Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Rare Luxury...Or Not

One of the things that make this writing business a bit crazy is that authors are usually one or more books ahead of their publishers. For those of us on a one-book-a-year schedule, our next book is typically due on our editor's desk at the beginning of the same month our newest release is coming out. Thus, with the release of When Maidens Mourn scheduled for 6 March, the final manuscript for the next book in the series, What Darkness Brings, was due 1 March. This has two effects. First of all, authors find themselves suddenly having to talk about a book they finished some twelve months before and generally wiped from their minds in order to focus on the story at hand. But perhaps the most brutal aspect of this kind of schedule is that an author can find herself frantically pushing to finish a manuscript at exactly the same time she needs to devote loads of time to scheduling book signings, doing interviews, writing guest blog posts, updating websites, designing newsletters, etc, etc. It can make life pretty insane.

So this year I was feeling rather cocky. Once, I'd had dreams of finishing the eighth book in the Sebastian series by last fall, which would have given me four or more "found" months to start a new book. That didn't happen, thanks to some scary family illnesses, my daughter's wedding, and a ton of houseguests. But I still finished my manuscript with weeks to spare. And I thought, This is nice; for once I'll escape that deadly double crunch that always comes right before a book's release.

But you know what? Having finished book #8, I'm now deep into the planning of book #9. This is, for me, one of the most intense and pleasurable of the stages of writing. And just when I want to lose myself in the creation of this new story, I find myself instead constantly answering emails from my editor and publicist, designing newsletters, trying to remember when my next interview is. Which just goes to show that there's no pleasing some people.

An updated schedule of events:

February 28, 6:30 PM & March 3, 12:30 PM (CST)
Interview with Susan Larson on "The Reading Life"
Listen live on line or access the archives at

Saturday, March 10, 2-4 PM
Garden District Book Shop
Corner of Washington Avenue and Prytania Street
New Orleans, Louisiana
Book signing

Saturday, March 25
Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival
11:30 AM-12:45 PM panel—"Bet You Can't Read Just One: Mysteries for Fun"
Muriel's Jackson Square
New Orleans, Louisiana
With Ace Atkins, Barbara Hambly, and Greg Herren

Saturday, March 31, 4:30
Murder by the Book
2342 Bissonnet
Houston, Texas

I'll also be doing a guest blog on Wednesday, 29 February at Paperback Dolls.

Now you'll have to excuse me, because in the mists of my imagination, Sebastian is on his way to confront Marie-Therese, the daughter of Marie Antoinette. And Gibson has just rescued this lovely Frenchwoman with a mysterious past who....

Note: the above beautiful image is by Jon Miller Whiteny. Visit his site at jomiwi.com.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Publishers Weekly Reviews WHEN MAIDENS MOURN

Last year, PW's reviewer really savaged Where Shadows Dance, so I was quite relieved when this year's offering received their nod of approval. Here's the Publishers Weekly review:

When Maidens Mourn: A Sebastian St. Cyr Mystery
C.S. Harris. NAL/Obsidian
Set in August 1812, Harris’s intriguing seventh Regency whodunit featuring aristocratic sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr (after 2011’s Where Shadows Dance) marks a return to form. St. Cyr has just married Hero Jarvis, the fiercely capable daughter of his bitterest enemy, Charles, Lord Jarvis, a cousin of the Prince Regent and the power behind the throne. The stabbing murder of Hero’s antiquarian friend, Gabrielle Tennyson, who was studying excavations at Camlet Moat in Trent, disrupts the newlyweds’ honeymoon plans. That Camlet Moat and the legendary Camelot may be one and the same is a more-than-academic point at a time when radicals are “calling for King Arthur to return... and save Britain from the benighted rule of the House of Hanover.” The couple pursue their investigations separately, at the risk of their fragile new relationship. Established fans will best appreciate the personal convolutions, but newcomers will have no trouble keeping up. Agent: Helen Breitwieser, Cornerstone Literary. (Mar.)

Monday, February 20, 2012


I've received the cover for the audio version of When Maidens Mourn. They weren't allowed to use the same image, so simply took the idea as an inspiration, which is nice since it gives a consistent look. The cover copy reads, "Tales of King Arthur and the Lady of Shalott provide inspiration for this latest gripping installment in the Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series, as the aristocratic sleuth and his fiercely independent bride, Hero Jarvis, investigate the murder of Gabrielle Tennyson at the site of a long vanished castle once known as Camelot."

Obviously audio books work to a much tighter production schedule than paper books. I've had the cover image and cover copy for the print version for months and months, but this was only finalized last week.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012


From Booklist...

When Maidens Mourn.
Harris, C. S. (Author)

Just days after Hero Jarvis and Sebastian St. Cyr are married in 1812 in London, Hero’s close friend Gabrielle Tennyson is found murdered, and the two young cousins staying with her are missing. An antiquarian who stirred controversy over identifying the location of Camelot, Gabrielle was, like Hero, an independent and unconventional woman who eschewed the traditional female role. So while Sebastian is asked by local authorities to help investigate, Hero takes her own path in pursuit of the killer, sometimes at cross-purposes with her husband, on a course that adds to the distrust between the pair despite their mutual passion. In an atmosphere charged with deceit and danger, plus the burgeoning popular belief in the possible return of King Arthur, the pair uncovers Gabrielle’s hidden life and the family secrets that led to her death. Impeccable historical research underlies this seventh in the St. Cyr series (after Where Shadows Dance, 2011), an absorbing mystery that leaves intriguing questions—about the marriage and Hero’s unborn child, as well as Sebastian’s true parentage—to be answered in future entries.

Michele Leber

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bits and Pieces

First, you'll be happy to know that I finally sent What Darkness Brings to my editor today. Steve and I went out to dinner to celebrate, and of course spent the entire time brainstorming ideas for book number nine. It's starting to come together, but I still have a long ways to go.

Next, some booksignings: I'll be signing When Maidens Mourn at the Garden District Bookstore in New Orleans on March 10, from 2 to 4. And I'll be flying to Houston on March 31st, for a signing at Murder by the Book, at 4:30.

And lastly, some people were asking about the brass table visible in the last post, so here's a better picture of it:

My parents bought the table in Morocco in the late fifties or early sixties when we were living in Spain. Here's a close up of the legs:

Like almost everything else in my office, it went under a foot of water in Katrina and looked awful. But some denatured alcohol followed by shellac brought it right back.

Friday, February 03, 2012

The Method to My Madness...Or Do I Mean the Madness to My Method?

My last post provoked some questions about why I divide my manuscript into four parts. I haven't always organized my WIP (Work in Progress) this way. When I first started writing (back in the Dark Ages, with a computer that had to go through DOS and used two five-inch floppy disks), I saved each chapter on my computer in a separate file. It was a royal pain, because chapters are artificial, fluid things, and I was always having to shift scenes from one file to the next.

And then, about fifteen years ago, I started reading books on screenwriting (this has since become popular, but at the time no one was advocating it). Screenwriters trained in the process popularized by Syd Field divide their stories into three parts: Beginning (first quarter), Middle (second and third quarters) and End. The Middle is bisected by what Field called the Midpoint, where typically something BIG happens to change the direction of the story. Something significant should also happen at the end of Part One and of course at the end of Part Three, to provoke the Climax.

So, since my books are usually around 400 manuscript pages long, it made sense to start dividing them into four, 100-page chunks that roughly corresponded to this way of looking at a story. It's basically a tangible way for me to assess how my story is developing. It's also a lot easier to handle a book both physically and on the computer in 100-page chunks, since 400 pages can get pretty unwieldy.

Lately, younger screenwriters have adopted a system that divides stories into EIGHT segments, with something significant happening at the end of each segment. I've actually started using this system, too, when I lay out my plotting cards. But I still stick to my old four-part scheme when it comes to the actual writing.

An added benefit to approaching a book this way is that as I'm writing, I get a nice sense of accomplishment when I get to move on to the next "part". It's an artificial milepost, but when you're slogging through a process that can take up to a year, it helps.

And yes, that is a copy of When Maidens Mourn! It arrived on my doorstep yesterday, hot off the press.