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Sharon Kay Penman
News from Sharon Kay Penman May 2014

Sharon Kay Penman


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A King's Ransom


Dear Readers,

I know many of my newsletter subscribers are not involved with Facebook, so I should explain that I came down with pneumonia soon after getting back from the book tour for A King’s Ransom. My doctor thinks I contracted it on one of my many flights during my book tour.  The airlines really ought to stop calling them plane and call them what they really are: petri dishes. Below is the new newsletter.     

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The pneumonia dragon is still out on the porch, sulking, but my current strategy is to ignore him and try to get a new blog done between naps. I am finally on the mend, but I’ve been warned there will be a lot of sleeping and self-pity and nightmares about deadlines and more sleeping ahead of me. I’m trying to look at it as my post-pneumonia hangover.   

Unfortunately, my doctor and I (at least the common sense part of my brain) concluded that it would not be wise to attempt two very demanding tours with just a few months in be-tween.  He doesn’t really need to remind me that I have “a compromised immune system,” but he does it anyway. There is a dramatic difference between a book tour or travel tour and one in which I get to make the travel arrangements myself.   I can make sure that I will not be getting up at three or four in the morning to catch obscenely early flights or ride the whirlwind from dawn till dark and if I feel that I am about to crash and burn, I can always go back to my hotel and take a nap.

As I mentioned on Facebook earlier, we have had to cancel the Richard III tour scheduled for September, and I am so sorry that I’ve had to disappoint those who had signed up for it and the people at Academic Travel, too, who have been a delight to work with. But there is another choice for readers who would like to take a medieval tour this autumn. There are still some spots open on Elizabeth Chadwick’s William Marshal Tour. Several of my friends took the last one and had a wonderful time.  As I said on that earlier Facebook post, Elizabeth probably knows more about William Marshal’s life than he himself did! Here is the link to her website, which contains all the information needed about the tour, which is scheduled for October.

I’d originally planned to write at some length about the book tour, but the pneumonia dragon had his own ideas about that and in a clash of wills, the one who breathes fire usually wins. So here is my brief blog, long overdue.

I had a wonderful time.  I have the world’s best readers and it is always exciting to meet them in person.  I feel as if I know so many of you from our Facebook interactions, so it was great fun to have so many of you show up at the readings. I was awed, too, by the great distances some of you traveled to get to them. A librarian drove from Maryland to Princeton.  I was also given champagne at the Princeton reading by a Facebook friend I’ve been hoping to meet for years.  

The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale is my favorite bookstore so I was very happy to get back there; it didn’t hurt that it was 80 degrees, either.  Here is the link to the webcast of my talk there.    

Houston’s Murder by the Book is another bookshop that I love, and visits there are always a highlight of my tours.  I’ve been to Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor several times and I am always very pleased to find it on one of my tour itineraries. Back to snow and ice again there, but I had a delightful surprise and got to meet a cousin I’d never met before; she drove all the way from South Bend, Indiana, too. The reason I have cousins I haven’t met is that my mother came from a family of fourteen, and her brothers and sisters all had large families, too; so I am probably related to half of Kentucky, where they all put down roots, except for the South Bend contingent and my mother, who ended up on the East Coast.   

In Seattle, I did a reading at Third Place Books in Lake Forest, and had a wonderful evening. I was amazed that one of my readers flew in from Juneau, Alaska, and another one drove in from Vancouver, Canada.  I’d been alerted beforehand, so we bought them cupcakes, but they really deserved medals of some sort.   

I’d done readings in the past at the famous Powell’s Book Store in downtown Portland, but this time it was held at Powell’s Books at Cedar Hills Crossing. I really enjoyed it and was stunned afterward to learn that one of my readers had come all the way from Montana to Oregon.  She was so matter-of-fact about it too, explaining that she’d concluded that Putman’s was never going to send me to Montana, so she had to come to me. And I have to mention my remarkable hotel in Portland.  All my hotels were very nice, but the Heathman Hotel was unique, for they have their own library. Whenever a writer stays there, they ask the writer to sign a copy of his or her new book and it then joins the library, which is available to hotel guests. They have thousands of books, and Ransom will be in very good company, for some very talented writers have stayed there over the years.  I loved the letter from the hotel librarian, too, politely asking me to return their copy of Ransom to the front desk if I declined to participate!   I tried to think of a reason why any writer would not want to take part in this, and concluded that the only explanation—assuming it ever happened—would be temporary insanity.

I had two days in the Bay Area, and was so happy to be back in San Francisco, my favorite American city. I did my first reading at Book Passage in the city.  In the past, I’d gone to their mother ship in Corte Madera and fell in love with it, but their San Francisco store was one I’d gladly return to time and time again. I left with beautiful roses (white, of course) and some very special memories.   

The next evening, I did a reading at Books, Inc. in Palo Alto.  Another wonderful audience and a fellow writer flew in from San Diego for the reading, bringing me plantagenesta, the plant that was the origin of the Plantagenet dynasty’s name. He has written several novels about Eleanor of Aquitaine, too.  As many of you know, I do not read other novels about those historical characters who are closest to my heart. No Richard III novels by other writers. None about the Welsh princes, even though I am a great admirer of Edith Pargeter, AKA Ellis Peters, and she wrote her novels about the princes thirty years before I did! And after having the Angevins as roommates for the past 20 years, I had to deny myself the pleasure of reading Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Summer Queen, the first of her trilogy about Eleanor. So I am not able to read Mark Richard Beaulieu’s series about Eleanor, either, but you can learn more about them by looking them up on Amazon.

I concluded the tour in Tucson, a city I’d taken to heart many years ago, for I attended the University of Arizona during my first year of law school, and I’ve long hoped to go back.  Of course I never get to see any of the cities on a book tour, but at least I get to breath their air.  The Tucson Festival of Books  was the best possible way to end the tour.  I was so impressed by the Festival and I highly recommend it to other writers and to anyone who loves books. I had so much fun! Unfortunately my schedule was so tight that I wasn’t able to attend the panels I wanted to see; I did get to briefly meet Spencer Quinn, though, whose Chet and Bernie mysteries are high up on my favorites list. I know most of you are animal lovers like me, so be sure to check out Spencer’s books on Amazon; Chet is unlike any dog we’ll ever meet, but utterly irresistible, a word that also applies to the books, too.

There were a few bumps in the road.  The worst was a boulder-sized one when I almost missed my flight from Houston to Detroit, thanks to the airline’s bungling. I was already not a happy camper because I’d had to get up at 5 AM for a 7:15 AM flight, and you may have guessed by now that I am not a lark. My heart doesn’t even start beating before 8 AM,  so these early flights took their toll. To add to the fun, when I realized I was likely to miss the Detroit flight, I tried to call my publicist, only to discover that my cell phone was missing. So if any of you remember hearing a muffled primal scream echoing on the wind early in the morning of March 8th, now you know that was me. I was able to replace the phone in Seattle, but until I actually held it in my hand, I felt truly bereft, which may be a sad commentary upon our need for constant connections. But I don’t care; I just wanted my phone! And then the car company that was to pick me up at my Seattle hotel and take me to the airport never showed up, but the hotel came to the rescue and I was able to make the flight to San Francisco thanks to the car they kept on call; their driver was a very interesting  man who’d been here for 14 years, having fled the bloodshed in his homeland, Ethiopia, where two of his brothers had been slain. He told me he wakes up grateful every day that he is an American now. So if the car company had shown up, I’d have missed a fascinating conversation with someone I’ll long remember. Sadly, when I got to the airport, we learned San Francisco was fogged in, and by the time we finally got off the ground, I missed a scheduled radio interview.

But all in all, I think the tour went quite smoothly, thanks to my publicist’s deft way of dealing with unexpected problems. I was able to meet a few writers at the Tucson Festival, to meet many of my Facebook friends, and to see friends of long standing in several of the cities. It seemed like an appropriate way to bid farewell to the Angevins, who are now part of my past. I will miss them very much, for they’ve been an important part of my life for several decades—or as Barbara Peters put it when she introduced me at the Poisoned Pen reading, “A King’s Ransom completes Sharon’s five book trilogy about the Angevins.”   

And since I am really not ready to walk away from one of history’s more dysfunctional families, I feel very motivated now to resurrect Justin de Quincy, for if he gets off life support and once again becomes the queen’s man, I’ll be able to keep writing about Eleanor and Richard and John; who knows, I might even let Eleanor send Justin to Sicily so I could bring Joanna into the plot. Sadly, Henry has to stay dead, although that did not stop me from giving him two scenes in Ransom!

Well, for what was supposed to be a brief blog, I’ve now spun off 4 pages. Clearly, I do not do “brief” very well.   Thanks to all of you who came to my readings, and thanks, too, to all who’ve been generous enough to post on Facebook or write to me to say how much you’ve enjoyed Ransom. Reader feedback like that means more than I could ever say, and as anyone who has read my books knows, I am not often at a loss for words.


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