How to Integrate Historical Research: A Personal Letter

So I was writing a letter back to a kindly acquaintance of mine who asked me about my research process, when suddenly I realized that more than one person might possibly want this information. And thusly and thereforth and herewith, here you are! I present it to the world at large. My handy dandy little guide to my research techniques, to do with as you please.

Hey there [REDACTED],


Anyway, I'm pretty experienced at this, so do feel free to contact me about it. I begin with what I call macroscopic research--and let's use THE GODS OF GOTHAM as a reference here for the rest of the email. First I attacked all the non-fiction books I thought relevant, particularly more focused ones like EROS: CITY OF WOMEN and FIVE POINTS by Tyler Anbinder. I like to get a wider map in my hands before exploring the streets and poking under the dirty crates, if that makes sense? Get a good handle on the religion, politics, social shifts, mores, etc. Once you have read multiple works regarding the same time period that focus on different social perspectives, you'll start to have a much better handle on what people thought and felt and where the divisions lay. Obviously with our example, Irish immigration, female rights, dire poverty, and racial intolerance hovered around the top of my list of priorities.

After that, I do microscopic research, and that's the fun part. You can find this in any number of ways. To stick with our example, I read every page of the Herald newspaper for the year 1845 on microfilm--when Timothy is walking past a half-price medical leeches ad on the Bowery, he's really walking past a half-price medical leeches ad on the Bowery. Op-eds, advertisements, current events, all of it, the whole parade of daily news was invaluable. Diaries are also super rich in life and color, particularly in reflecting the ways people wrote and spoke.

Additionally, I always return to my macroscopic research materials and plunder their indexes: where did they get all this very authentic and academically documented information? Quite often I can find the original sources as easily as entering it into, but even if the piece in question is tougher to track down and I need something like JSTOR, that's a fun treasure hunt. You'll find slang dictionaries for practically every era as well, because people have always been fascinated by the organic nature of language. You just need to do a little digging for them. I adore vintage restaurant menus and cookbooks particularly, when you're wanting to evoke taste and smell. Lyrics of popular music can be insightful. What would they hear as they walked down the street, what would they smell, what was the wind full of?

The important thing to remember about not going down the research rabbit hole is that the only information that TRULY matters at the end of the day is what evokes feelings in your protagonist. Please don't have the plucky young chambermaid clinging for her very life to the back of the carriage tell me when the bridge they're careening over was built, or by whom. She doesn't know, and she doesn't give a fuck. (Or if she does, and she wants to be an engineer, then I want to blurb this book.) Please don't have your conflicted tomboy secretly-female blacksmith apprentice tell me about her lady love's Parisian tailor, she doesn't know anything about Paris or tailoring. DO, however, have her daydream over the chemisette under milady's daringly plunging neckline. Because she’d be a real idiot not to.

Does this make sense? In Timothy's case, he's very brief about clothes and architecture, silent about sports and popular entertainment, detailed about social politics because he cares, and truly passionate about whether or not the City Hall Park fountain is functioning, because he and I both detest fountains that don't work.

Hope this helps, and rooting for you! [NOT REDACTED BECAUSE I’M DEFINITELY ROOTING FOR YOU]


Pittsburgh and the Fight for Our Lives

I've been trying to parse what I'm thinking and feeling about the synagogue massacre for days now. And one of the things I'm most upset by is the failure of otherwise rational people to stand up their peers and say, ENOUGH. This is not a both-sides-are-guilty issue. This is a one-side-condones-hate issue.

If expressing that makes me a radical left wing nut job, then so be it. But I think it just makes me a not very remarkable, baseline decent human. If you work for Trump and aren't publicly quitting and denouncing his agenda, why not? If you're a respected, intelligent journalist and still feeding America FOX poison, what justifies that? What was your thirty pieces of silver? If you're in Congress and you're knee jerk voting Red vs. Blue, why aren't you listening to your constituents, many of whom live in grotesquely gerrymandered areas?

The thing to remember is, political parties die out. When was the last time you voted Whig? When Barack Obama sounds like Ronald Reagan and the new political climate of rampant, hateful paranoia attacks Americans like a cancer (black Americans, trans Americans, queer Americans, female Americans, immigrant Americans, Jewish Americans, Muslim Americans) then it's time to grow a pair.

Yes, there are both shitty Democrats and shitty Republicans. Yes, Democrats also take money from the wrong people. Yes, Democrats are guilty of political compromise. No, we do not propose building a farcical wall to keep out the people who pick our fruit, clean our homes, and work in our kitchens, paying taxes all the while. Which is more than I can say for Don Jr. Equivalency in this case is false rhetoric. People have died. More lives are at stake. Do you know how many more trans kids will die by suicide if their identities are legally erased for no reason other than spite and fear? Do you know how many women will die if they can't gain access to proper reproductive care in Texas? Do you know how many more minorities will die if the enabling dog whistles continue?

Hate can't fight hate. But love can, and to love is an active verb. Faith without works is dead.

Don't just vote. Form a voting squad. Don't just argue with people. Listen to them. Don't just respect women. Call out your friends who refuse to. Don't just shake your head and divorce yourself from the world.

Try to save it, in any small way you can.

Me Too: My Story of Sexual Harassment in Publishing, Shades of Grey, and Changing My Name

The vitriol has been well and truly flying, both across the country and on my social media personally, in the wake of Harvey Weinstein's accusations of sexual assault and the, oh, ten or twenty other folks accused of--sometimes even with pictorial evidence--sexual misconduct following Weinstein's firing.

But it didn't start with Weinstein.  It started with a man admitting that he kissed women without their consent, "grab 'em by the pussy," who not merely suffered no ill effects--he was elected the President of the United States of America.

Women are sick of it.

The #MeToo meme on Facebook and elsewhere sent a powerful message: you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a woman who's experienced some form of sexual harassment.  Arguably all of us have, in some form or another, once we've reached say twenty years old for example, or maybe fourteen would be a better guess if you ever hung around the Gadsden Mall as a kid.  I participated in #MeToo, on a surface level.  Plenty of things have happened to me that men on my feed considered shocking and caused women to nod grimly.  I've been both grabbed on the streets of San Francisco and kissed on the mouth here in Queens with my hands full of groceries.  I've been briefly kidnapped in cab not once but twice--the first guy insisted on taking me to a club and I talked my way out of it by saying I needed to change into a prettier dress (I gave a fake address and ran to my house after telling him to wait for me), and the second guy only had me for about two minutes before I banged my way out of his car at the airport by punching the window till he unlocked the door.

Those sort of anecdotes aren't actually what's causing all the fuss on my feeds at the moment, although for the women who experience them to varying degrees of severity--aka most of us--they're incredibly important.  It's the ones that include shades of grey that have been causing people to enter serious discussions on my Facebook.  Stories like Senator Al Franken's.  Pantomiming grabbing a woman's breasts while she's asleep is only a tasteless joke, some might argue (that's true, in the same way pulling an underweight boy's pants down and stuffing him in his locker is a joke).  Women who wait for ten years to report such things weren't angry enough in the first place for it to matter to them--it's about taking down powerful men for attention, one female follower suggested.  Franken's victim posed for sexy pictures, so she was asking for it.  Franken does more good than harm.  Franken messed up, but not all men are like that.

All right.  Here we go.  I have a story that isn't about horrible things like getting whisked off in cars or grabbed on the street.  So let's discuss that, and see where it gets us.  Because I haven't talked about it publicly before, and now is the time.

My first novel, Dust and Shadow, sold like turd sandwiches.  It came out in hardcover just after the housing market collapsed in 2008, and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing--how to be proactive in promoting it, how to increase sales, how to spell corduroy (I literally learned how to spell corduroy two days ago, by the way, so now admittedly I'm just showing off).  My numbers were dismal, the hardcover was remaindered, and first editions are scarce.  Afterward, as I attempted to write a second novel, I discovered that my previous publisher couldn't buy my next book even if they wanted it in the first place, and that my previous agent (who is nothing short of wonderful) honestly didn't care for the sort of books I was emulating with my own work.

I had two unpublished manuscripts finished (they're still unpublished), and I was ready to throw up my hands and take up longshoring, or possibly professional decoupage.  It was hugely demoralizing.  I felt like the bottom of my own (very cute) shoes.  Perhaps I should become a cobbler.  My husband Gabriel, a sainted human, insisted that I should keep trying, and that I needn't go learn shorthand or buy an apple farm.  So instead, thanks largely to his support, I pulled out most of my hair and wrote the first four chapters of what was then called The God of Gotham.

Now for the next step: I needed an agent, and I solicited several.  But one experience in particular stands out to me.

I sent the first chapters to an agent who will still remain nameless, and after agreeing to read them, he asked me to meet him for dinner.  Sure, I said, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed.  Dinner sounds great.  I love food--this is known.

We met at a dark, pretty little cafe in the Village--but they're all dark and pretty, so bear in mind this means absolutely nothing.  By having dinner, I don't mean we did the more usual business meeting for lunch or drinks or coffee.  We ordered a real meal, which he paid for entirely.  During the course of that meal, he conveyed to me the following information:

--the first four chapters of The God of Gotham were not a novel at all, but an amateurish historical travelogue (the first four chapters remained essentially identical right up until publication and subsequent nomination for an Edgar Award for Best Novel) 

--my numbers from Dust and Shadow were so embarrassing that I would be very lucky to get another agent at all, and would need to change my name (I'm with William Morris Endeavor; my name has just as many y's as previously) 

--he couldn't in conscience agree to be my agent, but he could agree to "mentor me," which would involve frequent meetings to improve the manuscript (I failed to leap at this generous offer)

--would I like to, since we were done with dinner and wine, now go to a second bar? (of course I would)

By this time, I had a pretty good idea what was going on.  But this guy was well known.  He was connected.  Maybe he was just being friendly.  Maybe he was just being generous.  Maybe I really was a terrible writer--I already thought I was a terrible writer by that time, so it seemed perfectly reasonable.  Maybe I really would have to change my name to Gaye Gyndsay, or Myndsay Maye.

As to the second bar, I said OH MY GOD I KNOW AN AMAZING SPANISH WINE PLACE WHERE WE CAN DRINK AS MUCH AS WE WANT ON THE CHEAP and he said OH MY GOD FANTASTIC and I marched him straight to Bar Carrera and introduced him to the manager, who happened to be working behind the bar that night: my husband Gabriel.

The agent didn't turn out to be very thirsty after all.  He ordered one glass, visibly uncomfortable.  We drank.  He left as fast as he could.  

The next week, my amazing-beyond-every-hyperbolic-superlative agent, Erin Malone, met me for the first time.  I was in the incredibly terrifying former WME offices, all glass and angles and SCARY NEW YORK BALLER BIG TIMER ROLEX-SCENTED SHIT, and I was offered coffee.  (I was too scared shitless to desire coffee.)  When I was shown into her office, Erin came out from behind her desk to shake my hand and said, "I have one question about the first four chapters."

"Shoot," I said, knowing she was going to suggest changing my name to Klymsey Klaye.

"What happens next?" she asked.  I've been deliriously happy with her ever since.

I'm lucky to be in an industry dominated by smart, ferocious women.  My American and UK editors' names have been Kerri, Amy, Claire, Sarah, and now Sara.  Why are there so many women in publishing?  Well, women read more books, statistically, but it's also true they work comparable hours for lower pay than many other corporate gigs.  Whatever the reason, it's a blessing to be in their company, to have the advantages of their passionate advocacy, their piercing editorial insights, and their sincere emotional support.

You're probably wondering by now whether I'm going to say who this agent fellow was: no, I'm not, because I'm a professional woman, and we are FORCED to compartmentalize in order to streamline our lives. 

The next time I saw the man was at a holiday party.  I was so angry I was literally shaking.  I couldn't hold my glass without looking like an idiot, so I set it down.  I'm not a demonstrably emotional person.  Why was I reacting so strongly to talking to him?  Because I knew full well that he made me feel like nothing on purpose, like my name was actually a stain on any paper it might be printed on, that my work would never achieve any quality without his expert guidance, and that in some way, candlelight and adult beverages needed to enter into the picture.

This guy has a lot of friends, and I know what would happen to me if I accused him of anything:

--it didn't happen that way at all

--you're angry he bought you dinner?

--you're angry he offered to MENTOR you?

--you didn't say anything, so how bad could it have been?

--aren't you the least bit grateful he offered to do so much for you despite genuinely not liking your manuscript?

--what kind of egomaniac are you?

--have you SEEN the way you dress, Lyndsay?

I can't deal with any of that.  So I'll tell the story, and I'll tell the men out there, in every workplace across the world: this is why we shut up sometimes.  This is why we put our heads down and keep trying, keep working.  It's relatively easy for me to tell a story about a pair of grotesquely shitty cab drivers who ought to be shot into the infinite vacuum of space--the experiences were brief and intense and inarguable.  Nobody debated them or called me a liar.  It's very, very different for me to tell a story about someone who is a Known Known, rather than a Known Unknown.  Sometimes, women say nothing not because they are ashamed or even afraid: they say nothing because they know their days would be consumed by the story, to the point of ruining everything else for months at a time, and they bury it in the fucking backyard with the rest of the rotten things, plant a little memorial, dust the dirt off their hands, and live their lives.

Finally, a word on Not All Men.  It's going to be tempting for some gentlemen to indicate in response to this story that Not All Men are like that--it's been happening a lot on my feeds, and there's a reason it makes women crazy.  The reason is that I'm already aware of that, and that is changing the subject.  I have worked with ridiculously courteous gentlemen in publishing.  My husband, brother, father, best friend--they're all male feminists.  If a woman tells you that a man suggested she squeeze his lemon till the juice runs down his leg, in the parlance of the immortal Zeppelin of Led, it doesn't really matter that EVERY man isn't queuing up on the street with his proverbial citrus fruit.  If a woman tells you she was harassed in the workplace, it doesn't really matter that YOU defend women in YOUR workplace.  If a woman mentions that she was locked in a room with a two-way mirror and forced to perform fellatio on a life-size wax model of Kenny Loggins, it doesn't make much of a difference to her that not EVERY man would be into that. Those things still happened to her, and she doesn't care about your own credentials while she's in the middle of telling a painful story.  It's interrupting.  It's changing the subject.  If a man's boat is sinking, he doesn't really care to be told that not ALL lifeboats are leaky.

It's hard for me to tell this story, and it'll probably be hard to endure the commentary on it--that I am overreacting, that I'm attention-seeking, that I'm betraying women by not naming the douche canoe, that I'm deserving of any flirtation I get because of how I style myself.

I'll be OK.  I'm a storyteller, despite what that man said.  And if my story can add to the national conversation on the subject?  So be it.

Why I March

Last Saturday, the 45th President instituted the popularly termed “Muslim Ban.”  Muslims from Middle Eastern countries which had previously produced zero terrorist acts on American soil were immediately and categorically denied entry to the States and held upon landing.  No countries with whom #45 (which I’ll henceforth call him) does commercial business were listed despite nationals from those places having participated in 9/11 and other atrocities. 

This executive order caused green card holders—literal card-carrying American residents—to be detained unlawfully (see: the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965).  It caused Canada to offer asylum to American residents who feared becoming captives in the United States of America.  It indiscriminately punished at least one translator for the US Military.  And it forced infants and grandmothers and one stage four cancer patient to wait out an interminable grind of pro bono paperwork enacted by the ACLU, a continuing grind we can’t quite see the end of.

People are still being held.  Unlawfully, on US ground.  Because of their religion.  I thought we had “freedom of” speech and the press and religion and whatnot around here.  Freedom of boxers vs. briefs.  Freedom of dill vs. butter pickles.  Freedom of pre-drug Beatles albums vs. post-drug Beatles albums.  Just freedom, period.  My strong impression was that the Founding Fathers even believed in this principle.  Maybe I got that impression from Hamilton, but I don’t think so.

Then there’s the matter of avowed white supremacist and government-loathing Nazi Steve Bannon gaining one of the highest roles in the nation while our backs were turned.  At the cost of sacking the Joint Chiefs of Staff from access to the Presidential ear canal.  Such as it is.

If you disagree with any of the above as being factual, you’re cordially welcome to stop reading.  Because the following may not apply to your interests.  If, on the other hand, you’d like to verify the above and are simply curious about its accuracy, I encourage you to consult any of these top rated anti-political bias fact check sites:  If you don’t like one, try another.  If you don’t like that one, try the next.  And the next.  And the next.

If you think such a thing as “alternative facts” exists, may God bless you and keep you free from risky encounters with gravity, electricity, and rabid mammals.  Because you need all the help you can get.

That was a preamble, but this isn’t meant to be a political rant.  On the contrary.  It’s meant to be a confession.  On Saturday, I like many other outraged New Yorkers—the ones who weekly hail the Muslim-driven yellow cabs who were also protesting by refusing to drive to JFK—showed up at the airport with signs and passions and a very deep-seated feeling that we were ­pro-something.  I’ve heard people express that simply being anti-#45th President is tiring.  Well and good.  This was people of all races and creeds chanting, “Let them in! Let them in!”  Not because we want our borders to be unsafe but because we believe diversity is strength.  We believe in kindness and humanitarianism.  We believe green card holders have been vetted well beyond #45’s tax returns.  And we believe that “Give us your tired, your poor,” doesn’t mean “Give us your tired, your poor, your pale-complected Christian and your well-scrubbed and wait no not you, you’re a bit brown, a bit bearded, you have your hair curiously covered up, what’s that scarf about, no seriously why is your hair hidden, just like a Catholic nun’s would be theoretically but you’re quite tan so never mind that, step to the left, we need to check your Twitter for loyalty.”

The NYPD were in riot gear but highly respectful.  Very big clubs.  Very large shields.  Thankfully not needed.  The crowd was warned of arrest possibility but given a legal aid phone number in case that happened.  Thankfully not needed by me, at least.  Nothing really happened personally except for a few dozen Twitter trolls heaping vitriol on my head, and one blue ribbon Twitter troll telling me that I should be beheaded by a jihadist.  Stupid, disconcerting, asinine.  Forgettable.

Here’s why it wasn’t forgettable.

There are still real people, people with families, and they are locked up in our airports despite a court order to let them go.  Handcuffed.  Innocent of crime.  And I write novels set in previous centuries.  The reason I have been losing so much sleep for days isn’t because nothing really happened to me and I’m a snowflake (winter is coming, people).  It’s because this is real, all of it, it’s no dystopian YA fantasy in which (improbably) the National Parks Service went full feral rogue.  I know what might happen to all of us if we allow this to continue.  It’s as clear to me as a page in a history book.  I stare at them constantly.

I’ll quote the poetic tweet that SNL writer Jack Bornstein, clearly from his last name a complete stranger to historic racial hatred and its ilk, wrote in response to the nationwide crisis:

First they came for our Muslims

And we all freaked out and resisted,

Because this is full-on Nazi shit,

And we know better now.

The problem as I want to frame it to people, what I want everyone to understand absolutely blows my tiny little mind, is that I write historical fiction for a living.  It doesn’t make me smarter than anyone else.  Or even better informed.  It makes me more involved in historical hypotheticals, however.  It forces me to be empathetic to past prejudices and understanding of past injustices.  I approach writing as an actor, and I approach character choices as personal ones, with every nuance and factor altered depending on which voice is doing the talking.  What I attempt every day is to imagine myself in impossibly difficult historical contexts, ones like:

What would I do if slavery were still legal?  Would I fight it, or wait for the politicians to solve the problem?

What if women still couldn’t vote?  Would I march?  Be ridiculed?  Be physically threatened?  All to cast a ballot?

What if the Japanese were being imprisoned in camps?  Would I say something, in spite of the war effort?

What if blacks had to drink from separate water fountains and attend separate schools (as opposed to every other terrible thing blacks still have to battle today)?  Would I march in front of a hose because strangers were being lynched?

Well, guess what?

I don’t have to ask any such thing anymore, and neither do you.

Let me repeat: You don’t have to ask yourself these questions today.  You’re in the thick of it.  You’re deciding right this very moment what you would do.  And what you would do is very rapidly becoming what you did do.

Welcome to a national emergency.  Call me crazy all you like.  Because Jesus H. Christmas on a rainbow-striped zebra, I hope you're right.

#45’s America is not a new America.  It’s the America my black friend experienced when he was walking down the street towards his apartment in Harlem and six cops poured out of a van and body-slammed him to the concrete.  It’s the America that made my gay friend suicidal.  It’s the America that’s called me a cunt and a whore so many times that I can’t even list them, the one that made it OK for guys on the open street to grab a handful of my ass. It’s the America many have survived and many other (privileged) people have never even glimpsed.  Now the ugliness is out in the open, and it’s daunting.  I’m daunted at seeing its scope.  I freely admit that.

But it’s a different thing to be daunted than to be cowed.

This is also the America that created the Underground Railroad.  It’s the America that tossed McCarthyism to the curb.  It’s the America that took in the tired, poor, hungry, lost, and the America that allowed those identical people to turn into business giants and social titans.  It’s the America I love.  Never EVER allow anyone to tell you that criticism is unpatriotic, or that dissent is whining.  I adore this country.

That’s daunting too.  I love it here.  I’m not leaving. 

There are now reports that people are also being detained at airports for their social media and their online connections.  Fabulous, I thought as I munched on an artisanal falaf-taco, I am so fucked.  I’m under no illusions about how I come across.  But this has happened before, all of it, so many times, in other eras and places where democracy was threatened.  What do you do?  When shit gets real and the dangers are physical?  What do you chose to say when you’ve always wondered, if I had lived in Germany when the Third Reich was coming to power, if imagining such things were actually your bread and cheese, and then suddenly you wake up one day fighting literal Nazis in the Oval Office?  When last week you had a black President?

I don’t have answers, but I know our choices have consequences.  I know I have a voice, and such as it is, I need to say something simply because I possess the capacity to do so.  I know people battle tyranny in all kinds of ways.  Some of them simple.  Some of them complicated.  Some of them visible.  And some less so.

What I know most assuredly of all is that we are at a crossroads. 

Please don’t imagine that doing nothing is adequate.  Albert Einstein, who was a refugee fleeing for his life after his home and property were confiscated, said, “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

And when Frodo said he wished that such evil hadn’t happened in his time, Gandalf answered, “So do I, and so do all those who live to see such times.  But that is not for them to decide.  All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

According to your gifts and your capacity, please do something.  Do all you can.  Every single one of us is depending on you.

An Open Letter to Donald Trump and Mike Pence

Dear Messrs. Trump and Pence,

It looks as if you've managed to get yourself elected President and Vice President of the United States.  Leaving aside entirely what that means for our country, because much is unknown about a man with no political experience whatsoever leaving aside Mr. Pence's record, too much about your opinions is known for me not to say something.  So here is what I pledge to do for the next four years.  Because even though this is an open letter to you, first I have a few things to say to some friends of mine, so I crave your patience.

1)  I promise to honor the memories of the women who suffered before my time by not allowing myself to be discouraged or trampled by opinions that seek to diminish my voice.  I'll remember that Elizabeth Cady Stanton said, "Every truth we see is ours to give the world, not to keep for ourselves alone, for in doing so we cheat humanity out of their rights and check our own development."  When tempted to remove myself from battles of politics and social justice and female reproductive health, I'll remember that yesterday I was able to cast my vote proudly for a female President, and that Elizabeth never voted at all.  Because of countless women like her and others before and after, I started work when I was sixteen, graduated college, and have my own career.  If I'm tempted to hide, I'll work instead, to make sure every woman gets the same opportunities, and when my fellow ladies are discouraged, I promise to try my best to help lift them up.  When I'm in the mud, because I know I will be at some point going forward through this quagmire, I promise to ask them for help.  Because we are no less mighty today than yesterday and we must remember that.

2)  In every way, I will defend American principles of religious tolerance and freedom to worship as we please--out of sincere patriotism, yes, but out of common decency and respect for others, ten times more.  Whether this means standing by our Muslim American brothers and sisters or it means reminding people that God is love, I will love.  Because if I believe in anything about God with a hundred percent of my soul, I believe in the divinity and supreme injunction to love, and if I am criticized by anyone for doing that when it comes to certain creeds, I'll welcome it, because I know that Islamic Americans have more to struggle against every day.  Every creed from every nation yearning to breathe free: you are welcome here.  In my house, at my table, eating my cooking.

3)  I'm going to continue to honor the men of courage in my life who are feminists--my husband and my father and my brother and every man I have the privilege to call a true friend.  When they can assist, I'll call on them, and I ask now: please offer help where you see the need for it.  Don't be silent.  So many of you are already so vocal, but when it comes to nebulous excuses of "locker room talk" and vilifying victims especially, please make noise, as you are gentlemen.  We cherish and depend on you, and I'm reminded of Gloria Steinem saying, "Though we have the courage to raise our daughters more like our sons, we've rarely had the courage to raise our sons like our daughters."  Be Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  Be Inspector Quillfeather.  Be Timothy Wilde.  You are half the human race, and I love you very much.

4)  In any skirmish where freedom of the press is threatened, I will get louder.  To those of you who know me--there will be swearing.  It will be colorful.  To all the journalists including perhaps especially the satirical ones who are fighting for sanity, I am with you.  None of this is funny.  But humans laugh at pain, and whether it takes in-depth story coverage or raunchy parody, I will never stop respecting your work, even when I criticize some of its modern trends.

5)  The LGBTQ community will have my undying support and every resource at my disposal, whenever needed.  This is not just difficult, it's frightening, especially following great advances, and don't think I mean to diminish that.  But be assured of this: if fighting for expanded rights is our arena, I am in it.  If fighting to maintain already won rights is our arena, I am in it.  And if fighting to regain rights lost through bitter tears is our arena, I am in it.  You need never question that for an instant.

6)  People of color, the ones I love and the ones I don't know: your lives matter.  The lives of immigrants finding new paths matter.  The lives of black men systematically ruined by incarceration, racism, and gun violence matter.  The lives of women of color who battle so hard and so brilliantly to change communities matter.  You matter to me.  

Donald Trump and Mike Pence: we are not more divided in this country than ever before.  There was an event called the Civil War, and it was about slavery and systematized oppression, and hundreds of thousands of good men died.  But we are divided, and I want you to know something.

I am not afraid of you.

I am not afraid of you.

I am not afraid of you.

In hope,

Lyndsay Faye

JANE STEELE: Dressing 19th Century Divas

My first four novels all feature male narrators: Dr. John Watson (yes, that Dr. Watson) in Dust and Shadow and Timothy Wilde in the trilogy bearing his name.  I never found writing men difficult, mainly because scientists theorize men are homo sapiens, and as I happen to be of the same species, we share a heavily shaded Venn diagram of thoughts and feelings and interest in well-brewed beer.  Before penning Jane Steele, my new tale about a governess-turned-vigilante inspired by the classic Jane Eyre, I happily wrote about hardened rogues in muddied boots, never realizing I’d deprived myself of historical fiction’s headiest pleasure…

…dressing people up in fancy costumes.

Especially, dressing people up who can wield wit and weaponry with equal aplomb, as my incarnation of Jane can.  After so long wandering in the desert, I admittedly binged on pretty frocks when writing Jane Steele.  As if I’d gifted myself a whopping pile of paper dolls and went frenzied with the scissors, slavering all the while.

I’m no fan of gender binaries.  Let’s not pretend that world-renowned army doctor badass John Watson, he of transcontinental "experience," a heart of gold, and doubtless VERY capable hands, never noticed the silhouetted figure of a female.  My favorite such passage occurs in Doyle’s “The Man with the Twisted Lip”: “…the door flew open, and a little blonde woman stood in the opening, clad in some sort of light mousseline de soie, with a touch of fluffy pink chiffon at the neck and wrists.”  The man can survive Afghanistan, shoot a service revolver, and wax rhapsodic about neck fluff with the same tender finesse.

With Jane Steele, however, I glutted on fashion like a morning talk show host who’d run dry of celebrities, corralled a herd of pedestrians into the studio, and shoved them into makeover chairs.  I love fashion, and Jane Steele like Jane Eyre spends years as a penurious student and later governess.  The lack of food she suffered must have been bad enough, but what about the lack of pink chiffon?  The mind revolts.

So I started researching 1840s-1850s fashion.  My version of Jane embraces infamy, dispatches myriad villains, and acquires a small fortune—why shouldn’t she do so in French heels?  As an unrepentant style nerd (I once stood in line for the Met's Alexander McQueen exhibit for five hours), I wanted to invest her with real historical splendor.  Since words are inadequate to describe these outfits (especially when you’re wiping drool off your keyboard so frequently), here are a few quotes appearing in Jane Steele, matched with their historical inspirations.

“Mr. Thornfield chuckled.  He wore a swallowtail coat and a thick rust-coloured cravat—which I thought hardly fair, since my best governess disguise was a thing of drab dove-grey silk striped with a cream pattern and topped with a high lace collar, and it is beastly to be seated across from a bluntly handsome fellow when one looks about as captivating as gravel.”

Collection: The State Historical Museum (Russia)

Collection: The State Historical Museum (Russia)

“It was the finest dress I had ever owned: dull silk, of a colour as much green as it was brown that made my eyes gleam like mahogany, painted asymmetrically with vines of delicate vermillion roses; along the bosom, the cinched waist, and the fully draped sleeves were barred pairs of emerald stripes.  A single cascade of tiny buttons dripped from neck to waist, and it occurred to me, seeing the mischievous tilt to my lips, that I had never looked better.”

Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

“This costume was all of the same patternless fabric, a shimmering fawn colour, but the detailing was exquisite—ten deep pleats, a plain band of the same fabric at the waist, and then it blossomed into fold after fold, like a modern woman’s dream of a Renaissance belle.”

Collection: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Collection: Los Angeles County Museum of Art

“Then I donned another of my fashionable frocks, a floral silk with a dramatic shawl collar, all save the white lace sleeves emerging from fabric printed in grey and silver and a blue which reminded me of Mr. Thornfield’s eyes.  Today is for you, I thought, wherever you are and however you fare, and was seized with such a longing that my breath caught.”

Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Collection: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Fashion is very much entangled in Jane’s feelings, obviously, and I do tend to think of clothing as a sort of armor when it’s well-selected—a daily broadcast to the world of acceptance, defiance, mood, taste, or whatever else we express when we stand backlit in doors clad in mousseline de soie, or you know...a Nirvana t-shirt. So whether your wardrobe runs to blue jeans or ball gowns, I hope you love your own skin and enjoy Jane Steele.  Clothes don’t make the woman—but under the proper circumstances, I think they can certainly make her day.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Whore Convention: Female Writers and Mammary Glands

So a close friend of mine posted a photo from my national tour on the Book of Faces the other day, as everyone probably knows now, and a woman who has since deleted her profile decided this was the appropriate comment to make (my boon companions screencapped the daylights out of it):

"This is what the 'younger' female Sherlockians are 'almost' wearing these days--women who, by the way, expect to be taken seriously and not viewed as mere 'sexual objects.'  Book signing or whore convention?  You make the call... And, gentlemen, while you are in the neighborhood, after she signs a copy of her book, you can ask to sign her breasts.  No joke--apparently that is also a 'trendy and hip' pastime for these 'Baker Street Babes."

HAHAHAHA.  You're absolutely right: I see no joke there.

For obvious reasons, I've been pretty much ripping myself in half for a couple of days over whether to address this or ignore it like I'd ignore Carrot Top tour announcements.  But since the party in question has removed all trace of herself following some rather pointed questions from my husband of 17 years, I feel like I need to say something and then dust my hands, in that order.

The immediate result of this comment was outrage from nearly all quarters, I'm gratified to note.  In fact, the Babes and my friend Maz managed to get the Twitter hashtag #canontits off the ground with the help of the Sherlock Holmes online fandom, which consisted of many, many female devotees posing with pictures of their Doyle canon--and other wonderful objects--while showing some righteous lady cleave.  It was a titfest of glorious proportions, and all aimed in our defense.  Notice that I say they posed "with" objects, as opposed to "two objects posed for a picture."


One of my favorite quotes from the Day Tatas Went Viral was by my friend Tim, who wrote the following gem: "1) It's a book tour.  She's a rock star.  Therefore, boob.  2)  By the same token, if I were on tour for a book what I wrote that had just been optioned by Chris Columbus, I'd be wearing a summer sausage rolled up in a tube sock in my trousers.  3) How can there be 'too much boob?' I've never seen that."  In fact, as marvelously tit-illating (oh, you're welcome) as the female fandom was, the amount of outraged male feminists who've contacted me has been astronomical, which is another one of the reasons I felt the urge to talk about it.

First off, I was baffled that this Facebook remark bothered me, like, at all.  Trolls be trolls, and they make a living trollin'.  What do I care?  I wear what I like, which is the reason this horse puckey happened in the first place.  Then my friend Ashley explained to me that the reason it bothered me was that my breasts were suddenly at the center of a raging debate after having been directly attacked, which is a non-consensual use of them for purposes I didn't offer clearance regarding, so it frankly sucked.  And she's right, that's a major part of it.  

I could say that another part of it is the fact I'm the author of five books which are internationally bestselling and published in 14 languages, and I've been happily married for 17 years, so I have no need of extra whore coin, but those facts are actually completely irrelevant.  There's no point in arguing with someone who says, "But really, if we're honest with ourselves, aren't all Mexicans rapists?"  Just as there's no point in telling this now-vanished woman that, no, your inviting strange men to inquire whether they can Sharpie my chesticles is actually very rapey and not a policy I employ at my signings.

No, what really steamed my nuts was the fact this was a female Sherlockian.

Let's do a thought exercise: imagine that an older male Sherlockian makes this exact comment.  You can't, right?  You know why?  He wouldn't.  Even the most hidebound intellectual turkey baster with a Ted Cruz bumper sticker would not make this remark, because he has been told he can't.  It's beyond the pale.  He knows he'd be napalmed off the internet for doing it, so no matter how much he might want to, he cannot say this with his face and name attached to the words marching in a row.  

Apparently there are women who think they can, though.  Which, where my feelings are concerned, is like going in for a hug with Sir Patrick Stewart and getting slapped in the face.  Sir Patrick is not for slaps, everyone knows this.  He is for snuggles.  Sherlockian women are not for slut-shaming.  They are for intellectual vibrancy, mentorship, tender hugs, and sometimes sharing of gin.

Here is the important part: this poor woman.  I mean, as hurt as I was, let's think about it.  She's been made to feel for her entire life that her decolletage was filthy.  She's been made to think that the way to succeed is by tearing other women down.  She thinks maintaining the "purity" of a club devoted to a magazine detective is more important than human decency. She's been convinced that our bodies ought to determine the opinions that people have of us.  She said so.  She thinks that prudery is a greater virtue than kindness.  I want to cry when I ponder that.  She probably thinks about as much of herself as I think of those chicken bones that are left on the side of the road when the snowbanks melt.  And seeing a picture of me with the ribcage airbags present and accounted for brought all of this out in the open.

She later mentioned that what I was doing was the equivalent of wearing a clown suit while informing people you're not a clown.  Let me science this for you if you're even remotely tempted to agree with her assessment: if I were wearing a clown suit, it would no more make me a clown than wearing a low-cut dress makes me a woman who requests fiscal compensation for sex acts.  Do you have any idea how much training it requires to be a clown???  Like, a real one?  DO YOU KNOW HOW HARD THAT CAREER IS?  It's one of the most difficult forms of theatre ever invented.  I could wear a clown suit all day and a real clown would still shake her head in TRAGIC dismay.

This is why #canontits was important: we need to stop making women feel dirty for being women.  We need to stop harassing females to the point that misogyny is internalized, and people like this buy into it wholesale.  She was once the victim here, she has to have been, but she didn't have a bevy of friends who flocked to her and said she was beautiful and strong and talented.  She wasn't lucky, and I was.  She was probably alone, with no one to tell her that her precious milk globes were a magnificent part of her body.  And even if I weren't a successful woman (as my friends were so magnanimously reminding me), even if I weren't a smart one, or a nice one: I still didn't deserve that.  No one does.  And the troll in question didn't deserve to be treated that way while she was growing up either.

Thank you, #canontits, for teaching me something about feminism.  Thank you for helping me not be ashamed of myself.  Thank you, myriad male feminists, who were horrified.  Thank you to my husband, who was protective and outraged.  I clasp you all to my very ample bosoms, where you are welcome, so long as you don't try to sign them.

But to the Woman Who Disappeared from Facebook: thank you for showing me more ways we need to be proud of women of all ages.  #Canontits is for you too, you know.  Everyone is invited to the Lioness Convention.

Lyndsay Faye and the Wonderful, Terrifying, Very Good, Very Long Tour

Hello to all from one nation, ten states, and fifteen separate JANE STEELE events!  It looked like this:

NYC (Mysterious Bookshop), DC (One More Page), Minneapolis (Club Book at Ridgedale Library), Houston (Murder by the Book), Scottsdale (Poisoned Pen), Los Angeles (Vroman's), Corte Madera (Book Passage), Pleasanton (Towne Center Books), Alameda (Books Inc), Portland (Powell's), Denver (Tattered Cover), Chicago (Anderson's), Bryn Mawr (Main Point Books), East Meadow (East Meadow Public Library), Queens (Astoria Bookshop).


So I wanted to update everyone on the amazing frothy sauce that was the JANE STEELE book tour.  I know not everyone who wanted to make it made it, but plenty of folks did pay me a call, and as Rowan Atkinson playing Satan greeting everyone to hell says when he glimpses the line of fornicators, "God God there are a lot of you."

Thank you all.  Thank you, and thank you, and thank you again. Truly.

This is going to be kinda free form.  Some of you know I had a serious head injury as a child, and thus my mind works in mysterious ways (aka like a bag of squirrels on an ether binge), so it's almost impossible for me to record/remember book events when I'm in the moment and trying to weave an answer out of two questionable comments and a half-question (following such mental acrobatics, I generally have NO IDEA what I just said).  But lo and behold, I tried very hard to do proper social media duties throughout the whole tour, and images make for great memory triggers, so YAY Instagram!  (Totally serious--if you want to see pretty much the whole tour, head over there and follow me @lyndsayfaye.)

First off, I can't think of an event where there were less than 15-20 people there, often a great many more.  You people, I swear, and your kind, kind faces.  The attendance was massively flattering, especially in A WORLD WHERE (insert movie promo voice) I, like you, would just as soon be catching up on The Walking Dead.  For instance, at the Corte Madera lunch there must have been forty or more, and at East Meadow the librarians counted sixty.  People were gracious, and learned, and funny, and I was so grateful for the elderly gentleman who suggested that next time I tour with Dick Van Dyke, because he's a Dick Van Dyke enthusiast.  I'm trying to make that happen, people.

Some will notice that I did a bunch of events "in conversation" this time around.  I'll tell you why, and you tell me if it worked for you.  The "being interviewed" format flowed really really well for me, because it doesn't feel as much like public speaking--people say, "But you were an actress!  Of course you're not afraid up there, you're trained!"  Acting is not public speaking, acting is acting.  Public speaking makes my vision fuzzy and the back of my throat throw punches at my teeth Trump rally style, same as everyone.  Anyway, it's difficult for me to imagine anyone wants to hear about my imaginary friends for half an hour.  So if anyone was wondering about that, it was totes intentional and my body is ready for feedback.

In LA, I went to Studio City and met with the amazing folks who have optioned the JANE STEELE film rights!  I was intimidated by the meeting with 1492, but I shouldn't have been, because they basically talked to me about storytelling for two hours.  They were lovely.  And thankfully, I can't shut up about storytelling to save my life already, so it was basically along the lines of them asking me to cook lunch.  I got this.  I got this SO HARD.

For some reason unknown to science, bookstores and strangers showered me with gifts.  What were you doing, incredibly generous kittens, toting all this mind-blowing swag??? I have, to name a few items, a metal bookmark embossed with my name and JANE STEELE, a set of personalized stationery, a painting of the Bay Area, murder-themed cupcakes, bee earrings, a 24-karat gold facial mask, an absinthe spoon shaped like a skull, and a cardboard standup of Charlotte Bronte.  Why these gift showers occurred, I do not know, but I thank everyone effusively.  Please deduct these items from your taxes because authors are totally charitable causes.

Night of Tattered Cover, I started feeling off, had an early flight to Chicago, and was sick as a hobo possum by the time I got there.  At least I carry cold meds with me on these things so I don't have to stop for them, and I tried to remedy what Jon Stewart used to call "the bubons" at the airport: no dice.  All I can say about the Anderson's reading is that I did my best having gone straight to the event, and then my friends deposited me in bed and I didn't leave the hotel again except once for chicken soup, being flat on my back with an epic airplane virus.

What the hell, Airplane Air.  What.  The. Bloody. Hell.

I'm thankful for the extra day in the Windy City and the fact my friends wouldn't leave me and kept bringing me bananas and Throat Coat and doing ridiculously kind things like washing my laundry (dear GOD, people), but I'd have liked to do better by Anderson's and thus I am telling you all so.  The 40 or so hours of sleep paid off, however, because by the time my publicist met me and poured me into another bed in Philly, I knew I could pull it together, and I think Bryn Mawr went well (I hope).  So...14/15 ain't bad?  I'm really sorry though, folks.  These schedules are gruesome, but I'll do better next time.

*shakes fist at Airplane Air*

When I got back to NYC, it was bed again until my MWA panelist appearance Wednesday and the two local events.  Those were hard but went absolutely swimmingly.  I'd plied myself with plenty of hot and sour soup by then. I seriously must have eaten all the hot and sour in Queens.  I was swimming in the stuff.  I was submerged.  There were mushrooms in my eyebrows.  (If you don't feel like picturing that, no problem, but it's my cure, peeps.)

FRESH NEWS: I plan sometime this week, whenever the weather is best (probably Wednesday), to do my Manhattan Mini Tour, because I haven't been able to yet!  This is where I walk all over the city visiting the brick and mortar B&Ns, The Strand, McNally Jackson, Everywhere Else.  Usually I have a solid number of stops, and since I'm planning for sun and not a specific day, I'll definitely hit the UWS and UES as well as my downtown cluster (with no more Shakespeare & Co--sadness).  In fact, I've never mapped it out before, but since I still have the mental capacity of a Cheeto, I might.  And I always live tweet this, so people can follow along and know where to find the signed books.  Expect plenty of Instagrams as well.

Again, I just want to thank everyone so so so so very much.  You are rock and roll gods and goddesses, and I clasp you to my bosom.  What a mind-blowing two weeks.

Hugs from the recovering hobo possum,


Wherein I Give Up, Quit, Cave, Throw in the Towel, and Win on the 6th novel front.  I scrapped my entire plot but not my research.  I have a blank page again.  Tabula rasa.  Square one.

Of course before doing this, I contacted my agent and editor and told them I was going in a new direction and why.  They were very supportive and encouraging of my new concept.  They understood.  They always do, thankfully.

People who know me know that I am very egalitarian about this novel-writing process business, about who "can" and "can't" write a novel.  If you are passionate enough, and you leave your butt in the chair for long enough, you can write a novel.  Sometimes putting words on the page is a pain and sometimes it's a thrill, but lately it's been agonizing, and that's because I knew in my heart it wasn't going to work, not ever, not to my satisfaction.

For every single novel I've written, I've had to re-learn how to write a novel, or at least learn how to write that novel, as Sue Grafton puts it.  When I wrote Dust and Shadow, I'd never written a novel before.  When I wrote The Gods of Gotham, I'd never launched a series character before.  When I wrote Seven for a Secret, I'd never written a sequel before.  When I wrote The Fatal Flame, I'd never ended a series before.  When I wrote Jane Steele, I'd never written a female narrator before.

For various publishing reasons, I came up with the proposal for Book #6 over a single weekend.  It had a lot of atmosphere, a very interesting narrator I didn't know well (didn't know yet, and that's fine), and a vague but definite plot.  I'm used to those.  I figured out who Jack the Ripper was in Dust and Shadow when I was 60K words deep.  I didn't understand the murder conspiracy in Jane Steele until I was more than halfway through, and figured out the rest in the final quarter.  I'm a "pantser," not a plotter, and I thumb my nose at uncertainty.  It doesn't frighten me.  

Then I sat down, and it was literally impossible to even begin writing it, and there were many tears, and lo, I was not writing the sort of book I would write.

At first, I thought I was just adjusting to living on my own in this beautiful apartment in Key West, living curled like a mobius strip inside my own head, grateful for the residency and furious that I couldn't make more of it already.  I was working as hard as I could, and it wasn't hard enough to make the words come out.

This was not writer's block, which Lee Child once famously called in my presence "an excuse made up by wankers who want to drink alcohol," which I've also had many times, and involves staring at your screen in bafflement until you put on a dress and go out for a glass of wine with a friend.  This was crushing anxiety and self-blame.  And it's also the reason why I love fanfiction.

I've been working on, as you might know, a collected book version of my Sherlock Holmes pastiches, which is now finished and totals 15 tales and is only waiting for me to edit it again before I shoot The Whole Art of Detection off to Otto Penzler.  Writing these is always a joy, but I've been unnaturally drawn to Sherlock Holmes of late, wanting to do nothing besides tinker with stories about him, because I know exactly who he and Watson are and what they are to one another.  I know what they sound like, what they look like in my head, what they act like, what London is like, and aside from coming up with the deductions and the case solutions, which is very difficult indeed, at this point in my life I could sneeze at the keyboard and a Sherlock Holmes story would emerge.  It's comforting.  But it's not the work that needs doing right now.

Finally, I realized I was writing the wrong book.

I don't have to start research over, or find a new protagonist.  But I have to scrap the entire plot, and I'm now so very at peace with that.  When I sit down to write books, they aren't ones with obvious villains or unconflicted heroes, and the plot I had boxed myself into, while on the surface a perfectly acceptable adventure story, was simply that...acceptable.  Not the book I want to write.

Setting this down marks a turning point for me, but I also want to share the experience in case other writers have ever felt they were losing their grip.  It's possible with a lot of hard work to write a novel--I know, I've done it five times.  Hard work counts for a lot.  Books are about sweat equity.  But it's also possible to beat your head against the wall until you figure out what's wrong with your story, and take the steps to get you back on track by smashing it with a sledgehammer and starting over.  

It's messy.  It's not a proud moment.  Because you feel as if all that "work" was "lost."  Listen to me and listen good: no work you ever delete is "lost," because 1) it gave you experience, and 2) if you'd never written it the wrong way, then you would never figure out how to write it the right way.

So I am going to take a deep breath, have a cup of tea, and get back to work.

An Email Letter I Just Wrote to [Redacted]

OK, friend, I am going to tell you everything I know, with the knowledge that I know very little, and hoping it helps.

1)  I panic all the time.  I make my living by tearing my heart open after heavy historical research and showing strangers my guts, because there is a strong dose of me in all of my narrators.  It's uncomfortable.  When it feels uncomfortable, that means it's good.  Strangers like to identify me with Mercy Underhill, Mary Ann Monk, etc, because they are female, when really I'm Val Wilde.  There is a lot of constant panic.

2)  There is more than one way of working.  Writing words in a row is working.  Staring at the computer in bafflement over how you ever got to this place is also working.  The part that trips people up is the second one.  They don't finish books and allow the blank period to defeat them.  You do finish books, and now know that being confused is part of the journey.

3)  Naturally it's more comfortable to show people something you're uncertain about, because at the end of the day we like the collaborative process.  However much we might like that, though, and use our connections for our own good, ultimately writing is a different animal and one that is genuinely frightening.  You don't get to hide behind lines.  You don't get to Be Someone Else.  That is why you're panicking.  But guess what?

4)  You're good enough, you're smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like you.  ;)  Now, you seem to be at an impasse.  You should feel free to talk to me about that--on any level you like.  But you should also know that no one is going to email you a magic bullet that makes you feel good about your manuscript.  Far more likely, your manuscript is going to be finished and then undergo revisions and then ultimately become what you meant to say, but you will still be conflicted about it, a bit.  Because this is You On A Page, and we are all a little conflicted about ourselves, aren't we?

Hugs to your face,


No Ghosts Need Apply: BBC Sherlock's "The Abominable Bride"

It is a fairly widely known fact that I will watch practically anything relevant to Sherlock Holmes and walk away happier than I was previously, always excepting Rupert Everett and his pair of execrably brooding eyebrows in “The Case of the Silk Stocking.”  (Each of them, both singly and at times even in concert, gave me cause for profound grief in that god-awful film.)  So when I get served the heady talent mishmash of Benedict “High-Octane Hamlet” Cumberbatch and Martin “My Face Does Pony Tricks Ponies Never Dreamed Of” Freeman, not to mention a stellar supporting cast and a concept created by unrepentant card-carrying Doyle fanboys Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, I’m confident I’ll gobble the dish down.  This doesn’t by any means indicate there aren’t vast quality inconsistencies from episode to episode of the justly acclaimed BBC Sherlock series, however, even internally within each installment, and “The Abominable Bride” turns out to be no exception, though when taken altogether a rip-roaring Victorian romp likely destined to please more viewers than it dismays.

Remember when Mofftiss (so dubbed by the internet fandom) delivered a perfectly paced action thriller rife with genuinely clever deductions and thrilling escapes in “The Great Game”?  So do I.  Remember when the entire plot of “The Empty Hearse” was predicated on a train that disappeared mysteriously in a tunnel where there were no other tracks for it to turn onto, but really in the big reveal, actually we come to find out that there definitely were other tracks for it to turn onto, et voila, the mystery is solved?  I remember that too.  (And don't even get me started on "The Blind Banker.")  “The Abominable Bride” is neither as exceptional in plotting as their best work, nor quite a “whoops, we found more train tracks” sneeze of a story, but ultimately nothing whatsoever to do with the plot matters in the slightest degree, for reasons I shall get into presently.

The prospect of watching Freeman and Cumberbatch’s dynamic duo trade their quips and conduct their no-look passes (it’s a walking stick this time instead of a pen) within the time period of the original Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was droll for about a dozen reasons before fans ever so much as saw a clip of the footage or posted a selfie on the set lot.  The BBC series is an exceptionally lovingly rendered modern portrait of a timeless hero and his equally stalwart and no less immortal best friend, and more or less all the nerds in the yard were ready to watch them hailing hansom cabs and navigating gaslit streets the way they did in the literary classics.  To boot, in an aspect that's amusing to some and grating to others, BBC Sherlock is hyper-aware of itself as a fannish adaptation, and for anyone who feels as if they are drowning in meta when watching it, I always feel I must point out that Doyle paved the way for this to happen with every stone he planted.  Canonically, Sherlock Holmes is not only aware of himself being in the Strand Magazine; his fame grows exponentially because of the publicity in real time, thanks to the real publication, and he chides Watson over his fictional stylistic endeavors, which are actually Doyle's real achievements—the only way the BBC series could possibly be as meta as the originals is if Cumberbatch were making commentary about appearing on BBC One every other year, which he doesn’t.  “The Abominable Bride” is not a stand-alone and does not work outside the context of the entire arc of the show—but it is a remarkably well-shot and produced Gothic ghost story, for the most part, and its nods and winks serve the modern day London its writers have imagined, and thus truly needn’t be criticized as a self-indulgent nostalgic set piece.

 Spoilers below the pretty pretty picture…

To the plot's best points first: it is enormously atmospheric in all the right M. R. James, Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens, and yes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fashions, and drops so many Easter eggs in the lap of the canny viewer that one walks away with a veritable pastel bucketful.  Emilia Ricoletti (a reference to the unwritten case “Ricoletti of the club foot and his abominable wife”) has been killing people—mainly herself, and afterwards her husband, which Rupert Graves’s always excellent Inspector Lestrade insists is in quite the wrong order entirely.  As a matter of fact, reports of her murder spree—always of men who have in some way transgressed—continues long after her corpse is in the ground.  Meanwhile, Sir Eustace (a bully and an abuser and a character from “The Abbey Grange”) is being threatened by a terrifying unknown assailant who sends him five orange pips (from the story of the same title), and this shadowy enemy turns out also to be the deceased Emilia Ricoletti, except it can’t be Emilia Ricoletti, because she is, of course, dead as a doornail (with ultimate repercussions reminiscent of “Lady Frances Carfax" and a rather nice "The Speckled Band" stakeout).  Add to this mix verbatim passages from A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, “The Greek Interpreter,” “The Creeping Man,” “The Second Stain,” and “The Final Problem,” to name a few before I dizzy myself, and you basically have the canon dropped into a blender and reconstituted with a very nice set and costumes.

Is it confusing?  You bet.  Why is it confusing?  We're getting there.

To the worst aspect of the plot next: unfortunately, Emilia Ricoletti turns out to have been a martyr for the cause of female rights, and is really an entire movement of women disguised as Miss Havisham, because as everyone knows, feminism is about slaying that man what done you wrong.  Feminists also are known to meet in de-sanctified chapels chanting Latin in a chic basic black dress version of the KKK uniform, another direct nod to “The Five Orange Pips,” because really we are less about equality and votes and more about forming a bloodthirsty gang with a savage ghost as a mascot to cover up our murder sprees (amIrite, ladies?).  As a final nail in the coffin that intended to be a feminist text, the women’s rights speech is delivered not by Dr. Molly Hooper, an excellent side character (played by feminist Louise Brealey) who is forced to cross-dress to work in the mortuary, nor by Mrs. Mary Watson (played by the equally strong Amanda Abbington), who solves the crime before Holmes can, but by Holmes himself, as he stands there defending a death cult with a fetish for hoods.  They are “a legend to strike terror into any man with malicious intent,” and were roundly not congratulated for this on Twitter, Reddit, tumblr, and other forums where women grow irritable when their historic trailblazers are compared to the KKK.  Once again, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s females turn out to make better points and provide more truly feminist arguments despite having been written some little time ago than the BBC’s, as witness Irene Adler, Lady Brackenstall, Violet Smith, Violet Hunter, and Lady Hilda Trelawney Hope to name a few. 

Hi-five, Arthur.  You still got it, bro.

None of that actually matters, of course, though (or so we are meant to believe), because none of that is the real plot.  If that were the real plot, we'd want an explanation for why in the name of god Holmes locks his terrified client indoors with the one woman he thinks has a proper motive to kill him, etc, etc, blah blah blah.  You want an actual plot?  Chill out with a whiskey and maybe a marijuana cigarette, we're getting to it.

There are those who were looking forward very much to “The Abominable Bride” being an all-Victorian piece of separate theatre awash in misty grey tones with yellow lanterns beaming hazily into the fog, and were unhappily surprised at the revelation that all this Victorian running about in cape-backed greatcoats was due to a drug-induced fever dream in the Mind Palace of the Sherlock Holmes who was exiled at the beginning of “His Last Vow” and boarding a flight to his certain death.  Multiple people expressed dismay and confusion over the blending of the two worlds, but I hereby make my case for it: since the very first episode, “A Study in Pink,” BBC Sherlock has unabashedly been about Sherlock Holmes—not the cases, but the person, and the relationships he forges, particularly with his flatmate and blogger John Watson.  If what you wanted was the purity of an idealized 1895 without any cell phones or cars or jet planes (or people of color, or desperate poverty, come to that), you were roundly disappointed; if, however, what you wanted was genuine character development of Cumberbatch’s uniquely fragile and formidable Sherlock, why then you got it in spades.

Sherlock has not been himself since his own faked death, Jim Moriarty’s real death, John’s marriage, and their subsequent war with Charles Augustus Magnussen.  He fell off the wagon rather spectacularly in a “The Man with the Twisted Lip” nod in “His Last Vow,” and the canon for the show just got a whole hell of a lot darker, dark on a par with Rupert Everett’s eyebrows but with a metric asston of genuine feeling, which Rupert Everett’s eyebrows (both the right and the left) entirely lack.  Example: it is now taken as given that after serving a week in solitary confinement for his own protection after murdering Magnussen to save John and Mary, Sherlock went far enough down the rabbit hole that when he was sentenced to lonely exile on a suicide mission not expected to outlast six months, he decided to procure the Long Island Iced Tea of drug cocktails, say goodbye to John Watson, and then board a plane to his death with tears in his eyes, having already taken enough chemicals to overdose while reading John’s blog entry regarding the day they first met.  (I am not making this up—the show writers made it up.)  Anyone explaining this away (as they both attempt and fail to do in the episode) with “Sherlock did the drugs to solve the case of Emilia Ricoletti in his Mind Palace to solve the case of Moriarty’s return” ought to be reminded that Sherlock had no idea Moriarty had ostensibly returned before his plane landed.  We are talking deadly levels of pain here, my friends, and it only gets worse.

Adding eight hundred thousand more kilograms of angst to this black hole, we have Mark Gatiss’s show-stealing turn as Mycroft Holmes, Britain’s most distant, smug, and ultimately loving big brother.  Smile when the Doylean version of Mycroft is all but lampooned in Sherlock’s Mind Palace, as the appropriately obese Mycroft takes bets on how long he’s likely to live if he eats another plum pudding.  Tear up as Mycroft blames himself for Sherlock’s relapse into drug abuse, suggesting he should have anticipated that being alone in a jail cell would be literally locking Sherlock up with his own worst enemy.  Weep quietly at a flashback to the young brothers as Mycroft retrieves his sibling from a filthy drug den, and we learn of the agreement that Sherlock always makes a list of precisely what poisons he took so that Mycroft can save him, time after harrowing time.  Bawl your eyes out a little more at Mycroft’s vow always to be there for him and his almost pleading appeal to John to look out for his delicate magic crystal unicorn of a baby brother.

Long story short: "The Abominable Bride" was a flawed episode of a flawed show, but it was also an excellent episode of one of the best Sherlock Holmes adaptations made in the last fifty years, one I rank with the Granada series among personal favorites anyhow, and while my inner monologue was "kill it with fire" when the KKK outfits surfaced, other aspects greatly endeared me to the narrative despite its (in my opinion deliberate) confusion and disorienting switches between Now and Then.  Is it a cop-out to not bother with a solid plot because "it was all in Sherlock's high-as-Keith-Richards mind"?  Probably.  Were the writers trying to talk about something other than the cases?  In my opinion, absolutely.

Because "The Abominable Bride" ultimately isn't even about Sherlock Holmes--it's about Sherlockians.

Bear with me here.  The concept of Sherlock’s Mind Palace as an excuse to write a Victorian episode was admirably done, in my opinion, but it goes beyond character development into something more timeless, for all that the development is profound.  Sherlock’s doubt and deep-seated self-loathing are still characterized by Jim Moriarty in the Victorian world, for example, and even in his mind he cannot bring himself to discuss having faked his own death with imaginary John, despite having begged forgiveness for the deception.  But when we reach Reichenbach Falls—the real Reichenbach, the waterfall, the one from the stories we love so—“The Abominable Bride” becomes something else entirely, a Joseph Campbell-esque tribute to the character who has died so many times, and risen from the dead just as frequently in countless adaptations.  It becomes about the audience, about the people who love these flawed champions of right.  “There are always two of us,” John says when he appears (un-canonically) at the Falls to save Sherlock Holmes from Professor Moriarty (metaphorically Holmes himself), and yes, it is possibly the most meta line in the program, but it is also the truest.  For as Vincent Starrett once put it so perfectly, “Only the things the heart believes are true,” and all other matters—plots, clues, modernity vs. nostalgia, what have you—are secondary to the friendship that has inspired millions of people worldwide, people who believe that time period makes no difference regarding its always being 1895.

December Is Not a Simple Time: But This Recipe Is

December is hard for a lot of people, many for legitimately terrible reasons like loss or sickness or wolverine attack.  Thankfully, I am grateful not to have those issues, but I have other ones to do with that spongy stuff that lives between my ears and just above my neck, or is supposed to, in theory, if a person is constructed right.  I've spent the majority of the month so far feeling like my cat (Prufrock) when she discovers her own tail and is like, "OH SHIT SHIT A TAIL WTF.  Oh god what do I do? What do I do about this thing?!  Do you SEE this craziness?  MOTHER OF GOD.  Was that there before????  Who even has these? Get it OFF!"

(The management provides all Prufrock impressions free of charge.)

Anyway, it's overwhelming for me because:



--All the planning that goes into the Daintiest Thing Under a Dressing Gown Ball to benefit The Disabled Veterans Trust (get your tickets here for Thursday the 14th of January!)

--Everyone and their sainted maiden aunt has birthdays this month

On top of all that, I am very excited to say I'll be going on a JANE STEELE pre-publication tour with three fabulous authors just after the Baker Street Irregulars Weekend, I have many fun things I need to write in order to promote this book, and I know loads of other people find their workload overloading right about when their personal lives feel like escaping a cave full of rabid bats.

So here's a friendly little recipe I whipped together this morning that took me about half an hour total.  I don't have time.  You don't have time.  But let's be adults here and feed ourselves (not just holiday cookies and the rest of the eggnog straight from the container).

I'm gonna be straight with you folks right now: the recipe presented below is how I actually cook.  I've been cooking for so long and worked in such great restaurants that I can do very fancy shit too, but honestly the best way to learn how to cook is 1) sure, follow the recipe 2) now stop following the recipe and throw everything but your grandma in a pan (she's old, and thus will take a lot of braising to grow fork-tender).  Cooking seems overwhelming to many folks because there's this limitless amount of things to know, not to mention the stuff to learn, and the way to do it.  

Screw all that.  Just start somewhere and be a badass.  You like pasta?  OK, there are two rules for pasta.  First, thoroughly salt the living daylights out of your cooking water.  Second, cook the noodles for the right amount of time to still have firmness.  (Secret: that part will be on the box.)  VOILA ET BON APPETIT, you just made perfect pasta.  Now put something on it.  Yep, you're done!

The following will provide insights into my cooking process that may have my holiday guests running for the hills, but what the heck.  I wish everyone a Merry Merry Whatever You Like, good eating, festiveness, and cheer!


1)  Cut up a small savoy cabbage into thin slices.  Chop one medium shallot.  Put them in a pile while you heat your well-salted pasta water.

2)  Get half a stick of butter from the fridge and brown it in a large skillet.  Really brown that shit, thoroughly, over high heat.  Wait until it looks brown.  Outstanding.

3)  Scrape your cabbage and shallot pile into the brown butter and now turn the heat down.  Season the veg with some salt, a metric ass-ton of pepper, and exactly one precise dump of poppy seeds.

4)  Add minced garlic to the pan and one glooping of stock (I used leftover turkey stock--you use whatever you want, because you're free).  A glooping is about maybe, dunno, half a cup of coffee size.

5)  Let your veg simmer in the butter and stock.  Stir occasionally.  Chop some fresh herb of choice and grate some parmesan cheese for garnish.  Whistle a little.  Wait a bit.

6)  Cook two servings of your pasta (just guess at this--you'll do fine).  When it's done, add a glooping of the used pasta water to your veg sauce before straining the water.

7)  Take the pasta, raise it in your hands above the veg pan, and dump it in the aforementioned veg pan.  

8)  Stir the pasta and the sauce together and praise yourself for being an excellent chef.

9)  Taste it.  Is it salty and peppery enough?  If not, pro tip: add more.

10)  Put it in a bowl (or on a plate--you're free) and sprinkle your herbs and cheese on top.

11)  Congratulations!  May it be delectable and may your holidays be filled with joy!

Paris and the Path to Peace

It's typical when something horrendous happens for people who were both directly involved and helpless observers to try to make some sense of senseless violence.  Writing a blog post isn't the most useful response on earth, but then again, apart from donations to the International Red Cross and other tireless organizations, or dropping everything to get a medical degree and join Doctors Without Borders perhaps, which frankly is beyond my skill set, pretty much all responses other than thoughtful consideration are symbolic and self-soothing.  When 9/11 occurred, The Onion released an article titled "Not Knowing What Else to Do, Woman Bakes American Flag Cake." This was not a mean-spirited piece, nor was it a lampoon.  We couldn't fit 9/11 into our heads, so we did what we could to affirm our values, to create things expressing that liberty and justice are still our ideals when we aren't distracted by fast car chases ending in glorious explosions or food mash-ups that started as a drunken dare (I'm looking at you, Taco Bell Sausage and Cheese Biscuit breakfast taco).

But a number of people today have expressed discouragement over the depravity of the human race at large following the repellent and reprehensible attacks in Paris yesterday.  Not to forget the ones in Thailand, Baghdad, and a dozen other locales in recent months.  How do you get up and keep fighting when the world is so dark?  How do you make sense of evil when evil scores a direct hit against innocent lives?  How do you not throw in the activist towel and call it a day and dig a bunker?

My thoughts whenever faced with this question might sound like direst pessimism, but they never make me feel that way, so I'll write them down, which is the author's version of baking a cake with the French flag on it.  The truth is, yesterday we were walking around thinking humanity has its severe issues (terror, racism, bigotry, and violence certainly among them), but we really needed to get to the post office before five or else we'd have to pretty much wait until Monday to mail that package of artisanal yarn for Grandma's birthday, which would then make it late, which Grandma doesn't really mind, but it's the principle of the thing.  Today some of us are walking around facing very real trauma in France, and my heart goes out to them unreservedly.  Ditto for anyone who has ever lost a loved one to terror and had to relive that memory in stereo.  But for those of us around here who are simply discouraged, I say: humans have always been like this.  So there is no reason to give up now, any more than Joseph Stalin was a reason to give up.

If you want to get Bible-story about it, recall that the first murder happened pretty damn fast, and was fratricide at that.  Gilgamesh and Enkidu didn't have it easy.  Those Greek gods were real dicks.  You could be talking about the cruelties of native Irish bondage, the colonial enslavement of millions, Pol Pot, or Sandy Hook, and you'd still leave with the impression that maybe the race needs a "reset" button. 

It doesn't help the people who died tragically in Paris yesterday that other people have died tragically.  It doesn't help their families.  It doesn't help their friends.  It doesn't help their neighbors and their pets and their co-workers.

But if it helps you to know that we are technically living in the least violent era of human history, then think about that, and think about how you are only in charge of your own life, and how your life influences lives around you, and rest is beyond your control.  Think about how yesterday you weren't considering donating your money for refugee relief that very second, but today maybe you are, because their daily struggles against extremism have been made real.  (After some research, I chose the American Refugee Committee.)  Think about the responsibility of shining hope into the lives of people who have truly lost someone.

Gandhi said, "There is no path to peace.  Peace is the path."  We will always face avarice, hatred, and rage in the world.  We will always struggle with selfishness in our own lives, and perhaps worse than mere selfishness.  And we won't arrive at peace as if it's a daisy-strewn city on a mountaintop where the goats frolic and Heidi is singing a duet with Maria Von Trapp.  All we can do is walk the path of peace, get up when we fall, and try to help others find it again when we lose our way.  Again, it may sound like pessimism to suggest that homo sapiens is never going to get it 100% right.  But if we truly can believe that progress doesn't need to be perfection, and that our power to do good exists no matter what atrocities are committed by others, then I believe we will always be able to make a difference.

So make a donation.  Offer your couch to a stranded French traveler.  Bake a cake with the Eiffel Tower peace sign on it.  Your actions still matter, and hope is not lost if you carry it with you.

Why Donald Trump Is Good for America

Standing in line at the grocery store yesterday, an exchange between neighbors really brought home to me all that Trump has done for this great nation of heroes, purple mountains majesty, cheesy curls, curly cheese, and two-year election campaigns.  The checkout girl was a lovely young woman about ten years younger than me, with elaborate tattoo sleeves and long, dark hair.  Ridgewood (where I live) is a healthy mix of Eastern Europeans and Hispanics from Ecuador and Mexico and so forth, along with African Americans and all the other sorts of Americans.  Anyway, an older white fellow in front of me in line was needling the clerk about politics, citing his Trump support for sending all the brown people back and quoting statistics he "saw on the news."

"Yeah, I'm Puerto Rican and have tattoos, but at least I'm not ignorant," the clerk scoffed.

I'm grateful to Donald Trump for this shining moment.  Why?  Because a mere few years ago, before the dawning of the Donald and his tireless fight to save us from political correctness, I would never have known that nice-looking Polish gentleman was a huge racist.  And he had a reeeally thick accent.  So he had clearly, you know. Thought this whole immigration thing through.

Harvey Milk has long been a hero of mine.  The first openly gay man ever to be elected to public office in my home state of California, he famously said in 1978, "We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions...and I want you to talk about it.  You must come out.  Come out to your parents, your relatives."   These are powerful words.  The message could not be more simple: be yourself, and entirely yourself, and be open and true about it.  If you're gay, be openly gay.  And if you're a racist bag of dicks with a coiffure that looks like a long-haired marmalade tabby just hacked up a hairball on your face, then be a racist bag of dicks with a coiffure that looks like a long-haired tabby just hacked up a hairball on your face.

Have you ever sat through a holiday party back home and wondered whether or not Uncle Kenny was getting a little too impassioned in his defense of border militias?  Wonder no longer!  Come out, come out, Uncle Kenny!  You must come out.  You must wear your colors with pride.  So what if they're a sort of tepid, pasty beige?  All the better!  Be yourself, Uncle Kenny.  We are here for you.  Come out.

It can be difficult for families to cope with sudden changes like this, when previously Aunt Flora merely had a "Beware of Dog" sign on her house because "the blacks don't like dogs" (I have actually physically heard someone say this), and now Auntie is wearing a Confederate flag print house dress.  Transitioning is a challenge and can be fraught with pitfalls.  If your loved one decides to self-identify as a Trump supporter, here are some definitions of key terms and phrases that might cause awkward moments unless they're fully understood.

"I hate seeing signs in Spanish.  I mean, this is America."  -- I'm a racist asshat.

"We should repeal birthright citizenship."  --I'm a racist asshat.

"Mexican immigrants to states that used to be Mexico before we invaded Mexico in an internationally criticized war of unchecked aggression are ruining the economy." --I'm a racist asshat.

I hope this clarifies matters.

Thank you, the Donald Trump. Thank you for doing so much for our closeted racist community.  If a Nobel Peace Prize is not in your future, I will be very much surprised.  And remember: if you are a card-carrying angry white person with a chip on your shoulder who thinks Obamacare ruined the nation, and that the Tea Party makes some really great intellectual points, and that the Founding Fathers want you to tweet rude things about Megyn Kelly's vagina at her, then come out!

We are all better off knowing what you really think.  Trust me.

Ten Stuffs What I Done Learnt Copyediting JANE STEELE

I've a confession to make: I am not the most shining example of how to treat the copyediting process.  Copyediting, if you aren't aware, happens after you and your agent and editor have made any necessary major changes to the plot, characterization, and setting of your novel, your editor acting essentially as a theatre director would.  Is this moment clear to the audience?  Does it land as powerfully as it ought to?  What the hell did you mean by that, Lyndsay?

If an editor is a director, then think of the copyeditor as a combination stage manager and dramaturg, the one whose job it is to say during breaks, "Lyndsay, you're blocked two feet further left.  Could you try to hit that mark?"  Or, "Lyndsay, your Northern Irish accent is drifting into Scots on your R's.  Cut it out."  In other words, a copyeditor has to be brilliant, and very meticulous, and insistent on perfection because perfection (even though we won't get there) is the goal.

Unfortunately, pissy actors (I tried never to be) and pissy authors (I am actively trying not to be) are sometimes wrapped up in their ethereal visions of poetic justification enough to whine, "But WHY do I have to hit that mark two feet further left?" (It's important because of a lighting cue.)  Or, "But WHY do I have to take out the word irregardless?"  (Because it isn't a word and everyone who uses it should be put in grammar stocks.)

So this is an ode to the copyeditor (I had a fine one this last go-round), in the form of Ten Stuffs What I Done Learnt Copyediting Jane Steele:

1. Pet doors have existed since at least the 14th century.

When your copyeditor asks, "Author, please confirm pet doors existed in 1837," the author feels a momentary rush of overwhelming how in God's holy Jesus H. Name will I do that followed by at least twenty minutes of ashen existential despair.  After those twenty minutes and some serious headdesking are over, however, you find via none other such venerable source as Wikipedia that 14th century author Geoffrey Chaucer referenced pet doors in "The Miller's Tale."

An hole he foond, ful lowe upon a bord
Ther as the cat was wont in for to crepe,
And at the hole he looked in ful depe,
And at the last he hadde of hym a sighte.

Following a discovery along these lines, your inclination is to laugh your face off because in the Great Jeopardy Game of Life, both you and your copyeditor can now be superstars.

2. There is a difference between ordinary laudanam and ammoniated tincture of opium.  

OK, this one is fascinating--the copyeditor caught that I had referred to a licorice aroma after Jane entered a house where laudanum had been spilled on the floor.  She informed me that ordinary laudanum would taste only bitter, while ammoniated tincture of opium was a mixture of opium, alcohol, and anise.  For more fascinating science facts about how to get really fucking high in the 19th century, click the badass link she gave me.

3. There is no way to verify whether tinkers' thumbs were really used in witchcraft in the 19th century.

I begged off on this one, pleading that I wanted a "Shakespearean sound."  What a croc.  In reality, I just never went to Hogwarts, though I wanted to, but as an American muggle, I just couldn't afford the UK travel costs.

4.  The verb "showcase" was not in use until 1945.

The fact that this surprised me at all was pretty sad sauce, but if you think about it for just a few seconds, it makes perfect sense.  "Showcase" was used as a noun in the 19th century, but not as a verb--in other words, showcases probably existed in high-end shops but weren't particularly commonplace in everyday life.  But what do we have in the 1940s, ladies and gentlemen?  That's right--a giant uptick in consumerism and department stores.  Language really is the cat's pyjamas.

5. A grandfather clock was not called such until the 1876 song "My Grandfather's Clock."

I HAD NEVER HEARD OF THIS BEFORE and it's bloody amazing.  So, in 1876, Henry Clay Work wrote what would become a brass band and bluegrass standard (yeah, I know--very unlikely bedfellows, those tuba players and the rhythm banjos).  The song has been covered by Johnny Cash and inspired a 1963 Twilight Zone episode about a stopped clock.  Mind: blown.  Here are some lyrics explaining the Twilight Zone interest:

My grandfather's clock was too large for the shelf,
So it stood ninety years on the floor;
It was taller by half than the old man himself,
Though it weighed not a pennyweight more.
It was bought on the morn of the day that he was born,
And was always his treasure and pride;
But it stopped short — never to go again —
When the old man died.

6. "Not to worry" is an American colloquialism dating from the 1980s.

Precursors of the phrase include "Please not to mention that again" in George Eliot's Middlemarch, one use of "Not to worry" in the 1958 Daily Mail, and "Not to bother" in Double Fault in 1965.  Following the 1980s, the phrase became much more in use, "went viral" as it were, and now no one blinks at it.  Since it started being in common usage around the time I was born, I had NO IDEA it hadn't been around FOREVER.

7. "Each other" and "one another" are not the same.

YES I KNOW OK, this is an easy one, but I never pay attention to it and would like to publicly flail myself in the full presence of the interwebs and my copyeditor.  345,924,228,502 instances of abuse later, I have vowed to mend my rascally ways.

8. One is either titled "Mr." or "Esq.," not both.

For example, you could be Mr. William T Riker, or William T. Riker, Esq., but you cannot be Mr. William T. Riker, Esq.  (Although, to be frank?  If anyone could pull it off, it would be Riker.)

9. The earliest foldable pocket knives date from the Iron Age.

How badass is that?  According to Wikipedia (but verified), "A pocket knife with a bone handle was found at the Hallstatt Culture type site in Austria, dating to around 600-500 BCE."  Can you imagine Iron Age greasers, like slicking their hair back with whale pomade and taking super fast rides on their mammoths and flirting with women wearing literal leopard print and joining gangs and shanking each other with bone-handled pocket knives?  Then after the fight they'd go get drunk on mead and play really early versions of "Mean Eyed Cat" and "Hot Rod Man" on Iron Age guitars?

I can.

10.  "Sodding," used as an all-purpose intensifier interchangeable with bloody, fucking, etc, was not in UK use until 1912.

Who knew?  Honestly, everyone--who knew?  And with this linguistic gem, I shall leave you to imagine how much I cudgeled my brains to find many, many other creative swear words with which to grace your kindly eyes.  Thank you.

On Mentoring a Unicorn Princess

This past Friday was the final CHAPTERS reading my high school student and I will attend together as part of the Girls Write Now program.  Oh, they'll still let Karilis in whenever she arrives at the door for one of our events, she's not blacklisted or anything, but she'll be a college student at LaGuardia, not a high school student enrolled in the program, and that seems crazy to me, like that time I sneezed and suddenly discovered that Bill Clinton was no longer in office.

Mentorship is extremely important to me.  I figure if I know how to do something, and I keep that to myself, it's like hoarding.  I taught at the Writing Center at Notre Dame de Namur (my alma mater) for five years.  I've done dozens upon dozens of query letter and manuscript critiques, for friends and strangers.  None of those experiences really compared to having my own high school student to corrupt (bring on the hemlock, she's a feminist!), but all of them were valuable, and I can no longer imagine spending my entire life in front of my laptop with imaginary friends without helping someone else get their own imaginary friends on paper.  It's something I love doing, because it hones, enhances, and informs my own prose every time a brave soul trusts me enough to solicit an opinion.  I'm not a better person for mentorship; I do it partly because I'm extremely social and writing is grotesquely solitary.  But I'm a better writer for it.

I met Karilis when she was a sophomore.  She explained she was a unicorn. I explained that the story she'd just shown me was magic realism, then explained what magic realism was.  We've been friends ever since.

Girls Write Now is a highly intensive program.  Three years with Karilis means 24 half-day genre workshops.  An hour meeting during every week of each school year, spent in such fine establishments as coffee shops, Word Up bookstore, and Jimbo's Hamburger Palace.  About a kajillion tweets.  Plentiful words on the subject of Katniss Everdeen.  Many, many shared Google docs.  Field trips to places like The Cloisters and the Spanish Historical Society up in the Heights.

We talked about everything--words, poems, commas, boys, shoes, Sons of Anarchy, grandmothers, how to make a really good pasta salad--and we'll continue to do so.  I'm taking a year's hiatus from Girls Write Now for Fall 2015 to Spring 2016 in order to implement the national Mystery Writers of America mentorship program as its coordinator, and to get over the fact that Karilis and I won't be chatting about her (literally) underground windowless high school and her dog Terry anymore, or at least not weekly, because she's a grown and gorgeous Unicorn Queen now and not a Unicorn Princess any longer.  But I loved learning her and her writing, and to celebrate her amazing accomplishments, here are the two poems we wrote for the GIRLS WRITE NOW 2015 ANTHOLOGY: VOICE TO VOICE.  Congratulations, Karilis--I won't allow myself to miss you, because I'll always be there.

Time's Memories by Karilis Cruz

I can't remember growing up,

I can't remember when adults cursed around me and stopped apologizing for it.

Or when I was allowed to go and get my own food.

I can't remember when I stopped sliding into my mom's bed after having a bad nightmare.

I can't remember when my mom stopped chopping my food into little bites or when my mom stopped checking on me in the bathroom.

I don't remember when things changed.

When I was younger, I'd put my arms in my shirt and tell people I don't have any arms.

I would restart the video games when I was sure I was going to lose.

I would sleep with all my stuffed animals, so none would get offended.

I had that one pen that had six colors and tried to push them all at once.

I would pour soda in the bottle caps and pretend I was taking shots.

I would wait behind the door to scare someone, but eventually leave because they were taking too long or I had to go and pee.

I would fake going to sleep, so that my mom could carry me to bed.

I used to think that the moon followed the car.

I couldn't wait to grow up.

Now I'm not so sure.


Suddenly you are 21, screaming to all of the songs you used to listen to when you were in middle school when you were sad.  And everything is different but everything is good.

Yet you are still 18.

You are trying to catch your breath and this life is coming at you faster than you've expected.

You have kissed boys who did not show you the love that you needed.

Your parents have given up on you multiple times.

You have loved boys who never acknowledged your existence.

You have broken bones, and they have healed.

You have experienced things you wouldn't have wished upon your worst enemy.

You have lost friends, and made new ones.

You have had bad hair days and good hair days.

You have failed tests.

You have scars and you have memories.

You have missed people who will never come back.

You've been to the highest highs and to the lowest lows.

You've had your trials and tribulations.

You are young, and you have time to live.

Slow down and things will be OK.

You are 18 and life is going to happen anyway.


eyes like polaroids by Lyndsay Faye

when I was small, I use to try to

          freeze time

I would look at

          sunlight glistening on electric green grass strung with dew-like jewels

          lace cobwebs with their spiders nestled

          the particular light through the bathroom window

          a cottony bed of baby mice

          meadow grasses taller than I was

          the wild rose garden down the street

          a weeping willow with leaves like long hair

          california poppies

and I would think like a polaroid camera


          have saved you, tiny instant


          I have recorded you, beautiful picture


          you are mine now, 3:48 in the afternoon following a rainstorm

it never worked

not a single time

I always forgot

the next day or the next week

typical, wasn't I?

because my mind wasn't a camera and my eyes weren't lenses

          but if I concentrate, I can still remember that there was a 

          blackberry bush lit by blue morning light

          field of violet sweet peas

          plum tree

even if I can't still see them

I wish I could still see them

Never Discuss Race, Guns, or Mental Illness: South Carolina Edition

On a day when people in South Carolina are mourning yet another vile instance of innocent lives cut short by a deranged white supremacist, obviously I'm not the only one who's going to take to the laptop and write something to try to make some sense of it.  Because it doesn't make sense--storming a prayer meeting because blacks are going to rape all the white women is such a blazingly revolting (not to mention tired) excuse for a shooting spree that it might as well have come from a guy named Augustus P. McSlaveholder circa 1852.  But one context that does make the tragedy a bit clearer for me is the fact that we're absolute shit at talking seriously about race relations, guns, and mental illness in the United States.

I know I'm not the only person who has entered a discussion about American violence that has left me convinced I am in the Twilight Zone, in which perfectly sane people insist that racism is largely solved, mental illness is all in your head (pun intended), and that gun violence in this country is about a few bad apples and not, you know, guns.  I've had people tell me that you can decide not to have depression, that it's a choice.  I've had people say that violence is way worse in other countries, and American violence is rare (which is actually not a very good reason to ignore the problem of American violence, since a July 2014 report concluded we had witnessed more than 100 mass shooting since 2009 alone, a stat I didn't have ready to hand at the time).  In fact, I have had these conversations so often that now I have a list titled People You Should Never Talk About R, G, or MI With Again, which largely solves itself since they block me on Facebook (thank you for that, Facebook blockers).  But let's talk about it today, because people are dying.  Shall we?

Let's start with guns.  The Founding Fathers, May They Forever Shine Down Upon Us in Bewigged Intergalactic Wisdom, said we had the right to bear arms.  I agree with them.  So far so good.  Let's have guns.  Three quarters of the guns used in mass killings were obtained legally.  Awesome.  The Founding Fathers, May They Eternally Bless Our Cheeseburger-Stuffed Crust Pizzas From Sea to Shining Sea, were talking about flintlock rifles.  How many people exactly do you think you can kill with a flintlock rifle?  The Founding Fathers, May They in Glorious Perpetuity Hail the Epic Fireworks of Liberty on Our Cookouts, did not have access to assault weapons.  Here is an excerpt from a Mother Jones article regarding mass killings, which almost exclusively are accomplished with guns rather than, say, poison gas:

The arsenal included dozens of assault rifles and semi-automatic handguns with high-capacity magazines.  Just as Jeffrey Weise used a .40-caliber Glock to slaughter students in Red Lake, Minnesota, in 2005, so too did James Holmes, along with an AR-15 assualt rifle, when blasting away at his victims in a darkened movie theater.  In Newtown, Connecticut, Adam Lanza wielded a .223 Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle as he massacred  20 school children and six adults. 

Now, I'm no gun expert, but I am a historical novelist, and I'm pretty sure this isn't the weaponry George and Ben and Thomas et al had in mind when they were discussing our right to defend ourselves against British occupation.  I'm also not a hunting expert, but I'm reasonably certain you don't need that kind of firepower to kill a deer.

Next: mental illness.  Whoooooo boy.  I recently posted a blog about my own struggles with PTSD, anxiety, and panic attacks, and the fact I finally actually ponied up and got myself brain meds, because I was torturing myself for no clear reason and I couldn't take it anymore.  Since then, dozens of people have contacted me to say they felt similarly, or knew someone who'd hid it for a very long time, and that I was brave to admit in public that I was sick.

I thanked all those people individually for their kindness, and the more of them who came out of the woodwork, the more angry I felt that it's perceived as brave to talk about mental illness.  Because in a sense, they were absolutely right--mental illness is so stigmatized that many people never get help or never tell others they got help (the latter is better but still rather tragic).  To be clear: I wasn't being brave when I wrote the blog post, because I know that sick brains are no different from sick kidneys or sick tonsils, though it was extremely generous and supportive of people to suggest I was.  The brave part was going to the doctor and admitting I needed help and couldn't hide it anymore, because I felt like there was an electric bagpipe convention going on inside my head.  

But if we keep up this ridiculous stigma, more mental illness will remain untreated, and if we fail to have honest conversations about ways of getting medical help to people who are in essence ticking time bombs, we will continue to be threatened in our schools, our churches, and our workplaces.  Period.  I'm not suggesting that every mass shooter needs sympathy, hugs, and meds, and all will be well--the component of twisted morals and evil intentions aren't lost on me.  But a study by the Treatment Advocacy Center reported in 2014 that a University of North Texas investigation into 30 mass killings concluded:

Twelve perpetrators had psychotic symptoms at the time of the killings and another 8 individuals "exhibited behavior suggestive of psychosis;" thus 20 of the 30 perpetrators (67%) had definite or probable psychosis. The most common diagnoses were schizophrenia, delusional disorder, and major depression.

 Now, I'm no doctor.  But I find that figure...compelling.  The rest of the article contains numerous further examples of other studies that supported this one's findings.

Finally, a word about race.  Two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts calmly told us, "Our country has changed," before striking down the Voting Rights Act.  I'm not getting into the sort of things I wanted to do to John Roberts following that decision, though it involved restraints, honey, and fire ants.  But the deaths of so many African Americans at the hands of the militarized police who are meant to protect and serve that led to the #BlackLivesMatter movement proves Roberts wrong if not batshit insane, and this latest crime was a hate crime committed by a white supremacist, so for god's sake, let's pull our heads out of our asses when it comes to this subject.  Here is a graphic of American assault deaths by region from the Washington Post

Now, I'm no sociologist.  But I am a historical novelist, and South Carolina's Confederate flag is still flying on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse in Columbia, and if you can't draw any conclusions from this pair of facts, then you were probably raised in an Antarctic isolation chamber.

So let's talk about these things.  Really actually talk about them.  Because people are dying, and we are a nation that helps each other, and the world is watching.  And it's the right thing to do.

Denial, Desperation, and Ducks

So I just ended a national book tour, which raised a number of very important issues for me as a human, and ones that I'm grateful came to a head because my melon felt like it had taken the Gallagher treatment by the end of it...more on that in a sec, but first I owe some people thanks.

1)  I owe every bookstore owner and bookseller my gratitude regarding their enthusiasm for my imaginary friends.  These people read hundreds of books a day, I'm convinced (surely they must?), and the fact they've hefted mine in the air, squinted at them, and cracked the covers is mind-blowing.

2)  Hey, G. P. Putnam's Sons (and Random Penguin [yes, we need to call it Random Penguin]) and all your stellar employees--thanks for sending me on a book tour!  I'm so grateful.  I want to tour for you Hendrix-style for decades to come, one day incorporating actual dogs and ponies into my dog and pony show.  But robot ones, so we don't need a wrangler, only a tech guru and an electrical outlet.

3)  Human Beings Who for Some Reason Like to Watch a Woman Yammer Endlessly About Copper Stars and Sherlock Holmes: without you, there would be no tours, and there would be no books either.  So thank you from the bottom of my heart for being kind enough to spare me a bit of your time.

Now, regarding the titular denial part.

I'm not against taking the occasional day to binge watch Battlestar Galactica.  However, I have for most of my life been an EXTREMELY active person.  I don't mean active in the physical sense, god no, pickle jars beat me in arm wrestling contests and I pretty much only run when I see a loose velociraptor.  However, I work very hard to make EVERYTHING PERFECT.  Not my housekeeping, god no, my clean socks can weep for days at a time before being matched back into couples and my dining table presently looks like a swap meet exploded.  However, regarding work (previously regarding academia), if I'm not doing 130%, I figure I'm shirking.  I kinda thought this was healthy, and in some ways it is healthy--I'm ambitious, and there's nothing wrong with that word.

There is something wrong, however, when you agree to do so many things at once that you feel like your brains are leaking out of your ears.  Combine that with very high blood pressure, very uncomfortable anxiety and panic problems, and a taste for bourbon, and you are headed down the wrong path.  This is where the denial comes in: I thought I could handle it all. I really did.

Until I didn't think I could handle it all.

We're not talking about merely my (wonderful) national book tour.  We're talking about my five separate major time commitment volunteer projects as well as short story obligations, publicity requests, and the fact I like to bathe at least every week or so, before the point I start finding last month's pizza crusts in my underarm regions.

The denial was not helping, because I liked to be the person who says "No problem!" and then ninja chops her way through the project.  I liked to be the juggler who keeps a cinder block, a quail egg, three tennis balls, and a smoking hot pair of fried prairie oysters in the air.  I liked to be considered worthy of the proposed task, even if said task was an eyeball-gouging vortex of shit guaranteed to crunch me down and swallow me like the last Dorito.

Until I didn't like it anymore.

Denial got old after oh, say, a decade.  Here's where the desperation comes in, and that was my saving grace this time.

People often tell me that they can't imagine me having anxiety, PTSD, or panic attacks (I have all three).  That's because they're seeing the me I want them to look at, the one covered in camouflage, usually in the form of sequins or satin or occasionally tulle.  If you wear things that are jolly enough, drink with wonderful people who are sweet and clever enough, make enough jokes, no one will notice (one hopes, if one is like me) that inside you feel like this:

See, I didn't want to feel like that, but I didn't want to TELL anyone I felt like that either.  I wanted to be considered strong and competent, and not like a person whose insides were screaming like a Radiohead song covered by a metal band.  I wanted people to feel "glad to see me."  I wanted my friends to know I was there if they needed my help.  I wanted to have this fabulous record, real all-star stats, so that if, say for example, the New Yorker just HAD to have a piece entirely focused on Dr. John H. Watson and needed someone who could have a proper chin wag with Jude Law and Martin Freeman, they'd call me up, of course, because Lyndsay really doesn't seem like the sort of person who sometimes loses all capacity to use her hands simply because someone wants her to sign a book.

Desperation solved all that for me quicker than a Rick Perry presidential bid.  

I was so miserable this time around that I marched right into a doctor's office (I have a phobia of them too).  I called my mom and told her what was happening and she sent a lovely care package.  I started telling my friends I was a certifiable bowl of mixed nuts (some of them already knew--some didn't).  And I got back from the doctor's again today after my follow-up, and I want people to know that I feel worlds better now, because lo, verily did I ask someone for help rather than to sit amongst the goats in silence as does the mute eunuch, and lo, did the physician after my asking for help say "Sure," and it came to pass that he gave me medicine for brains for the first time in my life, and yea, did I take the brain pills and find them good, and verily do I assure you who sit in silence amongst the goats as did I for so long in self-imposed exile, that lo, we are capable of cutting that shit out.

Finally, a few words about ducks.

My beautiful and wise agent says that we are like ducks.  The ducks are gliding along, sleek and streamlined and graceful, and we think, man, check out that badass duck trucking it across a pond like it's riding its own private current.  That duck is a BOSS.  What we don't see are the duck's feet.  Their little webbed feet are paddling really really hard to achieve that velocity, but all we see is the duck's shiny emerald head and its seemingly effortless motion and jolly little eyes.

If you're a duck, like I am?  Talk to another duck.  Or a goose or a swan.  Or talk to a doctor.  Or talk to your friends and family.  Or talk to your online community.  I will leave you with a humorous video regarding what my May was like, and I hope you enjoy it.  But remember: it's OK to be a duck.  But it isn't OK to hurt yourself over it.  So come out, come out, ducks everywhere--have a crust of bread, settle down for a moment, and work out some ways to be good to yourselves.

Best Wishes to a Stalwart Trio of Gentlemen

So I had a classic (and delicious, gravy-smothered, needless to say) Southern breakfast in Memphis this morning with the lovely Sherlockian Tim Greer. We all know Tim is a stalwart gentleman and a scholar. But by the time three in the afternoon occurred and I was checked in here in Minnesota, I was ravenous, and plenty more excitement had happened. Therefore, as I type this, I am eating soup like the soup fiend I am. Three soups. They have a SOUP TRIO here.

I sat on the plane this morning next to a very nice professional gent from Arkansas traveling for business who had never flown before in his life. Or been on a train or left the South. He was being exceedingly brave about the fact that every time the plane banked or vibrated, he was pretty sure death was imminent. I thus proceeded to talk almost nonstop about life, the universe, everything, New York, cats, his upcoming conference, Dave Chapelle's mutually appreciated comedy, etc, because when he laughed he seemed to forget we could crash and burn at any moment. What a badass this guy was, looking downward at clouds for the first time and actively deciding not to lose it. Inspiring. Totally badass. My head would have blown up like a skyscraper-tossed watermelon.

Next I wandered downstairs in Minneapolis at my hotel and encountered a disabled veteran who was searching all over the lobby for anyone who would lend him a phone because he just lost his on the back of a bus. I knew it was stupid to believe this story, and did not want to lose my phone as well, but I did agree because I sensed he was telling the truth.  Awesome guy. After ten minutes on my phone, he found his lost one via customer service and took off for the location four blocks away where the bus would next stop. He said his whole life was on that phone. I would have been crying my eyes out in that situation on this tour. What a badass.

I thank all three of these fellas for reminding me that I am not about to perish just because I am traveling so much, and being great examples of calm in the eye of the storm. Also, this whole soup trio thing I'm sampling is in every way perfect. 


Welcome to My New Website!

Welcome, kittens!

I wanted the first post for this new blog to be all spangly and unicorn-colored, with sage writing tips spewing forth in a rich Pilgrim-style cornucopia, with a sexy new recipe maybe titled “Hucklecherries: They Are Totally a Thing No Really They Are and How to Use Them,” followed by perhaps my picks of designer dresses for spring and ending with a Steve Martin quote.

Well, screw all that noise because I am tired.  The best I can tell you is that it's ramp season.  Did you know it's ramp season?  Go fetch you some ramps and eat them up.

I should amend that to “excited and tired” (to be sung in the style of Little Red from Into the Woods) because THE FATAL FLAME launches on May 12 (finally, can I get an amen?), and the weeks surrounding the national tour are packed with events.  It is a time of many interviews and much talk of copper stars.  It is a time of telling myself to eat only vegetables because I know I can’t get any in the Houston airport and then eating peanut butter straight from the jar with pepper cracked on it.  It is a time of typing many editorials and trying to remember how many times I’ve previously compared Tammany Hall to a super PAC.  It is a time of trying to figure out how we can get rid of Ted Cruz, because I am never not wondering how best to get rid of Ted Cruz.

So instead of imparting all the wisdom contained in a single follicle of Neil Gaiman’s hair in this post (which is approximately how much wisdom I have, incidentally), I will simply say: welcome, and please tell me if you want me to cover any topics herein.  There are plenty of ways to contact me on this new page, and I am always up for discussing what friends and arch-enemies and readers want to know.  Tweet at me, message me, send me a carrier pigeon, and I will do my best to make this blog work for you.

Thanks for visiting!