Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Ahoy, me hearties! Feast your eyes on the new Alias Hook book cover:
Special delivery from UPS last night, and, boy, was I excited to get it. Is this beyond cool, or what? I've always loved the rose thicket on the front cover, but I can't tell you how crazy I am about those giant woodcut waves on the back cover, with the ship sailing off into the stars. (A central image from the story, btw.)

Big thanks to Lisa Marie Pompilio at Thomas Dunne Books for this splendid design!

And, as always, thanks to intrepid readers Laurie King, Paula Brackston, Elizabeth Blackwell, and C. C. Humphreys for the jacket quotes—you people rock!

This is all starting to get very real. Just imagine what this will look like with a book inside it!!!

Friday, May 23, 2014


Mixed-race gentlewoman inspires anti-slavery politics in 'Belle'

The history of slavery in the Americas did not begin and end with the American South. For centuries, the economy of the lucrative Caribbean sugar islands colonized by European powers depended on imported African slaves.

Yet slavery was abolished in the British islands 30 years before the American Civil War—in the courts, not on the battlefield. One possible reason for which is explored in Belle, an engaging, handsomely-mounted drawing room drama about a real-life young woman of color who may have had an impact on the legal campaign to end slavery in England.

Belle is the love child of two determined Anglo-African women filmmakers, scriptwriter Misan Sagay and director Amma Asante, who labored for seven years to bring the story to the screen.
Tom Wilkerson and Gugu Mbatha-Raw

Their subject is Dido Elizabeth Belle, daughter of English Naval officer Captain Sir John Lindsay, and a black slave woman, whose father had her raised in gentility by his aristocratic uncle, Lord Mansfield—the Lord Chief Justice of England.

The film begins in 1769 with the child, Dido, delivered to her new home. Matthew Goode brings his usual panache and conviction to his few brief minutes of screen time as Lindsay. Tom Wilkerson and Emily Watson are the initially uncertain Lord and Lady Mansfield.

But as Dido grows into a lovely young woman (played with grace and spirit by the beauteous Gugu Mbatha-Raw), they love her as devotedly as they do the other great-niece they are raising, fair, blonde Elizabeth (Sarah Gadon), who becomes Dido's best friend.
The real-life Dido and Elizabeth

(The cousins' real-life friendship is well documented in this lively 1779 portrait of the two young women together. The painting of this portrait figures in many of Asante's scenes.

Notice how Dido is dressed like an "exotic" in the popular style of the day, but also see how much affection the girls have for each other.)

The great Miranda Richardson (below) is on board as a scheming dowager who comes sniffing about with her two eligible sons (Tom Felton and James Norton).

Sam Reid plays a clergyman's son with legal aspirations who awakens Dido to the abolitionists' cause.
Romance is doomed when one of your suitors is Draco Malfoy

What keeps the tale from becoming too fluffy is the juxtaposition of Dido's coming-of-age with a celebrated legal case involving slavery, on which Lord Mansfield's ruling was an important legal step on the road to abolition.

While Reid's character is based on a real person, most of the film's romantic entanglements are entirely fabricated.

Yet, despite (or more likely because of) these fabrications, Belle succeeds as an effective portrait of a singular young woman understanding her own identity, and of a political era in which men of principle still dared to confront the moral issues of the day. (Read more)

Monday, May 19, 2014


Big thanks to Persia Woolley for tagging me in the ongoing My Writing Process blog hop tour thingy. She is the author of the splendid Guinevere trilogy (Child of the Northern Spring, Queen of the Summer Stars, Guinevere: The Legend in Autumn), which imagines the court of King Arthur with enough historical context to make it all deliciously plausible.

Thanks, Persia!

Here's how it works: I answer four questions about my work and (wait for it...) my writing process, and then I pass the metaphorical baton on to two more writers, who will blog about same next week. Seems harmless enough! Let's go...

What am I working on?

At the moment, I'm in the final publicity and promotion phase* for my novel, Alias Hook, coming out from Thomas Dunne Books in July, 2014. (*Translation: I'm posting to my Pinterest boards and trying not to check my Goodreads ranking every fifteen seconds!)

Alias Hook is a different take on the world of Peter Pan. It's not a rehash of the familiar play, but a somewhat subversive look at life in the Neverland as viewed from the caustic perspective of Captain James Benjamin Hook, its prisoner and victim. There is no Wendy or Tiger Lily, and Tinker Bell is, by this time, in retirement. There's only James Hook and Peter Pan, and the eternal enmity that keeps them locked forever in a pointless war that Hook can neither win, nor end.

The wild card in their power struggle is Stella Parrish, a grown woman from the other world who dreams her way to the Neverland in spite of Pan's prohibition against grown-up "ladies." In search of a fantasy of perfect childhood innocence she quickly realizes does not exist, Stella opens herself up to the diverse forces of the Neverland—the fairies at their Revels in the Fairy Dell, the secret temple of merwives beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the society of the First Tribes—in a way Hook has never dared to. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain.

Stella may be his last chance for redemption and release—if he can give up the game and grow up.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I'm not interested in retelling the same old story over again, from a slightly different viewpoint. It's more fun for me to take a setting and characters we think we know—in this case, J. M. Barrie's Neverland—explore the hidden undercurrents, reshuffle the dynamics between the characters, toss in something or someone totally outrageous, and then imagine a whole new story.

I thought the Neverland could benefit from the proverbial woman's touch—and I don't mean a dewy little Wendy, in thrall to Peter. What would a grown woman from, say, 1950 think of the place? A woman who had survived war and turmoil and heartbreak with her humor and spirit intact, who longed to regain a sense of wonder about the world, who was perhaps overly fond of fine, vintage port? How would she get on with Captain Hook? What on earth would he make of her? I wanted to find out!

In my next novel, I reimagine the Beauty and the Beast tale from the viewpoint of a third party, a young woman who falls in love with Beast as he is, and desperately tries to prevent Beauty from turning him back into a handsome prince. But that's another blog!

My workspace, where genius burns—or at least flails around...

Why do I write what I do?

As a baby-boomer, I belong to one of the most over-analyzed, over-written-about generations in the history of media. I have no interest in contributing to the vast literary navel-gazing of my g-g-g-generation; there are plenty of others telling that story.

I started out writing historical fiction because I was interested in other eras, other circumstances, other sets of rules. I wasn't writing about the movers and shakers of history—the Tudors and Borgias—but of ordinary people who might have plausibly lived in those times, who might have fallen through the cracks of the historical record, but still had extraordinary adventures.

More recently, I've been writing fantasy, which is even more liberating in terms of creating new rules, settings, and circumstances for the story a writer wants to tell. When you think about it, fantasy is a lot like historical fiction: in both genres, you're taking readers some place they have never been and where they can never actually go, perhaps with its own specific language, inhabitants, dress code, and cultural dynamics. What gives fantasy a slight edge is you can make ALL of it up!

How does my writing process work?
Vintage me, vintage Mac, transcribing those 900 pages

Sporadically. Okay, let's be serious. In the early days, I had no process; I just blathered on and on all over the page (with a #2.5 pencil, on Jiffy notebook paper) in hopes that I would eventually get somewhere. Which explains why the first draft of my first completed manuscript was 900 pages long.

Thankfully, my process has evolved since then. It all begins with that one nagging idea that takes up residence in the nether regions of my brain and won't be dislodged. (In the case of Alias Hook, it was James Hook's acerbic voice telling me in no uncertain terms what he thought about everyone and everything in the Neverland.)

Once I've resigned myself to the fact that I'm in for a long, novel-length slog, I start a Word doc, into which I start writing random scenes as they occur to me—meetings, climaxes, love scenes, comic relief. As these scenes accrue, I try to arrange them in some sort of chronology. In the meantime, I've started another doc for characters (names, who they are, what they do, how they function in the story) and plot—where I start explaining to myself the trajectory of the story. This is where I hope to discover and work through potential dramatic problems that stand between me and the finish line.

By now, I know myself well enough to realize that if I don't have the storyline pretty much figured out beforehand in the plot doc—right down to the closing scenes—I'll find myself flailing around mid-book with no clue where I'm going. Of course, it's going to take a lot more work, and a lot more docs (with names like "Inserts," "Outtakes," "Weird Stuff," "Orphan Scenes" ) before I get the narrative into some coherent shape.

But once the shape starts to make sense, I start a "Timeline" doc, where I dope out the arrangement of scenes within chapters—and get to work.

And here's the thing: it's all going to change during the actual writing, anyway. Writing is not an exact science, at least not the way I do it! But I have to have a pretty solid idea of where I'm going before I can figure out the best way to get there.

And that's about all there is to My Writing Process. Next Monday, please do stop in and visit my two tagees and read all about their writing processes.

Sailor, editor, guitarist, and Renaissance man Broos Campbell, author of the rousing Matty Graves series of seafaring historical fiction, is transitioning as we speak into the paranormal with a spooky new ghost story.

M. D. Waters lives with her family in Maryland. Her dystopian, near-future, romantic science fiction debut, Archetype, is such a sensation, it will be followed this summer by a sequel, Prototype, and a novella prequel, Antitype.

Thursday, May 15, 2014


It's official: Captain James Hook now has a voice—and a face!

Meet Ralph Lister, who will be reading the Alias Hook audiobook for Blackstone Audio. An accomplished British stage and film actor, audiobook narrator, and voice-over artist, Lister has read Darren Shan's entire Cirque du Freak series for Blackstone, the immense Gorean Saga by John Norman for Audible, and the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erickson for Brilliance—along with many, many other credits.

Release date for the Alias Hook audiobook is July 8, 2014, same as the hardcover, ebook and Kindle editions. The recording will clock in at 12 hours—unabridged!

I'm excited that they're producing the audiobook so speedily, and with such an accomplished reader. I found this sample of his voice work, reading something a bit smaller and intimate in scope, a passage from the Anne Perry mystery, Acceptable Loss.

He also looks more than ready for his close-up, should there ever be a movie version. I'm just sayin'...

Friday, May 9, 2014


As we all know, life goes better with art. And everything goes better with chocolate!

This weekend, why not combine the two? get ready for the 7th Annual Art & Chocolate art studio tour in beautiful mid-town Live Oak.

At this popular Mother's Day Weekend event, a dozen artists in the Live Oak area throw open their doors to you, The Public, and invite you in to see what's new and exciting in their creative lives.

To sweeten the deal, free chocolate will be available at every stop on the self-guided tour!

Equally tasty artwork on display ranges from the watercolors of Amy Stark and the pastel landscapes of Lou Renner and Paul Rodrigues to the oil paintings of Maggie Renner Hellman, Aaron Johnson, and Janet Ferraro.
Germanic rote (Lyre) by Ron Cook

From abstract stone sculpture by Mike McClellan and whimsical clay work from Carol DePalma to black-and-white, infrared photography by Kevin Osborn.

Andy Orsini is showing hand-crafted fine wood furniture. And new to the event this year, Ron Cook is showing his hand-carved, medieval-inspired folk instruments and furniture.

In fact, we're lucky enough to be hosting Ron this year at our Live Oak studio, where Art Boy (aka James Aschbacher) will have some fun new mixed-media paintings on display

(That's his New Power Spot above.  What does the title mean? Ask any cat lover!)

Studios are open this weekend, May 10 and 11, from 11 am to 5 pm. Admission is free! For a map and a preview of the artists involved, drop by the Art & Chocolate website.

Then grab your mom, or the art lover of your choice, and enjoy!
Did I mention there'll be chocolate???

Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Julie James and Danny Scheie: frenzied plots
Orton's crazed spirit lives in JTC's hilarious 'What the Butler Saw'

Spoiler alert: there is no butler in What the Butler Saw. But there's plenty to see and enjoy in Joe Orton's scabrously funny 1967 comedy as performed by the Jewel Theatre Company. It's a slamming-door farce in which the set's four doors repeatedly slam, identities are mistaken, switched, disguised and deconstructed, thwarted sexuality drives the plot, and anarchy runs riot over all. 

In other words, business as usual for Orton, the working-class Brit whose subversively witty comedies blazed across the London theatre scene during his brief mid-1960s career.

Yes, this production references the '60s, from the British Invasion soundtrack that greets audiences on the way to their seats, to B. Modern's mod-influenced costumes. But Orton's comic style is timeless; his tweaking of authority and cheeky disdain for hallowed traditions and bourgeois propriety would be equally at home on a 16th-Century Commedia dell'arte stage or last night's cable TV comedy series. And the excellent JTC team mines the material for every possible laugh.
Josh Saleh, Mike Ryan, Audrey Rumsby: gender-switched

This production continues JTC's fertile association with Shakespeare Santa Cruz alumni. Director Art Manke (whose credits include the wonderful The Three Musketeers) stages the piece with verve and clarity. 

Mike Ryan notches up another entertaining performance as the head of a tony private psychiatric clinic, whose aborted attempt to seduce his dewy new secretary, and his increasingly frazzled attempts to conceal this fact from his virago wife (expertly played by Julie James), lead to mayhem in Orton's frisky plot. 

Ryan and Saleh: anarchy vs. propriety
 Also on board is the hilarious Danny Scheie as another shrink, visiting the clinic on behalf of the British government. As the principal authority figure, it's his function to misinterpret evidence, misconstrue motives, and misdiagnose everyone else as a raving lunatic—and Scheie wrings the most out of every syllable of caustic observation and gleeful epiphany.

Audrey Rumsby, as the secretary, and Josh Saleh as a bellhop roped into the action are delightful as the young innocents caught up in the crazed lies and schemes of their elders; they are the ones most often stripped down to their skivvies and forced to switch clothes and genders to suit the others' frenzied plotting.

The message here is that no amount of personal aplomb or official prestige can save you from random acts of lunacy in the Orton universe. (Read more)

(The JTC production of What the Butler Saw plays through May 25 at Center Stage in Sant Cruz. Visit the JTC website for ticket info.)

Photos by Steve DiBartolomeo, WestsideStudio Image.

Monday, May 5, 2014


I don't know about you, but I never travel anywhere without a book. Fortunately for me, intrepid reader Kate Underwood feels the same way.

On a recent trip to London, she took along a copy of Alias Hook. (Fittingly enough, she brought the UK edition with the gold foil cover.)

And this morning, she sent me these cool pics from her excursion!

That's Kate standing next to the famous statue of Peter Pan in Hyde Park, next to the Kensington Gardens. According to her guidebook, this is the "most photographed statue in Hyde Park."

Of course, in my book, James Hook has a slightly different opinion:

He is partial to London. They have erected a statue to him there. Fancy, a public statue of Pan, the boy tyrant in his motley of leaves, like a king or a hero. While Hook is reviled, the evil pirate, the villain. There is no statue to me.

This other lovely photo speaks for itself. Afternoon tea and a good book in the Lobby Lounge a the Corinth Hotel. What could be better?

Kate also writes: "I love love love Alias Hook. I can't wait to see it on Broadway!"

From your lips to the ears of the Universe!