We had a fabulous time at the Huntington Library Botanical Gardens and Museum today, launching my latest historical, ROSES IN THE TEMPEST.
Hubby and I got there early enough to wander the library and art gallery. Now, I used to come here a lot when I was a kid. Museums were free in those days, offering a young family of five a chance to give their kids a bit of culture. Where would I be today if we had not spent so much time at the Los Angeles Museum of Art, the La Brea Tar Pits, Griffith Park Observatory, Exposition Park, and the Huntington Library? (Rich endowers, if you want to make a difference, don't donate money to have a building named after you. Sponsor a year or more so that admission can be free to families so kids can grow up looking at art, at gardens, at precious books!)
Inside the Library. Just as I remember it as a kid. The Library boasts a Gutenberg Bible, a Shakespeare Folio and a bad quarto, the Ellesmere Chaucer, an Audubon Book, and so many other firsts.
Pertinent to my talk, Henry Huntington, the rascal, got a hold of a copy of Henry VIII's book defending the seven sacraments to counter Martin Luther's shouts of reformation. For this sterling book, King Henry was named "Defender of the Faith" by Pope Leo X.
And right next to a Tyndale New Testament--written in English so that ordinary Englishmen would know exactly what the bible said (remember, at this time it was only to be in Latin), Thomas More, King Henry's friend and eventual Chancellor of England, (and also eventual prisoner of the state and eventual executed prisoner because he would not agree to the king's divorce) wrote his argument against the Tyndale bible.
My personal favorite, even when I was a kid. The Ellesmere Chaucer, with its fantastic illumination and illustrations of all the pilgrims, including one Geoffrey Chaucer. It was penned and illustrated by Chaucer's own scribe, Adam Pinkhurst, so we know the portrait of Chaucer was accurate.
There I am, itching to take it home.
And here, something Crispin might have owned. Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics.
And yet another piece owned by Ellesmere, a beautiful illuminated Psalter.
And something a bit sad. Jack London was afraid of fires in his Sonoma house in northern California, so he had his manuscript the Sea Wolf placed in the fireproof vault in a bank in San Francisco. But then they had a little earthquake that leveled the town and had a huge fire. That blackened mass in that box is all that is left of the manuscript. And, insult to injury, his house in Sonoma burned down some years later, too.
About two years ago I offered a day at the museum where I gathered readers and fans to go on a tour with me. I offered demos, gave a little lecture, and ended the day at the tea room. We had a swell time, but on that day, I only had a chance to go into the library's special collection (the library itself was closed for renovation, so what we wanted to see was temporarily housed in a different building.) But today we made sure we were there in time to see the library's standard collection, the art gallery, and some of the gardens. I didn't realize until I thought about it, that I hadn't been in the art gallery for almost 25 years. It was old home week for me, saying hello to Lady Hamilton, Sarah Siddens, Two Boys With Bladder, and many other Gainsborough paintings I had gotten to know so well over the years of my childhood. (Want to know what kind of a geek I was? My sister and I had a lot of postcards of those portraits on the walls of our bedroom.) Huntington was able to obtain a lot of those portraits--more so than landscapes in the latter half of the 1800s--because Europe was dumping them to rich Americans. Many of the noble families who owned these portraits were short of cash and they were willing to give them up. At one time, Huntington's was the largest private collection in America and open to the public! Take that, Koch brothers!
Beautiful stained glass in the art gallery (that was actually the Huntingtons' home).
Pinky and Blue Boy.
Two Boys with Bladder. Pig bladder, that is. See why this captured my imagination as a kid?
Lady Hamilton. No wonder Lord Nelson was smitten.
One of the lovely views from the house (no, not me) is the sculpture garden that ends at a large fountain filled with fish.
We wandered through the extensive rose garden and I got all Barbara Streisand in On a Clear Day (even though that was filmed at Exposition Park in Los Angeles).
And then we went to the Japanese Garden and then the Chinese Garden. It was a nice, cool overcast day. A week ago the weather people were telling us it was going to be 78 degrees, but a few days ago that forecast had dropped to 65 degrees. It was lovely.
Jeri examines the Japanese house.
Probably says above the door in Chinese, "Tourists, stop messing around in the stonework!"
And then when it was time to fetch the books and supplies from the car to bring them to the tea room, it started to sprinkle. I didn't worry. It's California in April. Just a sprinkle. Until it started to rain. And we had a loooong walk from the parking lot to the tea room. I was absolutely soaked by the time we got there!
But no worries. We set up, I welcomed everyone who had already delved into their tea, and hubby and I delved into our own, with plenty of sandwiches, salads, fruit, desserts, scones, clotted cream...you know the drill.
After we were sated, I gave a little talk about the immediate history taking place during the book, I did a reading, and then we signed. I sold out of the few copies of THOUGH HEAVEN FALL I brought and sold a few CUP OF BLOODs, too.
All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon. There was room for more of you, but I was glad--as we watched it rain outside in their lovely English garden and we were warm inside with our tea and dainties--that so many came! Hope you enjoy the book!
If I was to be so lucky as to be provided with an option for the Crisin Guest books to be made into a television series, who would I cast in the various roles?
When I was developing the books, I wrote biographies of the characters and included images, and usually those images came from movie stars and models, just so I could fix their faces, expressions, and voice in my head, though I have to say that they have evolved over the years as I got to know my characters better.
But if I could have my dream casting, we'd get some mighty interesting actors to play those roles. The problem is, the ones I had in mind originally are aging out of these roles. That's because I began devising this series way back in 2005. But let's take a look.
There is a stable of reoccurring characters and and I'd like to start with them.
Lenny is a thief and a very disreputable character indeed. He has very little in the way of redeeming qualities but on occasion and for a price, he helps out Crispin do a little spying. The actor here is David Bradley, who played the caretaker Argus Filch in the Harry Potter series.
Chaucer is an old friend of Crispin's from his better days in John of Gaunt's household. Poet, knight, comptroller for the ports, and sometimes spy for the king, Chaucer is an ambitious man, and not above a little double-dealing. He was hard one to cast because--having illustrations of him--I didn't want to go too handsome. I think of him as somewhat foppish. So far he has appeared in two books: TROUBLED BONES and BLOOD LANCE. In the end, Damien Lewis seemed a good fit.
JOHN OF GAUNT, THE DUKE OF LANCASTER
A father figure to Crispin, though he was only ten years older, as was Chaucer, Gaunt is everything to Crispin. Imagine the hurt when Crispin realized how much he had been betrayed? Gaunt is regal, polished, powerful. I think Clive Owen has the stature and presence needed to be the larger-than-life duke of Lancaster.
John Rykener first appeared in THE DEMON'S PARCHMENT as a male prostitute who liked to dress as a woman and even served as an embroideress. He will make an appearance again in the next two Crispin books THE SILENCE OF STONES and A MAIDEN WEEPING. I think of him as a congenial fellow and an early friend to Crispin when he was first cast upon the streets of London, knowing little how to make his way. John is sexy and sweet and full of heart. For him, I think of Tom Hiddleston.
Crispin's brow-beatend landlord, the tinker Martin Kemp is Crispin's ally, at least against his own shrewish wife Alice. He means well, but there's usually little he can do under the onslaught of his wife's sharp tongue. It's a comedic role, to be sure, and Simon Pegg seems the perfect guy for it.
There is little good to say about Alice. She is protective of her daughter Margaret and always concerned with finances, such as making sure their recalcitrant tenant, Crispin Guest, pays his rent, but that's about it. Rebel Wilson is far too attractive, but with some proper make-up the transition could work. She could play her own daughter, too!
I got a lot of my imagery for actors from the Harry Potter series of films. Of course I did, because just about every British actor and actress appeared in them! The congenial and no-nonsense tavern keeper Eleanor has always been in my mind Mrs. Molly Weesly herself, Julie Walters. She is a sort of mother figure to Crispin and cares a great deal about him, even though they are as far apart as could be in social standing.
Likewise, I have always seen Gilbert--the understanding tavern keeper and husband to Eleanor Langton--as actor Mark Addy. He often gives Crispin sage advice while supporting his bar tab. He and Eleanor are truly Crispin's best friends.
Crispin was one of Henry's overseers when young Henry was a child. The oldest legitimate son of John of Gaunt, Henry was born into privilege. He's about the same age as his cousin King Richard II. And though they got along as children, their adult selves didn't get along so well. After all, it is Henry who eventually usurps the throne from Richard to become King Henry IV. But Crispin clearly adores him before those difficult times looming ahead. Owen Young can play the youthful and stubborn young Henry.
KING RICHARD II
Richard is young, not yet in his majority when we start the Crispin series. Seventeen, in fact, but he is already the man he will grow to be; stubborn, unruly, and devout in his assertion that he is the anointed of God to be king, and so he knows best, even though he has favorites in court that the other nobles do not like and do not think should be in the positions of power they now possess. Shakespeare's play Richard II captures all the problems of this young monarch and I have seen no one play him better than Ben Whishaw in the Hollow Crown series. If you want to know anything about Richard, watch his nuanced and spot on performance.
Philippa Walcote appeared in VEIL OF LIES as a love interest of Crispin's but she will return in future books. That would be a spoiler to say in what way, but suffice it to say, it will be in an interesting way. I see Romola Garai, sensual but vulnerable.
Jack Tucker is Crispin's right hand man. He's eleven years old when he first encounters Crispin and worms his way into a grumpy Crispin's life as his servant at first and later, once he has proven himself, as his apprentice. Jack is a tough one to cast because they keep aging out! If they'd produce the series already we wouldn't have these problems. Jack grows up as the series progresses, starting out as a child and cutpurse and growing into a reliable young man. When I first cast Jack in my head all those years ago, it was a young Rupert Grint from the first Harry Potter film. But now it's the kid who plays Ron Weasley's son in the last movie, Ryan Turner. And then probably HIS kid while we wait for the magic to happen.
And finally, the man himself, the Tracker, the disgraced knight Crispin Guest. As far as I am concerned, it's always been Hugh Jackman in my mind for the grumpy, stoic, and always honorable Crispin. But as the years go on, everyone's getting a little older. Crispin is thirty, after all, when we start the books, though it's a hard thirty. But who knows?
How would YOU cast it? Do you agree or disagree with my choices?
I only did a one day stint at the LA Times Festival of Books this year, at the USC campus, signing at the So Cal Mystery Writers of America booth and Sisters in Crime LA booth. I was pretty surprised to sell out of the few copies of ROSES IN THE TEMPEST I had, almost sold out of the copies of CUP OF BLOOD and THOUGH HEAVEN FALL, and few other Crispin novels. Very surprised. Nice to see a couple of Crispin fan girls show up, too. If you think you guys are embarrassing me, far from it. It gets me pumped! Thanks for stopping by. Thanks to all who stopped by.
The USC marching band opens the festival.
Authors Terri Nolan and Matt Coyle sign books at the Mystery Writers of America booth.
Hubby and I and another two couples solve the giant crossword puzzle.
One of the avenues of pavilion tents and booths.
The Sisters in Crime booth.
Whatever the hell this is. A walking fruit salad, I guess.
Because of the drought, all the fountains were dry. And the weather was pretty hot, as usual.
Just a view of an old-fashioned clock and one of the towers in the background.
Author pal Gary Phillips taking the shade.
And then there was this, for some reason...
They had food trucks, but they are always so crowded, they take forever, and they are very expensive, so we opted for the food court.
My twin, author Sue Ann Jaffarian. We are not related but are very often taken for one another. We have given wholesale permission to each other to sign each other's books. Of course, when I sign hers, I also add, "And I couldn't have done it without the help of Jeri Westerson."
And then we ended the day on a sad note. My son's three-month-old Australian shepherd mix has been feeling poorly of late and at the end of the day, he took a bad turn. So they took him to a vet opened on the weekend (can't you feel the money just sucking out of your wallet?) Tests showed he has parvo, which is a deadly virus to doggies. Well, none of us had the means to put the pooch in this very nice facility for a few days to perhaps save his life (the doc said a 90% chance) so the kids opted to get the meds and saline and take care of him at home. It still cost a bundle that dad and I shelled out. They will start a GoFundMe account to get him the hospitalization and meds he needs to get well, if he can. I'll let you know when that's up if you care to donate. He's a sweet little rescue dog. Here's the doggie, called Wicket.
UPDATE: Here's the GoFundMe if you are interested in helping. It would be much appreciated.
Writing was my secret. For a very long time. I wrote stories ever since I could pick up a crayon, but I didn't get serious about it till high school. And I had a ritual. It had to be in pencil on a yellow legal pad. I wasn't that good a typist and anyway I didn't compose on a typewriter. I needed that visceral sensation from a pencil. And further, no one knew that I wrote. It was for me alone. That first finished novel was a Tolkeinesque quest saga, finished when I was sixteen. And then I wrote on and off for the next fifteen years, finally switching to a typewriter...once I had one with an erase tape on it, though I used that as much as the ink ribbon.
I never told anyone or shared the work. It was for me. And anyway, I wasn't planning on doing anything with it. I didn't have any aspirations to become a writer. It was just one of the many artistic things I liked to do, like my painting, calligraphy, acting and singing, and later sculpting and wood carving. It called to me like any of those other disciplines, and so I just did it.
When did that tide turn? Well, after giving up the idea of a theatre degree and career in acting while in college, I switched to being an art major and turning some of that interest in calligraphy and inventing fonts to a career as a graphic artist. Which I did for another fifteen years in competitive Los Angeles as a graphic designer and art director. Those were fun years, those eighties, and I made a good living at it. A fast-paced job for advertising agencies and all sorts of small and large studios. Had I kept at it, I would have eventually opened my own studio with hired freelancers, just like I was. But life intervened. It was time to have a family, and after my son was born I wanted to get back into it once he was a toddler, continuing my work at home. But life intervened again, because in the two years of my semi-retirement the entire graphics/advertising industry had turned to computers, and I, alas, had not. And we couldn't afford to buy the computer or take the courses anyway. AND after living at home with a child, I felt I didn't want to get back into that hectic world of advertising. So I turned back to the thing I also loved to do and thought, "Maybe I could become an historical novelist. How hard could it be?"
When I told my husband that I wanted to give it a try, he said, "Sure, hon. I'll support you in this. But, uh, do you write books?"
"Oh yeah! I have boxes of them!"
I researched the industry, learning about query letters, that one needed an agent, and how to format manuscripts. I finally did get a computer, but not a fancy Mac for design but a much cheaper PC for writing. If Macs hadn't been so expensive, if I could have learned how to use them cheaply, I would have stayed a designer and there would never have been a Crispin Guest.
I wrote a LOT! At least one book a year, learning the ropes. Some books were great, while others...well. We chalk it up to experience. Unfortunately, writing historical novels didn't get me published. Not the kind I liked to write, that is, about ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. But that sort of thing translated much better into a medieval mystery, where a fictional detective solved fictional crimes against the tapestry of history and real people from the era. Too bad it took be nearly fourteen years to discover this and my first Crispin Guest novel was published way back in 2008.
And now some of those historical novels are finally being pulled from the "vault" and seeing the light of day. Books that publishers didn't think would sell are now selling.
The first one I chose to stick my toe in the water of self-publishing was THOUGH HEAVEN FALL, my "medieval parable" concerning a crippled beggar who reluctantly helps a stranger who claims to be an angel.
And a few days ago, another from 2001 got the rewrite treatment, my Tudor novel called ROSES IN THE TEMPEST.
This new-fangled publishing paradigm where authors are being published by large, medium, and small publishers while at the same time self-publishing is a boon to the midlister. I'm seeing income I wouldn't have seen before had I waited--sometimes interminably--for a publisher to tell me yay or nay. And it's good to see these older books get new life. After all, a lot of research and hard work went into those books. I'm grateful that they are getting this chance.
I guess the secret's out.
I know it's not medieval, but it is historical:
DAY OF THE DESTROYERS
Secret Agent X-11 Jimmie Flint Battles
to Save FDR and the Nation
From the epoch of the Great Depression when the pulps were in full bloom, among the millionaire playboys who donned masked avenger garb, there were the super spies from Secret Agent X to those in Thrilling Spy Stories.
It is with great pleasure then that Moonstone Books presents Day of the Destroyers, an all-original prose linked anthology. Each story is part of a larger arc wherein Jimmie Flint, Secret Agent X-11 of the Intelligence Service Command battles to prevent the seditionist Medusa Council from engineering a bloody coup overthrowing our democracy.
Inspired by actual events from the 1930s, alluded to in the recent Roosevelts: An Intimate History PBS documentary, a grouping of extremist politicians and moneyed interests sought to "take back" the country from President Roosevelt. Day of the Destroyers pits the ever-resourceful Jimmie Flint against these forces.
He fights across the country preventing an aerial assault on Chicago’s rail lines, destroying a secret factory of gas meant to enthrall millions in New Mexico, to racing to stop a machine of fantastic destruction in Manhattan. He’s aided by his girlfriend, intrepid newspaper reporter Kara Eastland, his teenaged protégé Tim Fallon, as well as pulp era masked vigilantes the Green Lama, the Phantom Detective, and the Black Bat. Joining the fight are real historical figures including General Smedley (the original Devil Dog) Butler and war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. Each exciting chapter-story in the anthology builds to a final showdown between the redoubtable X-11 and his arch-nemesis, Colonel Lucian Starliss, head of the Medusa Council.
Writers who contributed to this one-of-a-kind collection are Pulp Factory award winner Adam Lance Garcia, Macavity and Shamus nominated Jeri Westerson, pulpmeisters Tommy Hancock and Ron Fortier, former Marvel Comics editor Eric Fein, Zeroids writer Aaron Shaps, former LAPD lead detective Paul Bishop, Moonstone EiC Joe Gentile, and Chester Himes award winner Gary Phillips. Introduction by Pulp Ark award winner Bobby Nash.
It's available now on Amazon (ignore that pre-order button. It will have a buy button momentarily).
Well, King Richard III is now buried in Leicester Cathedral, when he really wanted York Minster. But instead of the royal family intervening, they stayed out of it, for many reasons. One, he was considered a usurper by their blood relation King Henry VII and one with a crown usually stays clear of any mention of "usurper." And for another, well, it seems more in the realm of archaeologists at this point. But should it be? This isn't some ancient Briton pulled from a bog. This is a famous/infamous king of England! And whether you believe he murdered his way to the throne or not (evidence can go either way), he was still an anointed king and as such, should be afforded the honors of a king.
And, in the end, he was.
The distasteful fight over where he should eventually land was amusingly medieval. After all, as my medieval detective well knows, there is much coin to be made by possessing the "relics" for a pilgrimage/tourist site. And coinage there will be.
I've only seen spits and spats of footage of the funeral and will likely catch more in the ensuing days, but it has been interesting to see how one goes about reburying a king of old--how to go about a religious exercise when the man was Catholic in a Catholic (at the time) England that is now Anglican due to his rival's son's marital circus. To see the armored honor guard on their horses, one with scoliosis as Richard had, and wearing proper fifteenth century armor seemed the right thing to do. Yet other re-enactors, who were in fifteenth century garb, were criticized for taking advantage of the situation and "playing" during such a solemn occasion.
At least Richard has his honored place now, instead of the ignoble burial in a parking lot. His bones told us what he probably looked like and explained the medieval rumors of his physical crookedness. The DNA of his descendants told the story of the truth of the bones. Too bad the man himself cannot tell us the truth of his life and death.
Loyaulte me lie
It started out life as St. Peter's Abbey, and between 1042 and 1052, the saintly King Edward the Confessor, ordered the rebuilding of the abbey church into something a bit more, well, fit for a king, especially a king's tomb. The original church was built on what was known as Thorn Ey (Thorney Island) and was, indeed at the time, an eyot, a little island in the Thames. Though it still wasn't finished by the time Edward died, it was consecrated on 28 December 1065, a week before the king passed.
The church we know today was begun nearly two hundred years later by Henry II in 1245. And kept getting updated and remodeled through the fifteen hundreds, though a great deal of what we see today was done by architect Henry Yevele during Crispin's day, the Purbeck marble for the interior columns being commissioned by his old friend, Abbot Nicholas de Litlyngton.
Westminster is a minster, which is a church with a monastery. But which came first, the name of the church or the name of the town that grew up around it? At any rate, Westminster Abbey got another designation in 1540 by Henry VIII giving it cathedral status so it couldn't be dissolved as he dissolved so many monasteries. (Though cathedrals are usually designated so because it is the seat of a bishop, the cathedra and this wasn't the seat of a bishop. Hey, it's good to be king.) And then in his daughter's time, Elizabeth I dedicated it as a "Royal Peculiar" which makes it directly responsible to the sovereign as opposed to a bishop, and headed by a royally appointed dean, making it the "Collegiate Church of St Peter," and remains so today.