Friday, March 31, 2006

A Bloody Snip

Wow, my head is so in the writing just now, I really wish that I could just dive into it and write all morning! Sadly, I have a stack of Actual Work that must be done, so I'll be diving into that instead.

However, here's a bit I wrote just last night:

From The Murderess's Tale, Copyright 2006 by Susan Adrian, All Rights Reserved

We paused again when we came to Bootham Bar, for Thomas to speak to the guard. I pulled Caesar up just under the gate, the thick, sturdy stone arching above my head, and pressed the palm of my hand against the stone, feeling its clammy strength. The sharp spikes of the iron portcullis hung directly over me, menacing. Suddenly I could see, feel, a crowd rushing these gates. Shoving, pushing, the force of rage, of injustice, hurling them on, past sense. They were packed in like fish in the king's pond, but with purpose, streaming in one jumbled mass toward revenge. Blood. They shouted, their dirt-seamed, wrinkled faces contorted. Women, a few, their skirts tucked above their knees, but mostly men. Men with pickforks and scythes, knives and daggers. Then the gates slammed down, those spikes, the hateful, gleaming spikes driving into…

I gasped and ripped my hand away. I stared at it, the fingers splayed, the tips white from pressing so hard against the stone. A drop of sweat slipped down the palm, followed by a deep red drop of blood from under my bandage. Blood. Revenge.

Previously, this scene had her feel the wall, and think how sharp the spikes were. {yawn} The point here is to insert some passion, some more interest. Also some further sense of dread, and a tie-in to the peasant uprising theme that's currently relevant in history. Comments?

Medieval Word of the Day: canty: Cheerful, lively, gladsome; esp. in Sc. manifesting gladness and cheerfulness; in north of England rather = lively, brisk, active

Thursday, March 30, 2006

TMT Excerpt

From THE MURDERESS'S TALE, Copyright Susan Adrian, 2007

[name replaced with "X" and a couple lines changed to prevent spoilers {g}]

I did not wake until sometime in the late evening. A fine wax candle burned beside my pallet, the flame straight and true, casting its own shadow on the wall. I turned my head towards the door, where Papa sat on a stool, with Emma cuddled in his lap. He was singing softly to her, his voice hushed.

My love is far in londe—
Alas, why is she so?
And I am so sore bound
I may not come her to.
She hath mine heart in hold
Wherever she ride or go—
With true love a thousand fold.

My eyes burned. He had sung that, oft, when I was small. I had not listened to the words then, nor thought that with the song he might have been mourning my mother, lost to him forever. Now it was Eva who was far away, where he could not go.

I sniffed, and he turned to me, smiling.

"How is my Katy-girl?"

I sat up and rubbed at my face. "Well, Papa. How fares X?"

He smiled wide, his eyes crinkling at the corners. "Near-well himself, it seems. He woke, and asked after you."

I grinned like a fool. "Did he?"

I tugged the thread from the end of my plait and ran my fingers through, combing out the tangles. For a moment I wished I had a gossamer veil—but that just reminded me of Thomas and Godwina. I pushed the thought away. I had managed at least to sew the worst of the tears in my dress, and wore a piece of white cloth pinned to my hair when I went out of the gatehouse.

"Nay, you cannot go to him now," said Papa. Emma cried out, and he scooped her up and held her over his shoulder, patting her back. His hand looked huge against her little body. "Clear orders from Brother Wilhelm. Not until the morn."

"Oh." I sighed, then started to plait my hair again. "Still, he is better. Can you believe it, Papa? He will be well!"

Emma burped, and he smiled, and kissed her ear. "I can. Do you love him then, Katy?"

My hands stopped midair, three strands of hair entwined in my fingers. I caught his steady gaze, and swallowed. "I do, Papa."

He nodded, once. "Well enough. He is a good man. You could not do better were you to marry a—" He bit at his beard, and the blood rushed into his face to match mine.

"A Duke?" I continued plaiting, looking over his head to the wall. "Nay, I could not."

"I was going to say 'king'," he answered, low and fierce. "Whoresons, the lot of them."

"Aye. The lot of them, save you and X."

His eyebrows rose. "Nobility, I meant."

"I know." I tied off the plait. "And I meant men."

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006


Sorry for the delay in posts! I was out of town Sunday and Monday, and Monday night I came down with a glorious stomach virus. Fever of 101 all day yesterday--I could barely drag myself from the bed to the sofa. I'm home again today, but almost all better, and 4-year-old diva is home with me.

Meaning I must go now because I need to be Pooh for a little while...more later, or tomorrow.

Friday, March 24, 2006

You want some cheese with that whine?

Not a good day so far. I'm in a crappy mood, everyone in my family is annoyed with me, and I have to go talk to the teacher after preschool because Child's been misbehaving.


I browsed around for somebody who was in a better mood to send you to--but I couldn't find one! Everyone else is joining me in my misery.

Well, okay, damomma is funny. Go there. Me, I'm just gonna sit here with the door closed, have my coffee, and keep listening to the '80s alternative radio station (yeah, the Smiths will cheer me up, don't ya think?).

Medieval Word of the Day: bedag: to bemire the bottom of a dress.

Thursday, March 23, 2006


Medieval Word of the Day: clenge: To cleanse, make clean; To clear, empty, sweep clear of, rid of.

I need to spring-clenge my house. Seriously. After a full Montana winter (okay, winter's not really over yet here, and won't be for another half-month at least. But the calendar says it's spring, dammit!) there is dirt, there is mud, there are dried puddles. Plus there's the clutter that comes with winter inertia, when we can't be bothered to put away or clean anything because why should we, it's bloody dark outside anyway, we live on a frigging ice-planet, who will care about a few piles in the house?

Whew, I'm glad winter's almost over. I was getting stir-crazy. (Yes, the sun is shining here today, and the ice is momentarily melting, so that was just a flashback to the dark days.)

Anyway. I need to clean. But every day I think this, and somehow instead I manage to...not. Last night I had every intention of thoroughly cleaning the kitchen and clearing off the lingering towers of paper on the dining-room table. But hubby invited me to come sit and have chocolate pudding with him and watch a movie instead. Really, what would you do? Result: happy husband, happy me, happy child in bed. Filthy house. Oh well, you can't have it all.

As to writing, yesterday I did my full hour. This chapter was mostly all right (I think), so I just did minor tweaking. I did make the primary antagonist be more of an ass earlier on, which is always fun. You--or rather Katherine and Thomas, really--will be happy to know I let them stay at the inn. Here's a tiny bit of description from that passage that I like:

From The Murderess's Tale, Copyright 2006 by Susan Adrian, All Rights Reserved

I stood just inside the doorway, folded in my cloak, while Thomas arranged for lodging and the Welshmen took care of the horses. The place was small and dingy, with just a few feeble lamps and a smoldering hearth fire to break up the gray interior. It smelled of stale beer and tallow, and some remnant of this morning's greasy sausage.

Mostly I think I like it because I remembered to put in what it smells like. {s}

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Great Omnipotent

Ya know, a couple of comments here and there would be cool. I'm just sayin'. {g}

Medieval Word of the Day: boinard--A fool, simpleton; rogue, scoundrel. There are only two listings for this word in the OED, one in 1300 and one in 1399. Too bad. We can always use more insults.

I had almost 2 solid hours to work on TMT yesterday. (I was home in the afternoon with Child, just to make sure she was okay after getting her 4-year vaccinations. She was great, and took a loooong nap. {s}) I plowed through Chapters 4 and 5, tweaking. I let Katherine argue with a minor antagonist instead of being passive and weepy. She was quite happy about it, I think.

Revisions at this stage are an odd beastie, because they can actually make you feel god-like. After all, events are already set down in a certain way. In the book's existing world (which is "complete" at its level), This happened, then This happened. Characters interacted with each other, made their comments, et voila.

But noooo. In I come, the deity. "I don't like that," I say. "You're too weak here. Change your response." The character looks at me blankly for a minute, then looks around at the other characters. They all shrug at her. "Hmmm," she says. "What if I say this instead?" And I get to decide. Does that work? Is it strong enough now? What ramifications will it have on the rest of the characters and the plot? Then if I give the nod, she says it the new way, and all clicks into life again. Everyone else has to respond differently too, and the world shifts.

It's even more fun changing locations on them. Thomas and Katherine are at an inn, drinking ale before a fire, all the complexities of their situation swirling around them. "Hang on," I say. "You couldn't be at that inn. I found a new map; that's too far away. Sorry, you'll have to spend the night in the forest instead." So suddenly they find themselves sitting on a damp log, in a cold, misty night, with a fire new-started that's only giving out smoke. Now they're annoyed with me for tearing away their warm inn and their ale, so they snap at each other. Until I tell them they have to be nice again...conflict is all well and good, but I need a kiss, not like that, like you mean it...

Of course they all get back at me by doing things I didn't want them to do, later. By running off in the wrong direction (NO! Run away from the fire!), kissing the wrong person, saying some smart-alecky comment I can't make them take back...but the god-like illusion is fun while it lasts.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sometimes it's okay to be a snail

I like this "medieval word of the day" idea. Heck, I've got a huge list of 'em, and access to the OED; why not share?

Today I need to keep moving on TMT. It's taking far longer than I expected to make revisions. Mostly this is for good reasons, because I keep finding more ways to make it better, but I just feel like a snail. I had a taste of agents reading it, see, and I liked it. {s} Even though I got "no" responses in the end, the comments--and the thought that people who really KNOW were interested in it enough to read the full--well, that was intoxicating. I want to get the bloody thing out there again.

BUT. I also know better. I know that I need to be patient, that I need to make the book right. Not just good, but great. Not just a story, but a damn good story. Currently there are bits that are good, bits that really rock, and bits that need work. (Why didn't I see this before? I dunno. Because I didn't let it sit long enough?)

Anyway, this is my central struggle at the moment. Not actually doing the work, but fighting every day with myself, wanting to hurry hurry hurry get it done vs. taking my time to get it right.

Medieval Word of the Day: forbled: exhausted with bleeding; covered with blood.

Yeah, that one'll come in handy, I bet.

And for those fellow medieval nerds, check out these blogs, pointed out to me yesterday:
Geoffrey Chaucer Hath a Blog
Katherine Swynford's Blog

Monday, March 20, 2006

The Princess and the {fill-in-the-blank}

{yawn} My little one was up sick in the middle of the night. She's fine today, and I'll spare you the gruesome* details. One hint I learned, though: think carefully before you give purple blackberry smoothie as a bedtime snack...

Yesterday afternoon I accompanied her to a birthday party. Not just any boring old party, though--oh, no. This was a "princess" party. Seven four-year-old girls dressed in princess costumes with be-stickered crowns, dancing to Disney music and tapping each other ceremonially with magic wands. Our household is not exactly into Disney--and I loathe all that pink "Princess" marketing they're doing--but she had a ball (er...pun not intended, but I like it now that it's there).

And me? I hung out with another mom I know, but I also spent a lot of time watching Child, secretly thrilled that out of only three girls from school that were invited, she was one. That she seemed to get along fine with the other kids. That she wasn't the one left out.

This is my secret weakness, see, my Kryptonite. I was the one excluded, all through grammar school. I went to a tiny, backwards school in a rural community, and I didn't fit in. I was too smart, too weird. I was the freaky kid who went to ballet class every day right after school. In 3rd grade they sent me up to 5th to do English and spelling, and then asked me to tell the class what I'd learned when I came back. {rolling eyes} Anyway, let's just say I wasn't invited to parties. I'm mostly over it, I think--I have good friends now who get me, thank God--but I sure as heck don't want that kind of thing happening to her. So I watch for it, and am quite giddily happy when she does well.

As to writing? I didn't touch the keyboard this weekend, but I did keep reading my research book on whores and brothels, and I had some good thinks about new scenes. I feel ready to jump in today. I'm looking forward to my lunch session!

*Word of the day: grue. I only just realized, when I typed the word "gruesome" a few minutes ago, that it must be tied to an old medieval word, grue. That's a verb (mostly used in Scotland and in north England, first recorded 1300) meaning: "To feel terror or horror, shudder, tremble; quake; to shrink from something; to be troubled in heart." So you can grue about something that scares you. I did use this one in TMT: How could I sit for hours in that little boat, on that dreadful water, when the very thought made me grue? Apparently you can be grueful or grueing as well. Go forth and use "grue"!

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Wearin' of and purple?

My girl was a fashion plate this morning. She went off to preschool in: a hot pink shirt with flowers on it, a pale orange terrycloth skirt, and lilac tights. No green in sight. (And yes, she does pick out all her own clothes!)

I am wearing the more traditional green. Not because I'm Irish at all, not a drop--I think, if I admit it to myself, I actually wear green because of fear, from all those years at grammar school when I forgot and got pinched black and blue. You'd think the rebel in me, the one who refuses to make the bed because I was forced to, would wear all black or something, but noooo. Maybe next year.

St. Pat's is a HUGE holiday here, because my town has a massive percentage of Irish people from the mining days. Think Boston, quite so many people. There's a parade, real pipers, Irish dancing, Irish storytelling, and--most popular of all, by far--drinking and fighting. They start drinking at about 10 AM in anticipation of the parade, and keep at it all day and night. After 6 it's really best to stay in your house, unless you'd like to be in the paper tomorrow in the police blotter section.

Can you tell yet this is not my favorite holiday? {g}

Anyway, on the writing side, things are going well. I'm slogging away at TMT rewrites; I'm on Chapter 4. But I've found several useful new historical bits to put in, and today I am writing a Whole New Scene, in which the MC imagines a scene from her parent's past. Kinda like flashback for a 1st-person narrator who wasn't there. Sounds great, right? No, really. It'll be good. And it'll deepen the book, explain the MC's actions a bit more, and explain some stuff that before was really only in my head. Maybe I'll post a snip of it, once I get it done...

Anyway, that's it for today. Just blather.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

The Big Sky Top Ten

Things I love about living in Montana instead of San Diego
(in no particular order)

  1. There is no waiting, ever. No waiting in traffic, no waiting for coffee, no waiting at the grocery store (okay, no more than 3 minutes). The state motto should be Montana: No Waiting. (Aside: when we go back to San Diego for visits now, it all seems like One Big Wait.)
  2. You never have to worry about groceries melting in the trunk. In fact, you could use your trunk as a refrigerator for most of the year, if you wanted to.
  3. People actually stop in the middle of the street to let dogs, and people, cross.
  4. There are regular announcements on the state public radio station about lost dogs.
  5. There are 4 seasons. (mind you, winter is a wee bit longer than I might like, but summer is heaven)
  6. The air sometimes actually smells like Mountain Fresh Scent. Really. We tried to track it down to someone doing laundry, but it was just the air.
  7. I can drive 5 minutes out of town and be in a national forest.
  8. We get excellent theater, ballet, and concert productions that tour through all the time--and we go to almost every one. They're cheap, they're great, and there's No Waiting.
  9. When you have to pick someone up at the airport, you can wait until the plane flies over your house before you leave, and still have plenty of time. (There are only 4 flights a day, too.)
  10. We bought a 3-bedroom, 2-bath, nice house in a good neighborhood for under $90,000.

I could go on, but that's probably enough for the moment. Of course there are things that annoy me too, but I'm in a good mood today. {s}

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


Yes, "juggleress" is actually a word in the OED, dating from 1430. I could even justifiably use it in TMT, were I so inclined.

There has been some discussion lately over on Books & Writers about balance: how, as women, do we fit writing into already full lives? How can you make time for yourself to write, day after day, when it's probably not paying any bills, when your children are young and need your attention, when your husband or significant other actually wants to spend time with you at the end of the day? Do you cut yourself short on sleep? Tell your family to suck it up and deal with it (and probably feel just a wee bit of guilt there)? Quit your job, and dedicate school time or nap time to your craft?

The answer, of course, is that there is no one answer. (Cop-out, I know. Stay tuned.) For every woman the solution will be different.

Diana Gabaldon succeeded by giving up sleep, when her kids were small. Lots of writers can do that, staying up after everyone is tucked in bed, or rising early to create their stories in the pre-dawn quiet. (I can't. I'm sleep-deprived as is.)

Some have, or recruit, lots of help and support from family and friends. If you can arrange to have grandma or grandpa take the baby for 2 mornings a week, bonus! All you have to do then is sit your butt down and ignore the laundry. {g} Or maybe your spouse can take the kids out for a few hours of bonding time every Saturday.

Me? I work full-time. My 4-year-old is in preschool, full days. So when we get home, I'm sure as heck not going to run off to the computer to write--that time is hers, no question, no debate. After she goes to bed? Hubby time. I haven't seen HIM all day either, likely, so that time is ours together. But I still need some time to write, or I'll go insane.

I write on my lunch hour. Every day. I shut the door, sit myself down, and write. I also try to manage a couple hours on the weekend, while my family members are doing other things. Now, I've had lots of writers question this: how could you possibly write a whole book, only on your lunch hour? One hour a day? Answer: that's 5 hours a week. Plus the weekend time, maybe 7 hours a week. It adds up, if you're dedicated. And I DID write a whole book. I am.

The REAL answer (see, aren't you glad you stuck it out?) is commitment. No matter where the heck you scrape that time, you do it. You manage it. You commit to yourself that this IS important. More important than relaxing and reading that new book at lunchtime, maybe. More important than getting that extra hour of sleep, if you can do that. More important than watching TV, more important than getting the dishes done every night. NOT more important than family, for most of us--but if you make the commitment to yourself, you'll find the time. You'll make the time. And then you'll be a juggleress. Then you'll be a writer.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Book 2: The Juicy Details

Okay, so I promised Rhonddalyn I'd post the dirt about the new Book 2.

Originally, as some of you know, the Master Plan was to write Book 2 from the POV of a character who is a baby in The Murderess's Tale. It would start 15 years later, 1401, in Florence, and follow THAT young girl's trip to England to search for her real father, and tie up some intentionally loose ends from TMT.


Based on some astute agent comments on TMT, I wanted to make sure that I included some real-life famous people (much better commercial draw, don't ya know), and of course I wanted to correctly portray life in medieval Florence. I dove into research books, and promptly drowned. Any idea how very, very (very) complicated medieval Florence was? Man. The politics alone was killing me, not to mention the artistic community, the masonic community, the plagues, the guilds, the dramatically different Florentine culture.... The plot was not moving in the book, I couldn't get a grasp on the MC, and it Just. Wasn't. Working.

So when TMT came back, I leapt on it with glee, thrilled to be able to work on something ELSE for a while. Not a real great sign for Book 2, right?

So I'm happily working away enriching TMT, and I ask one of my brilliant readers (yes, you, Kreek) if she'd want to know more about the Duke in my book. She says, "Hmmm. What about the Duchess? I'd love to see more about her." Oh ah. Hadn't even really thought about the Duchess. She's mentioned, but doesn't appear. Could I bring her in for a scene? I go and look her up, real-life personage that she is {g}.

She's AWESOME. A princess in her own right, second daughter of King Pedro "the Cruel" of Castile. Her sister is married, at this same time, to John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster and regent of England, _my_ Duke's more powerful brother. Two princesses of Spain, married off to two brothers, sons (and then uncles) to the King of England. Oooooh. John of Gaunt, at this time, tries to capture the throne of Castile by his wife's right. Ahhhh.

Then I go look up Pedro the Cruel. Turns out he WAS pretty cruel--a real nasty piece of work, according to several sources. Abandoned his wife. Killed people. My two Duchess sisters were offspring of his mistress. He ended up being murdered by his own brother.

Oh ah again. Ladies and Gentlemen, I think I have Book 2. {s}

So now I'm bringing the Duchess (Isabella) in for one scene in TMT...and Book 2 will be (I think) the joint tale of her and her sister. Oh, and Chaucer and his wife, and Katherine Swynford (yes of Anya Seton's Katherine fame) are all tied up in there too. I am SO ready to write this book.

First, however, must finish TMT. {s}

Monday, March 13, 2006

Whores in History...and Validation

You know my favorite moment in writing historicals? When I'm doing further research on some topic I already wrote about, usually something where I just "guessed" how it was--and I find out that I was right on. To me it's validation that I've entered into the character as much as possible, that I've slipped into her skin enough to understand her world, at least a little. Sometimes it feels magical, like I secretly have pulled information from another realm.

I'm currently reading Common Women: Prostitution and Sexuality in Medieval England by Ruth Mazo Karras, and I'm getting that feeling again and again. Several different situations I'd set up: Margaret's brothel; Papa's prosecution by the summoner, and his "shame" punishment; even the Duke and Godwina's nefarious dealings...they all are ringing true with historical data, and I'm thrilled. Of course I'm also learning more details that I can add in--I highly recommend this book for writers of medieval historicals.

In London in the 14th century, customary law decreed that on first offense a common whore would be paraded through the town in a striped hood, with a white rod in her hand, put in the pillory for a time, then escorted back to "Cock's Lane", where prostitutes plied their trade. On second offense, she'd be locked in the pillory all day. On the third offense, her hair would be cut or shaved, and she would be escorted and banished from the city. Whew! Of course that probably didn't happen too often in reality; easier and more profitable to fine the whore, or make her pay bribes to stay in business.

I love this blog idea. Now I can info-dump to my heart's delight, without ruining the pace of TMT. {g}

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Another Saturday Night...

My brain is back! Hurrah for sleep. {s}

I lucked out and scored a couple hours of bonus writing time this afternoon. I managed to work over Chapter 1 and part of Chapter 2. Added a few bits, including some deeper historical references. Woo-hoo! I'm very pleased. I have the feeling that I CAN do this, that I can make it better. We'll see if I can get extra time tomorrow--otherwise I'll get back to it Monday!

Child was hilarious tonight, happy, cracking jokes, and dancing around the house doing ballet. My favorite moment was when she pulled her bathtowel around her neck, cape-style, and ran out to her dad yelling "I'm Super-Girl! I'm Super-Girl!" with nothing else on but the cape. {g}

Friday, March 10, 2006

Sleepless in Montana


I am utterly dead on my feet. I opened up the file to write, and stared at the (blurred) words for about 5 minutes, searching my fuddled brain for something to put down. When I realized the only kinds of sentences floating in my head were along the lines of "Pretty, pretty butterfly. Oh, look. Look at the pretty butterfly. See, Thomas? Look..." I stopped and shut the file.

I am now having a break, drinking tea, and playing Word Jong on Shockwave, which is all I seem to be capable of at the moment.

I'm not asleep... but that doesn't mean I'm awake.

Without enough sleep, we all become tall two-year-olds. ~JoJo Jensen, Dirt Farmer Wisdom, 2002

I couldn't sleep last night. Not just "it took me a long time to get to sleep" either. I couldn't sleep at all. I just lay there, hour after hour after hour, listening to my husband breathe, my mind spinning in a nightmare of shallow, nonsensical thoughts. And of course the panic. It's 1 AM and I'm still awake! It's 2:30. God, it's 4 AM, I have to get up in an hour and 45 minutes!

As usual, I think I drifted off around 5, and dragged myself up at 5:45. The good news is Child is at school, I'm at work and drinking coffee (thank God), and I'm semi-functioning. I have a lightheaded, buzzy sensation in my head, as though I might just float away in a little while. Maybe I'll try that, later. What I probably should do, really, is go write a new scene. Some of my best scenes have come from sleep deprivation. Maybe because the mind is half in dreamland anyway, and inhibitions disappear?

But first, before any writing can be done, I must do Actual Work. More later (if I'm not facedown on my desk).

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Murderess Update for the Day

On the writing front, I edited my daily pages at lunch, and finished reading through the hard copy of Murderess. Whew!

Now that the "easy" part's over (poring over pages and writing "add more here" and "make this conversation go on longer") I have to actually DO it. Write new scenes, add to existing scenes, plop in more research as seamlessly as possible. Fortunately though this next part is difficult, it's also fun. I can use the creative portion of my brain again. Woo-hoo!

A New Adventure

It's time.

I've become so addicted to reading the blogs of my writer friends, Miss Snark, Agent Obscura, and all the rest that I can no longer sit by in silence. It's like hanging out at a fabulously interesting cocktail party, stinger in hand, but my voice muted. Now it's time to speak.

I haven't yet decided what the tone, the purpose, of this blog will be. My favorites combine the personal with the writing journal, but also include larger comments about writing, and about Life. The best also update every day. Don't know if I can manage that, but we shall see...

Welcome, friends! Welcome, potential friends. This should be fun!