“The Small Rain Down Can Rain”

Atkinson+Grimshaw+1836-1893+-+British+Victorian-era+painter+-+Tutt'Art@+(1)As I type this, March is fulfilling its proverbial role of coming in like a lion. Just a few minutes ago, all that I could hear was the roar of water descending from the sky, like the flow from an Eternal Faucet (or Showerhead). It’s subsided a little by now, but I can still hear it, trickling from the eaves, beating its way into the still-damp ground. The raindrops sound like tiny hammer blows as they strike the earth.

We need this rain badly, of course. Southern California’s had one of its dryest years yet, and there have been some nasty brush-fires recently–one of which was caused by a trio of careless idiots who decided to light an illegal campfire while they were out in the hills one night. Alcohol and pot may have also been involved, which doesn’t surprise me a bit. I could wish, though, that we weren’t getting this rain in a lump, increasing the risks of mudslides, flash floods, and road accidents.

Still, compared to snow-besieged friends and family in the East, we’re probably getting off lightly. And when I’m not actually caught in the rain, fighting the wind and wet as I try to get from Point A to Point B (as I was on one notable occasion last summer), I find it evocative, and sometimes even soothing.

If you can avoid going anywhere during a rainstorm, I advise you to do so. Curl up with a good book or a favorite movie. Press on with that troublesome scene you’ve been writing. Cook something that makes the house smell wonderful. Catch up on some correspondence. Listen to that album you’d been meaning to play. Take advantage of Nature’s little tantrum and treat yourself to some entertainment indoors, especially if you’re lucky enough to still have electricity!

The unknown author of the 16th century poem I quoted in the title of this blog may have had the best idea yet:

O, western wind, when wilt thou blow?

The small rain down can rain.

Christ, that my love were in my arms,

And I in my bed again!

As rainy day activities go, that has a distinct appeal!

‘Tis the Season for Distraction

Has it really been two weeks since my last post? And is it really only one week until Christmas? Time flies when your attention is split between about half a dozen things–and that’s on a slow day!

But for those who are interested, here’s some of what’s been going on since I last posted

WaltzCover21. I mentioned this briefly on Twitter and Facebook, but to my surprise and delight, Waltz with a Stranger won the 2013 Laurel Wreath Award for Best Historical Romance. Which is a welcome boost to morale after a rather challenging autumn and a lovely way to wind up my first year as a published author. (Full list of results can be found here)

2. The new WIP is coming along well–or at least the first three chapters have. The fourth chapter is proving a bit more recalcitrant, probably because of the sheer number of characters making their entrance in that one. Christmas house parties–what are ya gonna do? On the up side, I’ve always enjoyed reading and always wanted to write a Christmas-set romance, so I’m determined to enjoy myself with this one. And I hope to be able to share a few more details when the story is more advanced.

BBXmasCover3. Talking of Christmas, I’ve been keeping my ears open while shopping and making a mental note of which songs get the most frequent airplay–just for the fun of it. And it’s a good coping mechanism when the versions being played make you want to grind your teeth and smash the stereo system. So far, the front runners for Most Overplayed Seasonal Song are “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” (no surprise there), “Let It Snow,” and “Last Christmas,” the Wham! original and Taylor Swift’s cover. (Although none of them have annoyed me quite as much as a shrill, speeded-up, overly perky rendition of “Up on the House-Top”–seemingly sung by adults who wanted to sound like little kids–to which I was subjected one afternoon in Macy’s.) I count myself fortunate not to have heard “The Little Drummer Boy” more than once this year, and I almost cheered when the music programmer at the local mall showed a spark of originality and played the Beach Boys’ “Little Saint Nick” over the speakers this morning. Now that’s a fun Christmas song!

P12-09-13_08.444. Christmas decorations are going up all around my neighborhood, which is something I always enjoy seeing. We may not get much snow here in SoCal, but our winter nights can still be dark and cold, and the sight of colored lights shining in the gloom is a visual tonic. Halloween decorations amuse me with their cleverness, but Christmas decorations touch me with their optimism, innocence, and warmth. A few years ago, animatronic reindeer were all the rage, grazing on suburban lawns and raising and swiveling their antlered heads. This year, glow-in-the-dark snowmen appear to be the fashion, with penguins, reindeer, and–to my surprise–pigs not far behind.

484px-Peter_O'Toole_-_Lion5. Saddened to learn of the passing of Peter O’Toole. Oddly enough, I’ve never seen all of Lawrence of Arabia, the film that made him a major star. But he bowled me over as Henry II in The Lion in Winter–a fully bearded, full-blooded alpha male, and every inch a king. He was only 36 at the time, and playing a man of 50. His co-star, Katharine Hepburn, was more than 20 years his senior, but they matched like hand in glove–or a set of dueling pistols. I love that movie with an unholy passion: there’s not a weak link in the cast–from the feuding king and queen to their three contentious sons–and it never fails to make me appreciate my own family more! (However fraught your own holidays may get, be grateful that you’re not stuck in a snowbound French castle with any of these people!) In honor of O’Toole, I’ve been listening to the marvelous Oscar-Winning soundtrack of The Lion in Winter, which sent chills up my spine from the opening credits.

Given the demands of the season and the wonderful tyranny of my shiny new WIP, I’ll be a somewhat erratic online presence for the rest of December. But I wish everyone the most delightful of holidays, whichever you celebrate, and a very happy New Year!

“M” is for “Music”: The Soundtrack for A Song at Twilight (+ Giveaway)

Well, that was an easy choice! ::grins::

511ZHL8b2rL._SY300_Not too surprisingly, the subject of music arose frequently during my October blog tour. On at least two stops, commenters were asked to share their favorite kinds of music or, alternatively, their favorite soundtrack. Stopping by to chat and give my own answers (traditional Celtic, classic rock, Patrick Doyle’s Henry V), I theorized that many books had their own “soundtrack,” whether that means music the author played to get her in the mood to write or music that the author associates with the characters and situations in her book.

As music figures heavily in A Song at Twilight, I thought I’d share the “soundtrack” for the book, along with a little background information about each song. These are probably the most important musical numbers in the book, and they’re quite an eclectic bunch, ranging from traditional carols/folk songs to classical opera to Victorian parlor ballads.

1. Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day: Traditional English carol, sometimes ascribed to the Cornish. The central theme is Christ narrating his own life cycle as movements in a dance. The carol goes on at length from Birth to Crucifixion to Resurrection, but usually only the first verses are sung.

170px-Purcell_portrait2. Music for a While: Written in 1692 by Henry Purcell, a gifted English Baroque composer who’s not as well-known as he could be, owing to his untimely death at 35 or 36. This song–about the soothing power of music–was composed as incidental music to a play, Oedipus, and sung by the character of Tiresias, the blind Greek soothsayer.

3. Voi che sapete: One of Cherubino’s arias from Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro. In the opera, the lovelorn page performs this song for his patroness, Countess Rosina, and entreats plaintively of the ladies he serves, “Tell me what love is.” Cherubino, a trousers role, has been famously portrayed by  Frederica von Stade and Cecilia Bartolli. I enjoyed adding my heroine, Sophie, to their number!

A playful moment between Susanna (Hagley) and Figaro (Gerald Finley)
A playful moment between Susanna (Hagley) and Figaro (Gerald Finley)

4. Deh vieni, non tardar (Oh, come, do not delay): Also from The Marriage of Figaro, but sung by Susanna, Figaro’s bride. It’s often staged as a love song sincerely meant for one man (Figaro) but also intended to entrap/deceive another (the lecherous Count Almaviva). Sophie’s interpretation of the song was influenced by Alison Hagley’s performance in the 1994 Glyndebourne production of The Marriage of Figaro.

5. The Mermaid’s Song: A lyric poem by Anne Hunter (1742-1821) was set to music by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) to make this very lovely canzonetta. Hunter and Haydn became good friends and enjoyed a fruitful musical collaboration.

608a1363ada06f3fe243d010.L6. I Dreamt I Dwelt in Marble Halls: An aria from The Bohemian Girl (1843), an opera composed by Michael William Balfe, in which the heroine, kidnapped and given to the gypsies as an infant, confides to her lover the dreams she has had of her noble upbringing. The song on its own enjoyed great popularity during the 19th century, but I first heard it as an airy, ethereal track on Enya’s Shepherd Moons.

LostChord_sm7. The Lost Chord: Composed in 1877 by Arthur Sullivan (of Gilbert and Sullivan), who had tried for several years to set Adelaide Anne Procter’s poem “A Lost Chord” to music. He found tragic inspiration in the last illness of his brother Fred, who died five days after the song was completed. Although not written for sale, The Lost Chord became an huge commercial success in Britain and America during the 1870s and 1880s. In Topsy-Turvy, the 1999 film about Gilbert and Sullivan’s stormy partnership, Sullivan’s longtime mistress Fanny Ronalds (Eleanor David) performs “The Lost Chord” at a society function.

8. Love’s Old Sweet Song: An Irish folk song, written in 1884, with music by James Lynam Molloy and lyrics by G. Clifton Bingham. Very popular with Victorian audiences, the song has been recorded by many artists. The title of my book is actually taken from a line of the chorus: “Just a song at twilight, when the lights are low.”

As I observed, the selection is nothing if not eclectic! But I enjoyed picking out each song, and hope that its inclusion enhanced the mood and the readers’ experience!

So, dear reader, do you have a favorite opera/composer or a soundtrack that you associate with a favorite book? And writers, do you find yourself imagining or even arranging a soundtrack for your works in progress?

I will be giving away a signed copy of A Song at Twilight to one commenter on this week’s post, until midnight, PST, 11/10.

End of October Thoughts: A Potpourri Post (+ Giveaway)

The last couple of weeks have been chock-full of stuff. So much stuff that I never got around to blogging last weekend. So, while I still have some “little grey cells” to devote to the task, here’s a five-point bulletin on what’s been happening lately.

P10-04-13_10.441. There is no book that’s so wonderful that someone out there won’t hate it. And there’s no book that’s so awful that someone out there won’t love it.  That being said, I have been surprised, pleased, and touched by the response A Song at Twilight has received so far. Heartfelt thanks to all of you who enjoyed the book and took the time to post reviews on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, and elsewhere. A new book by a comparatively new author needs all the support it can get!

One especially pleasant surprise was this starred review from Library Journal (I knew it was positive, but I didn’t know about the star until I received a tweet about it, and yes, I’m going to indulge myself a little by quoting it):

Library Journal

★ 10/15/2013
“Devastated when Robin Pendarvis’s past wrenches him from her life and crushes her romantic dreams, silver-voiced Sophie Tresilian gives up on love and immerses herself in her music. Now, four years later with her star on the rise, Sophie almost has it all—until Robin walks into one of her London performances and turns her world upside down. The past alternates with the present as tantalizing flashbacks bring fans up to speed in a compelling, deeply complex romance that becomes more tangled as it progresses. A self-possessed heroine and a hero determined to make things right prevail against formidable odds in this engaging story that is enhanced by an abundance of family and friends (some introduced in Waltz with a Stranger) and leaves room for the stories that are sure to come. VERDICT Moving, lyrically written, and superbly inventive, this late Victorian tale has a dash of mystery and more than one startling plot twist to put a refreshing spin on the typical tender reunion story. A delightful way to spend an afternoon.”

It’s always such a lift when a reviewer “gets” your work–and the fact that she avoided giving away major plot spoilers while reviewing is another bonus! 🙂

Of course, the funniest response I’ve received has come from the 10-year-old son of my Queen Beta Reader, who wanted to know “why Auntie Pam’s books all have a guy showing his chest on the cover?” Out of the mouths of babes . . .

2. Much to my surprise, an article I wrote almost a year ago–around the time Waltz with a Stranger came out–ended up being tweeted and re-tweeted all over the Twittersphere last week. I’m startled but flattered by this occurrence, and if the advice I offered helps other writers, then that’s surely all to the good. But I guess it goes to show that nothing posted on the internet ever really dies!

51hARr6AfCL._SY300_3. With Halloween fast approaching and Thanksgiving following close on its heels, I’m bracing myself for the onslaught of holiday music–good, bad, and indifferent. But I’ve found one palliative already in Connie Dover’s Christmas CD “The Holly and the Ivy.” I discovered Dover when I was in graduate school. She doesn’t tour much or have many recordings to her name, but her voice is exquisite: light, clear, and supple rather than ethereal. Not that I mind ethereal voices, but it’s refreshing to hear a non-breathy trad singer. Dover does a lovely job with most of the holiday standards on the CD, but I can already tell that “The Huron Carol” is going to be a favorite. It’s an unusual song written by a French Jesuit priest in Canada for the Huron Indians, retelling the Nativity story in their cultural terms. Dover sings in French and English here, flawlessly. So, if you’re looking for a Christmas album that’s traditional but also pushes the envelope a little, I recommend this one!

4. Various houses in my neighborhood have been going all out for Halloween. So I’ve been regularly taking pictures on my walks of what I see. Offerings range from the grisly (hanging skeletons, a front lawn strewn with fake body parts–which I’m not including here!). . .

P10-24-13_08.39. . . to the elaborate (an ever-expanding haunted mansion, a pirate-themed house) . . .P10-24-13_08.38[1]. . . to the let’s-not-scare-the-kiddies (Mickey & Minnie, sittin’ in a tree).

P10-20-13_09.53Most of the decorations are quite clever, although I personally think the graveyard motif is a bit overused this year, along with giant spiders in their cotton batting webs.

MiaMarloweAuthorHeadshot1201805. The Spotlight column returns on Monday, 10/28, with special guest Mia Marlowe, author of Scottish-themed historical romances. Mia and I will actually be doing a blog swap that day, guesting on each other’s sites to promote our new releases. And we’ll each be giving away a copy of Plaid Tidings and A Song at Twilight, respectively. So look for us on Monday. Mia will be here, at Blue Stockings & Crossed Genres, while I’ll be over at her place. Hope to see you there!

In addition to the blog swap giveaway with Mia, I’m holding my usual giveaway this weekend: a copy of A Song at Twilight to one commenter. Post about anything you like, whether book-, Halloween-,  or life-related, until midnight PST, 11/3!

 

ETA: Michelle Fidler wins this week’s giveaway of A Song at Twilight! Please contact me with your mailing address so I can send you your book!

Release Day for A Song at Twilight, plus Double Book Giveaway!

P09-30-13_11.39At long last, A Song at Twilight–the sequel to Waltz with a Stranger–is here! And just like I was ten months ago, I’m excited, apprehensive, thrilled, and eager to see the book officially out in the world.  Will there ever come a day when I greet a new release with a reaction bordering on the jaded and blasé? I sure hope not!

You learn something new with each book you write, I’ve found. With Waltz with a Stranger, I discovered it was possible to keep going, even when life hands you disappointments and distractions by the truckload. And that perseverance pays off,  because Waltz was the book that sold first.

With A Song at Twilight, I learned that I could write to a deadline, in spite of the prospect making me break out in a cold sweat. Not that I haven’t written to deadline before and successfully, but an article of some 10-20 pages doesn’t inspire the same degree of abject terror that a 400-page manuscript does!

On the creative front, A Song at Twilight taught me to take risks. Because when I first started to develop Robin and Sophie’s romance, I had only the sketchiest idea of where I was headed. I only knew that the book needed to be its own thing and that I didn’t want to write a story that was just like the one I’d finished telling. So I took a hard look at where I’d left these two characters–smiling tentatively at each other across the breakfast table, hoping that their budding romance might yet have a chance–and mapped out the next year during which they grew still closer . . . and then blew it all to kingdom come. The fallout from that sent them reeling in opposite directions, forcing them to rebuild their lives without the consolation of each other’s company, and making them stronger–and in my opinion, more interesting–characters. Characters with the will to fight for each other when fate unexpectedly hands them a second chance. Characters who understand how precious real love is, and that it’s worth the effort to hold on to it when you find it.

Other risks included taking a non-linear approach to the story, weaving back and forth in time during the first third of the book to present the most complete picture of Robin and Sophie’s relationship. And dealing with the necessity of overlap between A Song at Twilight and Waltz with a Stranger. Generally, I prefer sequels that are less intertwined with previous books in a series. But this time, whether I liked it or not, some key events from the first book required revisiting from a different perspective in the second book, and I could not ignore the repercussions of those events for Robin and Sophie. That also involved the reappearance of a character who’d caused considerable trouble for the “good guys” in Waltz with a Stranger. While his actions there were exposed and successfully thwarted, his ill-will towards Robin, in particular, persisted–to the point where I realized he was not going to go quietly and that he’d have to be dealt with more conclusively this time around. I can only hope that readers relish his eventual comeuppance!

Some of these risks may work for readers, some may not. But I hope that those who enjoyed my first book will be willing to give A Song at Twilight a chance as well. Because this book grew into my heart as I got to know it better, in spite of or perhaps even because of all the challenges it presented to me.

Anticipating the question “Is it necessary to read Waltz with a Stranger before reading A Song at Twilight?” Well, I don’t think you have to, necessarily (a reviewer from The Romance Reviews understood–mostly–and enjoyed Book #2 without having read Book #1), but you might get more out of it if you do.

Which is why I’m giving away not only a signed copy of A Song at Twilight this week on my blog, but one of Waltz with a Stranger as well. So you can comment below until midnight PST, October 8, for a chance to win both books in the series. (To whoever wins: if you already own Waltz with a Stranger and would prefer not to receive an extra copy, just let me know when the time comes.)

Meanwhile, I’ll be embarking on a virtual tour for much of October, promoting the book. The tour itinerary can be found here, and most of these stops will be offering giveaways of A Song at Twilight. I hope some of you will drop by and say hello!

 

ETA: Gina D. wins the Double Book Giveaway of A Song at Twilight and its prequel, Waltz with a Stranger! Please contact me with your mailing address, so I can send your books off to you as quickly as possible.

However, I will be giving away a copy of A Song at Twilight  to a commenter on a weekly basis for the remainder of the month. See my next blog post for details. Thank you to everyone who stopped by with their good wishes–readers help make the magic happen!

The First Breath of Autumn

Autumn Leaves, by John Everett Millais (1856)
Autumn Leaves, by John Everett Millais (1856)

Just a short post this week, as I’m currently up to my neck in proposals, synopses, and pre-promotional activity for A Song at Twilight, which comes out in less than two weeks! But it’s worth noting that today is September 21, traditionally considered the autumn equinox (it’s also apparently the UN International Day of Peace–a touch ironic given the current state of world events, but let’s not dwell on that just now). And tomorrow will be the official first day of autumn.

Autumn was a season I had to learn to love. When I was a kid, it meant going back to school, usually amid scorching temperatures, and settling (reluctantly) back in harness. As an adult and a full-time writer, I’m almost always in harness now, either writing or thinking about my next project, so that aspect of autumn has sort of lost its sting. And when the September heat wave passes–and it’s been cooler than usual this year–mornings becomes misty and overcast, days shorter, and nights longer, although we do get an hour back to compensate. And there’s Halloween, Thanksgiving, and the onset of the Christmas holidays to anticipate . . . or dread, depending on one’s perspective!

On the West Coast, we don’t get the same brilliant display of foliage that the East Coast and Midwest enjoy. But even here there are occasional pockets of vibrancy and color, purplish-reds and orangey-golds among the fading, yellowish-greens. And pine cones drop to the ground, and so do those annoying spiky things that look like morning star flails in arboreal form. They might be horse chestnuts, but whatever they’re called, they’re a nuisance, especially underfoot, which means I need to be extra-careful on my morning walks so I don’t do a face plant into the sidewalk.

Autumn in England can be beautiful, I’ve heard, and this ode by John Keats seems to bear that out. So, whenever I’m feeling grumpy about the fall, I remember this poem and try, as Keats did, to find the beauty in this most contradictory of seasons.

To Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,–
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

–John Keats (1795-1821)

To Market, To Market

P08-01-13_11.41I’ve never been sure whether to consider August mid-summer, late summer, or even early fall, though stores sounding the dreaded “Back to School” alarm seem to believe the latter. And I have friends and relatives who teach, and thus find themselves a bit disgruntled at the way their summer vacations have been curtailed in recent years, as an increasing number of them get summoned back to work before Labor Day. And long before they or their restless pupils are ready to return!

Whatever August is called, though, I always feel that summer as a season is very much present. The beaches are crowded with surfers and sunbathers, and public swimming pools are still open, the chlorinated waters shining like aquamarines under the sun–a somewhat milder sun than we saw last year, and believe me, I am not complaining about that! People are still planning and embarking upon vacations, the ice cream truck can be heard trundling along the neighborhood streets, and the smoky smell of barbecues fills the evening air.

One of summer’s simple but enduring pleasures for me is exploring the numerous open-air farmer’s markets held throughout the city. Some are quite small, just a handful of stalls devoted to fresh produce, flowers, and the occasional baked treat. P08-01-13_11.43Others are much more extensive, offering not only beautiful flowers and gorgeous-looking fruits and vegetables, but ice-blended drinks, savory soups and stews, fluffy omelets and fancy crepes, grilled and barbecued meats–just about anything you can imagine wanting to eat on a bright summer day!

P08-01-13_11.42[1]

And that’s just the food. The larger farmer’s markets can also sell clothes–wide-brimmed straw hats, gauzy cotton blouses, and full, flowery skirts–and sometimes paintings and sketches by local artists, and offer live entertainment. Last weekend, I walked past a stall where a man was playing Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence” . . . on a set of panpipes!

That same market also featured a petting zoo, complete with chickens, geese, rabbits, goats, one stubborn-looking little donkey, and a couple of ponies, who were there to give rides to the kids. P07-28-13_10.27When I walk through the farmers’ markets, I keep my eyes and ears open, enjoying all the sights and sounds. And tastes! Ripe red strawberries, golden slices of peaches or nectarines, tiny exquisite champagne grapes, segments P08-01-13_12.14[1]of bright orange satsumas or purplish-red blood orange are generously provided for sampling. (Vendors are usually eager to provide you with tastes of their goods, in hopes that you’ll come back for more–and spend money this time!).

I admire the agua frescas, bright as jewels in their huge glass jars. P08-01-13_11.45I inhale the aromas of roasted corn and grilled sausages. And I observe with wonder the lunchtime crowds all lining up for Hawaiian barbecued chicken or lobster rolls.P08-01-13_11.46But finally, I get down to business and purchase what I came for, whether it’s fresh herbs, succulent corn on the cob, strawberries, or stone fruit.  Right now it’s the latter, and a few days hence, when the fruit is sufficiently ripe, there will be this.P08-01-13_09.33[1]A pie made with the best ingredients to be found that will, one hopes, live up to its potential! (This one did, by the way–all but one slice is now gone. But more will follow.)

To the joys of summer! May they yet reign–at least until Labor Day!