Monthly Archives: November 2011

LADY OF THE RIVERS by Phillippa Gregory

LADY OF THE RIVERS is Philippa Gregory’s latest foray into the world of the Wars of the Roses. Ms. Gregory has a talent for picking out a female heroine, who is both very interesting and totally unknown. She managed that feat with Elisabeth Woodville in THE WHITE QUEEN and Lady Margaret Beaufort in THE RED QUEEN. Now we have Jacquetta de St. Pol, a Burgundian princess born to wealth, fortune and arranged marriages, who seemingly threw it all away for the sake of love, in the shape of the well-favored Sir Richard Woodville, a mere knight.

Fast forward twenty-eight years, and Jacquetta resumes her position as the aristocrat she was born to be, through a very fortuitous marriage.  So fortuitous was this marriage, that the people of the time whispered that she had practiced the Black Arts in order to secure it.

Philippa Gregory is so talented, and I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the novel where she introduced us to Jacquetta’s world, seen through the eyes of a fourteen-year-old, and her encounters with Joan of Arc. But Ms. Gregory knows how to handle her material, and although Joan was riveting, at no time did I feel that she was overpowering Jacquetta or Jacquetta’s story. (This is not true of other novels I have read, which have included Joan as a “minor” character).

However, I did think that the pacing of the novel could have been improved. There were a couple of times where the novel went too fast. One was the death of Joan, which I felt was cut too soon. All I needed was more of a response from Jacquetta, some image or physical response that made you understand that this experience was seared into her forever. The other time where I felt that Ms Gregory lost an opportunity was with John of Bedford, Jacquetta’s first husband. Although he was menacing, he wasn’t menacing enough. I would have liked to have seen real fear on the part of Jacquetta about this man who was not only the cause of her friend’ death, but was also asking her to do what he’d killed the other young woman for. Of course, all of this was presented to the reader. But I felt that its handling was too intellectual.

Apart from these concerns, this novel is an enjoyable read for those of you interested in 1400s England.

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Monday Tips: How to write without getting self-conscious and giving yourself a nasty case of writer’s block

Word choice.


It is so important to us as writers to use words and to use them well. But how to you do that without getting horribly self-conscious and giving yourself a nice case of writer’s block?


What you shouldn’t do, is read your own work as if you were reading Chekhov. Or Nabokov. Or Hemingway.


Why do I say that?


Because if I did that, I’d become so intimidated and self-conscious I would freeze up.


I think that craft or technique has to be practiced away from the work in progress. It’s like doing Sevcik exercises for the violinist, or Czerny exercises for the pianist. You should start your practice (or daily writing stint) with craft exercises. Buy yourself a big dictionary and hunt for words. Pick up a grammar book and try some exercises for 5 minutes.  Do a daily (or almost daily) writing prompt. Sit in your chair and analyze your writing. What should you practice next? Words? Sentences? Paragraphs? Grammar? Then put that aside and get down to your WIP.


But before you start, imagine. Imagine that you are about to have the best time. You are going to be sly, manipulative and teasing. You will say the most outrageous things. You will be ambiguous. And with those thoughts in mind, start writing. Enjoy yourself. Let it flow. Then wait at least 24 hours before you put on your editor’s hat and analyze.


Do you have any tips on writing craft that you’d like to share? Feel free to drop a comment in the box below.


Have a wonderful week!



This piece first appeared in the September newsletter. If you would like to read more such tips, or hear about how my progress on THWARTED QUEEN is going, please sign up for the newsletter by clicking on the appropriate link to the right.

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PAN E POMODOR is the delightful tale of how an English couple, Margaret and Ian McEwan, bought a house near Vico in the Gargano region of Puglia, southern Italy, and set about restoring it.

But it is more than that. It is really an homage to a region of Italy that the author and his wife came to love, including digressions about olive farming, local bureaucracy and the intricacies of Vichese, the local dialect.

Given that this was self-published on Lulu, this is really an astonishing achievement, because the author and his wife would have been obliged to do everything to produce and market this softcover book. Nevertheless, I had two problems with the book. The first problem was with the occasional times when McEwan lapses into first person, which I found jarring as most of the story was told in third person, and there was nothing to motivate the switch. The second problem was with the way the book ended. It just stopped, leaving the reader up in the air, wondering if the couple ever caught the people who destroyed their fence and made off with some of their goods.

Ian McEwan is a good name to have in the writing world. In case you are wondering, this is NOT the famous British author, but a computer programmer turned olive farmer. Nevertheless, if you are eager to find out more about Puglia, this is not a bad book to read. Four stars.

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Monday Tips: Force Yourself to Make Choices

My tip for today on organizing your time is: force yourself to make choices


Take a deep breath, tell yourself that you deserve to enjoy the hard work you do, and this means that you really CAN’T do everything. Here is another tip.


BEFORE you do anything (by ‘anything’ I mean sitting down at your desk and getting caught up in the frazzle of life before you’ve had a chance to gasp), take ten or fifteen minutes to think.


Turn off NPR, the television, your cell phones and anything else that might distract you, take out a piece of paper and make your list for the day. Realize that you can’t do everything, and don’t feel bad about it. You’re only human after all, and you don’t want to grow old before your time, suffer a nervous breakdown, or just get into that kind of grumpy tiredness that I fall into all too often when I’m not giving myself enough space.


This was brought home to me earlier this year, when my heart started acting up. The palpitations I’d had for years were getting worse, making me feel dizzy and faint.


“But why can’t I work just as hard as everyone else?” I asked my doctor.

She rolled her eyes.


So slow down. You’ll feel so much better. And so will your spouse, significant other, children and pets.



Do you have any tips on how to manage your time that you’d like to share? Feel free to drop a comment in the box below.


Have a wonderful and safe Thanksgiving!



This piece first appeared in the September newsletter. If you would like to read more such tips, or hear about how my progress on THWARTED QUEEN is going, please sign up for the newsletter by clicking on the appropriate link to the right.

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DON’T leave your MSS moldering in a drawer…

Recently, I attended the Fall meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Book Publisher’s Association (MBPA), a regional affiliate of the Independent Book Publisher’s Association (IBPA). The whole day was devoted to discussing e-books.

The industry continues to change at breakneck speed. When I mentioned at the beginning of this year that I was still seeking representation, an online acquaintance dismissed that with the comment that is was “so 2010”. On the other side, I once heard a well-known New York agent say, when asked about self-publishing, that she wasn’t interested in stuff that had already been published. That was in December 2010. Now, it is November 2011, and my colleagues at the MBPA were sharing stories of how agents are actively pursuing some of us who have self-published. Why? Because if we can demonstrate that we can sell our books, they become very interested.

Similar changes are taking place at Publisher’s Weekly, which is now giving self-published authors an opportunity to present their titles to the publishing trade, in recognition of the fact that  valuable works are being published outside traditional publishing. PW has launched a new program called PW Select, a quarterly supplement that presents self-published books to PW’s trade audience. Authors are required to pay a processing fee of $149. The carrot is that if PW really likes your work, they’ll do a full review of it in this supplement. A lucky few from among the listed titles will be selected for an interview and given an opportunity to pitch their book.

To read more, click here.

The moral of this story? Don’t leave your MSS moldering in a drawer. With determination, persistence and a great deal of work, self-publishing can be a venue to a publishing career.

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THAT SUMMER IN SICILY by Marlena de Blasi

When Marlena de Blasi was given the assignment of writing about the interior regions of Sicily, she suspected that she got the job because others had turned it down.

For “the center of the island is an aloof and pathless place, and the colossal silence of it all is reflected in its people,” a friend warned.

But de Blasi was intrigued. She made plans. She traveled to Sicily. She made phone calls. Her phone calls were not answered. Her meetings didn’t happen. And when she tried to befriend people in the tourist industry, her elegant business cards elicited nothing more than grunts.


De Blasi calls her editor to tell him this, and then turns to her husband to ask him what he’d like to do with the unexpected free time.


They go to a bar, and see some policemen who frequent the place. Di Blasi approaches them. Could they tell her of some place to stay in the countryside, perhaps a small hotel or pensione? Unexpectedly, they tell her. The woman’s name is Tosca. The place is Villa Donnafugata.


De Blasi and her husband thank them, and leave.


What happens next is…so Sicilian.


How would you feel if you think you’re going to a hotel, only to arrive somewhere that could better be described as a nunnery? There are bells. There is a community of women, cooking, sewing, and digging. There is bustle and laughter. There is tragedy and death. Marlena de Blasi can only gape.


But the biggest surprise comes from Tosca herself, who talks. And she is not talking about the weather, but spilling a tale of love, rivalry, jealousy and the mafia.


All those things it is better to be silent about.


Hence THAT SUMMER IN SICILY. Five stars.

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Monday Tips: Don’t forget to comment on other’s blogs, & scrapbooking tips for making characters come alive

Here are a couple of things I found while trolling the internet:



From the Creative Penn a writing tip. If you are having trouble making your characters come alive, create a scrapbook page of faces that fit your characters, drawn from…junk mail, newspaper and magazine ads, stock photo websites, travel brochures, local newspapers. To read more, click on this link:


From Writer’s Digest 10 Ways Writers Lose Blog Traffic, Number 7 reminds us all to read (and comment) on other people’s blogs. To read the whole piece, click on this link:



Do you have any tips that you found on the internet that you’d like to pass on? Feel free to drop a comment in the box below.


Have a great week!


Image from

This piece first appeared in the August newsletter. If you would like to read more such tips, or hear about how my progress on THWARTED QUEEN is going, please sign up for the newsletter by clicking on the appropriate link to the right.

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Another Announcement!


Excuse me for not writing a proper post today. I’m busily putting my novels, THE BRIDE PRICE, ONE SEED SOWN, THE GILDED CAGE and TWO MURDERS REAPED on CreateSpace. I hope to have the paperbacks out sometime next week.

Meanwhile, here is a screenshot of the cover for THE BRIDE PRICE to whet your appetite.

Have a great weekend!

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THE STONE BOUDOIR by Theresa Maggio

THE STONE BOUDOIR is a wonderful title for a book about Sicily, because Sicily is mountainous, and stony. And the people not only live in stone buildings redolent of history, or even caves, they have a quality of stony silence about matters which it is best to be silent.


In this book, Theresa Maggio, who is of Sicilian descent, takes us to her favorite hill towns. They have names such as Polizzi Generosa, Borgo Catena, Geraci Siculo. The highlight of the book was her description of the Feast of Sant’Agata in Catania. Every year on February 4 and 5, in honor of her martyrdom, the men of Catania pull her relics through the streets, which includes a jewel-encrusted crown given to her by Richard the Lionheart, an enormous effigy, and several 15-foot towers to light the way.


I read this book because I wanted to try and understand Sicily. And I was not disappointed. Maggio has a sharp eye for the telling detail, and a lyric prose style that immerses you in the fabric of life there. The only reason I didn’t give this book five stars is because I objected to some personal complaints that found their way into this book. Which was a pity.

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Monday Tips: Use your cognitive system to improve your prose style

Today, I thought I would pass on a tip for enriching your prose style.


Pick about 10 novels that you really love, settle down into a comfy nook and find 2 pages in these novels of really sparkling prose. Get out a notebook and copy these pages BY HAND. (Typing it into your computer is NOT allowed.)


Now why do I say that?


Because the whole point of this exercise is to get you to absorb high quality prose into your writing, without making your prose sound like a pale imitation of someone else’s. That’s why you’re only allowed 2 pages per novel. Did I mention that each novel has to be by a different author?


The point of copying it out by hand, rather than typing, is because you want to allow your cognitive system to engage with the material. Putting on my cognitive science hat, I can tell you that although the cognitive system (the one to do with thinking, decision-making and memory) is very smart, it is also very SLOW.


Handwriting, slows down the rate of input into your mind, meaning that the cognitive system has a chance to grasp it. Whereas, if you type, your fingers will be going too fast for the cognitive system to really apprehend the words.


And that is the whole point of this exercise, to get the cognitive system to absorb each prose style so that it will trickle down and make itself felt in your prose style.


Give it a try, and let me know what you think.



As always, feel free to drop a comment in the box below.


Have a great week!



This piece first appeared in the August newsletter. If you would like to read more such tips, or hear about how my progress on THWARTED QUEEN is going, please sign up for the newsletter by clicking on the appropriate link to the right.

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