Saturday, January 30, 2010

Karen Harper Contest Winners

The winner of Karen Harper's new novel, THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS, is


The winner of a trade paperback copy of Ms. Harper's previous novel,


Congratulations, Tiffany and June! Please send an email to
juliannedouglas05 [at]sbcglobal[net]
with your name and snail mail address. I will forward the info on to Ms. Harper's publicist, who will get the books out to you shortly.

Thanks to all who entered. I wish we had enough copies to give
to all of you!

Friday, January 29, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"I hold that a woman should in no way resemble a man in her ways, manners, words, gestures and bearing. Thus just as it is very fitting that a man should display a certain robust and sturdy manliness, so it is well for a woman to have a certain soft and delicate tenderness, with an air of feminine sweetness in her every movement."

Baldassare Castiglione (1478-1529), Italian courtier and diplomat
The Book of the Courtier (1528)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Moors at the Scottish Court

An historian has found references to "morys"--or moors--in the records of who received loaves of bread from the royal kitchens at Stirling Castle in Scotland, seat of Mary de Guise (mother of Mary Queen of Scots), in 1549. The historian, John Harrison, believes the "morys" were either Africans or Arabs from north Africa. The "morys" were part of the court hierarchy, since they received bread at royal expense, but it is uncertain what their court function was. With the French queen Mary de Guise at its head, the Scottish court appears to have been a rather cosmopolitan place.

Full article here from the BBC.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Exhuming Leonardo

A team from Italy's National Committee for Cultural Heritage wants to exhume the skeleton of Leonardo da Vinci from its tomb in the chapel at Amboise castle in order to reconstruct his face from measurements of the skull. The reason? To determine whether the Mona Lisa is a disguised self-portrait.

You can read about it here.

Complicating the issue is that the preserved remains are only "presumed" to be those of Leonardo. The church where he was buried was destroyed during the Revolution and bones reburied in the present chapel in 1874.

I can see how the question of a disguised self-portrait would intrigue art historians, but part of the attraction of the Mona Lisa is the mystery that surrounds it. Does settling the matter merit such drastic measures, or should we let sleeping artists lie? What do you think?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Additional Giveaway: MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE by Karen Harper

I have an additional Karen Harper giveaway to offer: a copy of MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE, which came out in trade paperback from NAL earlier this month. From Ms. Harper's website:

England, 1601. When Queen Elizabeth’s men come looking for William Shakespeare—a rumored Catholic in a time of Catholic-Protestant intrigue and insurrection—they first question a beautiful dark-haired woman who seems to know the famous playwright very well. Too well. She is Anne Whateley, born in Temple Grafton, a small town just upriver from Shakespeare’s hometown of Stratford-upon-Avon. And as church records show—were anyone to look for them—Anne Whateley was wed to William Shakespeare in a small country church just days before he married another woman, Anne Hathaway, who has lived as his wife for decades. In MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE, Anne Whateley--who may or may not be Will’s true wife--tells her story. Stretching almost fifty years, from the rural villages of Warwickshire to the bustling city of London, with its teeming streets and lively theaters, it’s a story of undying passion, for life, love, and literature.

Again, this contest will remain open until 10 pm PST next Friday, January 29, with the randomly-drawn winner's name posted by Saturday morning, January 30. Please leave a comment HERE with your email address if you are interested in entering the drawing for MISTRESS SHAKESPEARE. If you are interested in both Harper books, please leave a separate comment at EACH post.

Giveaway: THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS by Karen Harper

Karen Harper has offered to send one lucky winner a copy of her new novel, THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS (reviewed below). To enter, please leave your email address in a comment to THIS POST. Have you read other novels by Ms. Harper, or is she a new author to you?

Contest open until 10 pm PST Friday, January 29, 2010. The winner's name, drawn at random, will by posted by Saturday morning, January 30. Good luck!

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Affect not as some doe, that bookish Ambition, to be stored with bookes and have well furnished Libraries, yet keepe their heads empty of knowledge: to desire to have many bookes, and never to use them, is like a child that will have a candle burning by him, all the while
he is sleeping."

Henry Peacham (1576-c. 1643), British poet and writer
The Compleat Gentleman (1622)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Karen Harper revisits the tumultuous world of the Tudors in her latest novel, THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS, released today from Putnam.

A fortuitous encounter with Thomas Cromwell results in Katherine (Kat) Chapernowne, an educated "nobody" from the wilds of Devon, entering the service of the new queen, Anne Boleyn. The two women become friends, and at the end of the queen's brief reign, Kat promises to protect Anne's young daughter Elizabeth. Appointed Elizabeth's governess, Kat serves the princess with a devotion and dedication that complicates and often endangers her own life. For twenty years they weather together the ups and downs of Elizabeth's fate, moving in and out of the line of succession, suffering exile and imprisonment as often as favor and security. Elizabeth's true mother in all but blood, Kat alone is able to protect the princess from those who would destroy her--and tame the headstrong whims that threaten to rob Elizabeth of the throne she fights so hard to gain.

Ms. Harper has given us a new take on the Tudors by telling their story from the viewpoint of a character whose voice had yet to be heard. Kat tells the story in the first person; although this is limiting at times since she is often separated from Elizabeth, it provides an adult perspective on Elizabeth's youth and an entry into her emotional development. Yet this is Kat's story as much as it is Anne's or Elizabeth's. Motivated at first by her desire to escape obscurity, Kat spies and deals secrets in order to climb the social ladder. Eventually, the ruthlessness and variability of the Tudor court repulse her; love for her husband John Ashley and for her charge Elizabeth mutes and ultimately replaces her ambition. Well-acquainted with the ways of the world, Kat advises Elizabeth against the wiles of the power-hungry and helps shape her into the queen she will become.

Motherhood proves to be an all-important theme. Anne, though her execution occurs in the opening chapter of the book, remains a forceful presence throughout. The ring she gives Kat to keep for Elizabeth, a clever locket that conceals miniatures of Anne and her daughter, leaves Kat's finger only to adorn Elizabeth's person; the doomed queen appears repeatedly in dreams and warnings to both Kat and Elizabeth, refusing to rest until Elizabeth assumes the throne. Kat is Elizabeth's only link to her mother, for everyone else, especially King Henry, disparages Anne in order to prevent Boleyn "faults" from manifesting themselves in Elizabeth. Ever an admirer of Anne's courage and intelligence, Kat alone fosters the strengths Elizabeth inherits from her mother. Robbed of her own mother just like Elizabeth, Kat understands what the princess feels and needs. Her love is the only stable haven Elizabeth has in an ever-changing world.

Ms. Harper, who has written extensively on the Elizabethan era (she has authored novels about Mary Boleyn and William Shakespeare, as well a nine-book series of Elizabeth I mysteries) creates a world that is thoroughly engaging and fully believable. She knows her characters well and sketches the political intrigues of the Tudor court with a sure hand. An excellent read, THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS will, without a doubt, become a classic of Tudor-era historical fiction.

Learn more about Ms. Harper, who also writes contemporary thrillers, at her website.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Robin Maxwell: O, JULIET Love Games

Be sure to visit Robin Maxwell's blog to enter the drawing for the third heart necklace. Ms. Maxwell has also announced the most exciting event yet -- the O, JULIET Love Poetry Competition, for which entrants must compose and submit an original poem about love! There will be a grand prize winner in each of two age categories; each winner will receive a signed copy of Ms. Maxwell's novel O, JULIET, a Renaissance-style leather bound journal, and a phone conversation with the author.

Get busy and start rhyming! Good luck.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The New World's Rosetta Stone

National Geographic magazine reported Wednesday on a 400 year old slate tablet discovered this past summer at Jamestown, Virginia, the first permanent English settlement in America. The 5 x 8 inch tablet, discovered in a garbage pit in James Fort, is covered with words, symbols, numbers and drawings--impressions of marks made with a slate pencil and later wiped away, a writing technology common in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With the help of digital images taken using multiple angled lights, curators at the Smithsonian Institution have been able to produce images of the different layers of superimposed inscriptions.

Much of the cursive writing on the slate appears to be written in what is known as "secretary hand," the main form of cursive handwriting taught in Elizabethan England. An expert in the script from the Folger Shakespeare Library has been able to identify the words "Abraham" and "book" as well as some individual letters. She hopes to be able to read more once finer images are produced.

Of particular interest are two marks that resemble characters in a phonetic Algonquian alphabet invented in 1585 by Thomas Hariot. The 36-character alphabet survives as a manuscript in the library of the Westminster School in London; there are also documented references to a dictionary of the Algonquian language some scholars attribute to Hariot. It is conceivable that European explorers arrived at Jamestown with the dictionaries, ready to communicate with the native people. Based on various evidence, curators believe the tablet may have belonged to William Strachey, the first secretary of the Jamestown colony, who arrived there in spring of 1610.

Additional tests and imaging should reveal additional secrets from this extraordinary find. You can view images of the inscriptions at the National Geographic site.

[Original article by Paula Neely.]

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"All the whores in Rome came to hear that man preach. When he spotted the crowd, he tried to convert all of us. But that was really too hard. He would have had to talk for a hundred years to convince me. Nevertheless, he succeeded in convincing Gambiera to become a nun. . . . I might have been tempted to join the others, but each time it passed my mind that I could not do 'that thing' any more, I decided against it. In any case, I confessed and then gave the priest two ducats of solid gold. How sorry I am now!"

Beatrice of Ferrara, courtesan,
to her patron Lorenzo de Medici
Letter dated 23 April 1517

Quoted in Lives of the Courtesans by Lynne Lawner (1987), p. 42

Monday, January 11, 2010

Second Love Game Challenge

A reminder that today the second of Robin Maxwell's "O, JULIET Love Games Challenges" begins. Go to Robin's blog and leave your favorite literary quotation about love, along with your email address, to enter the drawing for the blown glass heart necklace. You have two weeks to enter. Be sure to read the quotations left by other entrants--no duplicates allowed!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Author Jill Myles: "Finish the First One!"

Procrastination and self-discipline: how do writers avoid the first and cultivate the second? All writers, from neophytes to best-sellers, deal with these issues at times, often daily. Today, newly-published author Jill Myles, author of GENTLEMEN PREFER SUCCUBI (Pocket Books, December 2009) and SUCCUBI LIKE IT HOT (January 19, 2010), offers her insights on these challenges. This is the seventh stop on Jill's blog tour.


1. Writers supposedly love to write and usually work on topics that interest them -- why, then, do you think procrastination often poses such a problem?

Procrastination is a writer's worst enemy and best friend. Best friend at the moment, because it's so very easy to put something off, right? But worst enemy because it's so insidious. As writers, we are fascinated by ideas and want to write them down. But I feel that if too much time happens between you and the last time you worked on your story, you begin to lose the affection for that particular story, and something new and shiny takes over your mind and you suddenly want to work on it instead. Which is great...except the cycle tends to repeat itself more often than not. So instead of having one finished book, procrastinators can end up with twenty stories...with only one chapter written. Been there, so so many times.

Which is not to say I don't procrastinate anymore - I do all the time! But I've also trained myself to finish things a little better. :)

2. Do you find yourself procrastinating more in certain writing situations (for example, at beginning of a new chapter, or when writing confrontational scenes) than others? How do you get over the hurdle?

Oh, absolutely. I don't put chapters in my books until after the story is finished, so I think in terms of scenes. And I find that if I leave mid-scene, I'm in a hurry to get back to the story mentally and keep writing to finish it. If I leave the story after I've finished my latest big scene? It can be really hard to get back into things because I feel that I'm having to start a little from scratch.

I also procrastinate when I get to the climax of the story. Usually when you're down to the climax, it turns into a weekend-long slog/marathon where I have to write in a breathless frenzy just to get it out of my head, and to be done with it. And since I know that it's going to be emotionally wrenching and take all weekend...I procrastinate. Of course! ;)

3. Do you write to a strict schedule? How do you discipline yourself to assure your output? Do rewards figure in your scheme?

No, no strict schedules. I work a day job, so I'm lenient on myself during weekdays and my goal is a lot lighter. If I get between two and four pages on a week night, I'm happy. And if I don't get anything, that's okay too. But on the weekend, I push myself to do as much as possible. I have massive guilt issues if I don't work on my story, so I don't really reward myself inasmuch as I tell myself that I can walk away from the computer with no guilt if I get ten pages done on Saturday, etc.

4. Have you found any techniques or books/articles particularly helpful on this issue?

I really like Write or Die! It forces you to sit and start typing. I'm also a big fan of egg timers and word wars just to get started, because sometimes getting started is the hardest part! I haven't found any books that really help with this sort of thing -- to me it's mostly a mental state of mind and the only solution for me to get past it is to just sit down and start writing. No excuses, no editing, no procrastinating, just sit and start typing (again, Write or Die comes in super handy for me as a motivator).

5. If you were a perfectly disciplined writer, what would your ideal schedule and output look like? How far off are you from achieving this in real life?

Hm. If I was PERFECTLY disciplined, I'd love to write every day. 1000 words a day on weekdays and 5k a day on Saturday and Sunday apiece. That'd give me 15k a week. It's a completely manageable goal for me - I've written that fast before. I lazy. Human. Lazy. Well, both human and lazy. And I waffle back and forth between hitting this - a deadline is a huge, huge motivator for me, even if it's far out in advance. When I'm writing toward a deadline, I can really push words out on the page and more or less hit my ideal output (at least, most weeks). When I'm working on a spec project? Less disciplined, because there's no finish line attached.

6. Do you see any connection between self-discipline and success? Has this connection proven true in your own writing life?

I don't know if it's all kinds of self-discipline as much as it is a certain kind of discipline. You have to finish stories and you have to edit them. I don't care if the story is 50 pages long or 500, but you need to get into a habit of finishing them. There's no feeling quite like finishing a novel, and it makes you feel like you can do anything in the world -- especially write MORE novels.

7. Anything else you'd like to add?

Just that if you're struggling, give yourself a goal to finish the one you are working on -- no matter how much it sucks! My first novel was a trainwreck from start to finish, and I was struggling with finishing it too.The climax I had planned out was at least 10-20k long and I was already hitting 150k on my book, so I was feeling intimidated and not close to the end and defeated and so...I wrote a cliff notes version of what would happen. I think it was a total of three pages long, but it explained everything that needed to happen in the climax. After that, I wrote the ending and felt a huge sense of relief. In my mind, I *had* finished that first book, and proved to myself that I'd done it. Who cares if I'd shorthanded the end? I could fix that in revisions. And I did. And then I kept writing.

So often, when people find out I write novels, they tell me their spouse or son or boyfriend is writing a novel. And when I ask about it again, a few weeks or months later, I'm always told the same thing. "Oh, he put it aside" or "Hasn't been writing" or "He gave up." SO FRUSTRATING! Finish the first one. I promise you, it's such a rush that you'll want to do it again and again. But you're sabotaging yourself if you don't finish the first one from start to finish, even if it's a crappy finish.

Thanks for the words of wisdom, Jill. It's always encouraging to see how other writers work and wend their way to publication. May these two novels be the first of many completed projects to issue from your pen!

Jill is hosting a contest to celebrate the publication of her books. Her agent, Holly Root, is offering a query critique for one lucky winner drawn at random. Leave a comment here and you'll earn one entry for the drawing. Commenting at each of the other blogs on the tour will earn you additional entries. Jill will announce the winner's name on January 27. Good luck!

The tour continues Monday, January 11 at Shana Silver's blog, where Jill will discuss her writing process.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Queen of the Bean

The Feast of the Epiphany occasioned much merriment--and expense--at the French court during the Renaissance. The tradition of sharing a galette des rois--a cake containing a concealed bean--traces back to early sixteenth century celebrations of Twelfth Night. The person who found the bean in his or her piece of cake became the de facto ruler for the duration of the festivities. Whereas in England the choice of a "king," or Lord of Misrule, predominated, across the channel it was the election of the "Queen of the Bean" that evolved into an elaborate ritual.

According to Robert Knecht in his book The French Renaissance Court (p. 75-76), it was custom at the court of François I to chose not only a Queen of the Bean, but a bevy of eighteen ladies to attend her. The women wore beautiful new clothes, which the King provided: undergarments of crimson velvet with slashed sleeves held together by gold clasps and outer garments of grey satin fringed with velvet and lined with mink. Matching belts, necklaces and bracelets complemented the attire; the Queen wore a plumed bonnet atop a long golden or silver snood adorned with precious stones. When it was time for supper, the Queen of the Bean rose from her seat next to the true queen, Eléanore, and took the King's hand. The monarch led her and her ladies into the hall where two tables had been set. The Queen of the Bean sat above Queen Eléanore, the dauphin's wife Catherine de' Medici, and the King's sister Marguerite de Navarre at the shorter table; the King joined the eighteen attendants at the second table. During the meal, the Bean Queen was served with the ceremony normally reserved for the real queen, who surrendered any precedence during the twenty-four hours of her rival's reign.

One wonders just how random the choice of the Queen of the Bean was, especially since at the court of François's son, Henri, the king himself chose her name. In 1550, the Venetian ambassador describes how Henri II came into the queen's chamber to pick a name out of a hat. However, Henri discarded several names before announcing that of a "young, really beautiful and most charming" lady who belonged to the circle of his sister Marguerite. The young lady touched his hand and retired to dress "honorably." At dinner, Henri sat in the middle of the shorter table, flanked on his right by the Queen of the Bean and on his left by his mistress Diane de Poitiers. The real queen, Catherine de' Medici, sat next to the Queen of the Bean, along with the king's sister; the cardinal of Lorraine, the duchesse de Guise, and the Constable of Montmorency sat beside Diane. A ball followed the banquet. The next day, the King escorted the Queen of the Bean into Mass before the real queen; after Mass, everyone dined in the same order as on the previous evening, then watched a joust in the palace courtyard. The feast concluded with another banquet and a final ball, which brought the Queen of the Bean's short reign to a memorable end.

[Photograph courtesy of Gorrk, Wikimedia Commons.]

Monday, January 4, 2010

Robin Maxwell's O, JULIET Love Games

Today historical fiction author Robin Maxwell launches the "O, Juliet Love Games" to celebrate the upcoming publication of her novel O, JULIET in February. Today, and on the next two Mondays, readers can enter to win a signed copy of the novel and one of three heart necklaces, pictured below. Simply go to Robin's blog and answer today's question: "What are the qualities in a lover that are most important to you?" Be sure to include your email address with your comment. Good luck!