Monday, June 28, 2010

Flying High into the Sky

I grew up the daughter of an Air Force officer. As a child, my life was filled with blue uniforms and the roar of jet engines. Some of my earliest memories are of drums and taps and nights at the officers club with men and their wives warbling, “Off we go into the wild blue yonder…” My mother was blessed with one of the world’s most godawful voices, but she loved to sing that song.

I heard that song again this weekend, when I watched through tear-swelled eyes as my older daughter graduated from COT (Commissioned Officer Training School) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. My mother has been dead for three months now, my father for nearly nineteen years. But how I wished they could have been there, too, to share that moment. I know they’d have been as thrilled as I was.

Sam is currently in medical school and will go on active duty as a doctor when she graduates. I am very, very proud of her. Since Steve and I started writing thrillers, I’ve found it ironic how many people have acridly questioned our patriotism simply because our vision of what this country’s future should be doesn’t match theirs. My father was an Air Force colonel; my husband is a retired Army colonel; my sister was a Marine captain and her husband a Marine major. Now my daughter is an Air Force Second Lieutenant. We have always been a military family. And so it begins again.

Congratulations, Second Lieutenant Proctor.

Monday, June 21, 2010



My children and my agent both frequently accuse me of living under a rock. So it’s probably no surprise that when my long-suffering agent, Helen, recently commented that the cover for Where Shadows Dance has a “steampunk look to it,” I went, “Huh?”

In my defense, I had heard of books that are in this genre, I just hadn’t heard of the genre itself. (Does that make it better, or worse?) At any rate, those of you familiar with the genre can now go away snickering. Those of you who live under a rock, too, might be interested in hearing what I discovered from Le Google.

Picture a world where steam drives not only trains but also all sorts of other anachronistic inventions like computers and airships; where women wear corsets and red satin, and life has a distinctive Victorian flavor and aesthetic. Throw in lots of brass and clock gears, perhaps a dragon or maybe even a vampire, and you have steampunk.

Steampunk existed even before someone slapped a label on it (the labeler was K.W. Jeter, back in the early 80s, although the genre has really taken off in recent years). Basically it’s a subgenre of sci-fi and speculative fiction, with the occasional fantasy elements. Some steampunk novels are alternative histories; some self-consciously adopt the style of H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Mark Twain, and Mary Shelley (all of whom are obvious sources for the movement).

There are even subgenres of this subgenre. “Flintlock fantasies” are set in the Regency or Napoleonic eras, when steam power was still in its infancy. “Western steampunk” channels the old Wild Wild West TV show (and movie remake) and melds with other subgenres, such as “weird west” and “science fiction westerns.” There is “steamgoth,” which is supposed to be even darker, although I get the impression steampunk is already pretty dark. And I’ve no doubt that someone out there is writing a steampunk romance or steampunk erotica.


The enthusiasm for this re-imagined Victorian world has become so great that the genre is no longer confined simply to books. There are steampunk computer role-playing games (“Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura”), steampunk music, steampunk-influenced interior decorating and design; there are even annual steampunk convention in both the States and the UK.

My own personal reading tastes have never run to science fiction or fantasy, so I didn't see any fiction that caught my fancy. But I do admire the spirit of invention and the renewed interest in craftsmanship and traditional materials the movement is inspiring, and it all looks like a lot of fun.


This old stove has been retrofitted with a hi-end electric Miele halogen cooktop and two electric ovens; the copper bowl at the base of the fancy water filter is for the owner's dogs. If you're interested in seeing more of a steampunked house, take a look at this.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Marmalades Update

From left to right: Peanut, Whiskies, and Roscoe

Our rescue kittens are ten months old now. We found homes for the mama and Peaches, but Roscoe, Whiskies, and Peanut are still with us, and I suspect always will be.

Peanut, the runt of the litter, still has some health problems but is slowly improving. Roscoe is a handful, and Whiskies likes to sleep a lot. Life is hard when you're a cat.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Revisions, Revisions

I’m currently deep into the editorial revisions for Where Shadows Dance. My editor's comments and suggestions for this book are, as always, incredibly insightful and helpful. This rewrite is more extensive then usual, due largely I suspect to what was happening in my life while I was trying to write this book. I’m happy with the way things are going so far, but it’s taking a long time because there’s a lot involved.

To give you some insight into my creative process, I thought you might find this view of my scribbled-over manuscript interesting.

This particular spillage of ink (the different colors mean nothing except that every time I picked up the scene I seemed to have a different pen in my hand) was provoked by two short lines written by my editor at the end of the chapter: “Is Hero really so cool or is she hiding her attraction here? I feel a need for more personal tension between them in this scene.”

In order to satisfy that simple comment, I’ve torn the scene apart and switched the POV so that we now see the scene through Hero’s eyes rather than Sebastian’s. It’s an approach that has worked well, I think. And it’s always an interesting exercise to rewrite a scene from a different character’s point of view.

I’m probably going to be at this for several more weeks, which is frustrating because I’m itching to get started working on the next Sebastian novel, which will be number seven. I’ve never understood writers who say they’re sorry to see a book end. I’m always more than ready to move on the next story.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Krewe of Dead Pelicans


I've avoided talking about the oil spill in the Gulf because it quite frankly breaks my heart. But yesterday the citizens of New Orleans took their anguish and frustration to the street as the Krewe of Dead Pelicans second-lined down St. Charles Avenue to protest the oil spill and BP's sickeningly, infuriatingly lousy response.


Not that having a parade is going to do anything to help except maybe keep the news cameras focused on the issue, but, well, this is New Orleans.

Photos by Michael DeMocker/The Times-Picayune
Sphinx Ink has a wonderful post on this. You can read it here.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The Diderot Effect

Don’t you just love it when you discover there actually is a word or expression for a phenomenon you’d recognized but didn’t realize had a name? That happened to me recently with the Diderot Effect.

I first became aware of this tendency in human nature when I bought my house here in New Orleans. I loved the house because of its floor plan and its long breezy gallery and its rows of French doors opening onto a secluded, iron-gated courtyard (and because it had lots of lovely built-in bookcases in the family room that I planned to turn into my office; my real estate agent said, “I’ve sold houses because they had hot tubs or crown molding or granite countertops, but this is the first time I’ve ever sold a house because it had bookcases.”). But the house was an outdated wreck painted a dull gray beige on the inside and pink and turquoise on the outside, so the girls and I (joined later by Steve) set to work painting and renovating.

That’s when we discovered this strange phenomenon. We painted the upstairs hall but instead of making the hall look better, all it did was emphasize how ratty the carpet was. So we pulled up the carpet and put down a wood floor, and suddenly we were really, really bothered by the tacky light fixtures overhead. The massive renovations necessitated by Katrina only increased the problem. The new paneled doors downstairs made the old slab doors left upstairs unbearable. The new master bath doomed the old hall bath. We laughed about what we assumed was simply our own private quirk. Then I discovered that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Denis Diderot was one of the French philosophes of the eighteenth century who brought us the Enlightenment (and, by extension, such various legacies as the American Declaration of Independence and the Reign of Terror). In 1769 or thereabouts he wrote a humorous essay entitled, "Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown, or a Warning to those who have more taste than fortune." In it he describes how the possession of a splendid new scarlet dressing gown leads him to replace his scruffy old chair with a lovely new armchair of Moroccan leather. Then he realizes the chair makes his desk look beat up, so he springs for a glossy new writing table. And so it goes, on and on, until he has completely redone his study and is as a result on the brink of financial ruin.

The Diderot Effect.