Winter Escapes

Here in Northeast Ohio (and most of the rest of the northern half of the US), March is roaring in like a lion. We’re expecting another ten inches of snow today to add to the foot or two already on the ground. The piles of snow on the sides of the streets now exceed the height of my car, and the simple act of pulling out of a driveway or turning a corner is fraught with peril.  Ice dams under the eaves are causing water to back up into my house, in places we’ve never seen them before.

Most years I manage to get away from it all and head somewhere warm in March, but sadly, that’s not happening this year. Instead I will hunker down and write about how the Victorians weathered winter.


The weather in England is known for being less than ideal for many months out of the year. For about 400 years from the 15th to the 19th centuries, Britain even experienced a “Little Ice Age.” The annual mean temperatures for central England were below 0°C nearly every year from 1772 to the 1930s. In 1836, fifteen feet of snow fell on Christmas Day. Frost fairs, held on the Thames when it froze over, were common from at least 1608 until 1841.

Hans Thoma, New Brighton, 1881. Source: Wikimedia.

Although it required trips to the Mediterranean to truly escape Britain’s winter weather–and plenty of wealthy Victorians did–there were also opportunities to holiday in England. Brighton was a favorite destination, as it remained reasonably warm through December.

At the start  of the Victorian era, visits to seaside resorts were the province of the wealthy. Only the wealthy could afford the journey, let alone the cost of staying in an inn. But by the end of Victoria’s reign, with the advent of the railway and the rise of the middle class, more and more people began to flock to the seaside.  Even the lowest classes, if they saved their pennies long enough, could afford to make the trip.  Resorts began to spring up all over the coast from Scotland to Cornwall.

Torquay, Devon, 1842. Source: Wikimedia.

It is, of course, human nature to want to escape one’s life for a while, to go somewhere warmer, or prettier, or cleaner, or simply different. The Victorians were just the same, and advances in technology during the era made it easier for more people to make that escape. They certainly had plenty of snow–more often and in greater quantity than we have now (as difficult as that is to believe).So as you watch the latest inch of snow fall outside your window, think about how much easier it is to escape the snow and cold now than it was then.

Curl up with a good book and think Spring.


Author Interview – Marilyn Baron

Today I welcome Marilyn Baron, whose latest book, The Widows’ Gallery, was released by The Wild Rose Press on February 11.IMG_1172 (2)

Tell us a bit about you. Where do you live, and how long have you been writing?

A native of Miami, Florida, I’m a corporate public relations consultant in Roswell, Georgia, in north Atlanta. I’ve wanted to be a writer all my life but I’ve been seriously writing fiction for 10 years. I’ve had a long career in public relations, primarily with AT&T before I formed my own PR business. All of my client work involves writing corporate communications ranging from news releases and newsletters, to ads and annual reports, speeches and special events.

I write in a variety of genres, including: humorous coming-of-middle-age women’s fiction; historical romantic thrillers; romantic suspense in a psychic suspense series; and fantasy for The Wild Rose Press. I also write dark and humorous supernatural short stories for TWB Press. I’ve written three books with my sister, an artist in Florida, including a musical about Alzheimer’s called Memory Lane.  I’ve won or finaled in writing awards in single title, suspense romance, novel with strong romantic elements and paranormal romance.

What inspired you to write The Widows’ Gallery?

I love using art and art theft as themes in my books. I studied art history in Florence, Italy, in college where I fell in love with my favorite painting—The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli—which hangs in the Uffizi Gallery. So, in The Widows’ Gallery, I decided to make that painting the centerpiece of my story. The cover art is also reminiscent of that painting. Last year, my husband and I took an anniversary cruise to the Mediterranean. All these things gelled and I decided to set part of my book in Florence, Italy, and on a cruise ship, before the main characters arrived in the fictional town of Lobster Cove, Maine, where the Lobster Cove series for The Wild Rose Press is set.

What does your writing process look like?

I’m not advising you follow my lead, but I am a dyed-in-the-wool pantser. I don’t do outlines or story boards. Everything is in my head. The first thing I do is come up with a title that inspires me and character names I fall in love with. Then I write the opening. Often I’ll know the ending before I start. It’s the middle that is the biggest challenge. Things will always change along the way. I revise as I go along. I also like to write the blurb before I start the book. I do my best writing and thinking when I’m relaxed and staring out at the ocean. When I get ideas, I put them in the Notes section of my cell phone for future reference or write them on scraps of paper which I proceed to lose.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I am an avid reader. I’m in two book clubs and I volunteer on the Roswell Reads Steering Committee for my local library. I enjoy going to movies, eating Italian food, traveling and hovering over my two daughters. I’m in the middle of planning a wedding for one of them now. I often set my stories in places I’ve visited, including Bermuda, Australia and Italy, where I spent six months studying in Florence during my senior year in college.

What are you working on now?

On March 20, Killer Cruise, the third book in my Psychic Crystal Mystery Series, will be released from The Wild Rose Press. It also takes place on a cruise ship and one of the themes is art theft. It’s murder, mystery, and mayhem combined with high jinks on the high seas. The novel even features a vampire.

On February 15, TWB Press released my fifth dark and humorous supernatural short story, The Files Death Forgot.  The Grim Reaper with a failing memory, a craving for chocolate chip cookies and a penchant for old movies: Could this agent of death inadvertently save the world from mass annihilation??

Later this year, The Wild Rose Press will release my second Lobster Cove book, a fantasy called Someday My Prints Will Come.

My current work in progress is called Landlocked, where an inexperienced South Florida realtor with weather issues, tries to sell her widowed grandmother’s rural property on an isolated Western North Carolina mountaintop only to discover the tract is landlocked, and therefore, unsalable. The book features a missing artist, two romances and a serial killer.

How many books do you have under the proverbial bed? Will they ever see the light of day?

That’s funny because only one of my manuscripts is still under the bed and I think it’s going to stay there. I don’t give up so I have managed to resurrect and revise all of my under-the-bed manuscripts and they’ve all been published or are about to be published.

How do you come up with your character names?

Anywhere and everywhere. My eyes and ears are always open. If I hear a name I like, I’ll write it down. I’ve come up with character names in the gift wrapping department at Bloomingdales, at the Georgia Aquarium, my hair salon, and when I’m out to dinner. There are no limits. The cosmos is constantly sending you messages. You just have to absorb them.

Name one thing about you that most people don’t know.

I was born without a sense of smell.

Other than “butt in chair,” what piece of advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Finish the book. You can always correct a bad manuscript but there’s nothing you can do about a blank page.

What book are you reading now?

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

The WidoTheWidows_Gallery_w9270_750ws’ Gallery, Lobster Cove Series,
by Marilyn Baron
Genre: Women’s Fiction/Romance

Childless heiress Abigail Adams Longley and three other widows on a Mediterranean cruise bond over a Renaissance masterpiece in Florence, Italy, and find love, friendship and joy in their joint venture to open an art gallery at the Longley mansion in Lobster Cove, Maine.

Since the death of her husband, Abigail has been lonely and drifting in a house that’s too big and a town that’s too small. When she literally runs into sexy widower and whale-watching excursion captain Tack Garrity on the dock, she’s entranced by his adorable five-year-old daughter.

But will Tack, who has harbored a secret crush on Abigail for almost two decades, be able to capture her heart? A secret pact her husband made with Tack could either tear them apart or bring them closer together and change their lives forever.


There is a popular but anonymous Italian saying coined in the late 1700s, “See Naples and die!” Well, the cruise ship had just pulled away from Naples Harbor, and Victoria Dare was about to make that phrase a reality.

Victoria stared into the watery wake of the massive floating hotel. The superliner sliced through the water like a sharp knife through a hot buttered blueberry muffin. Weird she should think of food at a time like this. But she was going to miss blueberry muffins. And crispy bacon. And pancakes. And steaming hot chocolate, for that matter. Maybe it wasn’t too late to change her mind and go to the dining room for one final breakfast—a Last Supper, of sorts.

Available from The Wild Rose Press.

Find Marilyn at

On Valentine’s Day

It is February, that shortest of months which, at least here in NE Ohio, seems the longest. Winter is in full swing, with nary an end in sight. The snow is piled high and the skies are gray with more to come.

It is perhaps lucky, then, that we have an opportunity to break up the February blahs with Valentine’s Day. Valentine’s Day is not a Victorian creation, by any means–it has its origins in Roman times. Some say it is rooted in the festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration.

Saint Valentine of Terni and his disciples. 14th century. Source: Wikipedia.

There are several legends about how it became associated with St. Valentine. Most agree that St. Valentine was a bishop who lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius. Claudius believed that married men made poor soldiers–conflicted, apparently, by the duties of family and of war–so he decreed that soldiers in the Roman Army could not marry. Bishop Valentine thought this was wrong, so he made a practice of marrying soldiers to their lady loves in secret. Claudius found out, of course, and threw Valentine in jail. Valentine was executed by the Emperor for his failure to obey the edict regarding marriage, as well as for failing to renounce his Christian faith. He died, it is said, on February 14, AD 270.

Valentine’s Day cards aren’t new either. People have been sending written notes to lovers since Roman times, and the practice was prevalent during the Middle Ages. Before mass-produced Valentines became commonplace during the Victorian period, lovers had to write their own messages, which they they decorated with lace, ribbons, and drawings. For those lacking a natural affinity for poetry, there were pamphlets known as “Valentine Writers” to help them out.

Do a search on Google Books to find some of these gems. One of them, The Lady’s Own Fashionable Valentine Writer, is of indeterminate age. It offers verses based on nationality as well as name, both requesting to be a Valentine and making it clear that a gentleman’s attentions are not welcome. You have to read them–they are fabulous.

Some of my favorites:

To a Frenchman:
Forbear, you ape! your monkey tricks will not suit,
Really you are a most disgusting brute;
Either you must be mad or else a fool,
Not to perceive your lucky star don’t rule,
Can you believe that snuff and sheer grimace,
Have charms to counteract your ugly face;
Morbleu! a woman must be hardly set,
And quite despair a Valentine to get,
Not to reject with scorn your gallic net.

Oh my.

From a young lady to her lover:
Dear youth, to thee I dedicate my hours,
And crown thy bust with amaranthine flow’rs;
The hyacinth so sweet, the violet blue,
And fragrant roses wash’d with morning dew,
Rich scented pinks, jonquils, eglantine,
Enwreath’d by Cupid for my Valentine;
These speak affection that is wholly thine,
And lead me willing onto Hymen’s shrine.

To Nathaniel:
Noodle desist! don’t think me such a slave,
A rare opinion of me you must have,
To think with such a stupid sot I’d wed,
Heavens, t’were better far that I were dead,
All that you do and say so smells of folly,
None could be pleased unless a drunken dolly;
If but in thought I could be so supine,
Ever to take you for a Valentine,
Let want and wretchedness always be mine.

Ouch. Poor Nathaniel.

To Patrick:
Pray, tell me now, what is it you’d be after?
A merry soul, you make one die of laughter;
Truly you are a very comic nation,
Renown’d for bulls whene’er you make oration;
In love and war, both equally you shine,
Could I but trust you I would fain be thine,
Keep up your spirits–you’re my Valentine.

It’s kind of hard to tell whether she likes him or not…

To Anthony:
Allowed by all you are a precious fool,
Not fit as yet to be let loose from school;
Truce with your stuff, no longer press,
Have you the vanity to hope success?
One hardly can believe you are serious;
Nothing on earth was ever so mysterious,
You, my Valentine!–‘twould make me delirious.

I could do this all day.

An Esther Howland valentine, ca. 1870s. Source: Wikipedia.


The “Mother of the American Valentine” was Esther Howland, a 19-year old girl from Worcester, Massachusetts. She received her first Valentine from England in the 1840s. She liked it, but thought she could do better. She and her friends made several samples, and asked her brother, who worked for her father’s stationery business, to show them around on his next sales trip to see if anyone was interested in ordering them. He returned from that trip with orders worth $5000. The New England Valentine Company grew from that order to a lucrative business that at one time was the largest greeting card company in the world.


Miss Howland sold the business in 1881. She never married, which makes me a bit sad. Regardless, her mark on the holiday is a forever lasting one.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!


My Book Birthday, and a Giveaway!

Today’s the day!

My debut novel, Stirring Up the Viscount, officially releases today from The Wild Rose Press.

I am alternately excited and terrified.

It’s a funny thing, a book birthday. Not unlike sending your kid to school for the first time. Is she wearing the right clothes? Will the other kids like him? Will she say something stupid or mean and get expelled on her first day? (Yes, this is where my mind goes.)

In the end, all you can do as a parent, of child or book, is to wave goodbye and hope that you did a good job getting him ready to face the world.

StirringUptheViscount_w9340_750Stirring Up the Viscount, by Marin McGinnis

Seeking to escape an abusive husband, Theodora Ravensdale answers an ad in The Times for a job as cook in a country home. A fortuitous house fire enables her to fake her own death and flee to northern England and live under an assumed name. But Theodora’s refuge is not all she would wish, when she stirs emotions in the heir to the estate, Jonathan Tenwick, and in herself.

Meanwhile, as the connection between Theodora and Jonathan grows, her husband learns she did not perish in the fire, and searches for her. Fearing he is close to finding her, Theodora must flee again to protect the family and the viscount for whom she cares deeply. In the final confrontation with her husband, Theodora learns she is stronger than she ever knew, and love is worth fighting for.​

Available today from The Wild Rose Press and on Amazon.

I am also giving away an autographed paperback copy of the book: a limited, first edition with a typo on the cover! (Or you can have one without the typo, if you prefer.)

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Because You Can Never Have Too Much Hockey

This post is late because of hockey.

This weekend my son was in a youth hockey tournament at our home rink, so not only did he play in three games, I scored two other games, and then we watched the championship game, which sadly, he wasn’t in. Six hockey games in three days.

It is perhaps not surprising (although it probably is crazy) that after all this hockey I should choose to write about its history. Games featuring a stick and ball, even on ice, have been around for centuries–possibly even millenia–but hockey in its current incarnation is a Victorian creation.

A young engineer/journalist/lawyer from Nova Scotia, Canada named James Creighton is considered by many to be “the father of ice hockey.” In 1872 he moved to Montreal, bringing with him ice skates (you can see pictures here) and hockey sticks. The skates featured blades similar to the ones still in use today, affixed to boots with metal clamps.

In 1875, Creighton organized an indoor hockey game–the sport had previously always been played on ponds, outside–at the Victoria Skating Rink. At least one source claims that Creighton invented the hockey puck, changing it from a ball to a flat disk to reduce the danger of it flying around and hitting spectators, but another source claims the word ‘puck’ was used in Montreal newspaper in 1867. (The OED records its first usage as 1886.)

In any case, Creighton practiced with his buddies for a month, and held a public exhibition on March 3, 1875. The game was one of the first to feature a predetermined set of rules (known as the “Halifax rules”). It included two teams  of nine players each, goaltenders, a referee, a wooden puck, a 60 minute game time, and a recorded score.

The following announcement ran in the Montreal Gazette:

Victoria Rink – A game of Hockey will be played at the Victoria Skating Rink this evening, between two nines chose from among the members. Good fun may be expected, as some of the players are reputed to be exceedingly expert at the game. Some fears have been expressed on the part of intending spectators that accidents were likely to occur through the ball flying about in too lively a manner, to the imminent danger of lookers on, but we understand that the game will be played with a flat circular piece of wood, thus preventing all danger of its leaving the surface of the ice. Subscribers will be admitted on presentation of their tickets.

Notice the lack of boards around the ice, and the spectators lined up at the edge. Definitely not today’s hockey.

Lord Stanley, then the Governor General of Canada, witnessed his first hockey game at the Victoria Skating Rink in 1889. (His children also played hockey–his daughter is rumored to be the first woman to be photographed playing the game.) The rink hosted the first Stanley Club playoff games in 1894. Hockey’s popularity spread across North America, with hockey clubs formed by men of all classes.

The first women’s hockey game was reportedly played in Ottawa in 1891. The first international women’s hockey game was played in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1916. (There is always a Cleveland connection, even when I’m not looking for one!)

As for Mr. Creighton, he moved to Ottawa in 1882, where he became the Law Clerk to the Canadian Senate, a post he held for 48 years.  He died while at work in 1930, at the age of 80, and was buried in an unmarked grave. His role in hockey history faded away until the 1980s, when he was rediscovered by a Canadian hockey historian, Bill Fitsell. In 2009, Creighton was recognized in a memorial ceremony attended by the Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and a plaque and monument were erected near his gravesite in Beechwood, Canada’s National Cemetery.






Author Interview: Alicia Dean and Giveaway!

Today marks a foray into new territory: author interviews!

Alicia Dean Tin Man Color (2)My first guinea pig guest is Alicia Dean, a fellow author at The Wild Rose Press. Alicia’s latest book, End of Lonely Street, was published on January 8.

Thanks for joining me today, Alicia!

Thank you for having me!

Tell us a bit about you. Where do you live, and how long have you been writing?

I live in Edmond, Oklahoma, although I lived most of my teen and adult life and raised my kids in Moore, Oklahoma. I have been writing since I was eleven.

What inspired you to write End of Lonely Street?

I am fascinated with the era of the fifties, and I am a huge Elvis fan. I thought it would be fun to set a story in 1957. And it was!  🙂

What does your writing process look like? 

I am a plotter, but not an intense, in-depth, graph and story board plotter. I strive to sketch out an outline with the inciting incident, the major turning points, and the black moment. Then I go through and write a list of scene notes based on what ‘might’ happen between each of those points. I turn the notes into crappy scenes, then polish those crappy scenes until I have a complete story. (I actually wrote a short ‘how to’ guide about my plotting process called ‘Find the Magic’ – How to Plot a Story in 10 Easy Steps.)

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I work a full-time job. I edit for The Wild Rose Press and freelance edit.  I watch a lot of TV, and I hang out with my family and friends.

What are you working on now?

The question should be what am I NOT working on! 🙂 I am writing a sequel to my Isle of Fangs vampire series and a sequel to my Northland Crime Chronicles series. I’m also putting the final touches on RUINED, my story in the Martini Club 4 series that I wrote in conjunction with my friends and critique partners, Amanda McCabe, Kathy L. Wheeler, and Krysta Scott. There are four novellas, and they are set in 1920’s New York. The stories are stand-alone, but are connected to one another, and all four are available for pre-order now.

How many books do you have under the proverbial bed? Will they ever see the light of day?

The first complete novel I ever wrote was called Lady Killer, and it is under the bed. The story line was pretty good, and surprisingly, it actually won a few contests, but I doubt it will ever see the light of day. I have too many new ideas to revisit a story that needs so much work.

I tend to work through story ideas when I’m driving or in the shower, both of which are, of course, places I can’t write anything down. Do you have any strange writing habits?

I don’t know if it’s a strange writing habit, but I always find images of people, normally celebrities, and I model my main characters after them. I make a Pinterest board of those images and setting images. I also hang a few on the wall around my computer.

Neat freak or not so much?

Not so much. I would like to be neater than I am, but writing and editing definitely come before housework, and I’ll never be caught up on either. 🙂

Thanks for hanging out on my blog, Alicia! Good luck on your release!

End of Lonely Street, by Alicia Dean

EndofLonelyStreet_w9180_300 (1)

Can she let go of the past, before it destroys her future?

All Toby Lawson wanted was to go to college to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher and to be free of her alcoholic mother and the painful memories of finding her and the guy Toby loved kissing. But when her mother nearly burns the house down, Toby must put her dreams on hold and return home to care for her. The only time she isn’t lonely and miserable is when she’s listening to her heartthrob, Elvis Presley. His music takes her away, helps her escape from everything wrong in her life.

Noah Rivers has always loved Toby, but no matter what he says, and even though she knows her mother initiated the kiss, and that he didn’t kiss her back, she can‘t seem to get past what happened. He soon realizes that the true problem lies in Toby’s belief that she’s not good enough for him and in her fear that she will be just like her mother.

What will it take to prove to her that she deserves to be happy, and that he would give anything to be the man to make her dreams come true?


Nothing else calmed her and lightened her heart like listening to Elvis. She could escape into his music and all the bad just…faded away. When Elvis sang, there was no drunken mother, no failed dreams, no dying Miss Murdock. Toby didn’t only listen to his music, she felt it. It seemed to vibrate through her blood.

Although she was embarrassed to admit it, sometimes listening to him, watching him on television, made her all squirmy and hot—just like Noah made her feel. Especially that one night, when they had almost gone all the way.

Available on Amazon.

(Entries accepted up to noon on January 22, 2015)

Three prizes:
Elvis Gift Basket including DVD, CD, plus more
$25 Amazon Gift Card
$10 Amazon Gift Card

(First place winner has first choice, second place winner has second choice, third place winner receives remaining prize.)

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Find Alicia at:


*** 10% of all of Alicia Dean’s net royalties for End of Lonely Street will go to

The Elvis Presley Charitable Foundation  ***

The Rusticators

My next book takes place in a fictional town in Maine, near Bar Harbor. Set in 1871, it precedes the “gilded age” experienced in many American cities–my hometown among them–but by then the wanderings of America’s wealthy elite were already being felt in Maine.  As I was doing research for the book, I made some discoveries.

In the 1850s, Frederic Edwin Church, a second generation member of the Hudson River School of painters, visited Mount Desert Island, on which rests Bar Harbor (officially known as “Eden” until 1918) and its fictional neighbor.

Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860. Cleveland Museum of Art. (Photograph taken by author.)

Frederic Edwin Church, Twilight in the Wilderness, 1860. Cleveland Museum of Art. (Photo taken by author.)

His paintings, as well as those of  his peers, captivated America’s wealthy denizens of the south, and they began to visit Maine in significant numbers. In 1890, W.H. Sherman, in his Sherman’s Bar Harbor Guide, Business Directory, and Reference Book, writes the following “bird’s-eye” description of the area:

A beautiful, landlocked bay stretching away into the distance and losing itself in numerous coves and inlets, amid purple hills and green, wooded shores, its waters now washing the feet of weather-worn precipices and anon breaking softly on glistening sand and pebbles. Studded over the surface of this bay are bright emerald islands, rich in foliage, stately landmarks of the ages. As the summer sun shines brightly on this panorama of sea and mountain, one can imagine himself in the home of the lotus eaters, so enticingly does it seem to invite to repose.

On one side of this beautiful bay is an island, an island rich in all the wonders and beauties of nature. Majestic mountains rear their bold summits toward the sky, and sheltered valleys lie nestling at their base. Lovely lakes abound, reflecting in their pellucid depths an endless vista of mountain and forest. Brooks, with shady pools where the trout love to hide, flow gently through its vales or leap, foaming, from rock to rock in their headlong course to the sea. Mountain, forest and lake scenery meet the eye in every direction, while the rock-bound shores and lofty cliffs form a picturesque frontier to this island paradise.

Winslow Homer, <emEarly Morning After a Storm at Sea</em>, 1900-1903. Cleveland Museum of Art. (Photo taken by author.)

Winslow Homer, Early Morning After a Storm at Sea, 1900-1903. Cleveland Museum of Art. (Photo taken by author.)


Travel by land was difficult–trains only went as far as Portland–so the best way to reach Mount Desert Island was by steamship from Boston, which had its own hardships.  Because the journey was arduous, visitors tended to stay for a month or more.

These “rusticators,” as they were known by the locals, initially stayed in hotels–in 1855 a New York lawyer named Charles Tracy brought 27 people, including Frederic Church, to stay in a village tavern. He kept a diary about his experiences, which was published, including illustrations by Frederic Church, by the Mount Desert Island Historical Society in 1997. (There are used copies available on Amazon, ranging in price from $5 to $285. Seriously.)

After a few summers, however, the visitors grew weary of rusticating, and began to build “cottages,” ornate structures with 20-30 or more rooms. The “Golden Age” of Bar Harbor and surrounding towns began in earnest around 1880. At its height, the season featured lavish parties nearly every day of the week. According to the Mount Desert Island Historical Society, “Some ‘cottagers’ actually hired teams of local workers who would move, largely by hand, fully grown oak, maple and elm trees to different locations on the lawn each year, much like one would rearrange furniture or change the composition of a flower garden!”


The locals did reap benefits from these eccentric summer visitors. They provided jobs year round, and John D. Rockefeller financed 57 miles of gravel roads and 17 hand-carved granite stone bridges on Mount Desert Island, and donated one-third of the land which became Acadia National Park, the first national park east of the Mississippi River. He convinced many of his friends to donate land as well. Another summer visitor, George Dorr, charted and created many of the trails in the park.

The Golden Age hit its decline with the creation of the federal income tax, as well as the Depression and World War II. But the death knell was struck in October 1947, when Mount Desert Island suffered a massive forest fire. The fire swept through “Millionaire’s Row” on Frenchman’s Bay, destroying 67 palatial summer estates and ultimately burning 17,188 acres, 10,000 of which were in Acadia National Park.

*Cleveland Museum of Art
*W.H. Sherman, Sherman’s Bar Harbor Guide, Business Directory, and Reference Book, 1890. Available on GoogleBooks.
*Photos of cottages from “Cottages of Mount Desert Island,”


Christmas, Victorian Style

Christmas rapidly approaches, and I suspect no one who reads this blog will be surprised to see a post about Christmas in the Victorian era. Predictability is good, right?

Although Christmas as we know it today does celebrate the birth of Jesus (even though there is evidence to suggest he was not born in December), the many and varied traditions surrounding the holiday predate that event by thousands of years. The Yule log and singing of carols are Scandinavian in origin, a celebration of the Winter Solstice. The Christmas tree and the giving of gifts, some say, have their origins in the Roman festival of Saturnalia. The twelve days of Christmas are reportedly a throwback to the ancient Mesopotamian festival of Zagmuth, a celebration of their god Marduk’s defeat of the monsters of chaos each winter.

But Christmas as we celebrate it today has its origins in Victorian England. The Christmas tree was largely unknown in England until the German Prince Albert brought the tradition to his adopted country upon his marriage to Queen Victoria. After this engraving ran in the Illustrated London News in 1848, Britons flocked to put trees in their houses.

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, and assorted offspring around the palace Christmas tree.                 From the Illustrated London News, 1848. Source: Wikimedia Commons.



First edition of A Christmas Carol, 1843. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol was published in 1843, and created a resurgence in the singing of Christmas carols, giving of gifts, and giving charity to the poor.






First Christmas card, 1843. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


The first Christmas card is believed to have originated in 1840s England as well. In 1843, Henry Cole, an English civil servant, commissioned an artist, John Callcott Horsley, to create a card for Christmas. In 1880, 11.5 million Christmas cards were sold.


Christmas crackers, which for some reason never caught on in the U.S., were invented by Tom Smith, a London confectioner, in 1847.  Originally designed to help market his own bon bons, he added a popping sound upon opening (inspired by the crackling sound of a log on the fire), and inserted sweets, and a message.  Today’s crackers also include a paper crown, a small toy, a sweet, and a message akin to that inside a fortune cookie.

Gifts given at Christmas were modest in Victorian times–small trinkets, treats, fruits, and nuts–and were hung on the Christmas tree. As presents got bigger, they were stashed under the tree. Decorating for Christmas with evergreens, a medieval tradition, was adopted wholeheartedly by the Victorians. Family, so important to the Victorians, became the centerpiece of the Christmas celebration, and that tradition too we hold dear today.

And so I wish all of you a joyous holiday season, no matter which winter festival you celebrate. May you be blessed with family, friends, peace, and happiness during this season and the year to come.


Drinking, Victorian Style

Everyone who’s ever read historical romance knows that there is very often alcohol featured somewhere. It’s typically consumed by the men in the story, although on occasion the heroine gets tipsy and does something stupid. Generally speaking, though, I prefer my heroines to be able to handle their liquor. Since my current heroine owns a pub in 1867, I thought I ought to find out what her patrons would be drinking. I am limiting this post to England; if I add American booze we’d probably be here all day.


Victorians drank a fair amount of beer–ale, bitter, porter, and stout. I couldn’t possibly do justice to the subject here, but I found this fabulous blog–Zythophile–which appears to be able to tell you everything you wanted to know about the history of beer, including a history of bottled beer.

For amusement, check out this beer ad from Wales in 1888. There’s a wonderful collection of Victorian era ads over at


I love cider, much more than beer, although I can tell you from experience that it provides a hangover several times worse than beer. Cider, of course, is fermented apple juice, varying widely in taste and alcohol content. It has been popular since in England since the Norman conquest–the Normans were very fond of apples, and did amazing things with them–just think of that amazing nectar known as Calvados, an apple brandy. But I digress. To give you an idea of the popularity of cider in the Victorian period, a paper I found notes that “In 1877 there were 23,000 acres of apples in Devon, 22,000 in Herefordshire, 21,000 in Somerset, 9,000 in Worcestershire, 8,000 in Gloucestershire, and 6,000 in Kent.”


Most wine consumed in England during the Victorian “period was from France. Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published initially in 1861, provides the following about the wine known in England as “Claret”:

CLARETS.—All those wines called in England clarets are the produce of the country round Bordeaux, or the Bordelais; but it is remarkable that there is no pure wine in France known by the name of claret, which is a corruption of clairet, a term that is applied there to any red or rose-coloured wine. Round Bordeaux are produced a number of wines of the first quality, which pass under the name simply of vins de Bordeaux, or have the designation of the particular district where they are made; as Lafitte, Latour, &c. The clarets brought to the English market are frequently prepared for it by the wine-growers by mixing together several Bordeaux wines, or by adding to them a portion of some other wines; but in France the pure wines are carefully preserved distinct. The genuine wines of Bordeaux are of great variety, that part being one of the most distinguished in France; and the principal vineyards are those of Medoc, Palus, Graves, and Blanche, the product of each having characters considerably different.

Of Champagne (my personal favorite), Mrs. Beeton writes:

CHAMPAGNE.—This, the most celebrated of French wines, is the produce chiefly of the province of that name, and is generally understood in England to be a brisk, effervescing, or sparkling white wine, of a very fine flavour; but this is only one of the varieties of this class. There is both red and white champagne, and each of these may be either still or brisk. There are the sparkling wines (mousseux), and the still wines (non-mousseux). The brisk are in general the most highly esteemed, or, at least, are the most popular in this country, on account of their delicate flavour and the agreeable pungency which they derive from the carbonic acid they contain, and to which they owe their briskness.

Other wines included port, a sweet red wine from Portugal fortified with brandy, usually consumed by gentlemen after a meal, and sherry, an aperitif from Spain. Other wines included marsala, usually used in cooking, and madeira, often an aperitif. Mrs. Beeton also provides recipes for Elder Wine, Lemon Wine, Mulled Wine, and various cordials.

Eliza Acton, in her “Modern Cookery,” has an entertaining little recipe for “Raisin Wine, Which if Long Kept, Really Resembles Foreign.”  This book was originally published in 1845; you can find that edition and several subsequent ones on GoogleBooks.

Spirits and Liqueurs

Whisky (or whiskey–don’t ever use the wrong one), brandy, gin–the Victorians drank them all.

Whisky is the spelling preferred by the Scottish, and refers to the spirit made in that country. Whiskey is preferred by the Irish and the Americans. I have had a terrible time with this word, because my heroes are always drinking the stuff, and when deep in the throes of writing I sometimes forget which is which.  Since my characters do inhabit Northeastern England, just south of the Scottish border, I have decided they drink Scotch whisky.

Brandy is a spirit produced by distilling wine (or other fermented fruit), containing about 40% alcohol. The most famous brandy is, of course, cognac, which comes from certain producers in the Cognac region of southwestern France. It is usually an after-dinner drink.

And then there’s gin. Gin is basically ethanol flavored with juniper berries, about 40% alcohol. It originated in Holland (and is believed to be the source of the term “Dutch Courage,” as 16th century soldiers took a few swigs before battle to calm their nerves). Gin suffered a terrible reputation in the 18th century, as bans on imported liquor allowed the proliferation of affordable, poor quality gin, causing untold social problems.

Bear Street and Gin Lane, by William Hogarth, 1751.

Nevertheless, eventually gin did become more respectable. The gin and tonic was popularized by the Victorian military officers in India, who found it a much better way to get their daily dose of antimalarial quinine. Ladies sipped sloe gin, which is obtained by steeping sloe berries (from the blackthorn tree) in sweetened gin.

While not strictly a Victorian, Queen Elizabeth’s late mother, the Queen Mum, was born at the tail end of the Victorian era, and famously drank gin until she died. Her favorite tipple was a Dubonnet and gin: 2 parts Dubonnet to one part gin (preferably Gordon’s).  She had wine with lunch, port after lunch, a martini before dinner, and two glasses of pink Veuve Cliquot with dinner. And lived to 101–draw your own conclusions.

Shall we go down the pub?

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