Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Left Over Research--Architecture

I have so much of it. I know that it all gets in there by creating subtle elements of back drop even if it never makes it in in fully formed fact. I seriously researched architecture for this novel. And it was a huge period for architecture.

In France: Louis XIV attended a party at his friend Nicholas Foquet's beautiful new chateau, Vaux le Vicomte. It was a super party: Moliere premiered a play, the food was delicious, the weather perfect and the music was superb. And the house: the house was stunning. So stunning that Louis promptly accused his friend of stealing from the royal treasury (how else could one afford such splendor?) and threw him in prison. He then stepped up his own building plans for Versailles by stealing Foquet's architect (Louis Le Vau), his decorator (Charles Le Brun), and his gardener (Andre Le Notre). And the result? Versailles. Also stunning.

In England: Most of London (including St. Paul's Cathedral) burnt to the ground in 1666. This was only a few months after the city was ravaged by plague in 1665. Together: the bureaucracy of people not wanting to sacrifice their houses for firebreaks (no insurance for houses used for firebreaks but lots of insurance if your house burnt down by fire: you can imagine what people chose), terrible wind conditions, a dry summer and a baker, Mr. Farriner, who possibly did not bank his ovens in Pudding Lane as well as he could have one night in September, created the Great Fire of London.

So, rebuilding. London was almost rebuilt to be very, very, uniform and beautiful as early as 1666--if Christopher Wren had been given authority over the whole of the design. Or, very, very, sanitary--if John Evelyn had been given the whole design. But Charles II could not stand squabbling and he was flat, pancake broke. So he doled out responsibility for the rebuild in dribs and drabs. But he gave Christopher Wren the Monument to the fire: a famously simple stark effective tower and the churches--and they are beautiful. St. Paul's Cathedral was the glorious centerpiece. Wren's tombstone is a small circle on the floor under the center of the dome. It advises anyone interested in remembering the man or the work to "look around you".

Monday, March 29, 2010

You Are What You Read?

So since I am in Los Angeles and do not drive in Los Angeles, I walk--a lot. And since I was ten I have not left the house without a book--two to be safe. In middle school I used to fall asleep with at least thirty of my favorite books on the bed with me. Not sure what I planned to do with them but I liked it that they were there.

I also enjoy books in the pool or in the ocean. One would think that I could just do one thing at a time but oh no--I manage the tricky reading/sunscreen/sand/water/wave/rock/sunhat/tourists watching/book warping combination no problem. My sister does it too although she manages to restrict her reading to the pool and the beach rather than the ocean. Anyway I like books. How they feel, weigh, sound: that thick thud of a hefty book shutting and the delicate creak of a new book opening. My brother needs a book with him for his afternoon nap, my father always travels with a small hardback PG Wodehouse novel, a golf magazine and a political book about Asia and my mom keeps a rotation of miniature Jane Austen novels in her handbag. She is very happy to have gotten to the stage where she forgets them almost as soon as she has read them--much like the painting of the Firth of Forth Bridge.

And I carry them around and people see me with books. Some days I will be wandering around with Gone with the Wind (one of the books I am teaching right now) or Count of Monte Cristo (teaching again) or Twilight: Breaking Dawn (yup that is just me reading), 1930's poetry (me reading again--my first love), The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles (teaching--although it is brilliant!) or maybe a research books for the first novel (academic looking history books about: the Restoration, plague, fire, Christopher Wren or Louis XIV).

People will respond/speak/interact with me differently according to what I am carrying. GWTW and The Count both either win me "haven't you already read that?" looks or excited, complicit "I love that book!" looks. Academic books always trigger the 'What do you do?" question and Breaking Dawn gets ignored by everyone over seventeen. No one knows what to make of the poetry or the Whangdoodles.

The judging process is instantaneous. I was talking about it recently with Jonah from the Mac Store (got the 'g' and 'o' fixed!). He is ironically reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. People clock, absorb, judge, asses and pass verdict almost instantly. I can be dressed in a tutu (love tutus) but if I am carrying Anna Karenina I will be taken seriously. If I am in a tutu and reading Twilight... hopeless.

And the funny thing is that they are not necessarily wrong. I do read light fluffy on days when I feel light fluffy. Or maybe the book comes first and then the fluffiness? It is a bit of a barometer of that day--but just that day. The mistake comes in believing that that is the sum total. The next day I will wear overalls and read about Whangdoodles.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Book Hop

There is a wonderful resource for writers/readers/reviewers on Fridays. Crazy for Books, a friendly, encouraging, enthusiastic blog hosts a Friday book blog hop where writing/reading/reviewing blogs are all listed in one place and people can go hopping around the book blogosphere with a bit of a map.

I love it! I love having all these publishing blogs organized and collected in one place so that should I lose one (as I often do) I can find it again. The publishing blogosphere is a bit of a rabbit hole and it is easy to just keep on tumbling without ever finding a white rabbit to lead you back. Presto! A white rabbit!

Check out . Happy Friday!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Good Stuff Odds and Ends

There is a fantastic thing going on the internet today. I daily go creeping round the literary blog world without leaving footprints. Nathan Bransford's site is magnificent. He is an agent at Curtis Brown and his site helped me with the entire querying agent publishing process. His advice is good, clear, specific and invaluable. On his blog today--the one that I read everyday--he writes about a group of writers that came together to form a 'donate 50 cents to certain library per comment left on blog' challenge.

The turn out is phenomenal. Blogs that have six people following and only two comments in their history suddenly have forty seven comments all from people creeping around the bloggy-sphere like me. I like that. I like money donated to libraries. I like people leaving footprints for a good cause. More footprints Priya.

In other good news a wonderful writer who I absolutely love wrote me a wonderful blurb--yipee! I almost fell out of my chair when my editor sent it to me. I can't say anymore (for fear of it somehow being mysteriously taken away more than anything) but I am truly delighted. I did not see that coming.

And--if yesterday wasn't wonderful enough. I was in Barnes and Noble (where I use big history/design/biography books for research but do not buy them--as soon as I can I will because I fervently believe in buying books, but these books are just out of my budget/baggage/packing limitations right now) and I was reading Breaking Dawn. Ok, I have a thing about Twilight. It is all my friend Amber's fault. A couple of years ago we had coffee in Kapaa and she told me that she had fallen in love with a fictional vampire and I had to read these books. Feeling impervious to such wacky vampire mania and vaguely superior I read Twilight--and then I refused to speak to anyone for three weeks while I plowed through the other three.

I love these books. I read them over and over to try to figure out what she did to my brain to make me react that way and... nope. Haven't got it yet. Anyway I often treat myself to ten minutes of these books when in other cities (mine live in the laundry room in Hawaii where I actually hid them from renters who might want to steal them). These hefty little monsters are also outside my packing/baggage limitations and so wherever I go I read them in bookstores. But you have to limit it to ten minutes--anymore and the stories get into your head and that is the ballgame for your own writing that day. You people are getting way too clear an idea of how bizarre my days really are...

A ten year old girl sat next to me and started reading Eclipse. Total silence. Total absorption. A few minutes later I felt more people sitting on the bench but did not look up. When my ten minutes were up I put the book down and looked around. I was in a row of nine girls no more than fourteen, reading Twilight books. Love it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

New Book

I am reading a fantastic book at the moment: The Glass of Time by Michael Cox. This extraordinary man wrote while going blind and dying of cancer. When preparing for one of his surgeries he apparently was put on some steroids that gave him enormous energy and he decided to tackle the great ghost novel that had been on his mind for the last thirty years. He wrote not one but two books before he died last year.

The one I am reading--the second--is bold and sure and breathtaking in its scope. It is a sort of hazy Victorian green atmosphere and built with sharp language that slices right through. I love it. Wait for a rainy day when no book has obsessed you for a bit and then read it!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Post Office and the Herd

So I put a new photo up. Frighteningly enough it is also my current author photo that my mom took after we had been shovelling snow for two hours. Needless to say I am going to get a proper one done in Hawaii--if I ever get back to Hawaii. My wonderful students who I saw last weekend no longer believe I am ever coming back.

I am having a funny life at the moment. I am writing, researching, teaching, and editing. Not my manuscript--that went back to Simon and Schuster yesterday--after 442 pages and a lecture from a very irritated post office lady who did not want to insure a gigantic stack of paper for five hundred dollars--I figure they will be less inclined to lose it if it is worth more? I also asked her five times whether next day really really meant next day and how many packages they really lose and then I kissed the package and wished it luck. The people in line hated me at first but then were fascinated by the train wreck nature of my post office visit and eventually wished the package luck too.

It is all wonderful and wordy and fun and I love it but it does take me out of the herd of regular people a bit--not that that is a bad thing as I have always been of two minds about herds. I spend inordinate amounts of time in my pajamas, don't see many other humans (except moms, nannies, tourists and kids in strollers) and lately I have begun talking to myself in public, and unashamedly writing down words I like and things people say--right in front of them--all worrying. I go out into the world when the world is at work. No lines. No rush hour. But no people either. There is something really fun about the great exodus of people heading to the subway on their way to work. A sort of sesame bagely, New York Times, coffee cup camaraderie. But then I think I am just romanticizing it from afar. When I was in it I just wanted shorter lines at the post office and no people...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Different Centuries

I get fascinated by different periods in time. It is super specific. It won't be just 'late 19th Century' but '1890's Sarah Bernhardt but before Oscar Wilde combusted late 19th Century'--it is very peculiar.

It might be the clothes (the Directoire fashions pulled me right into that corrupt but pretty period for about two years). It might be the architecture (Napoleon certainly gets me that way with his beautiful bridges and I am quite sure my writing about Nell Gwyn can be laid on Christopher Wren's beautiful stone doorstep).

The love of the clothes and music and architecture run into the literature and vice-versa. I get addicted. Between the wars poetry gave me an undue love for totally impractical 1930's hats. On any given day I can get lured into the look, sound, feel, color and noise of any given time. And then I want to move there, write there, live there and read there. I choose books to read by the cover certainly (I know terrible but I can't help it), but I also choose them for the period. There are days that are perfect for turn of the century New York and then there are days that are just built for Left Bank Paris. Strange. I have no real idea why.

I finished my book yesterday and went hunting for another. I tried out different times and places and settled on Revolutionary France and Bombay circa now. Funny but it was just that kind of Tuesday.

Monday, March 8, 2010


I love good news! And today there is lots of it! So, a list. I love lists!

1. A wonderful, brilliant, hugely popular, best selling author I respect and admire has read my book and given me a wonderful quote for the cover--which I can't talk about yet but will soon!

2. Sharon Kay Penman (who wrote the fantastic Here Be Dragons Welsh trilogy and the fantastic Henry and Eleanor of Aquitaine series Time and Chance and The Devil's Brood) mentioned me on her website! Yipee!

3. I am past page 200 on my galley edits!

4. I discovered what Restoration face lotion was really made of. As I am a face lotion junkie I really wanted to know what Nell put on her face and I had discovered all the ingredients except one--apple cider vinegar. The other ingredients were a very destructive combination of lead (yikes), chalk (not so moisturizing), and some other nasty, nasty stuff. Water was far too dangerous a substance to use so...vinegar?

Thursday, March 4, 2010


The manuscript is beautiful! Each section is beautifully designed and brilliantly set on the page. It is an elegant, legible, beautiful design and I love it so much. The letters look like Restoration letters! The playbills look like Restoration playbills! The diary headings look like diary headings! The snozberries look like snozberries!

Now all I have to do is proofread and edit and check it over with my trusty green pencil. Sounds easy but...

Did I use commas in all the dates? Mmm, maybe I should check.

Do I always italicise this?

Do I always capitalise that?

Do I always go this bonkers when I proofread? I think I am making it worse. Going out to sit in the sun...

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Fun Part

This is the fun part. The characters begin to chatter. They take on a form and a walk. I learn whether they wash their face before they brush their teeth or vice versa. They tell me what food they like. They paint their bedrooms, name their pets, bite their fingernails. They choose hats.

Yet no great plot choices are lost yet. The plot moves along feeling obvious until an intersection when two choices (or more--nightmare) feel almost right or almost wrong. There is no clear direction and you literally have to guess. If you guess wrong (as I did once last time around) recognize it as soon as possible and go back and lift it out--like planting the wrong flowers then removing them. If it is wrong, no amount of building, decorating, nudging or re-jiggering can make it right. It has to come out. Yuck.

But looking back and feeling relief that you chose right--fun. Not coming to a tricky intersection yet--also fun.