Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 3: Success

The final part of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series wraps up with a look at the excitement with celebrating the big day – publication of the first book! For most debut authors, it will be the first time they’ve done a book signing, perhaps even the first time for reading in front of an audience. Plus, publication day is the culmination of years of hard work, and it’s a day to celebrate your success!

I had never signed a book before my launch event, and for some reason I was really stressed about the pen. What if it bled through the page? What if it was scratchy and I had to scribble to get the ink flowing? I lingered for an embarrassing amount of time in the pen aisle of an office supply store, trying to decide which one might be best, before finally making a decision. On the day of my book launch, I forgot to bring the pen at all and ended up borrowing one (which worked perfectly fine!) from the bookstore.

I guess my main tip for book signings is – bring a pen! But don’t worry if you need to borrow one. A pen is a pen. It’s also surprisingly difficult to write something personal in each book, thanking people for supporting you on your big day, while chatting with them. Coming up with a few short, sincere stock phrases is a good idea.

For the reading, I recommend practicing in advance. I was the most nervous in my little introduction, because I’d barely prepared for that part. Once I got into the reading, which I’d done at home several times, I felt fine. (Although thirsty. Stay hydrated!)

Read on to see what other advice and experiences debut authors have from their first book signing and reading…

Is this the right pen?
Photo credit: Eleaf via VisualHunt.com / CC BY

 


I’m a “talker” so I was fairly sure I’d have no problem at book events, but I also knew standing up in front of a group of people and talking about your book-baby with a microphone to people who may or may not know a thing about you…would be daunting.

I scheduled a small author event before my main one. It helped give me an idea of what to expect. I had about 25 people there and the first thing I learned was you want some HELP when it comes time to sign/sell books if you aren’t having your event at a bookstore. It was crazy, trying to talk to people while signing along with trying to do sales. Thankfully every event I had after that which wasn’t at a bookstore, my husband came with and took care of the book sales.

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


Practice, practice, practice! Figure out what you want to say and practice it enough times so that you don’t need notes and so that it sounds natural. Of course, take your notes up there with you—it’s comforting to know they’re there in case you freak out and go blank—but you’ll feel so much better if you don’t have to rely on them. Oh, and a half glass of wine never hurts anything!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping


Keep in mind that I’m with a small publisher, so in MY experience?  I’m not sure book signings are worth it because the cost falls 100% onto my shoulders.  There are benefits of course:  meeting other authors, networking, finding new books yourself.  But the downside is the ROI (return on investment).  You have to ask yourself if that is worth it.  For me?  Eh.  I’m 50-50.  I sold some books.  I met some great people.  But in the end, the time, investment, etc. makes it hard to determine if I’d do it again.

The event I was at was the Twin Cities Book Festival.  A GREAT festival with THOUSANDS of people in attendance.  But those who came through were more interested in free items.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars


For book signings, have a few phrases you can write as you sign your book. And smile and chat no matter if someone buys your book or not. Readings, choose a passage that’s active or has some dialogue. I’ve been to readings where it’s only introspection and I find that boring.  And practice, practice, practice. With expression!

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


I’m just gearing up for some book launch events. Don’t be shy about offering to help with publicity. As one bookstore manager said to me, “The more outreach, the better.” You can offer to create social media graphics, post flyers and posters, reach out to nearby high schools or colleges, and contact local newspapers or websites.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


For my book launch, I asked a friend to interview me—that way, I didn’t have to be alone at the podium. By the time my audience started asking questions, I was feeling a lot more comfortable and enjoyed the dialogue very much. I think having someone interview me was a good way to transition to speaking in public and having everyone’s attention on me. At my next book signing, I integrated all the questions my friend had asked me to my talk and I also read a few paragraphs from my book. I did a lot better when I wasn’t reading from my notes.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


I was so nervous before my first book signing, which was at a big comic con in Seattle. It so happened that I had dinner with the wonderful and legendary Terry Brooks the night before (we share an editor), and so I asked him what his tips were for book signings, since he’s been doing them for some 40 years now. He graciously advised that the most important thing is to create a personal connection with readers—ask them a question, even if it’s just how their day is going—and make eye contact. Don’t be one of those authors who doesn’t even look up from the book as they sign it! Readers don’t have to get their books signed; they’re choosing to have this brief interaction with you. A small effort to connect goes a long way!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


And of course, the reading isn’t the only excitement of publication day. It’s also a day when you get to revel in your success, and your family is probably pretty thrilled too! My book came out on a Tuesday, so I took a few days off work so that I could focus on celebrating the day, and also on all the pub week social media. I also found a bottle of champagne that had the same last name as my protagonist, so that seemed like the perfect way to wind down after my book reading.

Aubry, just like my character, Giselle Aubry!

I asked other debut authors how they celebrated the release day for their first books, and what made it extra special. I love how the responses are all so unique for each book.


I took the day off of my “day job” because I knew there was no way I could concentrate, plus I knew I’d be on social media a lot. That night was a banquet for the editor of a magazine I write for. She was retiring, and it was fun celebrating her big day and mine with many other area writers.

I had planned on a massage, but you know how that goes. Maybe for book #2!!!

One of the things that was stressed to me ahead of time but is something I struggle to remember, is that we need to celebrate our huge accomplishment on completing a book and getting it published!!!

It is so easy to compare our journey to other authors, and so easy to forget how many never make it to this point. I have had so many highs and lows with my book over the past six months and I have to remind myself to celebrate my hard work, knowing I’ve done the best I can do.

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


Release day was amazing. My husband and I went up to NYC (where we used to live) and my mom flew in to meet us there, and I had my launch party at a bookstore in Brooklyn that I’ve always admired. A bunch of old friends and former work colleagues came out to support me, as well as my agent and publicist. We ended the night drinking prosecco and eating bruschetta at a little wine bar with some close friends.

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping


On launch day in July, my husband was recuperating from major surgery!  But fear not, I still celebrated.  While my husband was resting and was fine to be alone for a bit, a friend came by and took me out for a dessert celebration!  I also had lots of texts, social media messages and a group of friends sent me flowers, too.  All in all it was a low key day—just how I like it.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars


I celebrated my first book release by taking the day off work and having a huge Face Book party.  Because of my day job, I’m still kind of in the closet about my writing so doing more than that wasn’t possible.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


I’ll be having a launch party at a local independent bookstore and inviting friends. (It will be several weeks after the actual release day, which I’ll probably spend at my computer posting a few things about the book on social media.) Because the party will be in December, I’m hoping it will have a holiday feel and everyone will be in a festive mood!

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


My book launch was so much fun! First of all, I invited EVERYBODY I knew and it was very exciting to see that so many people came and bought my book. We sold out! After the talk and book signing, I invited my close friends and family members to a Greek restaurant near the bookstore to celebrate. The highlights of the evening were the cake, which was designed like a book with my cover on top, and a couple of Argentinean tango dancers who gave an amazing performance to celebrate the theme of my novel.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


I had a big party at a local nature center, and a bunch of friends pitched in to help me throw it. It was super fun, and very successful, with well over a hundred attendees and almost as many books sold! (And I live in a rural area, so if people tell you nothing happens in the woods, that’s a pack of lies.) If you want to throw a launch party, here are my suggestions: first, make sure you can sell books! (You don’t necessarily have to have a bookstore do it. I used a relative’s established business to order books (so they counted as a sale!), and then friends volunteered to sell them.) Then see who’s willing to help you out—you might be surprised, but your friends actually do want to help you celebrate your big day! See how much they’re willing to do, make a plan and create a budget. This can be as simple or as elaborate as you and/or your friend group are up for. Then just tell everyone you know. Let friends and relatives shamelessly inform strangers that they should attend your party. Create a Facebook event. Talk it up! If you can include it as part of advertising in the local newspaper or promote it alongside local literary events, like a book festival or through a library, that’ll help too. If you’re like me, you’ll want to pick out something cute to wear! And then…enjoy it!! This is your big, amazing, wonderful, terrifying moment of stepping into the spotlight. (But if you really hate the spotlight, you can also hide behind the giant stack of books you’re selling. Just so you know. Though people will probably want to see your face, ‘cause they’re there to support you!)

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


Just for release day, I splurged on a new dress that matched my book cover’s purple and blue. I also awarded prizes related to themes of the novel, including custom-made bookmarks with the image of a feather on them. My hometown release included a lot of family and childhood friends. When you’ve got your Filipino aunts, uncles, and cousins coming through, food is a must. I’m happy my local bookstore allowed giant trays of lumpia, empanadas, sushi casserole, and sweet breads on the premises. After the reading, a smaller group, including my publisher, who’d flown in from Portland, moved the celebration to a local brewery, and my baker friend, who happened to be featured on the Food Networks’ Bakers vs. Fakers that same week, brought a cake version of my book cover. My friends also surprised me with a giant, framed print of the book cover. It was a beautiful night!

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams

Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 2: Surprises

Part two of my ‘Lessons from Debut Authors’ series continues this week, with the theme of what was the most surprising about the publication process and the shift from being an aspiring author to becoming a published author.

For me, the most surprising thing was that nothing drastically changed. My daily routine is pretty much the same. I go to my day job, I walk my dog, I write, except now it’s a different project. I have a little less writing time because of marketing. I think I thought I’d get a lot more attention, like people asking about my book or my sales all the time, but no one really cares and I mean that in a good way. On the flip side, I do occasionally and irrationally feel like a fraud, but that’s probably mostly because writing the next book didn’t magically become easier. However, slightly contradictory to my earlier comment that people don’t really ask me about it too much, sometimes when they do, I get weird reactions that I don’t enjoy very much. I’m looking at you various middle-aged men who feel the need to comment on how my book has the word ‘mistress’ in the title. I’ve stopped bothering to point out that it has a different meaning in context.

One of the most surprising things about the publication process was how busy it was. It was a little over a year from the time St. Martin’s picked up my novel, The Wardrobe Mistress, to when it actually hit the shelves, and I thought there would be a lot of quiet time in between those dates. In truth, I was constantly working on things, whether it be confirming things via email with my editor, fact-checking, copyedits, marketing planning (turns out you do a lot of marketing). All fun and exciting, especially getting to see the cover for the first time.

So what other surprises did other debut authors discover? Read on and find out!

Surprise!

 


I still feel like a fraud almost six months after my book was published. I feel like I’m playing “lets pretend” that I’m an author. It is strange to be on the other side of a book club where they are looking at me like I’m a trained monkey with all the mysterious answers to books in general.

But you know what? Meeting with book clubs and visiting with people after my author events has been the absolutely BEST part of all of this!!!

The downside is that although I knew the marketing/promoting/selling-of-the-soul part after your book is published…I knew that part was a lot of work. However, it came for me at a time where the rest of my life was super-busy too (day job, family things). Do what you can to clean up your life-slate before your book comes out because the marketing (to me, anyway) is exhausting!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


I mean, nothing can prepare you for the thrill of seeing your book on a table at Barnes & Noble!

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping


Here are my “surprises”….

THE AMOUNT OF MONEY SPENT ON “STUFF”:  When you come down to it, you’re building your brand.  But spread this out over time so you don’t feel like you’re draining your bank account dry.  Money I’ve spent includes, but isn’t limited to:

  • Website
  • Postcards to hand out to friends/family/coworkers once my cover was finalized
  • Save the Date cards to mail out to my Christmas list prior to my launch date
  • Swag items that included:  bookmarks, 2 sets of magnets, custom adult coloring pages, candles, keychains, boxes for the swag items (I made “thank you” boxes for my CP’s, editor, etc.).
  • Business cards
  • Gift cards for various giveaways during launch week and beyond
  • A Kindle Fire for launch week giveaway (that I got on a Black Friday deal—so watch sales for stuff, too!!)
  • PR firm to handle my launch week (which I’ll talk about below)
  • Mailing supplies to mail out prizes from launch week
  • Postage
  • Stickers with my author branding
  • …and probably more that I’m forgetting

HAVING TO DO PROMO—LOTS AND LOTS OF PROMO:  I knew going with a small pub meant having to do a lot of my own promo.  However, it is misleading to think that if you’re published with one of the Big 5 or bigger/on the rise publishers that you won’t have to do promo.  You will.  Most publishers work with book blogger or bookstagramers (book “bloggers” who use Instagram for a visual post).

But if you want your book to get out there, you need to be planning AT LEAST a year in advance.  Get active on social media (but don’t be spammy) and connect with other authors in the same boat as you so you can have strength in numbers.

KD Proctor, author of Meet Me Under The Stars


The publication process is very long and there is so much to do. Especially promotion. LOTS of promotion. And even being published doesn’t stop you from worrying about selling the next book or idea.  You actually have more work to do now.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


It’s a slow process. For me it’s been about three years from writing the book to seeing it on a bookstore shelf. So the shift is gradual. But you can take advantage of that time to learn everything you need to know about publishing, marketing, social media—and work on your next big ideas for new books.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


What still surprises me is the amount of time it takes to promote my novel! I feel like a full-time PR person rather than a writer! I spent an insane amount of time designing my website, bookmarks, postcards, creating a Facebook author page, and writing articles and interviews. It’s been fun, but I miss the days when I could shut the blinds and immerse myself in my writing. The other surprise is that some people look at you a little bit different after your book comes out. I’ve heard comments like “I’ve never met a real author before” and such. It’s surprising because I don’t see myself any different than before the novel was published.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


I was not prepared for how much writing to an outline and a deadline would change my method! I’ve always been something of a pantser, and having to write an outline for my editor has actually been quite helpful for me. I find I spend a lot less time floundering around in the middle trying to figure out what happens next! That being said, my method is still evolving. Writing to deadline is also a change—I find myself thinking differently about a book when I know it’s going to my editor. (The way of dealing with that stress, for me, is to write something completely different—it’s SO liberating!) Another adjustment is writing another book in a series when the first one’s already out getting reviews!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


One of the biggest surprises in the transition from aspiring author to published author is the camaraderie with other writers. The road to publication often felt like a solitary path filled with twists and turns. After signing my first book contract, I connected with several other writers, both new and experienced. By the time Second Chance in Laguna launched in March 2017, I had a new network of not just colleagues, but friends. Today, I’d say more than half of my daily interactions are with other authors. This newfound sense of community is a welcome silver lining to a dream come true.

Claire Marti, author of Second Chance in Laguna 


The biggest surprise is that in the end, nothing changes. After the rush and the hoopla, no matter how many forms of validation, big and small, you receive along the way, you still get insecure about your work. And you haven’t solved any puzzles. At least, that’s how it is for me. It’s wasn’t like I figured out a formula for how to write a book, and now, I can do it again. The next book is another, very different challenge, equally grinding. And it’s just as invigorating to feel the words come together, coming to fruition. In the end, it all comes back to writing.

Renee Rutledge, author of The Hour of Daydreams


Experienced any surprises of your own? Been surprised by any of these ones? Share in the comments or on social media!

Stay tuned for part three of this Lessons of Debut Authors Series, focusing on tips for author signings and release day celebrations.

 

Lessons From Debut Authors, Part 1: Submissions

In terms of writing goals, 2017 has been a rewarding, exciting, and sometimes intimidating year for me – my first book was published and that milestone brought with it a whole bunch of other new experiences, like the terror/joy (joie-de-terreur? Can I coin a new phrase?) of actually reading in front of people for the first time. One of the things I’ve been most grateful for this year is the camaraderie and support I’ve found with a group of fellow 2017 debut authors, called ’17 Scribes. Without all these wonderful authors with whom to share advice and experiences, I think the roller-coaster of becoming a published author would have been a lot more intense.

With that in mind, I’ve got a three part series of shared advice from many of them. Aspiring writer? Maybe we’ll have some helpful advice for you here. Seasoned author? Perhaps you’ll smile and reminisce about having similar experiences when your first book came out.

For a writer seeking traditional publication, being on submission is one of the toughest parts. You’ve likely already gone through the minefield of patience, rejection, and partial requests that comes with searching for an agent, and then it pretty much starts again when it comes to sending your beloved manuscript out to publishing houses. The waiting period can be very long. Sometimes a rejection comes with constructive feedback, maybe with an invitation to revise and resubmit, but other times it might be a formulaic, vague response.

Finding a balance between patience and positivity is key for getting through submission

So what’s the best way to cope with the stress of being on submission? Most authors recommend focusing on a new project. I think this is good advice, and it gets you invested in your next book, making it a little easier to keep the other one at arm’s length. I also tend to find a new TV series to obsess over when I’m in that nail-biting stage of waiting to hear back from editors – while The Wardrobe Mistress was on submission, I discovered and fell in love with Justified. Of course, since my book was on submission for a year altogether, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that you definitely should move onto another project. It might even get finished before you make that sale!

Several debut authors from ’17 Scribes kindly agreed to share their experiences of being on submission, as well as their tips for getting through.


I’m not a patient person. Just ask my husband. But I have learned patience with writing and becoming an author since not a single step moves fast–unless it is THEM wanting something from YOU!

Stress busters for me are: running, iced mochas, chocolate, and spending time with friends. Seriously, the running and chocolate helped keep me from completely freaking out. For me it is the whole lack of control I have over so much of the process!

Jill Hannah Anderson, author of The To-Hell-And-Back Club


I was so nervous while I was on submission! I jumped every time I got an email notification; I could hardly sleep. I did a lot of yoga, and I watched a lot of Netflix. (I think I watched like two seasons of House of Cards in a week; it really took my mind off the stress of being on submission.)

Kathleen Barber, author of Are You Sleeping

Editor’s note: I can’t help loving the irony that the author of a (fantastic) book called Are You Sleeping couldn’t sleep while on submission. 


Tips for submissions: Do it and move on. Whenever I subbed to a publisher, I would note it in a book but then not look back. If I got a pass, I’d jot that down too but I tried not to dwell too much on if they’d want the book. If I hadn’t heard, I could pretend it was still a possibility.

Kari Lemor, author of Wild Card Undercover


When querying agents, don’t give up too early. I have heard of authors giving up after a handful of no-thank-you’s. I would encourage those writers to persist, and keep trying. You might contact dozens of agents before the right person reads your query and sees the potential in your book. Tweak your query as you go along, if needed. Patience is necessary, because the process can take a long time.

Sandi Ward, author of The Astonishing Thing


At the beginning, being on submission was very exciting for me. When my agent shared the names of the publishing houses or editors who were reading my novel, I would look them up and try to find out as much as possible about them and the kinds of books they had acquired in the past. After a while, I realized this was unproductive because some of them said no or didn’t get back to us. I stopped researching and started focusing on other projects. The only way I felt good about my writing during the submission process—with its ups and downs—was to get excited about my other novels.

Lorena Hughes, author of The Sisters of Alameda Street 


Everybody says that you need to work on something else when you’re on submission! I think this is generally helpful, though I’d suggest, if you are trying to sell a series, not necessarily working on a sequel or even something in the same genre. Most people also develop a Pavlovian response to checking their email (which probably starts when we’re querying agents and then carries over effortlessly to editors), so I’d suggest using an app like Freedom to force yourself to take breaks from the breathless anticipation. This is also a good time to write by hand, if that’s something you enjoy. And meditate. Practice gratitude. Exercise. Whatever means you have to get away from staring at your email—use it!

Callie Bates, author of The Waking Land


Community provided a safe place to share the publishing journey, in all it’s glory and sometimes staggering lows. Without community, human society fades. My advice to any writer is three-fold:

  1. Read widely
  2. Write as often as you can
  3. Find your community

Renee Dahlia, author of To Charm A Bluestocking


Community can definitely get a writer through anything, from an unkind review to writer’s block! Got any other advice or experiences? Share in the comments! Next week I’ll have Part 2 of this series, all about what was most surprising about the publication process and the shift of moving from aspiring to published author.

And if you’re in the finding an agent phase of being on submission, check out this super detailed infographic with query letter tips!

Physicality in Fiction

Recently, I read a thought-provoking and helpful article on Writer’s Digest on using physicality to bring your characters to life. There’s some great advice here. Incorporating different senses and the physical signs of emotion can help immerse the reader in the setting, even in the mind of the protagonist. Being grounded in the story world makes it feel that much more real – and exciting – as a reader.

 

I think this can be especially important in historical fiction. The genre brings its own unique challenge of trying to recreate a time long past, and sometimes, as a writer, it feels like grasping at echoes. Of course, one of the joys of historical fiction – both as a reader and writer – is that once the details and story click into place, you do slip into another world entirely. I love the way being drawn into a historical world feels like new, uncharted territory, but history has left just enough imprints on the present for it to feel a little bit familiar. You might know the bare bones of the time period, but not what happens to the protagonist, or maybe you find comforting kernels of ‘sameness’ in the characters. People haven’t changed so much, really. Three hundred years ago, they still wanted to find love, or worried about their children, or struggled under the weight of family pressures.

Trying to capture the sounds and textures and the smells of the story’s setting bring it to life. For me, while I’m writing, trying to show those things end up helping me connect more strongly to the world, help me to better polish it for the reader. It makes the setting more vivid, so a reader can easily imagine the acrid black smoke from the burning Réveillon wallpaper factory, or airy softness of one of Marie Antoinette’s muslin gowns, or picture the scum of half-congealed blood tarnishing the Tuileries after it was violently mobbed, to use examples from my novel The Wardrobe Mistress.

That last one was a little dark. Sensory depictions can be delightful, too, especially if they’re food related. I still think fondly of the way Crystal King’s description of kitchens and food in her Roman historical novel Feast of Sorrow made me clearly imagine I could smell the mouth-watering aromas of Parthian chicken or the tang of mustard beets. Sounds and music can pull readers into the world, too. I can still remember the rebellious thrum of music in the Prohibition ‘juice joints’ that Bonnie (of Clyde and Bonnie fame) frequented in Jenni Walsh’s novel Becoming Bonnie.

A story or character can also be deepened by plot, as the Writer’s Digest article that sparked this whole post suggests. The article mentions a Stephen King novel where the narrator is diagnosed with cancer. Another example I can think of that I particularly enjoyed is Julia Heaberlin’s novel Lie Still, where the protagonist is heavily pregnant throughout the story. It added an extra layer of tension. As danger escalated all around her, I feared not only for her, but for her soon-to-be-born child.

Habitual gestures or nervous tics can strengthen characterization, too. Outlander fans know that Jamie Fraser often taps his two stiff fingers (from being broken) against his thigh when thinking. In Kate Quinn’s The Alice Network, her character Eve struggles with a stammer, which sometimes intensifies during moments of high stress. While reading, it makes you ache with sympathy for her – especially because the high stakes WWI environment makes everything extra scary and intense.

What physical description or sensory element has really stood out to you in a book? Please share!

 

Publication Day Approaches!

It feels like I’ve been talking about and excitedly anticipating the publication date for The Wardrobe Mistress forever. And it has been a year! But now the big day is actually within reach, and I will freely admit that I’m pretty much bouncing off the walls with exhilaration. I received my first copy in the mail and I can hardly describe the thrill of holding a real copy of a book I wrote! A bit surreal, but wonderful.

To share my excitement, I’ll be updating my blog more often in the next couple of weeks, counting down to pub day with lots of interesting facts about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution. A few of them are guest posts elsewhere, so I’ll post the links on my own page as well.

Of course, I’ve written about Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution a few times here before, including her beloved dogs, that time she made a really bad decision, how researching her gave me luxurious tastes in hot chocolate, everything I learned about the guillotine, and how loyalty became a theme in The Wardrobe Mistress.

I’m also sharing pictures of historical fashion items, similar to what the characters might have worn, on my Instagram page.

Last thing, the prequel short story The Diamond Deception is still available as a freebie for newsletter subscribers. A copy gets emailed as part of the confirmation of sign up. I’ll close off this post with a snippet from the story.


The queen of France tosses the sheaf of papers aside, paying no attention as one of the pages drifts to the floor like a crisp autumn leaf.

“Henriette, you’ve made excellent time. I didn’t expect you to arrive until this evening.”

“With good roads and a fast coach, the road from Crespy is not so long.”

When she smiles, happiness sparking in her blue-grey eyes, I feel my own mouth curling in response. Her charm can be irresistible, and I’m glad she summoned me back from the country estate. The last few days especially, I’d felt quite ready to return to court and my position as the first lady-in-waiting to the queen. Since she’s currently at her beloved retreat of Petit Trianon, the pastoral village within the grounds of Versailles, instead of the grand palace itself, I can ease back into the structure of court life.

“And Monsieur Campan and the family are well?” Marie Antoinette rises from her seat on the sofa. The toes of her violet shoes peek out from under the white muslin fall of her skirt as she approaches.

“Yes, thank you. My in-laws are preparing for the grape harvest.” It’s kind of her to ask, especially since she always remembers names and details. The queen meets so many people that I’m proud she remembers my family. I suppose after the fifteen years I’ve spent at her side, serving as one of her femmes de chambre, she must feel almost as if she knows them.

As we chat, one of the queen’s other attendants quietly retrieves the scattered piece of paper, stacking it back into the pile.

“I was just rehearsing,” the queen says. “I think I wrote you that I’m to play Rosine? Le Barbier de Seville is quite an amusing play.” She reaches for the script, casting a brief smile to the helpful lady who straightened the papers. “I’d like to rehearse now, if that suits you. No one else reads as well as you, Henriette.”

“Of course, let’s begin.” Although it’s customary between us that I often read aloud to her, while she’s sewing or in the bath, the praise still settles over me like a beam of sunshine. I’m glad to see she is in good spirits; I’d wondered a little about that strange visit from Monsieur Boehmer, while I was away, but the issue must have been resolved.

“Leave us, please.” She dismisses the other ladies, fanning the script in the direction of the sideboard. “We had tea earlier. I think there’s some left, or lemonade, if you’re thirsty.”

I cross to the sideboard, relaxing under the more casual atmosphere of Petit Trianon. We’d rarely sit at such ease at Versailles, where there’s always an audience or a person wanting an appointment. I pour for myself, and also for her since I’m fairly certain she’ll want to moisten her throat after reading Rosine’s lines for an hour.

She takes the cup with a graceful dip of her head, sweeping her skirt aside to sit back on the sofa. There’s a rose leaf caught in the ribbon of the pale blue sash tied around her waist, and though I’m sure she’s unaware, it fits with the rustic, carefree charm of Petit Trianon. Marie Antoinette is always happier here, briefly escaping from the rigorous ceremony of daily life at Versailles. She can truly be herself here, enjoying flowers and fresh air and harmless amusements like plays.

As we rehearse, and I read for the other characters, the queen finds more strength in her delivery of Rosine’s lines. After an hour, she smooths the script pages against her lap, and sits back with a pleased smile.

“I think that will do. The performance is tomorrow. Just friends, of course, both acting and as audience members. I do enjoy these amusements at Petit Trianon.” Her smile fades, and after she finishes her lemonade, she clears her throat. “Henriette, I must ask you why you sent that dreadful jeweler, Boehmer, to me. He called unexpectedly, giving your name, but I would not see him. I have nothing to say to him.”

Dread clutches at me.  I certainly had not sent Monsieur Boehmer to Her Majesty. In fact, I’d told him the opposite.

 

 

The Best Conference Ever

Last week, I got to check an exciting writer’s goal from my list – I attended the Historical Novel Society conference. I’d been dreaming of going for quite a long time, and it was amazing to finally make it to the event. I realize this sounds incredibly nerdy, but whatever, I love history and I love novels, so it’s the perfect combination as far as I’m concerned.

#HNS2017 (check the link for various fun tweets from the conference) was held in Portland, Oregon. I arrived the afternoon before the conference started, which gave me time to explore the city a bit. I went to a history museum (of course), saw some beautiful roses, and met some very nice people in a cool little wine bar.

The museum had many great exhibits, but I was particularly drawn to these hats. Definitely lingering research excitement from writing The Wardrobe Mistress

Special sessions and workshops made up the first day of the conference, and I took a copious amount of notes and got ink all over my fingers because apparently I can hardly write by hand anymore. My first workshop was about pacing in a story, and since I’m at the 80K word count on my latest novel, it was perfect timing for me to work all of the smart and creative tips I learned into my edits. As part of the workshop, we read a paragraph from book with gripping pacing, and then read the same paragraph, only rewritten in a way that made it fall flat. Conference chair and author/actress extraordinaire Leslie Carroll read the pieces aloud, and she’s so utterly compelling that even the poor example paragraph sounded good.

I also went to a workshop on historical firearms, hosted by Gordon Frye who also has a podcast called Gordon’s Gun Closet. It was fascinating to be able to see – and touch – these historical firearms. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it turns out muskets are quite heavy, especially with bayonets. The French style was considered to be a little more technologically advanced at the time (and seemed to take a bit more practice to handle than the British one), which I think would have appealed to a few of my characters in The Wardrobe Mistress, who can be a tad smug about the superiority of their country and its revolutionary ideals.

I’m trying to avoid the temptation to over-describe every wonderful little nugget of wisdom, each enlightening conversation I had, every time I turned into a complete fangirl because I spotted one of my literary heroes. There would just be so much if I recapped it all! A lot of highlights stand out in my mind, though. Inspiring keynote speaker Geraldine Brooks talking about the sparks that flare a story to life are the most exciting, but that ‘bum glue’ (gluing yourself to the chair and just writing) is the only way to truly get a book done. I remember glancing around, and seeing other authors nodding just as hard as I was. David Ebershoff, also a keynote speaker, mesmerized the crowd with the moving story of his journey to tell the story of Lili Elbe, which became his acclaimed novel The Danish Girl. Kate Forsyth raised goosebumps on my arms with her enthralling performance of Tam Lin. I’ve never before seen such a large group of people become so silent; I’m convinced she’s as magical as the faerie queen of the story (although much less nefarious, of course). There were so many fun, unique moments, too; sitting in on an impromptu tarot reading (using Kris Waldherr’s beautiful goddess deck), playing Cards Against Humanity near a group of mask-wearing quadrille dancers, staying up far too late because going to bed seems absurd when you’ve made new friends that you might not see again until the next conference, two years away.

So now I’m back home, mostly caught up on sleep, feeling refreshed to get back to work on my writing. I’ve only got about 15K more words before my work-in-project is ready for edits (she says blithely, as if edits won’t be substantial), and there’s a new kernel of an idea unfurling in my mind, something that sparked to life after an evening of socializing and trying absinthe for the first time. Is that cliché? Oh well.

 

Book Update – The Wardrobe Mistress

I’ve reached a milestone as a debut author – getting to hold my novel in book format for the first time. We’re at the galley stage, and I can hardly even explain the surreal excitement I felt as I opened up the box that came in the mail and lifted out copies of my book. It’s so beautiful! I can’t stop looking at it.

Rare author photo, wherein author cannot stop staring at the bound version of her book.

Seeing the story in proper book form even made me want to read it again, an occurrence that I never thought would repeat itself. Through all the writing and edits, I’ve literally read The Wardrobe Mistress at least seventeen times, no exaggeration, and the latest time (during the first pass stage, which is where it’s typeset as it will be for the book, and the last chance to look for errors) I had to read it out loud to force myself to pay close attention. It gets tough, when you know exactly what will happen and why all the characters feel the way they do! It turned out to be very good practise for me though, because I’d been wondering how ‘French’ I should pronounce character’s names at potential future book readings. After reading the whole thing out loud to my cat and dog (very uninterested audience members, by the way) and nearly losing my voice, I’ve figured out what is hopefully a charming compromise of accents.

I’ve been excitedly telling everyone I encounter, pretty much, that The Wardrobe Mistress will be published on June 27, 2017. There has been a slight change, however, and now the official pub date is August 15, 2017. I promise it’s not my fault – I met all my deadlines! – but just due to scheduling. As a debut author, I’m learning that there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes with a publishing house in terms of scheduling and planning and marketing and everything. It’s been a really amazing learning experience, and I’m so impressed by how much work goes into a book after it’s picked up, and how many people get involved. While writing the first draft of a book, it feels like it belongs only to the author, but as it moves toward publication, it starts to belong to everyone, in a way. It’s a wonderful progression; I think it makes it feel more alive, more like a real thing and not just some figment of my imagination that I wrote down.

In the meantime, while waiting for pub day, did you know that you can read a sample of The Wardrobe Mistress for through “Spring/Summer Sampler – St. Martin’s First”? The e-book also has excerpts from 8 other fantastic authors who have books coming out this summer. And it’s free!

I mean…Ned Stark should really be saying this about winter reading (which is awesome, with hot chocolate and blankets) but since these books are all coming out in the summer, he’s still right