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I’ve been thinking about writing a piece on procrastination for a while, but hadn’t gotten around to it….
Okay, I couldn’t resist saying that. <G> In fact, this blog is a reboot of one I wrote in 2010. I'm deadline crazed so decided to pull up a golden oldie, and when I saw this on the list, I knew it was perfect!
I've been a serious practitioner of procrastination for as long as I can remember, I never thought much about it, other than experiencing the usual guilt.
Anne here, bringing you Ask-A-Wench for this month, in which we're talking craft-of-writing books. There are probably as many different ways to approach writing as there are writers, and in our discussion of the topic, we found the wenches vary enormously.
Mary Jo: Basically, I hate how-to-write books. In the past, I bought a number of pricey books that other writers raved about. Books that help some develop strong plots, brilliant insights, and probably shiny hair. They did nothing for me. My mind blanks. Eventually, I realized that is not how I learn. (I'm not great with expensive, highly rated lecturers on writing, either. Honestly, I have no idea how I've ever managed to write a book!)
But one book I really like is Stephen King's ON WRITING: A Memoir of the Craft. Probably because it's more memoir and less craft. I don't read Stephen King novels because I've never been into horror, but in this memoir, he is warm and wise and witty and very easy to relate to. He intertwines his life with his writing, and the result is fascinating and powerful. (Also short. Unlike his novels. *G*)
by Mary Jo
A few days ago, the Mayhem Consultant and I watched a movie we both loved: The Finest Hours. Based on the book by the same name by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman), it's the true story of an insanely brave Coast Guard rescue that took place in a vicious nor'easter storm that took place off Cape Cod in 1952. (Released in January 2016, the movie didn't make much impact, but it deserves to be seen.)
The storm was so violent that it broke two tanker ships in half near Cape Cod. Both were cheaply built WWII vessels that should have been retired after the war, but weren't. One Coast Guard rescue team went out for the SS Fort Mercer and managed to save a number of the crew. Then it was discovered that a second tanker, the SS Pendleton, had also broken in half nearby. The front half of the ship sank immediately, taking the captain, the radios, and most of the officers.
Our monthly round-up of favorite reads for the summer months, or winter if you're down-under, plus a few movies to help us through the extreme weather.
As an antidote to the high summer heat and humidity that have settled over Maryland, we recently watched Where Eagles Dare, a 1968 action movie set in World War II. I first saw it many years ago, and I've seen it once or twice since, but not recently, and I was curious about how well it's held up. (This because we'd recently watched another WWII movie from the same era and it was pretty bad.)
But Where Eagles Dare still rocks! Based on a novel and screenplay by Alistair MacLean, a favorite author of mine for many years, it's fast paced and full of twists and turns. It features a very handsome and enigmatic Richard Burton, a very young and very deadly Clint Eastwood, and Mary Ure, Burton's love interest and fellow agent, a woman who is as skilled with a machine gun as Clint.
The plot has a group of British commandos going to a Nazi mountain fortress to rescue an American general who knows the D-Day plans, and they have to get him out before the information can be tortured out of him. Eastwood is an American Army Ranger who is along for reasons that become clear at the end (when he says something to the effect of 'next time you Brits have a party like this, don't invite me.' <G>)
But what really makes this movie so suitable for summer viewing is the setting. The Schloss Adler is on a mountaintop in Southern Bavaria in deep winter with snow, ice, and biting winds galore. The only access by cable car sailing high above the icy slopes. Delightful! Recommended for all heat waves. <G>
I've been reading a lovely book called The Giants Look Down by Sonja Price. It's a first novel and is one of the most original and interesting books I've picked up in a while. The heroine, Jaya, born in Kashmir, is determined to be a doctor like her father but a devastating natural disaster robs her of her family and her future. The scene then shifts to Scotland as she embarks on a new life. Both the scenes set in Kashmir and Scotland are beautifully and evocatively described, and the Kashmiri background in particular is unusual and fascinating. Jaya is a lovely heroine and I was rooting for her to succeed against all the odds. It's a fabulous debut book.
I was also lucky enough to pick up a pile of books at the Romantic Novelists' Association conference last week and can't wait to dive into them! One of them, The Cornish House by Liz Fenwick, is perfect summer
reading, with a heroine taking on an old cottage and discovering the secrets it has held for generations. I love Cornwall and Liz's books are so evocative that I can imagine I'm sitting in a rocky cove, gazing out over
I’ve been reading The Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing, which is absolutely fascinating. It’s just the sort of non-fiction I love, as it weaves together important specific discoveries and personalities with an overview of the world and society at the time. The author, Laura J. Snyder, has also written another book I enjoyed (The Philosophical Breakfast Club, which is about the men who changed science in England) I think she’s both an elegant writer and a lively storyteller—something that doesn’t always go hand in hand in non-fiction.
This book is a wonderfully provocative exploration of art and science—Leewenhoek invented the microscope and Vermeer pioneered the use of optics in art (it’s thought he used a camera obscura in creating his luminous paintings.) The 1600s was the height of the Scientific Revolution, where empirical observation became the rallying cry for all those interested in understanding the world around them. She talks not only about how lenses helped see the world in a way the naked eye can't perceive, but also why Holland became a hotbed for creativity in art and science. It was a truly “eye-opening” book, and I highly recommend it!
I’ve been reading a lot of women’s fiction and mysteries lately. So I picked up Swimsuit Body, A Cypress Bay Mystery, by Eileen Goudge through Netgalley because I enjoy Goudge’s writing and it seemed to be a lovely combination of both. Although this is labeled a mystery, it’s so much more: a travelogue of the northern California coast, a tongue-in-cheek satire on Hollywood, and a wonderful insight into friends, small towns, and alcoholism. The solution to the mystery is in her well-drawn characters more than forensic evidence, a fact I appreciate. And while the heroine is a little too bold at times, she’s always smart, and she doesn’t pull her punches when it comes time for someone to pay. I loved the fabulously strong writing.
It's turning out to be a busy summer, so the reading hours have been fewer than I like! Currently I'm reading Death in the English Countryside by Sara Rosett - an English cozy set in a cozy English village, with twists. American Kate Sharp is a film location scout and her company is helping to set up a new production of Pride and Prejudice. Kate--a huge fan of anything Austen--goes over to England not to look for settings this time--but to find her boss, who has inexplicably disappeared. She follows a very interesting trail of clues - why he's vanished, what became of him, who's responsible - that takes her around the English countryside and into nooks and crannies of village life far more mysterious than she anticipated. Well written, with likable characters, a setting that beautifully evokes the heart of England, good pacing and a smart mystery that keeps you guessing, this is a good mystery, the start of a series. I'll definitely return for more.
It’s been hot and it’s been hectic this month. I feel very ambition-less.
I’m reading Jim Butcher’s Fool Moon which is Book Two of the Dresden Files. This is the werewolf book. I may possibly have read this one before, or maybe I saw it on the TV show. In any case, the series is always an exciting read and this is turning out to be one of my favorites.
I also rewatched all the Dresden file TV series because I was reading the book so I am just filled to the gills with Jim Butcher. Nice.
Moving along to a second series book from a favorite author. I seem to be playing it safe this month.
Elizabeth Peters is an old, reliable favorite. I’ve moved right along in her Amelia Peabody books, (reading them very slowly as great treats,) and have now arrived at He Shall Thunder in the Sky.
Ramses is a young man, now. For philosophical reasons he’s not joining the army to fight in the trenches in World War I -- not a popular choice in Cairo. Is he doing his part another way ...?
(no SPOILERS here ...)
I've also been reading cosy mysteries -- the Toni Diamond series are by Nancy Warren. Set in the South, the protagonist is Toni Diamond, an ambitious make-up "home saleswoman" for the "Lady Bianca" cosmetic company. As the blurb for the first book says "Imagine Columbo in a lavender suit, with fake diamonds and big hair. The first story—and the first murder—takes place at a Lady Bianca convention, where consultants from all over the US gather.
I loved these books -- there are four so far and I'm waiting for more. They're clever, warm-hearted, funny (I had a number of laugh-out-loud moments), sharply observed and very entertaining. The murders are ingenious, the characterization is delightful, and there's even a sexy detective and a blossoming romance. Highly recommended. And the first book, Frosted Shadow, is free.
I've also been reading more in the Liaden Universe series by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller (science fiction) and am continuing Jennifer Ashley's Shifter series.
And now we open the floor to our readers. Tell us what you've been enjoying this summer! We're always eager...hungry...for new books to devour!
by Mary Jo
I grew up in the farm country of Western New York and had a fine vegetable garden, but tomatoes were basically just another vegetable, less prized than sweet corn or squash or potatoes. There were none in my garden. In retrospect, I think that being so far north meant that tomatoes didn't grow as well as they do farther south.
I formulated this theory after moving to Maryland, where tomatoes are very nearly a religion. <G> Perfect, juicy, sun-ripened Maryland tomatoes are much sought after. Locations of farm stands with great tomatoes are greedily exchanged.
Today's Ask A Wench question collected by Mary Jo:
"What are your work cycles? Do you prefer writing in the morning, late at night, or high noon? Are you more productive in winter, when there is less incentive to go outside, or in the summer, when you burrow into the air conditioning and might as well write? Or--is your writing rhythm all about your deadline???"
Mostly I write in the morning, though sometimes I also write in the evening. Mid-afternoon, around three, I'm pretty brain dead so I use that time to walk the dog or do housework or go shopping. If it's raining and I'm deep in housework-avoidance, and the fridge is full, I might read for a couple of hours or do craft of some kinds — usually jewelry-making. The closer a deadline is, the less these times matter. In the last week or two of a deadline, I'll be at the computer at all hours -- can't stay away from it, really.
Mary Jo here:
Since Anne Gracie and I both have July releases, we decided to interview each other! Anne talked to me about Once a Soldier last week, and now it's my turn to enthuse about Anne's The Summer Bride, the last of the Chance Sisters quartet. I enjoyed reading it so much that I promptly reread the first three books in the series.
The book has been well received, Romantic Times says, "Gracie's Chance Sisters have captivated readers and stolen their hearts, perhaps none more than Daisy, whose fast-paced story will delight fans. All the characters readers adore are part of the tale, and which the charming plot enchants, it's the characters who take center stage."
Library Journal’s verdict was: “Passionate and sumptuously witty, this final book in Gracie’s sparkling quartet has the entire household rooting (and plotting) for Daisy and Flynn to get things right.”
MJP: Anne, the premise for The Chance Sisters is brilliant, and the first book, The Autumn Bride, was listed as one of the ten best romances of the year by Library Journal, as well as being a Romantic Times Top Pick. Can you tell us about the premise? And do you have any idea of where such a great idea came from? (Probably not. <G>)
AG: Actually I do know where the inspiration for the first book came from — it was a dream I had, in which an old lady was lying in bed, ill and in a desperate state, and a young woman climbed in her window. I scribbled it down in my notebook, and it kept nagging me and throwing up questions — who was the old lady, why was the girl climbing in the window — for no honest reason, surely? And that’s how I knew it was the start of a story.
The basic premise is, four girls band together as “sisters of the heart” in order to survive. When they find Lady Beatrice ill, neglected and abused by her servants, they pretend to be her nieces, and the girls and the old lady form a kind of family.
MJP: The four couples have been very different, so their romance are all quite different. But in The Summer Bride, Daisy and Flynn are the most unusual of all, particularly Daisy. Will you tell us about her?
AG: Daisy is the Cockney maidservant who risked her safety to help Jane and Damaris escape from the brothel where they were imprisoned. She started off in my mind as a minor character, but as soon as she hit the page, she sprang to life. She’s gutsy and outspoken and has a dream. I loved her from the start, so I was determined to give Daisy her own story.
Here’s a small snippet of Daisy’s thoughts:
Daisy had no illusions about herself. She was a little Cockney guttersnipe with a gimpy leg and a foul mouth—though she was working on the swearing, and her grammar. But she loved beautiful clothes and—praise be!— she was good at making them.
She was going to be somebody, and she was going to do it all herself; Daisy Chance, Dressmaker to the Toffs, with a shop and a business all her own. That was her dream, and she was so hungry for it she could almost taste it.
MJP: The hero, Flynn, is one gorgeous hunk of Irishman. Tell me more!
AG: Again, he’s not a typical hero. And in the spirit of “show don’t tell” I’ll use another snippet from the book. Flynn aims to marry “the finest lady in London.’ Here he’s talking to Lady Beatrice, who’s cross with him for not taking her into his confidence:
She eyed him narrowly. "Finding you've aimed rather too high, have you? I did warn you. A low-born, uneducated sea-captain, Irish—and Roman Catholic to boot!" She shook her head.
"Lapsed, m'lady, and though all you say is true, I don't believe I'm aimin' too high," Flynn said mildly. He was comfortable in his own skin and knew his own worth. "I'm also rich—a self-made man with a fleet of ships and a tradin' empire that spreads from here to the four corners of the earth."
Lady Beatrice sniffed. "Money acquired in trade."
Flynn grinned, undeceived by her disparaging tone. "Aye, m'lady, lots of nasty vulgar money at me disposal which the poor lass who consents to become me wife will have to help me spend. 'Twill be a terrible burden for her, I'm thinkin'."
Lady Beatrice's finely painted lips twitched. "Undoubtedly. Modesty is not one of your virtues, is it, Mr. Flynn."
Flynn shrugged. He'd never seen the point of hiding his light under a bushel.
MJP: Though Daisy and Flynn are connected with members of the beau monde by bonds of friendship, they are both openly involved in commercial activities – in “trade!” How does that tie into the larger society?
AG: It’s actually one of the things Daisy and Flynn bond over. The upper classes tended to frown on “trade” – they liked money. of course, but it was vulgar to refer to it, and they tended to look down on shopkeepers. But Daisy and Flynn also argue about business—she’s stubborn and her background has made her wary of trusting others—especially men.
“You’re looking exhausted,” Flynn said bluntly.
“So what? Hard work never killed nobody. I’m startin’ a business, remember?”
“I know, and that’s why I decided to come tonight, when nobody else was here to overhear what I have to say.”
Daisy gave him a flinty look. “What’s it got to do with you?”
“Nothing. But I know a lot more about how to run a business than you do, and I have to tell you, you’re goin’ about it the wrong way.”
Daisy stiffened. She set down her teacup with a clatter. “Well, thanks very much, Mr. Flynn, and now you’ve told me, you can get back to your bloody ball.”
“Settle down, firebrand, I mean no insult.”
“No? You tell me I’m doin’ everything wrong—me, who’s workin’ my fingers to the bone every hour God sends, making beautiful clothes for Jane and the others—clothes that other ladies want to order—an’ you expect me not to be angry? Bloody oath, I’m angry! What the hell would you know about ladies’ clothin’ anyway?”
MJP: Thanks so much for sharing a little of the book, Anne. Now I'm ready to reread The Summer Bride! Leave a comment or answer this question by midnight Thursday to get into the drawing for a copy of the book.
Anne's Question: Editors are always telling me that people only want to read about aristocratic heroines. Is that true for you?
MJP: Thanks so much for the lovely interview, Anne. We'll have to do this again if the book release schedule permits!
Hi. Joanna here. It's a great line-up this month.
I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, especially ones that ihave arcane books involved in the plot. So when I happened to read a blurb on this, I couldn’t resist. But before I go on, I have a confession to make: I’ve been madly scrambling to finish a project, so haven’t had quite as much time for reading as usual. So I’m not all that far along in this book, but am liking it enough to recommend it.
The Burnable Book. Here’s the lead blurb on the cover flap: In Chaucer's London, betrayal, murder, royal intrigue, mystery, and dangerous politics swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England's kings.
Maybe you can see right away why I was hooked. The author, Bruce Holsinger, is a professor of Medieval History, and already the ambiance of London—from the court intrigues to the stews—is really well-done. The style is a little edgy, but I’m liking the main protagonist a lot. A friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, and fellow poet, John Gower has been asked to find a stolen book that may bring down the monarchy. If you’re looking to immerse yourself in London of Richard II, come join me in turning the pages!
When I'm deep into writing a new book, I often reread comfort books because I know I'll enjoy them and there isn't the stress of hunting down new books and maybe not finding something I like. So--currently rereading Jayne Ann Krentz romantic suspense novels. I love her Arcane series, where characters have paranormal, psychic type abilities that are both blessing and curse. WHITE LIES is a particular favorite, where the heroine can always tell if someone is lying. This is a decidedly mixed blessing. <G>
But my current reread is the Dark Legacy duo, COPPER BEACH and DREAM EYES. JAK seldom does families, but the heroes of these two books are brothers, which is fun. Sam Coppersmith, hero of Copper Beach, is the lab guy who is a genius at manipulating crystal energy. When paranormal book finder Abby Radwell needs help, she is sent to him and sparks fly. Quite literally. <G>
Anne here, interviewing Mary Jo about her new book, ONCE A SOLDIER, the first in a new series, “Rogues Redeemed” which is a spin-off of her wonderful Lost Lords Series.
First a few accolades for the book: Library Journal gave it a starred review, and said, “Exquisitely developed characters, a stunning setting, and the perfect amount of history and engineering detail make this an excellent start to what promises to be another of Putney’s insightful, riveting series.”
Romantic Times gave it a Top Pick and said, “Filled with action, danger and passion, her latest engages the readers’ emotions with a deeply touching and marvelously crafted love story. A keeper.”
Anne: Mary Jo, congratulations on the release of ONCE A SOLDIER. I loved the beginning, where the hero and several other men are locked in a wine cellar, preparing themselves to face a firing squad at dawn. Each man reflects briefly on his life and ponders the unlikely possibility of redemption — which gives us the theme for the new series, “Rogues Redeemed.”
by Mary Jo
Hi, there! Today we are lucky enough to welcome Karen Harper as a return guest. Karen has been writing even longer that I have <G>, and she's known for her versatility and superb research. She started out with historical romance and has since branched out into main stream historical, romantic thrillers (including contemporary Amish suspense), and historical mysteries. She isa winner of the Mary Higgins Clark award. (Note the many varied covers included in this blog.)
A New York Times list bestselling author, among other honors, Karen is with us today to tell us about her just released, and utterly fascinating sounding book, The Royal Nanny. Over to you, Karen!
THE NANNY’S HAND THAT ROCKED THE WORLD
Victorian writer William Ross Wallace once wrote, “The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.” He may well have meant the loyal nannies who reared generations of the children of the British Empire.
He most certainly was right on about the heroine of The Royal Nanny, Charlotte Bill, the Cockney woman who raised the children of King George V and Queen Mary, the current queen’s grandparents.
Two of those six children became kings, and in a way, Charlotte, or ‘Lala’ as the children dubbed her, saved both of these boys. When she arrived in the royal household of the then Duke and Duchess of York, David (later King Edward VIII and Duke of Windsor) and Bertie (later King George VI) were being abused by their current nanny, who was later committed to an asylum. (Remember The King’s Speech flashbacks where Bertie was ignored and starved? And why did the Duke of Windsor gravitate toward abusive, take-charge women, including his beloved Wallis?)
Just a month ago Jo was still with us, and she’ll always be in our hearts — and “we will always have a part of Jo with us in her wonderful books,” as Wench Andrea/Cara recently said.
Jo wrote well over forty books and novellas, and we’ve each chosen our “favorites”—a word that loosely applies here. Choosing one or two over others wasn’t easy, but in the end the titles we picked all hold special meaning and resonance for each one of us. Some of us chose the same book. “Great minds and all that,” says Wench Joanna, “but see how differently we talk about it. A book is a collaboration between author and reader,” and the way we may respond to story and characters, and how we absorb and interpret a book, can be unique.
Recently, Jo's son Jonathan took this wonderful photo of his mother's many books--and her glittering collection of RITA awards.
Read our favorite picks -- and then tell us your favorite Jo Beverley books too!
Mary Jo Putney
So what is my favorite Jo Beverley book? This could be a difficult question. How about the stunning My Lady Notorious, first in the Malloren Series? Or how about Lady Beware, because of my unnatural fondness for Darien? Or her most recent, The Viscount Needs a Wife, which is subtle, original, and an overall delight?
And yet the choice turned out to be easy: Emily and the Dark Angel. It's one of her early traditional Regencies. It might have been the first book of hers that I read. It might have won the first (of five!) of her RITAs. Those details I don't remember.
What I do remember is that it is everything a Regency should be: beautifully written, rich with carefully woven historical detail, and superbly characterized, it is one of the best handsome rake/plain heroine books ever. Set in Melton Mowbray, the fashionable fox hunting capital of Regency society, the book features Emily Grantwich, a sensible twenty-six year old who is firmly on the shelf. She competently runs the family estate owned by her invalid father, and enjoys the challenges.
Verderan, the Dark Angel, is a notorious rake who inherits the adjoining estate--and proves that a man must be very charming to make a good rake! The growing relationship between them is both convincing and romantic--and just reading about the book made me pull one of my two copies off the keeper shelf because it's time for a re-read!
I went along my keeper shelf, looking at the old friends. It was pick one up and say, "Oh, yes. That's my favorite." Then I'd see the next one and open it and think, "No. This one is the best."
I sat dithering between Secrets of the Night, (so sensual), and An Arranged Marriage. (Oh, Nicholas. How could I NOT choose you?) And finally settled on An Unwilling Bride. The privileged heir of an aristocratic house and a prickly, radical schoolmistress are forced into marriage. There's resentment and distrust from the start and a chasm of social inequality that causes misunderstanding after misunderstanding.
Not the ingredients of a happy life together.
Many of Jo's books are about the needs and desires of strong men and women confronting the rigid, hierarchical society in which they live. This is the boundary she continually explores. An Unwilling Bride is this conflict in almost pure form. It's the meticulous picking apart of the assumptions and attitudes of Beth and Lucien, two complex people who are so Georgian we believe in them utterly and so universally human that our hearts ache for them.
I love the gradual coming together of Beth and Lucien. I see them working at the relationship, deliberately uncovering their vulnerabilities, being honest. Kindliness and goodwill are as important as desire. I like that. I like to see friendship growing up beside love.
What's special about Jo's work is not that she gets the historical clothing and countryside and forms of address correct. Though she does. Nobody does it better.
It's the strong, honorable people. She gets the people right.
Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott
What can I say? Trying to pick a favorite Jo Beverley book is like trying to pick a favorite vintage champagne—each has its own uniquely nuanced taste, hue and effervescence but they all possess a brilliant sparkle and leave you feeling blissfully intoxicated! Jo was a master at creating compelling characters whose conflict created stories of depth and complexity. I think readers love her books because they are so real. Flaws, fears, difficult decisions, past mistakes—we all can relate to the struggle to define happiness and the struggle to find love. Her writing resonates with intelligence, a masterful command of language and history, and a true gift for storytelling.
Okay, do I REALLY have to pick a favorite? (She says with a heavy sigh.) If pressed, I guess I have to say An Unwilling Bride. For me it showcases all of Jo’s magnificent talents. She took what to most authors would have been a very difficult storyline and created unforgettable characters and crackling tension, all in such a thoughtful exploration of human nature—and then of course ended with the celebration of love as the ultimate redeeming power.
Love—it’s at the heart of romance books. And Jo, we love you.
Nicola here. Today, as part of our Word Wench Blog 10th anniversary celebrations, we’re talking about what makes the Word Wenches such a special group to be a part of. Some of us are founder members of the blog and talk about the reasons it was set up in the first place and the ways in which it has grown and changed. Others, myself included, became Wenches along the way and joined a blog that continues to be dynamic, diverse, and fascinating, and a group of writers who are wonderfully insightful and supportive. Then there are our readers and regular blog commenters. Again, some have been with the blog since the beginning and others have joined in along the way, and together we have created what feels to me to be a special community. That’s my view of the Word Wenches, anyway – here is what my fellow Wenches have to say, plus some photos of Wenches having fun - at conferences, at weddings, with hats and even by the sea!
Ten years ago, the Word Wenches came together because our NYC traditional publishers requested that we begin interacting with our readers through social media. For introverted writers accustomed to spending all our days in our writing caves, only coming out to meet readers on special occasions, this was a huge technological and social leap into the unknown. So we banded together and held each other’s hands and took the leap. At that time, in 2006, I was finishing up the Magical Malcolm series, starting on the Rebellious Sons, writing an urban fantasy, and wishing I could publish my satirical mystery. My how time flies!
Posted by Nicola Cornick on Tuesday, June 07, 2016 at 09:00 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, anniversary, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Edith Layton, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel | Permalink | Comments (30)
by Mary Jo
I'll say this up front: Kathleen Gilles Seidel is a marvelous writer. We are both members of the Washington Romance Writers chapter of RWA, so I've know her for many years. At the WRW annual retreat, a slot would always be reserved for her to talk fascinatingly about some aspect of writing. (She has a PhD in English from Johns Hopkins University, so she's really good at this sort of thing.) I've heard many of her thoughtful lectures and stories as well as being addicted to her writing. So I feel very pleased that she's agreed to visit the Word Wenches today.
Kathy has twice won RITAs for best contemporary romance of the year. Her work is known for originality, wonderful keen observations about the human animal, and a delicious dry sense of humor. She later moved from romance to women's fiction, and they're great, too. (One of her books is entitled Keep Your Mouth Shut and Wear Beige. Who can resist that?)
What inspired me to invite Kathy at this point in time is that I saw that her novel Again is now available as an e-book, along with several of her other older titles. Naturally I downloaded Again and read the story for the fifth or sixth time. I also mentioned the book to the other Wenches, several of them read and adored it, and we all thought it would be a fine idea to invite Kathy to visit us.
Anne here, with Susanna Kearsley and Pamela Hartshorne dropping by to celebrate our 10th anniversary with us. Both Susanna and Pam are 'dual timeline/time slip' authors and Honorary Word Wenches (HWW). They're also representative of international wenchdom, as Pam is from the UK and Susanna from Canada. Welcome, Susanna and Pam!
I am, as it happens, an Honorary Word Wench—a noble and cherished designation that not only comes with the perk of being able to add the letters “H.W.W.” to my signature (always much appreciated by someone like me, who never finished university), but also stands as a sometimes much-needed reminder that I’m never really writing on my own.
It’s a thing about writing: so much of it needs to be done on your own in a room by yourself, shut away from distractions, that it would be easy to feel disconnected…if we didn’t have this amazing community.
The first time I took my elder son to FanExpo here in in Toronto, he looked across the lines of people standing in their cosplay costumes waiting to get in, and said, “My people!” And I knew exactly how he felt.
I feel it, too, whenever I’m with other writers and readers who treasure historical romance. When I don’t have to explain why I’d rather shut myself away with a pile of 18th-century newspapers and a big pot of coffee than go to the mall. When I can say I’ve just surfaced from being in another time, and people understand. It’s a wonderful feeling, to be understood.
It’s in places like this one, with hosts like the Word Wenches, that we’re all able to find one another. We cheer each other, teach each other, share our craft and learn in equal measure; and, as evidenced by this past week, we give each other comfort.
Back when I was gifted with my Honorary Word Wench title, on September 23 of 2009, this group was a mere three years old, and I only knew Nicola. Since then I’ve met nearly all of the Wenches, and from sharing an event with Joanna to sharing drinks and laughter with Anne, to having her and Mary Jo come and stand at my shoulder when I won my RITA, the Word Wenches really and truly are “My people”. (Susanna's first interview with the wenches is here.)
May they continue another ten years, and beyond that.
And I’ll keep on adding “H.W.W.” after my name, with great pride.
It is a great honour to be an Honorary Word Wench, especially when I spent so many years writing strictly contemporary romances for Mills & Boon as Jessica Hart. But I have always been fascinated by the relationship between the past and the present, and in fact started writing to fund a PhD in medieval history (although I ended up as an early modernist) so my historical leanings have always been there.
Throughout the (very) many years it took me to complete that PhD, the question I was asked most often - after ‘Have you ever thought about writing a real book?’, of course - was whether I was going to use my research to write a historical romance. My answer was always ‘no’: I fretted about authenticity and how I could possibly get modern readers to identify with characters who thought and spoke and acted so differently in the past.
But after writing 50 romances, it felt like time for a new challenge and I decided to get over myself and have a go at writing not a romance but a ‘time slip’, part historical novel, part ghost stories, part psychological thrillers – and, in my case, part romance too, because romances are about emotions, and emotions are what connect us to the past, whether that past is our own, or a more distant one. I let go of the authenticity issue; the truth is that no amount of academic research will tell us what it was ‘really like’ in the past. The only way we can know that would be to somehow go back and re-experience life as somebody who lived then (ooh, precisely the premise of a time slip!)
For me, the real appeal of historical novels, romances or otherwise, lies in the tension between everything that is different and intriguing about the past, and everything that is the same – and what never change are the human emotions that lie at the heart of every great story - love, hate, fear - and that we can all identify with, wherever and whenever we live.
The temptation for all those of us fascinated by the past is to get bogged down in details, and squeeze in every interesting piece of our research (I can’t tell you how much about dung heaps and cleaning gutters I had to force myself to jettison from my first drafts of Time’s Echo) but this is where historical romance comes into its own: focusing on the emotional relationship between the characters gives it the perfect structure to draw readers into the story while keeping them interested and intrigued with a dazzling backdrop of historical detail. (Pam's first interview with the Wenches is here.)
So let’s hear it for historical romance – and let’s hear it for the fabulous Word Wenches, and a blog that has been invariably interesting, entertaining and inspiring for an incredible ten years. Many congratulations to you all!
Anne again — thank you so much, Susanna and Pam for coming to celebrating this exciting milestone with us! And dear readers, to quote Pat Rice, "we would love to shower all of you with champagne and cake. But instead, at the end of the week, we'll be handing out gifts to random commenters."
And here's a question for readers: — what historical period or geographical location would you love to see explored in a time slip or historical romance?
by Mary Jo
Today, we're resuming our sadly interrupted anniversary celebration, and I have the pleasure of welcoming Eloisa James and Lauren Willig, both of whom have wonderful insights to share with us.
First up is Eloisa James, who has been a visitor to Word Wenches for both her romance and for her delicious memoir, Paris in Love. Today she ponders romance and what might lie ahead in our genre:
I read widely in romance sub-genres, with the exception of scary Romantic Suspenses. I’m just going to make a more-or-less haphazard list of the trends I’m seeing, skipping Historical because the Word Wenches have that covered. Please tell me in the comments what I’m missing or where I went wrong!!
by Mary Jo
Today is Memorial Day, which honors those who have died in military service. As a child, my sibs and I would accompany my father to the city cemetery to place flags on the graves of military veterans. Today, all honor to those who have served.
It’s rather fitting to use this day to wind up our week of mourning for Jo Beverley. It's time for the Word Wenches to return to regular programming, including a more somber continuation of the tenth anniversary of this blog. (I can imagine Jo saying crisply that it's time to pull up our socks and get back to work. <G>)
But today, as a last memorial, we wanted to post a few pictures of Jo, including several given by her family. Here's a nice one taken the day her older son married our Melissa, and she's holding an armful of Cabbage Patch Kids. The Kids are a Beverley family tradition and go to many family events. Jo sometimes made costumes for them. Above on the right is a picture of three Cabbage Patch Kids, and they're ready to party!
Jo loved to travel, and here's a great picture of her and author Barbara Samuel sharing a camel at Ayers Rock (Uluru) in the middle of Australia, and perhaps the center of the world. Both had been speakers at a Romance Writers of Australia conference. (That's a very regal camel. <G> Picture courtesy of Barbara Samuel.)
After returning to the UK, Jo and her husband Ken would often spend some weeks in the winter visiting Spain, which makes perfect sense to anyone who has ever experienced a winter in England! Ken took this lovely picture.
And here's my favorite picture of all, contributed by Ken Beverley, showing the two of them in Malaga, Spain. Because what romance writer doesn't want to spend her life with her very own knight in shining armor?
We've spent the last week sharing our thoughts and memories of Jo so thoroughly that it doesn't feel if she's really gone. She's just in the next room, drinking wine with Edith Layton and Georgette Heyer.
I'll finish with this lovely piece posted on the original memorial blog by Jeannette:
Written by Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all. I have only slipped away into the next room. I am I and you are you.Whatever we were to each other, that we are still. Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way you always used. Put no difference into your tone. Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow. Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes we always enjoyed together. Play, smile, think of me, pray for me. Let my name be ever the household word that it always was. Let it be spoken without effort, without the ghost of a shadow in it. Life means all that it ever meant. It is the same as it ever was. There is absolute unbroken continuity.
What is death but a negligible accident? Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight? I am waiting for you for an interval somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well. Nothing is past; nothing is lost. One brief moment and all will be as it was before. How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again!
by Mary Jo
It is with the deepest of sadness that we announce that our beloved Wench sister, Jo Beverley, died this afternoon. It was not a surprise, but the end came more suddenly than any of us expected.
Jo had quietly been through a very dangerous bout with cancer about five years ago, and had come through with flying colors. The cancer was discovered to have returned some weeks ago, and it moved very quickly. We all hoped for another miracle, but it was not to be. Jo died very peacefully in a lovely care home in Yorkshire that used to be a convent, with her husband and her pal Charlie, the Cabbage Patch Kid, by her side.
A Lancashire lass of Irish descent, she grew up by the sea, and always liked to live near it. She never lost her lovely English accent, but she and her husband Ken moved to Canada not long after university and she became a proud Canadian with dual citizenship. They raised their sons in Ottawa, then moved to Victoria, British Columbia, one of the loveliest small cities in the world.
More recently, she said that "her heart yearned for England," and she and Ken moved back, though they were considering returning to Victoria for good.
There was no one quite like Jo, with her calm English good sense and quiet warmth and dry wit, not to mention her taste for port wine and very dark chocolate. She and I were friends for almost 30 years, and our careers have always tracked very closely. In fact, my first book was published the month before Jo's first book, which pleased Melinda Helfer, the Regency reviewer for Romantic Times Magazine, because that way she could give each of us her Best New Regency Author award for two different years.
Her full name was actually Mary Josephine (mine is Mary Jo), and I'm grateful that she went by Jo, because we were confused often enough as it was! I would graciously accept compliments on my Rogue books, pointing out that they were actually Jo's Rogues. It was an honor to be confused with her. (Add Mary Balogh to the mix, and the confusion grew exponentially!)
I first met Jo at an RWA conference when she was surrounded by enthusiastic Regency readers. (You know how we become fan girls when we meet favorite authors!) We were introduced, chatted, and she mentioned that she wanted to go to the RT conference in San Antonio and needed a roommate. So did I, and that became the first of many conferences where we roomed together, most recently last summer at RWA in New York City.
In San Antonio, Jo's white nighty got rolled up with the sheets and carried off and disappeared into the hotel laundry system. The hotel looked for it and sent her occasional apologetic emails saying there had been a sighting, and surely they'd secure it some day. And they did, mailing the nighty to me because that was cheaper than sending it to Canada, so I presented it to Jo when I saw her next. We had some good chuckles over that.
We all have many memories of Jo, her wonderful smile, her humor and intelligence, and we were lucky enough to secure her daughter-in-law, Melissa Beverley, as our site manager here at Word Wenches. (I see resemblances between Jo and Melissa, too. Including the smiles.)
We invite you to share your memories here, whether you knew Jo in person or only through her books. She won five RITAs--a full basketball team--and many other awards, including the RWA Hall of Fame. Her books deserved all of that and more, and I'm happy to report that she had finished her book for next year, so we have that to look forward to.
But Jo herself has moved on to the next great adventure, and oh! How we will miss her.
(Picture of Anne Gracie, Jo Beverley, Mary Jo Putney)
From Anne Gracie:
Like Andrea, I first met Jo at my very first RWA conference in 2001. I was, of course, a huge fan of her work, and so when I saw she was giving a talk I went. Standing room only, so I sat cross-legged in the aisle and listened. The talk was on "Flying Into the Mist" and it felt as though she was speaking directly to me. So inspiring.
I met her briefly afterward and told her how much I'd loved her most recent book, DEVILISH. The following evening she won the RITA with it . (Picture below of Jo with Julia Quinn, also a RITA winner that night.)
She won five RITAs altogether, and has left us all a legacy of most excellent books. A few years later I met her in a more casual and relaxed situation at NINC conferences, where she shared her experience and much wisdom and good common sense.
Some years after that I joined the WordWenches, where we talk almost every day on email, and so our friendship developed. My last memory of seeing Jo in person was when she, Nicola, Mary Jo and I sat around drinking wine in my hotel room at the San Antonio conference, feet up, totally relaxed, just chatting and laughing and telling stories.
Vale, Jo. You will be greatly missed.
(Picture of Anne, Jo, and Cara/Andrea)
At my very first RWA Conference—I was a total newbie who had just sold my first book to Signet, I crept into a seminar Jo was giving. I had read her books, to me she was everything I aspired to be as an author—she understood Life in all its complexities, and crafted beautifully nuanced characters with a poetic command of language that made every word magical.
But in real life she was even more inspiring. She had a regal elegance and grace, and while her voice—with that wonderful English accent—was soft-spoken, there was no mistaking the quiet confidence she had in her craft and her professionalism. She helped pioneer respect for our genre, and that took the same strength, courage and daring to defy convention that she gave to her heroines.
As fellow Word Wench, I was lucky enough to come to know Jo not just as a legendary icon and inspiration but also as a dear friend. In our daily Wench loop conversations she made us laugh with her pithy sense of humor and sharp wit, and when any of us were going through a tough time, she was always there to send a hug, along with support and encouragement.
I have no words to express how much I am going to miss her.
From Pat Rice:
My memory doesn't hold moments, it holds impressions. Like Andrea, I saw Jo as a person of elegance and grace, with a complete command of herself, her audience, and her writing. Her confidence was unshakeable, her knowledge and fascination with history, immense. She adapted quickly to changing tides in the industry, but her voice, her books, her characters, were unchanging in originality and historical accuracy. I will miss her so much, that I cannot imagine how her family must be feeling in this moment. I know she's in a good place, but we who stay behind are bereft.
When Jo Beverley agreed to join a few of us as we began our blog, I remember how thrilled I was that she wanted to be part of the group. Jo was such a legend in historical romance, and deservedly so. In a sense, she was the quintessential romance writer: stories flowed freely through her, heroes and heroines were strong and unforgettable, themes had substance, her language had clarity and richness, her books were masterful, one after another. The connections among her stories were intricately mapped out in brilliant ways, and her sense of history was impeccable--and on top of that powerful combination of elements, she was elegantly English and very, very smart and far-seeing.
As a sister Wench and a friend to all of us behind the scenes of the blog -- where as others have mentioned, we email every day -- Jo was consistently wise and supportive, always a voice of reason, especially when our opinions piled on and we needed to make a decision. Jo was straightforward and had an ability to cut right to the heart of a matter. She often made the most sense, could be gently funny, and we always listened and learned.
Like some of the other Wenches, I first met Jo at a conference when I was very green and timid, and she was--well, she was Jo Beverley, historical romance royalty itself, and I felt so awed by this tall, elegant British woman that I practically curtsied. Jo had an air of confidence and certainty, and never sought to be the center of attention--but she was nonetheless.
Though she was low-key and gracious, she had presence and a wonderful charisma. Her perspective on writing, creativity and publishing was balanced, and she was very open minded and curious about life beyond the world of writing. We had many fascinating discussions and I admired her openness, and over the years my initial respect for her grew to friendship.
The Wenches all deeply care about one another, and this loss shakes our family of Wenches. Jo was a quiet goddess in our midst, and we loved her and we are proud of her.
My heart goes out to her family--her love for her husband, two sons, her daughter-in-law, her granddaughter and her sisters was always evident. Jo will always be a Word Wench, and she will always be missed until we see her again.
From Joanna Bourne:
(Picture of Jo, Cara/Andrea, and Joanna)
It was my first National Conference and long, long ago. I’d smuggled three or four of Jo’s books into the signing hall, which you aren’t supposed to do.
It was one of those lulls in the signing and there was nobody in line in front of her. I sidled over, books in hand, and stood about five feet away, and didn't have the guts to actually, y’know, talk to her.
She looks up. So I laid the books down and said I-really-enjoy-your-writing-An-Unwilling-Bride-is-my-favorite-book-in-the-world-you-just-nail-the-aristocratic-Georgian-world-view-and . . .
I may have repeated myself a bit.
She signed the books and said, “Thank you. It’s one of my favorites, too.” After a while I backed slowly away.
I never told her about that meeting. I wish I had. She would probably have laughed.
From Nicola Cornick:
Like a number of other Wenches, I first met Jo at my very first RWA Conference in Dallas in 2003. Totally overawed, I approached her to sign a book for me and she was so gracious and charming it only served to awe me more. Since then I have got to know Jo though the Wenches and at the RWA and RNA conferences. What always struck me about her, along with her beautifully distinctive writing voice, was her wisdom and the generosity with which she shared it. I remember one very stimulating discussion at RNA Penrith about the differences between the US and the UK romance markets and I treasure those rare occasions when the Wenches met up for wine and laughter. Reading people’s memories and tributes to Jo has brought home to me how very much she is missed by all who knew her.
Please tell what you remember about Jo--
Picture at left of Jo at an NAL booksigning with Cara/Andrea behind her. Reader and writer Louisa Cornell is in pink.
Special thanks to Anne Gracie for producing all these wonderful pictures at a moment's notice.
PS: So many marvelous comments and memories and poems have been posted here. I have smiles and tears as I read them. It's impossible to respond to all of the comments directly, but all of us Wenches deeply appreciate this shared celebration of Jo's life and work. We'll see that her family receives a copy of all the tributes later.--MJP
by Mary Jo
Can you believe it? Today is the 10th anniversary of this blog--that's 597 years in internet time, you know. <G> The world has changed, publishing has changed, we've all changed--yet here we are, still musing about romance and history, interviewing interesting guests, and inviting you all to join in the conversation!
The idea for a historical romance writers' blog was sparked when Susan King and I were having lunch with Eileen Buckholtz, our friend and web wizard, and she suggested that since we were interested in blogging, a group blog was the way to go: more content, less work. <G> This sounded like a fine idea to us, so Susan and I listed people we'd love to have join us. To my surprise, everyone we asked agreed, and a blog was born. Sherrie Holmes, our first site manager and cat herder, came up with the name Word Wenches, which we all loved, and here we are, ten years later.
I believe we're the only romance blog to have published two Christmas anthologies, Mischief and Mistletoe and The Last Chance Christmas Ball, both with Kensington. Both were great fun to write.
To celebrate this anniversary, we decided to invite back a few former guests to muse or reminisce with us. Because we received such thoughtful responses, we'll be posting every day this week, with Friday being wrap up comments from all of us Wenches.
And because we love giving books away, we'll be doing eight giveaways to eight lucky commenters from our Anniversary Week celebration. (Winners to be chosen by the end of May.) Let the celebration begin!
Our first guest: Candice Hern, one of the old gang of Signet Regency writers where so many Regency writers started our writing careers. Candice is not only a fine writer who has one of the best Regency websites anywhere, but because she was already an experienced blogger, she was extremely helpful when we started our own blog. Thank you, Candice!
Congratulations, Word Wenches, on your first TEN YEARS!
Quite a milestone on the internet. Not many group blogs survive that long. I have been reading your blog since Day 1 and continue to do so. I always learn something new, especially when one of you dives into an historical research topic. I love the diversity of the group, both in your books and your blog posts. (And I still miss Edith.) Here's wishing you all another ten years of entertaining and educating those of us who love historical romance. Way to go, ladies!
Next up: Mary Balogh. A romance star ever since her first Signet Regency was published a lot of years ago, Mary offers these insights:
Where Romance is going:
Romance is going in whatever direction the imaginations of romance writers take it—or should I say directions? In the past several years we have seen it explode into innumerable sub-genres and trends, some of them enduring, some not.
I decided almost as soon as I started writing more than thirty years ago (ouch!) that I would no longer read romance or take any notice of trends or jump on any bandwagons. I cheat (a lot) on that first decision, but even so I would say that 90% of my reading is non-romance. So who am I to talk about where romance is going? I will continue to follow my own imagination for as long as I am willing and able and as long as I still have readers.
One thing that has pleased me greatly this month of May is the almost overwhelmingly positive response I have had to my new book, Only Beloved, the final book of the Survivors’ Club series. The hero is 48, the heroine 39. I held my breath as the publication day dawned. But readers had no objection to the older characters.
The same thing happened with the novella that came out with one of Grace Burrowes’s in Once Upon a Dream in April. The hero and heroine are both 40 or close to it. With so many aging authors still writing (ahem) and so many aging readers still reading, maybe this is one direction I will take more often in the future. Love, even romantic love, is not an exclusive preserve of the young, after all, is it?
And on the subject of the passing of time…congratulations Word Wenches for keeping your really excellent and intelligent blog site going for ten years. That is a remarkable achievement. May you continue for at least ten more.
To wrap up today's posting, Carola Dunn joins us. She started out writing Walker Regencies, which were the first such romances I discovered in the library when I began to look beyond my well worn Georgette Heyers. She moved from Regency romance into historical mysteries--I've been obsessively following her 1920's set Daisy Dalrymple series for years--and like Mary Balogh, she has some thoughts about older characters.
Pass Time with Good Company
I wrote my first Regency 37 years ago (Toblethorpe Manor, published 1981) and followed it with 31 more, as well as a bunch of novellas. As in most romances, the heroines were almost all youthful—even the oldest, at 42, seems youthful from my present age! When I started writing mysteries, I made my amateur sleuth, Daisy Dalrymple, 25. For reasons I won’t go into, over the course of 23 books she’s aged by only 5 years.
A decade ago, after turning 60, I decided I wanted a protagonist nearer my own
age. That was the genesis of Eleanor Trewynn, the main character of my Cornish mysteries. For many years, she and Daisy have been living in my head. Luckily, I find them excellent company. It’s gratifying to hear from so many readers that they too think of Daisy and Eleanor as good friends they want to spend more time with.
Thank you, Candice, Mary, and Carola! You've all created wonderful characters we want to spend more time with. (And you're all on my personal keeper shelves.)
Visit Word Wenches again tomorrow, when the inimitable Eloisa James and Lauren Willig will share their thoughts on romance! And remember, commenters might win books, and what reader doesn't love winning books?
Posted by MaryJoPutney on Sunday, May 22, 2016 at 08:40 PM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, anniversary, Books, Cara Elliott, Edith Layton, Guests, History, HWW, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Research, Sherrie Holmes, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel | Permalink | Comments (58)
Anne here. As many of you have already noticed, we're making a few small changes to the WordWench blog, leading up to our 10th anniversary celebrations.
The most obvious is the gorgeous new banner, designed by wench Andrea/Cara, in consultation with us all. We love it — what do you think?
Last year, our long-time blogmistress Sherrie retired to spend more time with her beloved animals and work on her own creative projects, and we thank her for all the hard work and enjoyment. The lovely Melissa Beverley (Jo's daughter-in-law) has been managing the blog for some time, and is now feeding in the website changes in increments, as and when her energetic toddler allows it. Melissa's photo has just gone up on the sidebar. We're still experimenting with small and subtle changes (like the new border color) so keep your eyes peeled and let us know how you like it.
Mary Jo will be launching our 10th anniversary celebrations this coming week — stay tuned. We'll be interspersing new posts with posts from some guest authors, and a few golden oldie posts from the past. And there will be giveaways.
As usual, we're reading quite a range of books!
From Joanna Bourne:
I’m always happy to read Mary Balogh. This one is Only a Kiss. Very fine. The slow development of the relationship delights me. As always, the romance comes to us in growing trust and understanding between the two protagonists. This one is about letting go of past pain and guilt and finding new love. It’s a gently joyful book for all that as these two find each other.
Anne here, reporting in on my first-ever Romantic Times Readers Convention, which was in Las Vegas. I went with wenches Pat and Mary Jo -- and here we are just after our hero panel. For more about that, read on. . .
It was a huge conference —over 3,100 delegates — which is much bigger and busier than anything I've ever been to. People had come from so far away -- there was even a small group of French readers who'd come from Paris, bringing French editions of books by me, Mary Jo and others. Merci, Karen, Elodie and friends.
The hotel was also huge and spread out and just to get from our rooms to the convention area involved a lot of walking — in fact my friend Keri wears a fit-bit and she averaged 15,000 steps per day just going back and forth at the convention. The hotel even had two little indoor 8 seater shuttle buses that ferried people back and forth and they were in constant use by people who were not enjoying (or coping with) all the walking.
From Mary Jo:
For a change of pace this month, we're going to talk about good books that we've loved, but which might have fallen from view for one reason or another. This is not exactly the same as comfort reads, though there is some overlap. So here are some overlooked books that we enjoy, and maybe you will, too!
I was inspired to suggest this topic to the other Wenches when I saw that Again by Kathleen Gilles Seidel is now available as an e-book. A two time RITA winner, Kathy writes books that are subtle, intelligent, deeply observed, and dryly funny. Again is probably my favorite. The heroine, Jenny Cotton, is head writer for a historical soap opera set in the Regency, and the show's Brooklyn studio and earnest young actors are home and family to her. The Canadian hero, Alec Cameron, is a star of daytime television who was the lead in a soap series that bombed big time, so he's happy when Jenny casts him as a cranky duke.
Pretty soon Alec is falling for Jenny, who is way too loyal to her long time boyfriend, who is also in the cast. And she has a bad habit of working out her emotional issues through the characters on her show. Unfortunately, Alec's character is given all the traits she doesn't like in her boyfriend, while the boyfriend's part is sounding more and more like Alec--and Jenny won't admit it. <G> In some ways, the book is dated--no cell phones and daytime television has changed enormously, among other things--but the book is still marvelous--smart and funny and wise, and very satisfying. I enjoyed the story this time as much as when I first read it in the early '90s. You might want to take a look--Again didn't win a RITA for best single title contemporary romance by accident. <G>
Our question for today: If you won the lottery (mega-millions) would you keep on writing? Would it change what you write?
Winning mega-millions is a lovely daydream we can all enjoy, even if we don’t buy tickets, which I don’t. A million dollars these days, even after taxes, isn’t enough to buy a decent house where we live. But mega-millions: the mind goes wild. I could start entire industries in poverty-stricken areas. But I’m a writer and a first-class introvert and realistically, I know I wouldn’t be that brave, smart, or knowledgeable. So I’d probably divide up the money among family, give a huge chunk to charities that might build those industries, save a bit for emergencies and travel… and then finish writing those books I’ve started about four lucky people who share a mega-million lottery.
But as a writer of historical romance, the only lucky characters I've written are the ones in my Rebellious Sons series, with their mysterious two-thousand pound inheritances. In the Regency, that was a nice sum for a young couple to start a life on!
Mary Jo here. Are you familiar with the six word story? Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was sitting in a bar (naturally!) when he was challenged to tell a complete story in as few words as possible. He replied:
For sale. Baby shoes, never worn.
And there it is--a poignant six word story of hope and loss.
More recently, the idea of a six word memoir has been crystallized by Larry Smith in the Smith Magazine , an online publication devoted to populist story telling. Everyone is invited to participate. The tagline on the homepage of the website is a neat six words:
"Everyone has a story. What's yours?"
Susan here, presenting our February choices for WWR—What We’re Reading—and more. Over these last wintry weeks all around the globe (in cold, balmy, rainy or hot weather!), some of us have been watching more than reading lately, from movies to TV detectives to puppies. Scroll down for our favorite picks, and let us know what you’ve been reading and/or watching lately too. And happy Leap Year today, February 29 -- especially to any Leap Year birthdays out there!
Anne here, doing a bit of a catch-up of my reading. We ended up talking about "comfort reads" for our WWR in November, and so I never mentioned my new read of Carla Kelly's Doing No Harm, which I really enjoyed. As well this month, I've continued my glom of Robin Hobb books and have now read my way through most of her backlist. Can't wait for Assassin's Fate, which will be out in 2017.
I've also finished the five Sharon Shinn "angel" series book that started with Archangel — well worth reading.
I've also been catching up on Louise Penny and have read How The Light Gets In and The Long Way Home, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. It might look as though I've read no romance this month, but actually I've been reading books for the Romance Writers of America RITA competition. But I can't talk about them, so that's all folks from me for now.
I’ve recently enjoyed a warm-hearted cozy mystery, Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues by Blaize Clement. On Siesta Key everybody’s favorite pet sitter, (and former sheriff’s deputy,) Dixie Hemingway, gets involved in a bizarre murder.
I’ll admit I was less interested in who killed whom than in the beleaguered iguana who witnessed it all. Dixie’s passionate defense of all that yowls and scratches and sheds feathers warmed my heart. Way to go, Dixie.
My other book this month is Deanna Raybourn’s A Curious Beginning. In Victorian England, Veronica Speedwell, an intrepid and liberated lepidopterist, meets Stoker, enigmatic, bad-tempered naturalist. Murder, attempted kidnapping, taxidermy, and life in a travelling circus enliven the pair’s flight through the English countryside.
Who is the criminal mastermind chasing them and what does he want? When do Veronica and Stoker make love?
Is elephant taxidermy even possible under these circumstances?
This is Book One in the series. We’ll find out ...
This month I seem to have spent a disproportionate time watching Ethel, the new Guide Dog puppy. Ethel is 12 weeks old now and very quick to learn. She has already started her guide dog training. At home, though, she is just like any other puppy and loves play and cuddles. It’s extraordinary how much time I can spend simply watching her enjoying discovering things like her reflection, or wrestling with her toys.
In between Ethel, writing and other stuff I have also managed to watch The Night Manager, the new adaptation of the book by John Le Carré that is on the BBC at the moment. It’s superb, but then I could watch Tom Hiddleston in almost anything. I have to confess that I have never read Le Carré but I have enjoyed the TV and film adaptations I’ve seen. Although I enjoy thrillers I don't tend to read spy stories yet I always enjoy watching them. In The Night Manager the plotting is tight and suspenseful, the characterisation is clear and compelling and I have fun trying to stay ahead of the twists!
I’m in another reading slump, with nothing but Jo’s fabulous The Viscount Takes A Wife to keep me going. But I have actually been watching some television. We don’t get any of the fancy channels—we have to hunt HBO shows on Netflix—so most of my TV watching is on the main networks. I’ve loved Elementary since its inception but there are two new shows that we’re following—Lucifer, and You, Me, and the Apocalypse.
Lucifer, on Fox, is based on a line from Neil Gaiman about the devil taking a vacation—a fascinating concept in itself. The show opens with Lucifer Morningstar running an exclusive bar and dance club. He has his hellish protector tending bar and an angel trying to persuade him back where he belongs because all hell is well…going to hell. Then someone gets murdered, and he wants justice—or to throw the guy in hell, that’s not real clear. And that’s the main problem with the show—the storyline doesn’t seem to be absolutely certain if the devil is evil or not. He flashes evil when he catches his victims but most of the time, he smirks and is charming enough to want to slap him. Watch a few episodes and let me know what you think.
The other show, NBC's You, Me, and the Apocalypse, is just simply brilliant—the writing, the acting, the concept… I’m totally loving it. The concept is that a meteor is about to strike the earth in 30 days and everyone is going to die. But our main hero has just discovered he has a twin brother who has made off with his wife five years ago, and he’s more interested in finding her than any comet. Then we have the innocent nun and the sardonic priest (Rob Lowe) who are searching for the savior, hoping for the second coming. If that’s not enough, we have the loving mother who has gone to jail for her hacker son, and broken out along with a crazed killer during a riot. She’s trying to reach her son, who might have the key to the whole crisis—while his uncle is busy stockpiling a bunker for the chosen few. Aw c’mon, you want to see it, don’t you? It’s high class lunacy!
I’ll endorse You, Me, and the Apocalypse. Zany, and mostly very British. I can add that I'm enjoying a new series of Vera, a police show set in Northumberland, with a frumpy, middle-aged woman as the police chief, and she's a great, strong character. It's always nice to see something set in the far North.
A while back I mostly enjoyed The Last Kingdom, based on Bernard Cornwell's books about the early years of King Alfred's reign. It's quite violent, and Uhtred, the protagonist, is often very macho-man stupid, which I think is the point. Cornwell does no-nonsense warrior heroes very well. They don't angst over war; they get on with it and mostly enjoy it.
Andrea Pickens/Cara Elliott:
I’m not much of a television watcher, but recently a friend was needling me about missing great dialogue and plotting by not being a couch potato—and then went on to recommend a show that’s in its eighth season as something I might like, as it involves a handsome and charming bestselling crime author shadowing a very attractive female police homicide detective for “research.” I promptly went to the library to check out the first season, and now have been binge watching ABC's Castle, which I find quite fun. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the cast of characters quite interesting. The initial banter has slowly deepened to more nuanced relationship, and the way the backstories unfold is very well done. I’m hooked.
And then there is The West Wing. Yup, never watched that either, though I had always heard good things about it (she says, ducking rotten tomatoes being lobbed at her head). So have been dabbling in that too, and greatly enjoying the ensemble acting, and the weaving of relationships. It’s fascinating to watch how screenwriters develop ideas—and I really have learned a lot about craft, as well as simply an entertaining story!
Mary Jo Putney:
Hey, no fair that Cara/Andrea got to Castle first! I don't watch actual television, but if there's a series I like, I buy the DVDs and we watch them in blessed commercial-free comfort on the weekends. We tend to watch science fiction series and mysteries with humor, but we've been on a real Castle kick lately--not the most recent episodes, but starting over from the beginning of the series just because we were running out of current episodes.
I love the fact that the eponymous Richard Castle is a bestselling mystery writer, with all the mixed arrogance and insecurity of his breed. His outside of the box thinking and ability to assemble clues into a narrative help him solve murders. I love his very smart teenage daughter and his flamboyant actress mother, who humanize him.
And I love Detective Kate Beckett, who is as intelligent as she is gorgeous and who is a perfect contrast to Castle, and an eventual love interest. There is sometimes darkness, but also a lot of wit and warmth, and very twisty plotting with masses of red herrings. Plus, there are often elements of a happy ending, which isn't true of all mystery series. There's a lovely cast of secondary characters, including Kate's team members, detectives Esposito and Ryan. All are well developed and they grow over time. Fun, even the second time around!
With not much reading time lately, I’ve had lots of busy family time and also some copyediting to do—which I sometimes do in front of the TV if it’s small stuff so I can hang out with The Guys in the house—so I’ve done more watching than reading in February. Like Pat, I’ve enjoyed Lucifer for its charm and wry humor, sometimes with an intriguing dark twist. Another we discovered on Hulu was Daredevil—about the comic book hero who is a blind and dedicated lawyer for the underdog by day and a tough, clever vigilante by night. I loved it, loved the character development and story twists and especially love the fascinating hero of this series. We’ll tune in for the next season!
We also watched the first season of The Expanse on Syfy—an intelligent, complex, gritty and fascinating series set in the far future when Earth, Mars and all in between has been settled as active and competitive territories. Based on the book series by James S.A. Corey, an author duo, the smart writing, layered characters and high production values make this a worthy new sci fi series with real staying power, and it’s just been greenlighted for another ten episodes. The TV fans in my house are very pleased.
What have you been reading and/or watching lately? We're always happy to add more titles to our to-be-read stacks and to-be-watched lists, too!
Jamaica has a rich and varied history, not to mention an abundance of warmth and sunshine which makes it a pleasing winter destination for pale, shivering Northerners. The island is also large enough to have a well developed culture--and cuisine.
Which brings me to the weekly farmers' market in Ocho Rios. A couple of years ago, we stayed at the Jamaica Inn, a laidback boutique hotel with a lovely little beach, and a history of hosting famous people like Winston Churchill, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe on their honeymoon, among others. On the previous visit, I ate up the history.
On this return visit, I went right to the food. <G> Once a week, the executive chef of the Jamaica Inn, Chef Maurice, takes a group of inn guests to the nearby Ocho Rios farmers' market to show the quality and variety of local produce. With tasting, and a cooking demonstration back at the inn. <G>
Having grown up on a farm, I love all farmers' markets for the freshness of the offerings and the direct connection between producers and consumers. Since Jamaica is a lush tropical paradise, there are many kinds of produce, some native as well as many crops that were imported and found the island good. The market itself looked just as it ought: a number of trucks and simple booths displaying produce and vendors chatting in a friendly way.
Some items were familiar: carrots and onions and tomatoes. Things I've read about but seldom seen, like breadfruit. Lots of citrus, including small, intensely flavorful limes that once grew wild all over Jamaica and are an essential element of their cuisine, from fish to salads to drinks. They were so common they were taken for granted until suddenly there weren't enough and now they must be cultivated.
Lots of members of the banana family: regular bananas like we see in the US, the larger plantains that are cooked in a variety of ways (including plantain chips), and delicious little apple bananas, ripe and sweet. We all got to eat one of those last. Yum! <G>
There were also fruits I'd never seen before, some of which grow wild in Jamaica and may never been cultivated. The custard apple is related to the pawpaw, we were told, and the soft white interior was tasty and looked like vanilla yogurt, My favorite was a plum sized oval that looked rather like a small kiwi fruit. It had a sweet, juicy interior with a flavor that reminded me of cloves. I'd buy them if they were in my store! We tasted a variety of things, and concluded with a drink of coconut water right from the source.
Chef Maurice also showed us Scotch Bonnet peppers, which are famously the hottest food in the world. To quote Wikipedia, "Most Scotch bonnets have a heat rating of 100,000–350,000 Scoville units. For comparison, most jalapeño peppers have a heat rating of 2,500 to 8,000 on the Scoville scale." !!!!
However, the chef explained that there are also sweet varieties and some that are only somewhat hot. He asked if anyone wanted a taste and got no takers. (Though the Mayhem Consultant considered volunteering. <G>)
In researching, I found that some of the local products have multiple names. A spicy and wonderfully scented leaf that looked like a bay leaf was called pimenta, but I found later it was the fresh leaf of the all spice plant. It's used in local cooking when fresh but doesn't dry well, so only the seeds have entered our spice shelves.
There was also sorrel, a blossom that can be steeped to makes a deep red drink. Fortified with ginger, spices, and dark rum, it's a popular Christmas drink. I'd have willingly sampled that! Later on the internet, I found that the blossoms are hibiscus and used in many countries in a range of beverages. In the US, Celestial Seasonings uses hibiscus for its popular Red Zinger tea.
All in all, it was a delightful experience, but the best was yet to come. Back at the inn, Chef Maurice gave us a cooking demonstration of ackee and saltfish, the national dish of Jamaica. We'd seen ackee at the market. It's the fruit of a tree native to West Africa which is now grown throughout the Caribbean.
Chef Maurice sautéed onions and peppers, including one of the milder Scotch Bonnet peppers to give a bit of bite. He added the precooked ackee and sautéed some more, then lastly added soaked and chopped salt cod.
Sometimes used as ship ballast, salt cod became an important part of the diet in Jamaica and elsewhere. The resulting ackee and saltfish looks surprisingly like scrambled eggs and made a delicious lunch with a couple of tasty side items.
I think the moral is that it's fun to visit other places and taste local specialties. This can be done without leaving the country, of course!
by Mary Jo
February is Black History Month in the US and Canada. I understand that the UK has a similar celebration in October. February was chosen because both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass were born this month, on the 12th and 14th respectively.
Until last fall, I had only the vaguest awareness of Benjamin Banneker--that he was an early African American scientist of some sort. And that was the extent of my knowledge.
Then a friend visited and the Mayhem Consultant suggested I take her to see the Benjamin Banneker Museum , which I'd never heard of. Situated in a very rural area of Baltimore County, I was surprised to find that the museum is a handsome building that is the centerpiece of the 142 acre Benjamin Banneker county park. Moreover, the park is located on the site of Banneker's own farm.
Nicola here, introducing this month's "What We're Reading" feature. We've had a bumper reading month on Word Wenches as a result of the holiday season and we hope you have lots of recommendations for us too, if you've had chance to read in between all the demands of the New Year! So without further ado let's turn to our reading choices.
I have a fondness for Christmas stories and over Christmas I read and reread a number of Christmas novellas, including some
collections by Mary Balogh and Mary Jo Putney that contained stories I'd never read. Then I embarked on a fantasy glom, Robin Hobb -- starting with ASSASSIN'S APPRENTICE and reading them in order up to FOOL'S QUEST. And now I have to wait for the next book to come out. Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed them and have no hesitation in recommending them.
Then for a change of pace I read Kristan Higgins's ANYTHING FOR YOU, followed by a reread of some Loretta Chase reissues and a couple of Lisa Kleypas historicals, which I always enjoy.
Lastly I've just finished Louise Penny's THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY. I've enjoyed all of Louise Penny's crime novels, and realized when I read this, that I've fallen behind and there are three more new ones I haven't read. A treat in store.
Posted by Nicola Cornick on Thursday, January 28, 2016 at 02:05 AM in Andrea Penrose, Andrea Pickens, Anne Gracie, Books, Cara Elliott, E-books, Jamie Quaid, Jo Beverley, Joanna Bourne, Mary Jo Putney, Nicola Cornick, Patricia Rice, Susan King/Sarah Gabriel, What we're Reading | Permalink | Comments (38)
by Mary Jo
I know people who lead wonderfully uncluttered lives. They don't overbuy and if they no longer need an item, out it goes. I admire such people, but alas! I am not one of them.
An online friend used the phrase "shopping in my closet" when she told of pulling out a couple of items she'd forgotten she owned. She found a garment she needed so she didn't have to buy anything new, but the phrase resonated with me. It suggested exploding closets with mysterious and possibly dangerous depths, too much Stuff, and a meditation on Too Many Clothes and Never A Thing to Wear.
Exploding closets are a real issue since my house is not new enough to have massive walk in closets that are larger than the room I lived in my freshman year in college. (No, I'm not exaggerating. That room was turned into a broom closet in later years, I'm told.) But even if I had a giant walk-in closet, all closets are finite, so eventually there will be Too Much Stuff.