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December, 2002

Happy Holidays to all of you!

As you may have noticed, I’ve got a special holiday bookplate offer this year. The “Kushiel’s Legacy” bookplates were printed by Tor Books for their use, but they gave me a small stash of them. Like it says in the offer, if you’re giving someone a copy of one of the books as a gift this year, email me with the recipient’s name and your name and mailing address, and I’ll send a personalized bookplate for both of you.

If you’re not giving someone a copy, but you want a bookplate… okay, here’s the thing. I know a lot of you do, and I’d love to be able to send one to every reader, but right now, I simply don’t have enough of them – and to be honest, the postage would kill me! Not to mention the time it takes on my cranky home office printer to get all those envelopes addressed. I’ve already had to resort to sitting at the kitchen table with scissors and scotch tape. Unglamorous, but true.

Hence, the limited holiday offer. But hang in there, because I’ve arranged to get more. After December 31st, I’ll make bookplates available to anyone who sends a self-addressed, stamped envelope – and I’ll throw in a few temporary tattoos, too. Deal?

Until then? Don’t ask! Let me deal with the holiday special, since I want to make sure those go out in time and nobody’s gift is late. By the way, for anyone who might be wondering exactly what a ‘bookplate’ is, it’s basically, well… a sticker. These are as depicted in the offer, printed on a nice glossy stock. You peel off the backing and stick it on the title page; or in the case of the paperback, wherever it fits. Wherever your heart desires, for that matter.

At any rate, I hope all of you are more prepared for the holiday season than I am this year. My first month of being a full-time writer went fast. Time flies when you’re doing what you love. I have been able to get more writing done, which is great; I’ve also been able to do more reading, which is really nice. I think maybe it’s the little things I’ve enjoyed most, though – being able to go shopping in the middle of the day, having time to stare out the window at my birdfeeder, the freedom to have lunch with friends.

In other news, the interview I did with Locus Magazine back in July when I attended the awards banquet is in the December 2002 issue. I just got my copy and I think it turned out quite well. It’s fun to read, because the questions aren’t included; only the responses, edited so they flow together. There were a few places where I found myself thinking, “Well, that’s an interesting point! I wonder what I meant by it?”

That’s it for this month. Thanks, as always, for being a great bunch of readers. Here’s wishing all of you all the blessings of the holiday season. Joie!

November, 2002

It’s not usually a momentous month, November. Especially here in Michigan, where it marks the beginning of the long, cold, grey months of winter. Other than Thanksgiving, there’s not a lot to celebrate. But this year… this year is different for me. November 1st marks the beginning of my career as full-time writer, as the long process of emancipation from my day job is completed.

It’s also the first of the Days of the Dead, the Dias de los Muertos celebrated in Mexico. I know a little bit about it, having helped put together a wonderful exhibition centered on the tradition in the course of the job I’m leaving. It’s a wonderful way to remember departed loved ones. I’ll be thinking about my great-aunt Harriett this year, one of my best and dearest supporters, who passed away this summer.

I’ve been thinking about her anyway, having just finished revising the copyedited manuscript ofKushiel’s Avatar. She always fretted about whether or not Hyacinthe gets off the island. I told her, of course – all of it, all of the unexpected twists and turns that Tor is being careful not to reveal in the cover copy. It’s strange to think, now, that Aunt Harriett was one of the very few people who knew. I’m glad I had a chance to tell her. The rest of you… you’ll have to wait until April.

Still, I wish she’d been able to read Avatar.

It’s a somber book in some ways. I’m reminded of that, going through the copyedit. There are passages dark enough to make me shudder. Anyone looking for the edgy-but-fun sexiness of the first two books should be forewarned. There’s an axiom in screenwriting that if you show a loaded gun in Act One, someone damn well better fire it before the end of Act Three. Otherwise, it’s a cheat. Well, Phèdre is my loaded gun; and I didn’t want to cheat. Avatar plumbs the depths of her nature as an anguissette. If it didn’t… readers (not to mention the author) might squirm less, but it wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be fair. And it wouldn’t be as good.

At least, I think it’s good.

It’s a joyous book, too. It does the same thing I’ve been doing all along, taking familiar tropes (Northern barbarians! Dashing pirates! Dolorous prisons!) and using them with loving deliberation, infusing them with new life. In fact, Avatar takes on the Mother of All Tropes; or at least one of them. Maybe two. You’ll see. Anyway, when it wasn’t making me squirm, it was a delight to write, and I hope you like it.

In other news, Kushiel’s Dart has been released in the U.K in a trade paperback format, with the same cover art as the U.S. version. Also, the first volume is out in Germany, where it’s being split in two and released as a series entitled Die Auserwählte (The Chosen). The first book is called Die Geheimnisse des Nachtpalais (The Secrets of the Night Court). Here’s the German cover:

And in further news, House Eglantine is running a fan art contest this month. First prize is a signed hardcover copy of Kushiel’s Chosen, and second prize is a signed paperback of Kushiel’s Dart. I know they’re authentic, ’cause I donated them myself. So artists, get creative! And anyone looking for a place to connect with other readers, check out Lady Domini’s message board there.

Apropos of nothing, I had quite a few email replies bounce last month, including a very funny one from Kon, who sent me an image of Catherine Zeta-Jones… with Phèdre’s marque. I must say, it looked pretty good on her. Anyway, help me out here, guys. I’m doing my best to be a responsive author – yes, I really DO answer all my own email – so don’t email me from overloaded or defunct accounts!

Until next month…

October, 2002

Last month, I reached a milestone: 100 Reader Reviews of Kushiel’s Dart on Amazon.com. Not that it means anything, exactly – I just thought it was kind of cool, and I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on Amazon. For a relatively new development in the book world, it looms large enough on the horizon to cast a significant shadow.

This came home to me back in April, when Chosen was released. I received an email from someone asking me to confirm or deny the ‘rumor’ that I’d written an anonymous 5-star review of my own book. When I assured him that I hadn’t and that no serious, self-respecting author would, he informed me that I was being naïve or disingenuous, noting pointedly that the post could be traced to the same ISP that hosted my website.

I invited him to contact my hosting service to confirm that I don’t use them as my ISP. Presumably he did, or perhaps found better ways to spend his time, since I never heard from him again. While I hadn’t written the review, it turns out he was right on one score; I was being naïve. There was an article in Britain’s Guardian a month or two ago about authors – established mainstream authors with major publishing houses – admitting to having written 5-star reviews of their own books.

So, it happens. Sure, I knew there were a few avid self-promoters trying to work the system, but I was surprised to find it was more widespread. I may have a cynical streak, but I have an idealistic one too, and this seems to me to violate an unwritten pact. In the course of writing a book, I get to deceive and manipulate to my heart’s content, so long as it serves the story. In the course of promoting a book, I don’t. That includes passing myself off as an objective reader of my own work, which is something I’ll never be.

Still, it is an unnerving new thing in the life of authors, this forum where scores of readers can rant or rave about our books for all the world to see. I polled a discussion list of science fiction and fantasy writers a while ago to see how they felt about Amazon. All of us, I’m happy to say, regarded the idea of giving our own work an anonymous rave as unacceptable. “It’s just… icky” was the most common sentiment. Self-promotion is a necessary evil in this industry, but that’s a line most of us won’t cross.

Positive reviews from friends and relatives were considered okay, as long as they were sincere. I’ve gotten a few of those, though not many; maybe 3 or 4 altogether (plus one from a guy I sat next to on a plane). People sometimes think that if a book has a slew of good reviews, it’s a cabal of the author’s friends posting them, but in my experience, well… it just doesn’t happen. Yes, my mother actually DID love the book, but her technological savvy ends at using a fax machine. Other friends? It doesn’t occur to most of those who tell me they love the books to post a review, and I don’t ask. After all, maybe they were just being polite.

So, how about the reviews themselves?Among the authors I polled, reactions ran a gamut. Some were completely disinterested; others held them in light regard. Some read them compulsively and admit to being absolutely devastated by scathing comments, to the point of losing all confidence and being unable to write for months. Believe me, those were the hardest stories to hear. Still others, aware of their own levels of sensitivity, avoid reading them altogether out of a sense of self-preservation. Not many admitted to reading them with interest.

Me, I read mine on a fairly regular basis. And yes, I do accord them a measure of weight, because as a reader, I myself use Amazon as a resource. Not all of the reviews – I discount those that are either gushing hyperbole or axe-grinding vitriol – but for any given title, I often find a couple of measured, thoughtful commentaries by readers whose sensibilities appear similar to my own. These can affect my interest in and expectations for a book.

So, when I find measured, thoughtful commentaries on my own work, I pay attention. One comment that popped up in a few such reviews was “Too much foreshadowing!” As it happens, that’s a device I’m partial to, something my first agent was always trying to get me to lighten up on. Will I abandon my beloved ‘portentious statements of impending doom?’ Probably not; but I will give more thought to using foreshadowing in a judicious manner.

Other comments are just plain useful. One reader review of Dart noted that, while the intrigue appears complicated and the cast of characters daunting, not to worry, since it gradually comes clear to the reader as Phèdre’s comprehension of the situation emerges. It’s a good point – and a much better way stating it than “Oh, just go with the flow, it’ll sort itself out eventually,” which is what I’d been saying.

And then, of course, there are the slams.

I’ve gotten my share of those. And yes, they do make me wince. I can’t help it; it’s a human reaction. Fortunately, most of them aren’t the kind I take to heart. They’re mainly from readers who found the content offensive, which is inevitable. I knew, when I chose to incorporate a dark erotic component, that it wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste, and not every reader would appreciate the fact that I was attempting to subvert, rather than exploit, certain cliches. In the end, it’s best to take the slams with a laugh.

In that spirit, I offer up a line from a scathing review of Kushiel’s Dart that remains, to this day, my favorite. “Perhaps few other readers don’t take offense at the sort of content that abounds in this tasteless book, but if you put golden wrapping on manure, it’s still manure; you can foist it off on a lot more people, however.”


At any rate, there are a few thoughts on Amazon.com and the contemporary author’s love/hate relationship with it. And on behalf of writers everywhere, I would ask readers who post reviews of anyone’s work, good or bad, to do so thoughtfully. Make sure you have something useful to say, because your comments aren’t being made in a vacuum. If you eviscerate a book simply because it wasn’t your cup of tea, bear in mind that you may shredding some poor struggling writer’s self-confidence.

This is a tough enough business as it is. Not everyone can laugh at having their life’s work called a pile of gilded crap.

September, 2002

Where did the summer go? As I write this, I can’t believe Labor Day is already upon us. The summers always go quickly here in Michigan, where the long winters make us cherish those few sun-drenched months of summer, but this one went so fast, it must have broken some kind of seasonal sound barrier.

Part of it, of course, is that I spent a lot of time doing events in support of Chosen‘s release. Don’t get me wrong, I truly enjoy doing booksignings and readings, but it eats into that lazy, luxuriant downtime I associate with summer. It’s always been one of my best times for cogitating – lolling around, reading a lot of books, letting the wells refill, and ideas coalesce. I feel like I got shortchanged this time.

So, I’ve come to a decision: I’m quitting my day job.

Hey, I’m not about to cut back on doing book stuff! And yes, like many writers, I have a day job. Not an exciting or glamorous one, just something I enjoy doing that’s paid the bills during the long journey it’s taken to get to this point. I’ve kept a low profile about it because, well… perhaps that’s an anecdote best saved for later. Like, after I’ve cleaned out my desk.

At any rate, I’ve given notice, and I’m tremendously excited at the prospect of writing full-time. Scared, too. This is a tough business, and I’m lucky to have a shot at making it as a full-time writer. Yes, I’ve worked hard for a long, long time; and yes, I believe in my work. It’s not that I don’t feel I deserve it. But there are no guarantees, and for every good writer who attains a sustainable measure of success, there are a dozen equally deserving writers struggling to make ends meet.

Still, I’m going to try. Thank you all for supporting the books and making it possible! As far as I know, neither Dart nor Chosen have been picked up for review by any major mainstream publications. A lot of the success they’ve attained has been word of mouth – booksellers recommending them, readers telling friends. For that, I’m truly grateful.

None of it would be possible without Tor’s support, though. When they bought Kushiel’s Dart, they took a risk on a massive book by an unknown author, and they’ve made every effort to give the books a chance to succeed…. which I say not only in thanks, but by way of introducing this month’s sneak preview, Tor’s Winter 2003 catalogue, which features the cover of the forthcomingKushiel’s Avatar.

Pretty cool, eh? And yes, that does mean that Avatar is finished, though it hasn’t been through copyediting and the final proofing stage. And no, before you ask, Phèdre hasn’t had her marque removed! Doubtless it will be lovingly etched by the marquists in Tor’s art department for the final cover design.

I’ll divulge more about Avatar and a bit about my current project in months to come-there’s plenty of time. But for those who are wondering how in the world I managed to write so much, so fast, I will say that the trilogy has actually been in the works for years. In fact, it was during my lolling and cogitating in the summer of 1999 when a comprehensive vision for the second and third books emerged. I’ve been working on them ever since.

On a last, somber note, I do want to acknowledge the fact that it’s been a year since the foundation of our world shifted on September 11th. I won’t belabor the point, but anyone interested can revisit my comments here. In these uncertain times, the last line bears repeating.

May peace be with us all.

August, 2002

Big news this month! I went to Westercon in L.A. over the 4th of July weekend to attend a banquet: Kushiel’s Dart received the 2002 Locus Award for Best First Novel. For those wondering,Locus is the premier trade magazine for science fiction and fantasy and the awards are voted on by its readers, so this is very cool. This is one of the photos taken by Locus editor Charles Brown for an interview that will appear in a later issue.

Speaking of photos, I’ve also received a couple more tattoo pictures, posted over on the left. Kat tells me hers is in the small of her back, and the spectacular full back piece belongs to Adric. I don’t have the words to express what a remarkable and humbling thing this is to behold as a writer; I can only say, again, that it’s an honor to know that a mythos I created has struck such a chord.

Of course, some people were simply in the market for some new art and liked the design, which is okay, too.

One of my co-authors from last year’s “Women in Fantasy” tour, Sara Douglass, is horribly envious and wants to take it a step further. As she possesses a macabre twist of mind, she’s already plotting ways to get readers to mutilate themselves. Any Sara Douglass fans here, pop over to her site and make suggestions on her Bulletin Board!

In other news, I’ve finally got dates posted for the paperback release of Chosen and the hardcover ofAvatar. And to round up, I’ve been remiss in mentioning that Chosen has received a couple of nice awards from literary sites since its release; the WordWeaving Award for Excellence and the Reader’s Gold Connection . Thanks to the hosts, reviewers and readers!

I must confess, though, that among all the reviews I’ve seen for Kushiel’s Chosen, my favorite was in Locus magazine… and I’m not just saying that because they gave me a free meal and a plaque with my name on it. Nor because it was a good one, though it was. For me, it was the fact that the reviewer, Faren Miller, looked beyond the surface of the plot to address the underlying themes. One of my favorite lines was, “Oh yes, for the god of love is no gentler than the god of war and may demand more of his followers.”

This was one of the things I wanted to explore in the D’Angeline mythos, and especially in the nature of Blessed Elua: a deity whose sole attribute is Love, in all its manifestations. We often speak of Love as a gift, as a form of grace and a means of redemption, and while these books are ultimately a celebration of that very thing, they also seek to examine what an awesome and terrible force it is-and what a fearful weapon it makes in divine hands.

If anyone thinks Chosen touches on this, wait until Avatar hits…

July, 2002

So last month, I mentioned seeing the real ‘marque’ tattoo in the flesh on a reader in Madison – and lo and behold! Here are a few more, courtesy of pics sent to me by Rebecca & Jonathon (a lovely matched set), and Theresa.

A few more, and I’ll have to add a gallery. Some day, I promise, I will overhaul the site and add more to it. Links, recommended reading, maybe even a bulletin board… some day. At the moment, monthly updates are all I can handle. Well, that, and replying to email. I do try to keep up with it and answer all of them in person within a week or so, and I’ll do so for as long as it’s feasible. If you’ve dropped me a line and never got a reply, sorry! I’ve had a number of replies that bounced, and my hosting service has, um, eaten a few, too. It happens. Please, feel free to try again.

I have a few other tidbits sent to me by readers in the past few months, which I’ve been meaning to share… for anyone interested, here’s a link to a fan site, House Eglantine, http://www.oentalox.com/eglantine/, a discussion group, http://groups.yahoo.com/group/
Kushiels_Readers/, and another fan site, Rod and Weal,http://www.geocities.com/etacar11/rw_main.html, which the webmistress of the first site kindly brought to my attention (thanks, Danni!). If you’re looking for a forum in which to connect with other readers, check them out.

One of the things I found doing book tours is that readers of the Kushiel Trilogy are a diverse lot-in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, spirituality, reading proclivities; you name it. I think that’s very cool. Art is at its best when it breaks boundaries; not necessarily the boundaries by which it’s defined-although I’m all for pushing the envelope when it needs a good shove-but the barriers we erect in our own lives, that divide us from one another.

That’s the joy of a good book, a good story. To become immersed in it is to transcend, for a little while, not only place and time, but self, too. If we return from the journey a bit altered, a bit more thoughtful than we were when we embarked, it was well worth taking. I say this as a life-long reader, but I also hope, as a writer, that there are elements of Phèdre’s story that have afforded as much… especially for those readers who bear the echoes of that resonance etched in an indelible pattern upon their skin!

As I write this, promotional events for Kushiel’s Chosen have wrapped up at last, but I’ll be off over the 4th of July holiday weekend to attend Westercon in Los Angeles. More on that later. It should be interesting, since this will be the first con I’ve attended since Kushiel’s Dart came out last year. It will be nice to meet some West Coast readers; and good to get back, too. After all, I’ve got some serious writing to do.

Doubtless I’ll say it again, but many thanks to everyone who’s written to share their tattoos, their sites, their pleasure in reading the books! For this writer, you all make the journey that much the richer.

June, 2002

It’s been a long, chilly spring, but summer has come at last. Although the sassafras trees are slow to get their leaves, other trees are bursting with foliage and the world has turned green once more. As I write, the windows are open onto the sound of birdsong and my neighbor’s lawnmower, and the scent of lilacs drifts through the house.

The Midwestern tour for Kushiel’s Chosen is almost over, and I’m looking forward to relaxing and, yes, getting back to writing. A lot of readers have asked when the final volume, Kushiel’s Avatar, will be published. I haven’t gotten an official date yet, but it looks like it will be in the spring of 2003. I’ll update my site when I know for sure. I promise, though, it won’t be years in the making! Avatarwas conceived in its entirety long ago, and although telling a vast tale takes time, the process is well in hand.

Last month I mentioned getting numerous requests for a copy of the tattoo design-Phèdre’s marque-from the cover, which I can’t grant because I don’t have one. This may be confusing, because I do have the temporary tattoos offered in my ‘Tattoo Giveaway,’ which differ from the cover art. Why? Well, before Tor came up with a design for the cover of Kushiel’s Dart, I began developing this website. I wanted a graphic element around which to build it, so I worked with a local tattoo artist to create a version of Phèdre’s marque.

That’s the version on this site. It’s meant to follow the line of the spinal column, ending in a small finial rose at the nape of the neck. Meanwhile, Tor acquired the rights to use another tattoo artist’s design on the cover, the larger back piece seen in full on Chosen. So, take your pick! They’re both lovely. But no, sorry, I don’t have a copy of Tor’s version. Cover art lies entirely in the publisher’s control.

As for the temporary tats, I had those made just for fun. Last year’s “Women in Fantasy” tour kicked off before Dart was even on the shelves, and since I knew I wouldn’t yet have the readership that my co-authors, Sara Douglass and Juliet Marillier, had, I decided to bring the tattoos as a giveaway and conversation piece. Since it’s cheaper to do things in bulk… well, I got a bargain. Yes, there are plenty left, and I’m happy to send a few to anyone who sends an SASE.

And that, in a nutshell, is the Mystery of the Multiple Marques.

I saw my first real marque tattoo on a reader in Madison. She’d had a small version of the tattoo on the cover done. It was quite beautiful; and what an amazing thing to experience as an author! Not that I advocate it, of course-I’m not encouraging anyone to run out and get a tattoo-but I will admit that there was a little voice in the back of my mind saying, “Cool!” .

It’s funny, when I’m introduced to people who have read the books, I sometimes find them surreptitiously peering over my shoulder, trying to get a glimpse of my back to see if it’s tattooed. ‘Fraid not. I actually did want to do it, though. While I was writing Dart I said, “If this thing sells, I swear, I’m getting the tattoo!” The instant it did, I reneged-not out of cowardice, but because I decided it would draw too close a parallel. The marque may have been my idea, but, well… it belongs to Phèdre now. Somehow, as the one who gave it to her, I don’t feel like I have the right to take it back .

I settled for a belly ring instead. D’Angelines haven’t discovered those yet.

May, 2002

It’s going to be a quick and only-slightly-tardy update this month, readers! One glance at my Events column will reveal the cause. I’ve been on the go for the past few weeks, and have miles more to go yet before I rest. Or get back to writing, for that matter. It’s been fun, though, and I’ve enjoyed meeting a number of you along the way. I look forward to more! I’ll post some tour highlights when it’s over, and address a frequently asked question or two. One, in brief, is no, I don’t have copies of the tattoo depicted in the cover art-more on that next update, perhaps.

Last month I declared that “Kushiel’s Chosen” contained what I thought was the funniest line in either book, and challenged readers to call it. Well, you’ve come up with a number of excellent suggestions. I hadn’t realized I’d given Ysandre so many good lines. She’s a good ‘straight man,’ though, and in her steady sense of devotion and execution of duty, I think she provides a necessary counterpart to the more extraordinary heroics of Phèdre & Co.

I was keeping a list of ‘funniest line’ entries, but I’m afraid many were mislaid along the way… I really do need to get a laptop to keep track of my correspondence and notes while traveling. I recall one cited Ysandre acceding Phèdre’s plea to accompany her (“Like as not, you’d only turn up with an army of brigands at your back if I tried to leave you”) and another her retort to Melisande (“If it was your wish to reform the D’Angeline system of governance, you have gone about it in a passing strange manner.”) There were a few non-Ysandrine suggestions, too, such as Phèdre’s comment that Joscelin would sooner dance naked before the Khalif of Khebbel-im-Akkad than conspire with Melisande Shahrizai.

Overall, the overwhelming favorite was the last line of the book, “It’s about time.” Now, that is a funny line, and it’s meant to be. Even Ysandre intended it to be humorous… which is why, for me, it’s not the funniest. Guess I have a thing for unintentional humor! Fictional characters, like people, are often at their most amusing when it’s least intended, when the humor arises from the absurdity of the situation as much as anything else. Recognizing this brings a human element to a story fraught with high drama and epic adventure, and provides a touch of much-needed leavening.

But, of course, humor is also a matter of individual reaction, and even like-minded people don’t always agree. I was beginning to think that it was just me that found this one so funny, until my dear friend Phil came to an event in the Detroit area. He had read the challenge in last month’s update and delivered his verdict with utter certainty. It’s on page 626, in the Temple of Asherat, when Ysandre says in exasperation:

“Oh, Phèdre, get up.”

Hey, your mileage may vary, but it makes me laugh! And I’m just glad to know that there are points in between that have made others smile, since there’s plenty that doesn’t. Laughter is part of what makes us human and a little bit of light always makes the darkness easier to bear.

April, 2002

It’s official: Kushiel’s Chosen is out! Rumors of an early release are confirmed. It arrived in some stores earlier than others, but it appears to be on most shelves by now. Thanks to everyone who reported sightings.

And suddenly, it’s coming home to me that I’m actually an author. It’s different, seeing two titles there in the front of the book. One title is a book; two titles is a list! A short list, to be sure, but one that will grow. It’s different having people ask, “So when’s the book coming out?” not out of politeness, but because they can’t wait to get their hands on a copy. It feels different; different, and good.

It’s fitting, since Chosen is a different book than Dart. It takes place in a shorter span of time, and the arc of the plot is more condensed. I envision it as part mystery, part roller-coaster ride. It was a new challenge to create the unraveling mystery in the first section, complete with red herrings and dropped hints. Once it launches into pure adventure, it was even more fun. There are a lot of classic tropes, from dolorous prisons to dashing pirates to rousing duels, all of which I used with glee.

I wanted to take it over the top, have an element of outrageous adventure. That’s part of the joy of the genre, the pure escape of the journey it affords. But there are somber elements, too; questions of national identity, pride, prejudice, personal responsibility, and the nature of love. These are the things that make the journey worthwhile, the things that make us change and grow along the way.

And, of course, there are the relationships. So much pivots around the game of cat-and-mouse played out between Phèdre and Melisande, with its unexpected shifts and reversals. I know there are readers who despise Melisande (Hi, Mom!), but I adore writing her. Half the time, I feel like she’s a step ahead of me. If their relationship is the pivot, it’s Phèdre and Joscelin’s trouble-fraught romance that serves as the framework. I wanted to explore the real difficulties facing a pair of lovers who are in many ways so profoundly mismatched, and in others, so ideally suited.

Kushiel’s Chosen also contains, by the way, what I happen to think is the funniest line in either book, although maybe it’s just me. When you’re skating on the edge of melodrama, sometimes you have to make it clear that the world takes your characters a bit less seriously than they take themselves. That goes double when your heroine happens to be a courtesan with a penchant for pain.

So, that’s the news for April! As you can see by the events column, I’ll be on the road during the last couple weeks and throughout the spring on a regional tour. Midwestern readers, I hope to see you if I’m coming to a venue near you. As for readers elsewhere; well, keep your fingers crossed. There’s always next time, when the list of two titles turns to three. I know, because I’m an authornow.

Oh, and the funniest line? It’s a short one of Ysandre’s in the latter portion of the book, and I’ll give a shout-out to the first reader to call it.

March, 2002

Okay, readers, Kushiel’s Dart is available in paperback! Now’s the time to tell your friends who weren’t willing to trust your recommendation enough to buy a hardcover, or pick up a copy to lend, to bang around, break the spine and dog-ear the pages. Take it to the beach and get sand under the cover, leave oily fingerprints on the pages.

At least, I do that, especially with books I love. There’s a certain sensual pleasure in engaging with a book on a physical level. I have a lot of admiration for collectors, a lot of respect for the book as a sacred object. And yet, some of my most cherished books are paperbacks I bought as a young reader, and read with avid desire. They have no material value, the pages are growing beige and brittle, but turning those pages, I experience a distant echo of where I was-who I was-when I first read them. Corners that I dog-eared at fourteen years of age have acquired a keen, knife-edged crease. I find myself stopping at those same places, putting down the novel, filled with the anticipatory pleasure of picking it up again and knowing the outcome will satisfy.

It’s a joy unique to readers; the book as profane object. And it’s really cool to imagine someone, somewhere, doing the same thing with one of my books.

I had a chance to experience a different visceral pleasure doing research for Kushiel’s Chosen, the forthcoming sequel. In a local college library, I found books on medieval Venice that no one had ever read before. Many of the facing pages were still a single sheet of yellowing paper, still joined at the fold; virgin territory, untrammeled. I had to read them with a knife in hand, delicately slitting the folds, mindful that these books were not mine to damage. Some of what I discovered therein lies in the pages of Kushiel’s Chosen.

Of course, much of it doesn’t-because that’s the joy of writing historical fantasy. One can pick and choose, discarding what is distasteful, resurrecting bygone cultures, reweaving history like a Mendacant’s cloak. What is borrowed, what is invented, what is adopted wholesale? If the story works, it should be hard to tell where one begins, and another ends.

Anyway, that’s the news this month. The paperback is out, and Kushiel’s Chosen is on its way! April 12th is the official publication date I’ve been given, but I’ve heard a rumor it may be in stores earlier. Authors aren’t always the first to know, so if you’re anxiously awaiting it, keep your eyes open.

Next month, I hit the road, so watch the Events column for dates around the Midwest!

February, 2002

T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month, but here in Michigan, the honors go to February and March. It’s cold. It’s dreary. It’s dank. What remains of the pristine white snow of December has long since turned to grey sludge. Weeks go by without a glimpse of sunlight. Unseasonable thaws soften the frozen earth into churning mire, and falling temperatures harden it back into ugly ruts. Freezing rain pelts exposed skin, brings down power lines and makes driving an icy hazard.

That’s why, in my home town, we celebrate Mardi Gras. We build floats, string them with lights, and play loud music. We don costumes and elaborate masks. And as you can see here in snow, in drizzle, in bone-chilling wind, on the evening of Fat Tuesday we parade down Center Street and throw hundreds of strands of purple, green and gold beads to cheering spectators clad in parkas.

Of course, Mardi Gras is a pre-Lenten celebration, a Catholic holiday with pagan roots, and as a writer who deals in mythologies, I should find that aspect fascinating. And I do. Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival… the word carnival itself derives from the Latin carnelevamen, bidding ‘farewell to the flesh’ during the 40 days of Lent. That’s the sort of thing I love knowing.

But the truth is, few of us in this little Midwestern town celebrate Mardi Gras as one last night of riotous indulgence before fasting begins on Ash Wednesday. We do it in defiance of the long, dreary months in which it falls. We do it because it reminds us that it’s good to be alive. We do it in celebration of the sheer absurdity of it.

I’m a member of the founding krewe, organizers of the whole event. During the long hours sacrificed to planning and float-building, I’m sometimes resentful of the time commitment, the lost afternoons when I could be writing. In the end, though, when the streets are lined with people, the music is playing, the beads are flying and gaping first-timers are wondering what in the world has come over the town, it’s all worthwhile.

Once it’s over, I’ll get back to writing, I promise. Kushiel’s Dart comes out in paperback next month, Kushiel’s Chosen will be released in April, and it’s back into the promotional trenches. My news and events column will be full once more. But right now, I’ve got a parade to plan. Life isabsurd, so we might as well glory in the fact. Whatever you celebrate this month, take a moment to laugh at life’s absurdity. And know that on February 12th, come rain, snow or sleet, I’ll be laughing with you.

Laissez les bon temps roulez!

January, 2002

At the beginning of the new year, it’s traditional to assess the old one. I’m finding it hard to do for 2001. There’s no avoiding the knowledge that we endured one of the greatest tragedies our nation has ever known in the past year, one that continues to affect the lives of thousands of people across the world. And in the same span of time, the same twelve months, I’ve experienced the greatest personal triumphs of my life. It makes for a strange paradox.

My debut novel, Kushiel’s Dart, was released in June. I say “debut” instead of “first” because, well, it’s not the first one I’ve written, but the first one to be published. Some writers get lucky the first time out; most of us spend years trying to catch a break. For me, the tally was ten years of solid effort. I never thought I’d be grateful it took so long, but I have to admit that the years of rejection made me push myself to become a better writer, and this is a far, far better novel than the unsold ones languishing in my files. They’re going to stay there, and I’m going to keep trying to become a better writer.

Kushiel’s Dart has found a wonderful readership. I’m tickled that my surly, formerly-celibate Cassiline Brother Joscelin has acquired so many fans, which would embarrass him to no end. And I’m delighted that so many people have responded to Phèdre, who is surely one of the least likely heroines in the annals of heroic epics. A character like Phèdre is an author’s gift, and I feel fortunate to have had the chance to bring her to life.

Speaking of Phèdre, here’s a painting sent to me by artist Charlyne Loong in New Zealand, who graciously granted permission to share it with other readers.Click to see larger image--891K!

That’s one of the cool things about being an author. It’s easy to forget, working away in solitude, that once your work is out there, it touches other people, other lives, inspires them in ways that has nothing to do with you. There’s something humbling about that. Many thanks to those of you who have written me to share your experience with the book. It’s good to be reminded that readers are flesh and bone people with stories of their own. Some of them made me smile; some made me laugh. There were a couple that made me cry.

Kushiel’s Dart comes out in paperback in March, and I hope it will find an even broader readership. It hasn’t topped any bestseller lists, but it’s done okay for a debut novel. Publishers Weekly named it a notable book in SF. It made the Amazon.com Fantasy Editor’s Top 10 list for 2001, and Borders’ Top 10 in SF. Locus picked it as a Recommended Read. These things, too, are pretty darn cool.

The first sequel, Kushiel’s Chosen, comes out in hardcover in April. I’m excited about it. While it continues the story of characters who have become familiar friends, it’s a different book and writing it held different challenge- most of which I can’t discuss, because it would give too much away! I hope, very much, that those of you who enjoyed the first one will find this a worthy sequel.

Happy New Year, and all the best to you and yours in 2002.