Help Me Help You (The Editorial Process Part 2)

In my last post, I wrote about the editorial process and why it takes so long, and I promised that the next one would be suggestions and strategies writers can use to make that process go more smoothly and, hopefully, a little bit faster. In the interim, I have finished up edits on one big book, acquired two more manuscripts to edit, and written two difficult chapters in my own WIP. So, you know, the monster lurches on. But anyway, as promised ….

Stop Sending Me Your Ratsafrackin First Draft: And trust me, I can always tell. I’m starting with the harshest, most blame-the-writer-y directive because this is the one factor in the process that you, the writer, can absolutely control. I don’t care if you’re Stephen King, N.K. Jemisin, or Charles Dickens finishing Edwin Drood from beyond the grave, your first draft is NOT the draft you want me to see. Because it is not the draft you want the reader to see. Because the reader does not live inside your skin and will never, ever, ever understand it or engage with it or love it the way you do. You know that vitally important thing you figured out about your protagonist just as you were turning the corner on the second act? And that amazingly mind-blowing twist that came to you in the shower just when you thought you were stuck? And the way you kept going back and forth on how to spell the supernatural antagonist’s surname? All of that stuff needs to be revisited and worked through the manuscript as a whole (a hint of foreshadowing here, a corrected spelling there) before you submit it to an editor. And no, Grasshopper, running it through search and replace will NOT take care of it.

At the end of your first draft, you have the story, you have an arc. But you haven’t made it plain what’s important and what isn’t; you’re still just then at that moment figuring out which details the reader needs to notice and which details need to barely register and hang around in the back of their brain until you start setting off your bottle rockets and springing your traps. You probably have a few rockets and traps you haven’t even set up yet. And if you don’t go through your story again and refine your rhythms and shore up your foundations and fix your continuity snafus before you send the thing to me, I’m going to have to do it for you. And even if your first draft is really good and you and I have worked together really well for a really long time, I’m not ever going to be able to do it as well as you could because it’s not my story. I’m gonna screw it up. And that’s gonna piss you off. And we’re going to have to not only fix the problems, we’re going to have to get past the fact that I pissed you off and that you pissed ME off by sending me a first draft you weren’t really ready to see edited. And that’s going to slow our process down.

And btw, kittens, this goes double for anybody submitting for publication in the first place. Any time a writer tells me they’ve sent out a project to a dozen editors and gotten a dozen rejections and they’re ready to give up writing and join the circus, I ask them, “how many drafts did you write before you sent it out? How many other people read it and gave you feedback on it? How much rewriting did you do based on that feedback?” If they tell me several and lots, I sympathize and offer to help however I can. If they tell me they just finished it, got their mom to proofread it, and sent it out, I wish them luck with the elephants. Also, if you’re one of those super-artistic pantser types who writes your stories in a supernatural fever of inspiration from beginning to end, letting the muse and the characters tell you where your story needs to go until you collapse over your keyboard, spent and done with a story that’s a piece of your very soul still dripping tears and hearts’ blood, too precious to be imperfect . . . yeah, don’t send me that shit. Save us both a lot of heartache.** And on a related note . . .  

Don’t Send Me an Unfinished Draft: If you’ve still got one more piece of research to do or one more plot hole to fill or one more subplot to work out or one more name to choose or one more scene to write, you aren’t ready to show me your story, and I don’t want to see it. Nothing sends me into a rage frenzy faster than spending hours and hours editing a book, sending it to an author with my notes, and having them send me back a completely different, completely rewritten book that doesn’t so much address my concerns as render them moot. Because when that happens, I have to start all over again, and everything I did before was useless. And that makes me testy. If you’re not ready to submit, it’s okay; I’ll totally understand. Keep working until you’re ready to send me what you consider to be the finished form of your book.

But please note, this doesn’t mean I won’t make any changes or suggestions or comments. It means the changes, suggestions, and comments I do make will come only from stuff you couldn’t possibly have seen from the inside. That’s the whole point of editing. I work with so many writers who seem to take every critical note I give their story as some kind of commentary on their talent or intelligence—nothing could be further from the truth. Like I said in my last post, I already know you’re an amazing writer. If I tell you I don’t understand why Sally Jane killed the fly with her flipflop in Chapter 9, make it clear she didn’t have a fly swatter. Don’t feel like you have to rewrite the universe so flies don’t exist. You don’t have to be perfect; you can’t be perfect. I’m certainly not, and neither is any other writer. This is a process, not a test. I’m not grading you; we’re making a product together. So relax and work with me, okay?

Meet Your Deadlines: Which I know sounds like a complete contradiction to everything I’ve written so far. But here’s the deal with deadlines. We set them, usually in a collaboration between the writer, me, and the publisher, not just so we have one but so we can plan ahead for all the other steps that have to happen to make the great story you made up into an actual book for publication and for the glorious moment when that book is finally released into the world. If shit happens and for whatever reason you can’t make that deadline, we are not going to be mad at you or fuss at you; we’re going to totally understand and give you whatever time you need. But we’re not going to bring the big machine that is the publishing house to a grinding stop to wait for you to finish; we’re going to move on. Your book loses its place in line; the next finished book behind you moves up into your slot. So when you do turn your book in and ask me “so when’s this going to come out?” I’m going to tell you, “I don’t know, but probably no time soon.” Not because I’m mad you missed your deadline, not because I’m not still wildly excited about your book; I’m not and I am. But just like at the doctor’s office, I gotta work you in. So if your book was due on December 1, 2020, for a release on May 1, 2021, that doesn’t mean if you turn it in on February 1, 2021, it’s going to come out July 1, 2021. Other people’s books are already taking up that space. It means it’s going to come out just as soon as we can get it through the editorial pipeline and find a spot on the roster for it. So it might just come out May 1, 2022. (I say this with authority—the dates I used in the previous example were my own when I missed my original deadline for Stella 4. It was meant to be a ConCarolinas release, but it wasn’t ready for ConCarolinas 2021. So we held it until ConCarolinas 2022.) Again, it’s not that anybody blames you or doesn’t understand why you couldn’t make your deadline. It means your missing your deadline threw off the schedule, and we’ve gotta find a way to make it work.

Be Flexible and Let Go: Like the deadline thing, this is not something you have to do or even that you always should do or even can do. But the more you can do it, the less time it’s going to take to get your book through the editorial pipeline and out into the world. I’m talking about stuff like editorial suggestions, copy edits, and cover art. Your book is your book; that is never in question. And it’s only natural that you should have a vision for it as a story and as an object and that you should care deeply about that vision. But if you don’t trust a publisher to know what they’re doing in polishing and packaging your book, don’t sign with that publisher. Don’t roll over and play dead; if you have an idea or a problem, speak up, that’s part of your job as a writer. The trick is realizing which details really matter and which you can give up.

As far as editing, my own process as a writer is simple. I get my edits, and I read them, and every nice thing slides through my brain so fast I barely see it and every criticism digs in like a rusty fishhook and makes me scream. And scream I do, and cuss, and disparage the ungodly entity that brought me to this pain (my editor) in every possible way for anywhere from ten minutes to two days. And then I read them again and realize not everything is quite so egregious as I thought it was. At that point, I’m able to start the process of making decisions as to what the editor is dead right about and what they might be right about and what they’re so wrong about I can’t stand it and what I can let go. And that’s the version of my response that my editor actually sees, and usually, we work it through very well and come up with a version that pleases us both.

Cover art might be trickier because I have a weird outlook on it. I got so battle-scarred with my first big publisher regarding cover art, anything that doesn’t make me cry seems glorious to me now. Other authors are very much not the same. Again, you gotta be you, but for your own sake, I’m going to say this. The people choosing and/or creating your cover art know a lot more about that process than you do, including what’s selling and what isn’t, and you couldn’t be objective enough to be smart about it even if they didn’t. This is your story; it’s been living in your  head and your heart for a long, long time before you ever start thinking about cover art. So nothing anybody else can think of, find, or create will ever match the vision in your head in a way that feels adequate to you. But the less you’re willing to compromise, the more tightly you clutch that Platonic ideal of a cover in your head, the longer it’s going to take for your book to come out. And sadly, the less likely it is that you’re going to get another contract with that publisher—again, cover artists are busy people, too, and usually quite expensive. So don’t let us make your book ugly. But don’t die on that hill.

Sorry this is so long, but I hope it helps. Bottom line, I want your book to be the best it can possibly be and to come out into the world as fast as it possibly can. You know, just like you do. So let’s do it together.

**PLEASE NOTE: I do not mean to suggest pantsers don’t write great books; of course they do. But the good ones take that first exploratory draft and craft it into something leaner and more focused that speaks to the reader as clearly as it spoke to them. No, I’m being hateful about the pantsers who feel that once they’ve typed “The End,” they’re done, that any change will mar the chaotic perfection of their art. And yeah, I got no time for that.

What Is Your Editor Doing?

… when she’s not editing your book?

Like every writer I’ve ever known or heard tell of, I’m a fretful ball of nerves every time I send in a manuscript. Back in days of yore when I was writing my first books on stone tablets and had never edited anyone else in my life, I would start bitching as soon as the trader’s mule train crested the closest hill that it was taking too damned long for my edits to come back. “It’s taking her longer to edit the thing than it took me to write it!” I would rant to my nearest and dearest. “What the hell is she doing?”

Now that I’m an editor, too, I know. Sadly, unfortunately, tragically, boy howdy, do I ever know.

1.         Her day job: I used to think that editors had offices or cubicles or at least dedicated desk space somewhere at which they planted themselves every morning with nothing to do ‘til quitting time but edit books. If you still think that, bless your heart. These days, even the Big 5 NYC publishers (five . . . four . . . three . . . two . . . ) employ very few full-time fiction editors. And the ones they do employ spend at least as much time on stuff like marketing, statistical analysis, and helping their boomer boss download their email as they do actually editing.

            In my case, I have a full-time, nine-to-five, five days a week day job as a domestic court paralegal. My dedicated desk is here to help people get divorced, not edit books. Do I cheat? Most certainly—don’t tell my boss. But that cheating time is strictly limited by the need to keep up with my paralegal tasks so I don’t get fired. Editing your book fulfills my soul, and I love it. But it doesn’t pay my light bill.

2.         Writing her own book: In the wonderful, madcap world of small press publishing, virtually every editor is also a writer. And for most of us, no matter how much we love you and your book, our own writing comes first. By the time we get to the point in our writing career that we’re qualified to edit, we’ve learned how necessary it is to make our work a priority. As a writer who probably also has a day job and almost certainly has a life outside the stories you make up, you know how hard it is to find the time, energy and inspiration to write a book. So when that opportunity arises, by scheduled design or divine intervention, you’re going to grab it, and so am I. Put another way, if I’m letting my husband walk the dogs alone and letting the dishes pile up in the sink to get this chapter finished, I’m letting your manuscript wait for me, too.

3.         Editing somebody else’s book: When I started editing, I made it a solid policy to never work on more than one book at a time. I thought that was the only way I’d be able to edit and still write my own stuff. But yeah, that went out the window a while back and doesn’t seem likely to return.

4.         Doing promotion, packaging, physical sales, and everything else that goes into fiction as a business in the year 2022: Again, at a small press, the same people who are editing the books are doing everything else, too, from creating social media content to working the sales booth at conventions. In addition to the marketing and promotion work I do for my own work (a full-time job all by its itty-bitty self, I assure you), I try to be an advocate and resource for the authors I edit. I do what I can to help them create their own marketing plans and make sure their voice is heard in the packaging and promotion of their work within the publishing house. As your editor, the person who works for your publisher and has been where you are many times before, that’s part of my job, and I’m more than happy to do it. But like everything else, it takes time.

5.         Reading, watching TV, eating tacos: The TV and tacos are pretty self-explanatory, but the reading is more than just a fun release. To be a decent editor (and writer), I have to read other books in my genre—NEW books. Books that are selling. Books that were created for and are being marketed to the audience my authors and I are trying to reach. It’s fun, and I love it. But it’s also necessary—and time-consuming.

6.         Answering your emails: I hesitate to even mention this because I never want any author to feel weird about getting in touch with me for any reason at all. And if you have a problem or a question; if you’re stuck trying to transition into your third act or you hate the first mock-up of your new cover or whatever, please, by all means, speak up; I’m keen to help. But if you’re just “touching base,” or “checking in” or “seeing where we are,” I will be very nice to you. I love talking to my authors; they are some of my favorite people in the whole wide world. But inside my head, I’ll be thinking, “I’m here; I remember I owe you an edit; I care about that a whole bunch; and I’m doing my fucking job, I promise.”

            And I know that sounds harsh and pissy. I mean, all you’re asking for is a three-line email, right? Five minutes of my attention, tops—hardly too much to ask. Except you need five minutes. And she needs five minutes. And he needs five minutes. And they need five minutes. It adds up fast, particularly when you consider everything else on this list. An editor with a much longer list of clients than mine (and a much more successful sales record with their own work) recently told me, “I could fill my entire week doing nothing but reassuring authors I haven’t forgotten about them.”

And that makes sense. Being a writer is hard; waiting to hear your editor’s reaction to the story you’ve worked on so hard for so long is torture; I know that. Waiting with your hands folded for your book to be published is like dying; you wrote it to be read. The process of getting it from your pen to the bookstore shelf (or your keyboard to Amazon) does take fucking forever; I know that, too, and I’m so, soooo very sorry.

But here are three things your editor is absolutely NOT doing while she’s not sending you your edits:

1.         Kicking back in some dark, seedy basement club for editors, swilling gin and laughing as I read your latest email aloud to my equally vicious colleagues so we can mock your pain together: Honest. I swear.  

2.         Ignoring, forgetting, or ghosting you: I keep a list of my pending editing projects on my computer and physically written down on a piece of paper stuck inside the notebook where I’m writing my own stuff. I see it a hundred times a day. I feel guilty every time I see it. I hate that it takes me so long to get your edits back to you, and all this other stuff notwithstanding, I do carve out hours and hours every week to edit. It’s an important priority for me, not a sideline. And when I’m working on your book, you have my undivided and entirely enraptured attention, I promise. Because here’s the thing; you write great books. Which leads me directly to …

3.         Avoiding the discomfort of telling you your writing sucks: This is the one I hear most often from writers and the one that’s the most ridiculous. First of all, if your writing really did suck, I would want to tell you as quickly as possible to get you out of my editing life, and I probably wouldn’t feel all that uncomfortable doing it. There’s too much good writing in the world to waste time polishing turds. Secondly, if your writing sucked, you wouldn’t be working with me in the first place. My publisher wouldn’t have acquired your book. We wouldn’t be looking forward to making money off your gift—because ultimately that’s what publishing is. My boss buys the books he thinks will sell. He assigns them to me for editing not because he wants me to fix them but because he wants me to help you make them even better. So they will sell more. And make even more money.

Okay, this is already way too long, so I’ll stop. But next week, I’ll be back with some suggestions for writers to make this hideously drawn-out process go a little more smoothly and maybe even a little faster.

The Princess and the Peonies – sneak peek!

So you know how Stella has been engaged to George Barrington since the end of Guinevere’s Revenge? Well, in Stella 4, The Princess and the Peonies, they finally cross the finish line. In more ways than one.

But don’t let me spoil it for you. How about a sneak peek at Chapter 1?

_____________________________________________________

Stella had always thought Barrington Hall looked like a fairy tale castle with its towering spires and lush green gardens. The first time she visited for her mother’s wedding to Lord Henry Barrington two years ago, she found it cold and unwelcoming, a museum full of snobs. But now, coming back to the English manor from Hollywood for her own wedding to Henry’s nephew and heir, George, she knew she was coming home.

She and George were back exactly one week before the wedding. “Ridiculous. I ought to spank both of you,” Stella’s mother said as they took off their coats and hats and handed them over to Hennessey, the butler. “I can’t believe you’ve taken so long to get here.”

“Hello, Aunt Grace,” George said. He shook Lord Barrington’s hand. “Hello, uncle.”

“My boy,” Henry said. “So good to have you home.”

“Honestly, I don’t see how on earth we can manage,” Mom went on. “You must think I’m some sort of magician. Do you realize your Granny Hart is due to arrive here tomorrow?”

“And you and Hennessey have everything well in hand,” Henry said, patting her shoulder.

Stella couldn’t speak. For more than a month, through the most horrible, disheartening, frantic weeks of her life so far, she had clung to George and dreamed of the moment when they’d finally make it home. Finishing her latest picture had been an absolute horror show with a nasty real-life murder smack dab in the middle of it. Now that the murder was solved and the movie was finished and they were finally here, all she could do was cry. “Oh Mom,” she finally choked out. “I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, my darling.” Mom gathered her up in a hug. “My poor sweet girl.” George put a hand on her back as she had a little weep against her mother’s shoulder. “It will all be fine now,” Mom said, stroking her hair. “It will be beautiful.”

“You must both be exhausted,” Henry said. “But no murders on the boat this time, I trust?”

“None that we knew about,” George said. Stella let go of Mom and hugged him, and he squeezed her tight. “We left strict instructions with the steward that unless the victim was Sophie, Sid, or a member of the Royal Family, we didn’t want to be disturbed.” He kissed Stella’s cheek. “All right, then, sausage?”

“Yes, thanks.” She let him go and laughed, pulling herself together. “I can’t imagine why I’m so soppy.”

“Brides are meant to be,” Henry said. “You were, weren’t you dearest?”

“All three times,” Mom said. “But come on, this is England, isn’t it? We should have some tea.”

“Actually, I was thinking of having a nap,” Stella said.

“Think again, puss,” Mom said. “You have much too much to do. Did you have lunch on the train?”

“We barely had breakfast,” Stella said.

“George, darling, you must be starving,” Mom said. “Hennessey, send down to the kitchen for some sandwiches with the tea.”

“Can’t I have a sandwich too?” Stella said.

“If you can eat while you help me plan a seating chart for the reception,” Mom said. “Come into the drawing room so we can get started.”

***

The seating chart was only the beginning. Mom spent the next hour pummeling Stella with what felt like a million details—food, flowers, clothes, guests, the whole pageant of an English society wedding. Henry slipped the leash and fled after the first cup of tea was drunk, but George, heaven bless him, stuck it out at Stella’s side.

“George, your Mr. Knox is apparently out of the country until Monday, but he has promised to be here then,” Mom said. “Though why a boys school math teacher needs to spend so much time abroad is beyond me.”

“It’s a mystery,” Stella said, exchanging a smile with George. The best man was actually a spy for His Majesty’s government, but Mom didn’t need to know that. “But why do we need him so early?”

“Early?” Mom said. “The rest of the wedding party will be here by tomorrow.”

“Rest of what wedding party?” Stella said. “You mean Oliver and Jeremy?” George’s Cousin Clara’s two boys were very much favorites of the happy couple. Jeremy, the youngest at age six, would be the ring bearer, and Oliver, who was nine, would be a very short but very handsome usher. “I thought they were coming with their parents today.”

“They are—their train is due in half an hour,” Mom said. “Clara has promised to help, bless her, and Michael is finally home from the Amazon. So he’ll be here to help wrangle the boys if nothing else, But no, puss, I meant your bridesmaids and Brooks.”

“My bridesmaids?” Stella said.

“Who is Brooks?” George said.

“Stella’s cousin, my brother’s son,” Mom said. “He and Stella were very close when they were children.”

“We spent one summer together when we were five years old, and I’ve seen him less than half a dozen times since,” Stella said. “Mater, where have you acquired bridesmaids? Central casting?” As a silent film actress who was either working or traveling all the time, Stella didn’t have many girlfriends. And she doubted the ones she did have would meet Mom’s criteria for bridesmaids. Her best female friend in all the world was her lady’s maid, Sophie, who had already politely declined the position as a duty she didn’t need.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Mom said, fussing with her pearls—a sure sign she was about to spring a trap. “Your cousin Veronica is coming with your Granny Hart.”

“I suppose that’s only to be expected,” Stella said. She hadn’t seen much of her late father’s family from Newport, Rhode Island, since she was seven. But she did remember her Aunt Julia who lived in Kentucky having a daughter, Veronica, who was about Stella’s age. “George, we should fix her up with Knox.”

“And Henry thought it would be nice if you asked Jack Pitts’s daughter, Caroline,” Mom said, obviously trying to sound innocent and just as obviously failing. “So you did—or rather, I did on your behalf.”

“Oh Mom, do you really think that’s a good idea?” Caroline Pitts’s brother, Monty, had been murdered on an ocean liner, and Stella and George had solved the case. But the killer had been a man named Charles Ferguson who had been one of George’s best friends and Caroline’s former fiancé. He had been hanged a couple of months before while Stella and George were in Hollywood.

“That does seem potentially awkward,” George agreed.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Mom said. “Jack is Henry’s oldest friend, and he’s concerned that Caroline isn’t getting out enough these days. And as it turned out, she was actually quite pleased to do it. In fact…” She trailed off, glancing over at George.

“In fact what?” Stella said.

“She asked if she could bring along a friend,” Mom said. “And I thought why not? The more the merrier. Three bridesmaids will look perfect.”

“And what is this merry friend’s name?” Stella said.

“I’ve never actually met her, but I’m sure she’s charming,” Mom said, getting up. “Hennessey, what time is it?”

“The name, Mom?” Stella said.

“Nearly three, my lady,” the butler said. “Shall I send the car to the station?”

“Yes, please,” Mom said. “Better send the big car. Heaven only knows how much luggage they’ll have brought with them. Henry told Michael to bring his things from the expedition.”

“Mom?” Stella said.

“Alisande St. John-Smythe,” Mom said. George sputtered over his teacup. “Her name is Alisande St. John-Smythe, and she’s meant to be lovely.”

George looked stricken. “Aunt Grace, why?”

“I am so sorry, darling,” she said. “I didn’t realize until it was too late to say no.”

“Didn’t realize what?’ Stella said. “What’s wrong with this girl besides her ridiculous name?”

“Nothing,” George said. He caught her hand and hauled her to her feet. “Come on, Mugsy. Let’s hit the station and round up the rest of the gang.”

“But wait,” she said.

He kissed her. “I’ll explain later,” he said with his crooked smile. “Honestly, it will be fine.”

A sneak peek at The Devil Makes Three

The action of my new Southern gothic horror novel, The Devil Makes Three, kicks off on Indigenous People’s Day. And the book officially releases this week, October 14. So I thought now would be a good time to show off a sample chapter. xoxo Lucy

Serena had come home to Saxon County two years before because she’d had no choice. Once upon a time, she believed she would do great things, but the world taught her better. Now she just survived.

That Tuesday, she woke up at seven a.m. in the bed her late husband had slept in as a child. She ate toast and drank a smoothie while standing at the kitchen sink. Her mother-in-law fixed bacon and eggs for her father-in-law, and he sat at the table reading the morning paper. The three of them chatted, exchanging pleasantries and discussing the news of the day, nothing she could have remembered later if she’d thought to try. She told them she was leaving for work, and Claudine, her mother-in-law, told her to have a blessed day. She said she’d try and told them to do the same.

“You be careful, sugar,” her father-in-law, Henry, known as Rooster, called as she walked out the door.

As she got into her car, her eyes happened to fall on her keychain. It was a thick, clear plastic rectangle encasing a stylized portrait of an African goddess. Her late husband bought it for her at a gift shop in New Orleans on a long weekend away. “She looks like you,” he had said, and she had laughed.

The name of the goddess, Oshun, was printed in gold script across the portrait, a beautiful woman with an elaborate braided hairstyle who held a little round fan poised against her chin. Serena had looked up the name on the internet and read a few website articles about the Orisha, but she wasn’t really interested. She’d been raised Baptist and wasn’t in the market for any new gods. She was a historian, not a mythologist. She kept the keychain because it was a gift from Trey, and usually she didn’t notice it at all, any more than she noticed she had five fingers on each hand.

But that morning, she saw it. She stared at it, her mind wandering for several seconds. Mama, she thought, a word that rarely passed through her mind. Mama had one like this. Then she broke the trance and put the key in the ignition.

She pulled her car into the parking lot of the Briarwood Community Center half a minute behind Miz Rae, the branch librarian, just as God and Miz Rae intended she should. She helped her boss unload a monster-sized pumpkin from the trunk of her ancient Cadillac. They put it on the porch next to the library door. “Get that old scarecrow out of the storeroom,” Miz Rae said when they went inside. “And did you get those leaves?”

“Yes, ma’am, I did.” She put her mid-morning snack in the refrigerator and turned on her computer. She checked the book drop—a James Patterson hardback and three cowboy movie videos. Kirk Benson had been by.

She spent the rest of the morning decorating while Miz Rae sat at the front desk. She dusted off the scarecrow and stapled down a hank of his yarn hair that had gotten yanked loose the year before and fluffed his floppy felt hat to cover the spot. She put him on the porch beside the pumpkin. While she was out on the porch, she chatted about the weather and the relative dangers of trick-or-treating with a homeschool mom while Miz Rae dealt with the woman’s wild-ass children inside. She pasted colored paper leaves on the glass doors leading from the community center proper to the library, making swirls across the glass.

At noon, Miz Rae’s best friend, Miz Regina, turned up with lunch for the three of them—white Styrofoam plates from the Columbus Day hot dog and bake sale at the Briarwood Baptist Church with Styrofoam cups of sweet tea. Serena put up the “Be Back at 1:00” sign, locked the library doors, and joined the older ladies in the back office.

They ate at the work table in the back, and Miz Rae made Serena and Miz Regina laugh until they cried, talking about the people at the church. “You bad, Rae,” Miz Regina said, wiping her eyes with her paper napkin. “You know you so bad.”

“I’m just telling the truth,” Miz Rae said without cracking a smile, but Serena saw the twinkle in her eye.

At 12:45, Serena had just traded her little bag of barbecue potato chips for Miz Regina’s slice of lemon poundcake when the back door from the parking lot suddenly opened.

Tom Stewart, the director of the Saxon County Library, had let himself in with his key. “Afternoon, ladies,” he said. “Don’t let me disturb your lunch.”

“You can’t disturb us,” Miz Regina said. But of course, he could. He was a man, and he was White, and technically he was the boss. His arrival changed everything. Miz Rae grunted in a way he was welcome to interpret as pleasant.

Tom was nice enough; they all liked him fine. But he was the boss, even though Miz Rae had worked for the library for forty years. She had worked at the main branch in town when Tom and Serena had each gotten their first library cards. When the library board passed over her to give the director’s position to Tom and his graduate degree, they had opened this branch at the Briarwood Community Center and made Miz Rae branch manager as a way to smooth things over. Mostly it had worked. Tom acknowledged the branch as her special queendom, and Miz Rae didn’t make waves. But he knew, she knew, and Serena knew he would always be that White boy the board had given Miz Rae’s big job to.

“What are you doing working today, Tom?” Serena asked. “I thought county council decided to close down everything in town for the holiday.”

“Oh, we’re closed,” Tom said. “We don’t work hard like y’all do.” The Saxon County Council, all Republicans, had decided they were all aggrieved on behalf of Christopher Columbus and would make a big show of recognizing his holiday. Miz Rae thought that was foolishness. She kept the Briarwood branch open and put “Happy Indigenous People’s Day!” up on the big sign out front.

She also stayed open all day on Saturday instead of just the morning with the help of high school volunteers (Serena had Saturdays off), and she refused to allow public use computers. Tom left these issues to her best judgment, and they both slept better because of it. “Carol Ann Sweatt called me at home.”

“Oh lord,” Miz Rae said, immediately sympathetic. Carol Ann was a real estate agent and the chairwoman of the library board, a go-getter from Atlanta who thought the whole county belonged to her and her husband, the president of the bank. “What does she want now?”

“Y’all will never believe it,” Tom said. “She sold the Briarwood place.”

Both the older ladies cried out in shock. Miz Regina turned over her tea. “You can’t mean it,” she said, grabbing it up before the lid came off.

“The old Briarwood plantation?” Serena said. “I didn’t even know it was for sale.”

“It’s always been for sale,” Miz Rae said. “But didn’t nobody ever believe there’d be somebody fool enough to buy it.”

“I couldn’t believe it either, but that’s what she says,” Tom said. “Serena, you’ll never guess who she says bought it.”

“Who?” Serena said. Miz Regina wasn’t looking well, she noticed.

“Jacob McGinnas.”

This time it was Serena who gasped. “You’re kidding!”

“Who is that?” Miz Regina asked Miz Rae.

“That writer who writes all those horrible books about monsters and demons and I don’t know what all ungodly mess,” Miz Rae said. Miz Rae’s own reading tended toward Maya Angelou, Jane Austen, and Agatha Christie, with the occasional biography thrown in. “You might know it’d be some kind of fool like that.”

“Carol Ann is supposed to be meeting him over at the Briarwood house this afternoon,” Tom said. “She wanted me to come and bring him copies of everything we had on the house and the murders.”

“You need to go out there and tell him he’s crazy,” Miz Regina said. “Don’t nobody need to try to stay in that house.”

“Is it really haunted?” Serena asked. She had moved away from Saxon County when she was seven years old. Her husband had been the real native, but she knew about the murders.

“Ain’t no such thing as haunted,” Miz Rae said, fixing Tom with a baleful glare that dared him to dispute her. Tom was a semi-professional paranormal investigator. Miz Rae was a Baptist.

“I don’t think the trust that owned it has ever let it be investigated,” Tom said. “Maybe if he buys it, McGinnas will.”

“That’s probably why he’s buying it.” Serena was a huge fan of Jacob McGinnas’s books. She’d been reading him faithfully since she was a teenager. “Maybe he’ll write a book about it.” She had liked his last two non-fiction books, but she yearned for a new novel.

“Carol Ann seems to think that’s the attraction,” Tom said. “I thought I remembered there being a whole file of stuff in the local history room at the main branch, but I couldn’t find it. So then I thought since this branch is closer to the actual site, it might have gotten moved out here.”

“I’ll go look,” Serena offered, getting up.

“I don’t think we’ve got anything,” Miz Rae said, also getting up. “You’re going to have to talk to Miss Creighton about that.”

Miss Florence Creighton was the former director of the library. She had held the post from the Monday after she graduated from the Winthrop Training College in 1922 until her forced retirement due to advanced dementia four years before. She was the one who hired Miz Rae in 1960, staring down a segregationist board with her watery blue eyes and daring them to tell her she couldn’t. When she was forced to retire, the present-day board had brought back Tom, who had worked at the main branch as the local history librarian for a year and a half before he went to grad school. Miss Creighton now lived in a rest home in the mountains and was, by all reports, withered as a raisin and entirely out of her mind.

“Let’s just look,” Tom said, giving Serena a glance. “You never know.”

***

But Miz Rae was pretty much right. All they found in the tiny walk-in utility closet that functioned as the archives for the branch was a single thin folder in the vertical file with a photocopy of a newspaper article Tom himself had written ten years ago when he’d been the local history librarian.

“This is good,” Serena said, reading through the first few paragraphs. “I didn’t realize you were such a good writer.”

“Yeah, well, that was back when I had time to practice.” He took the article from her. “I know there was more stuff, though. I used it to write this in the first place.”

“Maybe somebody borrowed it and forgot to bring it back.” Serena couldn’t stop herself wondering if Tom had neglected to put it back himself. He was a great guy but the classic absent-minded academic. His wife, Evie, swore they’d need a second house soon just for his books and papers. The missing file could be stuffed in a box in his attic with a bunch of comic books. “What are you going to tell Carol Ann?”

“That we’ll keep looking, I suppose.” He closed the file drawer. “Go to hell, if I could tell her what I want to tell her.”

Serena smiled. “Which you absolutely cannot.”

“Which I absolutely cannot.” He looked at his watch. “And I’ve got to go.”

“I’m sorry, Tom.” The door was open, and out in the library proper, she could see Miz Regina was still there, standing at the desk with Miz Rae. The two of them were huddled together like they were planning a heist. “Hey, can I come with you?”

He looked surprised but not unhappy. “Yeah, if you want.”

“I’ve always wanted to see that place.” Miz Rae was watching them, she realized. She pretended to be listening to her friend, but she was really watching over Miz Regina’s shoulder. “And you know what a big fan I am of Jacob McGinnas.”

“Come on and go, then,” Tom said, grinning. “I can use the help.”

It’s Peach Season, Y’all

This week’s update from The Bitter Southerner is all about peaches. (Do y’all read The Bitter Southerner? If you don’t, you should – it’s the best overview of the best things about the so-called New South I’ve seen; I like it way better than the Oxford American.) August is prime peach season, and I am very much a fan. The best boyfriend present I ever got from anybody before I met my darling Thunder was a gallon bucket of fresh peaches straight off the tree, still warm from the sunshine. And as anybody who’s ever driven past the Peachoid water tower in Gaffney can tell you, they are an inherently sensuous fruit. Legend has it that Eve gave Adam an apple; historians who speculate about that kind of thing say no, it must have been a pomegranate. Nonsense, says I – no woman would have risked getting herself and her lover kicked out of Eden for the privilege of picking out pomegranate seeds. Me, I’m pretty sure it must have been a peach.

So anyway, feeling as I do, naturally I wrote a story about peaches and sex. It’s the anchor story of my anthology Eat the Peach, and this is an excerpt. The heroine, Susannah, is a filmmaker who has just crashed and burned at a festival and come home to rest and regroup at her Grandmama Ikey’s peach farm.

***

I was at Grandma Ikey’s house for three more days before I met Dylan. Grandma Ikey couldn’t have been more amazing. She was a lot older than I had expected her to be. All my friends’ grandmothers were still holding on to that raw-boned, hair-dyed tightness thing. But Ikey was beautiful. She wore her hair in a long, white braid down her back, and her body was curvy and soft. Any old dude would have counted himself lucky to get a piece of that. And sitting beside her on the back porch shelling peas, I noticed that we had the exact same hands, and for some reason it gave me hope for the first time since I’d gotten on that bus in Colorado.

The next morning when we were making breakfast, we heard a motorcycle pull up in the backyard. “Oh good,” she said. “I want you to meet Dylan.”

She had already told me about Dylan. He owned the land right next to hers. He grew cotton and soy beans on his land, but he leased Grandma Ikey’s land to grow the peaches, and the two of them owned a farm stand and ice cream parlor out on the highway together. The way she had described him and twinkled when she talked about him, I had expected him to be about her age; I thought he must have been her boyfriend. But when we walked out on the back porch, we found a country hunkerrific of no more than thirty-five climbing off the bike.

“Morning, Ikey,” he said. “How are you?” He had messy reddish-blondish hair and a scruffy beard, and he was built to pick up trucks.

“I’m just grand, darling,” Ikey said as he came up the steps. “Just grand.” He put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek, and she laughed like a girl. “Dylan, meet my granddaughter, Susannah.”

“Granddaughter?” He offered me his hand to shake. “I can’t believe it.” I took it, and a kind of warm, electric current ran through me that made me want to smile and hide at the same time. “You must be tall for your age.”

“Now, now, stop all that,” Ikey scolded, still smiling. “Come on inside; we were just about to have breakfast.”

“Thank you, Ikey, but I couldn’t,” he said. “I figure I’ve got just about enough time this morning to change the plugs on that old truck of yours.”

“Oh, piss on that truck,” Ikey said. “Come eat your breakfast.”

“Now Ikey—”

“I made biscuits.” Eve offering the apple couldn’t have looked slyer.

Dylan looked at me and grinned like we had a secret, and I noticed he had the bluest eyes I had ever seen. “Well, I can’t say no to that.”

I hadn’t seen Ikey make biscuits, but as soon as we walked in, she took a big pan full out of the oven, plump and cushiony and golden brown. “Get the honey out of the cabinet, Susannah,” she said. “And see if you can’t find a jar of those peach preserves in the back.”

“You told me you were out!” Dylan said.

“I might be,” she said, putting the biscuits on a pink willow plate. “Look way in the back.”

“Susannah, your grandmamma makes the best peach preserves in the world,” Dylan said, pouring himself a cup of coffee. “We get people stopping at the stand on their way back to Yankeeville from the beach every year just to buy a fresh jar. Last year she didn’t make any, and we just about had to set up a crying pew out front.”

“Stop being so silly,” Ikey said, dishing up the scrambled eggs and bacon. “You want me to slice up a couple of tomatoes?”

“Not on my account,” Dylan said.

“Susannah likes them, though, don’t you, sweetheart?” she said, patting my cheek as she passed.

“I do.” It had been so long since anyone had noticed I liked something without me saying so, I was shocked. But I had eaten a sliced, homegrown tomato from her garden every meal since I’d arrived, so I supposed it wasn’t all that shocking. Still, it was nice. “Grandma Ikey, are these the preserves?” I pulled out a sticky mason jar full of amber goo.

“Oh good,” she said, taking it. “Half a jar left.” She set it on the table in front of Dylan. “Now let me get that tomato.”

“You’ll have to persuade Ikey to teach you her recipe,” Dylan said.

“That might be arranged,” Ikey said, putting down the sliced tomatoes and leading me to the table. She took both our hands and said a brief grace.

“That sounds great,” I said. “Learning the recipe, I mean.” Dylan took four of the biscuits and broke them open on his plate, then slathered each one with preserves. “Is it really that good?”

“Taste.” He popped a piece of biscuit in my mouth.

“Oh my God,” I said, actually moaning with my mouth full, it was so good. Sweet and tangy with an edge of spice, perfect with the hot, flaky biscuit.

“Don’t take the Lord’s name in vain, Susannah,” Ikey said, patting my hand. “It’s only a biscuit.”

“So good,” I said. “Grandmamma, that’s amazing.”

“Aren’t you sweet?” she said, but I could see from her eyes she was pleased. “Dylan, eat some eggs and bacon before you give yourself diabetes.”

He grinned that secret grin at me again. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Maybe I will teach you that recipe,” Ikey said.

“I’d love that,” I said. “If I’m here that long. I mean, I don’t know how long I’ll be staying.”

“Are you just here for a visit?” Dylan asked.

“Sort of.” All the way there on the bus, I had tried to imagine what I’d say when people asked me what had happened. It was all so humiliating and silly, and besides, what would people like Ikey and Dylan know or care about stuff like my film career, anyway? But he had asked, so I supposed I had to try. “I’m a filmmaker.”

“Wow,” he said, looking genuinely impressed.

“Oh, you don’t want to hear about all that,” Ikey said. “Besides, I want to talk about you. Did I hear that fiancée of yours tearing out of here after midnight last night?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Dylan looked embarrassed, but I couldn’t tell if it was for me or for him. “I made her pretty mad, I think.”

For the next twenty minutes, the two of them hashed over his engagement to a woman Ikey obviously couldn’t stand—a schoolteacher from the sound of it. But I couldn’t have cared less. I couldn’t believe she had just shut me down that way. I ate the rest of my breakfast in silence, lost in my own thoughts.

“I better get started on those plugs,” Dylan finally said, pushing back from the table. “It was nice to meet you, Susannah.”

“You too.” I shook his hand and was again vaguely aware of how warm he felt. But I was still busy being mad at Ikey.

“I hope to see you again while you’re here.” He kissed my grandmother’s cheek. “I’ll leave the keys on the hook.”

Ikey stood at the back door and watched him go while I got up and cleared the table. “That is one fine specimen of human,” she said. “A woman could do a lot worse than to get herself lost with something like that.”

“He’s cute.” Botox hadn’t made it out here to the sticks yet, but the horny old lady trope apparently had.

“Baby ducks are cute.” She turned back to me. “That’s a man.” She saw what I was doing. “Oh, thank you, sweetheart.”

“You’re welcome.” I put the dishes in the sink. “It’s the least I can do after crashing on you like this.” I squirted in soap and turned on the tap.

“You came home,” she said, putting the butter in the fridge. “Everybody needs to sometimes.” She picked up the jar of peach preserves, now almost empty. “I’m glad you came.” She screwed on the lid and put it back in the cabinet. “You better put some hot in that dishwater, honey, or the germs will carry us off.”

“Oh.” I hadn’t planned to actually wash the dishes, just sort of soak them.

“I’ve been waiting on those elves that come to finish half done housework all my life,” she said. “They haven’t shown up yet.” She handed me a dishtowel. “I’ll wash. You dry.”

“I still cannot understand what Dylan sees in that girl of his,” she said, turning on the hot water and bathing both of our faces with steam. “Why waste your time chasing after somebody who won’t want you until you agree to be somebody else? But she’s got her mind on that piece of land—and that ass, unless she’s dumber than she looks.” She handed over a slippery plate. “You’ll meet her eventually, I’m sure. Then you’ll see.”

“Grandmamma, why wouldn’t you let me talk about my movie?” I could have brooded in silence for several more hours; it’s one of my best things. But I didn’t think Ikey would care. “Are you ashamed of me?”

“I’m very proud of you,” she said without missing a beat, as if this had been our topic of conversation all along. “But you aren’t ready to talk to people about that.”

I wanted to argue with her. But of course she was right.

****

Wanna know how she gets rid of the bitchy fiancee? Get your copy here.

The Hips of the Eel – Slang in the 1920s

One of the most fun things about writing Stella Hart is her dialogue. She’s a classic, F. Scott Fitzgerald-style New York flapper working in Hollywood as a silent movie actress and running around the globe solving murders with her hunky love interest, George Barrington, 13th Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike. And she talks like a party girl of that era–if she were alive today, her TikTok would be amazing. The 1920s were a period of huge upheaval and cultural growth, and the slang reflects that. What amazed me when I started researching it was 1)how funny and snarky it was in a very contemporary way, and 2)how many of these expressions still sound modern right now. I mean, check this stuff out:

Bunny: Someone sweet but not very smart, usually female, though Stella has been known to apply it equally to men. ‘Dumb bunny’ is one step more clueless. ‘Poor dumb bunny’ is just pitiful.

Bushwa: One of Stella’s favorites, something that isn’t true, a less coarse word for bullshit. See also: Applesauce, baloney, banana oil, horsefeathers, hokum

Carry a torch: I still use this one today but apparently it originated in the 1920s. To have a crush on someone, particularly someone who doesn’t crush you back.

Crush: Also from the 1920s – a romantic infatuation

Eel’s hips, the: Something that’s awesome and amazing. See also: The cat’s meow, the bee’s knees. Stella usually takes this one a step further and says ‘the hips of the eel.’

Giggle water: alcoholic beverages. Stella’s favorite is champagne, but George prefers a good gin and tonic.

Jalopy: An old, junker car, though Stella uses it ironically to refer to George’s very expensive, state-of-the-art roadsters.

Kid/kiddo: A familiar form of address. Stella tends to call any woman she likes ‘kid.’

Nerts: A wholesome expletive to express disgust, dislike, or disbelief. Stella saying, “Nerts to that noise!” never fails to make George laugh.

Ossified: Intoxicated. See also: Spifflicated.

Screwy: Insane, bizarre, crazy. Bugs Bunny uses this one a lot, too–I think Bugs must have learned to talk in the 1920s.

Sex appeal/sexy: The 1920s is when this expression first became common, and it was still considered rather risque.

Valentino: A handsome, sexy man, obviously inspired by the movie star Rudolph Valentino. Stella applies it to George; George rolls his eyes.

There’s lots more, obviously, but these are some of ones Stella uses a lot. Check out her latest adventure, The Baronet Unleashed, on July 29.

Available July 29 – pre-order now!

Sneak peek – Chapter 1 of The Baronet Unleashed

The third Stella Hart mystery is available now for pre-order from Falstaff Crush. This is the one that takes place in Hollywood in the 1920s, and it’s an absolute scream. You’ll love it, I promise. Click the cover to … oh. You want a sample before you’re ready to commit. Fine then. Have a look at Chapter 1.

xoxo

Lucy

The Baronet Unleashed – Chapter 1

Stella was chained to the castle wall with shackles that were becoming damned uncomfortable. “Do your worst, Lord Blackguard!” she exclaimed with much tossing of her waist-length locks. “I shall never submit!”

“We shall see about that, my dear!” Blackguard snarled, bracing an arm over her head. He leered down at her, his hot breath smelling suspiciously like gin and tonic. “Is your virtue worth your father’s life?”

“You heartless fiend.” If her hands had been free, she would have slapped a delicate wrist to her forehead. As it was, she made do with flopping her head sharply to one side, trying not to dislodge her wig in the process. She closed her eyes and heaved her bosom, such as it was. “How can you be so cruel?”

“Easy,” Blackguard said, leaning too close for the camera to see his lips. “Your friend Sylvia wrote me this way.”

“Eddie, I swear to heaven,” she hissed through clenched teeth as she bit her lower lip in maidenly revulsion. He had made her laugh and ruin three takes already, the swine.

“Unhand that damsel, you cur,” a props assistant droned from off camera. Blackguard, also known as Edgar Worth, Hollywood’s most celebrated heavy, recoiled toward the camera, and Stella broke out in her most elated smile.

Lance Laramie swung in on a rope tied to a crane, a stunt he had perfected on his and Stella’s first picture together, The Ape Man Unleashed. But this time, alas, he missed his mark. Instead of landing lightly between Stella and her villainous attacker, he overshot and crashed face first into the wall.

“Darling!” Edgar cried, dropping character to run to his lover’s aid. “Oh, your poor nose!” Everyone on Maid of Avalon knew Lance and Edgar had been much more than roommates for years, though the rest of the world was in the dark.

“Now, Eddie, don’t make a fuss,” Lance honked as his hand filled up with blood.

“Cut!” the director shouted, incensed. “For God’s sake, get some ice!”

“You poor darling,” Stella said.

“Oh, I’ve had worse, I dare say,” Lance said gamely. “Not to worry…” His eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed.

“Somebody get the nurse!” the production assistant called as the director flung down his bullhorn, followed by his hat.

“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Stella said to Edgar, who looked on the point of hysterics.

“His nose is squashed flat!” Edgar said.

“It is,” she had to admit. She would have liked to have given him a comforting pat or something, but she was still chained to the wall.

“Clear the way, please,” a medic said. The nurse led Edgar gently away as Lance was heaved onto a stretcher.

“Say, Eddie,” Stella called as they all walked away. “Do you have the key to these shackles?” But no one seemed to hear.

“That’s a wrap for today, everyone,” the assistant director called through his boss’s dented bullhorn. “See you all tonight at Mr. Scott’s party—sober, if you don’t mind; it’s for charity.” Lights were going off all over the set.

“Excuse me!” Stella shouted as people started disappearing from the stage like rats deserting a sinking ship. “Isn’t anybody going to turn me loose?” She gave her shackles a healthy tug, but the props department had outdone themselves. They didn’t budge. “Oh come on,” she cried as all the lights but a single spot went out. “This is ridiculous!”

A man’s silhouette stepped into the spotlight. “Pardon me, miss,” a familiar voice said. “Are you in distress?”

“George, thank heavens,” she said, laughing with relief. “They’ve all gone off and left me.”

“So it seems.” Her fiancé, George Barrington, thirteenth Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike and the future Lord Barrington, came out of the light. “That’s rather a pickle you’re in, Miss Hart, if you’ll pardon my mentioning it.”

“My handsome hero,” she said. And he was, too; he looked very dashing and just a bit disreputable in a stylish leather coat. “Go quick and find out who has the key.”

“Oh, I have the key,” he said, holding it up with mischief dancing in his eyes. “But what makes you think I’m the hero?”

“Oh dear,” she said. “The villain, then?” She felt a lovely little flutter in her stomach. “Will you ravish me before you set me free?”

He leaned closer, bracing a hand on the wall the same way Edgar had. “What an intriguing suggestion.” His lips were so close to hers, they were almost kissing already. “I suppose I could.”

“I’ll scream,” she warned.

“Will you?”

“Well, maybe not scream,” she said as he nuzzled behind her ear, making her shiver. “More like sigh…and maybe the odd moan or two.” He made a bit of a moan himself as he kissed her, pressing her to the wall.

“Miss Stella!” her maid, Sophie, bellowed, her heels clicking on the concrete floor. “Are you still in here?”

“Damn the woman,” George grumbled, banging his forehead against the wall over her shoulder.

“George, darling, stop,” Stella said, laughing. “You’ll be concussed.” She kissed his cheek. “Over here, Sophie!”

“Hey, what’s this?” Sophie said, coming into the light. “Mr. Barrington, I’m surprised at you!”

“If it helps, I’m thinking of dead puppies,” Stella murmured in his ear.

“Thanks for that, sausage,” he muttered, stepping away. “Sorry to disappoint you, Sophie.” He unlocked the shackles.

“Oh, I’m not disappointed,” Sophie said. “Just surprised. You ought to leave her chained up there until she promises to stop postponing the wedding.”

“It’s not my fault!” Stella protested. “No one expected The Ape Man Unleashed to be such a smash.”

“No one who hadn’t seen you and Mr. Laramie in those rags they called costumes, anyway,” Sophie said.

“And Bertie said we really needed to strike while the iron was hot,” Stella finished.

“Bertie said,” George said. “You mean Nathan Stanley said.”

“Him, too.” Nathan Stanley was her stepfather’s partner at Pinnacle Pictures. He was also the one man on the planet she had ever seen George openly dislike. “The point is, Maid of Avalon was already in the pipeline, and Lance and I were under contract. I really had no choice.” They both looked skeptical. “Anyway, we’re almost done. We should be one more week at the most. Just as soon as we wrap, we’ll be on the train to New York and on a boat to England in plenty of time to be home at Barrington Hall for the new wedding date.”

“And our visit to your grandmother in Newport?” George said, arching an eyebrow.

“We may just have to give Granny Hart a miss,” she said.

“There’s a shocker,” Sophie said.

“Trust me, darling, it’s no great loss,” Stella said.

“Say, are you folks almost done?” one of the stage technicians called from the shadows. “I’d like to lock up sometime before midnight.”

“All right, keep your shirt on,” Sophie called back. “We’re coming.”

#

With Sophie’s help, getting out of her costume and into her jodhpurs was the work of moments. “Call ahead and tell Bertie we’re on our way,” she told Sophie as she tossed a scarf around her neck. “I’ll see you at the house.”

“No taking any long, romantic rides,” Sophie ordered. “You’ll need a full overhaul before that party tonight.”

“See you later, kid,” Stella called back over her shoulder.

George was waiting outside the stage on his shiny new red Indian motorcycle. “It’s a bit chilly, sausage,” he said, handing her a pair of goggles. “Would you like my coat?”

“No, thank you.” She slid the goggles over her curls and climbed on behind him, snuggling close. “I’ll be fine.”

And that’s it, kittens! To find out what happens next, get your copy starting July 29!

The Passion of Miss Cuthbert

Stella 2 Passion of Miss CuthbertI have a new book out. It’s called The Passion of Miss Cuthbert, and it’s the second in my series of romantic mysteries starring amateur detective Stella Hart. Stella is a silent movie actress in the 1920s whose stepfather owns an English manor house. Her fiancé and partner in crime-solving is George Barrington, Thirteenth Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike. Stella is white. George is white. Stella’s mom and stepfather are white. Stella and George spend this installment on an ocean liner where the passengers we meet are all white, including the corpse, the killer, and Miss Cuthbert, the frumpy chaperone whose passion ignites the plot.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of weeks, you begin to see my problem.

The book was actually released as scheduled on June 4, 2020, a/k/a Day 10 of the protests following the murder of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. That morning, my publishers and I talked it over and agreed that yeah, any kind of big promo push for my book that day would be disrespectful, tone deaf, and just generally gross. We all had friends on the front lines of the protests. More importantly, we had friends and colleagues whose lives were in danger every time they left the house.

I won’t pretend it made me happy to ignore my book release. I worked really hard on that story, and I’m proud of it. Plus it’s the first book I’ve ever written specifically and completely for Falstaff Crush, the Falstaff Books romance line, and I think that’s kind of cool. And trust me, I’m as arrogant and self-involved as any writer alive, and I really, really want to sell books. But not even I could stomach doing commercials for an easy-breezy story of a white girl on a cruise ship last Thursday.

John, Melissa, and I decided to wait to do any major promo until tomorrow, June 9, and as you can see, I’m blogging about it today. Is that any better? Is it still too soon? Honestly, I don’t have a clue.

Diversity has been on my mind with these books since the beginning. My original inspirations for this kind of story were  two of the most overtly racist popular writers of the twentieth century, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. (If you don’t know what I’m on about, Google it. I don’t have the heart to tell you.) I knew going in I had to fix that, that my main characters were going to be sensitive to the world view of people not like them and aware of their privilege. And I think I’ve stayed true to that; I hope I have. But in these first two books at least, everybody is still #sowhite. I actually toyed with the idea of making Stella’s lady’s maid, the wise and fearless Sophie, a Black woman. I even floated the idea to my alpha reader, my sister, Alexandra Christian. Together we agreed it was a bad idea for two reasons: one, I’d only be doing it to have a Black character in the story, and two, if my story was only going to have one Black character, she did NOT need to be a lady’s maid.

So in Book One: Guinevere’s Revenge, which is set at that English manor house, everybody’s white. The second book I actually wrote for the series was The Baronet Unleashed. It takes place in Hollywood and has multiple Black characters, at least two of whom are scheduled to turn up in future installments. But when I started writing the Miss Cuthbert story, I realized it needed to happen before George saw Hollywood, so The Passion of Miss Cuthbert became Book 2, and The Baronet Unleashed became Book 3. If we’re all still around and books are still a thing, it should be coming out sometime this fall.

I wrote The Passion of Miss Cuthbert in January, February, and March of 2020 as the dumpster fire that my own personal life had become exploded outward into the dumpster fire that has engulfed everybody else. Writing it was my comfort, my escape, and I make no apologies for it. It’s a damned good book. Do I wish that for the week of its release, half of America was not at war with the other half? That we weren’t all in danger of getting sick and/or making one another sick, that some of us weren’t threatening violence for the right to make our neighbors sick? That Black Americans could live their lives as safely and fearlessly as I do mine, that we as a country could collectively agree to that as their inalienable right instead of brutalizing them in the public streets for even asking? I do, of course I do. I wish that every day whether I have a new book out or not. I’ve written lots of words that speak to that wish both in fiction and not, and I’ll keep doing that because writing words is the thing I do best.

But this week, I’ve got Stella, and she’s good. She’s fun. She means well. If that seems wrong to you, I get it; ignore me. My feelings won’t be hurt. But if you could use what my editor calls “All goodness and light with just a little touch of murder,” let me hook you up.

Black Romance Matters

I have a book of my own coming out this week, and trust me, I’ll be telling you all about it. But watching the news and talking to my friends and reading the internet this week, I feel like it’s more important to shine my little spotlight on books from some of the amazing Black women writing romance. I know all four of these women as fellow authors, and I’m lucky enough to call a couple of them friends. But in every case, their art gives me joy as a reader and makes my own genre and my own writing better. Every one of them is irreplaceable, and I cherish every word they write. So to borrow the catchphrase of my own publisher, click the covers and buy their shit!

perciDahlia Rose – Perci Rules the World (The Perci Podcast Series Book 1)

By day Percelle Meadows works at the Municipal Archives of New York City. From blueprints to vital statistics, if you need it, she can find it. By night, Perci takes on her persona of social jetsetter and all of her adventures are gobbled up voraciously by her fans. Being a forty something (hey age is just a number!), her life is just beginning all over again. Lovers, champagne and dancing the night away, it was so different than how she was raised, who she was taught to be.

ruthless prideNaima Simone – Ruthless Pride (Dynasties: Seven Sins Book 1)

Millionaire CEO Joshua Lowell earned his icy reserve and arrogant pride through painful experience. He refuses to allow gorgeous but determined reporter Sophie Armstrong to dredge up his family’s dark past—or circulate rumors of his secret child. But Joshua’s fierce pride is at war with his heated desire for Sophie, the only woman who could ruin him…or save him from himself.

 

firebreatherRaelynn Blue – Firebreather

Angela Brown came to Alaska to study dragons, not fall in love with one. But when Ryuu Sho Jin, a brilliant and beautiful dragon shifter, falls into a life-threatening fever, she realizes how much this clan and this dragon have come to mean to her. She risks her life and binds herself to Ryuu as his lifelong mate. In his arms, she discovers passion and terror like she has never known before, and feelings for this man she never realized she could have. [Full disclosure: This particular book was published by Falstaff Crush.]

complicatedNikki Prince – It’s Complicated (Undeniable Book 1)

Ashton Locke has had a thing for Keiko Jarrett since college. So when she proposes adding friends with benefits to the mix, he’s intrigued, but wary. Sure, he’s always wanted her, and is definitely not ready to settle down with anyone, but what happens if one of them crosses the line?

Losing My Grip

Heya Kittens. I’ve missed you. I haven’t been around so much the past few months, mostly because I haven’t really known what to write. The fall my dad took on November 4, 2019, the little spill in his bedroom we thought was no big deal, has turned out to be a very big deal indeed. He isn’t “perfectly fine” like I wrote he would be. He’s in skilled nursing care and may very well be there for the rest of his life.

I haven’t written about this stuff not because it hasn’t been a horror tale worth telling but because the story really isn’t mine to tell. Bless his sweet heart, I owe Dad at least that much dignity and privacy. And besides, this is Lucy Blue’s blog, the on-going saga of my writer self–my brand, if we can stomach the word. Beyond my being too tired and heartsick to write because of it, Dad’s story didn’t seem to have very much to do with that.

But in one way, it kind of does. I’ve read a lot of articles and op/ed pieces lately about how pretty much nobody makes a living writing fiction any more. Everybody has a day job, a safety net, another side hustle that pays, a spouse who earns well. The people who make it are the people who can afford to invest the money, time, and effort required to outdazzle or just simply outlast the crappy marketplace and reach an audience, whether that means paying for conferences to make connections or just keeping the lights on at home. And kittens, I’m sorry to say it, but it’s absolutely true. As much as I cherish the story of Jo Rowling writing Harry Potter in a cafe and becoming a billionaire, I know there had to have been a lot of steps in between that don’t get talked about, a lot of support from elsewhere that kept her and her child alive not only while she was writing her masterpiece but while she found a publisher for it. And waited for her advance check to show up because publishers and agents prefer to pay out twice a year. I’ve been in that system for a while now, and I know how it works.

My safety net has always been my dad. I’ve always had a day job. I’ve never had the luxury of writing full-time. But the day jobs I have had have been the kind that let me write. I haven’t had to be a teacher or a copywriter or any of the other careers that would have paid me enough to live but demanded so much more of my time and energy and commitment, and I’ve only ever had one job at a time. And my dad is the one who has made that possible. Any time I needed extra cash to get the toilet fixed or buy a stock photo for a cover, he has always come through. So even though with the exception of a few years writing about sexy Highlanders for Pocket Books, I’ve never made much money as a writer, I’ve always been able to keep writing. I’ve been able to read all those memes that say, “The ones who succeed are the ones who don’t quit,” and think, hell, yeah, that’s me! I’ve been able to keep chasing the dream, keep believing it’s going to happen if I can just hold on. Believe my stories are worth what I give them even if they don’t really pay.

But Dad can’t be my safety net any more. He needs his money, and he needs my time. And frankly, kittens, I don’t know how much longer I can keep on holding on. I love my work. I love the process of writing. I love the stories I tell. I love my publisher. I love being a part of the writing community. All of those things feel vitally important; they have been at the core of my identity for so long, I can’t even picture who I am without them. But the sad, cruel truth is, I’m not sure I can afford it any more.

So I guess my point is, in the wise words of my beloved publisher, buy my shit. Review my shit. Recommend my shit to other people. Because if somebody doesn’t soon, I’m powerfully afraid I might be done.