I’m delighted to be signing copies of the Kate Clifford series, (first face to face booksigning for A Murdered Peace!), at the Edmonds Bookshop in Edmonds, WA, on Saturday, 2 March, from noon till 1:00 pm. It will be SUNNY! Edmonds is on Puget Soundm and tomorrow the view will be spectacular across the Sound to the Olympics. Sparkle on the water! But first, come chat with me.
Attending events such as this show your support for local authors and keep independent bookshops in business. Watch for them and make an event out of your attendance–you’ll make authors and bookshop owners so happy.
My inspiration for this blog post was a Twitter thread by Joanne Harris, an author I admire (and enjoy). She regularly invites requests for 10 post threads, many of them writing tips. This particular one was #TenWaysToSupportWriters. It wasn’t just about the increasing importance of following your favorite authors on amazon and goodreads (those algorithms) and writing short reviews on amazon and goodreads (again, algorithms) and pre-ordering their books (at all on-line bookshops). (HINT! A Conspiracy of Wolves is available for preorder now!) It was also about authors supporting each other. My favorites from Joanne Harris’s list:
1. Writers need support at all levels, whether they’re just starting out or whether they’re well-established veterans. We often feel isolated in our work. We can – and should – try to help each other.
2. If you’re an established, successful author, try to pass on some of your experience. You can do it at any level – on social media, or by mentoring an upcoming writer who needs help. If anyone helped you on the way up, try to pass it on someday.
3. On the other hand, think hard before making requests of a fellow-writer, especially if you don’t know them in real life. And never ask a writer to do something (editing, manuscript assessment, etc) that any other professional would charge for.
4. Like their book? Post a review. So much of marketing relies on algorithms nowadays, and reviews often mean greater visibility.
5. You may not be able to buy every one of their books. But you can order them from the library, which means another sale for your author friend.
6. If you do buy a book, try to either pre-order, or buy during the first week of the book’s release. Pre-orders do a lot to ensure that publishers continue with a series. And the first week is especially important for placement in the book charts.
8. Support under-represented groups of writers. If you have a platform, by all means use it to help; but most of all try to listen, and to amplify their voices.
10. Understand that supporting other writers does not diminish your success. Quite the opposite: any support that you can give that makes the community of writers stronger, also benefits you.
Hm… I eliminated only two, and only because I’m still pondering them. What do you think of these?
Do follow Joanne on Twitter–she’s so inspiring. Oh, that’s another one–follow your favorite writers on twitter and facebook! HINT! (Instagram as well, I’m sure, though I haven’t added that to my time killers.)
See you tomorrow in Edmonds!
As the publication of A Conspiracy of Wolves (Owen Archer 11) approaches I have been meandering down memory lane, exploring the arc of what I think of as the first series, visiting characters confined to one or two books. One such character is Dame Joanna of Leeds, the mysterious woman at the center of my third Owen Archer mystery, The Nun’s Tale, whom I based on a woman I’d encountered in a monograph about Clementhorpe Nunnery in York. Though she was largely my creation, she challenged me–slippery, possibly mad, yet oddly compelling, she haunted me all the while I worked on the book. I still think of her whenever I see Antonello da Messina’s The Virgin Annunciate, which I stared at as I wrote. Those of you who have read the book will recognize the blue mantle, and remember its significance. I am so glad that my editor at St. Martin’s Press agreed to use it for the cover of the first US edition.
You can imagine my surprise when this past Monday I peeked at The Guardian online and discovered an article about “my” Joanna of Leeds!
As I wrote in the Author’s Note of The Nun’s Tale:
“Whence came Joanna? In The History of Clementhorpe Nunnery (R.B. Dobson & Sara Donaghey, York Archaeological Trust 1984, p. 15) is the following item:
“ ‘In 1318 there is mention of [an] apostate, Joanna of Leeds. Archbishop Melton ordered the dean of Beverley to return the nun to her convent… Apparently Joanna had defected from her religious order and left the nunnery. However, in order to make her defection credible, she had fabricated her death at Beverley and, with the aid of accomplices, even staged her own funeral there. The archbishop was prepared to take a lenient view of these excesses. He directed the dean of Beverley to warn Joanna of the nature of her sins and, if she recanted them within eight days, to allow her to return to Clementhorpe to undergo a penance. Melton further urged the dean to undertake a thorough investigation of the case, and to discover the names of Joanna’s accomplices so that he might then take suitable action.’
“The story intrigued me. Was Joanna discovered, betrayed, or did she request to return to St. Clement’s Nunnery? If it was her choice, why make such an about face? She had gone to great lengths to escape and make it permanent.
“I moved the incident to 1365-66, putting it in Archbishop Thoresby’s time, which provided me with a serendipitous relationship—Thoresby’s nephew, Richard de Ravenser, was a canon of Beverley at this time, as was William of Wykeham. Nicholas de Louth is also a real person. Because I moved Joanna’s story in time, none of the participants in the book had anything to do with the real story of Joanna of Leeds.”
Imagine my excitement when I read the article—more information!
“A marginal note written in Latin and buried deep within one of the 16 heavy registers used by to record the business of the archbishops of York between 1304 and 1405 first alerted archivists to the adventures of the runaway nun. ‘To warn Joan of Leeds, lately nun of the house of St Clement by York, that she should return to her house,’ runs the note written by archbishop William Melton and dated to 1318.
“Melton, writing to inform the Dean of Beverley about the ‘scandalous rumour’ he had heard about the arrival of the Benedictine nun Joan, claimed that Joan had ‘impudently cast aside the propriety of religion and the modesty of her sex’, and ‘out of a malicious mind simulating a bodily illness, she pretended to be dead, not dreading for the health of her soul, and with the help of numerous of her accomplices, evildoers, with malice aforethought, crafted a dummy in the likeness of her body in order to mislead the devoted faithful and she had no shame in procuring its burial in a sacred space amongst the religious of that place’.
“After faking her own death, he continued, ‘and, in a cunning, nefarious manner … having turned her back on decency and the good of religion, seduced by indecency, she involved herself irreverently and perverted her path of life arrogantly to the way of carnal lust and away from poverty and obedience, and, having broken her vows and discarded the religious habit, she now wanders at large to the notorious peril to her soul and to the scandal of all of her order.’”
Even better, the article announces that more material from the registers of the archbishops of York is to be translated and published! I can’t wait!
Forgive my long silence. It’s been a productive time! In early December I reviewed the copy edit of the 11th Owen Archer, A Conspiracy of Wolves, and approved the gorgeous cover. Here it is! (Didn’t the team at Severn House do a great job?!)
The jacket copy:
“1374 When a member of one of York’s most prominent families is found dead in the woods, his throat torn out, rumours spread like wildfire that wolves are running loose throughout the city. Persuaded to investigate by the victim’s father, former Captain of the Guard Owen Archer is convinced that a human killer is responsible. But before he can gather sufficient evidence to prove his case, a second body is discovered, brutally beaten and stabbed to death. Is there a connection? What secrets are contained within the victim’s household and circle of friends? And what does apprentice healer Alisoun know that she’s not telling?
“Teaming up with Geoffrey Chaucer, who is in York on a secret mission on behalf of Prince Edward, Owen’s enquiries will draw him headlong into a deadly conspiracy.”
Severn House will publish the hardcover in the UK on 30 April, followed by the ebook on 1 August. The first of August is also the date for publication in the US and Canada, in both formats. Your wait is almost over!
The reception of the third Kate Clifford, A Murdered Peace, has been wonderful! A sampling:
“Just when I think Candace Robb can’t get any better as a writer, she does. I really enjoyed the previous two Kate Clifford books, and this brings her story together in a compelling way. The characters continue to be engaging and interesting. The story moves at a quick pace, but yet still gives time for development and thoughtful insights. A great read!” –Amy J Rio (Goodreads)
“I have read and enjoyed all of Candace Robb’s novels, but she really out did herself in this one. The characters are complex and beautifully developed as we watch the growth in Kate Clifford’s relationships with two strong and appealing men–Berend and Elric–and watch the two men grow in admiration for one another.” Judith E. Kuhn (Amazon)
“The best in the series so far. An intricate plot that never loses its way, no matter how far the web stretches, and a perfect evocation and place and the turbulent political times that comes to York.” –Chris Nickson (Goodreads)
“Kate Clifford is an ideal heroine, independent, beautiful, ingenious, loving, and always the searcher. Ms Robb provides us with actions that demand answers by characters that are believable and always striving for answers to mysteries. Great read.” –Kenneth Boyle (Goodreads)
Thank you all, readers and reviewers! I’m feeling the love.
What am I doing now? Wrestling with the opening chapters of the 12th Owen Archer and with a new website which will incorporate this blog. Changes coming…
The Historical Novel Society says: “Robb deftly weaves in historical background and details, ranging from political context to facets of daily life. Fans of medieval history will enjoy the details of running a household and cooking, the history behind women’s jewelry, and the intrigues between different factions in York and beyond. Mystery fans will appreciate how Robb manages the many characters and plot twists, tying up seemingly loose ends into a creative and rational outcome. Kate Clifford is an intriguing character in Robb’s oeuvre, privileged enough to mix with the upper classes, yet streetwise and welcoming to the poor. Through her, readers are afforded a well-rounded view of 15th-century life, as well as a page-turner of a tale.” I’m all smiles! Click here for the full review (which reveals something delicious for Owen Archer fans).
Robin Agnew, owner of Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookshop (now online), posted this review of A Murdered Peace on the shop’s blog. And she also interviewed me for her new blog on the Mystery Scene magazine site–click here to read the interview. We’re old friends, so this was a lot of fun.
Need more enticement? Click here for an earlier post with reviews of A Murdered Peace.
I am thrilled the book is being received enthusiastically (Publishers Weekly recommended it in their holiday guide!), for I love these characters. It was tough to drag myself away from them to resume the Owen Archer series. But never fear, I’ve just reviewed and returned the copy edited manuscript of A Conspiracy of Wolves, the 11th book in the Owen Archer series, and it’s off to the printer! It will be out in hardcover in the UK on 30 April 2019, and in hardcover and e-book in the US and around the world on 1 August. I’ll be in England for some talks and signings in May–stay tuned for details!
I am delighted to introduce you to Kim Zarins, author of the YA novel Sometimes We Tell the Truth (Simon Pulse, Sept. 2016), a brilliant retelling of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in a contemporary setting, with the “pilgrims” as high school seniors on a class trip to Washington, DC. I loved the book when I read it two years ago, and I’m enjoying it even more on my second read. Or is it my third? (I’ve been chasing her down for this blog post for a few years. Each year at Kalamazoo she promised soon!)
I first met Kim in 2003—eons ago!—when my friend Paul Hyams invited me to spend a few days at Cornell University talking to grad students and giving a public talk on the ethics of historical fiction. Kim was one of the grad students I met, working on her PhD in English Literature. She earned her PhD in 2009 while teaching at Cornell, then Santa Clara University, and San Francisco State University. Since 2009 she’s taught at California State University at Sacramento where she’s currently Associate Professor of English. Now here’s the kicker—when she contacted me several years ago, on Twitter, as I recall, I knew at once who she was. She’d made such an impression on me all those years ago at Cornell.
So, without further ado, here’s our conversation:
Candace: First, why modernize?
Kim: It was the right choice for me for many reasons. I love reading historical fiction, but I couldn’t (and can’t) see myself writing a medieval retelling of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. I fear I’d get bogged down in researching cobblestones and privy logistics and just feel unqualified at capturing medieval London and the road to Canterbury. Similarly, while I adore Middle English, I didn’t want to wrestle with diction that sounds too ye olde Engelonde-ish. In truth, I didn’t want to convey the medieval atmosphere of Chaucer’s text so much as the characters and stories themselves, the themes that speak to us as clearly as they did back then—meeting people who are different from you and listening to them, being in love, standing up for yourself, facing uncomfortable truths. Modernizing the tales removes all the medieval atmosphere, and since a modern setting doesn’t bear much analysis for modern readers (it’s just teens on a bus riding along with the occasional coffee break), I can keep the focus on the internal growth of the characters and the storytelling dynamic.
Candace: And why teens?
Kim: Chaucer’s characters are so much larger than life, as well as works-in-progress, and their passionate natures and vibrancy just seemed to make them perfect as teenagers, and the medieval sense of hierarchy and type-casted roles seem not all that different from the high school scene. I love the unabashed coming-of-age narrative we get in kids’ and teens’ books, and I could focus on the characters’ deep feelings and budding insights, while remaining true to their limited viewpoints. I really loved having this toy box of amazing characters to play with. I think if I were writing Geoffrey Chaucer, Father of English Poetry, I’d freeze up and not dare remove him from his pedestal, but Jeff Chaucer the shy teenager was a wonderful and accessible narrator, so frustratingly flawed but so real and relatable. I also loved the idea of meeting Chaucer’s pilgrims as teens, especially the Pardoner. There’s something redemptive about meeting the Pardoner as a teen and seeing if I can shift something so he doesn’t have to grow up and be a bitter, despairing villain. Finally, I loved the idea of writing to a teen audience and sharing these relatable stories, and hopefully spread some Chaucer love to the next generation.
[Candace jumping in to say I was so moved by Pard/the Pardoner. I felt you’d delved into the heart and soul of a character Chaucer had been just sketched in to suit his purpose and you brought out his depths.]
[Kim jumping in to say Thank you so much! He was the character I worked on the most and the only one who voiced opinions about his own centrality in the novel. No marginalization for this Pardoner! I loved working on every scene he was in.]
Candace: As a writer I’ve wondered whether some of the tales and the pilgrims were easier to modernize than others.
Kim: Not to sound complacent or braggy (believe me, I know about writer’s block!), but some pilgrims and tales were very easy to write. This is partly because I teach Chaucer, and I try to make modern parallels for my students. For example, I make references to Twilight, or my students consider how the characters would talk if they were on Twitter. The pilgrims’ voices are so distinct—the Miller talks only like the Miller, and so on. This really helped my characters have their own voice and not bleed into one another’s. And knowing who they were helped with writing their tales, with an eye to their personalities but also Chaucer’s original tales.
When I sketched an initial outline, a modern concept would spring to mind, and the tale then would write itself. For example, The Knight’s Tale with those two Theban princes revived from the pile of corpses is just *obviously* a zombie love story, right?! And The Franklin’s Tale involves a magician willing to help a young man get a woman through a magical demonstration—the whole situation is creepily Slytherin, so the path was clear there too. I confess the fabliaux were straightforward to write, and I kept the scandalous content but provided a lot of criticism from the women on the bus (a lot of Chaucer’s male characters had to become female, because otherwise it would be a really weird demographic—it just shows how outnumbered the Wife of Bath and Prioress really were).
Other tales were more difficult. The Clerk’s Tale is just painful and The Prioress’s Tale is horribly anti-Semitic. I didn’t see how the modern Prioress could tell a story like that and not get kicked off the bus. The other thing that was hard was that I knew I wanted the Canon’s Yeomen to make an appearance, but working him in took a lot of plot points and backstory. He was the most challenging. Still, I really wanted a complete cast, so it was worth it!
Candace: Did the tales or the characters come first–that is, did you modernize the pilgrims and then think about how to modernize their tale, or did it go the other way, or vary? I love hearing people talk about their writing process.
Kim: The characters came first. While I was writing drafts of my General Prologue, I was also writing out character descriptions. I made an Excel spreadsheet for seating arrangements based on social hierarchy (cool kids in the back, nerds in the front row), and another for the character traits and which colleges they were planning to attend, what cars they drove, etc, just so I could know more about them before I directed attention to their stories.
Candace: When teens read the book, what sorts of questions do they ask about Geoffrey Chaucer and the medieval setting? Do they ask any?
Kim: From what I can tell, most teens are surprised that it’s a Chaucer retelling. Any Chaucer-savvy reader can see the references a mile away, but because it’s a modern retelling, it’s not at all obvious to someone unfamiliar with Chaucer. The novel simply reads as a contemporary story. So I’ve heard many teens remark that they were surprised that in the Afterword I call it a Chaucer retelling—and explain what I did—and they express an interest in reading Chaucer. I love to hear that!
Perhaps the coolest Chaucer discussion I’ve ever had with teens was at the Chaucer Celebration at Arizona State University, where I was invited to read from my book to over 100 high school students, many of them from Title I (low income) schools. The students had prepared for the event by reading The Franklin’s Tale, a tale of magic that originally came from Giovanni Boccaccio’s Decameron. I read my modern version, which comes across as Harry Potter-fanfiction. Before I read the excerpt, I told the students that my tale is Chaucer fanfiction of Chaucer’s Boccaccio fanfiction, all framed as Harry Potter fanfiction! After the reading, some high school students came over and wanted to hear more about Boccaccio’s winter garden and how I was playing with Boccaccio instead of going with Dorigen’s “grisly feendly rokkes blake” (I love saying that phrase aloud). The teens were eager to read Boccaccio’s tale and see for themselves how Chaucer adapted it for his purposes. We actually talked more about Boccaccio than Harry Potter, which is kind of shocking! One cool thing about that discussion was that teens really get how awesome fanfiction is, so when they find out Chaucer was doing the same thing, it intrigues them. If Harry Potter is the gateway drug to Chaucer and Boccaccio, so be it!
[Candace inserting… “If Harry Potter is the gateway drug to Chaucer and Boccaccio, so be it!” Or is Kim Zarins the gateway drug to Chaucer and Boccaccio?!]
[Kim inserting… 😉 ]
Candace: Do you think of the school trip as a kind of pilgrimage? or is it the occasion of group travel that’s the parallel?
Kim: The trip to Washington D.C. is a secular analogue for Chaucer’s religious pilgrimage to Thomas à Becket’s shrine. It’s also a right-of-passage for many junior high and/or high school students. It seems like a transition marker and a potentially transformative trip. For me the group dynamic is the key part of the real pilgrimage, rather than the physical destination. I don’t spend much time on Washington D.C. itself, because that’s the curricular pilgrimage, the occasion for the whole thing, but the spiritual pilgrimage is really about this group of teens who learn to listen to one another and rethink one another’s stories and their own.
Candace: What more can I say except you MUST read this book. Whether or not you remember the Canterbury Tales, you will fall in love with Kim’s characters.
NOTE: And for any high school teachers reading this, if you’d like desk copies of the book, Kim invites you to contact her through her website http://www.kimzarins.com/
Kim: Thanks, Candace! This was awesomely fun!
Candace: For me as well!