OK, so I'm rarely in jeopardy, but I write woman-in-jeopardy novels—otherwise called "Modern Gothics"—and this is my blog. It will probably have lots of time between posts, but I'll try not to bore you. Welcome.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Between Friends: A Giveaway

Last summer, when The Firebird was published, Sourcebooks held a contest called "Send Susanna to My Hometown", whereby readers nominated their local bookshops and libraries to play host to a stop on my first American tour.

Well, thanks to all of you we had so much fun with that tour that next month Sourcebooks is putting a twist on the concept by sending me out to the hometowns of some of my actual writer friends, letting us party and play do events with each other. You can read all the details here, and learn where I'll be and with whom I'll be playing appearing.

To my friends and readers on the west coast, I'm really sorry — we tried but weren't able to get an event pulled together out there in the very short window of time that I had for this tour (I'm still working to keep to my deadline for the new book, so I can't be on the road very long), and I'm sad about that, but if it helps at all I will be doing another joint event with my friend Deanna Raybourn at Murder by the Book in Houston, Texas, on Saturday, March 1st, to celebrate the publication of her next book City of Jasmine, and with my next book I'll do my best to get over those Rockies for you.

In the meantime, I thought it would be kind of fun to expand the whole "Susanna & Friends" theme by inviting you to enter one of YOUR friends in a Giveaway.

I've got two prizes — one for you to give your friend, and one for you to keep.

The one to give your friend is this:

A brand new, Kobo Arc 7HD eReader, the 32 GB version like the one in the photo at the right, that will come with the sleep cover pictured above at the top of this post. The cover, as you can see, has already been signed by several of my writer friends (clockwise from top left: Janet Gurtler, Jane Porter, Jack Whyte, Jim C. Hines, C.C. Humphreys, Diana Gabaldon, Hallie Ephron, and Eileen Cook) who were at the Surrey International Writers' Conference this year, and I'll be taking that cover with me on my January tour so all the friends that will be joining me can sign it, too.

And for being such an awesome friend, if you're selected by the Random Number Generator as the winning entry, you'll get this:



But hang on —not just any bag. It too is coming with me on my January tour, and I'm inviting all MY writer friends at every stop to help me fill it for you. I don't know what they'll be adding to it, but I'm starting off the loot with a signed copy of The Splendour Falls, and after the tour's ended who can tell what you'll end up with? Lots of Mystery Present Goodness, that's what!

This is my contest, so it's open to everyone internationally and I'll ship worldwide. All you have to do to enter for your chance to win is leave a comment here, and tell me why you think your friend's the best of all.

I'll keep the contest running till my tour has ended on the 21st of January, midnight Eastern Standard Time, and I'll announce the winner once I get back home. 

Good luck! And Happy Holidays to you and all your family and friends!


Monday, November 11, 2013


Sometimes a scene that I witness and write leaves a mark on me. 

This scene, from late in my book Every Secret Thing, left a mark deeper than most, and each year at this time I remember and honour the women and men who inspired it:

There was very little left to mark the site.  In fact, as I took the turning south towards the lake and found myself surrounded on all sides by low stretching industrial buildings, I nearly thought I’d got it wrong...and then, beyond the buildings to my right, I saw the flags—four flags, unfurled against a sky that had been growing greyer as I’d travelled eastward.
            This was it, I thought.  I slowed the car.
            The road curved, and the buildings on my right gave way to open space—a small green rise of hill, and on its top a low-walled concrete monument, not large, that held the four tall flagpoles with their emblems of the Province of Ontario, and Canada, and Britain, and the States, all set at half-mast.  I was very near the water now.  I could tell from the strength of the wind as it slapped the flags around and rippled up the grassy hill to where a sign, in plain black letters, read ‘Intrepid Park’.
            It didn’t look like much of a park—only the unassuming monument, and a few young maple trees with trunks so slender they seemed scarcely able to withstand the bursts of wind that shook the leaves like something wild.
            But I wasn’t the only pilgrim.  A Canadian Forces bus had blocked the driveway of one of the industrial buildings, and mine was the last in a long line of cars that had parked at the edge of the road.  Still, the little assembly of people beneath the four flags looked quite small, I thought.  More like a gathering of family than a formal Remembrance Day ceremony.  I felt conspicuous as, head bent to the driving wind, I climbed the gently rising hill towards the monument.
            No one paid me any real attention.  Most of the people were busy talking amongst themselves, some obviously politicians, working the crowd with their handshakes and smiles.  There seemed to be a scarcity of old men, and old women—that struck me, straight away.  I counted only a scattered handful of them, most wearing uniforms and ribboned bands of medals, sitting quietly on metal folding chairs that had been set in rows for those who found it difficult to stand.  The people around them were younger, respectful in dark coats with red plastic poppies pinned through their lapels, or dressed in military uniform, without a coat, and shivering against the cold.
            There was no shelter on the hill.  The modest monument’s low wall had been shaped as a long open crescent, like arms spread to embrace the slate-blue water of Lake Ontario that stretched away unbroken to the stormy grey horizon.
            Just a half-hour’s drive to the west lay Toronto.  There, the lake was more civilized, reflecting back the bright lights of the cultured city skyline, with the small bit of well-controlled green that was Toronto Island lying just off shore.  But here, at the southernmost boundary of Whitby, the lake had no such pretensions.  It looked icy and forbidding, chopped up by the wind into frothy white waves over which seagulls dipped and hung, shrieking.
            The landscape looked forbidding, too.  Where the little park ended at the bottom of the hill, the rough ground began—dead brown grass tipped with gold and the odd tenacious patch of green, split by a narrow bicycle path that came from the fields ringed by woods to the right.  Beyond the bicycle path there was nothing but scrub brush that fell off abruptly as though there were bluffs or a cliff at the lake’s edge.
            It was a lonely place.  And yet today, Remembrance Day, these people round me had all made the journey, as I had, to stand here in this spot above a long-abandoned site, now turned to blowing field.
            There was movement from the monument.  The soldiers of the vigil were about to take up their position.  Soberly, they stepped forward from the ranks, two of them, each moving to one end of the curved monument.  A few sharp, barked commands, and measured motions made in unison, and both were soon like statues, heads bent, rifle barrels resting on their polished boots.  They’d stay like that, I knew, the whole length of the ceremony.  Motionless.
            Between them, I could see a plaque set in the centre of the wall.  I couldn’t read the words from where I stood, but then I didn’t need to.  I’d already done my research.  I knew what was written there.  It read:



            I turned again, letting my gaze travel out across the windy, unkempt field to where the line of dark trees rose to block the view across the lake.  Somewhere down there, in a building long gone, in this place full of silence and secrets, my grandmother had first met Andrew Deacon.
            Now there was nothing, just the shadows of dark snow clouds chasing over empty space, and overhead a single gull with black-tipped wings that rose and wheeled and headed out across the lake like an escaping spirit.
            The flags above my head flapped noisily, their cords and metallic rings striking the tall flagpoles with the hollow clinking sound of cold aluminum.  The sound wrenched me back to the present.
The service began.
            It was simple, short on speeches, just the solitary bugle and a reading from the military pastor, who had chosen as his text a passage I had never heard, from the Apocrypha, beginning ‘Let us now praise famous men.’  The words were fitting, bittersweet:  And some there are who left a name behind, to be commemorated in story.  And there are others who are unremembered; they are dead, and it is as though they never did exist...
            I thought of Deacon, in his grave without a headstone; of his grey and faceless presence that had haunted me so long.  Not faceless now, I thought.  Deliberately, I closed my eyes to conjure up his image from the photograph, his smile, his eyes.
            And then, as if in answer to my effort and my mood, the reading changed.  Another voice, the younger voice of one of the cadets, read out the words of Binyon’s proud ‘Prayer for the Fallen’:
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.  Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.  At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, we will remember them.
            I opened my eyes.  The sun, on cue, broke through the clouds at just that moment, falling warm upon my frozen back like a comforting hand, and casting long shadows across the dead grass at the feet of the uniformed young men and women standing still, in ranks, before the monument.  And for one brief minute, to my eyes, those shadows made a second army—ghosts who stood at fixed attention in between the living bodies, silent and aware.
            I hadn’t been to a Remembrance Day service since I was a child.  I didn’t know that Binyon’s poem called for a response; so it surprised me when it came, from those few older men and women in the crowd, from those old soldiers, standing straighter now than anyone around them, their scattered voices finding strength:  We will remember them.’
(NOTE: This Service of Remembrance at Intrepid Park, where Camp X used to stand, is held each year on the 11th of November, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.  Anybody can attend).

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Splendour (Finally) Falls in the United States

The Moulin Tower, Chateau Chinon, photo taken by me in 1993

When I first wrote The Splendour Falls in 1994, it was picked up for publication by my British, Canadian and German publishers, but my agents couldn't find an American home for it, so for almost 20 years now any of my American readers who wanted a copy had to scrounge online for one. Which is why I'm so happy to announce that Sourcebooks will at last be publishing The Splendour Falls this January, for the first time ever in the U.S.A. Come January 14th, 2014, if you live in the States, you'll be able to buy the book in trade paperback or as an ebook, and Audible is currently recording an audiobook version that should be available at the same time. 

You can read the first chapter of the book at my needs-to-be-updated website, or if you're a blogger you can ask for the whole thing from NetGalley.

In the meantime, here's a favourite scene between the heroine, Emily, and one of the young Canadian brothers she makes friends with on her trip to France:

'You've done it now,' said Paul, as we watched Simon bounding off away from us.
     'Whatever do you mean?'
     'That story you just told us, about Queen Isabelle. You mentioned treasure. Big mistake.' With Simon safely out of sight, he rummaged in his pocket for his cigarettes, shifting clear of the shadow cast by the tower at his shoulder. It was in ruins now, the Moulin Tower an empty hull of stone with dark weeds sprouting in the roofless chambers. And no-one walked those chambers any more. A sign beside the bolted door said sternly: Danger! so we leaned instead against the low, lichen-crusted wall that formed the western boundary of the chateau grounds. Behind our backs the slumbering Vienne flowed seaward, unconcerned.
     Paul cupped the match against the breeze. 'Telling a story like that to Simon,' he advised me, 'is kind of like waving a red flag in front of a bull. He's all fired up, now.'
     'He's only gone to find the toilet, Paul.'
     'Don't you believe it. Not my brother.' He grinned. 'He has the bladder of a camel. No, you wait and see he's sneaked off down to the entrance booth to see what he can learn about the tunnels.'
     I looked along the empty path, intrigued. 'But he doesn't speak French.'
     'That wouldn't stop him.' Stretching his legs out in front of him, Paul dug his feet into the gravel and braced his hands beside him on the sun-warmed stone. 'So,' he said, 'what happened?'
     'To King John and Queen Isabelle. You never finished the story.'
     'Oh, that.' The breeze blew my hair in my eyes and I pushed it back absently. 'It's not the happiest of endings, I'm afraid. John did kill Arthur, or at least he had him killed, depending on which chronicler one reads. The King of France – Philippe – you remember the statue? Well, Philippe went rather wild. He'd raised the boy, you see. He'd been great friends with John's big brother Geoffrey, Arthur's father, and when Geoffrey died Philippe took Arthur back to Paris, brought him up. John might as well have killed Philippe's own son.'
     'So he started a war.'
     I nodded. 'A terrible war. It cost John nearly everything. Chinon was one of the first castles to be captured, actually – it fell to Philippe not long after Arthur died.
     'And Isabelle?'
     I looked up at the Moulin Tower, lonely and abandoned, the green weeds grasping at the crumbled window ledge. 'He lost her, too, in the end. John had foul moods and jealous rages, like his father. He even followed in his father's footsteps in another way – kept Isabelle locked up and under guard, just as his mother had been kept.'
     Paul frowned. 'How sad.'
     'Yes, well.' I shrugged. 'It's not a fairy tale, I'll grant you. But then real life never is.'
     He turned his head to look at me, squinting a little against the sun. 'You don't believe, then, in a love that lasts a lifetime?'
     'I don't believe,' I told him drily, 'in a love that lasts till teatime.'
     'Cynic,' he accused me, but he smiled.
     We sat on several minutes longer in companionable silence while Paul smoked his cigarette, his eyes half narrowed, deep in thought. I couldn't help but think again how different he was from his brother Simon. One had room to breathe, with Paul.
     'Tragic,' he said, quite out of the blue.
     'I'm sorry?'
     He shrugged. 'It's just a kind of game I play, finding the right adjective to suit a place. I try to distil all the feeling, the atmosphere, down to a single word. Chateau Chinon's been a tough one, but I've got it now – it's tragic.'
     He'd hit the nail precisely on the head, I had to admit. In spite of all the sunshine and the blue sky and the brilliant golden walls, the place did seem to be pervaded by an aura of tragedy, of splintered hopes and unfulfilled desires.
     The swift breeze stole the sunlight's warmth and, shivering, I glanced up. 'Simon's coming.'
     'Damn.' Paul stubbed his cigarette against the wall, setting off a shower of red sparks that died before they reached the ground. By the time Simon reached us, the telltale evidence lay crushed deep in the gravel underneath Paul's shoe.
     'I've got a map,' said Simon cheerfully.
     Paul's eyes were knowing, but he held the innocent expression. 'Map of what?'
     'The tunnels, stupid. Now, according to the woman at the gate, there should be something we can see, just over here...' And off he went again, with purpose, heading for a spreading box tree several yards away. 'Come on, you two,' he called back.
     With a sigh, Paul straightened from the wall and stretched. 'I told you so.'

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Tuesday, October 15, 2013

And the Category Is...

Image © vaskoni from iStockphoto. Used by permission.


Thanks so much to everyone who commented on my last post and helped me choose a RITA category for The Firebird. I was glad to see I'm not the only one who finds it difficult to figure out just where that book belongs!

But it was great to read your comments and your reasoning. I've left the comments open, but the entries for the contest start today, so in keeping with the two-to-one majority of your votes, I'll be entering The Firebird in the Paranormal Romance category, where the guidelines are as follows:

Novels in which the future, a fantasy world or paranormal elements are an integral part of the plot. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, a futuristic, fantasy or paranormal element is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.

Thanks again for giving time and thought to this. We'll see how my mutt of a book mixes in with the Purebreds :-).

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Categories, Cockapoos, and a Little Help from You

Left: My dog Sam, Photo © Me    Right: Purebred Poodle © Appleping | Dreamstime.com

Why the dogs? More on that in a minute...
The RITA Awards, for those of you who aren't familiar with them, are the equivalent of Oscars for the romance-writing community, judged by peers and awarded at a gala evening ceremony where the gowns could rival anything that Hollywood could throw at them.

As a proud member of the Romance Writers of America it's been my privilege to help judge the RITAs (and find great new authors to add to my reading list), and it's been my honor to have two of my own books final for RITAs themselves: The Winter Sea in 2009, and The Rose Garden in 2012.

Although neither book won, I did get to actually touch a RITA statuette this past summer at RWA Nationals in Atlanta while celebrating with fellow author Simone St. James, who deservedly won two awards—Best First Novel and Best Novel With Strong Romantic Elementsfor her debut romantic historical ghost-hunting mystery The Haunting of Maddy Clare.

Watching Simone win (that's her on the left, by the way...if she looks a bit blurry, it's only because we were all a bit blurry that evening) was wonderful but bittersweet, because the category that she won in, and that my books finaled in, is being retired by the RWA and, beginning next year, there will no longer be any RITA awarded for Best Novel With Strong Romantic Elements.

A quick read through the lists of past winners will show you that categories change all the time in the RITAs: new ones emerge, old ones vanish, and others are blended together, all of which is a natural consequence of the RWA continuing to try its best to serve the ever-evolving needs of its broad and varied membership while keeping to its mission.

But it does leave a writer like me with a bit of a problem. And here's where we get to the dogs...

Purebred Cocker Spaniel Puppies
In the photo at the top of this post, the dog on the right is a Poodle—a purebred. The one on the left is my former dog Samson, a Cockapoo. Samson had elements of Poodle in him, as you can see, but they were jumbled up with elements of Cocker Spaniel, meaning in a dog show he could only have competed against other dogs like him—the crossbreeds—because he would never have been judged "Best Poodle" or "Best Cocker Spaniel".

My books are like Cockapoos. Actually, they're more like what you'd get if you crossed Cockapoos with Puggles (which themselves are a cross between Beagles and Pugs), because my novels tend to be "Contemporary-Historical-Romantic-Suspense-with-Paranormal-elements", crossing several sub-genres without fitting neatly into any of them. 

The Novel with Strong Romantic Elements category, given that part of its original purpose was to provide a place for works of romantic fiction "not belonging in another category", used to be a catch-basin for those of us whose novels crossed sub-genres, but I've been reassured by both veteran RWA colleagues and National head office that any book that meets the criteria for romance, by having a central love story with an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending, should fit well into one of the remaining RITA categories.

I find that heartening, because The Firebird is definitely a romance. Two romances, in factone in the present and one in the pastboth of which end happily. It also happens to be my favourite of the books I've written so far, and I really want to enter it. I just don't know exactly where it fits.

So here's where YOU come in.

I'm letting you choose. There are four categories, by my count, the book could be entered in. Here they are, as set out in the RWA's official Category Descriptions: 
Contemporary Romance: Novels that focus primarily on the romantic relationship and which are greater than 65,000 words. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
The word count of The Firebird is, not including the epigraph and afterward, 152,466 words, of which 64,889 words are used to tell the contemporary love story between Rob and Nicola. Which has a happy ending. 
Historical Romance: Novels set in any historical time period. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
The remaining 87,577 words of the novel are used to tell the historical story that follows Anna Moray from her childhood to her coming of age in early 18th century St. Petersburg, Russia, including her romance with Edmund O'Connor. Which also ends happily. 
Paranormal Romance: Novels in which the future, a fantasy world or paranormal elements are an integral part of the plot. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, a futuristic, fantasy or paranormal element is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic. 
Rob and Nicola are both psychics. They communicate telepathically a lot. The book begins, in fact, with an accidental meeting of their minds, and it's Nicola's undeveloped ability to "see" an object's past while holding it that starts them on their quest to trace the history of the Firebird carving, with Rob using his more advanced remote viewing abilities to bridge the past and present while he tries to tutor Nicola in how to fully use her own gifts. So there's that.
Romantic Suspense: Novels in which suspense, mystery, or thriller elements constitute an integral part of the plot. In this category, the love story is the main focus of the novel, a suspense/mystery/thriller plot is blended with the love story, and the resolution of the romance is emotionally satisfying and optimistic.
The origins of the Firebird carving do present a mystery, Anna has a woman-in-jeopardy sort of childhood, there's a spy plot in St. Petersburg, and overall the sort of older-style suspense one might associate with books by Mary Stewart. 

So, you tell ME: Which of these four categories does The Firebird best fit into? 

Leave a comment with your vote. I'll tally them before the contest opens in October, and wherever most of you believe the book should go, that's where I'll enter it. And thank you for helping me figure out just where my crossbreed belongs.

Me in a Very Pink Shirt, holding Samson as a puppy.