Friday, January 30, 2009


Yesterday at around 3 p.m. I finished the revisions on "Shades of Grey" and sent the manuscript back to my editor at Severn House in London. Within minutes, I'd gotten a very nice response (which makes me wonder about the hours she keeps). I guess I must have been more keyed up than I thought, because I teared up as I read the last page and then suddenly felt exhausted. The cat was enjoying her midday nap, so I fitted myself into the remaining third of the bed and slept for about a half hour. Then I got up... and wrote 1,300 words on "Grey Matters," as I am tentatively calling the sequel.

Often I feel sad when I finish a book. I think I've been working on this one for so long that maybe that won't hit me. Maybe I'll just feel relieved?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

mucking about...

just back in from an hour of trying to break up the ice dams in front of our house. the snow has turned to rain and it was getting deep and my neighbor Peter and I were out there, trying to chip away. now my hands are all cramped, but it was a really nice change from working on revisions. made me think of Ratty in "The Wind in the Willows" (there, I can do u/c!), mucking about it boats...

very satisfying when the water finally began to flow!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Animal logic...

Musetta has moved back into my office!
I don't know why, but for about a month, my beloved cat had not been sitting with me when I worked. Was I too loud? Was there a draft (I mean, a new one) in this old house? Was it something I said?

For whatever reason, she'd been spending most of my working time in two other rooms. But as of yesterday, she's back and I can hear her mutterings and snorts as she sleeps.

Which is good, because I need the help. I'm supposed to get the revised manuscript of "Shades of Grey" back to my editor by early February. But I also feel like I need to get a good running start on the sequel (tentatively titled "Grey Matters"), because that's due end of May! And I'd love to have a minute to re-read the draft I did of my pet psychic mystery, too. Plus, I just heard that the MWA is accepting submissions for a new anthology and I'd love to try my hand at another pet psychic story or maybe a short Dulcie caper...

And then there's the money work – the stuff that pays significantly more per page or per hour, and keeps us all in Iams. I'm halfway through my UCLA class, so I won't short them. But when will I get to that editing job I was just given? Or helping that businessman draft his proposal? Aiee...

Tell me I'm not the only one with time management problems? How do you cope?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Talon show

I love living in Cambridge. I was walking into Inman Square. Had my head down to look for icy patches, and suddenly I see a movement to my right. There, sitting on a fence, was a hawk, eating a pigeon. He looked at me - we were just about eye level - as if to say, "Yeah, lady? Whadya want?" I'm afraid I went "eep," and he flew off, right in front of me - INCHES away – across very urban Inman Square, to finish his meal on the awning of Cambridge Family Health Center. Not a healthy place for pigeons, I guess.

I watched him for a while, along with a few other people – a man unloading a truck who confessed to being a little afraid of him (I pointed out that the hawk would be scarier if it were still hungry), a woman who had my reaction when we pointed the hawk out ("eep!" followed by laughter), another who said that she sees hawks all the time from her office window - and the ground below is always littered with pigeon bits! - and a guy in a car who looked up and asked, "Is that a gull?" Oh, please.

(This is a US Wildlife photo. Substitute in a busy city intersection, hawk sitting first on wire fence, then on purple awning.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day!

Just took a break to watch the swearing in and listen to President Obama's speech. Oh, it's fun to say that!

Just got the text of Obama's inaugural speech: Read it here.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pete Seeger rules

Somehow the predicted "two to four inches" became seven in yesterday's snowstorm, so spent much of the day digging – and then taking a long work (errands are more fun when the new snow is crunching beneath your books). I love my new crop of students – they're so energetic – but when I got home, fully intending to read their latest assignments, I turned on the TV and was hooked. HBO was re-broadcasting the "We Are One" concert, the celebration of Obama's inauguration. I'm a sucker for ceremony, and this had it all. Plus Pete Seeger! The man is 90, right? But there he was, standing and playing banjo and leading tens of thousands of people in a complete (and I mean with the great, full, revolutionary lyrics) singalong of "This Land is Your Land." So inspiring.

The other great surprise? Garth Brooks. I'm not a huge country fan, to put it mildly. But he got up and led a choir – and those tens of thousands – through "Bye, Bye Miss American Pie," "Shout," and some other vaguely inspirational song (maybe one of his
own?), like an inspired preacher. Truly moving!

Also really adorable to see Malia taking photos during the concert, just like any pre-teen fan. Okay, anyone know what that third Garth Brooks song was?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Introducing Dulcie Schwartz

Dulcie Schwartz was born for academia. A grad student at Harvard, she lives for research. Her discipline – the Gothic English novel of the late 18th Century – may seem minor to some. But for Dulcie, it's reason to dive into the library, into the ordered, reasoned world of books. At least, until her roommate is murdered, her mother starts calling with some strange psychic dreams. And the ghost of her late, great cat Mr. Grey appears to help her through it all ... or over the edge.

Dulcie is the heroine of "Shades of Grey," a slightly paranormal mystery I've been working on for more than a year now. And now Dulcie and her oddball cohorts have found a home at Severn House, a British publisher that has begun expanding into the US. Severn will be bringing out "Shades of Grey" in hardcover in the UK in June, with a US edition to follow (probably in August), and we're hoping for a trade paperback sometime after that. They've also contracted for a second Dulcie book, which I'm working on now!

Theda Krakow – my rock critic heroine – will be back in April in her fourth outing, "Probable Claws," with Poisoned Pen Press. And, yes, I still have that "pet noir" book in the works. Right now, it is drafted and I'm letting it sit – the better to see what needs fixing. Maybe that one will find a home within the year.

In the meantime, please give Dulcie a warm welcome! She's had a rough couple of months. But she's one of my favorite gals, and I look forward to introducing her around and spending more time with her!


No, this is not my big announcement, but I have to write this.

One of the perks of my life is that my husband often brings home books to me. Books he thinks I might like to review, or books that he is pretty sure he won't want to assign for review but that he'll think I'll like. Sometimes these pile up and gather dust. Sometimes, though, I love them.

"The Journal of Dora Damage" was one of the latter. Jon saw the cover – the lettering in gold in an archaic type, against an uneven red background, with the inset of a woman's midriff in a corset - and thought, "Ah, a historical!" Always a good bet for me. When I picked him up on Friday evening, it was one of about five books in his bag (to be fair, one was a Lincoln bio for his mom). Well, as I waited for him to run in to pick up our take-out dinner, I found it and started reading. I never stopped. "The Journal of Dora Damage" is a wonderfully imagined story, the tale of an impoverished (think Dickensian) young wife with a sickly husband who is forced to take over her husband's bookbinding business in order to survive. And in order to survive, she takes whatever clients she can gets. That soon means she is binding private pornography collections. The year is 1860, and new laws have made it permissable to own (though not publish) pornography, and a certain set of gentlemen are now eager to show off their collections. Add in that one of the lady wives of these gentlemen is involved in the American abolition movement, and the stage is set for a wonderful, character-driven adventure of gender, race, and class politics, all spearheaded by a likable and independent heroine. Anyone who has enjoyed Sarah Waters' "Fingersmith" or "Tipping the Velvet" would love this book.

(I believe this is the UK cover; my edition is red.)

The book is 452 pages, and late yesterday I realized I was nearing the end. So I flipped to the end flap to find out about the author of this wonderful book. Ideally, I'd find she'd published other novels or had others in the works. What I read broke my heart: "Belinda Starling lived in Wivenhoe, Essex, with her husband and childred, and died in August 2006. The Journal of Dora Damage was her first book." A two-page note by her brother at the book's end explains more. Starling had scheduled surgery for a bile-duct cyst for shortly after the completion of this book. The surgery seemed to go well, but then an artery burst. More surgery followed and, as he says, "she never left hospital." She left her family, which includes two small children. She also left her readers. We may not have known her, but we will miss her.

On an unrelated note, I thoroughly enjoyed (even if I wasn't wowed by) the new Barry Unsworth. A very timely read, as well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Drumroll, please...

Am waiting for something to arrive in the mail, but as soon as it does, I will have a big announcement!

In the meantime, Chris Verstraete hosted me in her series of writing tips over at her Candid Canine blog. Drop on by to see what I and her other guests have suggested!

Whoops - forgot that this review was running today. Hope it reads okay.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Holy Toledo, Catwoman!

Wow, a few months ago Abby Ellin (a former Boston Phoenix writer) called me for a comment for a piece she was doing on men and cats for the New York Times. That piece got around, and last week I got an email from Rod Lockwood of the Toledo (OH) Blade. He wanted to interview me for a piece about a cat show. So we chatted about, in his words, "ancient myths involving cats and how they came to represent feminine stereotypes and eventually were demonized. You know, Batman’s a good guy, Catwoman is bad. Cats are associated with witches and they’re generally considered mysterious ... that kind of stuff."

Read more here.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Font of wisdom

My writing buddy Caroline Leavitt, that is! She suggested that while I'm revising my current WIP, I print it out using a different font. No matter how familiar I am with my own work, she told me, it would look different this way – and I'd be able to catch more things to change. Usually, I print everything out in Times, a classic font that I love. But this time, following her advice, I printed out the first 60 pages in Courier, which looks a little like an old-fashioned typewriter. I wasn't sure her system would work for me, but I figured, well, I can try 60 pages this way. That's not that much paper...

But much to my surprise, she's right! I'm catching everything from dull sentences (well, I hope I'd catch those anyway) to repeated words, bad punctuation, you name it. I'm printing out the rest of the manuscript in Courier right now, and when I read it through again I'll try yet another (Helvetica perhaps? Arial? Or elegant-looking Copperplate?). In retrospect, I can't see how I ever re-read my manuscripts before, and I'm definitely incorporating this smart tip into my UCLA writing class.

Anyone else have any tips to share? Any favorite fonts?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Reader response...

Well, at least one kitten is enthralled by my current work-in-progress, even if the other finds it a snooze.

(Thanks to my friend Naomi who sent me this photo of her two kittens, Lentil and Chickpea, who joined her as she bravely read through a first draft.)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

To the Nines!

Does anyone know the derivation of the phrase "dressed to the nines"? I've got to find out.

In the meantime, happy 2009, everyone! One of my resolutions is to keep this blog a little more regularly updated - and I can tell you already I hope to have big news for you all within the next week or two. Stay tunes and have a grand rest-of-the-holiday weekend!