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.

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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

CURRENT WIP NOTES FOR RY BLOG

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.

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Book Friends

 

Book Friends

By Barbara Bettis

Some of my best friends have been books. Lest that sound too sad, let me say I’ve always been blessed with wonderful friends and I value them beyond price.

But throughout my life, I’ve also had a few books that have meant a good deal, for one reason or another—writing style or characters. Those books have traveled through the years with me. A few are holdovers from childhood. I keep them because each is significant in its own way. There’s a frayed book of Greek and Roman myths, a collection of fables, a couple of children’s books from my grandparents.

I have an ancient Western from a box give me by my uncle when he married. I was in grade school. That event triggered my “Western phase,” when I devoured books by writers whose works could be found in used book stores. Luke Short became my favorite Western author of that era. He had an economical way of phrasing that I admired. He could deliver a vivid image in few words, unlike others of his contemporaries. No, I haven’t revisited any of Short’s works in ages, but his style was one I recalled years later when, in journalism, we were advised to “write tight and make it sing.”

My uncle’s gift box launched my mystery phase, too, although none of those made the ‘save’ list. It also ushered in the sci-fi phase, with older authors such as Asimov, Heinlein, Clark, Bradbury. I preferred them to some of the popular sci-fi of my era—with the exception of Le Guinn. And they were a step away from Orwell, Huxley, Vonnegut (1984, Brave New World, Slaughterhouse Five.) But I digress. Back to my best friend books, which are much more comforting!

For most of my favorites, characters are what set them apart. Here are two such. Many of you will recognize them because I’ve mentioned them before. They are Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger and Lord Johnnie by Leslie Turner Wright. I haven’t reread them in forever, but I recall them fondly. I did pick up Prince of Foxes this summer and was reminded that it was written in omniscient narrator point of view. Rather jarring because we work so hard on individual and deep point of view. But I still enjoy the characters—and the large helping of Renaissance history.

One that I’ve lost over the years was an early Paula Allerdyce paperback the name of which I can’t recall. The plot, however, dealt with the daughter or other young female relative of an English fort commander who saves the life of an escaped Highland prisoner after Culloden. Again, the characters have remained in my memory, just not the title. Does anyone remember that work?

These few I’ve mentioned are books from my past that I recall with fondness, enough fondness to keep copies, even though I don’t reread them.

But I have shelves of current authors and titles that are new book friends I hope to reread soon. They, however, are a story for the future!

What book friend do you remember fondly from your past?

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.

The Cornish Pasty

By Katherine Bone

“The devil it is said never came to Cornwall for fear of being made into a pie.”

~ Cornwall and Its People by A.K. Hamilton Jenkin

Pie was a Cornish housewife’s most celebrated culinary art in the 18th-19th Centuries. Nothing was too big or too small for a pie. Seasonal herbs and vegetables, fish and various meats at her disposal, a Cornish wife utilized crafty baking skills to create tasty cuisine with ingredients that weren’t ‘too common or too unclean’ to be added to a pie.

Favorite ingredients included: mackerel, pilchard (Star-gazy fish), conger, bream, ram, muggety and nattlin (entrails of sheep), taddago (premature suckling pigs), curlew, squab (layers of young pigeon, apple, bacon, onions, and mutton), lammy, giblet, leek, ‘tatty’, ‘herby’, and more.

“Dear to Cornish palates, ‘one and all’,

Appeared in crusted pomp to grace the hall,

The pie, where herbs with veal in union meet,

The tasteful parsley, the nutricious beet,

The bitter mercury wild, nor valued less,

The watery lettuce and the pungent cress;

When ravishing with odours every nose,

The leek o’er layers of the pilchard rose,

Or, in a gentler harmony, with pork,

Ere yet of mouths it claim’d the playful work,

Attack’d the nostril with a tempting steam,

As opening, it ingulphed the golden cream.”

~ The Old English Gentleman, Cornwall and Its People

Transporting pie down into tin and copper mines wasn’t feasible due to contamination, because miners didn’t have enough time to surface and clean their hands. Ingenious housewives created a crusty pouch, folded on one side and crimped in a semi-circle on the other. These crusty borders safeguarded the contents, allowing men to carry their food down the shafts and eat a hearty lunch in a timely fashion by holding the soiled edges and then discarding them afterward. And thus, the Cornish pasty was born.

Cornish Pasty Recipe

For the Pastry:

  • 3 cups Flour
  • 1 cup Unsalted Butter, Cubed and kept cold until ready to use (2 sticks)
  • small pinch of Salt
  • 1/2 cup Cold Water
  • 1 Egg, Beaten, to brush on pastry

For the Filling:

  • 6 ounces Potato, Chopped bite-size pieces
  • 6 ounces Rutabaga, Swede, chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1/2 small Onion, Chopped small
  • 1 pound Skirt Steak, Chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 8 teaspoons Unsalted Butter
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 Egg, Beaten
  • 1 teaspoon Milk

For the Pastry:

  1. To a food processor add the flour and salt and butter.
  2. Pulse until you get the texture of fine breadcrumbs.
  3. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in cold water until it forms a ball.
  4. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and shape into a flat ball.
  5. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 10-15 minutes.

For the Filling:

  1. Preheat oven to 360°F.
  2. Whisk the egg with the milk.
  3. Take 4 ounces pastry and roll into an 8 inch circle.
  4. Place a small handful of potatoes, rutabaga, onion, and beef in the center of the pastry, leaving 2-inch border.
  5. Sprinkle with a small amount of salt pepper and flour. Place a little piece of butter on the top.
  6. Brush half of the edge of the pastry with egg mix then fold the pastry in half and seal the edge.
  7. Twist the edge to create a good seal.
  8. Cut a slit in the top of the pasties and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet.
  9. Brush all the pasties with the rest of the egg/milk and bake for 45 minutes until golden brown.

“Aw, you don’t want fancy denners when you’re sweaten bare your bones,

An’ feel as ef you could digest a barraful of stones,

Tes for somethin’ brave and solid that you knaw your sperit groans

And a hoggan like stull tember you could chose, comraade!”

 

~ St. James’s Chronicle

Cornish miners needed a rich, nourishing diet to survive the strenuous activity required of them down in the mines. Their loving grandmothers, mothers, wives, and daughters delivered and the pasty has been a most beloved Cornish culinary feast ever since.

Sources:

Cornish Pasty Recipe: https://www.foodfanatic.com/2016/12/traditional-cornish-pasty/

Cornwall and Its People by A. K. Hamilton Jenkin: https://www.amazon.com/Cornwall-Its-People-HAMILTON-JENKIN/dp/B000RWQLQS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1489537802&sr=8-1&keywords=cornwall+and+its+people

Books I Love

mother and child reading

Books I Love

By Donna Hatch

Some of my earliest memories are of my mother sitting by my bed every night reading aloud to me. She read fairy tales, poems (one of my favorites was the Highwayman), fables, and children’s books. Her voice painted images of adventure, romance, a hint of magic, and even tragedy—all with larger-than-life characters. Since so many of those stories were generations old with a strong historical feel, my love for history and historical stories grew alongside my overall love of literature.

When I could read independently, I devoured historical novels such as the Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Secret Garden and A Little Princess. I also loved mystery. After blowing through the entire Nancy Drew series, I read several Hardy Boys books, and then Cherry Ames. Fantasy elements also captured my attention and I read books such as A Wrinkle in Time. I especially adored all the CS Lewis Narnia series–reading them multiple times.

As a teen, I gravitated more toward fantasy and science fiction, fed by J.R.R. Tolkien, David Eddings, Anne McCaffrey, Terry Brooks, Andre Norton, and Mary Stewart’s  Arthurian Sagas— a beautiful balance of fantasy and history. But I couldn’t leave behind historical tales so I continued to read great works such as Little Women and Gone with the Wind, and the writings of Mark Twain and Jane Austen.

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I still love science fiction and fantasy, as well as a good mystery now and then. However, I’ve come almost full circle and find myself yearning mostly for a good historical novel. Historical non-fiction fascinates me as well, partly to feed my hunger for all things historical, as well as to research for whatever novel I’m writing or plotting. Still, when it’s time to relax and curl up with a good book, give me a good historical romance any time!