Pompous jerks: finished. Fakers and takers: outa here. Gleefully!
The book has been a blast. My friends — besides Katy the fabulous collaborators are Kate Flora, Gary Phillips, and Taffy Cannon — and I took turns writing sections, riffing on each other’s plot lines, developing protagonists and villains, taking our crew from coast to coast, from lobster in Maine to huckleberries in Montana, from food festivals to fine dining. We never really believed, in our heart of hearts, that it would work. Writers are notoriously individualist. Probably somebody would give up, go off the rails, throw up their hands. But, remarkably, to our surprise, it did work. Bestselling author Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse mysteries that inspired ‘True Blood,’ said this:
“This incredibly sly mystery has everything you’d want when you bite into a dish: suspense, spice, and a new take on an old classic. For anyone who’s ever watched Chopped or even stopped in at Williams Sonoma — Beat, Slay, Love is the perfect read.”
So the time has come. We hope you’ll enjoy ‘Thalia Filbert’s take on contemporary American food and crime. To celebrate we’ve put together a recipe book called Thalia Filbert’s Killer Cocktail Party. Comment below to get a copy free.
And enjoy Beat Slay Love as much as we did writing it. Think of it as a juicy October dessert. Mmmm.