Monday, August 30, 2010

In Search of Bull's Blood!

I feel like NASA! Only seven days to go before Royal Blood is in stores and I set off on a book tour.
First stop the launch party at my own local and wonderful bookstore, BOOK PASSAGE is Corte Madera CA. If ever there was a perfect bookstore, this is it! Every book you'd ever want, events and classes going on all the time, a delightful courtyard to sit and read plus a geat little cafe so that you can sip a latte at the same time. It's reader heaven.

I always try to put on a big party there for my local friends and loyal supporters, and each time I try to do something different. This time, because the theme is Transylvania, Vampires I've decided to serve Bull's Blood wine from Hungary. Yes, I know Transylvania isn't in Hungary,but it WAS before the allies divided up that part of Europe after the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Hapsburg Empire. And my story takes place not too long after the redefining of borders, so a lot of bad feelings and political intrigue (what else in a murder mystery!)
So the wine is pretty authentic.
Obviously for food it should be goulash or meat served flaming on a sword, but I'm honoring their light carpet and I'm sticking to salami, cheese and strawberries. Any other sugestions for red things, apart from licorice, which doesn't really do it for me?

So I'm off on a quest for Bull's Blood today! Wish me luck

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Juggling Two Series

People often ask me how hard it is to juggle two series. Do I get get them mixed up and have Lady Georgie say what Molly would have said? The answer usually is no. When I'm writing one,I'm completely involved in that world. I'm living with Molly and Sid and Gus and crossing those busy New York streets. When I'm with Georgie, I'm into drawing rooms and afternoon tea. Most of the time I don't find it too hard, either and I actually believe that writing two such different books one after the other helps to keep my writing fresh.

However, there are times when this breaks down, and one of those times is NOW. As you know, I'm preparing for the launch of Royal Blood next week. I'm thinking out what I'll say in my speeches, which excerpts of the book I might read, which funny anecdotes of the British upper classes I might tell. And at the same time, I'm working hard to finish the next Lady Georgie book to meet my end of September deadline.

So my head is completely with Georgie at the moment. Imagine then my frustration when the copy edits for Bless the Bride, the next Molly book, arrived on my front doorstep yesterday. Due back by Sept 13, which means they have to be done NOW. So this morning I attempted to switch gears and be with Molly. But it is proving really hard to swing myself out of Lady Georgie's elegant life and into New York's Chinatown. My editor has scribbled little notes in the margin like, "You had her use these words a couple of pages ago. Could she say something different this time?" 
And I'm staring at the page thinking desperately "what would Molly Murphy say in a place like this?"\

It is a similar feeling to getting on a plane in San Franciso and stepping off in Tokyo or Honolulu--that feeling of not quite sure where I am or what I'm supposed to be doing. So, dear readers, please be patient with my next book. If you read that Molly suddenly says "Oh gosh, what a frightfully droll thing to have happened," it's Georgie taking over my head again.

And if you're counting down: it is Ten Days to the launch of ROYAL BLOOD.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The TwentyFirst Century Writers Life

I'm a writer--and what I want to do is sit at my desk and write books. But I'm just back from vacation and the next two months have a schedule that would make the queen of England turn pale. Because these days writing is only half of an author's life. The other half involves selling the books.
Now you might naively think that selling the books is the job of the publisher and bookseller. Unfortunately it's also become a requirement of the author. When you have time check out my schedule at and click on Events. See what I mean?

I have two white boards next to my desk which started off as tools for me to jot down ideas and plot points as I wrote. They have been taken over as to-do lists. What I see before me at the moment is:
send out paper invitations to 50 people for launch party
send out email invites next week to about another hundred
make sure store has specially requested advance copies Royal Blood for event at Festival of Wales
coordinate with friend who want to fit in lunch at Festival of Wales in Portland
Coordinate with man who wants to fit in Welsh Society after event in Kansas City
Hair appointment before launch party.
Get handouts printed for fall events.
Arrange prizes for various events (vampire themed?)
2 guest blogs, 2 interviews, one radio as of now.
This doesn't include daily Facebook and Twitter stuff and regular fan letters.
And this is before I am on the road and doing pretty much an event a night for the month of September.

You might tell me that all this is my choice, and in a way that's true. There are some writers who never leave home, who hate to travel and hate meeting people. Some of them do pretty well. However when one is not Sue Grafton or Janet Evanovich the object is to try and make some of those bestseller lists so that the publisher sits up and takes notice. And unless that publisher is prepared to spend a hundred thousand or so on publicity the only way to be noticed is by personal contact and word of mouth. Someone finds my book, reads it and recommends it to a friend. It's building readers one at a time and it takes a lot of effort.

However in today's brutal world of publishing writers whose readership is not constantly growing find themselves axed. Besides, I have to confess that the personal contact with readers is one of the things I have come to cherish. To be in a strange city and have someone come up to me with all my books and ask if I mind signing the whole lot--well, that is special. When someone tells me that my book just got them through a difficult time, it makes the getting up at 4 a.m. to catch the 6 a.m. flight worthwile.

Once September starts I'll try to blog daily about my travels and I look foward to meeting many of you.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Home Again, Home Again..

I'm back home, sitting at my own computer. It's three in the morning and of course I can't sleep because in England it's already eleven. So I'm using the quiet to catch up with all those things that were waiting for me. Did I really promise to guest blog in so many places, to do so many interviews?
I had a magical weekend with old college friends, staying in a dorm at our old college. It was sad to see it in a way--the college itself is no more, victim of budget cuts within the university. I suppose it never made financial sense to have a facility for 300 female students and a faculty for them too. So the buildings are now a dorm for bigger King's College and the lovely eighteenth century old house is shut off because too much work needs to be done to it. The chapel lawn has been sold to a developer. But enough was still there to bring back memories--that's the mail box that we used to climb over the wall when we were out after curfew.
There was high table at one end of the refectory, and oh the agony of dining up there with the dons in full view of all the other students. When I was summoned it was always something hard to eat, like grapefruit in a high stemmed glass.
Of course we had a weekend of non-stop talking, laughing, eating--and quite a lot of champagne too. Most people were still so young at heart and interesting. One had raised money for a clinic for mothers and babies in Ethiopia by taking part in a sponsored bike ride across the mountains of Etheopia. She and her bike were by far the oldest but she managed the fifty miles each day. Another now runs an art center in France. Jane Finnis is a fellow mystery writer. Penny and husband are about to drive the old Monte Carlo rally route in a restored 1960 sports car. So although we're now about retirement age, nobody is playing bingo!
And the perfect ending to the weekend was a private docent tour of the Chelsea Physic Garden--a garden started in the 1600s to train apothacaries in the art of healing. There are plants to cure all kind of ills, both ancient and modern. And it is a little haven of peace in the midst of busy London.
So I come back torn in two, as it were. One part of me wanting to stay with my roots, enjoying the slow pace of the English countryside, sitting outside the pub on a warm evening, drinking Pimms, and the other part looking forward to picking up my life again, catching up with family and friends. Was is Proust who said "you can never go home again?" and I suppose that's right. Once you leave home, you never belong anywhere, one hundred percent. But one never considers that when one sets out looking for adventure as a twenty-four year old.
So it's back to writing and household chores and picking up granddaughters from school. And you know what? That part's not so bad either!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Recharging the Well

I'm heading to London today for a really BIG event: a reunion with 25 college sisters, some of whom I haven't seen for over 40 years. We are celebrating the arrival of the day we met, long ago in the sixties. We have arraged to stay in our old college dorms, we're eating one night in a local chinese restaurant (because going out for chinese food was about the only thing we could afford those days\) and we have a caterer coming in for the big meal on Saturday night. I'm currently staying with my two best friends from college and we've had some fabulous build-up days together but this morning we ste off with anticipation of two days of fun, food, drink and much laughter.

I've been away for six weeks and I'm finally ready to go home. I have the last third of a book to finish and my batteries have been recharged so that I think I can breeze through it.. Sometimes it takes foreign experiences, new lifestyles to take me out of myself enough that things become clear and I'm ready to go on.

I have two weeks after I get home before the chaos starts for the launch of Royal Blood and I'm zooming all over the country again. I don't think I'll finish the book in that time but I'd like to get a big chunk done so that the end is in sight.

I'll be putting up my fall schedule on my website next week, so look for where I' m going to be speaking.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Thoughts on Bathrooms

Im' back in UK now after two weeks in France and one deep thought has been going through my head all the time: how come Europeans just don't GET bathrooms?

I could understand if I stayed at a five centuries old inn that the plumbing might be a little eccentric. But new hotels are apparently built with baths and showers that take an engineering genius to turn on. And they provide tubs with a shower attachment but with no curtain. How are you supposed to wash your back and your hair without spraying all the walls?

And the size of the baths! Big, narrow deep with no room to turn around. It's like scaling Mt. Everest to get in--in fact I had to call down to the desk to ask for crampons at one place. And then to get out again when they are wet and slippery... well, my dears, if I hadn't been touring with John I would have had to stay there until I surprised the maid next morning.

Such big baths must cost a fortune in water heating to fill and are such a waste of water, but there are still precious few walk in showers. Of course the tub is great after a long day of climbing through Medieval hill towns, but not for washing hair.

And don't get me started on the subject of loos. Well, I have started on it now, haven't I? Who on earth might think that standing on two steps with a black hole between them, squatting down and hoping that one's aim is not too off, is as satisfactory a way of relieving onesself as sitting on a nice seat? And yet these black hole toilets are still all over the place in France, including a new loo on a beach.

Brought back memories of embarrassing childhood experiences.... including the time we were driving across France, stopped for lunch at a lovely old farmhouse. Food out of this world. Plumbing less so. I went to the outhouse--hole in the ground variety. Afterward I pulled on the chain and water started rising at my feet AND the door wouldn't open. As the water crept higher I had visions of being the first person to be drowned in a loo.

But I have to say that experiences like this are great to use in my Royal Spyness books--since Lady Georgie always seems to have embarrassing accidents happening to her, I can use all my former embarrassments. In one of the books I have someone almost kliled by a flying toilet tank , not that that's ever happened to me but there have been some wobbly ones. \Oh, and Lady Georgie would never say the word TOILET. Far too lower class. The correct word is LAVATORY, but loo will do perfectly well.

Back home next week where the plumbing works faultlessly.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Summing up France

I'll be leaving France in two days and some observations on the French have been jotted down along the way:
1.They love to make rules and then totally ignore them. There are signs saying "It is absolutely forbidden to park here," and everyone does. We watched a car calmly pull into the "bus only" bay.
Near our hotel there is a walkway that has the sign, "Forbidden to pedestrians." So we walked around for a few days before we found that everyone else cuts through there.
However--on the buses and trams there is an honor system of validating the ticket and watched everyone do it. Maybe the fine is so heavy that it's not worth cheating

Observation 2: the French are prepared to spend a lot on food, especially when eating out. I just passed a restaurant with caviar potatoes at nearly two hundred euros. And restaurans have strange names: we seen onc called the "Why Not?" another "His master's Voice."  It's usual for people to have a starter, then a main course and often dessert and coffee. And to spend hours over them.

Observation 3: one very rarely sees sloppily dressed French women. They tap around on high heels with very short shorts or skirts and sexy little tops, even when they're out shopping.

Last observation: Nice is very nice! It's easy to get around. The sky is bluer than blue. It has the sea, the hills, the villas, the hotels--lots of parks and fountains and art work--take a look at the enormous sculpture on the corner where we stay. It's called Block Head! Lots of talented street performers. A lively exciting place.

And I've done all my research--this is the Negresco hotel--rather fancy, isn't it? I've found a villa for my bad guy to live in, visited police headquarters, looked at pictures from the 30s. So the book will be full of real and interesting things. And it will have a great title....wait and see

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In Praise of French Food

One of my favorite things about the French is the food. I have been indulging in flaky pastry stuffed with scallops, great pots of mussels with tiny slim French fries, duck breast in lemon and ginger. We have been buying various pates and cheeses to eat at the apartment with crusty bread. I've been walking to the bakery every morning to get my baguette, and maybe a raisin snail to go with it. And the pastries: strawberry tarts, cream puffs, eclairs, ah, sigh.

Some things are horribly expensive, some strangely cheap. We've bought duck pate for around a dollar, a huge thing of cooked shrimp for four dollars. And yet fish and meat are about the same price as gold. Still, any country where I can buy a perfectly aged camembert cheese for two Euros has to be pretty good.

Even though French food is rich, you don't see many fat people. That's because they walk a lot, they buy their ingredients fresh every day and they eat small portions. You may see them drinking red wine at midday, but only one glass. Everything in moderation. They take hours over a meal. Nobody will bring the check unless you ask for it, even if you sit there all evening. Food and good conversation are to be savored.

I rather suspect this is about to change as the diet is changing with the advent and concept of fast food. Pizza parlors are everywhere, so are hamburger joints. Cheap restaurants are serving up the same huge plates that have made us fat in America. I would hate to see a France in which duck breast of the future comes with "all the fixin's" and an unlimited salad bar.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Vive La France--part Deux

Today we went by bus to San Jean Cap Ferat--a hairraising bus ride along the coast, ending in a delightful little harbor. You should see the size of the yachts--and so many of them. There is a lot of money in the world!
I took lots of pictures of villas for my book, and found the perfect one for my bad guy. On the way back we stopped at Beaulieu sur Mer to swim. Water temperature perfect.

Obervations on the French character as revealed in their shops:
The French are hedonistic. They care about their appearance.
There are an incredible number of beauty salons, perfumeries, clothes boutiques, optical stores and pharmacies. You can find one on any block, much more easily than finding bakeries and food stores. It's amazing to me that so many dress shops can actually make a living, especially when clothes are so much more expensive than in the US.

And on the subject of clothes: no on can look more chic that a French woman in a simple outfit with a scarf carelessly flung around her neck. At the other end of the scale, however, older French women seem to have lost any clue about fashion. They wear hideous bright T shirts with slogans like Hot Babe on them.:  It seems to be in fashion to wear T shirts with English words on them. Some of the words are quite puzzling and don't actually make sense to English speakers.  The older women also sit topless on the beach, boobs drooping down over their waists, or they wear bikinis with a large sagging stomach between the two parts. Not a pretty sight.

And on the subject of beaches--nobody seems to have heard of the words "sunscreen" or skin cancer here. Brown, almost naked, bodies lie stretched out on the beaches. Little children run around naked. No thought of putting sun hats on them.

Tomorrow is Sunday, so I expect everything will be closed. More later.
Your foreign correspondent, Rhys