Progress Report and Publication Date Announcement!

Today marks completion of the second round of edits with my publisher for my debut historical fiction, Apricots and Wolfsbane. This round concentrated on “line edits” which focus on word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, voice and style. I am so proud of how this manuscript has evolved and appreciate the efforts of my fantastic editor, Myra Fiacco. One of Filles Vertes Publishing interns, Cimone Watson, also provided comments as a beta reader.  The novel has matured since the last time I convinced friends and family beta read the thing, way before I ever signed a publishing contract. A fresh perspective is so critical during this process. Thank you to Cimone for your insights!

Next the manuscript goes to a copy editor (God bless them) and then text will be done! The thought both brings relief and dread. While I can read several chapters of the novel before changing words, I still find myself “tinkering.” Slowly I am losing the ability to change the words I have stressed over for months and like Lavinia, I prefer control.

At the same time, I can’t wait to release my labor of love.

So when can you get your hands on my novel?

I’m excited to announce Apricots and Wolfsbane will be released on Friday, October 13. It’s the perfect date to introduce my vicious poison assassin to the world!

But isn’t Friday the 13th unlucky? Nope! Our daughter was born April 13 on Palm Sunday a few years ago, so the 13th is dear to my heart.

I want to express my appreciation to everyone who is cheering me on! I cherish all the tweets and comments from those who have expressed interest in my novel. I cannot wait to put Lavinia’s story into the world and invite you to stay tuned for future updates!



Publication Progress Report!

(I’m resisting the engineer in me to turn this blog post title into an acronym . . . )

Now that I’ve come up for air from editing my novel, Apricots and Wolfsbane, it’s time for an overdue blog post and many of you have been asking for a publication status.

Today I’m ending a “developmental edit” round with my editor and am ecstatic with the result.

First, I owe a shout out to my editor, Myra Fiacco. Her editing suggestions were one of the reasons I signed with Filles Vertes Publishing from the offers I had. It was important for me to find a publisher who shared my vision and that I would creatively work well with.

Myra has pushed me and the novel, challenging me to add layers of complexity and additional plot twists. I also appreciate the little bits of positivity within her edits. Hearing your editor call a sentence “literary gold” surely puts a smile on any author’s face!

What is a developmental edit? This type of review is about the big picture: plot structure, character development, motivation, theme, pacing, etc. At this point I’ve read my book well over ten times. I know every little plot detail and am drowning within the work. An objective pair of eyes is required to pull an author’s head up, provide structural critique and ensure the message the author intends is coming across.

And yes, I am enjoying the process.

Every time an experienced editor combs through my writing, I learn about my weaknesses and it makes me a better writer. Through various forums and social media, I hear a lot of authors expressing nervousness and defensiveness towards edits. I get it. Writing is an intimate product, part of the author’s soul. But I’ve learned over years of freelance journalism, edits are not to point out what’s wrong with a manuscript, they’re not personal insults, they shine light onto opportunities for improvement. An editor is a critical partner.

The only thing I haven’t enjoyed is the pressure of an editorial deadline.

I do not like writing to deadlines.

I never have.

I remember those nights watching the clock tick down when I was a freelance sports reporter in high school for my city newspaper, struggling to fill 15 column inches due two hours after a varsity baseball game. I’ve come a long way since then, and learned to stay relaxed under time pressure – but I don’t have to like it.

So what’s next? The plan is to dive into line edits, which focus on word choice, sentence and paragraph structure, voice and style. Shortly after, the manuscript will go to a copy editor to verify grammar and punctuation and then the text will be done! (Eek!)

Of course text alone does not make a book. I’m looking forward to cover design, writing cover copy and developing marketing plans over the summer, working towards fall publication.

Thank you to everyone who is following along with my progress and cheering me on. Stay tuned for another PPR!

(Yes, I caved.)

Writing Tip

Research, Research, Research

To the relief of my friends, I am not a poison master.

I was not alive during the early 1500’s.

And yet those two topics drive my upcoming novel Apricots and Wolfsbane. How did I write it? Endless hours of research.

I recently received a question via Facebook regarding what inspired me to write Apricots and Wolfsbane and how I researched it. I tackled the first part of that question in this blog post and will answer the second below:

How did I research my novel? The internet. I have profound respect for novel writers who conduct their research via first person visits and countless hours in the library. Of course, I would have preferred to travel, but lacking funds to visit to England and a time machine, the Internet fulfilled my need. I can go anywhere with imagination but research grounds the story in reality and helps take the reader along for the ride.

I am grateful to have a world of information available to me from the comfort of my pajamas. Via the Internet, I viewed period paintings for inspiration of clothing and architecture. I studied Old English. I virtually visited the English countryside. I toured an English poison garden. I learned the basics for extracting poisons (here is my favorite poison reference) and connected with fellow authors to aid my writing.

However, the Internet is full of misinformation as well. Of course, common sense must be applied to evaluate the source. I spent hours cross checking references and verifying facts. Thankfully, the Internet also provides access to experts. I found aid through English Historical Fiction author groups, of which there are many online, on Facebook and on Twitter.

Along with poisons, Catholic faith is a prominent subject within my novel. That knowledge I did acquire first hand by surviving years of CCE classes. But the modern Bible is very different than it was in 1500’s England. This website provides many historic translations: Historic Bible Translations.

The countless hours of research truly paid off but I admit, it did mess up my Google search history.  My best advice: consider researching your novel in incognito mode 🙂




Writing Tip

Word Clouds!

Here’s a neat idea I picked up from Twitter (thanks @BrianneZwambag and @emsheehanwrites!):

Want to know what the most used words in your manuscript? Build a word cloud!

I used www.wordclouds.com to analyze the current version of my novel as well as my short story work in progress.  The free program allows you to upload a word document and also ignore what it calls “stop words” like: the, at, and, etc.

For fun, you can also change the shape and coloring of the generated cloud, play with the font, and change word orientation.

Here are my two results!

From Apricots and Wolfsbane:

wordcloud ASAW

From my untitled short story work in progress:

wordcloud (1)


My Novel’s Inspiration

I received a Facebook question regarding what inspired me to write Apricots and Wolfsbane and how I researched it. (Thank you for asking Gavin!) I’ll tackle the first part of that question today:

Last fall, I read an article about forgotten females from history that profiled Locusta. Locusta was a female poison assassin from Rome (Gaul) and is considered to be the first serial killer. The fact the first serial killer was a woman struck me and the more I read about her, a story began to weave in my mind.  As a female engineer, I relate to the challenge of going against traditional female stereotypes. I imagined the challenges Locusta must have faced and wondered if her gender ended up being an asset in a field where surprise would provide an advantage.

There is not much known about Locusta, which incited my imagination. My plot is inspired by Locusta’s life, but is not a replication. It is mixed with the product of my own imagination and those familiar with Locusta will recognize bits of history but still be surprised by the twists and turns.

As a story formed in my mind, my priest gave a sermon about how easy it is to fall into a cycle of sin and penance. Often we realize our actions are incorrect and then feel guilt and perform penance. But after awhile the guilt wears, it becomes easy to commit the sin again. Of course he was talking about minor offenses, but as a matter of reductio ad absurdum, I applied this concept to a murderer. My main character, Lavinia, believes she can continue to murder because confession forgives the sin.

Inspired by the notion confession could provide a source of false permission, I lifted Locusta’s inspiration out of Rome and placed my novel at the height of the Catholic church in England. The exact year is open within the book, but I imagine it to be ~1520. During this time period, the priest was a powerful official at the local level and the historic practice of “indulgences” helps bolster why Lavinia may (falsely) think she can simply go to confession to be forgiven for mortal sin.

I decided to place the story in two fictional shires so I could craft my own little world within 1500’s England, and provide creative freedom for Lavinia to influence local peers.

In the novel, Lavinia, also references a “Swiss-German peer”. This is a nod to Paracelsus who is considered the father of toxicology and was also beginning his work around this time period.

If you “Google” Locusta, you’ll discover she was ultimately executed for her crimes. I do not believe she was raped to death by a giraffe, but I’ll leave that up to your imagination . . . (Now you want to Google her, don’t you?)