The Gardens at Sissinghurst




I first discovered Sissinghurst Castle and its wonderful gardens by a very roundabout method. I was fascinated (possibly “overwhelmed” is the better word) by Virginia Woolf, and when I came to Orlando, my imagination was captured by the strange creature she created and that transferred quickly to Vita Sackville-West, whom Virginia Woolf had written the book for and about. Well, once I was onto Vita Sackville-West, discovering the gardens of Sissinghurst Castle was the automatic next step. Vita and her husband, the diplomat and writer Harold Nicolson, had taken the tumbledown ruins of an Elizabeth castle and built a world-famous garden around them.


Although I never really developed a passion for Vita’s writing, I have to say the garden that Harold Nicolson designed and Vita planted is one of my favorite places on earth. It must have been a strange place to live in: what was left of the castle was primarily a long strip of entrance building, a section with two towers set off by itself, miscellaneous brick walls, a moat (or bits of one) and two buildings, one of they called the Priest’s House and the other South Cottage. Vita made her workroom in one of the towers; the kitchen for them all and their two sons’ bedrooms were in the Priest’s House, and she and Harold slept in South Cottage. It must have been chilly on a cold winter morning to have to scamper through shreds of snow and icy brick footpaths from the South Cottage to the Priest’s House for breakfast! I think that one of their sons’ response to his first sight of the place, in complete ruins, was not unreasonable: “Do you mean we have to live here?” In the end, the only room designed as a common room was the library at the end of the entrance range.


But oh, the gardens! Out of the unpromising materials Vita and Harold planned (that was mostly Harold) and planted (that was mostly Vita) one of the most astonishingly beautiful gardens—a series of rooms between the wall fragments, hundreds of roses tumbling over the brick walls and exquisite flowers everywhere you look. Everyone has their own special place. One of my favorites is the South Cottage garden, where Harold liked to sit in the evenings—all the flowers are in sunset colors, planted thickly and lavishly, around the architectural trees he loved in the middle. My husband loves the rose garden, although there are roses everywhere, not just there. They climb up walls, fall over others with a richness of blossoms, and their fragrance scents the air. We both love the White Garden, where all the flowers are shades of white and grey that contrast deliciously with the rich greens of the foliage.


The first picture shows the vista through the sculptured trees to the entrance of the South Cottage (their bedrooms were there, as well as Harold’s writing room), and the other is of me, dreamily clutching my cane—more boring troubles with my spine, etc.—and gazing around at brilliantly red poppies, and rising up over my head, the first rose, a white one, that they planted there. Even before they received the deed!


If you go to England, you must go there. It’s in the Weald of Kent, now administered by the National Trust, and it’s unforgettable.


The Medieval Book

by Edwina Moore

I’m delighted to be doing a guest post (my first!). I’m Edwina Moore. I have a PhD in medieval history, which came in pretty handy when I decided to write a romance set in fourteenth-century France. A Knight’s Ransom isn’t published yet, but a couple of agents asked to see the full manuscript, and now I wait…so much waiting. But never fear, gentle readers, I am not sitting idle. A Knight’s Redemption is in the works.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about books. Now, asking a writer to talk about books is a dangerous thing. I could talk about books until the proverbial cows have gone back out again. I thought about my favorite books. Yes, plural, because who has just one favorite? I thought about the book that introduced me to romance (Seduction, by Amanda Quick) and the one that led me to medieval history (The Lord of the Rings), but instead I decided to write about the book in the Middle Ages.

The book format we know—covers, pages, chapters, margins, headings, the use of different colors and fonts to set off information (think a textbook), page numbers, not to mention punctuation and spaces between words, all developed over the Late Antique and medieval periods. In terms of the physical object, books made reading easier—imagine reading Game of Thrones on a scroll and needing to re-read something because you can’t remember who that character is in chapter four. Books are also easier to store than scrolls, and parchment is less vulnerable to damp than papyrus. Rubrication, things like chapter headings and page numbers, made finding information more efficient. Books could also be any size, small enough to fit in your palm—Leona, the heroine of A Knight’s Ransom, has such a book—or so large that it would take a couple of people to hold them.

A lot of work went into producing a medieval book. This included preparing the parchment, making the inks, ruling the parchment—if you look closely at some medieval books, you can still see the pinpricks in the margins and the faint lines crossing the parchment—writing or more likely copying the text BY HAND (think about Game of Thrones or a book by Stephanie Laurens—Lord of the Privateers is 500 pages; imagine copying that by hand), adding illuminations or illustrations, assembling the pages into quires, adding the covers…it’s quite a process.

It’s no surprise, then, that books were status symbols. The more expensive the materials, the more elaborate the illuminations, the more ornate the covers, the more wealth and status the owner had. Most books were simple and, relatively, inexpensive: chapbooks, simple Books of Hours, and the like. Only wealthy patrons could afford something like the Trés Riches Heures du duc de Berry, and books were often handed down in wills as valuable moveable property.


Medieval books are pretty amazing, and I love to talk about them whenever I get a chance. My thanks to Beppie et al for hosting me and giving me the opportunity to do it.


Writing Now, Writing Then

The_novels_and_letters_of_Jane_Austen(1)by Donna Hatch

When people ask me what I do to celebrate completing a manuscript, I am always a little stumped. I don’t celebrate, really. It’s kind of like giving childbirth; I’m usually too exhausted to party. And the work isn’t done. Once I have done all I can with a manuscript, it goes to my editor. The next step is (two or three or more) rounds of edits and sometimes revisions. After that, I proof the galley (the PDF of what the printed page will look like). Once the book goes into production, I promote that it’s coming, schedule blog tours and interviews, and try to hype up release day as well as garner pre-orders. On release date, I promote, promote, promote.

In the midst of that, I start the next piece whether it’s a novella, short story, or full-length novel. I always have ideas of stories I want to write, and works-in-progress in various stages of the writing process. That being said, I did pat myself on the back when the last book came out. It marked my twentieth published title. My husband and I went out for a nice steak dinner and yes, I had dessert.

However, when I finish a manuscript, I do give myself a reprieve. It may only be a day or two but I take a little time to catch up on my To-Do List—neglected chores or errands. One of my favorite ways to relax after finishing a manuscript is to read novels by some of my favorite authors—something I don’t do when I’m in the midst of writing or researching or scrambling to meet a deadline.

Currently, I am working on a Christmas novella about a kiss from a stranger (or was it a romantic ghost?). I’m having a lot of fun with that one. The characters really need each other but refuse to see that and there are a lot of obstacles in the way of their happily ever after.

I’m also in the rough draft stage of the fifth book of the Rogue Hearts series. This one is about a lady who finds her estranged husband murdered and is blamed for the crime. In a time when a suspect was presumed guilty unless proven innocent, she goes on the run. The Bow Street Runner sent to track down the beautiful widow is starting to believe she’s innocent. The real killer wants her dead.

I am also doing research for a Napoleonic War spy series I want to write, and I am planning on writing a second book in the Music of the Heart Series about how music brings two people together.

Then there’s that idea inspired by my research into hot air ballooning.

And that pirate series I mean to write someday.

regency lady reading(1)

So many books to wriand so little time!

What kind of books you like to read? Do you have any favorite tropes?

For the Love of Writing

by Ruth J. Hartman

Writing is a journey. There’s so much to learn. When I first started writing for publication, I didn’t know any other authors. I wasn’t active online much and hadn’t tapped into the amazing, widespread fellowship of authors worldwide. Over the years, these fellow writers who are now friends have given me invaluable advice on everything from how to use certain keys on my computer to giving opinions on blurbs I’ve written for new books. Everything was new. The more I learned, the more I realized I had yet to learn. So much information.

At first, it was intimidating. How was I going to absorb and remember all that I read and heard? It wasn’t as if I was just coming out of college. I’d been to college years before, but not for anything writing-related. In fact, it was about as far away as you could get. I was a dental hygienist. So when I did start to seriously write for publication, I felt as if I was getting a late start. But that’s the beauty of using the written word. It’s never too late. As long as you have something to say, say it. If you have something to share, don’t keep it to yourself. Books are a treat for the mind, a gate to new adventures, a relaxing oasis in the midst of life’s turmoil and strife.

It was refreshing to discover that to be a writer, you don’t have to have a special room in which to write, or an ornate desk. If you are a writer, you write. Anywhere. Anytime. On a computer, phone, or a tiny scrap of paper torn from the corner of an old phone book. I know from experience! I had an idea and knew I might forget it if I didn’t write it down. The phone book was the only available surface.

Normally, I write at a counter set up with my laptop. Lately, however, we’ve been in the middle of a home remodel and my counter isn’t available. But, my recliner works nicely. That is, until one or both cats decide they want my attention and don’t understand why they can’t nap on the keys of the laptop.

In the warmer months, I like to write out in our enclosed porch. I’m continually serenaded by goldfinches, chickadees and several varieties of woodpeckers.

But I have to say, the most tranquil spot I ever found to write was while on vacation a few years ago. We’d taken a trip to Mackinac Island. My husband and I were fortunate enough to stay in a hotel that was 150 years old. The rooms were small but unique, and the woodwork throughout the building was beautiful. However, our favorite spot was the wraparound front porch with a long line of rocking chairs. The view was spectacular. Horse drawn carriages, the lapping of gentle waves from nearby water, and the calm, friendly atmosphere of small-island life.


So if you have a desire to write, don’t let experience, age, or location stop you. Just write!


The People in My Head

128px-Library_science_symbol_2By Beppie Harrison

Writing a book is an odd experience.

Of course, I mean writing a whole book of fiction, one with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Many people think about writing a book, and a few of them actually get started. Getting past the beginning is the hardest part, and a lot of those who try give up at that point, and what they write is sometimes rather odd. Some people, of course—even some people who actually finish books—begin not at the beginning, but somewhere else. Marcia Davenport, who wrote many very fine books, wrote that she always started with the end. Her mother, the soprano Alma Gluck, told her that a strong, memorable ending was the most important part of any artistic achievement, and so she always wrote that first.

Writers, by which I mean people who do finish writing their books, often complain about the middle section being like a swamp in which a good book may founder. Certainly I’ve found that it’s often the middle that clarifies for me whether what I’m working on has enough strength to go all the way to the end, or if I need to go back and work out what I’m trying to do in the first place. Middles are hard. The end? Well, if you’re Marcia Davenport you already have that ready. If you’re not, trying to tie up all your loose ends into a satisfying resolution is hard, too. I’ve had a couple of books that wouldn’t stop at what I expected to be the end, and went on and on.

I hope they didn’t read that way!

But then, I’m one who writes making only a very loose plan for the book. Writers like me call themselves pantsers, because we write by the seat of our pants. Plotters are those who feel most comfortable knowing exactly which way the book is going to go. They want a very detailed plan or outline so that each step is worked out in advance, and the writing just fills out that outline with characters who are already defined.

My characters are vague in my mind when I begin. I mean, I know something about them, and have a general idea of what they are going to do in my book, but they have a disconcerting way of grabbing the plot in their own hands and riding off decisively in another direction. (I write historical romance, so the car hasn’t been invented yet and they’re most likely on horseback.) Plotters would be very unhappy with that, if it should happen at all. Most often, of course, it doesn’t.

I tend to grin at the computer, rejoicing that my mind people have turned into characters of their own and follow where they lead, hoping I won’t end up in a blind alley somewhere. Of course, sometimes I do, which is why my laptop has a delete key that is frequently used.

I wonder if all of us, pantsers and plotters alike, walk around hopefully looking normal but with voices going on in our heads? There are books now in print that I can look at and remember, yes, that bit wrote itself in my head when I was turning past the gas station just before I came to the highway. Or perhaps another when I was emptying the dishwasher and stopped with plates in my hand to see how an exchange between two of my characters was going to end.

My world is more real to me when I’m working on a book, and I love that real world. Right now I’ve just finished a Regency novella, which will be The Dowager’s Season, introducing a quartet of novels about the dowager’s four granddaughters. The first will be Clarissa and the Two Suitors. Sometime this summer, I hope? Until then my head will be buzzing.



Works in progress

By Cathy MacRae


My last book release was the end of December, 2016, but I have a lot going coming up! I’m currently working with my critique partner DD MacRae (we collaborated on Highland Escape in 2015) on a book tentatively titled, The Highlander’s Viking Bride.

The heroine, Katja Sinclair, after years of abuse from her father, is forced to marry a neighboring laird as part of a means to end a nearly 100 year old feud. At first angry at being humiliated by a quick, forced marriage—as though she was hiding a pregnancy or evidence of an affair—she is reluctantly pleased, and surprised, by her new husband. He is only a few years older than she, good-looking, and shows a tendency to kindness. A vast improvement over her life as a despised daughter.

But a series of events convince her she is scarcely wanted or needed in her new home, and once her husband’s back is turned, it becomes clear someone wants her dead.

Calder MacGerry has met the woman of his dreams, and offered her hand in marriage—something he as a mere laird over an impoverished clan should never have expected. Lady Katja Sinclair is an earl’s daughter, and far above his meager social status. But when her father agrees to peace between their clans—and includes Katja’s hand as necessary to the accord—Calder balks for a moment or two at the earl’s requirement he marry Katja that very day. Who wants an unwilling wife to add to his current woes? But her beauty wins him over as he swears to give Katja the loving home she’s never known.

Taking his enemy’s daughter as lady over his clanspeople might not have been Calder’s best idea. Many of his people resent her, remembering the feud and deaths of far too many young men. Others see Katja’s large dowry as a bribe from a sworn enemy, hammering home the difference between the riches of her father and the poverty of the MacGerry clan. And Calder’s leman will stop at nothing to insinuate herself back into his bed—even if it means driving a wedge between the laird and his new bride. Hoping to have this book available in May/June of this year.

I’m also working on a story that is a departure from my Scottish Historical romances—a contemporary romantic suspense that has become a bit of a cross between Stephanie Plum and Steel Magnolias. Or, Stephanie Plum if she lived in rural Alabama and ran a garden center. Even with the suspense, its laugh-outloud funny!

Nora Prince, as the manager of the Two Lips Garden Center, has had it with her employees. As she contemplates the wisdom of firing all three of them—leaving herself stuck with the upcoming bout of Spring Fever—a handsome new employee—one she wasn’t expecting—steps in to save the day. Claiming to be a friend of the garden center’s owner, who has retired to sunny Florida, Steve Marshall has the looks, the skills and the mojo to whip her crew of misfit good ole boys into shape. Nora even finds herself falling for his charms, and her number-one rule—no dating employees—is about to take a direct hit.

Steve Marshall, an undercover agent for the DEA, has Nora Prince in his sights. It’s quickly obvious to him that her employees do not have the intelligence to head the drug ring he is certain is operating out of the garden center. But nothing Nora says or does adds up to a cold-hearted drug dealer. He’s fairly certain her looks and spunk haven’t turned his head, but when bodies begin to pile up at the Two Lips Garden Center, will he become Nora’s protector or her lover? Or will he send her to prison without a backward glance?

I hope you’ll give this story a try. It’s currently titled The Southern Gardener’s Guide to Murder. There are two more planned for this series.

THVB hi res

My Love Affair with Stephen King

by Jenna Jaxon

Although these days I primarily read historical romances, I also have a great love for non-romance books as well. Before I began writing romance, the only books I read were not by romance authors. My Christmas list always had the same names on it: Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, John Grisham, and Phillipa Gregory. I lived for their one book a year and would hole up somewhere, demand my family not speak to me until I came up for air—at the end of one book but before the next one.

My all-time favorite non-romance author is Stephen King. I’ve been reading his books since I was in my late teens, early twenties, and I started, unknowingly, with Carrie. An uncle had given me a big bag of books, and I was going through them and ran across Carrie. Started reading and couldn’t put it down. I was fascinated with the way in which the story was told, as a series of newspaper articles and commission reports after the fact of the “incident” with Carrie White. I remember thinking this was a fantastic book.

Then I didn’t read any more Stephen King for more than 10 years. I hadn’t recognized the name of the author of Carrie, so I wasn’t particularly looking for him again. When I did pick up another of his books, it was completely by chance and because I thought he was someone else. When I was young, I read a short story called “The Lonesome Place,” about two boys who, at the end of the story, are going out to kill a monster they had created from their imagination. When I read the back blurb on Stephen King’s It, about a group of kids returning to their hometown to kill a monster, I related it to the other story and bought it.

I have been having a love affair with Stephen King’s writing ever since.

No one, I think, has ever been able to suck me into a book as quickly as Stephen King. His characters are so real, and I can identify with them so quickly and easily, I don’t dare pick one of his books up unless I had five or six hours to spare. Because once I open the covers, all I wanted to do until I reached The End is read. I have read most of them (until we get to Under the Dome) multiple times. Oh, there have been a few that I was less engrossed in—The Tommyknockers and From A Buick 8 come immediately to mind—but many of the ones in my library have a very well-thumbed look. It I finally had to buy a second copy of because that first one started to fall apart. My copy of The Drawing of the Three—my favorite King after It—has so many creases I may have to buy a new one of those as well.

I was so obsessed with King’s Dark Tower series I became terribly paranoid that I would not live to read the end of it. So I devised scenarios where I sought Mr. King out and begged for an advance copy if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness. When I found out about his accident, that almost killed him, I was again terrified he wouldn’t live to finish the series (as were most of his fans I suspect). But he did, and I read it, and all’s right with the world (or worlds when talking about that series).

Unfortunately, after I began writing romance, my focus shifted to romance novels, and I have not read as many of Mr. King’s novels in the past eight years (Under the Dome, which I got for Christmas in 2008, was the first book of his that I did not finish due to lack of time). The one I did open with the sense of coming home again was 11/22/63 about the Kennedy assassination. Read it not as quickly as usual, but steadily, a chapter or two every night, until about 2/3s into the novel, then just stayed up all night to finish it.

And my love affair with Stephen King continues on.