Tuesday, April 28, 2020

6 Essential Truths about Editing a Novel, Learned the Hard Way

Revision is one of the most exhilarating and, at the same time, daunting aspects of writing a novel. Although typing “The End” does mark an important milestone—after all, you just created an entire world out of nothing—“The Beginning of the End” might be a more fitting tag. A successful novel must satisfy on so many levels (language, logic, characterization, world-building, theme) that is can take multiple passes get everything working together to maximal effect.

I recently finished revising, for the umpteenth time, a novel that I wrote over five years ago. Back then, after several rounds of revision, I sincerely believed the novel represented my best effort and could not be improved in any significant way.

How wrong I was!

The current version of this novel is so much stronger that I’m embarrassed I ever thought those earlier versions any good. In many ways, this latest version hardly resembles those earlier incarnations at all.

When I began writing fiction, I had no idea how important—and lengthy—the revision process was. Since I’m a plotter who writes very slowly, agonizing over every sentence, I naturally considered those sentences, and the chapters they comprised, more or less “finished” once I squeezed them onto the paper. However, once I started critiquing the work of other writers and seeing how their manuscripts evolved and strengthened over multiple drafts, my resistance to editing softened. I’ll now be the first to admit that only through extensive serial revisions can a novel reach its fullest, most satisfying potential.

Experience has taught me these truths about editing:

1. You can’t know the real story until you have the entire thing down on paper.

No matter how carefully you plan out your story ahead of time, new ideas surface during the act of drafting. The more you write, the more you discover about your story and characters. It is difficult to know exactly what you are working with until the entire mess is down on paper. Only at that point can you see the relationship of the parts to each other and to the whole. Over time, I’ve learned it's much more effective and artistically freeing to plow through the initial drafts of a story, focusing on plot and character development without getting hung up subtler issues, especially language. Once you’ve got a mass of lumpy brown clay on your wheel, you can begin to spin and tease and shape it into something beautiful.

2. If you have misgivings about some aspect of your story, don’t ignore them.

Listen to your heart, as the old song advised. If, once you have your initial draft on paper, something doesn’t feel right, figure out what it is and fix it. Don’t be afraid to change things up just because you wrote them a certain way first time around. I see now that in earlier versions of my novel, I had forced the plot in a certain direction because the story had too many characters. I had to distribute motivations and actions among them all, making it very difficult to fit all the pieces together in the end. I managed to do it, but this forced resolution never rang true. Removing a couple of characters crystalized motivations and allowed the resolution to evolve in a more natural and convincing way. I would have saved much time and mental anguish if I’d admitted earlier on that those characters, intriguing though they were, unnecessarily complicated the plot.

3. Focus on one particular issue per revision.

A single edit doesn’t have to fix every problem in a manuscript. Often, it is more helpful to read through a manuscript several times, focusing on different aspects with each read. For example, read through first for plot continuity and plausibility problems. Strengthen characterization on a second read. On a third, find ways to clarify theme. One of my last revisions, for example, focused solely on deepening a certain relationship in order to achieve a more emotionally satisfying dénouement. Although it is difficult not to polish as you go, try to save language tweaking for the final edit, after all cuts and additions have been made. You don’t want to waste time fixing awkward phrasing or repetitive wording in passages that might disappear for other reasons.

4. Other eyes are crucial in determining what's wrong with or missing from a manuscript.

After working on a novel for years, it is difficult to have enough distance to assess its flaws. A trusted reader, be it a well-read friend, a critique partner, or a skilled agent, can uncover issues and make suggestions that could lift your manuscript from good to great. It can be useful to have different people read subsequent drafts, so that their impressions are always fresh and not colored by what they remember from before.

5. Less is more.

This truth, the hardest for me to learn, is now the mantra I repeat over and over as I review my material. It is easy to locate and excise superfluous adjectives and adverbs, repetitive phrasing, and wordy transitions. However, less obvious things can bog down a manuscript: excessive internal thought, projection of future events, detailed stage direction, unnecessary description, filler dialogue. Over-explaining, my particular weakness, can also bloat a draft. Trust the reader to fill in gaps and make connections—readers want to play an active role in the construction of sense. The goal of editing it to remove the dross so that the gold can shine.

6. It can always be better.

Now, instead of dreading revision, I look forward to it. I embrace it as a challenge, rather than evidence of failure. It is exciting to see a strong, engaging text emerge from a flabby mass of words and ideas. Though he spoke of sculpting, Michelangelo's words capture the purpose and joy of editing:

"I saw the angel in the marble and I carved until I set him free." 

Free the angels in your own work! Happy editing.

Do you have any editing tips or techniques to share?

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Review: THE LOST DAUGHTER by Gill Paul

THE LOST DAUGHTER by Gill Paul (William Morrow 2019) is a richly textured, emotionally resonant novel that transforms a tantalizing historical "what if" question into a riveting journey of self-discovery and healing. A dual timeline narrative, THE LOST DAUGHTER structures itself around two premises: that Maria Nikolaevna, the nineteen year-old daughter of Tsar Nicholas II, survives the horrific execution of her family in 1918, and that, fifty years later in Australia, a young woman of Russian-Chinese descent inherits mysterious items that, she will eventually discover, belonged to Maria at the time of her execution. Two stories unfold: one told from the perspective of Maria as she builds a new, anonymous life in post-tsarist Russia, and the other from that of Val Scott, a young mother determined to escape her abusive marriage and create a future for herself and her daughter. Val's surly and taciturn father, Russian emigré Irwin Scott, links the two narrative threads together. As Val works to identify the strange objects and uncaptioned photographs her father stashed in a safety deposit box, she slowly uncovers the mystery of his checkered past. Her quest to understand what he'd always hidden from her frees her from pain and blame and opens the way to a future she'd never before imagined.

The novel's strength lies in its sympathetic depiction of two women struggling to triumph over the violence and misfortune in their lives. Maria and Val follow reverse, yet complimentary, trajectories. One of the last Tsar's several daughters, Maria lives a life of luxury and familial affection until the Bolshevik Revolution robs her of her wealth and security. Violence tears her from the heart of her family and thrusts her into a life of poverty and complete dependence on the charity and reticence of strangers. Val, on the other hand, has enjoyed little security in her life. Raised by a cold and distant father after the unexplained disappearance of her mother, she finds herself bullied and physically abused by her controlling husband. To protect her young daughter, Val must escape her marriage and begin anew with few skills and little money. Whereas Maria, in order to construct a safe future for herself and her children, must completely and utterly renounce her past, Val can only establish a secure life for herself and her daughter by piecing together the mysterious fragments of her parents' stories and claiming their past as her own. Both woman painfully learn how the past, in unlikely ways, intrudes on the present and shapes it in ways not foreseen. Ultimately, both discover that the sole remedy to the chaos that threatens to engulf them is devotion to those they love.

Readers of historical fiction will savor the wide swath of well-researched Russian history, both tsarist and communist, that Paul presents with convincing detail. (The chapters set during the Siege of Lenigrad are particularly moving.) Readers of contempory women's fiction will appreciate the protagonists' courage and resourcefulness as they struggle to overcome challenges. Both readers will relish the novel's emotional insight and poignancy. THE LOST DAUGHTER supremely illustrates the power of a dual narrative to draw the modern reader into dialogue with the past. As a new Russia emerges from the ruins of the old, Gill Paul's two protagonists rise from the rubble of personal destruction in a twisty and ultimately satisfying quest for identity and self-determination.

Gill Paul’s historical novels have reached the top of the USA Today, Toronto Globe & Mail and UK kindle charts, and been translated into twenty languages. She specializes in relatively recent history, mostly 20th century, and enjoys re-evaluating real historical characters and trying to get inside their heads.

Gill also writes historical non-fiction, including A History of Medicine in 50 Objects and series of Love Stories. Published around the world, this series includes Royal Love Stories, World War I Love Stories and Titanic Love Stories.

Gill was born in Scotland and grew up there, apart from an eventful year at school in the US when she was ten. She studied Medicine at Glasgow University, then English Literature and History (she was a student for a long time), before moving to London to work in publishing. Her first novel was written at weekends, but she has now given up the ‘day job’ to write fiction full-time. She also writes short stories for magazines and speaks at libraries and literary festivals about subjects ranging from the British royal family to the Romanovs, and about writing itself.

Gill swims year-round in an open-air pond – “It’s good for you so long as it doesn’t kill you”– and loves travelling whenever and wherever she can.

To learn more about Gill Paul and her books, visit her website.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Beware the Ghost of the Grand-Veneur!

You're stealing through the Forest of Fontainebleau at dusk, a thick carpet of pine needles and fallen leaves muffling your footsteps, your breath rising in wispy clouds of white. The full moon peaks through the mist, bouncing off menacing piles of boulders, deepening shadows that obscure the dangerous maws of caves and the beasts that lurk within them. Owls hoot, frogs croak, unseen vermin skitter through the underbrush. Suddenly, new noises pierce the night: the thudding of hooves, the barking of dogs. The sounds grow louder and louder as they approach. The long, sad cry of a horn shreds the air, and before you appears a hunter, dressed in black, mounted on an all-black steed. A pack of dogs, eyes flaming like coals, mill, snarling and yapping, about the horse's legs. As the horse rears, forelegs flailing, the hunter stares down at you with blank, black eyes. He blasts his horn again, and as quickly as they appeared, horse, rider, and dogs vanish into the mist, leaving no trace of their presence but the chill that settles deep in your heart.

The Fantôme du Grand-Veneur, the Ghost of the Head Huntsman, has just appeared to deliver a grave warning: something dire is about to happen. Your own death, most likely. Heart pounding in terror, you flee, wishing you'd never set foot in the forest.

The ghost of the Grand-Veneur, also known as "le Chasseur Noir" (The Black Hunter), has been appearing in the Fôret de Fontainebleau, the dense forest of oak and pine that surrounds the château, for centuries. Tradition holds that the ghost is the spirit of a royal huntsman who was assassinated during the reign of François I and now roams the forest during the night with his pack of dogs. He appears during times of trouble to foretell tragic events. Numerous kings, including François himself, Charles IX, Henri IV, and Louis XIV, reportedly encountered him. The phantom announced an early death to Louis XVI and the assassination of the duc de Berry. Napoléon I received a visit on the eve of his abdication.

In a letter dated September 25, 1598, the diplomat Jacques Bongars recounts how the Chasseur Noir appeared to Henri IV during a hunt and warned him to "mend his ways":

On dit que le Roi retournant de la chasse en sa maison de Fontainebleau à dix heures du soir a entendu un chasseur qui faisait grand bruit. On assure même qu'il appelait ses chiens par leur nom (...) Le Roi étant entré dans le Château, fit venir les plus vieux des habitants du Bourg, pour savoir d'eux ce que ce pourrait être. Ils lui répondirent qu'on voyait paraître quelquefois, au milieu de la nuit, un Chasseur à cheval, avec sept ou huit chiens, qui courent la forêt, comme en chassant sans blesser personne. 

They say that the King, returning from the hunt to his home at Fontainebleau at ten o'clock at night, heard a hunter making a great noise. People swear he was calling his dogs by name... The King, having entered the palace, summoned the oldest inhabitants of the town, to learn from them what it might have been. They told him that sometimes people saw appear, in the middle of the night, a hunter on a horse, with seven or eight dogs, galloping through the forest as if hunting, without hurting anyone.

The Chasseur Noir appeared to Henri IV once again, this time with grave consequences. The king was hunting deer in the woods, and had stopped to dine with his mistress Gabrielle d'Estrées and several courtiers. The sound of dogs and horns arose nearby. The king sent his man Bassompierre to investigate. A quarter of an hour later, Bassompierre returned, greatly shaken. The Chasseur had spoken to him, telling him to warn the king that if he didn't repudiate his mistress that very day, a great misfortune would befall her. The king laughed off the Chasseur's prediction. Three days later, Gabrielle d'Estrées died of hideous convulsions.

Either the Grand-Veneur truly had prophetic powers, or his myth served as a convenient cover for a poisoning plot. The latter seems more likely.

In any case, don't ignore the Grand-Veneur's warning, should he appear in your path!



"Qui était vraiment le Chasseur Noir de la forêt de Fontainebleau?" BFMTV, 07/23/2017.
"Petit Promenade en Foret de Fontainebleau" Rando sac au dos--par Bleausard, 3/9/14
"La légende du chasseur noir de la forêt de Fontainebleau," Fontainebleau-Photo.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

"Writing About the Romanovs": Guest Post by Gill Paul, Author of THE LOST DAUGHTER

I'm excited to welcome Gill Paul to the blog today to talk about her latest novel, THE LOST DAUGHTER, recently released from William Morrow. I'm about a hundred pages in, and can assure you that this is a story you won't want to miss! A dual-timeline tale exploring the mystery of what truly happened to the Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna of Russia, daughter of the last Tsar, Gill's novel recounts the Romanov's tragic history with a captivaing blend of emotional sensitivity and narrative ingenuity.

Writing About the Romanovs
by Gill Paul

Why write a fictional account of the murder of the Romanovs when the historical facts are so dramatic and compelling? Yacob Yurovsky, leader of the execution squad, left detailed testimonies about the night of July16th, 1918. According to him, the shots the killers fired ricocheted off jewels the four daughters had sewn into the seams of their clothing, wounding but not killing them. They lay moaning in pain and shock, on a floor slippery with the blood of their mother, father and younger brother, as well as four servants who shared their fate. Then the murderers finished them off with vicious bayonet thrusts as they huddled together screaming in terror.

Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia, with Alexei,photographed in 1910.Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
The Romanovs were right up there amongst the wealthiest families of all time, closely related to most other European royals, and that gives their fate a fairy-tale dimension. There were no wicked stepmothers or scary ogres, but Nicholas and Alexandra were blinkered and unable to respond to the wind of change in Russia. They weren't lighting cigars with hundred-rouble notes, as cartoons depicted them, but there were priceless Fabergé eggs, the no-expense-spared royal yacht and train, and all those glittering palaces, while their people starved. It wasn't evil but it certainly wasn't smart.

Their children were blameless, though. The elder daughters worked as nurses during the war and helped refugees; the younger ones cut bandages and visited the wounded. They were naïve, devout young women, living the life they had been born into.

The Ekaterinburg basement.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
As a novelist, I couldn't resist trying to imagine how it felt to be them, through the sixteen months of house arrest, in conditions that became increasingly terrifying, and then during that last half hour in the Ekaterinburg basement. With fiction you can intensify the tragedy by letting readers relate to them as individuals. I've ventured into areas biographers can't go by giving the sisters dialogue, emotions and thoughts and a little bit of alternative 'What if?' history.

In fairy stories, princesses wait passively for rescue, and the common trope is that beautiful innocents are saved, Cinderella by her prince, Snow White by the seven dwarfs. In the 21st century we like our heroines to be braver and more in control of their fates, like Captain Marvel. Either way, the Romanovs got the wrong ending and it offends our story sense. Perhaps that is why novelists keep returning to them, as if in the retelling we can somehow make things right.

Gill Paul's historical novels have reached the top of the USA Today, Toronto Globe & Mail and Kindle charts, and been translated into twenty languages. They include two novels about the Romanovs: The Lost Daughter, which has just been published by William Morrow, and The Secret Wife, which came out in 2016. Other novels include Women and Children First, set on the Titanic, and Another Woman's Husband, about mysterious links between Wallis Simpson and Princess Diana. Gill also writes historical non-fiction, including A History Of Medicine In 50 Objects. She lives in London, where she is working on her tenth novel and swims daily in an outdoor pond. Learn more about Gill Paul and her books at her website.

You can order THE LOST DAUGHTER from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent booksellers everywhere.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Gill Paul's THE LOST DAUGHTER, available today!

Today I am pleased to announce the publication of Gill Paul's THE LOST DAUGHTER, a novel of the Romanovs, out today from William Morrow. From Gill's website:

1918. With the country they once ruled turned against them, the future of Russia’s imperial family hangs in the balance. When middle daughter Maria Romanova captivates two of the guards, it will lead to a fateful choice between right and wrong. Fifty-five years later . . . Val rushes to her father’s bedside when she hears of his troubling end-of-life confession: ‘I didn’t want to kill her.’ As she unravels the secrets behind her mother’s disappearance when she was twelve years old, she finds herself caught up in one of the world’s greatest mysteries.

Reviewers have called THE LOST DAUGHTER "as rich in historical detail as it is captivating" (Heatworld); "deeply moving, but never without hope" (Woman's Weekly); "a brilliantly emotional read" (Woman’s Own).

I met Gill Paul for the first time this past June at the Historical Novel Society Conference. She is a lovely person and quite an accomplished author. THE LOST DAUGHTER is her ninth novel. Gill also publishes nonfiction and short stories. You can learn more about Gill and her books at her website.

Gill will be back here on September 4 with a special guest post. Be sure to return then! In the meantime, you can find THE LOST DAUGHTER at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and independent bookstores everywhere. I can't wait to dig into it myself. Happy reading!

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Review: THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS by Kris Waldherr

In an early chapter of Kris Waldherr's debut novel, THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS (Atria, April 2019), protagonist Robert Highstead, a frustrated writer turned post-mortem daguerrotypist, can hardly contain his excitement at opening an unfamiliar book. "Books were easy, unlike people," the narrator reveals, mirroring Robert's thoughts. "Writing them, however, was another matter."

If writing this remarkable novel was difficult for Walherr, she has deftly disguised the strain. From its unique premise to its elegant language to its cleverly nested and emotionally satisfying plot, THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS is captivating work worthy of a seasoned novelist. Recasting Ovid's story of Orpheus and Euridyce in an eerily Gothic context, Waldherr creates a sweeping tale of love and loss, of beauty and obsession, of guilt and grief that totter to the brink of madness, and of deliverance that soars on the wings of doves.

Trapped in a tragic marriage, Robert Highstead abandons his academic career to capture images of deceased strangers. At the request of his estranged brother, he undertakes a decidedly curious task: that of returning the embalmed body of a distant cousin, the famed poet Hugh de Bonne, to the poet's estate for burial. Hugh desired to be laid to rest beside his beloved wife and muse, Ada, in the stained-glass chapel he had built years earlier to house her remains. The key to this chapel, locked since Ada's death and an object of intense interest to the cult-like fans of Hugh's poems, is in the possession of Ada's niece, Isabelle, who lives on the now-decrepit estate. A recluse who bides in perpetual mourning for her aunt, Isabelle refuses to honor Hugh's final request unless Robert agrees to record--and publish--the true story of Hugh and Ada's marriage. Desperate to complete his task, Robert agrees. Over the course of five nights, Isabelle recounts a tale that undermines the carefully constructed chimera of Hugh's poetic fictions and draws teller and listener into an explosive confrontation with truth and with each other.

The tragedy of Robert and Sida's marriage, the mystery of Isabelle's identity, the machinations of the Seekers of the Lost Dream, the validity of the love immortalized in Hugh's poems: Waldherr masterfully handles these numerous plot threads, playing with patterns and echoes and parallels until the distinctions between past and present, fact and fiction, truth and falsehood collapse. All love stories are ghost stories, she repeatedly reminds the reader, as characters struggle to free themselves from the grip of lost love and the anguish of unfulfilled promise. Words and art ultimately serve as both liberator and prison, for it is only by immersing himself in Isabelle's story that Robert can revise the course of his own.

Readers of Waldherr's novel will experience the same thrill that Robert feels when he opens Hugh's book of poems for the first time. THE LOST HISTORY OF DREAMS is not an easy book, but it is an immensely gratifying one, whose images and ideas will linger long after the cover closes.


Kris Waldherr is the acclaimed author of Bad Princess, Doomed Queens, The Book of Goddesses, The Lost History of Dreams and other publications that celebrate story with art and words. An accomplished illustrator and visual artist, Kris is the creator of the Goddess Tarot, which has a quarter of a million copies in print. Learn more about Kris and her work at her website.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Cover Reveal: RIBBONS OF SCARLET: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women

Several of my friends co-authored this new novel on the women of the French Revolution. I can't wait to read it! Coming in October, but available for pre-order today.

Six bestselling and award-winning authors bring to life a breathtaking epic novel illuminating the hopes, desires, and destinies of princesses and peasants, harlots and wives, fanatics and philosophers—six unforgettable women whose paths cross during one of the most tumultuous and transformative events in history: the French Revolution.
RIBBONS OF SCARLET: A Novel of the French Revolution, releases October 1st, 2019! Check out the amazing cover below and pre-order your copy today!

About RIBBONS OF SCARLET: A Novel of the French Revolution (Coming October 1, 2019)
Ribbons of Scarlet is a timely story of the power of women to start a revolution—and change the world.
In late eighteenth-century France, women do not have a place in politics. But as the tide of revolution rises, women from gilded salons to the streets of Paris decide otherwise—upending a world order that has long oppressed them.
Blue-blooded Sophie de Grouchy believes in democracy, education, and equal rights for women, and marries the only man in Paris who agrees. Emboldened to fight the injustices of King Louis XVI, Sophie aims to prove that an educated populace can govern itself--but one of her students, fruit-seller Louise Audu, is hungrier for bread and vengeance than learning. When the Bastille falls and Louise leads a women’s march to Versailles, the monarchy is forced to bend, but not without a fight. The king’s pious sister Princess Elisabeth takes a stand to defend her brother, spirit her family to safety, and restore the old order, even at the risk of her head.
But when fanatics use the newspapers to twist the revolution’s ideals into a new tyranny, even the women who toppled the monarchy are threatened by the guillotine. Putting her faith in the pen, brilliant political wife Manon Roland tries to write a way out of France’s blood-soaked Reign of Terror while pike-bearing Pauline Leon and steely Charlotte Corday embrace violence as the only way to save the nation. With justice corrupted by revenge, all the women must make impossible choices to survive--unless unlikely heroine and courtesan’s daughter Emilie de Sainte-Amaranthe can sway the man who controls France’s fate: the fearsome Robespierre.

Amazon https://amzn.to/2sk49mV


About Kate Quinn:
Kate Quinn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. A native of southern California, she attended Boston University where she earned a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Classical Voice. She has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga, and two books in the Italian Renaissance, before turning to the 20th century with "The Alice Network" and "The Huntress." All have been translated into multiple languages. Kate and her husband now live in San Diego with two rescue dogs named Caesar and Calpurnia, and her interests include opera, action movies, cooking, and the Boston Red Sox.

About Stephanie Dray:

Stephanie Dray is a New York TimesWall Street Journal & USA Today bestselling author of historical women's fiction. Her award-winning work has been translated into eight languages and tops lists for the most anticipated reads of the year. She lives near the nation's capital with her husband, cats, and history books.
Website http://www.stephaniedray.com/
About Laura Kamoie:

New York TimesWall Street Journal, and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction, Laura Kamoie has always been fascinated by the people, stories, and physical presence of the past, which led her to a lifetime of historical and archaeological study and training. She holds a doctoral degree in early American history from The College of William and Mary, published two non-fiction books on early America, and most recently held the position of Associate Professor of History at the U.S. Naval Academy before transitioning to a full-time career writing genre fiction. She is the author of AMERICA'S FIRST DAUGHTER and MY DEAR HAMILTON, co-authored with Stephanie Dray, allowing her the exciting opportunity to combine her love of history with her passion for storytelling. Laura lives among the colonial charm of Annapolis, Maryland with her husband and two daughters. www.LauraKamoie.com

About Sophie Perinot:
Sophie Perinot is an award-winning, multi-published author of female-centered historical fiction, who holds both a Bachelors in History and a law degree. With two previous books set in France—during the 13th and 16th centuries—Sophie has a passion for French history that began more than thirty years ago when she first explored the storied châteaux of the Loire Valley.  She lives in the Washington DC metropolitan area with her husband, children and a small menagerie of pets.

About Heather Webb:
Heather Webb is the award-winning and international bestselling author of six historical novels set in France, including the upcoming Meet Me in Monaco, set to the backdrop of Grace Kelly’s wedding releasing in summer 2019, and Ribbons of Scarlet, a novel of the French Revolution’s women in Oct 2019. In 2015, Rodin’s Lover was selected as a Goodreads Top Pick, and in 2017, Last Christmas in Paris became a Globe & Mail bestseller and also won the 2018 Women’s Fiction Writers Association STAR Award. Her works have received national starred reviews, and have been sold in over a dozen countries worldwide. When not writing, you may find Heather collecting cookbooks or looking for excuses to travel. She lives in New England with her family and one feisty rabbit.

About E. Knight:
E. KNIGHT is a USA Today bestselling author of rip-your-heart-out historical women’s fiction that crosses the landscapes of Europe. Her love of history began as a young girl when she traipsed the halls of Versailles and ran through the fields in Southern France. She can still remember standing before the great golden palace, and imagining what life must have been like. She is the owner of the acclaimed blog History Undressed. Eliza lives in Maryland atop a small mountain with a knight, three princesses and two very naughty newfies. Visit Eliza at www.eknightauthor.com/eknight, or her historical blog, History Undressed, www.historyundressed.com. You can follow her on Twitter: @EKHistoricalFic, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EKnightAuthor, and Instagram @ElizaKnightFiction.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Review: THE BLUE by Nancy Bilyeau

Nancy Bilyeau's latest historical mystery, THE BLUE (Endeavor Quill, December 3), offers readers refreshingly different fare: a foray into the fascinating world of eighteenth century porcelain production and its obsessive quest for beauty.

Genevieve Planché, the English-born daughter of French Huguenots, has artistic talent but lacks the training necessary to become a history painter. Such training--as potential mentors repeat whenever she approaches them--exceeds the capabilities of women. Chafing under societal restrictions that limit her to painting flowers on silk, Geneviève hardly hesitates when Sir Gabriel Courtenay, a mysterious nobleman with curious connections, offers to send her to Venice to study art. The price? The secret formula for a vibrant new blue reportedly under development at the Derby Porcelain Works, England's premier porcelain manufactory. Derby is banking on the new blue pigment to lift their product and reputation above the exquisite porcelain of Sèvres, France. Courtenay's offer entices Genevieve to accept a position as a decorator at Derby, and with few scruples, she sets about learning the secret of the new blue. Losing her heart to the brilliant young chemist working on the formula only complicates matters, and soon Genevieve finds herself embroiled in a dangerous plot that crosses borders and redefines loyalties and liberty.

[photo credit]
THE BLUE's particular strength lies in its convincing evocation of the porcelain phenomenon of the mid-18th century as the basis for dynamic intrigue. Bilyeau skillfully works her extensive research on the history and techniques of porcelain production into Genevieve's education, first at the hand of Sir Gabriel and later on-site at the Derby and Sèvres manufactories. Benefitting from Genevieve's lessons, the reader learns fascinating facts about the origins of porcelain and its development into a luxury commodity. With a good portion of the novel's action set in the manufactories themselves, the reader witnesesses not only the conditions and methods of production, but the severe safeguards companies employed in order to protect their commercial advantage. Bilyeau's mastery of her subject allows her to weave an intricate, compelling plot that hinges on industrial espionage without ignoring broader social issues. Her characters' obsessions and the risks they take to satisfy them capture the contemporary craze for expensive goods during an era of economic uncertainty. The question of the injustice of the rich spending hundreds of pounds on a painted plate while the poor starve gives Genevieve's personal strugges a gravitas that the character herself is quick to recognize.

[photo credit]
For Genevieve never hesitates to take a vocal stand against oppression, be it religious, economic, or social, and her dedication to her ideals entails significant personal sacrifice. As a Huguenot, she carries a deep antipathy to France's Catholic king, whose persecution of her co-religionists forced them to flee their homeland. Her outrage against this injustice endangers her mission and future when her search for the blue leads her to Sèvres. As a working class artisan, Genevieve sides with her radical fiancé Denis, who instigates violent uprisings among the Spitalfields silkworkers to demand better working conditions. Her relationship with Denis turns her into an outcast in the Spitalfields community and costs her her job as a silk painter. As a female artist, Genevieve argues against the proprieties and prejudices that deny talented women necessary training. Disdaining decoration, she aspires to paint the realities of street and workplace as an impetus for reform. Her exclusion by the male artistic establishment leaves her no option but to embark on a morally questionable mission, one that she does not hesitate to embrace in order to pursue her vocation. With insight and finesse, Bilyeau creates in Genevieve Planché a protagonist readers won't soon forget: a spirited, determined woman willing to confront injustice head-on in her fight for a better world.

Fans of Nancy Bilyeau's Tudor trilogy (THE CROWN, THE CHALICE, and THE TAPESTRY) will not be disappointed with her latest endeavor. Thought-provoking at times and entertaining throughout, THE BLUE deserves a spot at the top of every historical fiction lover's To-Be-Read pile.


Nancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, DuJour, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. She is currently the deputy editor of the Center on Media, Crime and Justice at City University of New York and a regular contributor to Town & Country, Purist, and The Vintage News.

A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her fist novel and an Oprah pick, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. The third in the trilogy, THE TAPESTRY, was published by Touchstone in 2015. Her fourth novel, THE BLUE, will be publishing on December 3, 2018.

Nancey lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

Visit Nancy's website or follow her on Twitter under the handle @tudorscribe.

Ten signed copies of THE BLUE are currently up for grabs in a Goodreads giveaway ending December 1, 2018. Click here to enter.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Guest Post: "Ohio Renaissance" by Martha Conway, Author of THE UNDERGROUND RIVER

Ohio Renaissance

Guest Post by Martha Conway,

In sixteenth century Ohio, there were no newspapers or printing presses, no mills or grindstones, no churches or cathedrals. There weren’t even any brick chimneys. The Native Americans who lived in the area included Chippewa, Ottawa, and Kickapoo. A few French explorers and missionaries wandered about, as well as a handful of European immigrants who were mainly fur traders or coureur de bois, backwoodsmen. In the Great Lakes region, more than a dozen Native American tribes collectively called themselves Wendat and formed what was known as the Huron Confederacy. Many of these lived along the Ohio River, too.

In the seventeenth century, the Beaver Wars (think Iroquois against everyone else) drove everyone out of Ohio for nearly one hundred years. That’s right, for nearly one hundred years the area was virtually empty of people. Can’t imagine that happening in Europe!

The Ohio River that I wrote about in my novel The Underground River— which takes place two centuries later — was a vastly different place. However, these changes had only taken place very recently. Until the turn of the nineteenth century, the river traffic was still mostly canoes. Slowly, European settlers came in with their keel boats and flatboats and barges. In 1793, Jacob Meyers started the first passenger keelboat service between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, and in 1798 John Fitch built the first steamboat on the Ohio River.

In 1830, an actor/director named William Chapman built the first “Floating Theatre” on the Ohio River: a rectangular shed (the theatre) nailed onto a barge, which he poled downriver. His theatre troupe was comprised of his wife and eight children—a nineteenth century Partridge Family!—all of whom sang, danced, acted, and played at least two musical instruments.

They stopped in the little towns along the way, giving performances to people who did not get much in the way of entertainment in their lives. Since cash was scarce, the men and women (and children, at a reduced rate) often paid for their tickets with food, such as pies or wild game.

Chapman, a Londoner who trained in Drury Lane, shocked the rural townsfolk by having a painted drop curtain featuring a woman’s bare foot cooling in a stream. The local constable made him paint that over! He also had to contend with Yellow Fever and audiences so rustic that they sometimes didn’t understand what they were seeing was make believe. Before 1900, the showboat programs were mostly vaudeville: singers, dancers, comics, novelty acts, and the occasional short sketch or scene.

To me, the riverboat scene on the Ohio River is especially poignant because it was so short lived. Steamboats weren’t a regular feature of water travel until 1815 or so, and yet by 1845 railroads had begun their ascendancy. By the Civil War, the railroads were the preferred mode of travel.

What initially drew me to write about this period, however, was not so much the romance of water travel (although that was part of it), but the community that William Chapman and others fostered. When you go from town to town, you get to see how others live. And yet, there was tension, too. At the time of my novel (1838) the Ohio River was the natural division between the slave-holding South and the free North. This made for some conflict—which is always good for drama.

In fact, in pre-Civil War America, many slaves referred to the Ohio River as the River Jordan, a biblical name that represented freedom. Cross the Ohio River from Kentucky to Ohio (so low sometimes in summer that in parts you could wade across it), and you became free. If, that is, you weren’t caught afterwards by slave hunters; there is one of those in my novel, too.

I am from Ohio, and yet I learned more about the state and the river when I researched this novel than I ever did in my state history classes in grade school! I am amazed at the variety of what we would now call lifestyles. Ohio means “Great River” in the Seneca language, and it is.

Martha Conway grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the sixth of seven daughters. Her first novel was nominated for an Edgar Award, and she has won several awards for her historical fiction, including an Independent Book Publishers Award and the North American Book Award for Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has been published in the Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, Carolina Quarterly, Folio, Epoch, The Quarterly, and other journals. She has received a California Arts Council Fellowship for Creative Writing, and has reviewed books for the Iowa Review and the San Francisco Chronicle. She now lives in San Francisco, and is an instructor of creative writing for Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program and UC Berkeley Extension. She is the author of THE UNDERGROUND RIVER.

For more information, please visit Martha Conway’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and Goodreads.



During the Blog Tour, we will be giving away 5 custom-made coffee mugs. To enter, please use the Gleam link below.

--Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on July 26th.  You must be 18 or older to enter.
--Giveaway is open to US residents only.
--Only one entry per household.
--All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided uon by the blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrans may be disqualified at our discretion.
--Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner will be chosen.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review and Giveaway: THE UNDERGROUND RIVER by Martha Conway

Geographical boundaries are rarely as precise as they appear on a map, and moral boundaries can be just as fluid. Martha Conway's new novel, THE UNDERGROUND RIVER (Touchstone, June 2018), explores these truths with creative and compelling verve. Set in 1838 on a floating theater boat traveling down the Ohio River--the watery boundary dividing slave territory from free--the novel traces its characters' journeys from ignorance to understanding, aloofness to connection, ambivalence to conviction. As the boat docks for performances in seemingly interchangeable towns on both sides of the river, protagonist May Bedloe learns that appearance does not always correspond with reality--and that this discrepancy, far from being perfidious, often serves admirable ends.

Much of the novel's force and charm derives from May's idiosyncracies. A twenty-two year old orphan, May works as her actress cousin's dresser, designing, sewing, and caring for Comfort's costumes as the pair travels from gig to gig. Blunt to a fault and awkward in company--modern medicine would place May somewhere on the autism spectrum--May is generally content with her behind-the-scenes role. When a steamboat explosion destroys the costumes and changes the course of Comfort's career, May is forced to fend for herself for the very first time. To secure employment, she lends money borrowed from Comfort's abolitionist benefactress to Hugo Cushing, owner of a floating theater boat in need of repairs. May joins Hugo's troupe, and though her forthright tongue and literal-mindedness often land her in trouble, her skills, as well as her devotion to the enterprise, soon earn her the actors' acceptance. Drawn especially to Leo, the free black boatman who never dares disembark on the river's southern shore, and to Captain Hugo, struggling under the weight of responsibility and grief over his sister's death, May quickly adapts to life on the riverboat and blossoms beyond the confines of her cousin's shadow.

Yet all too soon, Comfort and her benefactress reappear, disrupting paradise. Demanding repayment of her loan, Mrs. Howard proposes that May work off her debt by delivering slave children to freedom on the northern bank of the river. Unable to refuse, May embarks on a series of dangerous, illegal missions that she must hide from her friends. Compassion vies with prudence as she tries to balance the needs of her charges against the safety of the troupe. At times, she must lie outright--an ever-difficult task--to protect or to deceive; at others, she must use her bluntness to misdirect or to persuade. Her struggle is keen and leads to disaster, but through it May finds courage she never knew she possessed, allies she never suspected, and a purpose she'd never imagined. Ever uneasy in her new role, May demonstrates that reluctant foot soldiers can be as effective as brash warriors in the righting of social wrongs--a much appreciated nuance that protects her from a predictable and potentially unconvincing transformation.

With its novel premise, unique setting, endearing protagonist, and gut-wrenching dilemmas, THE UNDERGROUND RIVER is a delightful, thought-compelling read. Just as the actors of the Floating Theater teach May to embrace the possibilities of believing something that isn't "true," Martha Conway convinces her readers of the marvelous power of fiction to convey truths worthy of contemplation. "There is always a surprise at the end," Hugo warns May midway through the story, and that surprise might just be this: the realization that truth originates and abides in the unrelenting conflict between imagination and reality.

Martha Conway grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, the sixth of seven daughters. Her first novel was nominated for an Edgar Award, and she has won several awards for her historical fiction, including an Independent Book Publishers Award and the North American Book Award for Historical Fiction. Her short fiction has been published in the Iowa Review, Massachusetts Review, Carolina Quarterly, Folio, Epoch, The Quarterly, and other journals. She has received a California Arts Council Fellowship for Creative Writing, and has reviewed books for the Iowa Review and the San Francisco Chronicle. She now lives in San Francisco, and is an instructor of creative writing for Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program and UC Berkeley Extension. She is the author of THE UNDERGROUND RIVER.

For more information, please visit Martha Conway’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Goodreads.



During the Blog Tour, we will be giving away 5 custom-made coffee mugs. To enter, please use the Gleam link below.

--Giveaway ends at 11:59 pm EST on July 26th.  You must be 18 or older to enter.
--Giveaway is open to US residents only.
--Only one entry per household.
--All giveaway entrants agree to be honest and not cheat the systems; any suspicion of fraud will be decided uon by the blog/site owner and the sponsor, and entrans may be disqualified at our discretion.
--Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or a new winner will be chosen.

The Underground River