Holly WestThe winners of the Amazon gift cards are: Stephen J., Pop Culture Nerd, and John B. Thanks for playing, everyone. And more importantly, thank you for your wonderful comments.

Today is February 3, 2014.

Today I am a published author.

I started writing Mistress of Fortune (then titled Diary of Bedlam) in June 2008, but the dream of writing and publishing a novel started much earlier, borne from the reading I did as a child. I wanted to write novels too, to inspire others with stories the way I’d been inspired. And now, I’ve finally done it.

I’m nervous, of course. Now that Mistress of Fortune is out in the world, there are so many things to worry about: Will it sell? Will people like it? I’d like to say that just for today, I’ll put those concerns aside and enjoy this moment. That’s not likely to happen, but I’ll do my best.Mistress of Fortune Cover

There will be other stories that capture my imagination and compel me to put them to paper. I’ll spend more long hours alone at my computer, attempting to bring new characters to life and trying to figure out what drives them. But there will never be another first novel for me. And so, today, I celebrate.

There are a few real-life historical figures in the Mistress of Fortune series. King Charles II, for one. Nell Gywn, one of his mistresses, is another. Much has been written about both of them, so why would I include them as characters in my own novels when it’s already been done?

I’ll tell you why: for me, they’re too compelling not to include. The key, however, is not to regurgitate the same old material, the tired characterizations we’ve seen over and over again. Rather, my recreations of these characters are entirely of my own imagination, based upon what historical accounts have revealed them to be. It’s not easy, but it’s a whole lot of fun.

I personally dislike when historical fiction authors use real quotes as dialogue. Any authenticity it adds is negated by the contrivance it creates–it feels like info dump to me.

For example, today I’m writing a scene for my second novel, Mistress of Lies, in which Barbara Palmer appears. Barbara was perhaps the most well-known (certainly the most notorious) of King Charles II’s mistresses, and undoubtedly possessed more power, for more years, than any other. This is saying a lot, because Charles II had a lot of mistresses.

Portrait of Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland
Barbara Palmer, 1st Duchess of Cleveland

Barbara is, in some ways, the nemesis of my protagonist, Isabel Wilde. Though she moved to France before the Mistress of Fortune series starts, she played a key role in Isabel Wilde’s history. Isabel, who in 1665 served as a spy in Amsterdam for the crown, was essentially sent there by Barbara Palmer, who was at that time the king’s most powerful mistress. Though nearly thirteen years have passed since then, Isabel will never forgive Barbara Palmer for her interference in her life.

She doesn’t appear at all in the series’ first book, Mistress of Fortune, though she is mentioned. She wasn’t supposed to appear in the sequel, Mistress of Lies, either. She was just a piece of backstory. But in plotting Mistress of Lies I found that I needed someone to reflect what Isabel Wilde’s life would be if she’d made different choices. Barbara Palmer is just that person.

Isabel Wilde, of course, is a fictional character. But not only was Barbara Palmer a real-life historical figure, she is one that has appeared many times in fictional accounts of the Restoration time period. Now I find myself with the challenge of portraying a different side of her than perhaps we’ve seen in the past. Barbara is usually shown at the pinnacle of her power, when she’s arrogant, selfish, and certain that she’ll never lose the king’s love. But my novels take place several years beyond that, when she’s been banished to France because she fell out of favor. In Mistress of Lies, she returns to London, hoping to regain her spot at Court. She’s still arrogant, but she’s also desperate and aging (at 38, she’s considered old).

There are many quotes attributed to various historical figures who lived during the Restoration. But I personally dislike when historical fiction authors use real quotes as dialogue. Any authenticity it adds is negated by the contrivance it creates–it feels like info dump to me. Rather, such quotes give me an idea of how the historical figure spoke, and what their sensibilities were–I use that in creating my own dialogue. But the words and actions I attribute to them are wholly my own. To me, that’s the only way to truly bring a real historical figure to life.

What do you think? Do you like it when authors use real-life historical figures in their fiction?

I’ll be moderating a panel at the upcoming Bouchercon in Albany next week (September 19-22). It’s called “I’ve Loved These Days” and boy, that topic couldn’t be more appropriate for me. But even more exciting are my panelists: International Guest of Honor Anne Perry, Caroline Todd, Susanna Calkins, Anna Loan-Wilsey and Susanne Alleyn.

This is gonna be fun.

But let’s get back to that topic for a moment. “I’ve Loved These Days.” My debut novel, Mistress of Fortune, takes place in late 17th century London, during the latter part of King Charles II’s reign. I’ve known since I was a teenager that I would someday write a novel set in Restoration London featuring King Charles himself as a character. After all, I’ve had a crush on him since I was fifteen. It’s pretty much the only thing I knew when I first sat down to write Mistress of Fortune. Everything else–my protagonist, Isabel Wilde, a mistress to the king who secretly makes her living as a fortune teller and the plot itself–was born out of my desire to write about this time and place.

I’ve walked the streets of London from the Tower to Primrose Hill, searching for the 17th century London I’d created. But a big part of that walk was imagining that my characters were traveling right along side me.

During the writing of it, I soon discovered that the novel was about so much more than the setting I’d loved for so many years. For a novel to truly come to life, the setting becomes a backdrop and the characters take over. At least that’s what happened to me. I’ve walked the streets of London from the Tower to Primrose Hill, searching for the 17th century London I’d created. But a big part of that walk was imagining that my characters were traveling right along side me.

Susanna Calkins, one of my panelists who also writes during the Restoration period, recently wrote a great piece for Writer’s Digest: How to Write Historical Fiction. I’ve been giving the issue of research quite a bit of thought lately, not only because I’m preparing for the Bouchercon panel but because I’m currently writing book two in the Mistress of Fortune series. One of the questions I plan to ask my panelists is: “How important is authenticity in historical fiction? Is authenticity more important for historical fiction writers than authors of other types of fiction?”

As Susanna wrote in the WD post: “When I was first dreaming about my story, even before I had worked out the plot or characters, I knew one thing for sure: By gum, this novel would be accurate. Every detail, every word, would be accurate. Historians everywhere would use my book in their classes and would revel in my accurate tale. That idea lasted about two seconds.”

I don’t know any historical fiction author (or really, any author at all) who doesn’t go into it with the best of intentions. The drive for truth and authenticity is obsessive and unrelenting. But at some point, a writer must accept that a detail or two might be fudged, or in some cases, made up entirely. I’ll give you an example. Mistress of Fortune is based upon the real-life, unsolved murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. Though it’s not the most famous of unsolved murders, quite a bit has been written about it over the years and I had access to a great deal of reference material. In the first draft of the novel, I kept meticulously to the time line of the murder and its investigation. What I ended up with was a confusing and boring manuscript that bore little resemblance to either a proper non fiction account of the killing or an engaging historical mystery. In order to achieve my goal–to write a publishable historical mystery–I had to throw the real time line and many of the true life players out the window. What I ended up with was a fast paced and readable fictional account of Sir Edmund’s murder.

I don’t know any historical fiction author (or really, any author at all) who doesn’t go into it with the best of intentions. The drive for truth and authenticity is obsessive and unrelenting.

Of course, I explained what I’d done and offered up references for those readers who want the real story. As Susanna says, “that’s what the ‘historical note’ at the end of your novel is for.” Or, as Harlan Coben once said in one of the first Bouchercon panels I attended: “I make shit up.”

Regardless, to write historical fiction, one must have a deep and abiding love of the days of which they write. I can’t wait to explore this topic with some of the best historical crime fiction writers in the field.

Panel:
“I’ve Loved These Days”
Friday, 9/19 3:10pm
Featuring: Anne Perry, Caroline Todd, Susanna Calkins, Anna Loan-Wilsey, & Susanne Alleyn (Holly West, moderator)

It is with great pleasure that I announce the new title of my debut historical mystery:

MISTRESS OF FORTUNE

Formerly known as Diary of Bedlam, MISTRESS OF FORTUNE will be released by Harlequin’s Carina Press in February 2014.

I’ll confess that I had a few bittersweet tears in my eyes when I replaced Diary of Bedlam with MISTRESS OF FORTUNE. I’d lived with that title for so long–five years–it had almost become a part of my own identity. But they weren’t tears of sadness, they were more like tears of victory. I was in the process of approving the final copy edits on the manuscript and replacing the title felt like the symbolic cherry on top. The incredibly long journey of writing my debut novel was finally over when I hit the send button yesterday, new title and all.

It felt good.

My editor sent me the final edited copy of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, the version that will go into production, this morning. It’s an understatement to say that I’m proud of this novel. I love it so much that I can hardly believe I’m the one who wrote it.

Whew. Now I’m sniffling again.

As I work toward completing the second book in the series, Mistress of Lies, I wonder if I’ll be able to do the first novel justice. It seems a daunting task at the moment. But one thing’s certain, after reading through the final version of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE, I know I have it in me.

Who knew?

Read the first chapter of MISTRESS OF FORTUNE by Holly West

Yesterday's Echo by Matt CoyleMay 2013 marked the long awaited (by me) launch of my debut crime novel, Yesterday’s Echo. It has been a dream come true and a lifetime goal achieved and never would have happened without the help of many people, most of whom I mentioned in the book’s acknowledgments. But I never would have had the chance to thank anyone if I hadn’t been willing to break out of the comfy confines of the Cocoon.

I knew I wanted to be a writer ever since I was fourteen when my dad gave me The Simple Art of Murder by Raymond Chandler. The hard part was actually doing the writing and that didn’t really start in earnest for about thirty years. I’m a slow starter. However, even when I buckled down and consistently put my ass in the chair and my fingers on the keyboard, I still had a lot to learn.

Being a fledgling author is a fun and exciting time. You’re finally doing something you were put on earth to do, and dammit, you’re pretty good at it. You start each day reading over the literary gold you spun the day before and realize that you’re home. You’ve found your niche. If you stay with it, you’ll have a draft in around a year, give or take. Then it will only be a matter of time, a short matter at that, before your brand new novel is on the bookshelves between Connelly and Crais.

Or so I thought. But why wouldn’t I? I read what I’d written every day and it was genius. The couple members of my family whom I’d let read the book even agreed with me. Now they might have just been happy that I’d finally started writing instead of just talking about it, but they wouldn’t lie. Would they?

Still, I’m Irish and with that comes self-doubt. So, I decided that before I quit my day job and found an agent to get me the big contract, I’d better vet the work with a professional. Let someone outside the warm, snuggly, cocoon of my family and myself read what I’d written. That is sort of the point of being an author, isn’t it? Hopefully, at some point strangers will read your work and they’ll have opinions.

So, I took some night classes at UC San Diego from a mystery author turned writing teacher. Well, apparently she wasn’t that good of a teacher because she failed to recognize my genius. I was shocked and disappointed. I’d paid good money and I got some flunky as a teacher. It was a beginner’s novel class and most students never really began writing so my stuff was on the chalkboard each session. It was ugly. The teacher asked me questions that I’d never thought of, like what does your character want in a scene and what is he thinking?Matt Coyle, August 24, 2012

It took a while, but I started to realize that the teacher wasn’t that stupid and I wasn’t such a genius. It hurt. I’d jumped out of my cocoon and let strangers see my work and been slapped in the face. Hard. I lost some of that confidence earned writing in anonymity. Maybe I couldn’t do this. Maybe I wasn’t good enough and never would be. But after I stopped feeling sorry for myself (in just a few days…okay, a few weeks) and started revising through the teacher’s prism, the book got better.

Then I joined a writers group and exposed my work to other writers. Like the teacher, they tore it apart and helped me put it back together. Stronger. It took years of tearing and mending before I knew, that, finally, it was ready for an agent and then a publisher. Ten months later was just last month and the publication of Yesterday’s Echo.

Writing in a cocoon will make you feel good. Breaking out of it might get you published.

Matt Coyle grew up in Southern California, battling his brother and sisters for respect and the best spot on the couch in front of the TV. Yesterday’s Echo is Matt’s first novel. He drew from his days in the restaurant business and his extended family’s law enforcement background in creating this book. Matt lives in San Diego with his wife, Deborah, and their Yellow Lab, Angus.

 

A Murder at Rosamund's Gate by Susanna Calkins

Today, April 23rd, marks the release of a novel I’ve been looking forward to very much: A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE by Susanna Calkins. It tells the story of Lucy Campion, a seventeenth-century English chambermaid serving in the household of the local magistrate. Her life, an endless repetition of polishing pewter, emptying chamber pots, and dealing with other household chores, is interrupted when a fellow servant is ruthlessly killed, and someone she loves is wrongly arrested for the crime.

Susanna kindly accepted my invitation to chat about our novels, both of which are set in Restoration England and feature strong female protagonists who must struggle against the gender and class constraints of their time in order to achieve their goals.

HW: When I tell people I’ve written a historical mystery they often comment on how much research it must’ve taken and how daunting that is. But I actually found that writing a story set 350 years ago was freeing in some ways.  I like the world building involved in reconstructing a historical time period for the purposes of my fiction. Plus, I’m a complete geek about the Restoration so I found my research a pleasure. Did you find the research you did for A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE at all daunting?

SC: I started doing research in early modern English history when I was a graduate student, years before I began to put A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE to paper. I had come across some really interesting murder ballads from the 1650s when I was writing a paper on “gender patterns in domestic homicide in 17th c. England.” Later those ballads became the impetus for my novel. So, for me, doing historical research was always part of what I loved about being a historian. So, in A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE, I wanted to place my heroine in some deeper themes, reflecting what I knew about gender (specifically the role of working class women), religion, politics, and culture.

What themes did you explore in DIARY of BEDLAM?

HW: At first, I only knew I wanted to write a story set during the Restoration. But as I got to writing, my protagonist evolved into a fairly complex person–she’s been a mistress to the King for fifteen years and at his behest, she operated as a spy against the Dutch. She lost her brother in the plague and she’s served time in prison. I was surprised, however, when the subject of motherhood entered her story, and realized it’s because of my own relationship with motherhood (I don’t have children and don’t plan to) that I wanted to explore the subject with her.

The story takes place during the Popish Plot so religion, politics and the corruption of the court all play big roles in the story as well.

In an interview I read, you indicate that you’re not overly fond of using real-life people as characters (I paraphrased that, obviously). Which, if any, real-life people did you use in the novel, and why?

SC: I don’t think I have any “real” historical figures in my novel, although of course I mention important figures from time to time (Charles II, the diarist Pepys, as well as the murderess Anne Scarisbruck). I don’t have anything against other writers who fictionalize historic figures–Sam Thomas, for example, quite admirably fictionalizes the midwife Bridget Hodgson in A MIDWIFE’S TALE. I don’t like when historical figures are either romanticized (made to seem more important and perfect than they were) or trivialized (diminished as a punch line). There’s too much ‘Great man’s history’ as it is; I don’t like to add to that in the public imagination.

Is your heroine, Isabel Wilde, a real historical figure? She sounds like Aphra Behn, the famous writer, who was also a spy. Did Behn’s life influence you at all?

HW: Two parts of Isabel’s backstory come from Aphra Behn: the spying, of course, and the prison time for debt. But I’ve got other real-life people who appear: King Charles II is a character and the murder itself is based upon a true crime that was never solved. For me, there was never any question that Charles II would be an actual character in the book and not just mentioned. He’s not a main character, but the scenes in which he appears were definitely the most fun to write.

Tell me a little bit about your protagonist, Lucy Campion. I’m assuming that she is, in some ways, a woman of her time, but I want to know how she rises the above the constraints of her place in society (that of a chambermaid) in order to achieve her goals in the novel.

Author Susanna Calkins
Photo by Lisa Bagadia

SC: Even though Lucy was not particularly well-educated, I wanted her to have a lively, inquisitive mind. I deliberately placed her in a small household run by a thoughtful magistrate–someone who would not shut the door on a good idea just because it came from a woman and a servant. There was, after all, a progressive spirit of Enlightenment thought that was infusing the thinking of more educated people at the time. If Lucy had been in a different type of household, she might well have been beaten for some of things she did, and than that would have been the end of her curiosity and her pursuit of justice. What’s the fun of that? Moreover, at the time of the plague, and certainly after the Great Fire, there was an unprecedented social mobility in England, as servants rose up and took over their master’s trades and households. (If everyone else flees or dies, who’s around to say something isn’t yours?)

Why did you come to focus on the murder of Edmund Godfrey? How did you come across it? I think it’s told in Magnolia…did you ever see that movie?

HW: The story, as told in Magnolia, is more about the coincidence of Green, Berry, and Hill, three men who were falsely accused and executed of the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey. Godfrey’s body was found at what is today known as Primrose Hill, but for a time, the location was known as Greenberry Hill. It has a small mention in Magnolia.

I came upon Sir Edmund’s murder quite randomly–it was a featured entry on Wikipedia’s home page one day when I happened to be looking for inspiration and I thought it might work for my plot. I soaked up every account of his killing I could find and constructed my story from there. Though his murder is a true historical event, my telling of it is fiction, through and through.

I find myself now in the exciting but daunting position of writing a sequel to DIARY OF BEDLAM. I know you’ve written an sequel to A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE. I’m curious to know what your experience has been writing a second Lucy Campion novel. Was it easier? Will there be others in the series?

SC: Yes, I’ve finished the sequel, tentatively titled FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS, which like ROSAMUND’S GATE, gets its title from a fictional pamphlet which relates to the murder. I really enjoyed writing the sequel, if only to continue with my characters. This book picks up about 2 weeks after the last one left off, in the aftermath of the Great Fire. Lucy, like many Londoners, is pressed into service to help with the massive cleanup. A body is discovered in a barrel outside of an old tavern; the man was clearly murdered before the Fire. Unbeknownst to others, a pickpocket takes a little bag off the body and passes it to Lucy. Inside are a number of odd objects, including a poem, which Lucy convinces the local printer to publish as a pamphlet. She begins to be targeted by some people who believe she knows the secret of the man’s murder.

What was the funniest or more surprising question you got from people when they found out you had written a novel?

HW: Honestly, I haven’t gotten what I thought was a funny response to me writing a novel. I’d been talking about it since I was a teenager, and after a failed attempt to write one ten years ago, they were probably thinking “finally,” or “yeah, right.” But for the most part, people have been really supportive. What about you?

SC: Supportive yes, but a lot (A LOT!) of people asked me how much sex was in my novel. First question! Yikes!

***

Yikes indeed! Well, my response to Susanna’s writing a novel is obviously “YAY!” There’s nothing I like more than a good historical novel set in my favorite time period, Restoration England. Thank you, Susanna, for stopping by my blog and congratulations on your Book Birthday.

Susanna Calkins is an educator and faculty developer by day and a writer by night. She lives outside of Chicago with her husband and two sons.

Yesterday, something happened that I’ve been waiting for, for like, ever. The announcement of my book deal showed up in Publishers Marketplace. Here it is in all of its luscious glory:

Holly West’s DIARY OF BEDLAM and DIARY OF DECEPTION, in which the secret identity of a lady as soothsayer – also a favorite mistress of King Charles II – is threatened when a plot to murder the King is revealed as her diary goes missing and one of her clients ends up dead, to Angela James at Carina Press, for publication in 2013, by Elizabeth Kracht at Kimberley Cameron & Associates (World).

The only gripe I have (there had to be at least one, right?) is that it’s classified as “Women’s Fiction/Romance.” Say what? I’m a crime fiction writer, people! I thought I’d made that clear!

But the thing is, who really cares what I am? These classifications are somewhat arbitrary anyway. And frankly, if being a writer of “women’s fiction” or romance helps to sell books, I’m down with that. Girlfriend wants to get paid.

The thing that bothers me more than the classification, I think, is my own reaction to it. I do think there is a stigma attached to women’s fiction and romance and I’m as guilty of perpetrating it as anybody. The fact is that there are great and not so great books in every category and I hate that something that’s labeled “woman” is somehow considered lesser, especially in my own mind.

So whatever DIARY OF BEDLAM and its sequel are considered for the market, my only real concern is that they are KICK ASS books. Oh, and that girlfriend gets paid.

Updated 8/9/13 with my new titles. Yay!

Forget for one moment that it’s April Fool’s Day, folks, because this is for realsies. I’ve been letting the news out in drips and drabs, but consider this the official announcement:

For those of you who can’t watch the video, here is the gist:

I GOT MYSELF A BOOK DEAL!

Color me delighted.

My historical mystery, Mistress of Fortune, will be published in early 2014 by Carina Press, the digital first imprint of Harlequin. They’ll also be publishing its sequel, Mistress of Lies, with a release date to be determined.

What does digital first mean? Well, initially, Mistress of Fortune will be an eBook, available in all formats. It will also likely be an audiobook through Carina Press’s partnership with Audible.com. My hope is that it will also be available, eventually, by print-on-demand.

In the meantime, I am all kinds of happy. Carina Press is a great home for Mistress of Fortune, and I’m looking forward to working with my editor, Deborah Nemeth and the rest of the team at Carina.

King Charles II ruled England from 1661 until his death in 1685

You may have noticed the recent “NEXT BIG THING” meme popping up on your favorite writer’s websites. Last week, Naomi Hirahara, author of the Edgar Award-winning Mas Arai series, tagged me and a handful of other writers, including Gar Anthony Haywood, SJ Rozan, Sujata Massey, and Ed Lin to write about our NEXT BIG THING. So here’s mine:

1) What is the working title of your next book?

DIARY OF DECEPTION. It’s the second novel featuring Lady Isabel Wilde, a favorite in the court of King Charles II of England who secretly makes her living disguised as fortuneteller Mistress Ruby.

2) Where did the idea come from?

Originally the idea came from a contemporary news story about a girl with amnesia who showed up in NYC and didn’t know who she was or how she got there. As the idea evolved, I realized I wanted to explore Isabel Wilde’s family history, particularly that of her deceased brother, Adam, and how she’d react if she discovered he’d harbored secrets from her.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

Historical mystery

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

The only part I’m sure of is Federico Castelluccio as King Charles II. He’d be perfect.

Federico Castelluccio

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When a young girl claiming to be Isabel Wilde’s deceased brother’s daughter comes into Isabel’s life, she tells Isabel that her father was murdered, not killed in the plague as Isabel has always believed, driving Isabel to investigate a twelve-year-old death to learn the truth.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I can’t talk about the details publicly yet but a couple of exciting things are in the works!

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft?

Thus far it’s only a book proposal! But DIARY OF BEDLAM, the first novel in the series, took about six months to write. I expect DIARY OF DECEPTION will take less time.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The story bears similarities to Sue Grafton’s “O” IS FOR OUTLAW in that both Kinsey Milhone (Grafton’s protagonist) and Isabel must revisit events of the past in order to learn the truth about someone they care about. In Isabel’s case, she’s forced to confront some discomfiting secrets about her beloved brother.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I’ve wanted to write a novel set in Restoration London for almost as long as I can remember. DIARY OF BEDLAM was that novel, and for a long time I thought it would be a standalone. Now it’s looking very much like it will be a series of at least 2 books. So my inspiration for DIARY OF DECEPTION has really been recent developments pertaining to DIARY OF BEDLAM.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

The Isabel Wilde books are not romances, but she does have an ongoing relationship with King Charles II that is kind of steamy. My favorite scenes to write are the ones in which he appears because I think I’ve succeeded in creating a monarch who is well aware of the power he wields but very human at the same time. I kind of have a crush on him.

On December 12, be sure to visit these authors to see what their NEXT BIG THING is:

Lisa Brackmann – Author of ROCK PAPER TIGER and GETAWAY
Travis Richardson – Author of LOST IN CLOVER
Eric Beetner – Most recently, the author of THE DEVIL DOESN’T WANT ME
Susanna Calkins – Author of the upcoming A MURDER AT ROSAMUND’S GATE

I’m looking forward to reading what these great writers have in store!