Every week or so I comment on my writing, how it's going, the frequent frustrations, the occasional successes. This is your invitation to watch a writer at work - and sometimes find out what I'm cooking for dinner.
My Writer's Journal
December 7, 2013
From the book jacket: "I cried when I left South Africa. I cried because it is a rich and beautiful country torn by strife, fearful Whites on one side, angry Blacks on the other. And I don't know if there is enough compassion and goodwill to triumph over misunderstanding, stubbornness,, and greed and to to prevent the disaster that seems inevitable. I had met dozens of South Africans, become close to a few of them, liked them even when I disagreed with them. When their lives touched mine, my life was changed; maybe theirs were too. When I left, I knew that I would never see most of t hose people again. But I will not forget them."
I wrote those words in January 1986, shortly before publication of the book. Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, worked to end apartheid, was elected the first black President of his country in 1994, and served for five years. He died two days ago at the age of 95.
November 21, 2013
What is it like to be the daughter of the most beautiful woman in the world?
Hermione knows . . . her mother is Helen of Troy, the famed beauty of Greek myth. Helen is not only beautiful but also impulsive, and when she falls in love with charming Prince Paris, she runs off with him to Troy, abandoning her distraught daughter. Determined to reclaim their enchanting queen, the Greek army sails for Troy. Hermione stows away in one of the thousand ships in the fleet and witnesses the start of the legendary Trojan War. In the rough Greek encampment outside the walls of Troy, Hermione’s life is far from that of a pampered princess. Meanwhile, her mother basks in luxury in the royal palace inside the city. Hermione desperately wishes for the gods and goddesses to intervene and end the brutal war—and to bring her love. Will she end up with the handsome archer Orestes, or the formidable Pyrrhus, leader of a tribe of fierce warriors? And will she ever forgive her mother for bringing such chaos to her life and the lives of so many others?
Carolyn Meyer is the author of more than fifty books for children and young adults, and has no intention of quitting any time soon. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
The Story of Hermione and Helen of Troy:
After years of writing about the young lives of fascinating women of power, from Cleopatra to Victoria, in BEAUTY'S DAUGHTER I've drawn on the myths of ancient Greece to tell the story of what it must have been like to be the daughter of the most beautiful woman in the world.
When Helen leaves her husband and daughter and runs off to Troy with handsome Paris, a thousand Greek ships sail for Troy to bring her back..and her daughter, Hermione, goes with them as a stowaway. Hermione's adventures on the Trojan beaches, her struggle for survival,, and her search for true love of her life drive this story.
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Queen Victoria’s personal journals inform this captivating first-person account of one of history’s most prominent female leaders.
Queen Victoria most certainly left a legacy—under her rule as the longest reigning female monarch in history, the British Empire was greatly expanded and significant industrial, cultural, political, scientific, and military changes occurred within the United Kingdom. To be a young woman in a time when few other females held positions of power was to lead in a remarkable age—and because Queen Victoria kept personal journals, this historical novel from award-winning author Carolyn Meyer shares authentic emotional insight along with accurate information, weaving a true story of intrigue and romance.
It is the first century B.C. Cleopatra, the third of the pharaoh's six children, is the one that her father has chosen to be the next queen of Egypt. But when King Ptolemy is forced into exile, Cleopatra is left alone to fend for herself in a palace rife with intrigue and murder. Smart, courageous, ambitious and sensuously beautiful, she possesses the charm to cause two of history's most famous leaders to fall in love with her. But as her cruel sisters plot to steal the throne, Cleopatra realizes there is only one person on whom she can rely--herself.
In Cleopatra Confesses, award winning author Carolyn Meyer writes the story of the teenage girl who would become Egypt's most unforgettable queen, from her early years to her her ultimate destiny.
The Wild Queen
Mary Stuart was just five years old when she was sent to France to be raised alongside her future husband. But when the frail young king dies, eighteen-year-old Mary is stripped of her title as Queen of France and set adrift in the harsh world, alone. Determined to reign over what is rightfully hers, Mary returns to Scotland. Hopingthat a husband will help her secure the coveted English throne, she marries again, but the love and security she longs for elude her. Instead, the fiery young queen finds herself embroiled in a murder scandal that could cost her the crown. And her attempts to bargain with her formidable “sister queen,” Elizabeth I of England, could cost her her very life.
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November 16, 2013
For the past few months I've been writing about the story behind each book, recalling something about the inspiration and my writing process. So far I've reached back to books I wrote more than 25 years ago. Now I'm taking a break from that to consider the end result: what happens when the book is finished and goes out into the world.
The actual time for research, writing, rewriting, and re-rewriting a book takes about a year; add in time for the editorial work and production (fact-checking, copyediting, proofreading, jacket design, printing), and a couple of years roll by from the birth of the idea to the arrival of the book on the shelves.
Then another process begins, and it can be both exhilarating and painful. I wonder how the book will fare, now that it's out there. Will reviewers love it or hate it or simply ignore it? Once upon a time, before amazon.com and goodreads, only "professionals" reviewed books--librarians, for instance (School Library Journal), and services that advise booksellers (Kirkus). Years ago I wrote a monthly column about children's books for the now defunct McCall's Magazine. What I learned is that reviewing a book is a totally subjective enterprise, and I'm not very good at it.
I've written more than 50 books--closer to 60 now--and almost every book has been both praised and trashed. Another thing I've learned is that great reviews, although great for the ego, don't always translate into great sales--and vice versa. Amazingly, my very first book, MISS PATCH'S LEARN-TO-SEW BOOK, published in 1969, is being reissued next fall--after 45 years! And one of the books I wrote for the Royal Diary series, ANASTASIA: THE LAST GRAND DUCHESS, published a dozen years ago, has just been reissued in a new format.
Negative reviews are worthless. It's impossible to learn anything useful from them, because they are often contradictory. One amazonian may mutter that the opening is too slow and the ending is too rushed, while another will grumble that it started out well and then ran out of gas at the end. One goodreader might complain that there's too much detail and another says too much has been left out.
Sometimes I wonder if they're talking about somebody else's book, because I don't recognize my own. At some point I reread my book--I've been away from it for months, and I'm deeply engrossed in a new project--and try to see it through a stranger's eyes. Then I ask myself if I could have done something differently. The answer is always no.
November 9, 2013
Back in the 1980's I was asked by my publisher if I would go to South Africa and write about what it was like to be a young person growing up under the iron fist of apartheid. I jumped at the chance, without the remotest idea of what I was getting into--or how I was going to do it.
Almost from the very beginning, I got lucky. I happened to meet a man from South Africa when I was at the travel agent's office; he introduced me to his wife, and the two of them came up with a short list of contacts, friends who might be helpful when I got there. Then a friend told me about a fellow who was repairing her roof who was a South African; I met him, and he put me in touch with his mother. By the time I took off for Johannesburg in the summer of 1985, the country was seething with anger, and I had a list of people to call when I got there.
From the beginning, I thought it was a beautiful country living under a horrible system. I wasn't permitted to stay with a black family, but a black Anglican priest got me into his township and took me to his church. I visited lots of schools, both black and white. I met a lot of kids. I met Archbishop Tutu.
I took the train from Jo'burg to Cape Town, visited Stellenbosch, rented a car and drove along the coat through Port Elizabeth to Durban, staying with families along the way. My white hosts tried to explain why the system was the way it was. They were kind. I was polite.
After a few weeks I flew home again and tried to make sense of what I'd seen and heard. Nelson Mandela was still a prisoner at Robben Island. I wasn't optimistic that he'd ever be free, or that apartheid would ever end. But I wrote the book.
I've never been so glad to be WRONG.
November 2, 2013
I quickly learned that writing a fictional diary is tricky, quite unlike a novel with a first person narrator, which is more like an autobiography or a memoir. The difference is that the diarist has no idea what's coming next in her life; she is in the moment. The memoirist is looking back over the events of her life; she is telling us how she got from there to here and recalling what happened along the way.
The guidelines for writing the Royal Diaries were strict: each entry must be less than three pages, and could be only limited use of dialogue, more common in a conventional novel than in a "diary." This forced me to learn a lot about pacing as I worked on ANASTASIA, ISABEL, and my third Royal Diary, KRISTINA OF SWEDEN.
ANASTASIA has been successful since its publication, and now Scholastic has reissued it in a new paperback format with a very different look to the young duchess on the cover. Thirteen years have passed since the youngest daughter of the Russian tsar made her appearance, and it will interesting to see how she fares today.
October 19, 2013
Nevertheless, one day I was wandering along Market Street, looking for anything that looked familiar, when I ran into an old family friend. Stanley Siegel had been my mother's lawyer, as his father had been before that. He suggested that we have lunch, and I agreed. I didn't know Stan very well, and I was curious about him and his family. Lewistown was a very small town with lots of German names, mostly "Pennsylvania Dutch"--my grandparents' name was Knepp--and only a small handful of Jewish families. So I asked Stan how his father had ended up there, of all places. And he told me his story.
His grandfather had been driven out of Europe and wound up in Philadelphia, where he became a peddler, traveling to Lancaster County every week with a pack on his back to sell his goods to Amish farmers. Stan's father, Harry Siegel, went with him. It was a good business relationship, Stan told me, because they had a nearly common language--Yiddish and the German dialect spoken by the Amish. They also were deeply religious, although not the same religion. Eventually, Stan's father went to law school, but at that time, many big city law firms didn't hire Jews. So he made his way to central Pennsylvania, to Lewistown, and established his practice there.
I was fascinated by this story, and of course the research was fun, searching for commonalities of which there were a lot. Not one of my most popular books, but one I really enjoyed writing.
October 13, 2013
There's nothing like moving to a new city to stir up the creative juices. I had barely gotten settled in Texas when the '90s gulf war forced the return of my stepdaughter, Vered, from her school in Israel. She came to live with her father and me and enrolled in the local high school. It did not go well.
Vered wanted to play her flute in the marching band, but when she learned that the halftime program was based on Christian hymns played while the band marched down the field in the form of a cross, she rebelled and I called the ACLU. All that separation-of-church-and-state stuff didn't seem to apply in Denton. Things went downhill fast, and when the band was barred from performing their halftime program, our girl was targeted. Her life was made miserable. There was one boy--ONE BOY!--who came to her defense. It wasn't enough, and eventually she dropped out.
When I wasn't tearing my hair, I was saving articles from the local paper. The situation made national news, but when it all finally calmed down and life went on, I began to write DRUMMERS OF JERICHO, about a Jewish girl who is vilified, and a church-going boy who has the courage to stick up for her.
There's happy ending. Vered got her GED, graduated from college with a Fine Arts degree, launched a small publishing company in Alaska, and is now in grad school. One thing more: she published my HOTLINE series in e-book form.
October 2, 2013
One evening, lying on the couch with a magazine that wasn't holding my attention, the idea for a book popped into my head out of nowhere: how about writing a series of linked stories about kids in a middle school in New Mexico who decide to write a series of stories about New Mexico--about La Llorona, and the walk to Chimayo on Good Friday, and Las Posadas on Christmas Eve. They'll write about bizcochitos and Indian pots and jewelry. There will be a dozen stories, and they'll put them into a book and sell copies to raise funds for their school. They'll call their book RIO GRANDE STORIES.
I was on fire with ideas for that book! But actually getting the book written was another thing entirely. My editor ("Archeditor Liz") wouldn't let me get away with any weak characters or second rate plots. I wrote and wrote and rewrote.
I thought it might have just local interest, and it has had that. But to my amazement, there are classes in middle schools from California to Virginia, for goodness sake, where kids are putting together their family stories, using RIO GRANDE STORIES as a model. I've gone to visit them, seen them for myself. It's a great feeling.
September 22, 2013
About the same time, people who read and enjoyed WHITE LILACS had begun to ask, "Whatever happened to Rose Lee Jefferson?" And I began to wonder about that, too. To answer the question, I decided to write a companion book, not a sequel that continues Rose Lee's life as a young girl but to pick up the story seventy-five years later with a whole new generation. In 1996 Rose Lee, now 86, writes to her great-granddaughter and invites her to attend the Juneteenth Jubilee in Dillon, Texas. Emily Rose Chartier is thirteen, growing up in a biracial family in Connecticut when she receives the invitation, and she and her brother begin their own journey to visit the great-grandmother she's never met.
One of the great benefits of living in Denton, Texas, was the use of the library at the University of North Texas, where I had access to oral histories had been collected from residents of Quakertown--the real name of Freedomtown in my novels--that provided me with plenty of material from which to weave a new narrative. By the time JUBILEE JOURNEY was published, that biracial child who had inspired the book had been joined by a baby brother. The book is dedicated to them: Erin, who is in college now; she has her mother's beautiful dark skin, huge brown eyes, and seriously curly hair; and Joe, a senior in high school, blue-eyed and brown-haired like his dad. They have stories of their own to tell.
Jackets paintings for both books were done by well-known artist Jerry Pinkney. The books were reissued in paperback with new and very different covers in 2007.
September 15, 2013
In 1990 we moved from Albuquerque to Denton, Texas, a college town north of Dallas. Once the old house was rejuvenated, my office established overlooking a pear tree, and the kitchen functional, I began to wonder where I was going to fit in a town where women wore dresses and had their hair done regularly. I was still fumbling to find my place when on a chilly February day I wandered to the park near our house where I often walked the dog and discovered a ceremony in progress: the dedication of a historical plaque, honoring an African-American community that had existed on the site of that park from soon after the Civil War until the 1920s. I stuck around to listen to the speeches about the black people who had lived there and the white people who had driven them away. Before the speeches were done, the character of Rose Lee Jefferson had taken up residence in my head.
But I had a lot to learn about Texas in the 1920s, as well as about black Freedomtown and white Dillon, as I renamed them. And not just Texas, but all of the South. And I took some big risks: Choosing to write in the voice of a 13-year-old African American girl was a stretch--would I be roundly criticized for it? In fact, the book was warmly received by the black community. I was even invited to speak at the Sunday morning service of a black church, an experience I'll never forget. Some of the white people, however, were less enthusiastic. They were still proud of the statue of the Confederate soldier on the town square. I was the outsider, the Yankee who had come to criticize them.
WHITE LILACS was published in 1993. It's still in print, and still in use in many school districts--and not just in Texas.