I’m so thrilled to be able to share the new paperback cover to A MAD, WICKED FOLLY, which will be released June 2, 2015, complete with some extra content. There’s something really magical about seeing your cover for the first time, and it’s equally exciting to see what the designers come up with for the paperback.  Penguin’s art department is incredibly talented and so I knew the artists at my paperback publisher, Speak, would do an amazing job.  Dana Bergman, my pb editor, wanted to make sure to remain authentic to the book, hence the Edwardian-era details on the girl’s clothing. I absolutely love this cover.  It reminds of Vicky, standing defiantly, unwilling to abandon her dream of becoming an artist.  So what do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Yesterday I had the pleasure of being on a Sex and Violence in YA lit panel with two of my  Corsets, Cutlasses, and Candlesticks blog sisters, Katherine Longshore and Jennifer McGowan.  It was hosted by the very fab teen librarian Karen Jensen via her Teen Librarian’s Toolbox.  We talked about all sorts of interesting things and got to see one another’s work spaces.  Also you get to hear the dulcet tones of my hounds-from-hell  as the UPS guy shows up.  Bonus! Anyway, check it out.

Also, today, Karen posted this really kind review of A MAD, WICKED FOLLY.  Thanks so much, Karen!

 

 

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I admit it.  I get a little thrill of happiness whenever an author I admire talks to me.  For instance, I chatted with Elizabeth Wein on Twitter about Code Name Verity while I was reading the book in England.  And that time when I talked to Miranda Kenneally and Gail Carriger about random stuff.  And when I bonded with Tiffany Reisz over horses.  You can keep your actors and singers; authors are the ones I love to meet.  Which is why I pretty much flipped out when a Twitter friend, Amanda Pedulla, told me she’d noticed Diana Gabaldon had thanked me in her acknowledgments in her latest book, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. 

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A little background is in order here.  Diana Gabaldon is my favorite writer.  Hands down.  If you don’t know already, she writes the immensely fabulous Outlander series, which is about Claire Randall, a woman from the 1940s, who falls through standing stones while on her honeymoon in Scotland and lands in the 1800s.  She’s taken captive by a band of Scottish highlanders, and while she’s trying to work out what’s going on, she meets a young injured highlander named Jamie Fraser.  Because she was a nurse during WWII, she’s able to fix his dislocated shoulder and then later his stab wounds.  The two become friends and then…well, you’ll have to read them.  These books…these wonderful books… I adore them.  Diana is a fabulous storyteller and she does not hold back.  She has a flare for weaving history in the narrative and bringing each character to life, even the smallest walk-ons.  I’ve long admired these traits in her writing and I work hard to do the same in my own.  Diana’s writing also made me fall in love with the British Isles, and it was partly because of the Outlander series that I headed to England and ended up meeting my husband.

I had the enormous pleasure of meeting Diana in 2000.  I went to a Highland festival in San Diego and I had no idea that she’d be there signing her books.  And there she was, manning the booth all by herself, and we got to chat for a little bit.  I told her I wrote magazine articles and I working on fiction in my free time.  She signed a book for me thusly:

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So from time to time I talked to her through her blog and on her writing forum and found her to be a very kind person, generous with her knowledge, and funny, to boot.  I knew I wanted to be that kind of writer, too.  When Random House and Penguin merged, my first thought wasn’t how that merger would affect me as a writer, but how happy I was that Diana and I were in the same publishing house now.

Those of you who know me know that I write for farm magazines, and I’ve written a chicken breed profile magabook.  A couple of years ago, I happened to mention a chicken breed called the Scots Dumpy on Diana’s blog.  She responded saying she was really enchanted with the breed.  I thought it would end there, but then one Saturday night this June while I was working on my latest work in progress, I got the aforementioned tweet from Amanda.  I fast forwarded through my Written in my Own Heart’s Blood copy on my Kindle and found it:

From the acknowledgements in Written in My Own Heart's Blood by Diana Gabaldon

Thrilled? Yes, I was.  In fact I was fangirl flailing to the point of hyperventilating.  I also loved how she incorporated the Scots Dumpy into her story.

I want to thank you, Diana Gabaldon, for entertaining me and inspiring me for many years.  I’m glad I could give something back to you, even if it was something as small as a chicken.  I hope one day I can thank you in person. And by the way, your latest book is so, so, so good. I loved each and every page.

For those of you wondering what in the heck is so special about a chicken that it caught Diana Gabaldon’s attention, here is the information about the Scots Dumpy from my book Guide to Chicken Breeds.

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People recognize the cheerful, biddable Scots Dumpy by its very short legs, which have earned the breed several unflattering nicknames, including “Crawlers” and “Creepers.” The breed’s legs result from what has been called a “creeper gene” that can cause chicks to die in the shell before hatching if combined with other certain genes.  The Scots Dumpy offers a quiet, placid breed that enjoys free ranging; handlers should monitor its diet, however, as this slow-moving bird gains weight quickly.  Chicks need special feeders and water drinkers to account for their short stature.  The breed is better suited to warm, dry climates; close proximity to cold, wet ground can lead to sickness.  The hen is a great layer of white eggs and can be used to rear the chicks of other flow.  Because of its large size, the Scots Dumpy does not fly.

One of only two breeds developed in Scotland, the ancient Scots Dumpy warned Scots and Picts of incoming Roman attacks during the early medieval period.  Fanciers began exhibiting the breed in 1852.  The Scots Dumpy nearly reached extinction during the mid-19th century; fortunately, a pure line was discovered in Kenya in 1973.  Lady Violet Carnegie had brought the flock to Kenya in 1902 and it was reimported to the United Kingdom to boost decreasing numbers.  A bantam variety of the breed was developed in 1912, just after the Scots Dumpy Club was formed.

Some breeders describe the Scots Dumpy body type as “boatlike.” The breed’s carriage should appear “heavy with a waddling gait,” according to the Scots Dumpy Club.  The rooster has long, flowing tail feathers.  The most commonly seen plumage types include Cuckoo and Black varieties; however Blue, Splash and a very rare white also exist.  The shanks of the Black variety look slate to black; they appear white in the remaining varieties.  The breed’s medium, upright, single comb, wattles and earlobes are red.  The Scots Dumpy rooster weights up to 7 pounds; the hen weights 6 pounds.  Bantams weight 1½ to 1¾ pounds.

 

 

 

 

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My amazing agent, John M. Cusick from the Greenhouse Literary Agency,  tagged me in a blog tour where writers talk about their process. (Read his post here). By the way, John is not only an agent extraordinaire, but he’s also a very talented writer. His latest is CHERRY MONEY BABY, which you need to read as soon as possible if you haven’t already.  It’s so, so good. I almost didn’t query John because I was intimidated by his fabulous prose.  I mean, how could I compete with this description from his debut novel GIRL PARTS:

There were mansions along the west bank, trees along the east.  The biggest mansion belonged to the Suns.  It was a four-story glass palace, split down the middle like a dollhouse so that the family inside was always visible. 

So. Good.

I’m sure glad I overcame my timidity and sent him A MAD, WICKED FOLLY.

Anyway, on to the topic at hand… The writing process is a subject that is dear to my heart because I’m always looking for a better way to write.  I’m positive there is no one right way; that everyone has his or her own method.  I’m always adapting my own process, but I’ll share what’s been working for me for the past couple of years.

  1. What am I working on?

Right now my work-in-progress is a swashbuckling, romantic YA historical based in the mid-Victorian era, around 1860. It’s the story of a teen who straddles two worlds: her mother’s very religious life in Kent, England; and her father’s Darwin-inspired, explorer/adventurist life. The setting is a small market town in the southeast of England and the southwestern wilderness of China, namely the temperate forests of the Hengduan Mountains. It’s an adventure story with lots of action, which is a new thing for me. It’s also a big story, as is my wont.  I don’t really set out to write big books, but once I get started I can’t seem to stop.  There’s just so much to say.

The story explores themes of obsession and responsibility, ecological preservation, family and (of course, because it’s my favorite theme), female emancipation.  I’ve been thinking about this story for a long time, and with FOLLY on the shelves I can fully turn my attention to it.

  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I’m a huge fan of setting, and I really strive to bring a place and time to life so that readers feel as though they’ve time-traveled to the era.  I don’t want to get anything wrong or pull the reader out of the story with an anachronistic detail; therefore I have to do a lot of research!  I think every paragraph in A MAD, WICKED FOLLY has some sort of research attached to it. There’s a section in FOLLY where Will teaches Vicky to ride the Underground.  I lived in England for six years and I took the Tube everywhere.  I was never intimidated by it and whenever people would visit I would teach them the Tube map right away. However I didn’t know what the Underground was like in 1909.  I think it took me a week or so to find out, and I ended up locating a video of an Underground ride from 1908.

I also make sure that every character on the page is developed.  Even if she doesn’t say a word or doesn’t appear more than once in the book, she should be original and memorable, and not a character out of central casting. Of course, she shouldn’t upstage the main character, but she should intrigue a reader. I really love writing secondary characters.  I love pitting them against the main character just to see what she’ll do.

  1. Why do I write what I do?

I love living in my character’s world and falling in love with the setting and the people through her eyes.  Writing these exotic worlds makes me see things differently. For instance I’ve always loved the Waterhouse painting A Mermaid but I never really saw it fully until I saw it through Vicky’s eyes.  Because of my character, that painting has so much more meaning to me. I like to immerse myself in my characters’ lives, almost like method acting, so that I can find out what makes them tick.  So I try to go where they live or I try my hand at their craft, such as the drawing and painting in FOLLY.  I’d never really wanted to go to China before, but now I’m itching to go, especially to the Hengduan Mountains.  I suppose writing ignites passion for new things, and I love that.  I also choose to write historical novels because my imagination springs to live in these settings.

I also love writing for young adults because they have such a zest for life.  I think it’s the newness of their adult world that intrigues me.  They want to grab hold of life, and there’s so much story in that mindset\.

  1. How does your writing process work?

A story starts when something sparks my interest.  It can be an object or a historical event or an occupation during a certain time.  I start to think what would happen if…? Then I imagine the main character and her name, how she lives and what she wants.  I make notes in a hardback spiral notebook (I hoard these!) and start sketching out the plot.  I don’t write a formal outline, but I write down ideas for scenes and where they should go.  I make sure I have a general idea of the beginning, middle, and end before I dig in. I have to know the story before I begin writing. During the day, I’ll have ideas for scenes, description, and themes, and I’ll jot those down in my notebook.  Everything goes in there, even the goofy ideas because the out-of-the-ordinary options often lead to something better, so I don’t discriminate in this early stage.  I try to write in a linear fashion but it’s not a hard and fast rule.  If I think up a good scene I’ll write it and save it for later. Cause and effect can be an issue later on, however, if you write out of synch. A scene just can’t be tacked on; you have to lead up to it.  It’s not a problem, per se, just something to be aware of as you write. Sometimes a dangling scene can be helpful.  You know you have this thing up ahead, so how are you going to get there?

I write in the morning for at least two hours.  I read and edit what I wrote the day before and then write fresh.  When I’m done writing I take the dogs for a walk on a wooded path near my house.  I mull over the story while listening to a WIP soundtrack I’ve put together.  I think up new ideas or details and then jot them down into my notebook when I get home.  In the afternoon I do my research.

Once I get my rough draft down I use Martha Alderson’s plot planner.  I lay out my entire plot on butcher’s paper using sticky notes on the plot line.  This way I can move scenes around and see if they’ll work in different places.  I can see where the story would drag or where I need to slow it down.  It’s a great way to get a bird’s eye view of your story.  Then I revise, revise, revise!

So that is my process.  Of course I’ve left out all the angst and self-loathing that happens when I’m writing.  That is for another time!

Okay, over to two stellar writers who also happen to be good friends of mine.  Jennifer Salvato Doktorski who released not one, but two novels in one year: FAMOUS LAST WORDS and HOW MY SUMMER WENT UP IN FLAMES.  She writes fabulous contemporary teen reads, funny and heartfelt.  And Christa Desir, rape counselor and author, who released the heartbreaking FAULT LINE last fall.  FAULT LINE kept me reading way past my bedtime, and made me think about how we view rape in this country and how we treat victims.  A definite must read.

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There’s something magical about hearing your character speak for the first time.  When my agent told me he’d sold my audiobook rights to Listening Library I was so thrilled. I was soon introduced to FOLLY’s fabulous producer, Janet Stark, and the book’s amazing actress, Katharine McEwan.  Listen to the clip and I think you will agree that they did a fabulous job bringing Vicky’s story to life.

 

Janet and Katharine kindly agreed to share their process with us.  And in honor of this, I’m giving away A MAD, WICKED FOLLY audiobook. All you have to do is answer the Rafflecopter questions after the interview and you’re in.

Katharine McEwan, FOLLY’s actress.

Katharine McEwan recording A MAD, WICKED FOLLY for Listening Library

Katharine McEwan recording A MAD, WICKED FOLLY for Listening Library

 

Katharine is an actress, writer, and producer based in LA.  She is originally from the North of England. In addition to voicing FOLLY, she was the actress for Page Morgan’s riveting THE BEAUTIFUL AND THE CURSED (The Dispossessed).

What drew you to voiceover work? And how did you break in?

My good friend Steve West – who is a huge presence in the audio book world – told me about narrating, and suggested I give it a try. He introduced me to the wonderful Janet Stark over at Random House, who coincidentally was just casting a book that needed a British narrator.

How do you prepare for a recording?

The first time I read the book, I try to feel my way through it, connecting to the main character and what they’re going through emotionally. It’s the same as preparing for a role in a movie – you have to find a way inside your character’s soul and uncover the longing there.

There are so many characters in my story, and you had a different voice for each one. How do you keep track of them all?

I find creating strong visual images really helpful – recalling a character’s face and physical essence helps me connect to how they sound. And failing that, playback is always an option!

And now questions about FOLLY!

It was so amazing to hear my characters come to life! I love how you did Vicky. How did you decide to portray her?

I was very lucky in that I related instantly to Vicky as soon as I read the first line of the book! There were strange coincidences too – like ‘The Mermaid’ is one of my favorite paintings and the very first poster I bought and framed when I left home. So it was more a case of bringing myself to her – allowing my life experiences to color hers.

What was your favorite FOLLY character to voice?

After Vicky, it would be Sophie. She’s so feisty and courageous, and stands up for what she believes in. I think through Sophie, Vicky learns that in life we have to find our own moral compass in a morally ambiguous world.

What was the most challenging character to voice?

Will. I was so afraid I’d mess him up. I knew we all had to fall in love with him, and root for him and Vicky’s relationship. The stakes were high!

When I heard you grew up in the north of England, I knew you would be perfect for voicing Sophie. Do you sound like her in real life? 

That’s a complicated question! I do and I don’t. I actually grew up with two accents because my mother wouldn’t let me and my sisters speak with a northern accent at home. There used to be a lot of judgment in England around having a regional accent and my mother wanted us to have the best chance in life. At the time I couldn’t appreciate it, as ‘talking posh’ where I grew up was not popular and people thought we were being stuck up. So I learned two accents – one for home and one for outside! I never felt like I could fully identify with either one, and it took me a long time to realize I didn’t have to make a choice, that I could dwell in more than one world and still hold onto who I am in my heart.

You did Lucy’s American accent and the French accents really well. How did you learn to do them?

Thank you :) The American accent is challenging for me and I work on it all the time. I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to accent tapes and practicing in my car! Claire Corff, my amazing voice teacher, taught me to learn the ‘melody’ or ‘song’ of an accent first, which really helps – as does not being afraid to go too far and get silly with it!

 

And now…Janet Stark, FOLLY’S producer

How did you get into producing audiobooks?

From a background in music recording and producing, I found myself in a Bay Area recording studio that happened to have a local indie publisher as a client. Authors came in to narrate their own books, generally non-fiction, personal growth. It was a wonderful way to introduce me to the world of audiobooks. Later I relocated to Los Angeles where there’s a lot more going on, and here we are!

How long does it take to record and edit a book?

It really depends on the length and complexity of the book. A short book can be recorded in a day or less; epic fantasy titles can easily go many weeks in the studio. Many factors affect the edit and all things post. Multi-cast and non-fiction titles are more time-consuming. Another factor is how efficient the reader is, and how well-matched reader and director are working together during sessions.

How is an audiobook made? What are the steps?

After reading through a preview pass and contacting the author, a sense of who I want to hear reading to me will filter up through the pages. There may be a single narrator or several, depending on povs and how the book is laid out. A casting decision is made, a director is assigned, and recording dates are put on the calendar. After recording, the sound editor cuts the raw audio to CD-length sections, then the program goes to quality control for a final audit. If any corrections are needed, the reader(s) will return to record pickups, which are cut in and it’s off to the replicator and download vendors. Of course this is an abbreviated version of what goes on behind the scenes!

What do you love best about your job?

Looking for and finding the perfect voice(s) for a book. Great reviews certainly don’t hurt!

And now for the giveaway!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Just in case you haven’t heard the news about an upcoming movie called Suffragette, let me fill you in.  The movie is about a young suffragette named Maude (played by Carey Mulligan) who turns militant when peaceful protest starts falling on deaf ears.  Meryl Streep will play Emmeline Pankhurst and I hear she’s going to be giving one of Mrs. Pankhurst’s historic speeches.  Also in the film are some of my favorite British actors and actresses.  All are incredible in historic roles—Helena Bonham Carter, Romola Garai (who was fabulous in The Crimson Petal and the White), Brendan Gleeson, Anne-Marie Duff, and Samuel West. It’s directed by Sarah Gavron and written by Abi Morgan. I chatted with Dr. Helen Pankhurst, Emmeline Pankhurst’s great granddaughter, a few days ago and she told me that she and some of the other Olympic opening ceremony suffragettes were going to be extras.  I’m so happy for her.  What a great experience that will be.

When I first started writing A MAD, WICKED FOLLY I always pictured Carey Mulligan in the role of Vicky (these days I go back and forth  between Mulligan and Bel Powley) so I was even more excited when I heard she was playing Maude.  The filming started on Monday and a few pictures were released.  I really like this one of Mulligan climbing onto a horse bus because it’s exactly the thing that Vicky took when she was rushing to meet Will.  Vicky discovered how slow it was and Will taught her how to use the Underground.

I cannot wait to see this, and I’m telling you right now I’d give just about anything to be an extra suffragette in this movie! Votes for women!  I’ll yell the loudest.  Promise.

Carey Mulligan as Maude in Suffragette

Carey Mulligan as Maude in Suffragette

 

A good example of the traffic scene in Vicky's era.

A good example of the traffic scene in Vicky’s era.

 

Carey Mulligan on the top of the horse bus

Carey Mulligan on the top of the horse bus

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I don’t know about you, but for me, the best gifts are the ones that are heartfelt. The ones you know the giver thought a lot about and searched high and low until she found it—that perfect thing she knows you’ll love. Receiving a gift like that, however big or small, is magical.

Recently at my book launch my Aunt Shirley sent me a beautiful bouquet of flowers and made sure they arrived at the launch.  My niece, Ashley, sent me orchids.  I felt like a ballerina after a debut when she receives that giant bunch of roses at the curtain call.  Also my aunt made me this awesome scrapbook page.

Art by Aunt Shirley

Art by Aunt Shirley

 

At the same party my parents gave me bookends in the shape of a mermaid, a nod to Vicky’s favorite painting A Mermaid.  I’ll treasure them forever and each time I look at them I’ll think about my book party and how happy I was.

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Which brings me to William Fletcher and Victoria Darling.  Will is Vicky’s art model and collaborator and when Vicky’s birthday arrives he surprises her with a gift.  I should mention that Will is a working class boy, a police constable without a lot of money.  And Vicky is an upper class girl, the daughter of a wealthy industrialist, who has everything she could ever want, every material thing, that is.  So what could William Fletcher get Victoria Darling for her birthday that she doesn’t already have? Will being Will found her the perfect thing.

 

SPOILER ALERT! Don’t go any further if you haven’t read A MAD, WICKED FOLLY yet and don’t want to know what the gift was.   Instead enjoy this kitten valentine…

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And this cute picture of a boy feeding goats…

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Excerpt from A MAD, WICKED FOLLY

“Happy birthday!” Will said when I reached him.  He handed me a small parcel wrapped in brown paper and tied with a green ribbon.

“Will! You didn’t have to do this.”

“I wanted to.  It’s just a little thing.”

He watched carefully as I undid the package.  Inside was slim volume of the poems of Tennyson.

“Turn to page twelve,” Will said.

I found the page, and there was the mermaid poem.  Above the poem was an illustration, a woodcut of Waterhouse’s A Mermaid.  The illustration was signed JW Waterhouse.

Without any warning, tears filled my eyes.  No one had ever given me such a kind and thoughtful gift before.  I pictured Will going into the shop, looking over the books, and then discovering the very one he knew I would love.  I even pictured him watching as the clerk wrapped the volume in brown paper.  I wondered if the clerk had tied the green bow on it or if Will had gone into a notion shop and chosen it himself.  These were all small things, but kindness was built of small things.

So in honor of Valentine’s Day I’m giving page 12 away to 20 lucky people. Leave a comment about your favorite gift you’ve ever received or given.  The first 20 commenters will get the page.  Send me your address through the contact me form and I’ll send you page twelve from Will.

Will's gift to Vicky

Will’s gift to Vicky

The Mermaid by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Mermaid by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The mermaid sketch was done by my very talented dad, W.R. Biggs

My dad and a couple of suffragettes

My dad and a couple of suffragettes

 

 

 

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Rafflecopter has spoken and chosen the five winners of my Folly Friday giveaway! Thanks to everyone who entered and spread the word about the giveaway.  And thanks to Jen Parrish, of Parrish Relics, who designed the beautiful Waterhouse A Mermaid necklace.  And to my father, W.R. Biggs, whose sketch of A Mermaid adorns my launch party t-shirts, postcards, and temporary tattoos.  If you want to know my about my very talented dad or get in contact with him, visit him at Biggs Violin.  Here is a fabulous video of my dad in his shop, created by the equally fabulous team of Striking Media UK .

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Hi everybody!  I want to take this Folly Friday to express my gratitude to my agent, John M. Cusick, my editor, Leila Sales, and all the people at Viking who took a chance on my little historical.  And to Janet Stark and Katharine McEwan of Listening Library/Random House who did an amazing job with the audiobook. And another huge thank you to the bloggers who graciously took on the task of reading a historical by an unknown writer.  The reviews have been so beautiful and heartfelt and I can’t thank you enough. I hope to someday meet you all in person and give you a hug. I wish you could all come to my launch party tomorrow but because many of you can’t, please don’t forget to enter the giveaway here: Mad, Wicked Giveaway.

I can’t forget my family and friends either. I couldn’t have done this without you.

My book launch yesterday was fabulous; best day of my life. Thank you!

 

 

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