Trying New Things

So for the last couple of months, I’ve been querying literary agents for my new series. Although I’ve had some interest, I’ve racked up quite a few rejections. The most recent one, a kick in the teeth disguised as a pleasant form rejection, arrived Friday night. Although some writers prefer personalized rejections, I actually prefer the form ones. With them, you can preserve the illusion that they liked the book but it just isn’t right for them, instead of knowing for a fact that they hated it. I haven’t thrown in the towel yet, but I admit my enthusiasm for completing the second and third books in the series is waning the longer the process goes on. It’ll come back, I’m sure, but for now, I’m going to focus on other things to get the creative juices flowing again.

Ever since I was in England last fall, a new series has been percolating in my brain. It’s not a romance, although it will have romantic elements. It’s a cozy mystery set near Keswick in the northern Lake District, right about here:

When you write historicals, one of the most important decisions you make is deciding the time period. Victorian era is a given, but it did last a very long time. I like the middle of the era–1860s/70s. It still has vestiges of the Regency, when people dressed for dinner and wore elaborate gowns, but it’s also hurtling toward the 20th century. Railways are popping up–trains arrived in Keswick in 1865–and society is changing. 1869 saw the opening of the first residential women’s college in England, in 1870 married women gained the right to own property and elementary education was established, in 1871 trade unions were legalized.

I decided to set my series in 1870. The lakes are a popular tourist destination, and the new railway makes it easier to get there. Endless opportunities for new characters, which is essential for a cozy. I’ve uncovered maps and contemporary guidebooks (you may recall Mr. Black from my recent post about Skye, who also wrote a “Picturesque Guide” to the English Lakes in 1870) to get a feel for the area during the time period.

The next step, at least for me, is characters. I usually start with either a look, a name, or an occupation. My new heroine is Cassandra, and she closely resembles actress Emily Blunt. She’s a longtime widow with a teenage son, and runs a farm and a tea shop at the foot of Walla Crag. (It’s inspired by an actual place that offered salvation–in the form of tea, cake, and a bathroom, not necessarily in that order–after a long day of hiking. Should you ever be in the vicinity, do stop in!)

Anyway, her love interest is the local constable whose name I have yet to determine–feel free to offer suggestions–but he looks a bit like David Boreanz. Cassandra’s childhood friend, he’s back in Keswick after a stint as a policeman in Manchester, nursing the broken heart caused by the recent death of his wife.

Cozies have a reasonably large supporting cast of characters, so I am working on those. I also have the resident pet AND the dead body lined up, but you’ll have to wait for the book to meet them. 🙂

I’m going to get to work–I have quite a few characters to develop, after all, not to mention the plot–so I will leave you with a few questions I’m curious about:

Writers, how do you start a new book (or series of books)? Do you start with setting and move from there, or with characters? Or do you focus on plot first? How do you decide when and where to set your books?

Readers, do you like small town settings or cities? What kinds of characters do you like to see? Do you picture them in your head as you read, as I do when I write them, or is their appearance unimportant to you?

 

Over the Sea to Skye

If you are a regular reader of my blog, you may remember my last post, in which I mused about which of several settings I should choose for the next book. Perhaps subconsciously influenced by this year’s RITA historical finalists–many of which seem to have involved dukes and Scotland–I did opt to send my duke to the Isle of Skye. In case you were wondering, it’s off the northwest coast of Scotland, very far away from the ballrooms of London:

One of the things I like best about setting my books in the Victorian era is that it is very easy to get my characters from one place to another, compared to the Regency period. Trains criss-crossed the country, allowing people to move with relative ease from London to Glasgow, Perth to Cornwall.

Unfortunately, trains did not get anywhere near Skye until 1897, so the other day I spent hours trying to figure out how my intrepid hero–a city boy who hates to travel–would journey from southern Scotland to Skye. The almighty Google revealed two guidebooks: Black’s Picturesque Tourist of Scotland, Ninth Edition (1851), and Anderson’s Guide to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland (1850).

Although it was possible to take a steamer from Glasgow directly to Skye (a fact I discovered only after a day spent mapping the picturesque route, naturally), the guidebooks recommended the following route to Skye (in the summer, of course) for those who wanted to take in the scenery:

Loch Lomond. Photo by Patrick Mackie, via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 1:  Starting in Glasgow, he’ll board a steamer and sail up (down?) the River Clyde to Dumbarton, about 14 miles.  At this point, our traveler has two options: Either a brisk 5 mile walk north to the foot of Loch Lomond, then a steamer across the loch (another 14 miles) to Tarbet. This is followed by a 1.5 mile walk to the west to Arrochar, where an inn rests on the shore of Loch Long. Alternatively, he could board a steamer at Dumbarton and sail up Loch Long directly to Arrochar, a distance of about 25 miles.

Ben Arthur, or The Cobbler. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Day 2: Being a sensible sort, our hero will ask the innkeeper to pack a nice lunch for him (unlike when my friend Helen and I set off up a mountain in Keswick, England last fall, because we were so sure we’d be done well before lunch–we weren’t). He’ll then hike around the base of The Cobbler to Cairndow on Loch Fyne, a distance of 12 miles. From there, he could hop on a ferry across the loch to Inveraray (6-1/2 miles), or walk around the head of the loch (9 miles).

Inveraray Castle. Photo by DeFacto, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

Our hero will spend the night at an inn in the shadow of Inveraray Castle, the seat of the Duke of Argyle. (Of the castle, Black’s guidebook notes, “in one of the rooms is some very beautiful tapestry, which the old lady who exhibits it, states to have been ‘made by the goblins, wha’ are a’ dead now.'”) On Day 3, our hero will continue his journey overland, perhaps carrying two meals this time and a couple of snacks, for this part of the journey begins with a 9 mile hike across rugged terrain to Cladich on Loch Awe.

Loch Awe. Photo by Chris Heaton, via Wikimedia Commons.

If he is anything like me and Helen, he’ll get lost and it will take six hours rather than three, so he’ll spend the night there. If not, he’ll walk for two hours or so along the banks of the loch to Dalmally and stay there instead.

On Day 4 (or 5), he’ll set out from Dalmally on the hardest part of the journey, a 24-mile walk to Oban. Being a pathetic city-dweller, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’d have to stop somewhere along the way–fortunately there is an inn about halfway across in Taynuilt. It sits not far from the base of Ben Cruachan, the highest point in the County of Argyll.

Ben Cruachan. Photo by Grinner, via Wikimedia Commons.

 

 

 

 

From Oban on Day 6, 7, or possibly 8 (I admit I’ve lost track at this point), he’ll buy some fabulous Oban whisky and then board a steamer which will make its way up the coast, a trip that will take one or two days (possibly three, as getting through Kyle Rhea requires high tide) to Broadford on the Isle of Skye.

Broadford, Skye. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Easy peasy.

Nowadays, of course, you can travel by train nearly the entire way, then cross a bridge or hop on a ferry over the sea to Skye. I just might be inclined, however, to try to retrace the journey undertaken by thousands of adventurous Victorian tourists on my next trip across the Pond. Perhaps Helen would come with me, if I remember to bring snacks. And a good map. 🙂

Since I have mentioned my hike with Helen, I thought I’d share a couple of photos. I look far more exhausted, but in my defense I should like to point out that my picture was taken just after we hauled our middle-aged butts to the top of Walla Crag, while Helen’s was ever so kindly taken as we made our way down the other side.

Helen

Me.

A day on which I’m too lazy to write two blog posts

Happy Sunday, everyone! Today I’m over at Heart-Shaped Glasses, where I’m blogging about how I come up with settings for my novels.

Kendal Castle, Cumbria

I’ll be giving away an ecopy of one of my books to a randomly selected commenter, so stop by and say hey!

 

Winter Blog Hop, Day 23 – Clair Brett on Making Me Time

Hello all! Today’s guest is historical romance author Clair Brett. Clair’s debut novel, Dealing with the Viscount, releases January 31. Congratulations, Clair!

Clair is offering a few sage words on making some time for yourself and those you love during this crazy season:

Happy Holidays to you and yours! We are right in the thick of it aren’t we? I don’t know about you, but November and December are crazy busy. It seems like there is something every weekend and many nights. Not only does my family have to juggle the normal Christmas shopping, parties, and school events, but my husband and I are part of a non-profit that plans community-wide holiday events. Then there are the basketball games, work-related parties, and church responsibilities as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a worker bee and am very happy to volunteer to make things happen, but somewhere between cups of egg nog and event planning I get pooped. By the time Christmas comes I am ready to have my house back and my routine. I wish it wasn’t like this, and I can remember when it wasn’t. So, what do I try to do to put some me into the schedule?

  • Set aside time for ME! I try to make sure I keep getting my daily exercise; whether it is hitting the gym in the morning, or planning a walk with my friends I try to keep that as a priority. Along with that, I am going to add eating healthy and drinking lots of water. We all know when the cookie walk takes place you won’t pass up your favorite spice cookie, but making sure you are getting enough greens and protein can help.
  • Nothing is EVER perfect! Unless you are neighbors with Martha Stewart don’t sweat it. My Hardworking Husband has a yearly battle with a woman across the river from us for Christmas lights. It is all in good fun and he hasn’t drained the power grid yet, but when it starts being more stressful than fun, stop. (I will also admit to saying the “p” word when trying to fulfill my Christmas duties, but I try to keep it out of my vocabulary.) If you tried something then consider it a success if you enjoyed yourself and it made someone else happy. That is as close to perfect as you need to get.
  • Keep at least one or two nights each week of the crazy to yourself. Decide ahead of time what you have to attend and what days are open. Then choose at the very least one night each week to not plan anything! Order pizza, make popcorn, and just BE. You will thank me.
  • Make it a point to say thank you and smile when out and about. The stores seemed filled with bah humbugs during this time of year. Some are just having one of those days, others may be missing loved ones who can’t be there, others may be frustrated because of money, or the fact that their holiday isn’t going to be “perfect”, but regardless they could all use a smile and kind word. Let that person who seems in a hurry in front of you in line, or just saying have a nice day, may make a difference.
  • Last, don’t forget why we celebrate holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. No, I’m not going religious here, but if you do have a religion that celebrates during this time of year, keep that in your heart as I do, but if you don’t follow a religious belief, these holidays are for us to think about things outside of ourselves if just for a few moments. Our busy fast paced lives seems to hinder that a bit, but it is still there. Make a meal for a neighbor, better yet invite them to your house. Buy a gift from an angel tree, or sponsor a child. Go visit at a local senior living facility, there are a million things you can do that don’t cost anything but your time. I promise you, using some of those precious days doing for others, will pay you dividends you can’t imagine.

For more from Clair, check out her website at http://www.clairbrett.com/.

Winter Blog Hop, Day 21 – Barbara Bettis & Giveaway

Happy Winter Solstice! It’s the shortest day of the year here in the northern hemisphere, so fire up those candles and snuggle in with a good book.

Today’s guest is fellow Wild Rose historical author Barbara Bettis, who’s probably forgotten more about the medieval period then I will ever know.

Interested in what Christmas dinner looked like in medieval times? Hop over to her blog to find out! She’s also giving away a copy of her latest release, The Lady of the Forest, and two $5 gift cards.

Merry Christmas, Barbara!

Winter Blog Hop, Day 20 – Anna Durand

Five more days to Christmas, kids, and my vacation starts tomorrow. Not that I’m excited about that or anything…

 

Today’s guest is historical romance author Anna Durand, who will be sharing some of her favorite Christmas traditions, like this awesome Christmas village she handpainted!

 

Hop on over to her blog and share your own favorites. And for more from Anna, visit her website at http://annadurand.com/.

 

 

Winter Blog Hop Day 19 – Happy Book Birthday to Me!

Today on the hop I’m featuring yours truly. 🙂  Today is release day for my third book, Tempting Mr. Jordan. I really love this book, which tells the story of Julia Tenwick (Jonathan’s little sister from Stirring Up the Viscount, all grown up). I hope you like it too! (And do scroll to the end of this post for a chance to win a Maine gift basket from me and Becky Lower!)

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Tempting Mr. Jordan

After four unsuccessful London seasons, Lady Julia Tenwick despairs of ever making a love match. With spinsterhood looming on the horizon, she and a friend set sail for America on one last adventure. When her travels take her to northern Maine, Julia meets a reclusive but handsome artist, whose rudeness masks a broken heart Julia feels compelled to mend.

Still haunted by the betrayal and death of his pregnant wife two years before, Geoffrey Jordan is determined never to risk his heart again. Certainly not with the gorgeous and impetuous aristocrat who intrudes upon his small-town solitude, and is far too similar to his late wife to tempt him to take another chance on love.

But when Julia and Geoffrey find themselves united in a reckless plan to save Julia’s friend from ruin, they discover that temptation is impossible to resist.

Excerpt:

Cranberry Cove reminded her of home, her family’s estate in Durham, where ton rules were abandoned in favor of lazy days riding, reading, caring for her pets, or playing the piano. It occurred to her that she had not played in weeks. Her fingers itched to touch a keyboard, and she flexed her hands inside her calfskin gloves. She vowed to play soon. She thought she had seen a harpsichord in the drawing room of Maria’s enormous house.

Reaching the end of the little lane on which Maria lived, she took a right onto Main Street. It consisted of several houses similar to the one in which she was staying, so she turned left onto Maple Street, which was much more interesting. There was a green grocer, a bookseller, a milliner, a tailor, a blacksmith—everything one could want in a village. The streets were clean—much cleaner than London—and the air was crisp and fresh, even if it smelled ever so slightly of fish.

Julia was staring into the newspaper office—a badly written but oddly gripping tale about missing lobster traps was plastered to the window—when she was nearly knocked off her feet.

“Oh, I beg your pardon!” She managed to right herself, wondering why she should be the one to apologize. She looked up into the hooded eyes of Geoffrey Jordan, who held a book in one hand. “Mr. Jordan!”

“Lady Julia.” He reached out to steady her, the touch of his hand on her arm causing a charge to shoot up her spine. “Please forgive me. Are you hurt?”

“Are you in the habit of running over tourists on your streets?” She freed her arm, flustered by her own reaction, and busied herself with adjusting her hat. When she regarded Mr. Jordan again, he was smirking.

“No, just the ones who stop in the middle of the street,” he said.

Julia opened her mouth to retort, but he held up a finger to silence her. “Nevertheless, I am sorry. I wasn’t paying attention. And the scintillating prose of our local newspaper could halt anyone in her tracks.”

She laughed. “It is not The Times, to be sure.”

His lips quirked up at the tips in something approaching a smile. Julia thought she hadn’t seen him do that before and found it oddly entrancing. “Where are you headed, Lady Julia?”

She forced herself to look away from his lips. “Um. Nowhere in particular. I was in need of a walk after luncheon, so I thought I would explore a bit.”

“The Universalist church, just around the corner, is particularly beautiful, and you will need to sample lobster from the establishment run by the Maclays, on the pier. It will melt in your mouth.”

The way he looked at her as he made the remark made her own mouth dry. Her cheeks burned.

“Um. Yes. That sounds lovely.” She gazed down at her feet until she collected herself. Raising her head, she found herself caught in his sights. She swallowed nervously. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, Mr. Jordan, I really must get back. Constance will be wondering where I’ve got to.” She brushed past him, her shoulder tingling at the contact with his arm.

“Lady Julia?” His tone was vaguely amused.

She stopped and turned to face him. “Yes, Mr. Jordan?”

His thin lips turned up at the corners again, and he pointed behind him. “I believe your house is that way.”

“Oh. Yes. Of course.” She willed herself not to stumble as she passed him, at least not until she’d cleared the corner.

You can find Tempting Mr. Jordan at these retailers: Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble ~ iBooksWild Rose Press.

And don’t forget to enter the giveaway for this fabulous gift basket Becky Lower and I are offering. In addition to the items pictured, Becky is offering an ecopy of her new Wild Rose novella, Love’s in the Cards!fullsizerender
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Winter Blog Hop, Day 16 – Tricia Schneider

book-1112467_1920

TGIF, peeps! Here in Cleveland we’ve been socked with snow; I hope it’s warmer and sunnier where you are, but I will admit it’s beginning to look like Christmas. 🙂

 

 

Tricia Schneider author picToday’s guest is paranormal and historical romance author, Tricia Schneider. Hop over to her website for her holiday romance reading list!  What’s on your reading list this Christmas?

Winter Blog Hop, Day 14 – Lynn Crain’s Holiday Magic

Hello all! Today’s guest is my friend Lynn Crain, who’s part of a new anthology of Christmas stories. Holiday Magic is the work of several members of the World Romance Writers.

wrwholidaymagic-3-d-resizedThe World Romance Writers wish you joy and love this holiday season with a collection of heartwarming romances filled with Holiday Magic. This anthology features stories, from far and wide, includes contemporary and historical romance, futuristic time travel romance, and romance touched with magic by Award-Winning and Multi-Published Authors: Rose Anderson, Lynn Crain, Gemma Juliana, Cara Marsi, and Jenny Twist.

Come enjoy the many flavors and flavours of our English language.

Holiday Magic is on sale now for 99 cents at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kobo, and features these stories:

The Angel of the West Side
By Madeline Archer*

During the Great Depression, newspaper reporter Jack Kennelly went to the streets of Chicago hoping to find proof that good still existed in the world. What he discovered was the West Side had its own angel, and her name was Ruthie.

*Rose Anderson writing as Madeline Archer
Genre: Period Romance

Her Magical Vienna Christmas
By Lynn Crain

Cryptographer Elizabeth “Lizzie” Camden is more in tune with numbers, cyphers and puzzles than she is with the real world. When her job takes her back in time to 1874 Vienna, she’s more than surprised to find Michael Sondervan there as well. She hadn’t seen him since college when he broke her heart. 

Michael has always regretted the way things turned out between him and Lizzie. When he needs someone to figure out the cryptic warning, he knows he needs the best. And Lizzie is the best. Giving her a magical Vienna Christmas in the bargain, he hopes will bring them together and prove his love to the only woman for him.

Genre: Time Travel Romance

To Kiss a Prince
By Gemma Juliana

Princess Isabelle de Lily knows no life beyond the seclusion of Chateau de Lily. The family castle was frozen in time, frosted over with ice and snow just before her birth. The witch who placed the 99 year curse on her family left only one loophole. The curse will fizzle and ‘melt’ if one from the royal enemy clan miraculously finds his way to her castle and professes his true love for her on Christmas Day. Citizens of Chateau de Lily hold little hope of that happening since everyone who tries to cross the ice floes dies. Only the resident, ever-loyal, royal wizard Zoltar, who has been in service to Isabelle’s family since long before the curse was cast, believes miracles of this magnitude are possible. Twenty-five years have passed, but as Zoltar continues experimenting in his dungeon laboratory, he believes this will be their final Christmas spent in icy isolation.

Genre: Fantasy-Time Travel Romance

A Very Vegas Christmas
By Cara Marsi

Can things get any worse for Las Vegas event planner Amanda Moreau? Her boyfriend dumped her for a stripper; she’s arranging a Christmas wedding for a Bridezilla; and her mother is playing matchmaker from 2000 miles away. When she meets hunky and ever-so-sweet Erik, who’s in town for a conference, she begins to hope her luck is changing. But Erik has a secret that threatens to split them apart. 

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Marion
By Jenny Twist

Jim Durrant, university don at Oxford, is trapped in the memory of his lost, beloved wife. When his family comes to stay with him for Christmas, he and his grandson write their letters to Santa Claus and Jim asks for the impossible – the return of his dead love.

Genre: Historical Romance

Thanks for joining me today, ladies! To read more about the authors, hop over to Lynn’s blog today at http://lynncrain.blogspot.com/ for bios and links.

 

 

 

Winter Blog Hop, Day 12 – Victorian Cookies

SecretPromise_w9701_750Today’s scheduled guest is unable to be here, so I’m filling in with a Victorian era recipe for Cinnamon Cakes, which are actually cookies. I found it in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery, and featured them in Secret Promise. Here’s an excerpt:

Zachary was curled up in a chair in the sitting room, reading.

“Zachary,” Anna said, “I have a surprise for you.”

Zachary’s head snapped up, and he sniffed the air. “Have you been baking, Mam?”

“I have not, but Mrs. Graham has.” The woman herself appeared at the top of stairs, smiling in welcome. She removed a cinnamon cake from the bag she carried and held it out to Zachary.

Zachary leapt out of his chair. “Is that for me?” He hesitated, looking from a smiling Mrs. Graham to Anna for verification.

Anna nodded. “Yes, it’s for you. Mrs. Graham spoiled me with treats when I was young, and I have no doubt she’d very much like to spoil you, too.”

Zachary took the cake, inhaling its sweet, spicy smell before devouring it in three bites. “Thank you, Mrs. Graham. It was delicious!”

Here’s the original recipe from the 1845 edition of Modern Cookery:

CINNAMON, OR LEMON CAKES

Rub six ounces of good butter into img_4520a pound of fine dry flour, and work it lightly into crumbs, then add three quarters of a pound of sifted sugar, a dessertspoonful of pounded cinnamon (or half as much when only a slight flavour is liked), and make these ingredients into a firm paste with three eggs, or four, if needed. Roll it, not very thin, and cut out the cakes with a tin shape. Bake them in a very gentle oven from fifteen to twenty minutes, or longer, should they not be done quite through. As soon as they are cold, put them into a clean and dry tin canister, a. precaution which should be observed with all small sugar cakes, which ought also to be loosened from the oven tins while they are still warm.

Flour, 1 lb.; butter, 6 ozs. ; sugar, 3/4 lb.; cinnamon, 1 dessertspoonful (more or less, to the taste) ; eggs, 3 to 4.

Obs. Lemon cakes can be made by this receipt by substituting for the cinnamon the rasped or grated rinds of two lemons, and the strained juice of one, when its acidity is not objected to. More butter, and more or less of sugar, can be used at will, both for these and for the cinnamon cakes.

And here’s my modern variation, which is a bit easier to follow:

CINNAMON CAKES
Makes about 4 dozen large or 6 dozen small cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

6       oz. (approx 1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
1        lb      cake flour (approx. 3-1/4 cups)
1        tsp    baking powder
1/4    tsp   salt
3/4   lb      sugar (approx. 2-1/4 cups)
1        tsp    cinnamon
3        lg      eggs

img_4518Cut the butter into the flour with a pastry cutter or your fingers until the mixture resembles bread crumbs. Mix together the baking powder, salt, sugar, and cinnamon and add to the flour. Add the eggs and beat just until mixed. If the dough is too dry, add up to 1-2 tablespoons of milk, just enough so that the dough holds together.

img_4519Roll out the dough on a floured board to about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into rounds with a your favorite cookie cutters. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Sprinkle with decorating sugar (or if you really like cinnamon, use cinnamon sugar).

Bake in a 375 oven for 10-12 minutes, or until the cookies are lightly brown on the edges.

Cool on a wire rack.img_4521

Just as an FYI, I omitted the salt in one half of the dough and compared the two versions. I liked the salt version a little bit better, but my kid noticed no difference in taste–so if you’re limiting your salt intake, go ahead and try them without.

Feel free to experiment and let me know what changes you made. 🙂

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