A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
These days, I find juggling is a useful skill for furthering my career. Filling the blanks left by my publisher’s decision to focus on national publicity for “The Sword of Medina” and let me handle the rest could fill all my time. I’m setting up readings and booksignings, blogging, making videos, searching the Web daily for new articles, reviews, and blogs to post on my website, updating my MacBook’s operating system for interfacing with the camcorder I bought to videotape myself reading excerpts, meeting with book groups, Facebooking, Tweeting — whew! It’s no wonder I’ve decided to hire a publicist with my own money (instead of building the writer’s studio I’d planned) to help with some of these tasks.
Because, to tell the truth, although I welcome national media attention, I believe connecting with readers in a personal way, face-to-face if possible, is every bit as important as the MORE Magazine Q&A with me coming out next week, for instance, or the New Humanist article I just published on free speech and censorship.
In the meantime, though, I have more books to write, starting with my current project, an historical novel about four sisters in Provence who all became powerful queens during the 13th century. Someone recently suggested that I blog regularly on my “process,” to help other writers as well as to satisfy readers’ curiosity. And, although a part of me wonders who the heck would want to read about this, I’ve decided to give it a try.
Maybe some of you do care about the fact that, just as with A’isha, protagonist of “The Jewel of Medina” and “The Sword of Medina,” and her sister-wives, information about these four women is proving difficult to come by. Although the few books that do exist maintain that they were extremely influential in determining domestic and foreign policy, thereby shaping the West in crucial ways, the history books tend to focus on the men in their lives, their husbands the kings. This is both good and bad: Bad because, of course, I will have to use my imagination to answer so many questions, and good because I get to use my imagination!
For now I’ll continue to slog through these history books, some better written than others, to sift for clues about these sisters. I’ve got some writing done, none of it very good, keeping in mind Hemingway’s contention that “The first draft is always shit.” I’m taking copious notes as I read about castles and medieval urban life and the feudal system, costumes, foods, kings, battles, the Catholic Church, the Crusades, 13th century literature, knights and chivalry, troubadours, customs, and many other aspects of this fascinating era. At the same time, I have a timeline established to tie the lives and times of all four of these sisters together.
With every day I draw more closely to outlining a plot and then — zoom! I take off again on that inner journey of the imagination, writing this story, the exhilarating payoff for months and even years of research, which will continue even as I put the stories to paper.
In the meantime, I’m trying to get a lecture agent to help me organize talks on free speech, censorship, Islam, women’s rights, and other topics relevant to “The Jewel of Medina” and “The Sword of Medina”; reading the new book “Half the Sky” about women’s rights worldwide; and trying to find time to start the new novel by my fellow Spokanite Jess Walter, which is supposed to be very funny.
Maybe it’s a good thing the music scene in Spokane is in a slump. I’m not finding much time for dancing, anyway!
Next time: Women and power in the 13th century (they had very little); what has changed (surprisingly little); and how I, as a woman, feel about that (disdainful, yet hopeful for my daughter’s generation).