Wednesday, August 31, 2011

At the End of Summer, a Word on Beginnings

     I love beginnings. Weddings, babies, new school years, mornings. Clean slates, possibilities, nothing I’ve screwed up. Yet.
     I never begin reading a book without the feeling that almost anything might happen. I might love it. I might hate it. I might throw it across the room in frustration. I simply don’t know yet.
     As for writing beginnings . . . well, here’s the deal. I hate it. With the white-hot passion of a thousand suns I prick the blood from my fingertips and achingly scrawl letter by letter--
     Okay, you get the clich├ęd drift.
     There are just so many things to remember about beginnings. And so much riding on them. We all know the beginning will make or break our shot with an agent or editor. If they don’t like the first page, they’ll never see the second. So you’d better write a killer first page. Or first paragraph. Or even first word.
     Sigh. Now I’m looking at the first word of this piece and worrying about it. I. Is that a good word choice? Does it make anyone want to read further? Or does it turn readers off? Are they thinking to themselves: “Why would I want to read anything that’s so obviously self-centered? It’s not about me—it’s about the vanity of the author.”
     Double sigh.
     It’s my completely biased opinion that beginnings are rewritten more times than anything else. Polished to a perfect gloss, every word chosen with aching care, paced to perfection—I’ve done it myself. Recently. The only catch? I never got around to finishing the story. My characters were stuck in mid-novel for months at a time while I tinkered with the opening.
     You’d think that, after landing an agent and selling a trilogy, I’d have learned my lesson. That lesson being: Beginnings are often dictated by the endings. If the ending hasn’t been written, how do you know that you have the perfect beginning? Clearly I haven’t, because in ten weeks I’ve only written a thousand words in book two of said trilogy. Yes, sure, I’ve been blindsided by a cross-country move and living in temporary housing for three weeks and a hurricane, but still. Some of that delay is sheer terror at screwing up the beginning.
     So my advice, completely unasked for, is this: Write the whole piece—poem, essay, column, story, novel, whatever. Finish. See your entire story arc on paper. Get a feel for the style and structure and voice of the piece. Find out just what it is you have to deliver.
And then go back and write the opening that promises whatever it is you have to give.
     But for the love of books and libraries and all things sacred to the writer:  Do not get so caught up in the opening that you forget to write the rest.


Friday, August 26, 2011

Hurricane Preparation for the Noobs

Your hurricane shopping starts on the baking aisle, with the all-essential muffin mix. Now, you may see folks stocking up on matches, water, or batteries, but don't let them distract you from your goal. You are aiming for the baking aisle. Once you've bought all the ready-t0-make muffin mixes on the aisle, cleaned them out of cake mixes, and picked out five of every flavor of jello, you're ready to go home and get to work.

Now, depending on how close your hurricane is, you may not be able to make up ALL the muffins and mixes, but do your best. Keep that oven going right up until the minute the power cuts off. If family members protest, start screaming about water pouring into the house and starving children. That'll make 'em back off. When you're finished making muffins, take eight dozen and cram them into every crevice and cranny you can--around the doors and windows, behind electric outlets, around pipes under the sinks. You'll probably find that pumpkin muffins work best for bigger holes, while blueberry and chocolate chip work great on small ones. The cakes you made can go over the windows, if you want the extra security of protected glass. When you're finished with your muffin-plugging, mix up a package or two of jello, any color. Wait until it's almost gelafied, then pour it over your muffins and--voila! You've not only hurricane-proofed your house, you've also prepared emergency rations fit for royalty!


Now that your house is secure, fill your bathtubs and sinks with water--you may have heard others are doing this, but they're missing the essential last step--then mix up your jello flavors in the tubs, sinks, and even toilets if you feel like going the extra mile. This will make sure you have the liquids you'll need if water shortages follow the hurricane, while surrounding you with a cheerful rainbow of nutritious yumminess. Your neighbors are all going to envy this one. But--shhhh! Don't tell them. They like to see the noobs suffer through their first hurricane, but you'll be living it high!


Happy Hurricaning!!!




Monday, August 22, 2011

An Introduction: Pat Esden


First I want to thank all the other Cabinet members for inviting me to be a part of this blog--and for sending me questions that were remarkably harder to answer than I’d anticipated.

Official Bio: Pat Esden would love to say she spent her childhood in intellectual pursuits. The truth is she was fonder of exploring abandoned houses and old cemeteries—or of slogging around in swamps, calling birds and studying wild plants. When stuck indoors, Pat was likely to be found brewing up a concoction from plants she’d harvested in the woods or huddled over a paperback gothic novel that she smuggled into the house. Over the years, Pat slowly migrated north. She can now be found in her Vermont country store, arranging flowers and selling funky collectables and antiques. Pat writes YA and middle-grade fantasy, both contemporary and historical. Her short stories have appeared in a number of venues, including Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show and Wildside Press’ Cat Tales.
Cabinet: Tell me about the kids that hang out at your florist shop. Any characters that really inspire? Do they chat and learn flower arranging, or stick to themselves? I’m so curious.
Pat: Except for ordering prom and dance flowers, I don’t get a lot of kids hanging around the floral end of my business. However, I do travel to schools and give design demonstrations. Oddly enough, the boys seem to enjoy those demos as much as the girls (Well, I do tend to be pretty interactive and I prefer noisy groups to quiet orderly ones). The kids who do hang around the store are either into candy or the antiques (specifically, knives, vintage jewelry, antique bottles or books). As for characters--yes, I meet an incredibly wide range of people through my businesses.

Cabinet: I’ve heard that you know how to find edible mushrooms in the wild. That seems really brave! Are mushrooms really as deadly and scary as we believe?
Pat: Yes, I do collect mushrooms and other edible plants. No, I’m not brave as far as mushrooms go. I stick to easily identifiable ones.  When I was little, my older sister and I watched an episode of Twilight Zone which involved poisonous store bought mushrooms. Afterwards, my sister gave me a nasty smile and told me I better watch what I ate. That was when I decided picking my own food was probably the safest way to go.

Cabinet: If you could be any species of plant, what you be?
Pat: That’s easy to answer. I have endless favorite plants but if I had to be one, it would be a sundew. They live in wonderful, remote places, and are beautiful and fascinating—the bejeweled vampire of the flower world. 

Cabinet: Who is your favorite writer of gorgeous, evocative settings?
Pat:  This is an interesting question. I think for a setting to be both gorgeous and evocative it has to blend and interact with the plot and characters. In other words, a great setting is a character as well as a backdrop and tone setting devise. Charles de Lint’s MULENGRO and Carolyn Chute’s BEANS OF EGYPT MAINE achieve this to a high degree, as does Kathi Apelt’s THE UNDERNEATH and Diane Setterfield’s THIRTEENTH TALE, and most recently Victoria Schwab’s NEAR WITCH.
Yeah, that’s not one writer, but I included specific books to redeem myself.

Cabinet: Who is your favorite writer ever?
Pat:TerryPratchettJohnFowlesTHWhiteAnnRiceVictoriaHoltGeorgetteHeyerJamesJoyceWendleBerryRobertFrostOctaviaButlerNeilGaimenHollyBlackMelissaMarr . . . Okay, I’m going to settle on Peter S. Beagle--THE LAST UNICORN and all his other stories.

Cabinet: Who is your favorite writer currently writing in your genre?
Pat: This is another tricky question. I read for pleasure and for learning, so this would be the author of any fantasy on my bedside table right now: Terri-Lynne Defino, Kersten Hamilton and Mandy Hubbard (Ask me next week for a different answer).



Cabinet: Which cartoon character would you like to be?
Pat: I’m going for Rico in The Penguins of Madagascar.  Yeah, he’s psycho, but sometimes a feel a bit too restrained. Besides, his ability to vomit up whatever is needed could come in handy.
If we’re including classics, then I’d go for Sherman in Peabody’s Improbable History. I love stories involving fractured history, and can’t think of anything more fun than traveling in my own WABAC (wayback) machine.

Thanks again, guys. This was fun.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Interview with Indie Author Extraordinaire Sarra Cannon!

I am thrilled to represent the cabinet in welcoming Sarra Cannon today! Sarra launched her ebook career in October of 2010 with Beautiful Demons, the first in her Demon series that will be coming to a climactic finish with the release of her fifth book, Shadow Demons, sometime this fall. Sarra's books pop up onto the Amazon top 100 list for the kindle, and make her fans salivate for the next! As one of those hungry fans, I've put together a few questions for Sarra, and she'll also be dropping in throughout the day to answer any questions you might have!


Q: Since we're at the cabinet, here, tell us what personal treasures you'd put out on display if you had a cabinet of cuirosities and wonders? Would they show off your finds from around the world, or come from connections a little closer to home?

I wish I could have a cabinet of memories on display. I am one of those people who always remembers to bring my camera, but never remembers to take any pictures! I wish I could find a way to get my memories out of my head and into a cabinet to put some of the best ones on display. Memories are really so much more important to me than any physical thing. Of course, if I had a real cabinet of treasures, I would fill it with my most coveted Hello Kitty items. I'm a bit of an addict!

Q: Anywhere you've always wanted to visit, but haven't been yet? If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you pick?

I have always wanted to go to India. I am a huge Beatles fan and they found so much inspiration for their music in India. I wonder if I would find some inspiration of my own there, too. Hmm. If I could live anywhere in the world, I would probably want to split my time between New York City and a private tropical island somewhere. I love the water and the beach, but I'm also such a nightowl. I adore cities where things are open 24/7!

Q: Pick one: Homemade ice cream, rich chocolate truffles, a lemon tart, fresh fruit and vanilla custard, or your favorite kind of pie. Do you have any memories you attach to that dessert? Funny stories?

Okay, now I'm hungry! I have such a sweet tooth, so all of those sound good to me. Yum! I would probably have to choose the rich chocolate though. Just because, well... it's chocolate! As far as memories go, I don't have any about chocolate, but I have fond memories of summers in Georgia where we went out to pick fresh blackberries in the woods around my house. We'd bring home huge buckets full of them and make cobblers, jams, and sometimes just eat them with a little bit of milk and sugar. Blackberries always make me think of innocence and being young.

Now a couple questions about your books:
Q: Tell us where you got the idea for Peachville High, the setting of your demon books. Was it something that came in a flash of inspiration, or did you built it up layer on layer?


Peachville High is very much based on my experiences growing up in Hawkinsville, a small town in Middle Georgia. Except we were the Red Devils not the Demons. And as far as I know, none of the cheerleaders were witches. The rest of the story came in layers.


Q: Do you have a favorite character in your demon books? Who do you wish you could give a little more screen time, but can't?

I guess it's the obvious answer, but Harper is by far my favorite character. She seems so real to me, and sometimes when I'm writing, it's like she's sitting there next to me telling me her story. I love that she's not perfect, but she's also not afraid to question things.

If I could, I would give more screentime to Courtney. She's definitely an interesting character. So quiet, yet such an extraordinary gift of being able to 'recharge' other witches' powers. I think there's way more to her than meets the eye. I'm hoping to bring more of her story into Demons Forever, but I'm not sure it's going to fit. Maybe I'll have to write a short story about her afterward!



Q: If Harper Madison (teen witch extraordinaire and prima in the making) knew she'd be locked up in a little room all day and could only take one book for entertainment, what would she take? What about the irresistable Jackson?

It's funny because I don't picture Harper as being much of a reader. She's more of a daydreamer when she's alone and sometimes she likes to draw, although she's nowhere near as good at it as Jackson. She might bring along a book like 'The Zombie Survival Guide'. I think she'd get a kick out of coming up with a plan for what to do in case of the zombie apocalypse.


With Jackson, it's the opposite. I think he's an avid reader. I picture him loving the classics and rereading his favorite books over and over. For some reason, and I know this is weird, I picture his favorite book being 'The Count of Monte Cristo'. He's the type of person who would admire someone who beat seemingly impossible odds and went on to get his revenge on those who had wronged him.


Q: Your books have a lot of cool magic in them--which came first, the rules and history of the magic system or the stories? How did you keep them integrated without getting them tangled?


The story and the characters definitely came first. The magic sort of surprised me as I went along. And it still does, to be honest! I keep the rules written down in a big notebook so that I can try to keep them straight.

And now a few hot topic questions--ebooks.
Q: You've had some pretty terrific success as an indie author. Tell us what you wish you'd known earlier, and what you might have done differently.


I wish I'd known that it was okay to trust my own instincts. I wish I hadn't spent so much of my early writing days worrying about how to get an agent or an editor to notice my work. I wrote in a constant state of fear and self-doubt. As an indie author, though, I don't need to worry about editors or agents. I only have to think about readers and about story. I wish I'd known all along that those were the only things that really matter.


Q: Can you tell us about your approach to promotion, and what's worked best for you?

My approach to promotion has simply been to write more books! It's so easy to get caught up in social media and blogging and trying to figure out a way to get your name out there, but in the end, the most valuable use of my time is working on my next book. I have spent some time reaching out to book bloggers (who, by the way, have all been amazing and so nice), and I have also just tried to be myself and promote when I had the time, but for the most part, I spend my time writing and that's worked best for me so far.


Q: Do you ever plan to do a 'live' tour, so you can meet your fans in person? What about a party or event?


I would LOVE to get a chance to meet my fans in person! I haven't given much thought to doing a tour. It's hard to believe there are enough people out there who would show up! Maybe if I ever hit it big enough to sell a hundred thousand books or more, hehe. I was actually just invited to do my very first book signing back in my hometown in Georgia for their Fall Festival this year. I'm hoping to get my books out in print by then so I can do it.

Q: What tips would you provide an indie author just starting out?

My number one tip would be to simply keep writing. Trust yourself and write what you love. Work hard and don't obsess over sales numbers if things are going slow. Just keep writing and keep learning. That's the most important thing.

There you have it! Trust your instincts, eat lots of chocolate, write from inside yourself, and meet Sarra in person this fall! In the meantime, ask her any questions you have in the comments, and she'll do her best to answer them. Sarra is savvy about all the pros, cons and how to of ebook publishing and has been very generous with her knowledge!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Ginger's Summer Shelf

Orson Scott Card says we all have an idea shelf. A place our mind goes when we need something for our stories: a character, a plot tension, a setting. We don't realize that we reach for our easy ideas first, just like standing on tiptoes to reach something in a kitchen cupboard. We need to keep searching for the truly unique and special. Never settle for your first idea, he says. Unless, of course, it turns out to be the best one.

With that in mind, I've been keeping a notebook where I jot down things I come across in my daily life. I'm hoping this will expand my own idea shelf so I can create more compelling stories. And if that doesn't work, at least it keeps me entertained.

Here are five items from this summer's shelf:

1. The person who found ways to get into nearly a hundred homes in my neighborhood and tour them in depth (closets,cupboards, bathrooms) all on the spur of the moment. Only one person denied access, and that was for a second tour.

2. The young lady giving a loud an in-depth aura reading at the public library. Something about "your mother's color comes across as gold, very gold." Yet Mom wasn't there--I think they were reading an email she wrote.

3. The gorgeous Russian sailing ship Pallada which docked in Seattle. Though it holds the Guinness Record for Fastest Sailing Vessel, it only goes 18.8 knots. Really? Only 20 mph?? Why did I think sailing was so much faster? The signs we couldn't decipher were the best part although the signs with English translations sounded amazing when read in your head with a Russian accent, "On July, 1989 the Russian flag was hoisted on her board."

4. The boy with the cat's eye pupils. He was born with them. 

5. The names Valaura (Velora) and Venicia (sounds like Venitian).


So check out your own idea shelves and start looking around for more material. It's out there.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Cabinet recieves a Liebster Award and Passes It On



Cabinet of Curiosities has been presented with a Liebster award.


It was given to us by Jaye Robin Brown http://jayerobinbrown.blogspot.com/
Thank you, Jaye! And congratulation for signing with a wonderful agent.


The goal of this award is to spotlight upcoming bloggers who currently have less than 200 followers. The rules of the award are:

1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Have faith that your followers will spread the love to other bloggers.
5. And most of all - have bloggity-blog fun!


The Cabinet’s picks are as follows:


Caleb is an amazing writing teacher. It was his online classes which brought the members of Cabinet of Curiosities  together. If you’d like a quick introduction to his teaching skills, check out this series of podcasts where he critiques first pages with the author—seriously, tough love in action.  http://writingsnippets.wordpress.com/2011/07/25/ws-30-caleb-warnock-3-first-page-critique-part/
Also Caleb’s book: FORGOTTEN SKILLS OF SELF-SUFFICIENCY USED BY MORMON PIONEERS is now available (more information is available on his blog).   

2. Leana Coakley    http://lenacoakley.com/  Her first novel WITCHLANDERS is coming out this fall. I’m looking forward to reading it and recommend following her blog to learn more about her novel, fantastic interviews and excellent writing tidbits.

3. MGLitChat. http://mglitchat.blogspot.com/ On Thursday nights, there’s a great chat on Twitter for anyone interested in middle-grade fiction. I recommend you look for them on Twitter and also follow their blog for updates, transcripts and more.

4. Marcia Hoehne http://marciahoehne.blogspot.com/  When I went looking for blogs to give this award to, I was shocked to see Marcia didn’t have way more than 200 followers. She posts wonderful reviews of children’s literature, gives solid writing advice and hosts a once a month critique giveaway. I was lucky enough to win one of her critiques and her advice was fantastic. 

5. Ruth Schiffmann   http://outonalimbshywritergoessocial.blogspot.com/ Ruth’s writing and interests cover a wide range. But most of all she’s getting this award because her blog is very new. Judging by her first post, it will be more than worth your while to follow her.

* Also I’m excited to announce that Suzanne is doing an interview with YA author and e-book expert, Sarrra Cannon.  http://www.sarracannon.com/  It will be posted here in the near future. Yay!





Friday, August 5, 2011

Guess the Author (Or Rewrite 'Til Death)

I came upon a bargain-priced, hardcover novel the other day by an author as famous as they come. No, I’m not going to tell you the name because I felt ridiculous after realizing the author had passed away and the book I bought was found as a complete manuscript and published posthumously. How could I have not known any of this? I’m sure you all did, and you are free to guess the author and book. In fact, if you do, I’ll send it to you.

Anyway…

The book was obviously not the author’s best work, but what lessons it had to teach! It was a privilege to see how a master of popular fiction plays with a silly story to see what can be done with it. First, the plot held together well—there were holes but nothing that couldn’t be fixed in a rewrite. There were tangents (fascinating ones, goofy ones, disgusting ones) never to be taken up again—they needed to go or be developed. Most characters were still in cardboard cutout phase but they had enough to keep them interesting—even fascinating in some cases. Most just needed a bit more.

I’m sure the author's ghost would let out a shuddering graveyard moan if it knew this hidden manuscript was now published worldwide. It wasn’t my favorite story by a long shot but I wish I could write a draft that well! Because it just needed a little more. Just a little. Sigh. I hope it’s being re-written on the other side so I can see the final product someday.

With that, the Cabinet is going to take a look at revisions. I personally love revising, it’s where the magic happens for me. I like to have my basic characters, logic, tensions and my main events all laid out in the first draft. Then in rewriting I get to play within my framework. In fact, once I get going, it’s pretty hard to get me to stop, or so say my publisher and critique buddies.

Here are thoughts from other cabinet members.

Laura:

1. Every writer rewrites. Every writer. (True, I don't actually know all the writers ever, but allow me a little hyperbole.) It is not a failure. It is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of being a writer. So say to yourself, "I am a writer" and do it.

2. You cannot rewrite until you write. Seems obvious, and yet I have to remind myself of it every time I start a new project. Because I always seem to think that this time my writing will come out perfect and if I just put enough thought (for thought--read delay) into my work first, I will only have to write it once. It's never worked yet.

So I say to myself, "I am a writer" and I do it


Suzanne: I'm a big believer in taking a little time off before launching into a revision. It doesn't have to be long, it just has to be long enough! While you're waiting for readers to get back to you, try reading fiction yourself. I personally really like fiction that's aimed at my target audience (in my case, middle graders) but that has a different voice and style from mine. This can help me bring a different perspective to the revision. As for the actual rewrites, focus on what the heart of your novel is, and make sure every scene strengthens that core. Go for bigger, deeper, better. Don't settle for good enough when you haven't wowed yourself yet!

Pat: Before I start revising a manuscript, I create a hardcopy flow sheet (which I fill in as I revise).

I fold a lined piece of paper into four columns. In the first column I put the chapter or scene number (this depends on if I have short chapters or ones packed with scenes). Next to that I put the chapter’s word count. In the following column I put the date and time span which the chapter covers. After that comes the weather, temperature and often the phase of the moon or how sunny it is. The last column is where I put a quick description of the chapter (I try to think of this in terms of pov/characters//goal/conflict/disaster).

Here’s an example from the story I’m working on right now:

Chap 8--879-words/June 26, 10-11pm/ Cool & moonlit/ Ralph rescues Istvan, but is seriously wounded

The mere process of stopping after each chapter and filling out the sheet increases my awareness and raises the probability that I’ll spot any continuity issues in the following chapter. It’s also helpful when I need to recall which chapter something happened in. Knowing each chapter's word count is great when dealing with a pace issues or when deciding where to add new scenes.

Using computer programs to plot works wonderfully, but I like creating a hardcopy flow sheet for this because I can pin it over my computer screen and refer to it in the blink of an eye.

Becca: Revising is definitely not my favorite part of writing, and it's something I still struggle with. I used to think I'd get better at revising with each book, and maybe I do, but it's still not fun. If I had my choice, I'd take rough drafting over revising any day! But if there's one thing I've learned over the course of editing three (going on four) books, it's this: start big and work small.
When I was in high school, one of my teachers did an object lesson that involved filling a jar with rocks. Some of the rocks were large, and many were pebbles. When she put the pebbles into the jar first, and then tried to cram in the big rocks, a few inevitably wouldn't fit. However, when she placed the large rocks in the jar first, and then poured the pebbles in, letting them spill between the crevices and spaces between the larger rocks, they all fit inside the jar.

It was a simple object lesson that taught me a powerful lesson—one I still think about today. When revising, I start with the larger, more global problems. Sometimes the problem is plot. Often it's character related. Maybe it's a sequencing issue. Once I solve the bigger problems, it becomes much easier to focus on the smaller things, like word choice, character names, describing a particular room, etc.

Happy revisions!

Ginger (again): So with that, it’s easy to see that everyone rewrites a bit differently. But as writers, we all rewrite. And rewrite and rewrite and rewrite. Because without revision your book may be close, but it will almost definitely need a little bit more. Just a little.

Don’t let yourself be the author that never gets published because you didn’t put in that one last rewrite. We would all much rather be the author who can sell a book from the grave on the credit of our previous success.

(This post was last rewritten on 8/5/11 9:51 pm )

Monday, August 1, 2011

An Introduction: Laura Andersen

The Bio I Wrote for the Editors Involved in my recent auction (I promise the rest of this post will not involve me referring to myself in the third person. Though I write historical fiction, I have no delusions of royalty.): Laura Andersen lives with one husband, four children, and a continual sense of having forgotten something important. She has a B.A. in English (with an emphasis in British history) which she puts to non-profitable use by reading everything she can lay her hands on. Mysteries, epic fantasy, and historical fiction are favorites, as her own life does not offer many opportunities to solve a murder, defeat a dark lord, or wear a corset. Laura’s favorite places to travel are England and Ireland, where she drives her family crazy by providing a constant stream of historical background. She became a writer because creating stories is even more satisfying than reading them.
If I Had a Cabinet of Curiosities it Would Contain: the leopard-spotted seashell my dad gave me when I was little (why, yes, I believe that is the scientific name for it); the purple stone hippo I bought in Nairobi, Kenya; the mortar-and-pestle I brought home from my year living in Haiti; the carved cross of St. Brigid from my visit to Ireland; my tiny black Egyptian cat statue; photos of my children

Last Five Books Read: Clash of Kings (George R.R. Martin); Hell is Empty (Craig Johnson); The Red Queen (Philippa Gregory); Now You See Me (S.J. Bolton); Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England (Brock Clarke)

My Indispensable Historical Fiction: Here Be Dragons (Sharon Kay Penman); The Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet (Ellis Peters); The Lymond Chronicles (Dorothy Dunnett); My Enemy, the Queen (Victoria Holt); The King's General (Daphne du Maurier)

Indispensable Biographies: Anything by Alison Weir

Why Corsets: If the question is ‘why’ in the grand scheme of social and cultural history, that’s a long, bitter, and complicated answer. If it’s ‘why do I make them’, the answer is simpler—a) I wanted to see if I could and b) I have a weakness for looking pretty. Whatever else one can say about corsets, they contribute to an idealized form of feminine beauty that is enticing. I knew that I would not be able to breathe well in them (although let’s be honest—mine were never laced up with someone’s foot in the small of my back, I doubt my waist got even an inch smaller. Just rather less jiggly.) but I didn’t realize how much they changed one’s posture while sitting. There is no slumping in corsets.

Still, my looking pretty applies only for Halloween. I believe I can safely say I have never worn them in any month of the year except October, and I’ve certainly never worn one for longer than four or five hours at a time. I am but a novice playing at dress-up.

Upper-class women of the western past—I salute you.

How Did I Come Up with the White Garden in the Novel that Landed Me an Agent: I consider this question a true compliment, considering that it’s about setting and it’s asked by a writer who is a true master at using setting to evoke atmosphere and tone. That has never been my strong point, and indeed the original inclusion of the white garden was limited to the phrase itself and perhaps three lines of what sort of plants were in it. But as I revised, I found several inspirations to draw on. I have to have visual cues for setting, and the white garden was originally born after seeing photos of Sissinghurst’s famous white garden created by Vita Sackville-West (a close friend of Virginia Woolf.) Click here to view the National Trust property.

The circular pool in my fictional garden’s center, which came to play a crucial role in the story, was born after a weekend trip to Kilkenny, Ireland and the pool outside the restored Dowager House where we stayed.


And my favorite piece of all—the jewel-colored orbs that hang throughout to repel evil spirits and/or attract fairies—I discovered while browsing through a gardening magazine. Witch balls, they’re called. How could I resist that name? And as I read about them, and realized how far back in time they went, I knew that my white garden must have them. Here's a link to photos and legends.

If I Could Experience Only One Moment in 18th or 19th century history, it Would Be: Jane Austen holding her first published book for the first time.