Monday, June 21, 2010

Friday, June 18, 2010

Don't Give Up, says Anna Elliott

I'm a big fan of Writer Unboxed. They have many bloggers, but each one offers valuable insight and generally the right amount of push! (I mean, they've got the amazing agent and fiction how-to author Donald Maass over there!)

Here's today's gem from Anna Elliott on not giving up. Or, as Alicia Keys says, "There's Nothing You Can't Do."

Sunday, June 13, 2010


Dara Horn’s spectacular book, All Other Nights, is rich with love, betrayal, loyalty and sorrow. I enjoyed her first two books, In the Image and The World to Come, which both weave historical fiction with present day narrative. But All Other Nights is strictly historical, a literary mystery set during the Civil War and reminiscent of Cold Mountain and March. After reading until 1:30am last night, I woke at 6:30am to finish it.

The cover reads:

How is tonight different from all other nights? For Jacob Rappaport, a Jewish soldier in the Union army during the Civil War, it is a question his commanders have already answered for him -- on Passover, 1862, he is ordered to murder his own uncle in New Orleans, who is plotting to assassinate President Lincoln. After this harrowing mission, Jacob is recruited to pursue another enemy agent, the daughter of a Virginia family friend. But this time, his assignment isn’t to murder the spy, but to marry her. Their marriage, with its riveting and horrifying consequences, reveals the deep divisions that still haunt American life today.

Based on real personalities like Judah Benjamin, the Confederacy’s Jewish Secretary of State and spymaster, and on historical facts and events ranging from an African-American spy network to the dramatic self-destruction of the city of Richmond,
All Other Nights is a gripping and suspenseful story of men and women driven to the extreme limits of loyalty and betrayal. It is also a brilliant parable of the rift in America that lingers a century and a half later: between those who value family and tradition first, and those dedicated, at any cost, to social and racial justice for all.

In this eagerly-awaited third novel, award-winning author Dara Horn brings us page-turning storytelling at its best. Layered with meaning, All Other Nights presents the most American of subjects with originality and insight -- and the possibility of reconciliation that might yet await us.

I was most intrigued with her characterization of four sisters, each with their own unique quirks which not only brought them to life, but aided each in times of trouble. Her writing is intelligent and thoroughly researched, and although the plot was intricate, I never once felt it was contrived. The story, and characters, surprised me at every turn.

One of my favorites this year! Anyone else read it? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, June 11, 2010

It's Complicated

I've long been a fan of novels spanning more than one time period. I love it when an author writes a character both from their adult and younger selves. One such novel is Days of Grace, which I'm really looking forward to reading. (You can see Kim's interview of Catherine Hall over at What Women Write.)

I've written in multiple time periods before, but for some reason, I'm struggling with my WIP, THE ARCHITECT AT HIGHGATE. Although I've researched heavily, I still find my self stopping mid-sentence to learn what Italian immigrants ate during the Victorian era or the name of a famous architect.

My HIGHTGATE computer folder is filled with word docs and spreadsheets to keep track of my plot and characters. I'm thinking of working in some historical figures, like Giuseppe Mazzini or even a famous author or two. I've set up a family tree, a detailed outline, lists of details about architecture and churches, nuns, music halls, restorations. Some of my charts are more complicated and haphazard (and blurry!) than my desk.

Most of you know my obsession with Kate Morton's novels, House of Riverton and The Forgotten Garden. Ms. Morton is a master of weaving a complicated plot, then tugging the reader along a journey where it all comes together seamlessly. How does she do that?! Does she use spreadsheets and timelines and family trees?

My current diversion is locating an historically accurate map. Many of the street names have changed and while I use the internet as much as I can, interactive maps of the past are not always available and most are not very legible. (I've previously blogged about, which is the most complete website on the era I've found, created entirely by author Lee Jackson .)

I picked a street off Red Lion Square for the home of one of my characters. In the 1850s, the street was named Prince's Street, and was later renamed Princeton Street. But were there were single family homes on the street? If so, do they still stand? Are any still inhabited by families or have they converted to businesses and charities as did those on Red Lion Square? I want so much to get it right. I am pining away for a book called The History of London in Maps, but it's $75 and in light of my recent splurge on research books, I just can't justify buying it right now and the library doesn't have it. (Anyone in Dallas have a copy I can borrow?)

In my obsession with detail, am I somehow making this manuscript too complicated? For some reason, I'm struggling more than ever before. Advice anyone?