Veronica Wolff

At the end of the movie “I Don’t Know How She Does” (based on the novel by Allison Pearson) the Greg Kinnear character describes his wife (played by Sarah Jessica Parker) as “a juggler.” Words which I find very apropos of my own life these days. I’m very fortunate that Mélanie’s temperament and my own schedule make easier than I had anticipated to keep up with my writing schedule while being a mom. But it is a juggling act. Whether that means balancing a baby against my shoulder or nursing while I type one-handed, spoonimg applesauce while I brainstorm with writer friends, doing a book reading aware on the edge of my consciousness of some tiny squeaks as a friend walks with Mel at the back of the room, holding her asleep in my lap on the red eye while I edit on my iPad, having lunch with my agent and editor with Mel asleep in her carrier beside me.

I think it’s fortunate that my writing process has always involved lots of thinking and mulling time. I was talking today with Veronica Wolff, a wonderful writer, fabulous mom, and great friend, about how we can both only write so many words before before inevitably we need to ponder how to handle a transition, a plot development, an upcoming scene (it’s amazing how something as simple as getting a character into or out of the room can stymie one). And a lot of this mulling is subconscious, so I often find I can work through whatever writing issue is plaguing me during a break with Mélanie.

Of course some things fall by the wayside. Some days I don’t look at social media at all. And others days when I find the one thing I can accomplish while tending to a fussing baby is updating Facebook and Twitter (fairly easy to do one-handed). Some nights I wonder how writing a book with a baby can seem entirely do-able but fixing dinner with one can seem an insurmountable challenge. And as for my house – well, my friends can attest that I was inclined to let housework go when on a deadline even pre-Mélanie :-).

There are days when I feel I’m not getting anything done. But Mel is seven months old and somehow I’ve finished a book, written a novella, and started on a new book (wrote the opening scene today). Even the days when I only write a few hundred words add up over the course of a week or a month.

This weekend I visited the Stanford campus with friends and showed Mélanie where Mummy was an undergrad. We went to the History Department, where I learned so much that helps me as an historical novelist. But thinking back to those days of balancing classes, rehearsals, an honors thesis, my first novel (which I was co-writing my mom while in school), I realized that the art of juggling is something else I took away from my university years.

How do you balance different elements of your life, whether it’s writing or parenthood or other elements? I’m planning to make posts about writing and motherhood a regular feature on my blog along with posts about the craft of writing.

In keep with the theme, Mélanie/Suzanne writes to Isobel Lydgate about the challenges of parenting in this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition.

My good friend, the fabulous writer Veronica Wolff, with whom I often share very productive writing dates, is an accomplished author of Scottish historical romance (that’s Veronica above her wonderful husband Adam and me at my holiday party). But this month she has a new venture. A young adult novel, The Isle of Night, the first book in The Watchers series.

When Annelise left for college, it meant good riddance to her abusive father and stepmother—until a bureaucratic screw-up left her without a diploma, flat broke, and facing an uncertain future Then she met Ronan—tall, dark, and way too seductive for her own good. He promised Annelise a new life, if she had the courage to chance the unknown. One look at him and she certainly had the desire. Sure enough, accepting rides from strangers does yield surprises.

Whisked away to a mysterious island in the North Sea, Annelise is pitted against other female recruits in tests of skill, smarts, and strength. To win is to become a member of the Watchers, an elite and unique partnership—with vampires—that dispatches its teams on the most dangerous missions imaginable. It’s not exactly what Annelise had in mind for a new beginning but it’s livelier than the alternative. Because on the Isle of Night, to lose the challenge doesn’t just mean dishonor. It means death.

Let the games begin.

In talking to Veronica, I was intrigued to learn that one of the inspirations for the Watchers was the television show Alias. It makes sense that Alias would inspire a story of a young woman thrust into a world of danger and adventure. With its intricate spy plots, multi-generational conspiracy, and couples frequently on opposite sides, Alias was also an inspiration for the Charles & Mélanie/Malcolm & Suzanne books. I love how the same inspiration can lead to very different sorts of books.

Isle of Night has been getting some fantastic advance praise:

“Isle of Awesome.” – Young Adult Books Central

“…one of the most dangerous, romantic, and exciting paranormal YA titles I’ve read all year.” – All Things Urban Fantasy

“Veronica Wolff’s world is a heady combo of terrifying and seductive… Annelise’s journey from brainy to fearsome is fantastic, and if you like your vampires old-school scary, fear not: Wolff’s have real bite.” – Rachel Caine, Internationally bestselling author of the Morganville Vampires series

Here’s a brief taste of this fascinating story and world:

“My name is Claude Fournier, but you shall call me Headmaster Fournier.” He strolled along the length of the platform. “We use many formal terms of address. Tradition, you see, is the cornerstone on our isle, and though many of you might find our manners…passé”—he gave a little flourish with his hand—“if you embrace the old ways, you will soon find yourself a much improved young lady.”

Young lady? Something was wrong here.

“Our old ways, you see, are quite old.” He gave us a wicked pouting smile that made my instincts jangle in warning. “We live by a code. Only those who abide by our principles, succeed. Our standards are high, our expectations, higher. But a few will exceed expectations. They are the girls who shall flourish.”

What sort of school was this? All this talk of manners and traditions—something was definitely amiss.

“You see”—he paused dramatically—“we are Vampire.”

Some primal instinct in the back of my mind warned me to be very, very careful. I held still, expectantly, and I watched.

The chatter exploded again, but this time a broad laugh pealed above the din. It was Mimi.

Headmaster Fournier grew still as stone. His eyes swept the crowd—dancing over me for one chilling moment—and then rested on Mimi. “Do I amuse you?”

“Yeah,” she said, sounding bored.

“Then please”—he stretched out his hand—“come join me…” He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her name.

“Mimi.” She held her mouth open on the word as though too annoyed even to shut it.

“Girls, make way for your fellow student.” His indulgent tone of voice scared me more than the word vampire had. It was the sound of an adult ready to give someone a lesson.

Fournier took her hand, guiding her onto the stage. When he spoke again, it was gently, and only to her. It felt like we were spying on an intimate moment. “As I was saying, we are Vampire.”

She pulled her hand from his, shaking her head in disgust. “I seen some effed-up shit in Miami, pero esta casa de putas? Count me out, man.”

The next part happened so fast, at first my brain didn’t register what my eyes were seeing. And even when I got what I saw, it took me a few heartbeats to get it get it. I stared, frozen, from the inside out.

Mimi hung limply in Headmaster’s arms. Because he’d just shredded her belly up the middle.

He grinned at us with bloody lips, and I spotted one inhumanly long, razor-sharp tooth as it caught on the corner of his mouth.

A few heartbeats of silence, and then the girls began to scream.

Not me, though. I’d weathered casual cruelty before. It was random and merciless, and I knew not to court it. I forced my breath to draw in, then out. I imagined myself as inconspicuous as possible.

Eyja næturinnar. It was an island of darkness. I would fit in here.

Because if I didn’t, I’d die.


You can see a fabulous trailer for Isle of Night here.

Veronica will be giving away a copy of Isle of Night to one of the commenters on this week’s blog. Do you have a favorite vampire story? Did you watch Alias? Can you see how it could have inspired both Veronica’s and my series?

By the way, this week’s Fraser Correspondence letter is Lady Frances’s response to Geoffrey Blackwell’s letter last week about his betrothal to Aline.

Congratulations to Susan, who won the copy of Veronica Wolff’s Devil’s Own and to Sharon who won the ARC of Vienna Waltz. Susan and Sharon, watch for emails from me so I can get your mailing addresses.

As you may know from my posts on Facebook or Twitter, I just got back from a fabulous few day in New York. More on that next week or the week after. Meanwhile, since I’m still catching up, I thought I would revisit a post I did on History Hoydens a few weeks ago on love scenes. As I will through the month, I’ll give a copy of Vienna Waltz away to one of this week’s posters.

As I’ve blogged about before my attitude toward writing love scenes has evolved in the twenty some years I’ve been writing. In fact, I was talking about this last week in New York over a fabulous dinner with Lauren Willig and Cara Elliott. When I first began co-writing Regency romances with my mom, under the name Anthea Malcolm, my friends teased me that our books started very chaste and slowly got more explicit. In our first book, The Widow’s Gambit, the characters barely embraced. In the second, The Courting of Philippa, there were more detailed kisses. In the third, Frivolous Pretence, which focused on an estranged married couple, there was an actual sex scene, though it faded to black. Our fifth book, A Touch of Scandal, had ex-lovers who resumed an illicit affair. Sex scenes were part of the story. I told my mom she had to write them. Our sixth book, An Improper Proposal, was a marriage of convenience story. My mom said, “You have to write one of the sex scenes this time.” I wrote my first draft of the scene on a day when my mom was out shopping. And (this is true, thought it sounds so funny now), I turned down the screen on my computer, so I couldn’t look at the words as I typed them. When my mom got home that night, I said, “Okay, I wrote the scene. Go look at it and tell me what you think. But I don’t want to be there when you read it.”

Oddly enough, after that first scene I stopped being embarrassed about writing sex scenes. I got to find them quite a fun challenge, especially trying to make each one true to those particular characters and that stage in their relationship. But when I wrote Secrets of a Lady, it was quite obvious to me that after the opening interrupted sex scene, Charles and Mélanie were too focused on finding the Carevalo Ring and getting their son back to be stop to have sex. On top of the fact that their relationship is so strained that Charles finds it difficult even to look Mel in the face let alone make love to her. In fact one of the reasons I had Mélanie be attacked fairly early in the story is to break through some of the distance between them so that Charles at least touches her. Their physical contact slowly increases through their desperate adventures in search of the ring and Colin, though they don’t actually even kiss on the lips again.

In Beneath a Silent Moon, (which thematically is in many ways all about sex), Charles and Mélanie do make love fairly early in the story. When I wrote the scene, I automatically faded to black without thinking about it. I did the same with a later love scene in the book. When I posted one of those scenes as an excerpt, I called it an “almost love scene”. Some commenters responded that it actually was a love scene. Which I guess depends upon one’s definition of a love scene and how explicit it needs to be.

Vienna Waltz is also a book very much about sex with all the romantic intrigue going on at the Congress of Vienna. There are several pairs of real life ex-lovers in the book such as Tsarina Elisabeth and Polish Prince Adam Czartoryski and Prince Metternich and Wilhelmine, Duchess of Sagan. On a revision, I realized I needed to make their love affairs more vivid, so I added moments where the characters remember moments and images from their love affairs. I wanted to use tangible, sensual imagery to bring those past love affairs to life. But the actual love scenes in Vienna Waltz between Charles/Malcolm and Mel/Suzanne still fade to black.

Then in my current WIP, a sequel to Vienna Waltz set around the battle of Waterloo, I got to a love scene where without even thinking about it I didn’t fade to black. It still isn’t a very detailed scene, but somehow I knew instinctively that it was important to show how the scene progressed. I surprised myself, because I thought I was done writing love scenes with any detail. When I paused to think about it, I realized that in that scene the dynamic between the two characters was changing and shifting so much through out the scene and the very fact that they made love was so momentous that it was important to see how the scene played out.

How do you feel about sex scenes in the books you read? What makes them work or not? How detailed do you like them to be? Do you think some scenes require more detail than others because of plot and character dynamics? Writers, how do you approach writing sex scenes? Do you enjoy writing them or find them a chore? How much detail do you go into? Does the amount of detail very with the situation of the characters and plot? Has your approach to them changed through the years or with the type of books you write?

Also, be sure to check out another Fraser Correspondence letter from Lady Elizabeth, this time to the young Charles at Harrow.

Veronica, Tracy, and Adam

Thanks to everyone who commented on last week’s post. I’m happy to report that the winner of the Vienna Waltz ARC giveaway is Christine. Christine, watch for an email from me so I can get your contact info and send the ARC on its way.

This week, I have a special guest giveaway from my friend, the wonderful writer Veronica Wolff. Veronica and I often share fun and productive brainstorming sessions and writing dates (a good portion of Vienna Waltz was written during those writing dates). Here’s a bit about the book. That’s Veronica and me and her wonderful husband Adam at my holiday party in the photo above.

Thanks for Veronica’s generosity, I’m giving away copy of her new Scottish historical romance Devil’s Own.

Fifteen years after he was kidnapped and sold into slavery, Aidan returns to Scotland to find the home he knew long gone. His mother, a proper education, a chance at love—gone. All he has now are dreams of vengeance…

Only one woman could restore his tormented heart.

Aidan MacAlpin appreciates the hospitality of his brothers and sisters, but after surviving hell on earth, they feel more like strangers than kin. They could never understand his one ambition: To exact bloody revenge on the bastard who enslaved him all those years ago…

Elspeth Farquharson had already resigned herself to the life of a spinster when she’s hired to tutor dark, brooding Aidan—a real-life hero more enticing than any from her adventure books. If only she could convince this tragic rogue that she’s not the nervous, stuttering bookworm she appears to be. But when Aidan shows her a clue to his tortured past, she’ll be thrust into a dangerous game of passion and deception that will awaken the sexy heroine within—if it doesn’t kill her first…

Thinking about how vividly Veronica brings the Highland Scotland to life prompted me to think about the allure of Scotland as a setting. I’ve always been fascinated by Scotland. Though I have a very polyglot ancestry, my name is Grant, and I do have Scottish ancestors. I fell in love with Scotland when I first visited with my parents at not-quite seven. Later I had the fun of spending two weeks there researching Beneath a Silent Moon. Even in my books that aren’t actually set in Scotland, Charles’s love of Scotland his home Dunmykel is a recurring thread. I love Scottish-set books, from Dorothy Dunnett to Veronica’s and my friend Monica McCarty.

So for this week’s contest, what are your favorite books set in Scotland and why? One commenter will receive a copy of Devil’s Own, another will receive a Vienna Waltz ARC.

This week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter from Raoul (exiled from Scotland as well as England and Ireland) to a young Charles at Harrow. I got a surprising lump in m throat writing it. It brought home what it would be like to have a child one couldn’t claim as one’s own and then to be separated from that child.

Which brings me to my last bit of news. Charles and Raoul’s relationship is an important thread in The Mask of Night. I’m happy to announce that my agent and I are going to release The Mask of Night as a Kindle e-book in late March (hopefully eventually we’ll have it available on other e-book platforms as well). Watch my site for more details, including the cover, which is currently in process. I’m excited reader will finally be able to read Mask, at the same time as Vienna Waltz.

This week, I had a number of occasions to think about the invaluable role writer friends play in a writer’s life. Tuesday, I had a fabulous writing date with Veronica Wolff. We sipped coffee (and later in the day wine), enjoyed her fabulous view of the Pacific Ocean, caught up on families and writing projects, but still managed to spend most of our time working on our laptops. I wrote 2300 words, the most I’ve written so far on any one day for this book, and a *very* good writing day for me on any day. There’s something about working alongside another writer that helps me focus in and be productive.

Wednesday, I had lunch with Anne Mallory, Monica McCarty, and Penny Williamson at the wonderful Café Rouge in Berkeley, celebrating, among other things, Anne’s book For the Earl’s Pleasure being a finalist in Romance Writers of America’s RITA contest and Monica making the NYT list with her latest book, The Chief. That’s another thing about writer friends. They understand just how important it is to celebrate all the good things, because the writer’s life can be very unpredictable.

Wednesday night I went with Monica when she talked to a romance readers group at a Borders in Los Gatos (with some time spent working in the Borders café between lunch and the talk). It was fascinating hearing readers’ insights on the books they’re reading. Then Monica, Veronica, Bella Andre, Jackie Yau, and I had dinner with more writer talk.

Saturday, Penny and I wore hats and went out for tea at the gorgeous Garden Court in the Palace Hotel. Like stepping back in time to the days of art deco (my dad used to go tea dancing at the Garden Court as a teenager). It was a long-delayed celebration for my new book contract (and no less fun for being delayed).

The whole week was a very rejuvenating combination of fun and work. It made me realize yet again how much support and inspiration I get from my writing friends, whether it’s writing together, celebrating successes, or brainstorming plot ideas. I love writing at home with a cup of tea on a gray, rainy day like this one, but I don’t think I could get through a book without the support of my writer friends.

Do you write or work on other projects with friends? Do you find sometimes friends who share your field (whether it’s writing or something else) are the only ones who understand the particular joys and stresses of that field? Does knowing particular writers are friends influence what you think when you read those writers’ books?

I love the holidays. Parties, surprises, decorations, spending time with people one loves. However, in the flurry of shopping, wrapping, tree-trimming, house cleaning, cards, seeing friends and family, it’s hard to find time do much else. Writers, being self-employed, have the advantage of being able to carve out time for holiday preparations. However, that makes it all the easier for holiday preparations to take over one’s life.

One of the ways I wish I was more like Mélanie is her unflappability as a hostess. I’m sure Mel would sail through even the modern version of the holidays effortlessly. Or at least, it would appear effortless. As often with Mélanie, the emphasis is on appearance. I’m having my family over Christmas night (I love hosting holiday events). Ten of us, and everyone brings something, so it’s relatively easy, but I still need to make lots of lists to make sure I’m organized (come to think of it, I’m sure Mel makes lists too). The tree is trimmed, the house is decorated, the decoration boxes (which had rather taken over the house) put away. But I still need to make one more shopping foray to the mall, wrap packages, grocery shop, and clean the house, in around various holiday get togethers in the next week. And somewhere in the midst of all this, I’d like to get some writing done.

I’m inspired by the tweets and Facebook posts from writer friends who are managing to write during the holiday season. My friend Monica McCarty has a January 1st deadline. I’m so impressed with how she’s managing to juggle everything (my mom and I had a January 1st deadline once; it’s the only time I’ve ever worked on December 25th). I’ve finally decided the way to get writing done in the midst of holiday chaos is simply to make oneself carve out time for it. Friends help. Last week I had another writing date with Veronica Wolff. As we did last time, we met at a Border’s café worked for a couple of hours with laptops and lattes, adjourned to lunch, talked a bit, and wrote some more. I got some timeline issues that I’d been struggling with in my current book ironed out and emerged feeling productive and energized. Later in the week, after I’d spent the evening trimming the tree, I sat down in front of it and dove into a new research book.

If you celebrate midwinter holidays, how are your preparations going? How do you find time for writing or other activities in the midst of holiday chaos? I’m thinking of making next week’s post a list of holiday gifts my characters might give each other today, and I’d love some help, so if you have suggestions of what Mel, Charles, David, Simon, Lady Frances, and the others might give each other let me know!

Warmest Midwinter wishes. Tonight I’m going to mark the winter solstice by sitting down at the piano and playing Rodgers & Hart’s “The Shortest Day of the Year.”

And speaking of Midwinter, this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is a letter Raoul writes to Mélanie on December 20, 1812.

I had a great writing date this Friday with my friend and fellow author Veronica Wolff (who writes fabulous, Scottish-set historical romances). We met up in a Border’s café, chatted for a bit and then opened up our laptops and settled in to work over coffee. After a couple of hours, we adjourned to lunch (and treated ourselves to a glass of wine), talked a bit more, and went back to work. By the time we left the restaurant, Veronica had typed “The End” to her current work in progress (she had been working on the epilogue) and I’d written over 2000 words, which for me is amazing. (In general I consider 1000 words a decent day (and I have plenty of 500 or less days), and 1500 excellent.) V and I agreed we definitely have to do this more often–we got a lot done and managed to have fun at the same time.

All of which prompted me to think about the writing process. I think I’m more efficient than I was when I first started writing, because I spend less time staring at the screen. For me, so much of the hard part is getting the words down. As I’ve mentioned before I write my scenes in layers now. The first draft tends to be mostly dialogue, with snippets of action and introspection and bits of setting description. If I’m stuck getting from point A to point B (I used to spend ages staring at the computer screen trying to figure out how to get a character in or out of a door or how to have characters make introductions), I put **** or xyz and jump ahead. Once I have a rough framework down, I go back and flesh out the scene, layering in setting details, physical actions, inner thoughts. Later I’ll do more revising. I usually do an edit when I get to the end of each “Act” of my book and then 2 or 3 revisions after I have a draft (and that’s all before my editor sees it :-)).I think of it like rehearsing a play. You start with a read through, then have blocking rehearsals, and perhaps have sessions of table work where you talk through subtext and motivations. Often all this happens on a taped outline in a rehearsal space with rehearsal props long before the set is finished.

On Friday I was doing a first version of a scene which I’d thought through on my drive to meet Veronica. Part of the reason I was so productive, I think. But I think another part was that being in a different setting helped me focus in. And writing with a good friend provided motivation (have to keep typing away because she is), while at the same time offering the reward of someone to talk to when when we took a break.

Another technique I’ve found lately that helps me focus is to write with movies playing. Yes, I know, it seems it would be just the opposite. But somehow having a movie or tv series on that relates to the era or theme of my book helps me lose myself in the world of my book (of course it’s better if it’s movie/series I know well, so I’m not too distracted). I’ve always written with music playing. This takes it one step further. I don’t always write that way, but I’ve been finding it very effective, particularly when I write in the evening. I curl up with my laptop and tea and escape into my story.

I’d love to hear about other writer’s writing process. Do you have writing dates with friends? Do you find a change of venue (such as writing in a café) makes you more productive? Do you ever write with music or a movie playing? Do you write in layers or do you try to get the scene down perfectly the first time? Non-writers, do you have any questions about the writing process? Does knowing the process behind the books you read interest you?

Speaking of writing, I’ve just posted a Fraser Correspondence letter Charles writes to David about the brewing crisis over Poland and Saxony at the Congress of Vienna.

Driving to meet friends for dinner tonight, I heard an interesting discussion on NPR’s Weekend Edition about writers and websites. It confirmed what I’ve observed among my own writing friends. That websites are becoming seen as more and more essential for writers. And that writers are using websites not just as static promotional pieces but as a dynamic way to engage in a dialogue with readers and to expand the world of their story beyond the pages of the book itself.

One of the things I love about my website is the way it allows me to play in Charles & Mélanie’s world every week. With the Fraser Correspondence I can explore events that happened in the past or “off camera” or get the POV of a minor character or even an historical figure on the action of one of the books (this week’s Fraser Correspondence addition is another letter from Emily Cowper to Harriet Granville about the events of the Glenister House ball which opens Beneath a Silent Moon). I love talking to readers through this blog about my books and other books and book-related topics. Choosing pictures for the Gallery lets me showcase settings from the books and Charles & Mélanie’s world in general. I’m excited to have the Works in Progress section to talk about my books and share bits of them as I write.

I know so many writers who use their websites in creative ways to explore the world of their novels. Candice Hern has a Regency World section filled with fascinating Regency historical information, Collections that showcase Regency clothing and accessories from her own collection, a Regency Glossary, and Discussion Boards. Veronica Wolff also has Forums and a Gallery, with photos of the settings of her books and her own writing life. Monica McCarty has a Special Features section that she describes as “like extras on a DVD.” It includes Cut Scenes from her books, a Picture Book, a Timeline, a Glossary, and other great fiction that bring to life the sixteenth-century Scotland of her books. Lauren Willig has a Behind the Scenes section, Outtakes, and Historical Links.

All of these features allow the authors to enrich the world of the books and sometimes embellish or continue the story beyond the novel (as the NPR story pointed out, a novel has a beginning, middle, and end, but websites allow the author to play with the story and character in myriad directions). What features on authors’ website do you particularly enjoy? What are the implications of websites for the ways authors tell stories and readers respond to them? What would you like to see added to my site? What would help you go through the internet looking glass into Charles & Mélanie’s world?