Thursday, July 28, 2011

Michelle Diener's In a Treacherous Court

This is a day I have been long awaiting! It's my great pleasure to welcome my friend, RWA-WF pal and Magical Musings sister, Michelle Diener, to Brant Flakes to celebrate the release of her fantastic debut novel, In a Treacherous Court (Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster, August 2, 2011)!! I was thrilled, thrilled, thrilled to get an early copy in NYC, and I read it madly from start to finish this week. It's richly written, historically fascinating and has characters so compelling it made even my hours of waiting for jury duty service (a long story for another time...) speed by.

Welcome, Michelle! I'm so glad to have you here ;).

Can you tell us the basic premise of your new book?

I'd love to! It is the story of a woman, Susanna Horenbout, an artist from Ghent (which is in modern-day Belgium, although at the time was in what was known as the Low Countries) who is sent by her father, Gerard Horenbout, one of the most highly regarded illuminators and artists of his time, to work at the court of Henry VIII. And while she is on her journey to get there, she sees and hears something that, if correctly interpreted, could ruin the plans of someone plotting against Henry. So I throw her into incredible danger, and lucky for her, the man who's reluctantly agreed to meet her at Dover and escort her back to London because he's there anyway on business for the King, John Parker, is just the sort of ruthless, hard-edged and intelligent courtier you'd want to have around when someone is trying to kill you. The delightful part of this for me is that some of the story is in fact true. [I was really intrigued by this as well!]

What's one scene from this story you loved writing? And what drew you to the historical fiction genre and to writing about this time period??

I love so many scenes in this book, but probably my favorite one is the second to last scene of the book, when Parker has to ask a favor of the King, and he isn't a man given to asking favors. It was great fun to write.

What drew me to this period (aside from excellent books like the Shardlake series) was Susanna herself. I discovered her in a series called the Uppity Woman series by Vicki Leon – it's a YA history series where Leon devotes a single page each to women she finds in history who the historians conveniently never mention but who played a significant role in their time period. Susanna got a page in Uppity Women of the Renaissance. I loved the idea of a woman artist being sent to Henry by her father to work as a professional in a time when women were not considered professionals, and wanted to learn more. I was lucky, in that Susanna's brother and father joined her later in London and her brother became Henry's official court painter. So art historians have some information on the Horenbout family, and I was able to flesh out as much as I could about Susanna from that.

Who was the first person you told when you got The Call announcing you'd sold your first novel?

I called my husband right away, and then, lucky for me, my mother (and her good friend) were staying with us from the UK (I live in Australia) on holiday, so they heard next. I called my CPs third. :)))

What's your Writer Fantasy--i.e., to see your book make into a feature film, to be on the New York Times bestseller list for 40 consecutive weeks, etc.?

I can so see this book as a movie. I even have the soundtrack worked out, with the Coldplay song La Viva Vida being the main theme song. It fits this book so perfectly, I can't hear it without being completely sucked into the world of my story again. [Oh, I LOVE that song! And, yes, I could see it as part of the movie's soundtrack, too.]

What's a personality trait you love about one of the characters in your novel and why?

This is going to sound weird, but I love how ruthless Parker is. He's deadly. He lives in a violent time, and comes from a dog eat dog background. I love how he looks at a situation, makes a judgement about what needs to be done, and if that means committing violence, he does so without hesitation. It is the edge he often has. While others are still working out what is going on, he's already jumped in. He acts.

Did you go on any special trips to research the setting?

Well, my story is set in London in 1525. So unless someone will give me access to a time machine, I have to rely on heavy research of the book and map kind, rather than in the field. But I know London pretty well, I've lived there for more than a year, if you count up all the months I've spent there (not counting the year I spent there when I was born :)) and I've personally been to many of the places described. One thing I'm so sorry about is that Crooked Lane, where Parker lives, no longer exists. It was destroyed to make way for the new London Bridge. Sniff. I'd love to be able to walk that street today.

Are you involved in any online or in-person writing groups or blogs? (I know you are!!) Have your experiences with them added anything especially positive to your writing journey?

Way back in 2005, my two critique partners, Edie Ramer and Liz Kreger (who are STILL my critique partners) and I set up Magical Musings. It has grown in leaps and bounds since them, and we've added some amazing new co-bloggers along the way (xx to Marilyn, who is one of them). We have an amazing daily readership, and a wonderful community which is growing all the time. I love the connections I've made through the blog, some of which have turned into strong friendships over the years. [xx back, Michelle!! I truly love being a part of it.]

What’s next for you? Is there a new book in the pipeline?

There is another book. IN A TREACHEROUS COURT is the first book in a series of books, all starring Susanna Horenbout and John Parker. The second book is out in February 2012, so only 6 months after the first book, and it's called KEEPER OF THE KING'S SECRETS. [YAY!!]

As you may have guessed, I am already REALLY looking forward to the next one, Michelle! Thank you so much for being here and for sharing a little more about your wonderful new series. Everybody, do yourselves a favor and grab this novel. For those wandering through Target, you'll find copies on their shelves, too (!!), as well as at bookstores and online.

**ETA: Michelle just let me know that her publisher will give away one copy to one commenter living in the U.S., so we'll choose the lucky winner on August 2nd, Michelle's release day!!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Great Books & Fun Things Ahead

I returned from NYC to find page proofs for A Summer in Europe literally waiting for me on my doorstep (!!), so that curtailed my plans to delve into my towering stack of conference novels for a couple of weeks. However, those final edits are safely at Kensington now, and I've been enjoying SEVERAL new novels -- both in print and in ebook form!

Thanks to the lovely Lydia Hirt of Penguin, who gave me a copy of this, I've just begun The Postmistress by Sarah Blake.

The fantabulous Edie Ramer has a brand new sci-fi romance ebook out, Galaxy Girls, which I just downloaded last week and am thoroughly enjoying -- SUCH fun!!!

Our Magical Musings pal, Michelle Diener, has her debut historical fiction novel, In a Treacherous Court, coming out next week, and I'm already midway through this gorgeously written novel. I'm SO glad there will be a Book #2 and a Book #3 in this series... Michelle will be visiting on the 28th to talk about it!

Visiting here on August 2nd is the talented Joan Reeves whose latest ebook romantic comedy, Romeo and Judy Anne, will soon be released. No cover image is available yet, but I can't wait to snap up this book when it's out! (And, for anyone interested in self-publishing, you should read Joan's Sling Words blog.)

I'm also delighted to get to participate in Meredith's Austenesque Extravaganza, which will be coming up August 1st and lasting all month long! I'll be taking part in a Twitter Party on Sunday, August 7th at 3pm Central Time (4pm Eastern), so I'm really looking forward to that.

And, finally, I just got the cover for my second ebook romantic comedy, Double Dipping (yippee!), which will be out at the end of August.

It's the story of opposites colliding when a dedicated second-grade teacher fights the school’s new financial director in order to reinstate a much-beloved autumn festival. But secrets, ambition, attraction and meddling family members complicate matters in their small Midwestern town. The book is part light mystery, part romantic comedy and entirely packed with delectable sweets -- including a step-by-step recipe for making homemade chocolate-cherry ice cream! (I'm sure you're all shocked to learn that I have yet another book that revolves around ice cream, eh? :)

Both this novel and On Any Given Sundae were books I had originally written several years ago and had thoroughly edited (this latest story actually went through a number of incarnations and made it as far as the Harlequin/Silhouette acquisitions board), so I've loved getting to revise these romantic tales and bring them to life at last.

It's also been pretty thrilling to see my SUNDAE book reach new readers and even show up on a few Amazon lists. However, between these two romances and my fall women's fiction book, I can tell you that my 2011 publishing plate is now full! I'd always respected authors who managed to release multiple books in one year, but this was my first experience doing it myself and, wow, has it been busy...

Here's wishing you all a relaxing week ahead as we finish out July and head into August! What have you all been reading lately?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

What's in a Name?

Good morning!

I'm at Austen Authors today talking about naming characters and titling books. Is there a favorite book you wish you could rename? If you've written a novel, how many titles did you go through before you ended up with the one you thought was just right? Please stop by AuAu -- I'd love to know ;).

Here, in the Midwest, we're having a heatwave... If it's in the 90s or higher where you are, STAY COOL!!! (You all know my Rx for everything, right? Eat ice cream. ;)

Sunday, July 17, 2011

National Ice Cream Day!

I can't believe I didn't actually have this date on my calendar, circled in red... Thanks to the lovely Jill Thomas, though, I can say that today is National Ice Cream Day, and I have every intention of celebrating it thoroughly!!

Thankfully, our freezer is already stocked with ice-cream sandwiches and a quart of Chocolate Brownie Chunk, but I feel I shouldn't be neglecting other favorite flavors on this special day...so we're going to have to go shopping and pick up a few more. Maybe a couple of those cute little Ben & Jerry's pints. It's been too long since I've had Phish Food or Chunky Monkey. Or some of Breyer's All-Natural Strawberry. Or Edy's Swiss Chocolate, which is the closest I can get with a national brand to my Madison favorite, Orange Custard Chocolate Chip. (The Edy's is also about 10,000 fewer calories per serving than the custard...) All I know for sure is that I'm not letting this great excuse for taste testing pass me by today.

In On Any Given Sundae news (which is far too easy to segue to given the day ;), I was thrilled to find out that the book hit Amazon's Bestsellers in Humor list for the first time yesterday! It's been hovering around the mid-60s in that Top 100. And in a more specific list -- Humor books that are Fiction, Romantic and Contemporary -- it's holding at #5 on Amazon right now...which is to say, THANK YOU!! It wouldn't be anywhere close without your help, supportiveness and enthusiasm. XOXOX

So, I know we've talked about favorite ice cream flavors before (this is not a topic that ever gets old, IMO), but have you tried any new ones recently? Any favorite ice cream creations you've enjoyed this summer? I remember, when I was a kid, we lived near a Bridgeman's Ice Cream Parlor. My favorite flavor there was their Cinnamon -- yum! But I was never old enough (according to my parents) to order their Lollapalooza Ice Cream Sundae, which had 8 scoops of ice cream, whipped cream, 3 cherries and more. I watched in amazement as my aunt ate the whole thing! Well, almost the whole thing. I was about 7 and she gave me one of the cherries. ;) Anyone ever try something like that?!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Around the Web Today...

...I'm at Magical Musings blogging about one big thing I learned (or, perhaps, relearned) at the RWA Conference. Please visit me there if you have a chance!

Also, in honor of the Independence Day celebrations featured in the story, there's a limited time $0.99 SALE going on right now for On Any Given Sundae on Kindle and Nook!! So, if you haven't downloaded it yet but would like to, you've got a special July deal ;).

And, finally, to combat the heat, here's a recipe for a cool summertime drink that I liked and wanted to share, courtesy of Shine:  MIXED-FRUIT SMOOTHIES!
What are your favorite, most refreshing summer drinks??

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The City/Conference That Never Sleeps

One of the major reasons this particular RWA National Conference was different from the seven that came before was not only because I got to visit my publisher's offices for the first time or even because I was a Women's Fiction Mini-Con speaker...but because my husband and son came to The Big Apple with me. Here are the two awesome men in my life standing in the middle of bustling Times Square about an hour after we arrived in NYC.

There was enough visual and auditory stimulation in the heart of Manhattan to throw me into information overload within minutes, but who could resist snapping a photo of a dancing Hershey's Kiss, hmm?!

Our flight touched down at 10am on Sunday morning and, by noon, we were already walking from our hotel toward the Metropolitan Museum of Art. On the way, we saw Radio City Music Hall and a B&N that I vowed I'd return to later...

I hadn't been to the Met since 1996, so this museum was at the very top of my Must-See Sites in NYC list. It was a place I'd fallen in love with on sight back then because of its awe-inspiring collection and sheer massiveness.

I'd been in grad school that year, in the middle of writing my thesis on "Creativity and Culture" and, aside from studying brilliant authors like Jane Austen and musicians like Mozart, I also focused on certain painters, my favorite being Renoir. So, I couldn't wait to see the Met's Impressionists again. Just look at those gorgeous blues!

These instruments were on display, too, and you may not be able to tell from the photo, but they're very small. They were used for instruction and were so fascinating to see in miniature.

After almost four hours of looking at art (and, in my son's case, armor!), we meandered back through Central Park (see those cute little sailboats on the lake) and finally gave in to our son's desire for a cab ride back to the Marriott Marquis.

Monday morning found us visiting Rockefeller Center and going on a tour of the NBC Studios, including the soundstages where David Lettermen and Dr. Oz have their shows, as well as where Saturday Night Live hosts theirs. (We weren't allowed to snap photos in any of these, though!)

We also went up to the top of 30 Rock and got a great glimpse of the Empire State Building from 70 stories high.

Next up, I had a chance to visit Kensington and chat with my lovely publicist (I have a photo of her further down the page at the Lit Signing), as well as a few other very kind staff members, and then I got to trek down to Greenwich Village to the Penguin building to meet my friend, the absolutely wonderful Lydia Hirt (see photo to the right). After two years of emails and phone calls, it was such a pleasure to finally get to talk with her in person!!

Lydia and I visited Washington Square Park and the famous arch that I remembered and loved from one of my all-time favorite films, "When Harry Met Sally..." So cool to see it right in front of us!

Then to dinner at a delicious little Thai place Lydia knew about, complete with mojitos, which were minty and very tasty. Even they couldn't top the wonderful night of conversation, though ;).

The evening sped by and it was Tuesday before I could blink twice. This was a day I had long been anticipating, the RWA-Women's Fiction Chapter's first ever Mini-Conference, and it was FANTASTIC. Organized by Maggie Marr and the RWA-WF board (see Michelle Diener and Therese Walsh in the picture with me to the left), we had a terrific two-hour story structure workshop with Michael Hauge. Following this, literary agents Kristin Nelson, Meg Ruley, Andrea Cirillo and editor Shauna Summers spoke to us about the state of women's fiction in the industry today.

I was fortunate to be included on the author panel after that with Megan Crane, Jane Porter, Therese Walsh and Barbara Samuel O'Neal, which was great fun! And, after a break for the Lit Signing and the annual meeting, Juliet Marillier gave an inspiring talk to our group that ended with a truly delightful cocktail reception. There, I got to meet author Erika Robuck for the first time (see photo on right) and chat a bit longer with RWA-WF chapter president Therese Walsh and fellow GH Bond Sister/Kensy author Kristina McMorris. I also finally met Karen Doornebos, Jael McHenry , Ellen Meister and lots of sweet and enthusiastic writers of women's fiction. What an exceptionally well run event!

At the annual Readers for Life Literacy Autographing, I signed copies of Friday Mornings at Nine and gave away According to Jane postcards, excerpts from On Any Given Sundae and excerpts and special luggage tags for A Summer in Europe. It was pretty busy once I got to my seat, but before the big crowd came in, I had a chance to make a couple of quick stops and wave to a few friends.

Fabulous ladies Angi Morgan and Laura Moore were signing side by side.

Chicago-North chaptermates Sarah Shulman and Blythe Gifford look so cute in this photo amidst all of the conference chaos!

I managed to get a quick shot with my good friend Simone Elkeles, who was a RITA finalist this year -- her 3rd time! Who wouldn't love to get one of those cool blue flags?!

Seekerville sweetheart, longtime online friend and Love Inspired author Tina Radcliffe stopped by and I was thrilled to finally get to meet her in person!

Kensington's awesome publicists, Vida Engstrand and Karen Auerbach, paid me a visit and gave me chocolate (for energy, I'm sure!) before they dashed off to share goodies with the other authors.

My son surprised me by popping into the signing (along with my husband) and insisting on helping me get the book excerpts and luggage tags in the hands of passersby. What was originally supposed to be a five-minute visit to say hello turned into three-quarters of an hour as I watched my extraverted son display his sales skills and tap into his inner Vanna White as he showed off my cover flats. Every author should be so lucky to have such an advocate ;).

After Steve Berry, Diana Gabaldon and Tess Gerritsen brightened our Wednesday morning with their humorous opening session panel, we had an impromptu Chicago-North gathering near the stage. (Pictured left to right: Cici Edward, Nkeiruka Mbah, Pamala Knight, me, Clara Kensie, Karen Dale Harris and Erika Danou)

Wednesday night brought two exciting parties -- the first was the Kensington party held at the office building. Between the gift bags (with books and treats!), roses for all, the chocolate-covered cheesecake on a stick (how did I miss taking a picture of those?!), the fun conversation with authors and staff, and the VERY attractive men serving us things like macaroni-n-cheese truffles (so good it actually rivaled the cheesecake...), the evening was off to a great start.

I got to see Vida Engstrand there (see left), who was majorly involved in organizing the event. And I walked over to it with a group of really lovely ladies, including Addison Scott, Jackie Ivie, Kristina McMorris, Mingmei Yip and Kate Douglas (pictured with me above).

Kate, Kristina and I headed over to the Algonquin Hotel after that for the PASIC party -- and round two of delicious drinks and desserts, along with some good conversation and a chance to catch up with a few people I'd seen just in passing. I enjoyed chatting with editor Peter Senftleben, Barbara Vey from Publishers Weekly (she and I kept running into each other everywhere!) and Stephanie Klose from Romantic Times, whom I'd loved working with back when I was an RT reviewer. It was a fun but very late night!

Thursday morning came and I was starting to get a little bleary-eyed from all the activity. There weren't many occasions for breaks, but when I had a half hour here or there, I visited with my peeps, including good friends Karen Dale Harris, Laura Moore and Erika Danou. (We went out on the town for a Chinese dinner one night that was just scrumptious!)

My Magical Musings pals had a Thursday breakfast together, and it was wonderful! I so enjoyed getting to chat a bit more with Michelle Diener, who'd flown in from Australia (!!) and to finally meet in person Amy Atwell and Liz Kreger (all pictured left). I found myself wishing our whole MM gang could be together that morning, though... Edie Ramer, Misty Evans, Cynthia Eden, Karin Tabke Harlow, Lori Brighton, Dale Mayer and Maria Geraci -- we missed you all!

Thursday afternoon was our Spencerhill Associates agency party and a chance to meet some very warm and funny authors. On Friday, I got to listen to an inspiring PAN workshop (given by Jenny Crusie) with two fabulous women and talented YA writers, Jennifer Echols and Maureen McGowan. So glad to get to talk with them again! (They're pictured with me on the right. They look great. I look ready for a nap. ;)

That night was the long-awaited Golden Heart and RITA Awards Ceremony, and our Chicago-North friend Ruth Kaufman was up for a GH in the Inspirational Romance category...and she won!! We couldn't have been more excited for her! (Pictured on left: me, Karen Dale Harris, Ruth Kaufman, Erika Danou, Laura Moore and Beverly Long)

Also at the ceremony were literary agent Kristin Nelson and her assistant Anita Mumm, who both looked gorgeous!

Karen, Erika and I also caught up with Michael Hauge following the ceremony and had fun getting in a few last questions on novel structure before we ladies headed up to The View restaurant and bar at the top of the hotel.

Upstairs, we met up with our friends, two of the young adult RITA nominees of the night, Heather Davis and Simone Elkeles. (Pictured to the right: Heather, Simone, Karen, Heather's agent Stephen Barbara and her editor Julie Tibbott)

The four of us -- after midnight -- ambled downstairs to say goodnight and wish each other safe travels for our separate journeys home.

On our last morning (Saturday), my husband, son and I went to that B&N I'd wanted to visit on Fifth Avenue, I found my latest novel there and I got to sign stock in Manhattan before flying to Chicago. Whew!! It was a really incredible (enjoyable, exciting, exhausting...) trip and I am -- I'll admit -- glad to be back home, if only so I can finally get some sleep!!

And so ends another RWA National Conference...until next year in Anaheim...where I'm hoping I might see some of you whom I didn't get to hug in person this year. Hope you all had a wonderful week, too ;).

Sunday, July 3, 2011

I'm baaa-ckkk!

Though seriously sleep deprived!

NYC was, not surprisingly, an amazing experience. I've got LOTS of pictures and will be putting together a photo-packed blog post about the RWA conference that will go up this week. But, for now, I have 2 quick announcements before giving in to my overwhelming need to nap:

1. The wonderful Leah E. Krygowski from Chicklit Club, read On Any Given Sundae and wrote a lovely review for it, which is here!

2. Tomorrow's the 4th of July... For everyone celebrating in the States, Happy Independence Day!!! Hot dogs and apple pie for all ;).

Hope everyone had a great week and looking forward to sharing news of the trip soon!!