Archives

Tags

Selected Works

Historical Fiction
Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others' path during Pompeii's fiery end.
Caught in the deadly world of the Renaissance's most notorious family, three outsiders must decide if they will flee the dangerous dream of power.
The Borgia family begins its legendary rise, chronicled by an innocent girl who finds herself drawn into their dangerous web.
The lives of an ambitious soldier, a patrician heiress and a future emperor fatefully intersect.
The Year of Four Emperors - and four very different women struggling to survive
A brilliant and paranoid Emperor, a wary and passionate slave girl – who will survive?

Ave Historia: An irreverent look at historical fiction today: books trends, historical tidbits, and random tangents

10 Warning Signs of a Bookworm Child

June 26, 2014

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

Do any of these 10 things seem familiar? Then you were (or have given birth to) a bookworm child.

1. An advanced ability to walk while reading. Forget those skits where the kid walks book-first into a glass door. A true bookworm child can navigate a full schoolbus route including steps, greeting the driver, finding a seat, successfully locating their stop, and walking the mile and a half home without ever running into anything or lowering the book from their nose.

2. The inability to pass even a 1-minute waiting period without reading. True bookworm children will whip out the Kindle while waiting for their coffee to finish its 60 seconds of heating, rather than spend that 60 seconds just, you know, waiting.

3. Bookworm children are drinking coffee by 11.

4. A complete inability to pace themselves when reading. Bookworm children will pack seventeen books for a week-long family vacation in Cabo, read all seventeen by day four, then complain bitterly that the only books available are crappy Gothic romances or Harry Potter y la orden del Fénix. Will spend the rest of the vacation plowing grimly through Barbara Michaels, and come home with the ability to cast Unforgivable Curses in Spanish.

5. Will read anything. You probably imagine your bookworm child adorably curled up with War and Peace, but in truth they will read anything. They will read 2009 editions of “Popular Mechanic” if there is nothing else available in waiting rooms. They will read books they don't even like: a paperback R.L. Stine surreptitiously read under a desk is still better than geometry.

6. Detention slips for being caught three times during class reading an R.L. Stine under the desk.

7. Stores of arcane knowledge. Bookworm children soak in everything. They'll tell you what a turbo engine and how it works at age 12—because they remember that 2009 issue of “Popular Mechanic.”

8. A dour expression. This originates from dealing with adults routinely demanding “What are you going to do with all those books?” (Use them for firewood?)

9. A hatred of reading programs. Most bookworm kids will avoid librarians with summer reading lists like the plague. They're not interested in filling out the form, getting the sticker, or being a Gold Star Reader. They simply want to be left alone to read, dammit.

10. The ability to sneak. Sneak Dad's library card out of his wallet, that is, so they can get around the librarians who refuse to let “I, Claudius” go out on a kid card. The true bookworm child also has a practiced doe-eyed expression as “My dad told me to get this for him when I got my Babysitter Club Books” trips innocently off the tongue.


And yes: I did pretty much every one of these growing up.

Writers Read: What I'm Reading

June 21, 2014

Tags: Words or phrases to categorize this post for the tags section

Guest blogging over at Writers Read - what books are in my top stack? Lots of HF (no surprise) but some surprises in there too. Seriously, give "Lexicon" by Max Barry a try, and Rachel Caine's Romeo-and-Juliet spin-off: some of the best books I've read this year.

The Page 69 Test

June 17, 2014

Tags: the page 69 test, guest blog, the lion and the rose

It's the Page 69 Test today: namely, what would any reader think if they opened your book to page 69?

Anybody who did that that for "The Lion and the Rose" would walk into the crossfires of a lethal female cat-fight. When a powerful man's current girlfriend locks horns with his ex-girlfriend, sparks quite often fly . . . but what if the man in the middle is His Holiness the Pope?

To read more, click here!

How To Keep Writing and Keep Sane

June 13, 2014

Tags: writing advice

There are a billion blog posts out there about how to write a book, how to market a book, how to sell a book. How to up your word-count; how to make your characters pop; how to hook an agent. There's not so much about how to be happy as a writer. How to live your life, write books, and stay sane.

I certainly don't have everything figured out along those lines, but I've written six books in six years, and I'm not in the nut-house yet. (Barely. Last book came close.) For what it's worth, here are a few things I've figured out, through trial and error, about keeping a word-count and keeping balanced. Because it ain't easy.

1. Figure out how you write best.
Forget the people who say you'll never succeed if you can't crank out at least 4,000 words a day. Forget the people who say longhand is the only way to go. Forget the people who say writing out of sequence is the key to keeping it fresh. How do you work best? Can you churn out a book in a few minutes here and a few minutes there throughout your day, or do you need a solid block of time? Do you write best with notepad or laptop, at the crack of dawn or the dead of night? Can you manage 2,000 words a day, or does the word-count thing stress you out and you'd rather measure your progress in scenes completed? Figure out what works for you. I've found that I work best in the afternoons, need at least five hours, and can produce about 3,000 words on an average day—but everybody's different. My system probably won't work for you, and yours wouldn't work for me.

2. Now that you know how you write best, arrange your life to make it happen.
Not easy, I know. Especially when you've got the demands of kids, family, and day job. I need uninterrupted time to work, and in the days when I had a full college class-load and three jobs, all I could do was carve out my weekend afternoons for writing. I have a friend who writes around three kids, and she'll whip out her laptop while waiting in the carpool line or the pediatrician's office. Whatever you need, make it happen.

3. Realize that something's gotta go.
I always thought that once I was writing full-time, I'd have time for everything: research, writing, housework, two-hour stints at the gym, and cooking gourmet dinners every night. Nope. No matter whether you're writing around a day job or not, there is never enough time. To carve out that space in your day to write, you will have to give something up. Maybe it's your Dr. Who marathons that go bye-bye. Maybe it's that extra hour of sleep in the morning. Or maybe you didn't see your daughter score the winning goal because your spouse took her to her soccer game so you could stay home and work. But something's going to the wayside. I have very little social life and the only show I watch on TV is “Game of Thrones.” So be it.

4. That being said, make time to get outside.
Let's face it, writers are pretty much glued to their computer screens. We have to make ourselves unplug, and getting outside is a good way to do it, even if it's just a five minute stroll around the block with the dog. Besides, I've found that a brisk walk away from my Facebook updates and stack of emails is just about the best way to think through a knotty plot problem.

5. Hit the gym.
I know this is starting to sound like one of those health-and-wellness posts, but hear me out: working up a sweat can really help your writing. Writers over-think everything; the book is never “off” in your head—but that isn't always a good thing. Try taking an hour away from that chapter that's driving you crazy and focus on your sprint time or your downward dog—your brain just might present you with the “bingo” solution as you're sluicing off your gym sweat in the shower. It's like seeing something clearly only when you look slightly away from it. So if you're stuck, try working out—my friend C.W. Gortner swears by yoga, my friend Stephanie Thornton trains for half-marathons, I like to hit a punching bag. Whatever works for you.

6. Try to physically separate writing from your ordinary life.
Maybe your brain is never entirely “off” when it comes to the work-in-progress, but you'll find it a lot easier to relax after your daily stint if you have an office or working sanctum to physically exit when finished. Ideally, of course, this would be a wood-paneled private library a la Downton Abbey complete with fireplace, desk the size of an air-strip, and Carson The Butler bringing you fresh coffee whenever you ring the bell. In real life, we make do with what we've got: a spare bedroom made over into an office; a corner of the living room with a makeshift folding desk; a laptop designated as work-only. Don't have even that much space? I've got friends who made the local Panera their office. Anything that separates writing from life, so you can close the door on it when you're done. If nothing else, it's a helpful cue for family members: the kids will learn very quickly that Mom is not on call to wash soccer uniforms or make Kool-Aid freezer-pops until she is back from Panera or has exited the spare bedroom and shut the door behind her.

7. “Be regular and orderly in your life, like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
Flaubert said that, and good old Gustave was right. I know the pervasive stereotype of a writer's life is hard partying alternating with all-night writing binges . . . but you'll be more productive with a steady routine, whatever that routine is. (If blowing off steam at a party relaxes you, then make that part of your routine.) When I was working a 9-5 day job, my routine was “Day job Monday through Friday, write all day Saturday, write all day Sunday. Rinse-and-repeat.” These days it's “Get up, walk the dog, go to the gym, shower, eat lunch standing up in front of the fridge, go to spare bedroom-turned-office and write for the next six hours. Rinse-and-repeat.” It's mindless. It's repetitive. It's certainly not glamorous. But it's soothing. Soothing is good for your word-count.

8. Speaking of stereotypes, don't be the substance-abusing writer.
I know; plenty of geniuses like Fitzgerald and Hemingway wrote masterpieces around drug-and-alcohol problems. Still don't recommend it. Most writers probably have a bit of a self-destructive bent built in—after all, our job is not just to nourish the voices in our heads, but talk back to them. Still, it's probably wiser to soothe the crazy with routine rather than vices. Stephen King is the most successful author in the history of the published word, and what does he attribute his success to? “Staying sober, and staying married.”

9. Speaking of married: toxic relationships are toxic for your word-count.
It's tough living with a writer—my husband could tell you all about the midnight scrambles to write an idea down before it fades into sleep; the wild-eyed work binges at deadline time; the fact that some part of my brain is always, always on the work-in-progress. But we're happy, and happiness = productivity. Nobody should settle for less. If your significant other condescends about your cute little hobby, tells you to get a real job, or just plain resents having to do more of the dishes when you're on deadline, kick 'em to the curb and watch your word-count rise in your new-found solitude.

10. Make friends with other writers.
Even the most loving spouse won't know deadline agony quite as intimately as a fellow writer. Friends like this will literally save your sanity, not just by reading your entire 500 page manuscript in 3 days over Christmas week when you really need feedback fast, but by understanding where you're at. When my last book had me on the verge of a nervous breakdown, my husband brought me flowers, made me dinner . . . and arranged for my nearest writer friend to take me out to coffee and talk me off the ledge. It worked. Whether these people live in your hometown or are a Facebook PM away, know who you can reach out to.


This list is by no means complete—it's just a few things that help me stay the course so far, and I know I'll keep learning as long as I keep writing. Because there's no end in sight. This profession is a race with no finish line. Once you hit one goal (You got an agent! You got published!) it's instantly replaced by another one. You're always learning, always working, and there's no magical point at which it becomes easy. Diana Gabaldon with her millions of readers, multi-city book tours, myriad bestseller lists, and Starz mini-series still had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to finish her galley edits, according to her Facebook update. Margaret George still stresses about getting her historical research accurate. Nobody gets a pass on the ups and downs of this life, no matter how successful. I have days when I cry into my coffee and contemplate a career in burger flipping, and I guarantee you, so does Hilary Mantel or Philippa Gregory or Bernard Cornwell. Just remember to keep an even keel. Keep sane. Keep writing.

What tips help you do that? I'm all ears.

The Next Project: Something Secret, Different, and Fabulous!

June 6, 2014

Tags: a day of fire, pompeii, stephanie dray, ben kane, eliza knight, sophie perinot, vicky alvear shecter

Some of you may have heard me hint over the past few months about a fabulous secret project coming up after "Lady of the Eternal City." Secret no longer--here are the deets.

It's a collaboration between six authors of historical fiction. All about the fall of Pompeii.

Everything began on my last release day, when Stephanie Dray and Sophie Perinot dropped by in their standard Release Day effort to keep me distracted from my Amazon Sales Ranking by any means up to and including handcuffs. At some point over the champagne, somebody mused "We should write a book TOGETHER. Not just a collection of stories; a book-in-three parts. Romance authors do it all the time, why not historical fiction authors?"

Six months and eight billion emails later, we had a subject - the last days of Pompeii - and a lineup of contributing authors. Six authors, not three; representing all shades and flavors of historical fiction from guts-and-glory star Ben Kane to historical YA phenom Vicky Alvear Shecter; historical family drama expert Sophie Perinot and historical fantasy maven Stephanie Dray and romance-bestseller-turned-historical novelist Eliza Knight.

At the end of 2014, we will be excited to bring you A Day of Fire: Stories of Pompeii.

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens escaped the mountain's wrath, some died as heroes . . . and these are their stories.

A boy who loses his innocence in Pompeii's flourishing streets.
An heiress dreading her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.
An ex-legionary staking his future on a gladiator bout destined to be fatally interrupted.
A crippled senator whose only chance of escape lies with a beautiful tomboy on horseback.
A young mother faced with an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.
A priestess and a whore looking for redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.

A novel in six parts, overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross paths during Pompeii's fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for posterity?