Aphra_Behn_by_Mary_Beale The portrait to the right is Aphra Behn, the late 17th century English playwright that my main character, Isabel Wilde, was originally based on. I say originally because during the writing of Diary of Bedlam, Isabel evolved into an almost completely different woman–the only things Aphra and Isabel still have in common is their birthplace (Kent) and their history as former British spies.

I'm not sure they ever looked much alike. Isabel has red curly hair and is more beautiful than Aphra in my mind. I picture her resembling, if anyone, Kate Winslet. Isabel has strong, somewhat unusual features that are striking but do not necessarily adhere to the beauty standards of her time. Still, she has managed to keep the King enamored for over fifteen years, and he was first attracted to her appearance; she is clearly an attractive woman.

But what about the rest of my characters? During the New England Crimebake in November 2009, the guest of honor, Sue Grafton, was asked how she pictures and describes her characters. Does she collect photographs of strangers and use them as references? The answer was yes. She explained that she often uses photos from the Sunday magazine of the newspaper because most other magazines feature photos of people who are more attractive than average people.

If you read Sue Grafton's books, I think you'll agree she does a particularly great job of describing people and places. In just a few sentences, one gets an evocative picture of the character she's depicting.

During my writing, I have found I'm pretty good at dialogue but not so great with descriptive passages, especially of people. All the secondary and throw away characters seem to look alike. Hearing Sue's explanation of her process was helpful and I've used it since for several characters–I still need practice in this area but truly, having a reference photo helped to bring these characters to life in a way other characters lack.

Happy New Year!

I hope whatever celebrations you engaged in last night are not preventing you from enjoying the first day of our new decade. I always get a little melancholy on New Year’s Eve, but New Year’s Day brings fresh perspective and I’m ready to start the new year.

Over the holiday, I got some good advice from a friend. We were talking about my novel and how the re-write was going, and as usual I complained it is, at times, a mind-numbing process. Trying to come up with just the right word or phrase is tedious for me, and since I am also working on fixing the structure I am finding it difficult to move forward.

That’s when she said “Maybe you’re trying to do too much at once.”

Upon hearing this, I had what Oprah calls an “aha! moment.” She’s right! I am trying to do too much at once! It suddenly seemed silly that I was working so hard on the writing when the structure of the novel is still a little uncertain. The dots need to be connected first, then I can work on perfecting the language. I came home from my Christmas vacation up north with renewed energy for completing this novel.

Unfortunately, what might work for my re-write does not necessarily apply to the rest of life. It is impossible to concentrate on only one thing at a time when so many things need to get done at once. My solution is to have one main priority to which all other things come second.

I have three resolutions for the New Year:

1) Finish Diary of Bedlam

2) Lose the 15 pounds I’ve gained while writing Diary of Bedlam

3) Begin working on other writing projects

2010 will be the year of my novel. It won’t be published by the end of 2010 of course, but I plan to be well on my way. That might be too optimistic, but I certainly know I won’t get farther by being pessimistic or uncertain about it. All other things–the weight, the other writing, whatever–will take a back seat to the NOVEL.

But what about you? What is your number one priority for the new year? Whatever your New Year’s Resolutions are, or if there are none, I wish you all a happy and productive 2010!

Note: This post was originally published on February 16, 2009

I don’t normally do much in the way of sketching when it comes to designing my jewelry.  And when I say “normally,” I actually mean never.  This year, however, I have a very special project in mind and whilst looking for design ideas, I realized that some sketching was definitely in order.


What is this special project you ask?  It is a companion piece for the novel I’m writing.  I want to make a ring that is given to my main character, Isabel Wilde, by her brother, who is a goldsmith.

I have my hear set on using a ruby for this ring, set in 18k yellow gold and flanked with diamonds and possibly pearls.  In the sketch to the left, the center stone would be a faceted oval ruby and the four smaller circles would be pearls.  The little dots would be pave-set diamonds.

Such a piece will challenge my jewelry making skills but with the exception of the pave, it is all well within my abilities.  I will send it out to have the diamonds set, however.


I find the design to the right much less appealing.  It is more a case of just exploring shapes and sizes than it is a design I would use.  I don’t remember if the smaller circles were diamonds or pearls in this design.




In this design I experimented with an emerald cut stone as well as a couple of pearr shaped stones on the sides.  I’m not sure what the side gemstones would be–although I have always been partial to the combination of red (ruby) and gold (citrine).  The small circles around the perimeter would be pave set diamonds.


Finally, I tried a pear-shaped ruby in the design.  The bottom circle would be a pearl and the smaller circles diamonds, as in the other designs.  I have not been a fan of pear-shaped stones until the last few years.  Now I really like them.

In anticipation of using this design or perhaps something similar, I bought a cheap ruby on eBay:


I do not know yet whether I’ll use it since I need to see it in person.  If I can’t find a ruby I can afford I’ll use a red garnet.  For some reason I visualize this ring as having a red stone and a garnet will work almost as well as a ruby.

Note: This post was originally published on September 10, 2009

I recently got this question from a friend: Are your characters based on anyone you know?

The answer to that question is mostly, no. My heroine, Isabel Wilde, is an idealized version of myself, the person I imagine I'd be if I had more confidence and street smarts. When I first started writing her, she had a much softer core (like me), but now she's evolved into much more of a bad ass.

Interestingly, my decision to give Isabel red hair made her more remote to me. It was based on an old superstition associating ginger-colored hair with witches, but I am not generally attracted by red hair and so in creating Isabel, I never intended for her to have it. Perhaps what they say is true, however. Your characters start out as yours but over time take on a life of their own. Such has been the case with Isabel, in both personality and appearance.

Isabel's right-hand man, Will, is physically based on Bruce Lee. He is small, but wiry and extremely strong. There is nothing noteworthy about his appearance, giving him the ability to move through the streets of London without being noticed. He is an experienced street fighter and an expert with most weapons. His personality is a composite of antiheros I've observed in film, literature, and TV over the years, with a dash of my husband mixed in.

When I first conceived Will, he was meant to be a much larger man, more of the traditional body guard type. However, I quickly realized he couldn't be so recognizable–there could be nothing, like extreme height, that would make him stand out. His stature became smaller, and at the same time, his role in the story became second only to Isabel (and, arguably, to the murder victim in the story).

Creating characters and dialogue is so far my favorite part of writing this novel. It's refreshing to have characters say outrageous things you could never say in real life. It's also fun to experience their life through their eyes. I complain a lot about how hard writing this book is, but I would never want to do anything else.

I never know whether to say I'm in the process of editing, revising, or re-writing my novel. Just not sure which word is appropriate for what I'm doing at the moment. But whatever the right word is, I am deep in the heart of it and it is a slow, slow undertaking.

Turns out I'm a first draft kind of girl. Revising a novel just isn't as much fun. Unfortunately, it's a vital part of the job if I want to get published (and believe me, I want to get published), so I keep plucking away, word by word, sentence by sentence.

I've turned my desk around so it faces the window, affording me a lovely view of the Pacific Ocean. This may have been a mistake; I am constantly looking up to see the waves crash or a sudden white splash further in. I think "Ooooh, is that a dolphin?" Usually, it's not. But whatever it is, it's just enough to distract me from what I should be doing, so the desk might have to face the wall again.

The greatest thing about editing/revising/re-writing a novel is that my book is actually starting to take a pretty wonderful shape. Every day I can see it turning into something I'd actually like to buy, then read. Hopefully, by the time it's done, other people will too. Lots of them, 'cause mama needs a new pair of shoes.

I'm hoping for a finished novel by the end of January, but with the holidays next week, I'm not sure if I'll make this deadline. Self-imposed deadlines are the worst–it's so very easy to talk yourself out of them. If you happen to see me wasting time on Twitter or Facebook, do me a favor and remind me I've got writing to do, m'kay?