Friday, March 4, 2011

Play Acting On Paper

My guest is historical author, Elizabeth Loupas.

I've been looking forward to this story for forever. Well, it feels that way. Elizabeth is very good at giving out dribbles and dabbles of what she's working on and usually just enough to make your mouth water for the finished product. And then you wait. Sigh, and count another gray hair. "Is it done yet?" 

My thoughts:

Finally, I got to read it from beginning to end and not little bits and pieces. Let me tell you, this book was well worth the wait. It's a rare thing today to read an historical which can whisk me through a time portal and give me the feel I'm actually there. This one did and I was in the court of Ferrara and I didn't want to return home. I was having too much fun figuring out the mystery with Barbara of Austria. :-)

It's a sumptuous feast of colors, foods, dress, and political intrigues of Renaissance Italy and the court of the Duke of Ferrara. This was not a story in which you barely recognized the time period and have a modern love story between characters dressed in costume. This story gives you a glimpse of the pomp and pageantry of the court as well as being true to the mores of the time--ie the attitudes and formality between a power couple such as the sister of an emperor, Barbara of Hapsburg, and the ruling duke of the city state, Alfonso d'Este. The state of the church during this time with the rather loose morals when it came to fulfilling their vows. Even the pope had a mistress and some had children during this time period so it was no surprise to see worldly bishops or mother superiors acting the same. I appreciated how Elizabeth portrayed how servants really acted, and how aristocratic ladies in waiting really behaved towards each other and to the one they served. The power the man had over the women in his life. How an arranged marriage between virtual strangers could become a love story. 

This is a wonderful Gothic styled mystery fraught with passion, intrigued and danger. Who killed Lucrezia de Medici? Did the Duke kill her as the gossips of the European and Ferrara royal courts whisper?

I love the way Elizabeth intertwines the Two Duchess' stories with both having a say as the story progressed; one tells the story from her point of view as a ghost (immobili) and the other is the main narrator and a wife in fear of her life. I'll tell you, it wasn't easy to figure out who was actually guilty of the murder. Facts were presented and the reader was on the hunt for the truth as much as Barbara was. Well paced with plenty of tension. And of course the "Pocket Beagles", Tristo and Isa, the darling little heroes of the day.

If you like a rich in culture historical served with a dollop of romance and an extra serving of a spicy mystery, you're going to love The Second Duchess. I know I did and I didn’t want it to end. This is an outstanding story, well researched with realistic pageants and festivities, the dialog is distinctive to each character and moves the story along, the mystery and suspense is well done.

### I give this story five stars.###

Elizabeth shares a bit of how she writes her stories: 

Thank you, Sia, for inviting me to come chat over a cup of cyber-coffee. I’d like to offer my personal take on the ever-contentious issue of outlining versus writing by the seat of one’s pants.

I’ve always been an outliner of sorts, although my outlines tended to be terse (“something bad has to happen here”) flexible, and capable of growing whole new subplots in the blink of an eye like some sort of literary kudzu. When I started planning my second book, I found out I was expected to produce a proposal. This consisted of 10,000 words or so, plus a detailed outline. One could actually sell a book, I learned, on the basis of this proposal. Yay! I dived in, and after two or three weeks surfaced with a detailed twenty-four-page outline. Holy cats. This outline actually told the story down to the last scene and sequel. The riotous kudzu had been ruthlessly pruned back and replaced by perfect, detailed topiary.

Most of the “pantsers” I’ve talked to say the biggest problem with outlining is that writing an outline tells the story, and so there’s no sense of excitement or discovery left to drive the actual writing of the book. Well, writing a detailed twenty-four page outline really tells the story. I needed some sort of fresh way of looking at the whole process, to make the story come alive for me when I already knew what was going to happen.

That’s when I came up with the concept of playacting on paper.

An actress, you see, is given a script. She reads the script and she knows what’s going to happen at the end of the movie. The story already exists. And yet the actress makes art by creating stories within the story, what happened before, what happens afterward, what happens when she’s offstage. She uses her own experiences and the experiences of others to infuse her performance with depth and nuance and emotional complexity. That is the actress’s business, her work. She always has a script. And yet a good actress creates art that transcends the scripted words.

Suddenly that detailed outline wasn’t so intimidating anymore. The story wasn’t just linear, going from chapter one to chapter thirty-one, the end. It went up and down, high and low. It went around and around within each scene. There were depths to plumb, gestures and inflections to choose, motivations to work out, all the work of acting. It was just on paper, not on a movie set.

Maybe it’s because I started out wanting to be an actress, and have done plays in high school, college and community theatre productions. But I found I loved the idea of having my “script,” then blocking, running dialogue, discerning motivation. I actually do physically “block” scenes, work out the movement of the actors within the given space, so no one ends up with three hands or looking out an east window at the sunset. For me, it’s become the perfect way to work from an outline and still keep my story and my characters endlessly fresh.

Bonus fun: I get to be the art director and set decorator as well. The costume designer and chief make-up artist. The cinematographer and film editor. The music director and choreographer. The banquet designer (I just made that one up), because I do love lavish Renaissance food and how it was cooked and presented. When I’ve roughed out a scene as the actress (or actor, although my viewpoint characters tend to be female), I go back and add touches from each of these other disciplines. Each of these people also works from the script, but adds unique creative touches.

Next time you’re looking for a book on the craft of writing, find a book on the art and technique of acting as well. A couple of good ones are The Intent to Live: Achieving Your True Potential as an Actor by Larry Moss, and Actions: The Actors' Thesaurus by Marina Caldarone and Maggie Lloyd-Williams. The second one is an incredible secret find for writers—a “thesaurus of action words... indispensable in developing mood, line readings, and acting choices for each and every line.” See the connection between acting and writing?

I’ve learned to love my detailed outline. It’s my script—and my writing has become playacting on paper.

ELIZABETH WILL BE AT HER FIRST BOOKSIGNGING AT: Murder By The Book in Houston, Texas, later today. She will be stopping in with reports and if we can, some pictures! Stay tuned Friday afternoon and Saturday.

The Second Duchess

A rich, compelling historical novel-and a mystery of royal intrigue.

In a city-state known for magnificence, where love affairs and conspiracies play out amidst brilliant painters, poets and musicians, the powerful and ambitious Alfonso d'Este, duke of Ferrara, takes a new bride. Half of Europe is certain he murdered his first wife, Lucrezia, the luminous child of the Medici. But no one dares accuse him, and no one has proof-least of all his second duchess, the far less beautiful but delightfully clever Barbara of Austria.

At first determined to ignore the rumors about her new husband, Barbara embraces the pleasures of the Ferrarese court. Yet wherever she turns she hears whispers of the first duchess's wayward life and mysterious death. Barbara asks questions-a dangerous mistake for a duchess of Ferrara. Suddenly, to save her own life, Barbara has no choice but to risk the duke's terrifying displeasure and discover the truth of Lucrezia's death-or she will share her fate. Excerpt

ELIZABETH LOUPAS grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and presently lives in a small town outside Dallas. Her debut historical novel The Second Duchess was published March 1, 2011 by Penguin/NAL, with the German edition Die Zweite Herzogin to follow in April from Rowohlt. She’s worked in radio and television, as a magazine editor, as a literature tutor, and ultimately as a freelance writer and marketing consultant. She holds degrees in literary studies and library/information science. Elizabeth is presently at work on a new novel called The Flower Reader, touching upon the notorious silver letter-casket of Mary Queen of Scots, some lost quatrains of Nostradamus, and a girl who can read the future in flowers.

Please visit her at

Sharing the Stage with Beagles and their fans

Dolcie and Elizabeth


~Sia McKye~ said...

Elizabeth, Welcome to Over Coffee. It's such a delight to have you as a guest. Personally, I want thank you for the hours of pleasure you gave me with this wonderful story. I've missed reading historicals with a real flavor of everyday life as well as a great storyline!

As a dog lover, I have to tell you I loved Tristo and Isa! What sweeties.

~Sia McKye~ said...


Elizabeth will be stopping in before she leaves on her trip to Houston for her first booksigning. She'll be checking in while she is in Houston and tell us how the signing is going.

She says "putting on my "acting" hat and playing the part of the writer, when I'm really just plain ordinary introvert scared-to-death me."

Personally, I believe she'll wow them not only with her fabulous book but with her delightful personality.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sia and Elizabeth .. no wonder you've been waiting with baited breath - sounds such an interesting book.

I've loved reading how you work your book through .. so so interesting and thank you Elizabeth for such a detailed, informed write up .. especially hearing that you wanted to be an actress early on ..

Your craft shows .. and the two book recommendations will be of value to so many. Thank you so much - have fun weekends .. and enjoy the book signings .. me too Sia, Elizabeth will be a wow with her public.

Cheers Hilary

Elizabeth Loupas said...

Good morning, Sia and Hilary,

First, Sia, thank you for having me, and for your wonderful comments on DUCHESS.

Hilary, it's lovely to "meet" you. Thank you for your kind comments. I think you will really find value in the acting books, particularly the Actor's Thesaurus.

Couldn't sleep! So nervous. I had kind of a dress rehearsal on Tuesday night, with a launch party at a local indie bookstore, but this is my first trip out of my hometown comfort zone. Fortunately there will be beagles! Murder by the Book is a lovely store, and they were very receptive to a combination booksigning/beagle adoption event. I can always hide behind the cute beagles!

So now I'm drinking a huge cup of coffee and just wishing I could go back to bed. :)

Kat Sheridan said...

Good morning! Elizabeth, I am SOOO anxious to read this book, I may break down and buy the e-book version just to get my hands on it sooner! Sia, you've given it such an enticing review! And Elizabeth, I ADORE that you're combining a book signing with a dog adoption event. That just makes me smile big-time!

I wish I'd known you were going to be in Houston. I'd have sent my sister to visit you for moral support! Have fun, and I'm looking forward to the pictures!

Anonymous said...

Sia gave you 5 stars? Unheard of. Elizabeth, you've truly accomplished something to impress her so greatly.

readwriteandedit said...

Elizabeth, I love the kudzu references. I know exactly what you mean.

This story sounds rich and engaging. I hope the sales wow you.

Nodding my head at the acting references. Just a few days ago I wrote an article on the writer as director and every other part of a movie production crew. Wrters do juggle a lot of tasks.

Good luck, Elizabeth. Sia, thanks, as always.

Elizabeth Loupas said...

Hi, Kat, Sherilyn, and RWAE,

Great comments! Kat, the absolutely coolest thing of all for the signing would be to find a beagle its forever home! Sherilyn, wow, I'm really hornswoggled too, as we say here in Texas. Happily so. :) RWAE, we southerners know how kudzu can take over our yards. And there really are so many points of connection between writing and acting/directing.

We're off to Houston! Will check in later this afternoon once we've arrived.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Drive safe, Elizabeth and break a leg! Looking forward to hearing from you later!

Sherilyn, you're right I don't give out many 5's but this one deserved it. I've read a few really good books of late. Out of something like 10 or 15 books, I believe I gave out two 5 stars.

Kat Sheridan said...

BTW, Elizabeth, I notice you have a degree in Library Science, and also live outside Dallas. Any chance you went to TWU in Denton? One of my sis's went there for her degree in Library Science. I did as well, but opted out for a totally different life.

VA said...

I love the tangential angle of d'Este versus a story revolving around the Medici family. Italian city state politics is pretty wild, so this sounds amazing just from the premise. Plus the art of this time is AMAZING!

Houston A.W. Knight said...

OMG....Sia...I loved this review and I will buy this book! I can't wait to get to the book store!

Big hugs

Other Lisa said...

Elizabeth! As long as I've known you, I had no idea that you had done acting!

I was fortunate enough to read an early draft of the book. Cannot wait to read the completed MS! And I know you are going to love Murder By the Book -- it's an awesome store/staff and an awesome community of readers. Plus, beagles!!! I am hoping for many photos...

Jill Lynn said...

Wonderful review and article. Sia and Elizabeth, you make a great team :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hawk, I really really enjoyed this book. If you like a multi layered story, you'll love it! I can't wait for Elizabeth's next book.

Have a great weekend, sweetie. Sending lots of hugs your way. :-)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thanks, Jill. It helps when the book is very good too.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Lisa, we're really hoping we can put up some extra pictures of her signing. I know you had a great time at this store and the interviews were great. Be interesting to see how Elizabeth fares, especially with puppies also in attendance.

Other Lisa said...

The puppies make photos MANDATORY!!!

Houston A.W. Knight said...


Multi layers is my's how I write so naturally I'll love this book! I'm buying it asap!

Thanks for the weekend wishes sweetie...I wish you the same...and I hope I'll have this book to read while I enjoy the weekend!

Big hugs

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Sia, hon, I hope you and Elizabeth don't mind (if you do let me know)but I copied the cover of her book and put a link on my side bar to this interview...I can't wait to get this book! Thought I'd share with my boys and girls at my place!

Hugs to you both

Jim said...

Hello! Made it to Houston safely! Next priority, a NAP before dinner!

Thank you all for all the wonderful comments! I'm so excited about the signing tomorrow. Have huge stage fright but have brought a bottle of the doggies' Rescue Remedy. Heh.

Kat, I got my MLIS at UT Austin. I don't know what they call it now--but I don't think it even has the word "library" in it anymore. :(

Hawk, thanks for putting me on your sidebar! Are you coming to MBTB tomorrow?

I'm on the Broadcasting Legend's laptop which of course doesn't have any of my passwords stored, so I can't even get into my own email. Sigh. So emails will have to wait until we get home tomorrow night. I'm signed in with the BL's gmail account but it's really me! :)

Will post again in the morning before the event! Wish me luck!

Other Lisa said...


(just have a guest beagle close by so you can skritch his/her ears as needed!)

~Sia McKye~ said...

Hawk, me darlin' tis a fine thing ye've done. Seriously, feel free to add anything from my blog to yours. I appreciate the added promo. Oh, if you want, you can change that McKay Clan badge to my logo of the cup I have on my sidebar.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Elizabeth, I'm so glad to hear you arrived safely. We'll figure something else for pics later. Maybe even a extra blog on Monday where I can talk about MBTB and add some pics of you and of Lisa. You know me, I'm always thinking of something.

You will do fine, Elizabeth! The dive bombers in the tummy will magically disappear when everything starts. You'll be so busy with pups and talking to people you won't even remember you were nervous at all.

Olivia Cunning said...

What a fantastic way of looking at a plot outline! I might have to give this method a try. I do this sketch outline "thing" after I pantz about half a novel. Two columns: Problems & Solutions. Yep, that's it.

I don't think I've ever read a historical set in Italy. Sounds amazing! Can't wait to read it.

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Sia and Elizabeth!

Thank you for allowing me to post a side bar...I want everyone to know about this book! (HUGS)

Sia...I will change the logo asap! xoxo

Elizabeth - did I miss this in the article...what is MBTB? I'll come...sent me a link and a time!

I'm a new fan ya' know! ;-)


Other Lisa said...

Hawk, MBTB is Murder By the Book, a wonderful bookstore in Houston.

Laura Howard said...

This was a spectacular interview! Plus, really great tidbits about outlining, too.
I love the cover of this book, I bet everyone wishes they could be so lucky to have such a beauty...

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thank you Laura. I loved the cover the first time I saw it. The dress is just gorgeous, isn't it?

Jim said...

It's Elizabeth again! I'm back from dinner and ready for a good night's sleep. (!!)

Hawk, Lisa's right, MBTB is Murder by the Book. Here's a link to the details of tomorrow's signing and the address. Scroll down a bit.

Event at MBTB

Olivia and Laura, thank you for your comments! The outlining thing is different for each writer but that's what works for me. And the thesaurus of action verbs for writers is worth its weight in GOLD.

Talk to you all in the morning!

Jim said...

Good morning! Elizabeth again. I left a comment last night when we got back from dinner, but Blogger appears to have eaten it. Anyway...

Laura, you're right, the cover is gorgeous. Some of the jewels on her dress, hair and necklace were photoshopped in after the fact to make it look richer! The joys of Photoshop. :)

Hawk,as Lisa says, MBTB is Murder by the Book, a mystery-themed bookstore. Their address is 2342 Bissonnet Street in Houston. My event is at 1:00pm today. There are four other fabulous authors appearing through the afternoon: Sarwat Chadda, Rachel Hawkins, Patricia Briggs and Kim Harrison. So it's a five-author extravaganza! Plus beagles. :)

This morning we're meeting some friends for brunch at 59 Cafe, then to Sprinkles to pick up cupcakes, then to MBTB by 12:30 or so. Wish I could send cupcakes to everybody here!

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Other Lisa and Elizabeth...if I wasn't all the way over here in Florida...I'D BE THERE at MBTB!!! It's sound awesome! :-( I wish I was there!

So come back and tell us how it was so we (I) can live through you today!

Big cyber hugs...ya' know I'll be there in soul!

Other Lisa said...

Elizabeth, a new author-friend of mine is in Houston -- and TSD is one of her favorite poems! She's going to do her best to make it to MBTB (she knows it well).

Hawk, it's a wonderful store in every way. Great community!

Houston A.W. Knight said...

Other Lisa,

It sounds it...are you in Houston? Did you get to go?

Darn, you girls are making me green with envy...guess I wo 't need to wear green on the 17th...LOL

Hugs to all three (Elizabeth, Lisa and me darlin' Sia) of you!


Other Lisa said...

No, I'm in California -- but I was fortunate to be invited to MBTB last year when my novel was published. Really hope to go next year!

Houston A.W. Knight said...


lucky girl!


Kat Sheridan said...

Elizabeth, will you be going to the library conference in Austin next month? I understand they have LOTS of authors there signing books, and in the past have have dogs, a chicken, and even a calf there at the book signing! If you're going, Sis promises to look you up and get me a signed book!

Elizabeth Loupas said...

Hello! We're home in Dallas!

The signing at MBTB was amazing. There's just no other word to describe it. They had hundreds of copies of DUCHESS and I signed them all...some were pre-ordered, some for stock, some for people who were at the signing. My hand was shaking and some of the signatures are pretty wobbly!

I didn't count the people--they had rows of chairs set up and they were all filled and some people were standing around the sides.

HBHR brought two ADORABLE beagles--Dolcie and Rosie. I haven't downloaded the pictures yet. Dolcie is three and was found in a ditch with a broken hip. She was nursed back to health and is the most beautiful little girl you can imagine. Rosie is a puppy. She just exuded cute. Several people put in their names and others may apply later on. I've asked HBHR to let me know when the "bookstore beagles" are adopted.

They were so good! Not one howl and no indiscretions. I rather suspect they were a bigger draw than I was. :)

Lisa, McKenna says hi and that she was excited to read the notice of your new book. She wants you to come again when it comes out.

Kat, no, I'm not planning to go to Austin for a while. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't even know there was a library conference there in April. But my deadline is really breathing down my neck and I need to stay home and work.

You guys are the greatest and it's been wonderful to read all your comments. I'll post one last time tomorrow with links to some pictures!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Elizabeth, I knew you'd do well, sweetie. The beagles sound sweet. I had two as I was growing up and they are the sweetest things. When I got married I had Tippy (for the tip of white on her tail and the sound she made when walked)but she wasn't a city girl. Lord the things she did to my curtains, so I had to take her back to my parents house.

Looking forward to the links to you pictures!

~Sia McKye~ said...

Lisa and Hawk, thanks for the interesting comments.

Kat, I didn't know about the Austin library conference either. I'm a bad person, lol! Although I remember Helen Ginger mentioning something about it last year.

Elizabeth Loupas said...

The store posted some pictures to Twitter!

Me talking, beagles in corner with fan.

All beagles, all the time. Dolcie and Rosie.

More tomorrow.

~Sia McKye~ said...

The older one has such a sweet face, Elizabeth. I can't imagine her being without a home for long. Kinda hard to see the pup clearly but I like her colors.

I'm really looking forward to seeing other pictures. If you want, pick out two nice ones, one of you and one of the pups and send it to me and I'll add them to the article under your bio. I probably can put in a few and just reference them and link to the rest you have as well as the link here in the comments.

Other Lisa said...

Elizabeth, SOOOO glad you had a great time! Though I'm not surprised, cause it's such a great place, you have a wonderful book, AND THERE WERE BEAGLES!!!

Elizabeth Loupas said...

Good morning!

Here are some of the pictures taken by the Broadcasting Legend, who was there to lend moral support.

Beagles (and some woman talking about a book) at Murder by the Book.

Talli Roland said...

Thank you, Elizabeth and Sia! The book sounds fantastic, and I loved reading about Elizabeth's journey to becoming a writer.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Aww, Elisabeth, the beagles are darling! Won't be long before they find a home.

Looks like you had some great audience participation. When talking about something you love, rarely is there a shy bone to contend with. I Love of you kneeling with the pups.

I hope you sold lots of books too!