Random Research: Stuff you Missed in History Class (Part 3)

Image via American Studies at the University of Virginia.

1. A Brief History of Vaudeville – Vaudeville flourished from the late 19th century into the Depression era. It was one of America’s most famous forms of entertainment at the time. Tune in as Katie and Sarah take a look at this family-friendly variety show from America’s bygone days.

2. 10 Notable Vaudevillians – In a follow-up to the earlier episode on the history of vaudeville, Katie and Sarah take a closer look at some of the most memorable vaudevillians. Listen in and learn more about everyone from the Marx brothers to Winsor McCay in this episode.

3. Who Was the Real Bluebeard? – “Bluebeard” is one of Charles Perrault’s most disturbing and grisly stories — but could it be true? Join Sarah and Katie as they explore the depraved life and crimes of Gilles de Rais, the real-life basis for Perrault’s Bluebeard.

4. Wallice Simpson and the Abdication Crises – In 1936, Britain’s King Edward VIII renounced his throne in order to marry an American socialite named Wallice Simpson. Join Katie and Sarah as the explore the astonishing story behind Britain’s only royal resignation.

5. How the Hearst Castle Worked – When newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst grew weary of camping, he asked Julia Morgan to build a ‘small bungalow’ in San Simeon, California. More than 20 years later, the gigantic Hearst Castle remains one of the most opulent homes in North America.

6. The Kidnapping of Patty Hearst – In 1974, publishing heiress Patty Hearst was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Originally a hostage, Hearst eventually became a member of the SLA, participating in at least two robberies.

7. The Real Citizen Kane – Critics around the world agree that Citizen Kane is one of history’s best films — but who was the basis of this story?

8. What Was Saturnalia? – Winter solstice celebrations predate Christmas, and trace back into antiquity. Saturnalia was one of these ancient traditions, and it was very different from the celebration we recognize as Christmas today.

9. The Virgin Queen’s Great Love – Elizabeth I never married. Instead, she encouraged (and avoided) many suitors without making a commitment. Additionally, many people believed Elizabeth was in love with a man named Robert Dudley.

10. Elizabeth the First, Before She Was Queen – As the only child of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I was born into a world of privilege and danger. Learn more about the tumultuous life of Elizabeth I before she became the Queen of England in this episode.


Random Research: Hiding the Elephant: How Magicians Invented the Impossible – Jim Steinmeyer

This is one of the main resources for my WIP, the sequel to Pantomime.

Back copy:

In 1918 Harry Houdini performed a single illusion that has been hotly debated ever since: he made a live elephant disappear on stage. How did he do it? The answer lies in this dazzling tale of innovation, chicanery and keen competition that is the backstage story of the golden age of magic. Hiding the Elephant chronicles the race among history’s most legendary conjurers to make things levitate and disappear. A master illusionist and captivating storyteller, Steinmeyer introduces us to the eccentric personalities behind floating ghosts, disembodied heads and vanishing ladies and takes us backstage to reveal the mechanics of their mysteries. He carries us to a time when Queen Victoria held private seances and all of England believed in magic.

‘Simply the finest, best told, most graceful history of the Golden Age of magic I’ve ever read. It belongs on that elite shelf of historical explorations, like Longitude or The Professor and the Madman, which are so entertaining, so informative, that the reader with no prior interest will feel educated and enthralled on every page… A terrific yarn.’ — Glen David Gold, author of Carter Beats the Devil

I’d agree with Gold. The language and organisation of this book was perfect. I sank into it almost as I would a fiction book, which is high praise indeed. Steinmeyer obviously has such an overwhelming interest and love of magic, and that comes through the pages. It was fascinating to learn more about the greatest magicians of the age.

Magicians are sneaky. Many of them had long-standing feuds, stole each other’s tricks and names, and found ways to slight each other. Some pretended to be from other countries to give themselves a more exotic air. Many of them became hugely successful, making relatively as much as an A-list celebrity would these days. But they were not easy lives, doing 2 or 3 shows a day 7 days a week for months sometimes, or traveling from city to city around the world.

Another aspect of this book that makes it very interesting is that Steinmeyer explains some of the famous illusions shown onstage during the Golden Age of Magic. The Circle of Magic probably wasn’t very happy about that. But I find that learning the secrets behind the trick does not take enjoyment away. It makes me respect them all the more, for some of these are so complicated and require everything to be done just so. Even with the description and the diagrams, I still didn’t quite see how they could work onstage.

If you have an interest in magic, this is an excellent starting point for an overview of the greatest era of magic.

Recommended Read: Earth Girl – Janet Edwards

A few weeks ago, I managed to nab a proof copy of Janet Edwards’ debut from Janet’s editor. I’ve been Twitter friends with Janet for a few months and really liked the sound of her book. But there’s always a bit of trepidation when you finally read a book by someone you know, because you worry it’ll not be your cup of tea. But, luckily, that was not the case with Earth Girl.

I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum, but the basic set-up is that, 700-odd years from now, humans have managed inter-planet portals and are scattered across the universe on various planets. However, a very small percentage of the population cannot portal offworld, and they are known as the Handicapped, sometimes called the more unsavoury names of a throwback, a nean (neanderthal), or an ape. These Handicapped have to live on Earth.

Earth Girl is interesting in that it’s sort-of a dystopia, but not really. Life as a Handicapped is not bad, but it is limited. Many children have been abandoned by their parents are are raised by ProMums or ProDads, psychologists carefully making sure their wards are mentally stable. They have limited career choices.

Jarra, an Earth Girl, is bitter at her lot and decides to join a non-Earth school, the University of Asgard, for the foundation history course, which is set on Earth. This has not been done before. She tells no one at the new school that she’s actually been on Earth all along, inventing a fake backstory as a child of Military parents. She anticipates showing them she’s just as good as the “exos” and then yelling at them and going back to her own life, smug at pulling the wool over their eyes. But then she realises that things are not going according to plan.

Jarra throws herself into this new life, rising to the rank of tag leader on the dig sites of the ruins of long-abandoned New York. She discovers more about her parents and grandparents and tries to ignore her attraction to a boy, Fian, whom she thinks would never accept her as just an ape girl.

Jarra is a strong heroine, though she is almost unbelievably good at everything–there are no challenges for her on the coursework and at times it’s like she’s teaching it, versus her teacher Playdon. Her main challenge is keeping her lies straight. She’s smart and capable and doesn’t take anything from anyone, but when she receives some shocking news, she’s thrown through a loop to an extent that she doesn’t quite realise.

The prose has a genuine teenage voice–it sounds like a long diary from an 18-year-old girl, peppered with slang terms and the blithe self-centeredness of youth. Sometimes, Jarra seems to skip over emotional points in the story where I would have liked to have seen more depth, such as her first kiss with a certain someone. It could just be that Jarra is uncomfortable discussing these things and this is why she remains vague.

Overall Earth Girl is a fun, quick science fiction read, with a well-realised world, lots of action, and some fun characters. It stands on its own quite nicely, and I do wonder if we’ll hear more from Jarra or perhaps another character in this universe down the line. Earth Girl will be published in August, 2012.

Rating: 4.5 stars

This review is crossposted to Goodreads.

Strange Chemistry & Angry Robot Books Open Door Period: Now Open!

Are you unagented? Do you have a complete, polished, awesome YA SFF novel or an adult Classic/Epic Fantasy novel? For the next two weeks, Strange Chemistry Books are accepting YA SFF and Angry Robot Books are looking for adult Classic/Epic Fantasy.

If you’re thinking of applying, read the both sets of guidelines and follow them to. a. letter. Absolute Write already has a thread for both Strange Chemistry and Angry Robot’s Open Door, so if you have some questions, people on there may be able to help. You have until April 30th to enter!

I subbed last year and it changed my life. Be patient, keep the faith, and keep writing. Best of luck to all who enter.

The Lucky 7 – A Peek at Pantomime

It amused me to do a meme called “The Lucky 7” on Friday the 13th.

The rules:

Go to page 7 or 77 in your current manuscript
Go to line 7
Copy down the next seven lines/sentences as they are – no cheating
Tag 7 other authors

I did page 7 because page 77 was a paragraph about tea and teapots and this one was cooler out of context.

“Fog rolled across the stage from the each side of the ring. It filled the circus with the scent of pine smoke and the sweet scent of dried rose petals. The music faded into a silence that pressed against my skin. The crowd sat in a dark grey cloud, and not a cough or rustle could be heard.

A cymbal crashed, and lightning flashed in the tent. The audience yelled. But it was just a flash, followed by the rumble of thunder. Stars twinkled briefly in the fog before fading. The fog dissipated.”

I hate tagging–so do it if you like!


Some random tidbits:

Pantomime is on Goodreads! I am also now officially a Goodreads author, which is neat.

I’m in Publisher’s Marketplace, which is another one of those “woah,” moments, after spending so much time researching agents and such on there:

Laura Lam’s PANTOMIME, set in a magical and mysterious circus where a boy runs to forget his past, to Amanda Rutter at Strange Chemistry, in a two-book deal, for publication in Spring 2013, by Juliet Mushens at PFD (world English).

I also made one of those new-fangled Pinterest boards, for procrastination visual inspiration and research purposes for Pantomime and my WIP, if you’re curious. I’ll be adding to it as writer’s block inspiration strikes.

Okay, that’s enough self-promo for a bit. Back to my Random Research posts soon, promise!

Eastercon 2012

Eastercon 2012 will go down in my books as one of my favourite conventions, hands down. The weekend passed in a blur of laughter, geeky jokes, some panels, and lots of drinking in the bar. Hopefully, it’ll also be the only con where I have to walk around with a cane as well–I sprained my ankle badly a few days ago.

I knew the weekend would be good when my book sister and Strange Chemistry stablemate, Kim Curran, showed up at the airport with a sign saying “LAURA LAM – AUTHOR.” When you meet an online friend in person for the first time, there is always that niggling fear that your chemistry only works online, that you’ll meet in person and just sort of go “so…” and stare at the ceiling. Not so with Kim. We chatted about everything under the sun and it was ace.

Friday, Kim bravely ventured into the con on her own to ready herself for her first and only panel, and I hobbled into central London to meet my agent. Here was another case where I was a bit nervous that we wouldn’t get along as well in person, but it turns out that fear was unfounded and we got along swimmingly. Hurray!

I ventured back to the con and realised via Twitter that my editor, Amanda Rutter, was only a train ahead of me, so she waited for me at Terminal 1 and we took the bus up to the hotel together. We said our hellos to friends, and then Kim and I unveiled our secret, which was fun. Underneath our jackets and cardigans we were wearing Strange Chemistry t-shirts we’d had made, and we’d gotten one for Amanda as well. So we have a uniform.

Due to my sore ankle, I ended up camping out in the bar for most of the weekend with my foot up on a table. That’s my excuse, anyway, and I’m sticking to it. I went to two panels–“How not to suppress womens’ writing” and “YA Dystopia.” I also went to the George R. R. Martin interview, the BFSA awards (which I won’t go into…), and Tom Pollock’s reading (where he single-handedly made every author feel like their oratory skills were sorely lacking), and Adam Christopher’s reading (who, while he didn’t screech like a train, still did an excellent job). But mainly I was just hanging out with dear friends, and making some new ones.

I’m going to echo Adam Christopher’s quote of Paul Cornell–you do feel “cozy in the genre.” The genre seems to have its fair share of spats and trod toes, but overall it’s people having fun, dreaming up worlds and sharing our favourites. Even George R.R. Martin, who’s hugely successful, was able to just sit in the bar and chat with people, and hopefully no one was too weird to him (me included!). As always, I wish I’d been better about taking photos while I was there. It would have been nice to have a photo with me and Juliet, and photos of me, Kim, and Amanda in our t-shirts, and some candid photos of people laughing in the bar. I could make a little album for us to look back on in the future.

And here’s my obligatory “photo on the Iron Throne.”

Some shout-outs: Kim Curran, Adam Christopher, Amanda Rutter, Lee Harris, Anne LyleAdrian Faulkner, Emma Newman, Tom Pollock, Nick Harkaway, Tom Hunter, Nic Clarke, Niall Harrison, Janet Edwards, Rob Haines, Jenny SargentMichele HoweAmy McCulloch, Natasha Tanczos, Francis Knight (mwah, sweetie), Adele Kirby, and many more. I’m sure I forgot people, but I think I got everyone I nattered with the most.

Now I have post-con comedown. Hurry up, August, and ChiCon!

My Road to Publication: Or, the tale of 1,000 (100,000) email refreshes

I meant for this blog post to be fairly short. But I got carried away and so here is my somewhat long story of how I transitioned from an aspiring to professional author.

Right away, I’ll admit that I’ve had an easy time of it, comparatively. This is my first completed novel, and it went to the fist publisher to see it. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult, and stressful, and frightening at times, but the whole process was shorter than many.

I dabbled with writing as a teen, starting and abandoning a truly heinous third of a fantasy novel in California, which was an utter mess of tropes. But I bonded with my future husband over it, because he was writing a novel as well, so all was not lost. His novel is salvageable. Mine most definitely is not.

I then decided to focus on reading instead, and so for the next few years I read 100-150 books a year, in all genres: classics, sci fi, fantasy, YA, contemporary lit, graphic novels, memoir, nonfiction, what have you. I was and am a promiscuous reader, though SFF was my true love. I wrote reviews of them for a time, several of which are still scattered about Goodreads, which helped me pinpoint what I liked and disliked about certain novels, regardless of format or genre. My favourite books tended to be ones that meshed several genres.

At university, I bounced between several majors and settled on English literature and creative writing. I wrote some short stories and poetry. I placed in a few poetry/fiction contests, which gave me some cautious optimism that I was a halfway decent writer. I came up with a cool idea for a novel and researched and started it, but my confidence flagged and I kept setting it down.

After I graduated university, I moved 6,000 miles to be with the afore-mentioned husband. I had my shiny piece of paper and thought doors of employment would magically open to me now that I had a degree.

Ahahaha. Haha. Ha.

I ended up working some very boring jobs that kept my hands busy but required no mental effort. And so I started daydreaming, and returned to that novel idea I had come up with in 2007. This time, I decided to write a “backstory” of my character, Micah Grey, as a teenager. I day-dreamed the plot while I filed, thinking up various scenes and sometimes scribbling during my lunch and tea breaks. I started it in December 2009 and finished in March 2011, while also occasionally working on the adult novel. I then promptly subbed the novel about the teenage Micah to Angry Robot Book’s Open Door Month.

That was a newbie error. You probably shouldn’t sub a first draft. But, I had no expectations of getting past the first round, and I was proud that I’d sent it off and harboured a tiny, little hope that they’d like it anyway. I subbed on the second to the last day. I didn’t show my cover letter to any of my friends because none of them had read the book and I didn’t want to spoil the plot. I wasn’t sure if it was even an adult novel or a YA novel—it seemed to me like it could be either. I’m glad I didn’t know as much about the publishing world then as I do now, or I would never have been brave enough to send it off with nothing but a deep breath and some crossed fingers.

Three months later I got a nice email message saying they’d enjoyed the first 5 chapters and would like to see the rest, signed by someone called “Amanda for Angry Robot.” I was road-tripping around the East Coast of the USA with my mom, and I hadn’t been on the internet that much. I saw it, freaked out, and really quickly read through the whole thing one last time while my mom drove from DC to Philadelphia, finding some last-minute typos and reading some of the sticky bits out loud.

And I sent it off again, certain it’d get rejected but hoping anyway.

One month later, I went to Amsterdam with my best friend, who was visiting from California. I should note that I’m not constantly traveling, by the way. I had a carefully neutral email from that very same Amanda for Angry Robot, asking a question about my book and if I had plans for a series. I sent her an email back and then flew back to Scotland.

And the next day I got another email saying that I’d gone to editorial! Said best friend, Erica, did not miss the opportunity to take a photo of me freaking out. So here’s me, without makeup, very excited. And very pink.

She also mentioned that she felt the book was more YA, but that she did know that Angry Robot were thinking of going in that direction. And so I started biting my fingernails and waited.

And waited. I had very short fingernails for months. They’re only just now starting to grow back.

You hear about the glacial pace of publishing all the time, but here was my proof of it. Every morning I’d rush to my inbox, certain something would be there. The weeks passed and obviously the level of panic I had at the beginning subsided, replaced by a low-level anxiety.

I also committed more newbie publishing errors: I started querying this book that was not ready, with an absolutely awful, 600+ word query letter monstrosity for the first ten or so, and then a more manageable 250 word query for the others. But that 250-word query letter was still pretty terrible, mainly because the manuscript had some lingering issues. Learn from my mistake: don’t do this. I burned through 20 or so agents, wasting their time and mine. I did more research than some, but I could have done a lot more.

During the wait, I turned to people online, which ended up being really helpful. 20-something of us made it to the editorial level out of 1000 or so submissions to AR’s Open Door Month. Most of us congregated on AbsoluteWrite’s Open Door Waiting Thread, and we ended up creating our own little private forum (calling ourselves the Anxious Appliances) where we could angst without the Robot Overlords potentially lurking. I’ve made some really close friends through this, and even though the Open Door period has long since passed, we still post on the forum. I’ve beta-read most of their work and we’ve given each other advice and shared resources. I hope our forum continues well into the future.

Additionally, I met Anne Lyle on Absolute Write, an Angry Robot author. Because I had someone I could speak to, I decided to go to FantasyCon in Brighton in late September. I found out that I really liked conventions and meeting other authors and industry professionals. I also met Amanda. I had a very scary but cool lunch with Angry Robot, where I pushed salad around on my plate and hoped I didn’t look as petrified as I felt.

I went to editorial in mid-July. I received my next verdict in late November. Amanda was the one who emailed me, because now she was no longer the reader—she was an editor in her own right of Angry Robot’s new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry. She gave me suggestions and then over the next few months, I worked really, really hard on my MS.

I finished the rewrite on leap year, 2012, and it felt auspicious to query the same day. The last agent I queried ended up being the one to offer. Juliet Mushens of Peters, Fraser & Dunlop requested the MS in 5 minutes, sent me an email an hour later saying she was loving it, and offered the next day. We spoke on the phone and just clicked. I knew there was no way an agent would be more enthusiastic an advocate for me than Juliet.

Amanda read the new version, loved it, and everything just clicked into place. I received The Call two days after Juliet offered, and now a day before Eastercon, I’m out there. I’m an author! There’s no going back! Not that I’d want to.

But it’s a heady rush of emotions. Elation, terror, painful excitement, holding in the burning desire to tell everyone but not being allowed to just yet. My book will be out there. Some people will love it, some people will not. A year ago, if you’d told me this is what would happen I have laughed. I’ve loads of other milestones to look forward to. So here we go.

Thanks for reading me prattle on, and I hope you’ll take a look at Pantomime in February 2013. You can read my press release here.  To read the first chapter, click here.

Books Read in March

March was an utter rollercoaster of a month, for reasons I’ll blog about later, so unfortunately I didn’t read much.

12. Goliath – Scott Westerfeld

13. A Great and Terrible Beauty – Libba Bray

14. The Scorpio Races – Maggie Stiefvater

I’m halfway through two books–In Other Worlds by Margaret Atwood and re-reading Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb.

I also beta-read one novel, but have two more I really need to get back into.