Monday, April 14, 2014

My Book Review Turns Into A Love Letter But I Regret Nothing, Dr. Helen Castor

I just finished SHE-WOLVES: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth. It was outstanding, gripping, and educational, so I sat down to dash off a quick note to the author. And then this happened.

* * *

Dear Dr. Castor,

I just finished your wonderful book, SHE-WOLVES: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, and had to write you to rave. Also, I'm pretty annoyed at you because my book bill is about to go sky-high(er) and frankly, you might want to think about starting fundraisers for your readers, because I doubt I'm the only one with this problem.

I've been into the Tudors for years, especially Henry VIII and his wives, long before Showtime cast a slender brunette of medium height to play Henry. I read everything about them I could find and eventually started to get Tudor-ed out (there were only so many takes on Ann Boleyn's fall, and Henry's growing sociopathy and waistline, before I needed a break). So I started reading about the gang who came before (Henry VI, Edward  IV, Richard III) and the Wars of the Roses, which is how I discovered Margaret of Anjou. In a word: whoa! (It's wrong that I want to see her and Elizabeth I in a cage match, right?) I couldn't believe the woman's courage, audacity, determination, and focus. So I started reading books about the Wars specifically to find out more about Margaret, though I also loved reading about Warwick losing his *hit when King Edward had the audacity to a) choose his own queen and b) be king. Which is how I ended up with SHE-WOLVES.

I'm embarrassed to say it sat in my TBR pile for a year. It wasn't entirely my fault--my eldest started college which I dealt with by re-reading all her favorite YA novels ("Remember reading the last Harry Potter book?" "I remember you wouldn't let me near it until you finished it, Mom, you harpy." "Oh the memories!"), and I got hooked on WORKAHOLICS, which is a terrible American comedy that is my walk of shame. Then I went through a graphic novel phase. (All right: another graphic novel phase. I go through about four a year. Don't judge me.) Then Philippa Gregory's THE WHITE QUEEN hit TV and reminded me how much I loved learning about the House of York, whose tenacity and courage was only exceeded by their inability to not devour each other.

Once the TV show had run its course, I remembered there was another kind of TV: books! And there was SHE-WOLVES, where it had held pride of place on my bookshelf for a year, nestled snugly beside Stephen King's DR. SLEEP and back issues of Fine Cooking magazine (I highly recommend the grilling issue!). When I picked up SHE-WOLVES, I was tempted to start at the end:  with Margaret's story, since she was the reason I bought the book in the first place. Then I thought, well, Dr. Castor is probably going somewhere with Matilda and Eleanor of Aquitaine and Isabella of France. (I'm embarrassed to admit I only knew of Eleanor from being played by Glenn Close in a remake, and the only royal Isabella I knew of was Catherine of Aragon's mother, and the only famous Matilda I knew of was from Roald Dahl's book. I've got to stop telling you things I'm embarrassed about. I need to keep my humiliation to myself.) Their stories, I figured, might be relevant to Margaret's, or why else would you include them? On the other hand, why would you do any of the things you do? I don't know you. You could be an enigma. Or a Tory. (They still have those in England, right?) So maybe you had a plan when you included queens who weren't Margaret. Or maybe you didn't. I had nothing to go on, and in the end, I figured if their stories didn't grab me I'd just skip to Margaret.

Which brings me to my increasing book budget, since of course you made Matilda and Eleanor and Isabella pretty much leap off the page (a good trick in those medieval gowns). By the time you got to the White Ship disaster I was hooked--and that was only page 26! Of all the dumb ways for Henry I to lose his heir! The guy conquered Normandy but lost his son when a bunch of drunks tried to steer a ship through a rock, which was probably the twelfth century equivalent of losing your kid to a party bus crash. All that before we even got to Matilda, who proved that her father didn't just pass the badass gene to his son. 
And then Eleanor of Aquitaine!  History should just rename her Eleanor, Never To Be Messed With, and get it over with. She makes pretty much everyone who wasn't queen of at least two countries look like a slack-ass. Queen of France? Sure, but not enough of a challenge. Also, the king of France was great if you like amiable eunuchs, which she didn't, so buh-bye, King Louis. Queen of England? Sure, why not, she got all her queen practice out of the way in France. Oh, the king of England would like his line to continue? Sure, Eleanor says, here are five sons and three daughters. Go nuts. Eleanor was on board with pretty much everything King Henry II needed done, as long as she didn't have to choose between her sons and her husband. Oh. Whoops. Well, at least she didn't have to pay the price by being imprisoned for over aoh. Whoops. 
But then! Henry, known throughout history as King Grouchypants, was kind enough to die of a fever, leaving his son Richard in charge. King Richard made Son Of The Century by basically saying, "Mom, I gotta go force my religion on people I've never met who've never done me any harm, so: heeeeere's England! Have fun running the place." The Crusade thing was annoying, but as a mom, I appreciated his "no, really, my mom can have whatever she wants, including England, so stop bugging me because I have to go repress another culture" attitude. Eleanor did more in her last decade than I've done in three, which I should resent, but mostly I just admire.
Then:  Isabella, married to a paranoid crybaby who held grudges like dragons store treasure, a guy who had no interest in letting his wife into his man cave (figuratively as well as literally). Nightmare. Isabella of France should be studied and admired solely for not strangling Edward II before their first anniversary. I know the movie BRAVEHEART is riddled with inaccuracy, but whenever I picture Edward II, I picture the weasel-face actor who played him, and I just want to punch things. Things like his face. Also, Isabella of France should be renamed Isabella of Awesome. So:  Isabella of Awesome got to watch her husband/king do the medieval equivalent of passing notes in class to a guy he had a crush on, except instead of passing notes he was passing tons of land and money and titles. But at least Piers Gaveston, King Weasel-Face's man-crush, was mature and dignified and didn't use his influence to…yeah, I can't finish that sentence without giggling. But then Piers bit the big one, courtesy of the medieval equivalent of high school teachers cracking down on kids passing notes: they ran him through and cut off his head. That would teach King Edward II to pass notes! Except it didn't. 
Queen Isabella decided deja vu all over again wasn't acceptable, so she put on the medieval equivalent of big girl panties and deposed King Weasel-Face and arranged a nasty death for Hugh Despenser (or as I call him, Piers Gaveston 2.0), and if she'd stopped there it would have been terrific but if she'd stopped there, she wouldn't be Isabella, Stomper of Weasel-Face. She went too far and had her ass handed to her (politely), but lived to tell the tale. The worst thing I can say about her is that she shouldn't have been surprised to find Edward III was his mother's son. 
Finally, the reason I bought your book, Margaret of Anjou. By then, my Amazon wish list had increased by 12 books (damn you, Dr. Castor!) and I hadn't even finished SHE-WOLVES. And yep, by then I'd realized you had a plan when you told Matilda, Eleanor, and Isabella's stories first, because even I, with my American high school education, lack of college, and gross amount of TV watching (Do they have Game of Thrones in England? It's terrific.), could see the parallels in their lives. As a fan of watching medieval royal houses pretty much eat each other, I loved Margaret's story. As a mom, I ached for her when the one time she let her son leave her side and fight, he died. In battle, fighting for his father's crown, if that comforted her. It wouldn't have comforted me, but I wouldn't have lasted a week in any of their courts. There's a reason there isn't a book called SHE-BITCH: Why MaryJanice Davidson Should Never Have Been Allowed To Write.
Which brings me to…well, me. I'm fortunate enough to be published; most of my books are romantic comedy and paranormal chick-lit, and I threw some YA books in there, too, for the heck of it. When I'm on deadline I like to read the opposite of what I'm writing. So I'd ask myself, what is the literary opposite of a fluffy romantic comedy where everything works out perfectly for the feisty heroine…medieval English history! Emphasis on queens in a primitive patriarchy where you could get put to death for picking your nose in church! Where often nothing worked out and if you got a splinter it sometimes killed you! Perfect. Which is how I started with the Tudors and, a decade later, found SHE-WOLVES. 
All that to say your book was wonderful and I'm assuming you are, too. I've got BLOOD AND ROSES on the way via Amazon, and I have my fingers crossed you're taking a break from writing another wonderful book to read this. Scratch that: I hope you're taking a break from finishing another wonderful book. Like, reading the galleys finished. It's about to be published finished. Because I'm hooked, and I've got to have more. You showed me an entire area of history I'd willfully ignored for years; I'm kind of hoping you'll be able to teach me trigonometry next. Many, many, many thanks.
Warmest regards,
MaryJanice Davidson

Sunday, March 30, 2014

My Son Is Growing Up And I'm Never Leaving The Bathroom

Because I have a wonderful job, we have a cabin within the mysterious dark woods of that savagely beautiful land, Wisconsin. And because Wisconsin, like Minnesota, lost a bet with God just before winter started, we couldn't wait to get up there for spring break. Ah, calendar spring: the lying whore of all calendar seasons. Because "spring" brought snow showers, freezing winds, and more road kill than usual, probably because the deer had a meeting and said, "Oh, the hell with this. Let's just end it, I dunno about you guys, I'm not interested in freezing to death. Just pick an SUV or a truck, or a car with a Massachusetts license plate. It'll be over quick."

All that to say I was looking forward to a bit of spring hibernation in between bouts of cooking (all comfort food, natch: pork roasts and baked potatoes and broiled salmon and garlic bread and brownies and warm white chocolate pudding and in between meals piping hot tea and hot chocolate with whipped cream and it's so weird how I always gain weight in winter, must be a metabolism thing totally beyond my control).

I failed to take my disobedient son's flagrantly disrespectful actions into account. There I was, trying to have a nice "spring" vacation with my family, and there he was, growing up. Little jerk (who now comes up to my shoulder). After his sister had the gall to turn eighteen and go to college, I'd made it clear I wouldn't accept his willful growing any longer. Anyway, I'd decided to run to the store for milk and jerky and Havarti cheese with dill (my daughter's Kyrptonite), and had no idea what I was setting into motion with my casual, "You guys need anything from the store?"

"Yeah," my husband said without looking up. "Could you pick up a razor and a small can of shaving cream for Liam?"


(If I'd been a software system I'd be all DOES NOT COMPUTE followed by the blue screen of death. I would stump even the lackwits of the Apple Genius bar. They'd never be able to restore me! I'd have to be scrapped for parts!)

"For…a play?"  I know, duh, right? But honestly, it was the first thing I thought of. He's always asking for weird things for plays and other annoying school activities (see previous blogs and FB updates about his desire for a Johnny Cash hat and gourmet peanut butter and notarized marching band forms and do not getting me started on the marching band thing again). "Is he teaching someone how to shave for a play?"

"No," was the careful reply, the way you talk to someone who's inherently unstable but who brings you sandwiches and tea:  dangerous, but usually to be placated. 

"Oh. Okay. Sure. No problem. I'll just go out and get that. Those things he asked for. That you asked for on his behalf. Which is totally fine and not threatening to me at all because my kids growing up doesn't mean I'm headed for crone-ville. I'm going to the store, do you need anything? I've said all these things out loud, haven't I?" Fortunately my family is well used to my psychoses and wasn't at all rattled. I was rattled enough for all of us. 

Never have I taken more time to get to the last item on my list. I was looking at vegetables I wouldn't feed a dog, pretending to consider buying them and feeding them to our dogs (you know who you are, celery, you fibrous demon-spawn). I pondered birdseed even though there was literally five feet of snow between the closest bird feeder and my rattled ass. I gave serious thought to stocking up on liverwurst, the single most vile wurst in the history of wurst. 

But I couldn't cower in the wurst aisle forever, and not just because the stock boy was rattled by the way I kept muttering, "I can't even bring myself to touch you, wurst, you filthy wurst! How can I think about buying wurst when I can't touch wurst? Damn you, wurst, you and your wurst ways make me physically sick."

I left the aisle before the stock boy could hit 9 and 1 and then clutch his phone as he waited for me to go supernova so he could hit the last 1, and was soon staring at the small selection of razors. It was only fitting that the first I noticed was Mach III, spawn of a hundred stupid commercials. Why would any man want to put a small rocket, complete with flammable rocket fuel, on his face? Mach III, what the hell drives your marketing team? I have so many questions for you. Anyway, no Mach III. Gillette? The Best A Man Can Get? No, I need the Best (or at least Not The Worst) a teenage boy can get. Daisy? No, that wasn't just potentially emasculating (although to give my son credit, he gives not a shit for colors as gender definers), I often went out of my way to avoid buying anything pastel pink. 

So the generic Family Home Razors it was. Now for the shaving cream…oh, the hell with it, Family Home Shaving Cream, too.

So I bought them, but I was furtive so the clerk wouldn't catch on to the fact that I was aging BEFORE HIS VERY EYES as evidenced by my treacherous son. I buried the shaving stuff among condoms and whole milk and lube and spray cheese and fireworks and horse porn and Ritz crackers so he wouldn't think I was weird. And then I drove home, thinking it was really good I hadn't run into any Cumberland library staff. They had invited me to give a talk at the library that summer, an invitation that would instantly be rescinded if they got a good look at my whole milk and horse porn. 

But all my fretting seemed to be for nothing. I wordlessly set down the Family Home Shaving Cream and Family Home Razors beside my son, who was so busy chewing strawberry Hi-Chews (long story, but my kids love exotic candy from foreign lands) he could only grunt. I speak fluent teenager, though, and knew "Uggnn nnnfff" meant "That is simply marvelous, Mother, and I thank you also for going to the trouble."

And that was it! The Family Home Shaving Stuff disappeared (along with the Ritz and the spray cheese) and apparently we were doing a "let us never speak of this again" thing. Yay! Usually we only did that when I bought cookie dough that was not only devoured within hours, but never got anywhere near an oven. We're all into it. We're all ashamed. We all decided to never speak of it again.

Except later that night, I couldn't find my husband and son, but I could hear them. Not words, but the timbre of their voices and that was another thing I'd had to get used to. My son's voice was changing, rapidly downward. He often practiced speeches or runs through dialogue in his room, which is next to ours, and though I can't make out the words I can hear the rumble of his voice. I won't lie; I found this startling at first, and may have…

"I don't know who the HELL you ARE but I am about to yank your spinal cord out your ASS and STRANGLE YOU WITH IT! Get away from my--"


"--precious wittle baby boy whose innocent wittle--oh.  Sorry."

"Third time this week, Mom. Get a grip."

…overreacted. Which is something I never, ever do normally, so that should tell you the level of my startlement. 

I followed the rumbling downstairs to the kids' bathroom and there was my husband going over Shaving 101 with my precious wittle baby boy. I was there for the tail end of it…

"And once you get the bleeding stopped, and change your shirt again, you're ready to go out."

…and it was just as well. If I'd been there for much more, I'd have made a real fool of myself, what with all the comments along the lines of "my baby is becoming a man!" and protracted sobbing and taking away the spray cheese. Also, if anyone needs me, I'll be curled in a fetal position in the bathtub, which I may or may not fill with spray cheese. Wake me when it's Christmas.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

I Endure So Much Weird In Tucson, Which Is Awesome, And So Is Isaac Marion

I've whined before about the ungodly amount of snow Minnesota has been enduring and other places, too, but I don't live in other places, I live in Minnesota, so that's what I'm bitching about. What I'm not bitching about is the Tucson Festival of Books, which would have been terrific even if it hadn't taken place in a beautiful desert locale. Also, I'm as pale as a trout's belly and normally find deserts horrifying, except this winter. Because, as above: ungodly amount of snow.

I was in it to win it the second the plane touched down, like people who spend thousands on a cruise but aren't sure they should have, so they are determined to have fun NO MATTER WHAT. Which is fine, and good for them, but they can be shrill. OH MY GOD, UNLIMITED SODA! WE CAN EAT ALL WE WANT SO I DON'T EVEN CARE ABOUT THE HUGE LINE OR THE EARLY MORNING WAKE-UP CALL ON THE LAST DAY! Yep, okay, settle down, glad you're having fun but that was right in my ear. Again. 

All that to say I was determined to have fun, so as I stepped outside I started basking in the lovely warm weather, seventy five degrees of awesome soaking into my creaky frozen bones. "Sorry about this," a native said, vaguely gesturing to the…weather, I guess? The sky? Their soul? My soul? "Cloudy and raining on your first day here, not much fun."

Ha! Idiot. (Well-meaning idiot, so I didn't say that out loud and also, not a good idea to insult your driver when you're in a strange place.) First, it was barely raining, it was closer to a lazy sprinkling. A lackluster sprinkling, like the weather could scarcely be bothered to rain. Second, the sun was behind the clouds, so I didn't care about the cloud-curtain, because I knew the sun would return. Proof the sun was alive, it's aliiiiiive was enough for me. Third, seventy five degrees of awesome soaking into my creaky frozen bones. I'm afraid I giggled all during the ride to my hotel. And not cute giggling, like a college cheerleader discovering she likes cake-flavored vodka. Scary giggling, like a forty-something writer discovering she won't have to look at snow for 72 hours, celebrating by guzzling cake-flavored vodka.

Also, Tucson has hidden its garbage, which is astonishing and cool. Honest to god, I didn't see a single piece of litter anywhere the entire weekend. Minnesota's pretty good with that stuff, but Tucson could give us a run for our money. 

So between the weather and the lack of garbage, and the plethora of frosting-flavored vodka, I was having a fine time long before I set loafer-clad foot on the lovely and litter-free University of Arizona campus. Sun shining, not a cloud in the sky, booth after booth of books, publishers, historians, more books, and gelato on a stick. Yes. GELATO ON A STICK. I…was going to live there. Forever.

All my panels/workshops were stuffed with readers, which is always good fun, and I signed lots of books and hit my Pull Goal about half an hour into my first event. The Pull Goal started when I'd accidentally hook someone who had never heard of my books. Usually the Pull is a reader's spouse dragged to one of my signings; sometimes it's a fan of someone else on the panel…basically, when I get the floor I spend sixty minutes over-sharing ("And we never saw Grandpa again, but at least we were able to bury his feet.") and suck in at least one unsuspecting reader ("I had no idea who you are, but you're funny, and possibly crazy, so what would be a good book of yours to start with?"). It started happening frequently enough that I made it a conference goal: meet as many readers as I can, pull one unsuspecting bystander into my 60+ book back list, figure out where all the bathrooms are. In fact, everything was perfect until I ended up sharing a panel with the man who destroyed my dreams of (zombie) love. His name is Isaac Marion, and he stomped all over my (zombie love) heart.

I'll back up a couple of years, when I was pitching new book ideas to my editor. I love writing the UNDEAD books, but I like to have other projects in the hopper, too, and I love pitching. And I had the idea (before zombies became the new vampire) that zombies could be the new vampire. So I pitched a book idea: zombies in lurrrrv. Think of the travails! Think of the comedy! Think of the sex scenes! Oooh, I couldn't wait. I spent days polishing the proposal, re-reading the thing until I could see it every time I passed out. I mean, closed my eyes. 

She turned it down. I took it like an adult ("Waaaaah! You're mean!") and set about coming up with another idea, which she did like, so yay! Writing is sales (it's not sexy, but it's true: if you're a writer, you're in sales), and even best-selling writers (moi) don't get every single idea picked up (moi). She was a pro through and through, explaining why she felt she had to pass (among other things, she was confident I'd have no trouble making it funny, but she doubted I could make zombies knocking boots romantic and sexy). I shrugged and thanked her for her feedback and got on with moi life.

Well, no.  I waited a few months, re-wrote the thing, and sent it to her again. Surely by now, I reasoned as I chortled, she has seen her folly! Or is exhausted by the idea of dealing with my whining and begging twice in six months. Or has terrible short-term memory and doesn't remember turning down this pitch.

Nope. She passed again, again like a pro, again outlining her reasons why. So I let it go ("Waaaaah! You're super duper mean!") and reminded myself that even moi can't sell every single pitch, and I put it all behind moi. I also stopped referring to myself as moi.

Then Isaac Marion, crusher of all my dreams, wrote a wonderful YA novel called WARM BODIES. It was about, yep, you guessed it, zombies in lurrrrv. Romeo and Juliet, with zombies. He wrote a funny, lovely, romantic book. About zombies in lurrrvvv. And it was such a delightful book they turned it into a movie about zombies in lurrrrv.


And here he was, sharing a panel with me! Oooh, vengeance would be sweet! Sure, he had no idea who the hell I was, and in fact hadn't wronged me at all, ever, and I was about to be both unprofessional and shrill, but none of that mattered beside the cold indisputable fact that he wrote a terrific book and must be punished!

So I turned to him, ignoring the 150 or so people in the audience who probably wanted to talk about books or something, and greeted him with, "I've got a bone to pick with you, pal." (In our family, that translates to, "You'd better cover your eyes and your groin, pal, because you're about to be stabbed in one or the other.") "You kind of ruined my life and also one of my dreams."

Isaac, who is not only talented but sane and cordial, expressed surprise. 

"That's right!" I continued, like he'd protested or argued. "I pitched my zombies in lurrrv story and got it turned down twice, and then much later you went ahead and wrote your book about zombies in lurrrv and it was so good Lion's Gate made a movie of it and the movie was so good I couldn't even hate-watch it! Yeah, that's right, Isaac Marion, you jerk! My teenage daughter and a bunch of my friends and I paid good money to hate-watch it and we ended up being charmed!" God, that Isaac Marion, what a bastard!

All right, our dealings might have been slightly more cordial. And he might have politely pointed out that my real beef was with my editor, not him ("Yeah, well, she's not here, Isaac! IS SHE? Huh? No! It's just you and me! And the other writers on this panel! And the 150 spectators who probably want to talk about books or something! They can have you when I'm finished!"). And I might have sincerely congratulated him on his well-earned success. But that's not nearly as much fun to tell.

Once I had that dangerous confrontation out of the way, I consoled myself with the greatest invention in the history of human events, gelato on a stick and also a pulled pork sandwich. "You guys want to see something funny?" I asked, sitting down among a bunch of tan people. "You want to watch a Minnesotan eat BBQ? First, I'll need about a thousand more napkins and a Hazmat suit." 

Meanwhile, my tech was acting up. All of my tech. Before I left for Arizona I dropped my phone. This is something my husband never does, so he literally couldn't understand when I said the thing was acting up "after I dropped it". It took hours of hand gestures and diagrams before he was able to comprehend my problem ("But if it's giving you trouble, why even drop it in the first place?" "Shut up shut up shut up."). Anyway, it wouldn't shut off. It worked perfectly, it just would not shut off. So whenever it wasn't charging, it was running down the battery. Thus, the first thing I'd have to do every night after returning to my hotel was plug it into my laptop. No big deal. I thrive in adversity and also, I was still high from shrieking at Isaac Marion. (Again, the guy couldn't have been more of a pro, or nicer. He really does deserve all the success that should have been mine.)

Then I noticed my laptop wasn't charging. Unfortunately, I'd run the battery down to about 12% before realizing (shut up shut up shut up). So pretty soon I wouldn't be able to charge my laptop and, thus, my cell phone. Okay, that's trickier. That could be a problem for me. Well, at least my Kindle is…OH COME ON! Basically, I endured a Perfect Storm of tech failure.

By Sunday everything was close to deader than shit. My last text was to my husband briefly explaining the situation as I watched my laptop charge count down from five minutes like in ALIENS ("You have reach…"). In the morning my cell had a bare trickle of a charge and (I'm aware of the illogic of this) I was annoyed to see my husband hadn't replied to my text warning him I had no computer/phone/Kindle charge and not to bother texting me and I'd see him that night. (When I confronted him upon my return, his obviously made-up response was, "You told me not to text you back since you wouldn't get my text." Our marriage is built on lies.)

So I packed up all my stone dead gear and made ready to return to the snowy steppes, but not before I made it clear to anyone I could grab ("Sorry! I got BBQ all over your shirt. It hardly shows against all the white. Um, will you invite me back next year?") that I would love to return. And then it was off to the airport, where the last of the wonderful weirdness happened.  

I try to keep to Louis CK's philosophy in mind when it comes to flying:  "Flying is the worst because people come back from flights and they tell you their story and it's like a horror story. They act like their flight was like a cattle car in the 40's in Germany…'It was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn't board for twenty minutes, and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there. We had to sit there!'

"Oh, really? What happened next? Did you fly through the air incredibly like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight, you non-contributing zero? Wow, you're flying, it's amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going oh my God! Wow!"

Louis makes excellent points, so I try to keep a positive attitude. Sometimes it's tricky, though. Airlines never used to automatically charge for all checked luggage, and now they do. Then airline personnel are astonished when everyone wants to lug their stuff onto the plane. "For some reason since we implemented the charging scheme, I mean policy, we have limited space for luggage on the plane so if you haven't checked it already, you should definitely check it since there's no room for some reason! Weird, right?" 

But that's not as aggravating as those who switch seats with impunity. As I boarded (clutching my carry on which I refused to check because KNOCK IT OFF, AIRLINES) I could see there was already someone sitting in my seat. I hate when that happens, mostly because I always feel like the person who beat me to my assigned seats has squatter's rights. But I trudged ahead and told the elderly gentleman to get his narrow butt off my seat and to take his vomit bag with him. Except what came out was, "Um, I think you're, um, in my seat? Maybe?"

"Oh, yeah, probably," was the cheerful and unrepentant reply. Which is not how I thought the conversation would go. Usually they make a big show of checking their ticket against mine and seem very perplexed about the whole thing, like it's totally normal to get 8A mixed up with 29C, as opposed to what they were really up to: jumping the gun because they want a separate seat for the suitcase they didn't want to check, or their infant, or whatever. 

"Um," was my fast-thinking reply. "Yeah. So. You're in my seat. And, um, maybe should move? Or something?"

"I've got 9B," said the elderly women in row 8. Wait, so she wasn't in her assigned seat, either?

"No, I've got 9B," another senior citizen corrected. (Which sounded like "what a dumbass to not know the seat you haven't bothered to claim, dumbass!") "You've got 8B."

"That's mine!" another woman said (hint: she didn't say it from 8B). By now I'm staring around in total conclusion. For whatever reason this pack of retirees went rogue all over coach and I would be forced to pay the price in blood, or aggravation.  

"Okay, so…wait. Am I the only one out of the eight of us who actually paid attention to their seat assignment and, weirder, wanted to sit in the seat assigned to me?" Rhetorical, by the way. Of course I was. And I had eight butts in wrong seats to prove it.

So I hail the flight attendant over by frantically flapping my boarding pass at her and pretending not to be terrified. "There's a mix-up," I told her, which was the truth. "We'd like help straightening it out." Which was a lie, since only one of us wanted help with that.

"Wrong seats?" she replied cheerfully, coming down the aisle and looking at my boarding pass, then at the guy sitting in my spot. "Yes, sir, may I see you--thank you. Ah. Sir, you need to be across the aisle. And--"

"I'm in the wrong spot, too," 9B pointed out (which sounded like "Why is he getting all the attention? I'm an entitled jerk, too!").

"Yes, I see…" She was suddenly faced with a blizzard of boarding passes. "Ah. All of you. Okay, well, who was the--"

"He did it!" 9B shrilled, pointing an accusing finger at the squatter in my spot. "It was his idea to switch!" Ever see a sweet-looking little old lady turn informant? It's not pretty. You could almost hear the unspoken, "Take the children, but spare my life!" I've never seen anyone roll on an accomplice so quickly. It made me dizzy.

What followed was a gabble:  "--sit by the window--" "--told you you'd get us in trouble--" ''--but what difference does it make where we sit if everyone--" "--you arrogant ass, you've killed us all--", etc., etc. Since there were extra spots, and since I didn't care where I sat as long as I could ride the plane to Minneapolis, I offered to sit…I dunno, somewhere, some seat the senior flybunnies had eschewed. Which is how I ended up in 22A. I'm not at all sure how that happened, but okay.

Again, not complaining. It was the final interesting, odd touch on what had been a wonderful weekend in Tucson. Plus I had something to blog about if Isaac Marion slapped a restraining order on me. Win/win!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tucson Soundly Punished By My Presence

I'm off to the Tucson Festival of Books this weekend, Friday through Sunday. I love cons and conferences and festivals at any time, but especially when Minnesota has clearly lost a bet with God and is being punished worse than usual with metric tons of snow.  When they invited me late last year I barely let them get the invitation out before screaming, "Yes, God yes, oh please please...I just need to be warm again! Er, when is this again? Tomorrow? Say it's tomorrow. IT'S SO COLD SAY IT'S TOMORROW I CAN'T FEEL MY FACE. Oh. March. Whatever."

But now it's March! And it's far too late for them to take it back. Also, nothing short of a SWAT team will keep me away from the desert right now. The high in St. Paul today is supposed to be 25F/-3.8C. Sure, I hate to leave during a heat wave, but my word is my bond and also: ARIZONA. 

One of the conference coordinators, a ridiculously overworked woman named Patricia Knoll, actually cautioned me to bring sunscreen. 
"Yes," I agreed tearfully, "oh yes, yes I will." 
"I'm not kidding." 
I tried to tell her I was taking her seriously, but was crying too hard to articulate. Also, tears of joy clog my sinuses just as effectively as tears of rage.

I'm on some great panels over the weekend, too:

How Do You Do It? Writing Fast and Writing Well
Saturday, March 15, 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm
Koffler Room 216

A Knight, A Zombie, And A Klingon Walk Into A Bar: Writing Genre Comedy
Saturday, March 15, 2:30 pm to 3:30 pm
Integrated Learning Center Room 150

Workshop: World Building
Sunday, March 16, 10:00 am to 11:00 am
Integrated Learning Center Room 119

More details on the festival can be found here:

I'm hoping to meet lots of readers!  And never forget, Arizona: you have no one to blame but yourself.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

I Get To Play In Charlaine Harris' Sandbox: DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN

It's likely half the planet knows that Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series inspired HBO's True Blood, and the last book in the series, Dead Ever After, came out last spring. What half the planet might not know is that Charlaine put together a 15-story anthology set in the Stackhouse universe and invited several notable and skilled authors to participate. Oh, and me! She invited me, too! (My working theory to explain my involvement is that she lost a bet.)

Now that press releases are flying all over the place, I get to talk about it and man, sooooo excited.  I've only written novellas and single title books for the last decade; I've forgotten what fun writing a short story can be, and how different from my norm.  It's a sprint, not a marathon, and you've got to get moving in a hurry.  My story, Widower's Walk, takes place 201 years after the events in Dead Ever After, showing readers what Eric Northman has been up to, his thoughts on the past, and his plans for the future. 

The anthology will be released in several formats (audio, e-book, hardcover), with the audio book released by Audible, Inc. on May 13; it's available for pre-order at I'll be sure to post other release dates as I get them. 

Below is a teaser, and the cover. Mild spoilers for Sookie's choices at the end of Dead Ever After. 

Eric Northman thinks that everyone got what they wished for, with all that entailed.  Sookie wanted sunbathing and babies and Merlotte, probably in that order, so his darling had chosen to live in a swamp and have puppies with a sentient Labradoodle, or whatever the hell Sam Merlotte decided to be that month.  Gone now, of course, like
(his no not his never his not for a long long time)
Sookie, she to the heaven she so unwaveringly knew awaited her and Sam to wherever the souls of Labradoodles go.  Eric is sure Sookie mourned, but Merlotte’s children remained, and his grand-children, etc., etc., ad nauseum, and that would have been enough for her, she would have died happy knowing her line would go on and on.
Like Eric goes on and on and will after true death.  Merlotte is not the only sire to ensure his line continues.  He has Pam and he has Karin, and through them many others, and soon he will have a nation.
It had been his maker’s will that Eric and Freyda marry to consolidate power and eventually take the United States.  (Well.  The first part was all Appius, to be sure.  Eric might have tacked on the second as an addendum.)  And he had been fine with that plan, once he tweaked it, because—oh, yes, there’s always something—he had always known he wouldn’t need Freyda to take the States.  He only needed the more powerful supes to be looking the other way when he made his move, which worked out nicely, but only for him.  The Stackhouse-Merlottes can have their swamp, and welcome to it.  He’ll take more.  He always takes more.
            He wonders when his plan-within-a-plan finally became clear to Sookie.  If she kept up with the news, she would have realized in less than a decade that things had never been so cut and dried as they’d appeared.  He wonders if she regrets giving him up—or letting him be handed over. 
I won’t ever settle for settling. 
He is always amused by those who insist that having a good choice and a bad choice means having no choices.  In the end, it is a choice, everything is, good and bad, and crying otherwise is for children.  He is many things, but he has not been a child since William of Normandy walked the earth.

Saturday, February 01, 2014

I Have A Weirder Than Usual Weird Conversation With My Weird Son

So there I was, scooping peanut butter in a frosting bag so I could use said bag to squirt peanut butter into a Kong for our dogs to play with so they'll leave me alone for five minutes. (I'm never as altruistic as people assume. There's always a motive behind my niceness.) I knew the momentary peace was doomed to be shattered, but I couldn't have predicted how.

In comes a child of my loins, The Boy.  "Mom, could I get a black top hat?"

"A black top hat?" I'm squirting peanut butter into the Kong, which looks like a red rubber hollow snow man. Mmm...a peanut butter stuffed snow man? Insanity. Chocolate-stuffed, though. That one I would consider.

"Yes, please."

"For school?"  Squirt.


"For the play?" Squirt.


After a pause, I resumed squirting and asked, "Are you gonna elaborate on that or were you just expecting a check?"

"For Snow Week. We can dress up like anyone we want and I have those really nice black clothes."  It's true, he does. Had to buy him dress pants and shirt for Jazz Band ("They won't let you perform in shorts and a t-shirt? Snobs."), and when they all troop onstage it looks very impressive. It doesn't hurt that he's tall, slender, and a little BBC Sherlock!

"And...?" Squirt.

"And if I wear black pants and a black shirt and black shoes, and a black top hat, I'll be head to toe in black."


"Johnny Cash, Mom!" This in a tone of 'gawd, get with the program already, stupid woman'. "He's also known as the Man in Black. Oh." Now he looks sympathetic. "Did you not know that?"

"Of course I knew that," I snapped, refilling the frosting bag with more butter of the peanut. "I'm pretty sure I'm the one who told YOU that. I'm not buying you a black top hat that you'll wear at school for one day and never again. How about a black baseball cap?"

My suggestion was met with an eye roll. "No, Mom. Johnny Cash was classy. A baseball cap?" Disgusted snort. "I've never seen a picture of him in a baseball cap."

"I'm pretty sure you've never seen a picture of him in a top hat, either!"

"Yeah, but it's still classy," he persisted, unaware of how close he was to getting a frosting bag bulging with peanut butter rammed down his throat. 

"I'M NOT BUYING YOU A TOP HAT SO HOW ABOUT THAT?" Then: "Aagghh!" I'd unthinkingly clenched my fist. Peanut butter everywhere. "Dammit!"

"Mom." He eyed my fist, now dripping peanut butter. "You don't even like peanut butter."

"It's not for me, you---never mind. No. No to the top hat. No to peanut butter. No to rubber snow men stuffed with chocolate. No to everything."

"But not the top hat, right?"

"Get. Out."

Haven't seen him since. I guess those usually dormant survival skills finally kicked in. Now I just need to figure out how to get peanut butter out of my watch wristband.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

UNDEAD AND UNWARY, subtitled: Everyone Betsy Knows Has Lost Their Damn Minds

Since Mother Nature is trying to kill everyone north of the Mason-Dixon line this month, I've been holed up with my laptop and various cups of hot chocolate, doing what any writer does when hiding from the elements: goofing off. Oh, and writing, too, I guess? Anyhoo, thought I'd post a chapter from the upcoming UNDEAD AND UNWARY. Jessica's acting weird, Sinclair wants to buy a tanning bed, Betsy doesn't want to have anything to do with Hell, and the AntiChrist is pissed.  Minor spoiler about the end of UNDEAD AND UNSURE...

(minor spoiler)

...Marc delivered Nick and Jessica's twins. In the mansion. Betsy was appropriately appalled.  Also: warnings for severe pottymouth.


A flight of stairs and several hallways and doors later, and I found Jessica in her room up to no good.  Not ‘are you hiding up here because it’s your turn to change a poopy diaper’? no good.  ‘Clandestine research followed by hurriedly shoving papers under the bed when she saw me’ no good. 
“Betsy!”  She finished shoving papers around and glared up at me from her spot on the floor beside her and DadDick’s* bed.  “Scared the hell out of me.”
“Uh-huh, and that’s not futive at all.  Jess, what’s going on?”
“What?  I’m just sorting.  And thinking.  And then more sorting.  Yes.”  She got to her feet and began prowling around the room.  She’d stuck a clipping in her back pocket, but I couldn’t think of a subtle way to grab it other than tripping her, sitting on her, and emptying her pockets.  For which I would pay and pay and pay.  I was stronger and faster; Jess was smarter and cherished grudges like diabetics cherished insulin.  Just the thought of all the terrible things she could do to me was enough to make me feel guilty for even thinking of assault as a way to get to the bottom of this, however careful I would have been.  And even though she’d made her view on being turned into a vampire mucho clear before I cured her cancer (long story), I could absolutely see her nagging a vamp into turning her just so she could keep punishing me through the centuries.  Also, the tripping and sitting and pocket-rifling wasn’t a nice thing to do to a best pal.  It’s very wrong that I thought of that one last.
She looked startled, but that could have been the ‘do—she kept her black hair pulled back so tightly her eyebrows were always arched.  Her manicure (lime green, urrgghh) was chipping, something pre-twins/not-insane Jess would never have allowed, and her t-shirt had splotches on it that, luckily, were only spit-up formula.  (I hadn’t given one thought to Enhanced Vampire Senses + Newborns = Gross while she was pregnant, and really, I should have.  Ohhhhh, I should have.)  Her jeans were so faded they were nearly white, and she was annoyed that skinny jeans were out again.  She was so painfully thin (when carrying Thing One and Thing Two**, she’d looked like a tent pole someone had hung a bag of volleyballs on), any jeans she pulled on were skinny jeans, even just a few weeks after popping twins.
“Why are you in here?” she barked. 
“Because I’m lonesome?”
Jess snorted but didn’t kick me out.    
I sidled closer to the bed but knew I was no match for Jessica’s chaotic ‘pile everything into a box beneath the bed’ filing system.  For a modern businesswoman, she was a Luddite when it came to paperwork.  A big fan of old-fashioned wooden file cabinets and long plastic containers which she stuffed with newspaper and mag clippings, she still shopped at Hallmark, for God’s sake.  Unless I was willing to sneak in here when she and DadDick were out, or sleeping the sleep of the deeply sleep-deprived, and then rummage endlessly through decades of clippings while trying to figure out which story had grabbed her interest, or worse, which story was missing and now riding in her back pocket, I’d have to finesse it out of her.  Subtlety, that was key.
“Tell me what’s wrong or I’ll sit on you!”
My finesse sucked.  Time for a new tactic.  “So how’s my mom?”
“Huh?”  Jess had at least ten I.Q. points on me, which anyone overhearing this would assume was a testing error.  “What?”
“My mom.  Who you went to see.”  Wait.  Whom?  Whom she went to see?  Gah, Sinclair was rubbing off me in all the wrong ways.  “With the babies you forgot.”
“Oh.  I didn’t...”  She waved vaguely at me.  “You know.”
“I don’t know, Jess, you post-natal weirdo.  What’s going on?  You look like someone clipped you with a brick.”  Sighing at the effort this was taking (vampire queen/best friend’s work was never done), I plunked down on the queen-sized bed she’d had for a decade.  Jess was indifferent to her riches (the wealth was impressive, but her shitpoke father earned it all, making it much less awesome in her eyes) and formed deep emotional attachments to restaurants, pals (we’ve been friends since junior high), and beds.  (Also, DadDick and the babies, I assumed.  Before you accuse me of vanity, I listed myself second on that list.)  So the bed didn’t so much sag as suck me in, like a quicksand quilt.  But I was used to its ways and kept both feet on the floor.
I really liked Jessica’s room; this wasn't the first time I'd come looking for her and stayed to yak.  It was the most modern in terms of set-up and decoration, the carpet a deep caramel, the walls tan, the furniture all light wood (blonde wood?).  The wallpaper was red and tan and there were red accents all over the place, including the quilt and several picture frames. 
And gawd, when would she stop displaying the one of us on my 21st birthday?  Drunk was not a good look for me.  Jess looked cutely rumpled and was grinning into the camera while hoisting a daiquiri-filled plastic cup, her arm slung around my shoulders in what looked like camaderie, but in fact she was keeping me from pitching face-first into the floor.  I was so much more than rumpled, sweaty, and my face was so flushed I looked like I’d sworn off sunscreen before napping in a tanning bed.  My t-shirt was more stained than a new mom’s, making it difficult to make out the logo (Step Aside, Coffee, This Is A Job For Alcohol), but worst of all was the expression on my face.  One eye was half-closed, my mouth was hanging open like a dying trout, I was giving Jess the side-eye stinkeye (she had just cut me off, which unfortunately did not prevent the vomiting that started an hour later), and basically looked like a crazy cat lady in her youth, before the cats. 
And it had pride of place on the wall!  I could only pray that once the twins were sleeping more, Jess would update their walls with baby pics, a new parent phase I was actually looking forward to. 
I wriggled on the bed, trying to get more comfortable without actually getting slurped in.  Sinclair and I slept on a—wait for it—superking.  Yeah.  I know.  But the thing was doomed; we went through half a dozen a year.  Was there such a bed as a superduperking?
“Did somebody come up to you and say something?  Are—nnf!  Stop it, bed, I know all your tricks...are you getting audited?  Were you meeting a new boyfriend?”  The last was completely out of character, but Jess was a sleep-deprived mom now, and they were crazy. 
“Yes.  But it’ll be fine.”
“Wait, yes?”  Oh God!  In a moment of carelessness one of my feet had left the floor!  I shifted my weight until I had them both planted again.  Might be time to make a break for it.  “Which yes?”
“I’ve got to go,” she replied, laying off the pacing in favor of darting to the door.  Her fingers went to the clipping barely peeking out of her pocket, double-checking to see if it was still there.  “I’ll take the babies to see your mom.”
I was so startled I shifted my weight and both feet left the floor.  “Good God, woman, you are losing it!  You’ve got to tell me what’s wrong.  Okay?  Jess?”  Her hand was on the knob, her bod was through the door.  “You get back here, young lady!”  Normally I could have crossed the room and blocked the door before she got anywhere near it, but normally I wasn’t being inexorably devoured by Bedzilla.  I was reduced to wrenching myself upright with superhuman strength to escape, finally reaching the door only to almost knock the vampire king on his ass.
“Aw, fuck!”
Sinclair beamed.  His vampire reflexes had saved him from my vampire klutziness.  “Darling!  You missed me.”

* Betsy's current nickname for Det. Nicholas Berry, Jessica's boyfriend. Don't try to make it make sense.
** The twins haven't been named yet. Betsy has also referred to them as Salt and Pepper, Frick and Frack, and Super and Duper. She also thinks the babies are lazy.