Friday, December 28, 2018

Farewell, 2018

Incredibly, 2018 is on its way out the door, and this is my last post before the new year rolls in at midnight on Monday. So, in the spirit of the new year and new beginnings, here’s my annual roundup of what I have and haven’t accomplished since January. Check back next week for the goals for 2019. Meanwhile, Happy New Year, everyone!

Below are the writing and publishing goals I set for 2018. Just to mix things up a bit, I’ll give a quick summary of how well I completed them as part of each task. 

(1) Completing my Legends of the Five Directions series with the publication of The Shattered Drum—done, and as they say in job performance evaluations, exceeded, since I also revised The Golden Lynx to make it more friendly to a YA readership and foreshadow events that arise only later in the series, as well as producing two e-book box sets covering books 1–3 and 4–5 of the series.

(2) Producing a rough draft for Song of the Siren, first in my new series, Songs of Steppe & Forest—also set in Russia and the neighboring lands but in the 1540s—which explores individual women’s stories, told in the first person, mostly outside the traditional boundaries of marriage and motherhood—also completed and exceeded. In fact, Siren has gone through several revisions, been typeset and corrected, and is due to appear in late February. I’m also well on my way to completing the rough draft of Songs 2, Song of the Shaman, and hope to have a full text next week, although I expect to go through several more rounds before I have a final manuscript.

(3) Conducting twelve New Books in Historical Fiction interviews—despite a rocky start to 2018 and a few bumps along the way, I did find enough willing authors to put out twelve interviews by the middle of December, as well as additional written Q&A conversations that appeared on my blog throughout the year. Many thanks to all of them for their help!

(4) Maintaining my website and the Five Directions Press website—which means keeping track of the “Books We Loved” posts, expanding the number of titles available, and keeping the news & events page up to date. With plenty of help from my fellow authors, we did produce twelve monthly “Books We Loved” posts, a steady stream of new titles, and up-to-date news. We also added a new monthly feature, “Five Directions Press Authors Dish” about topics both personal and authorial, near the end of the year. My own website gets less attention (only so many hours in the day), but I did figure out how to restore the cross-postings from my blog and updated everything for the publication of The Shattered Drum.

(5) Typesetting/proofing, producing e-books, and in some cases editing the Five Directions Press titles scheduled for 2018—Chains of Silver, The Falcon Soars, The Shattered Drum, and A Holiday Gift, more or less in that order. Although we ended up substituting Joan Schweighardt’s Before We Died for A Holiday Gift, which is still in process, Five Directions Press did publish four titles in 2018 and is on track for anywhere from two to five in 2019.

(6) Posting to this blog every Friday—yep, made it so, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise would say. I also passed 100,000 views  in the second half of the year, which I thought was pretty cool.

(7) Staying active on social media as a way of connecting with and supporting other writers, especially the authors associated with Five Directions Press, as well as reaching readers—well, this one definitely had mixed results, not least because social media themselves fell under scrutiny in 2018. I did better with guest posts on other people’s blogs. Nevertheless, I did manage to get on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest at least three times a week for most of the year with blog links or on behalf of Five Directions Press and New Books in Historical Fiction, even though I also closed out my Google Plus account during its recent security breach. I’m taking a vacation from social media at the moment to maximize my writing time, but I expect to be back on a regular basis starting January 4, 2019.

What about you? How well did you do?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Bookshelf, Dec. 2018

I’ve been on vacation all week, so with most of my Christmas preparations behind me, I’m focused on finishing the rough draft of Song of the Shaman, book 2 in my Songs of Steppe & Forest series (book 1, Song of the Siren, will appear in late February 2019). As a result, I’m not thinking about reading very much—other than my own drafts and Terry Gamble’s The Eulogist, which will be the subject of a New Books in Historical Fiction interview in mid- to late January.

But I do have more than a few books waiting in the queue. Here’s the list for December. And if you need some last-minute Christmas gifts, books are always a good idea!


Adrienne Celt, Invitation to a Bonfire
A young student fleeing the post-revolution Soviet Union circa 1920 winds up in a New England girls’ school, where she becomes something of a curiosity to the locals, as they are to her. The arrival of a married professor, another √©migr√© Russian and a famous author, sets off a love triangle with the usual unpredictable consequences. Based on the known marital troubles of Vladimir Nabokov—and perhaps his novel Lolita—so how could a Russianist like me resist? The hard-cover is already out; I plan to talk to the author around the time of the paperback release in May.


Jennifer Robson, The Gown
Fans of the film Phantom Thread, of whom I’m one, will welcome this literary exploration of the postwar UK fashion industry and one of its most famous productions: the wedding gown in which the future Queen Elizabeth II married Prince Philip in 1947. A dual-time story, The Gown focuses on the women who produced the hand-embroidered flowers that made the dress a priceless treasure. As someone who grew up hearing her mother’s memories of this exquisite gown, which circulated around the country after the wedding, I’m looking forward to finding out more about its creation. Due out on New Year’s Eve.

Joan Neuberger, This Thing of Darkness
Not historical fiction, this one, but a historical study of the many decisions that went into the creation of Sergei Eisenstein’s famed three-part film Ivan the Terrible (Eisenstein had time to finish only two of the three parts before his death, and of those only the first was released, although the second is available on YouTube). The 1940s were a difficult time to make any film in the USSR, especially one commandeered and monitored by Joseph Stalin, and Neuberger traces the process by which Eisenstein balanced his cinematic vision against historical sources and political reality. I plan to interview the author in March 2019, the month after the book’s release, for the New Books Network.

Liza Perrat, The Swooping Magpie
Second in a series of suspenseful family novels set in 1960s and 1970s Australia, this book is not a sequel to The Silent Kookaburra but a stand-alone tale that explores similar themes. A sixteen-year-old from a troubled family falls for a sexy schoolteacher, with—as one might expect—life-changing consequences. Based on a true-life case and the very real turmoil that racked Australia as conservative morality clashed with the sexual revolution, this story, released in November 2018,
is a welcome development from a writer whose work I’ve always enjoyed in the past. Another interview scheduled for March.


Ann Weisgarber, The Glovemaker
This novel opens in Utah’s Mormon country in January 1888. Sister Deborah, a married woman awaiting her husband’s long-delayed return, opens her door to find a strange man on her threshold. A fellow Mormon, he is also a fugitive from justice, and his pursuers won’t hesitate to punish anyone who shelters him. His crime? Deborah suspects polygamy, which the US government has outlawed and is actively trying to stamp out in Utah but the Mormon Church still supports. Forced to choose between her safety and the demands of her religion, Deborah has only seconds to decide. Due in February 2019, and I plan to interview the author in April or May.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Writing "A Christmas Carol"

It’s a common belief that every author at times suffers from writers’ block. In extreme cases, this inability to write supposedly drags on for years. The helpless sufferer stares at a blank page, unable to set pen to paper (these days, fingers to computer keyboard). Meanwhile, publishing contracts and the demands of eager readers go unmet as the author wrestles with inner demons.

In my experience, this view is a myth. Writers’ block does exist, but for me it indicates one of two things: either I’m trying to force a character to do something that’s convenient for me but wrong for that character, or I’m persisting with a story that doesn’t have enough depth or drama to carry a novel. Ideas, for me, are seldom the problem; they pour in regardless. But not all my ideas are equally good, and some lead me down rabbit holes or into deep woods, where my story becomes entangled in the branches.

In either case, the solution is simple: back off and give my subconscious permission to do its job. Sometimes it will throw up a great solution, and I’ll wonder how I could have been so blind. Sometimes I can prime the pump by writing whatever comes into my head until it stops looking like a swirl of mismatched threads and I start to see the underlying patterns. Sometimes it just takes a while for a character to reveal him- or herself. Sometimes I have to accept the inevitable, let go, and wait to discover a story that has more potential—or allow the existing one to sit for a while, until I understand what the book needs.

For other writers, as in Samantha Silva’s novel about Charles Dickens and the writing of A Christmas Carol, intervention requires an outside force. Her Charles Dickens isn’t suffering from writers’ block so much as a massive disinclination to turn his attention from the book of his heart—which, for the first time in his charmed authorial life, is failing to win the hearts and minds of his public—to the Christmas story that his publisher is urging him to write. Well, not urging so much as threatening to sink Dickens’ already shaky economic ship if Dickens refuses to comply. Harsh reality, needy relatives, and the specter of failure combine to send Dickens’ Christmas spirit—and soon, Dickens’ family—into flight, further complicating his efforts to juggle his own needs and the task imposed on him.

In our interview, Samantha Silva and I discuss the power of present and past loves, the tug between the real woman an author has married and the literary muse of his imagination, the effects of a traumatic childhood, the competing pressures of fame and the writer’s need for privacy, poverty and generosity and the difficulty caused by living beyond one’s means. Most of all, we talk about creating a beloved classic and finding the meaning of Christmas while doing so.

We don’t talk about writers’ block in so many words, because discussing how Silva’s fictional Dickens overcame his problem would spoil the plot of her light-hearted and imaginative exploration of the process by which Ebenezer Scrooge and the three spirits of Christmas Past, Present, and Future came into existence. But we dance around the topic throughout the interview, and Samantha has many fascinating things to say about Dickens himself, his books, and the psychology of authors. Definitely give it a listen as you dash from store to store. It will remind you of what the winter holidays are meant to be.

Last week I promised news about the New Books Network, but I didn’t expect how personal that news would turn out to be. The NBN has paired with the Literary Hub (LitHub), which will be listing selected NBN interviews as a Friday Feature. And the interview chosen to kick off the new partnership is—drum roll, please—this one! Which is especially appropriate when we consider that the 175th anniversary of A Christmas Carol’s publication is right around the corner: December 19, 2018. Dickens would, I’m sure, rejoice to see the extraordinary popularity he enjoyed during his lifetime extend into the technologies of the modern age.

As always, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.

Christmas is not looking bright for Charles Dickens. His latest novel has proven a massive flop, and that upstart William Thackeray doesn’t miss an opportunity to crow. Bills are rolling in, every relative in creation has his or her hand out, the kids (number steadily increasing) have their hearts set on expensive toys, and Mrs. Dickens has already started making plans for the most elaborate holiday party yet. Oh yes, and Dickens’ publisher is begging him to write a Christmas book when the spirit of Christmas seems to have packed up and moved to Scotland together with Dickens’ exasperated family.

Determined not to give in, Dickens moves to a cheap hotel, rents a room under the name Ebenezer Scrooge, dons the disguise of an old man, and roams the streets of London in pursuit of a mysterious young woman in a purple cloak. And surprise, by the time December 25 rolls around, Dickens has not only recovered his joie de vivre but penned what may be the world’s most beloved holiday classic, A Christmas Carol.

In Mr. Dickens and His Carol, Samantha Silva takes events we all know from childhood and, through the application of a light touch and a gifted imagination, turns them into a story at once comfortably familiar and delightfully different.

Images: Charles Dickens in 1842 and the original frontispiece and title page of A Christmas Carol (1843) public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, December 7, 2018

News from Five Directions Press

Due to total work overload, I’m late with my blog post today, although at least it’s still Friday. And for the same reason, I’ll keep it short this week. But we do have some Five Directions Press news to share.

First off, it’s the holiday season, and if you have a reader in your life, do think about giving your favorite people a book that will take them on a literary journey along a less well-traveled path. No shade being thrown here against the mass favorites—Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Elizabethan England, anything Austen-related. But readers who are a little more adventurous may love a story that sweeps them into worlds they don’t know, and that’s our specialty at Five Directions Press. 

Whether our settings are contemporary (Greece, Nicaragua, Scotland, invented college towns and virtual reality games), historical (sixteenth-century Russia, the Amazon river basin circa 1910, the almost forgotten court of Mary Tudor, colonial Mexico—including its hidden Jewish community under assault from the Inquisition), historical shading into fantasy (fifth-century Germany, 1950s Switzerland and Ireland, 1960s Nepal and Tibet), or ballet in a wholly imagined outer space, we pride ourselves on taking a place you’ve never been or perhaps heard much about, making it feel like home, and filling it with characters whose stories you can’t wait to learn.

With that in mind, we’ve been running holiday gift guides on Facebook and Twitter, so follow us by clicking on the links and take a look. Maybe you’ll see a title you can’t wait to read—or to give.

We’ve also decided to supplement our monthly “Books We Loved” posts with a new online newsletter feature called “Five Directions Press Authors Dish.” This one is just for fun, although we may work in some writing advice as we go along. The first post went up right after Thanksgiving and, appropriately for that season, talks about food we never expected (or wanted!) to eat. You can read it at

Last but not least, we are planning our 2019 catalogue. Planning is well underway for the launch of my new series, Songs of Steppe & Forest, with Song of the Siren due out in late February. I have corrected proofs and have sent them to four or five lovely fellow writers for endorsements. And here, for the first time, is the public cover reveal—with, as ever, mega-thanks to Courtney J. Hall for that gorgeous type. You can find out more about the story at

Have a great weekend! I plan to spend mine on a virtual journey of my own, back to the Eurasian steppe and the many mental excursions my heroine, a shaman, undertakes. But do come back next week, when I hope my next New Books in Historical Fiction interview will be live. By then, I may have some news about the New Books Network as well.