Fiction Writing and Other Oddities

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Next Big Thing

Release Day -- Almost!

On December 19, my first hardcover cozy mystery, Whacked!, will be released! Now, I just need to finish editing the next book to submit it to Five Star. If you have time for confession: I think I keep delaying my editing because I’m afraid they won’t like the next one. Nonetheless, I need to buck up and get it done and submitted.

Whacked! is a contemporary mystery set in North Carolina featuring a woman close to a nervous breakdown who takes a much needed vacation only to get involved in a murder. When her uncle is suspected of killing the body guard for a local man with more money than sense, she steps in to make sure he isn't railroaded  into a false confession by the authorities.

There’s a touch of humor, a dash of romance and a soupcon of murder, just in time for the holidays, so if you’re looking for a gift for the mystery lover in your family, give it a shot! It's available for pre-order from Barnes & Noble.

If you’d rather read a Gothic romance set in the 19th century and complete with a gloomy manor house and dashing hero, check out Christmas Spirit. After finding his host dead, our hero tries to prevent some refugees from a Christmas storm from staying in a manor obviously home to a murderer, but he finds himself protecting three women while he solves the mystery of murder at the manor.

This is a shorter book and is available at the bargain price of $1.99, so grab a copy and enjoy!

Last but certainly not least (and in fact, quite popular) is the Regency romance, Escaping Notice. This is the latest in the immensely popular Archer family series and this time, Helen Archer is caught up in a masquerade as she pretends to be a servant in order to search for a missing—and perhaps cursed—emerald necklace. She meets up with a lost boy and man searching for the person who tried to kill him and together, the three of them discover adventure and love in Regency England.

I hope everyone has a joyous holiday season and obtains what their heart desires. My family is grateful to have adopted an energetic Jack Russell Terrier, Daisy. It makes me laugh to watch her get a “wild hare” and go dashing around the yard with her ears flapping in the wind and a big grin on her face. She is such a joy and likes nothing better than to sit in my lap while I work. I’m convinced that in a few weeks, she’ll be ready to take over the keyboard and do some writing of her own. I just hope she’ll be merciful if she mentions the rest of us in her memoirs, Diary of a Mad Jack Russell.

Best wishes and enjoy the holiday season!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Inspiring Inspiration

Everyone needs inspiration in their lives, if for no other reason than to make them feel like they have some measure of control and make positive changes. During my career as a computer specialist, I went to Microsoft's TechEd not so much to learn about new technologies as to get refreshed and jazzed about what the future held for us. It was all about inspiration for me and seeing what we could do to make the lives of our users a little easier.

I've attended seminars, as well, that gave you tips about discovering how much control you do have in your life and making it positive. I admit, I'm prone to cynicism and pessimism, even though I realize that having a positive outlook almost always brings better results.

Two of the best books I've found in the past for those really interested in making positive changes (instead of just blabbering about it) are Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography (which is free on Amazon Kindle, by the way). In fact, Franklin's book was extremely helpful (although my cynical side snickers and says, "yeah, you know he talked a good game, but did he ever actually implement the methods he espoused in the book? I mean, after chasing all those ladies in Paris and London, when did he have time for personal reflection and improvement?" LOL).

So...I was recently inspired by an e-mail I got from Matt Schroeder, who is an inspirational speaker and has written a book, as well. I asked him if I could post the text from his message and the link to his book. My hope is that if you feel in need of inspiration, you may find something here that will help you.

From Matt Schroeder...

I'm contacting you to let you know about my self-help book, "The Rest is Up to You". I've made numerous appearances and speeches as a motivational/inspirational speaker and would love to be a guest or keynote speaker at any event at a church, school, business, or anywhere you think my message could make a difference. I'm an excellent speaker, and this is not my first week on the job. After eight years of speaking and pulling material together, I've produced my first book: "The Rest is Up to You" and it is available in paperback and as a Kindle eBook at the following links:

My Story
I was once in a serious auto accident with many major broken bones and vertebrae in my neck, capped off with traumatic brain injury, followed by more than ten weeks of coma. I’ve fully recovered even though “experts” told me I’d never walk. My family was a major source of support and remains a very big deal in my life.  It always was and is now, and they visited, talked to, and were by my side for more than ten years of recovery. Now I have a master’s degree from the Ohio State University, and I speak clearly, walk, run, jump, and drive!

I had a chance to have an individual, powerful, and memorable discussion with Christopher Reeve (AKA Superman; or rather he was the world famous actor who portrayed the Man of Steel,) on the evening before he spoke at my bachelors commencement (June 13, 2003.) A rare and beautiful photograph was taken just after our motivational encounter, and it can be seen in the videos on my website at, Without describing the details of our meeting, I’ll say it was beneficial to both parties involved, and I often revisit the meeting during my motivational presentations.            

I am a modest person but I cannot tell a lie, either. I guarantee that wherever I speak, every listener (age 15 and over) becomes motivated and/or inspired by my presentation. They are are active participants and through their participation, they gain helpful bits of information that helps to inspire them to achieve more than they thought possible. It is my personal goal to ensure all listeners leave my presentation better equipped to tackle the obstacles blocking their path towards success and happiness.

Thanks for being my friend and best wishes for success!
"It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you 
live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all 
-- in which case, you fail by default."  -- J.K. Rowling 
"Failure only increases your chances for success at your next attempt."

Friday, November 23, 2012

Be Grateful for What You Have

     We are so lucky and grateful to all of our friends, family, and acquaintances — Have a happy and healthy holiday season!
     While grateful, we still face challenges and many of you are facing far greater ones than ours, especially in the north east. However, lest we forget how difficult it is, we were visited with a little goblin late last night. He messed around with our power, giving us power to some rooms and not others and shutting off our water pump. So we rose today to find the house temperature at about 45 degrees Fahrenheit and no water.
     Strangely enough, we do have power to the “computer room” so I can work. Sigh. I can’t shower, finish up the rest of the dishes in the sink, or go to the bathroom because there is no water, but I can work. It’s like a punishment for something I’ve done in a past life or something. But we have an electrician coming and we believe we will have to replace the electrical box. Joy, joy. Just in time for the holidays.
     But we still have a lot to be grateful for – we have alternate means to heat the house and cook— and a pond full of water so I can actually flush the toilets by dragging buckets up from the pond. We have two huge wood burning stove that will literally run you out of the house with heat so we’re not in as bad of shape as some other folks. It may look a little old and rough, but it does the job.
     It’s just inconvenient enough to make us remember folks who really do have it rough and have had it rough for a lot longer than the few days we may have to suffer through this.
     So…our hearts are with you and we hope everyone is enjoying a healthy and happy holiday season.
     Of course, I can’t leave you without mentioning that if you’re looking for an inexpensive treat for yourself or another book lover, here are a few items that might make the holidays a little more joyous and a bit less stressful.

Holiday Stories

Christmas Spirit, a Gothic Regency Romance
Stranded by a blizzard, Eve and her mother seek shelter at a nearby manor, little knowing a murderer has struck once and lies in wait for the next victim.
     A blizzard envelopes the English countryside five days before Christmas, stranding Eve Tomlin and her mother when their carriage shatters a wheel. The women struggle through the snow, forced onward by a wraith-like figure gliding through the trees. Exhausted, they find an apparently abandoned house and stumble inside. They are confronted by Giles Danby, a guest at Folkestone Manor. Danby ruthlessly tells the women they must go.
     Their host has just been murdered. A killer is on the loose.
     Or a vengeful specter, if they believe Danby’s father. A specter Eve may have glimpsed in the woods.
     Desperate to solve the mystery and remain alive, they can only hope the Christmas Spirit isn’t searching for another victim.
     Christmas Spirit is a witty, engaging gothic-style Regency mystery that is sure to please regardless of season!

Historical Mysteries

An inquiry agent is asked to expose a spiritualist as a fraud only to uncover a murder.  
     In 1815, an inquiry agent, Mr. Knighton Gaunt, is asked by Lord Crowley to attend a séance with the express purpose of revealing the spiritualist as a fraud. When the séance ends abruptly, Lord Crowley is poisoned during the turmoil by an unseen killer.
Gaunt is now left to investigate not only fraud, but murder. Suspicion turns first to the spiritualist, Miss Prudence Barnard, but as Gaunt digs deeper into the twisted history of the guests at Rosecrest, he discovers more deadly secrets. Inevitably, long-time friends turn against one another as the tension mounts, and Gaunt is challenged to separate fact from fiction before another death at Rosecrest.
     The Vital Principle is the first mystery in the Second Sons Inquiry Agency series and features coolly intellectual Mr. Knighton Gaunt, the agency’s founder. This witty, historical whodunit in the tradition of Bruce Alexander’s Blind Justice, will keep you guessing until the unexpected end.
     “Murder, mystery, and a dash of romance combined with witty dialogue and unforgettable characters makeThe Vital Principle a book that will definitely go on my keeper shelf!” —Lilly Gayle, author of Into the Darkness.

A Second Sons Inquiry Agency historical mystery.
Only Sir Edward had the motive, the opportunity, and a garden full of the identical roses sent to each victim before their death.
     The first victim was Sir Edward’s ex-mistress, a woman who threw him over for a younger man. After receiving a mysterious rose, she dies while alone with Sir Edward. Then a second rose is delivered and a deadly game commences, where roses are the only clues to save the next victim.
     However, Charles Vance, Earl of Castlemoor, refuses to believe his uncle, Sir Edward, could commit the murders, even when the renowned head of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency warns him there may be some truth behind the rumors. "The roses are Sir Edward’s attempt to cast suspicion elsewhere." "Misdirection." Or so the whispers say.
     Convinced he can prove his uncle’s innocence, Vance enlists the aide of notable rosarian, Ariadne Wellfleet, little realizing his actions will involve the Wellfleet household in the killer’s game.
     Before the week is out, another rose is delivered.
     And someone else is missing.
     A Rose Before Dying is a witty, fast-paced historical whodunit in the tradition of Bruce Alexander’s Blind Justice and Victoria Holt’s The Mistress of Mellyn. This addition to the Second Sons mystery series includes an unwilling detective who refuses to let his earldom stand in the way of catching an elusive killer. It will keep you guessing until the unexpected end.

The Archer Family Series of Regency Romances

A scoundrel tries to steal a vowel (an IOU) only to find his heart stolen instead.   
     When Oriana's uncle brings home a wounded associate, Mr. Chilton Dacy, to nurse, she can't help but wonder what sort of scoundrel he might be. Her uncle has a long and sad history of befriending miscreants of the worst sort. Then she finds a lost necklace and her worries only increase. The necklace bears a curse promising a hideous death to anyone who possesses it, and it seems as if it might come true when she's blamed for the murder of a virtual stranger.
     Can Chilton prove her innocence, or is Oriana destined for a personal relationship with the hangman's noose?

     An American heiress nobody wants; a Duke every woman is after, and a murder no one expects.
     When Nathaniel, Duke of Peckham, meets Charlotte, he’s suspicious of her indifference.  Too many women have sought—and failed—to catch him.  However, Charlotte is more interested in dead pharaohs than English dukes.
     Unfortunately, a debutante seeking to entrap Nathaniel gets murdered, and his reputation as a misogynist makes him a suspect. On impulse, Charlotte comes to his aide, unaware that her actions may place her in danger, too.
     Both are unaware that a highwayman interested in rich heiresses is following Charlotte, and that another debutante lies dead in Nathaniel’s carriage.
Some nights just don’t go as planned.

A masquerade turns deadly when a murderer discovers one of his victims survived...  
     After her family perishes in a suspicious fire, Sarah hides her identity by working as a bricklayer's helper. But her disguise can't keep her safe when someone discovers she survived the flames. Alone and terrified, Sarah pins all her hopes on William Trenchard, an inquiry agent with Second Sons. William, however, seems far too handsome for Sarah's peace of mind and she soon fears that involving him may be her final~and fatal~mistake.
     The pair are in for a wild ride as they try to solve a decade-old mystery of murder and deceit in Regency England.
Appearances can truly be deceiving.

     Discarded by his betrothed with a parting sally that “being an earl does not excuse being a bore,” Hugh Castle, the Earl of Monnow, joins his brother on a relaxing cruise, hoping to forget. But a storm capsizes their boat, and despite Hugh’s desperate efforts, he can’t save his brother’s life. Then he finds evidence amongst the wreckage of sabotage and realizes he was never meant to return to dock. Someone intending to murder the earl killed his younger brother, instead. Angered beyond endurance, Hugh travels to London to enlist the aid of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency in finding his brother’s murderer.
     Helen Archer attended the Earl of Monnow’s ball in expectation of celebrating his betrothal, but the event seems destined for disaster. She arrives late, the earl makes no announcement, and Helen manages to lose the fabled Peckham necklace her sister reluctantly loaned to her. Unwilling to admit her carelessness to her sister, Helen rashly decides to return to the earl’s estate and retrieve it in secret.
     When his aunt threatens to send him to his cruel uncle, the Earl of Monnow, Edward Leigh-Brown decides he’s had enough. He’s going to join the navy and follow in Lord Nelson’s footsteps to become a military hero. But finding his way to London is a lot harder for a young boy than it seems, and he’s soon lost. When he bumps into Miss Helen Archer at an inn, he’s more than happy to accept a ride in her carriage, even if she seems determined to escort him to an inquiry agency to hire someone to locate the family he doesn’t want located.
     When the three meet in London at Second Sons, Helen impulsively decide to accompany Hugh to the earl’s home, disguised as servants, to pursue their secret goals. Hugh hopes to uncover a killer, Helen hopes to find her necklace, and Edward just hopes he can find the opportunity to escape again.
     But they are soon engulfed in an adventure none of them anticipated, and Hugh must hurry to identify who wants him dead before their deception ends in the death of another innocent.

That’s the current line-up!
Hope you find something to make your holidays bright!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Need a Freebie for Yourself?

Need a little mystery, a few chills, a little hint of romance?

The holidays are undoubtedly a lot of fun and excitement, but everyone needs a few minutes to relax every once in a while and in the spirit of giving, The Vital Principle is free until Tuesday, November 20!

The Vital Principle is the first book in my mystery series featuring the Second Sons Inquiry Agency. The mysteries are set in England in the first half of the 19th century and this particular novel features the Agency's founder, Knighton Gaunt, a man who gave up social status in favor of discovering the truth. Miss Prudence Barnard is an impoverished gentlewoman trying to survive by acting as a spiritualist until she is accused of murdering her host.

Here is a small scene from the beginning of The Vital Principle where accusations of murder focus more tightly on Prudence. Mr. Gretton, the constable, would like nothing better than to arrest Prudence on the spot, but Gaunt is beginning to have doubts....

Prudence shrugged and stared at the gleaming surface of the table, feeling trapped. “Why do you think it was placed in his brandy? Why not during the meal? Or at some other point in the evening? Surely it couldn’t have escaped your notice that we had aperitifs before supper. In fact, I handed Lord Crowley his glass. I even refilled it.” She sighed elaborately. “Two missed opportunities.”
“It were in the brandy. His glass smells of bitter almonds,” Mr. Gretton replied.
“Is that characteristic of this Prussic acid you mentioned?” she asked, aiming the question at Mr. Gaunt.
“What form does this poison take? Couldn’t it have been in his glass when he poured the brandy?” she asked.
Mr. Gaunt shook his head and eyed Mr. Gretton. “Unlikely. How could she be sure which glass he would take?”
“She?” Pru repeated.
“Poison be a woman’s weapon. I doubt there's any could argue the fact.” Mr. Gretton stared hard at her.
“There are no male poisoners? How remarkable. One wonders if the one hundred and fifty poor souls in Rome would agree after Exili gave them his most careful attentions in the seventeenth century.”
The coroner, Dr. Winters, grunted. “You see where educating women leads?”
Mouth twisting cynically, Mr. Gaunt murmured in a soft tone obviously not meant to be heard, “Clearly, a woman should not be able to defend herself. We must at all costs preserve our right to do it for her.”
Surprised, Pru caught his gaze. He flicked a half-smile at her, shrugged, and grew very interested in the carpeting at his feet.
Oblivious to Mr. Gaunt’s remark, the doctor continued, “There may have been a few men who have used poison. However, it remains largely the province of females to do away with others through such cowardly means.” He rubbed his hands. “I believe I’m done here, Mr. Gretton. I’ll leave you to finish the questioning and make the apprehension. If possible.”
While Dr. Winters and the constable exchanged a few words, Pru watched Mr. Gaunt. His remark puzzled her with its overtones of sympathy. She hadn’t expected anyone, other than Mr. Denham perhaps, to defend her.
As if aware of her scrutiny, Mr. Gaunt edged closer. He spoke in low tones no one else could hear. “You’re very composed, Miss Barnard.”
“For a murderess? Would tears avail me? Or convince anyone of my innocence?”
“They might. A woman’s tears are often most efficacious.”
“Except when the decision has already been made. A trial seems almost superfluous, doesn’t it?” Her voice was low and biting with anger. A deep feeling of ill-use made it difficult for her to remain calm.
“No one has accused you,” Mr. Gaunt replied. “And if you had a hand in this, you’ll get a fair hearing.”
“Then you do think I murdered Lord Crowley? What possible motive could I have had?”

Hope you enjoyed this small glimpse and will take advantage of the opportunity to get a copy for yourself, FREE!

Happy Holidays!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First Impressions of Windows 8

This topic probably isn't one you'd find on a writer's blog, but then, neither is gardening, and it's hard for me to stick to straight writing topics (particularly when you're spending months working on the same book, LOL).

Anyway, as soon as it was available, I upgraded my stalwart Dell desktop to Windows 8. It seemed appropriate for Halloween--I'm a sucker for cheap terror. It's why I love this time of year and the fact that I can watch as many Hammer Studio horror movies as I want. Besides, until I quit and become a full-time writer, I'm also a computer specialist and I like to keep up, not to mention that I usually appreciate new versions of things. They're exciting and I almost always find that the media doesn't give you a really accurate assessment of anything.

The Upgrade to Windows 8
I upgraded from Windows 7 on my desktop. Took a few hours, but you don't have to sit there and watch it. It pulled over all my old programs and files, so there was no problem, there. I did use the compatibility checker and it pointed out a few really old programs that I will need to upgrade, though. No big deal as I don't use them that often, anyway.

The following won't be "news" to folks who have been following all the blogs and boards about Windows 8, but I was a little disappointed, though, to find that because I have two monitors, I ended up with what is basically Windows 7 with no start menu. I had it in the back of my mind that surely it couldn't be that stupid and it would stretch Metro across both of them.

Not so. The new Metro interface only displays on the main monitor and worse, as soon as I click on any of my installed programs (even the Office 2010 tiles on the Metro interface) it immediately flips to the old Windows 7 interface on both monitors.

I've spent a couple of days laboriously flipping back to the Metro interface after I finish running whatever I'm running and then finally said, to heck with it. Now, I've just got Outlook open on my main monitor and whatever else running on the other. My beefs now are that I've resigned myself to a Windows interface without all the wonderful gadgets I used to have like the weather and time, because I'd have to keep flipping back to the Metro interface to see those. What's the point? Every time I click on an email to read it, it goes back to pure Windows sans Metro.

Everything takes two or three extra clicks to get there. Not cool, Microsoft. You've just made it harder for me to do anything and taken away the things I'd grown used to like the clock and weather because I refuse to have to keep hiking over to the upper right corner, waiting for Charms to appear, clicking on the Metro icon to get the Metro interface back for the few seconds it stays there so I can see the clock and weather before I click on something in one of my apps that makes Metro disappear again. That sentence is as awkward as this interface.

What can't I stay in Metro?
Why won't Metro stretch across both screens?
Why do all my applications, even the Microsoft Office ones, flip me out of Metro to standard Windows?
Why can't you automatically bring back the Metro interface after I close an application, or at least when I move it to the secondary monitor, so I don't have to *blinking* go to the upper-right-corner to summon the Charms menu to bring back the interface just to *blinking* see the weather and time?

Maybe I'll just go to the command prompt and use Powershell all the time instead of any menus or interfaces at all like I do at work--because this really is irritating.

I'm still looking for a way to set it to "auto-return" to Metro after I close an app or when nothing is running on the main monitor. I mean, really, why should I have to work to see the Metro interface?

I see no speed increase and in fact have noticed sluggishness/lack of responsiveness when opening programs, so all-in-all it's kind of a blah event. It didn't do any damage, but it didn't exactly do anything for me, either. But at least if you upgrade now, it's cheap.

I have hopes that over time, they'll think about giving us more options to tailor this beast to do things like stretch across two monitors and perhaps "auto-return" to Metro so we don't have to do that all the time.

Just a few thoughts

Thursday, October 11, 2012

It may be October but there's still time for roses!

Selecting the Perfect English Rose
For a lot of folks, October is pretty much the end of the gardening season and there are only a few cleanup tasks remaining. However, if you’re lucky and live in warmer climes, there’s still time to plant roses and a few other things like garlic and lettuce (which I plan to do this evening, in fact).
Fall really is the best time to plant roses. It gives them the entire winter to settle into their spot in the garden and prepare for a lovely spring.
David Austin’s English Roses are becoming more popular every day since they have a reputation for being easy to care for and bloom fairly freely during the growing season.  Unfortunately, many of them don’t always behave and conform to the growth habits promised in Austin’s literature when grown in warmer areas.  A good number throw up very, very long canes which can overwhelm a small or medium-sized garden very quickly.
From my own personal experiences, I’ve learned to read rose descriptions very carefully and make adjustments for our warmer climate. My local area falls between U.S. zones 7 and 8, where the ground never freezes solid, and I can grow lettuce and radishes under floating row covers during the winter. Roses that grow medium-sized in England are often large here in North Carolina. The varieties listed in this article are older ones, but I wanted to stick to roses that I have grown.
The following is a very brief description of a few Austin roses, classed by size, which may be helpful when planning fall purchases.  These are roses that I have personal experience with and know can be grown here in coastal North Carolina. Don’t forget:  new roses don’t necessarily have to go into the ground if your garden is already full!  You can grow beautiful roses in large pots, as well, so you can always find room for one more specimen.
Special note: we’ve discovered that large pots of roses do very well around pool areas, particularly pools used by folks who like to belly-flop or cannonball and splash water everywhere. The reason? The heavily chlorinated pool water lightly splashing the roses seems to cut down on powdery mildew and even black spot! I’m not sure I’d actually spray the roses deliberately with pool water, but the occasional splashing does seem to help.
Small Roses
These roses will stay small--no more than three feet in height and perhaps that same in width.  They will not throw up large canes, so you generally won’t have to worry about cutting them back except to remove dead or diseased wood.
v  Ambridge Rose (1990); pale apricot pink; fragrant
v  Charlotte (1993); clear yellow; slightly fragrant
v  Charles Darwin (2001); tawny yellow; slightly fragrant
v  Cymbeline (1983); grayish pink; fragrant
v  Dove (1986); pale pink; fragrant
v  Immortal Juno (1992); medium pink; fragrant
v  Mary Rose (1983); medium pink; fragrant
v  Miss Alice (2001); Light pink; fragrant
v  Molineux (1994); yellow with apricot tinge to some center petals; fragrant
v  Noble Antony (1995); wine red; fragrant
v  Pretty Jessica (1992); medium pink; fragrant
v  Prospero (1982); deep red with mauve undertones; fragrant
v  Queen Nefertiti (1988); apricot blend; fragrant
v  Sharifa Asma (1989); pale pink; richly fragrant
v  Wife of Bath (1969); warm pink; richly fragrant
v  Wise Portia (1983); wine-red; fragrant
Medium Roses
These roses will grow into medium-sized bushes--no more than five feet in height and smaller in width.  They will not throw up large canes, so you generally won’t have to worry about cutting them back except to remove dead or diseased wood, although you may want to trim them back to keep them within the constraints of your garden.
v  Chaucer (1981); pale pink; fragrant
v  Golden Celebration (1992); deep yellow; slight fragrant
v  Hero (1983); clear pink; semi-double
v  Lilian Austin (1981); salmon-orange; semi-double
v  The Dark Lady (1991); pinkish-red; fragrant
v  The Nun (1987); white; semi-double (tulip-shaped); slight fragrance
Large Roses
These roses will grow into large bushes and can often be used as climbers.  They may throw up long canes.  Most likely, unless you have a very large garden, you’ll have to train them as a short (8’) climber or trim them back. They make great pillar roses, though, if you want to add height to your garden by placing them in the middle or back.
v  Abraham Darby (1990); Apricot blend; fragrant
v  Bow Bells (1994); Medium pink; semi-double (shaped like tulips); slight fragrance
v  Graham Thomas (1983); deep yellow
v  Heritage (1984); light pink; fragrant
v  Jude the Obscure (1995); apricot; fragrant
v  L.D. Braithewaite (1988); Crimson
v  Mayor of Casterbridge (1997); light pink; medium-sized blooms; slight fragrance
v  Othello (1986); dusky crimson
v  St. Swithun (1994); pale pink; very fragrant
v  Winchester Cathedral (1988); white; fragrant

I hope you'll take the time to visit your favorite fall rose garden and smell the roses. The cooler weather really brings out the best in them and rose gardens are great places to relax with a book!

Happy Gardening from Amy Corwin, author of Escaping Notice, a Regency romance.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Writing and Pondering

Writing and Uncertainty

Every once in a while, I go back through all my books on writing and becoming a great writer. When I first started writing in college, I thought it would be the coolest thing to have my books make it to the classroom as part of some professor’s lecture. Something like: Trends in 21st Century Writing. But after having written ten books or so, I’ve realized that I actually don’t want to be a “literary” author and it would probably be better if no professor ever knew I existed. I just want to give people a bit of enjoyment, a laugh, a shiver, or a warm, cuddly feeling at the end of the book. I’m just not cut out to be the next critically acclaimed author. For one thing, I don’t live in New York, or Paris, for that matter, so it would be highly inconvenient to attend all those functions that critically acclaimed authors are supposed to attend. Not to mention the fact that I don’t think I’d fit in, at all. I’d wind up checking my Droid for unusual bird sighting and leaving early to see the Peregrine falcon someone spotted just a few miles south of town. So I'd probably go to the function in boots, snake-proof chaps, bug spray and a sun hat, because I'd want to be prepared for that early exit.

Besides you see, I know of very few literary books that leave you with any feeling other than a strong desire to slit your wrists and end it all now. Why wait? Life’s a misery, people are mean or cruel or both, and really, why bother? Most people already know that by the time they’re 21 so they really don’t need a book to point out how miserable life can be. Which is mainly why I don’t read a lot of literature and instead read genre fiction like mysteries, the old science fiction from the 50’s, and a few romances. And Chaucer. I do like the Wife of Bath’s story. I’m don’t want to give you the impression I haven’t read vast quantities of literature. I’ve even found a few gems, like Jane Austen.

I love Jane Austen, so you can see it’s not like I don’t read any literature at all. I’m actually thinking, though, that if one were to really be serious about classifying her work, it would probably fall in the romance genre. I think you pretty much have to make everyone completely miserable, or die, or both, at the end to escape the genre fiction label. ;) (Okay, you got me. I’m being a wee bit sarcastic. But think of Tolstoy and Kafka, not to mention the interestingly misogynist D.H. Lawrence, and you kind of see I’m not exaggerating too much.)
In a way, after reading all the books on writing and going through my shelves of real literature, I feel like I ought to apologize for my books. They really aren’t lasting works of art that someone 50 years from now is going to buy and read. But you know what? That’s okay. Because I’ve finally realized my real goal. I just want to give a few folks a bit of a laugh or a happy ending to make their day a little brighter. Or put them to sleep. Whichever is needed most.

Perhaps not all books need to be great works of art. Sure, my goal (as I once told my boss) is to be perfect. I’d like my books to be absolutely perfect with rich writing, endearing characters, and a whacky plot. I’d like to be Louise Penny, Jane Austen, P.G. Wodehouse, Shirley Jackson, and Saki (H. H. Munro) all rolled into one. So I’ll never give up working, working, working to make my books better. When I have a moment, I go back and study the books I love the most. Then I try to extend my reach as a writer just a bit more with each chapter.

So, I hope there are some readers out there who aren’t looking for the next “Moby Dick” and just want a few hours of enjoyment.

What do you think? Leave a comment - I'd love to hear your thoughts on books, writing, and what you love to read.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Guest Author: AJ Neust and Mystical Press

We're taking a break from my recent blogs on roses (a topic I just can't seem to shut up about) and meeting with author AJ Neust today. If you've ever thought about writing, there is a lot of good stuff here, so enjoy!
Mystical Press

Greetings and Salutations!

Many thanks to Amy for hosting us on her blog today! We’ve got some really exciting news to share with everyone so grab that cuppa and let the blogging begin!

September 1-15th marks the official
Grand Opening of Mystical Press Services!!!
This means 50% Off all our classes
and services through September 15th!

In case you haven’t yet heard about our website, allow me to introduce you to a place where you just might find the fulfillment of your dreams. That’s right! The talented folks at Mystical Press want to help you reach your publishing goals!
How do we do that? I’m glad you asked!
Mystical Press is the culmination of an idea that came from two authors and professionally trained editors—Arial Burnz and AJ Nuest—where we help authors bridge the gap between the form rejection letter and publication. In fact, we believe in this venture so passionately, our tagline is “Helping authors achieve their dreams.” 

At Mystical Press our primary goal is to help writers. As authors, we understand the frustration of not receiving constructive and useful feedback, the aggravation of navigating the murky depths of the publishing industry and that, sometimes, authors just need a place to vent. Well, we’re here to tell you, the insanity can end!

Like-minded individuals can gather online at Mystical Press to work one-on-one with professional editors who help authors prepare their manuscripts for submission. Whether you are looking for a Manuscript Evaluation, Submission Evaluation, or a full story edit, we will give you honest, encouraging feedback and work diligently with you on your story to make sure it’s ready to land on an editor’s desk. No project is too big or too small and all receive the same precise attention to detail.

Perhaps your submission is ready but you need assistance with smaller editing projects like a query letter and synopsis? Have no fear! Mystical Press is here! We offer a full edit of query letters and synopses with comments and suggestions that come directly from AN EDITOR! TAH-DAH!

And don’t worry! If your goal is to write your very own dynamite synopsis, at Mystical Press we believe in “teaching a man to fish”. Our Power Class, How to Write a WINNING Synopsis, is designed to easily guide you through the process of crafting your very own synopsis! Yes, that’s right. I used “easily” and “synopsis” in the same sentence!

The self-paced course curriculum at Mystical Press can assist in tackling those pesky problem areas as well (e.g., show vs. tell, POV shifts, realistic character and story development, etc.). If you’ve read books, articles and/or taken workshops and are still in search of that elusive contract offer, perhaps Mystical Press can help. Take one class or take a whole series—our online classes are designed to meet each writer’s individual needs.

Is your next project of the self-publishing variety? Mystical Press has a selection of pre-made covers we guarantee will only be used once! No one will have the same cover! Or, if you’d like, we can design a cover specifically tailored to your vision—you will work one-on-one with our talented cover artists! We are also happy to edit your baby and can even format the document to meet the specifications of most popular self-publishing platforms. 

Remember to mention Mystical Press to all your friends and fellow writing pals – here’s why. Mystical Press offers a free Referral Program. Just register on the site and we will assign you a Referral ID. If anyone clicks on your link and makes a purchase, you earn a referral fee! Whether you choose cash or a credit for products or services on the site, consider this our thank you for helping us spread the word. 

Oh! And before I forget…we offer a wide range of gift certificates designed specifically with the writer in mind. Tired of searching for the “write” present for your author pals? Maybe that next birthday calls for an eGift from Mystical Press!

So now that you know all about us, please tell us all about you! Head on over to Mystical Press and register free on the site. Everyone who does will be entered into our drawing for fabulous gifts and prizes! Join our celebration and together we will strive to get your voice heard!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Portland Roses

Portland Roses

This week I wanted to talk about a less well-known class of roses called "Portland". (It's one of those cute factoids that Portland, Oregon, is famous for it's rose gardens and the fantastic Portland Rose Festival .) Anyway, this is about the historic class of Old Garden Roses, dubbed "Portland".

The Portland class of roses was one of the first to combine the European roses with newly imported, repeat-blooming China roses that were brought to England in the late 18th/early 19th century by English explorers of China.  The first member of the Portland class was recognized as such around 1800 in the gardens of the Duchess of Portland. 

Details about the origins of this first Portland are sketchy, but it does appear that the Duchess may have originally obtained the rose, Rosa paestana, i.e. ‘Scarlet Four Seasons’ Rose’ from Italy.  This rose was eventually sent from England to André Dupont, the Empress Josèphine’s gardener in France, where he named the rose ‘Duchess of Portland”.  The French then raised numerous varieties, crossing them with other classes such as Chinas.

Theories abound about precisely which roses were involved in the creation of this class, although most sources cite some combination of Gallica, Damask, Centifolia and China.  David Austin believes he recognizes Damask in the ancestry as well as China, and speculates that ‘Slater’s Crimson China’ may have been thrown into bed with a French Gallica rose at one point or another.

Although Portlands were only really popular for a brief period in the early years of the 19th century before Bourbon and Hybrid Perpetuals overshadowed them, they are still excellent garden additions.   

The Portland class is a small group of roses, only a few dozen were hybridized during the 19th century and none in the 20th or 21st.  They are very winter hardy, however, and are very strong rebloomers.

Most Portlands show some of the same characteristics as the Damasks, except they are generally shorter.  And of course, unlike Damasks, Portlands rebloom.

Characteristics include:
v  Moderate size, most are around 4’ tall, making them good garden additions where there is not a lot of room.
v  The flowers have very short stems with leaves growing around the flower.  Graham Thomas describes this as a rosette or shoulder of leaves.
v  Flowers repeat fairly reliably.
v  Portlands have a rich, strong Damask rose fragrance.
v  Disease resistance is quite good.

Some good varieties include:

v  ‘Comte de Chambord’, introduced 1860 by Moreau-Robert (France).  An extremely popular rose, even today.  The flowers are very full, quartered, in a clear pink with an extremely powerful Damask rose fragrance.  This is a strong grower and forms an upright shrub around 4’ tall with lots of foliage.  Repeat flowering.

v  Indigo’, circa 1830.  Forms a compact bush around 4’ tall with dark green foliage.  The flowers are large, with a lovely dark purple hue.

v  ‘Rose de Rescht’ was brought to England by Miss Nancy Lindsay from Iran or France.  This rose forms a bushy shrub that stays fairly small, approximately 3’ tall.  Very double flowers have a purplish-crimson color and are fragrant.  There is ample, rough-textured foliage, and it reliably produces at least two crops of flowers.

v  ‘Marbrée’ was raised by Robert et Moreau in 1858, in France.  The shrubs tend to grow to about 4’ tall with plentiful dark green foliage.  The flowers are a deep purple-pink, mottled with pale pink.  They open flat and have only a slight fragrance.  These roses are generally free of disease.

v  ‘The Portland Rose’ (the ‘Scarlet Four Seasons’ Rose’ according to David Austin).  This rose is healthy and forms a spreading bush about 3’ tall.  Blooms very well in both spring and fall.  The flowers are semi-double in light crimson, and open wide to display yellow stamens.  It is very fragrant.

Hope you enjoy the last few months and are preparing for the fall rose season. It can be a pretty spectacular way to end the summer. But if you need a cooling break from the summer heat, there's always a new book to be had...

A Rose Before Dying
Only Sir Edward had the motive and the opportunity.
When the first victim dies, Sir Edward is the likeliest culprit. The murdered woman was Sir Edward’s ex-mistress who threw him over for a younger man, and she dies after receiving a mysterious rose. Confused and stricken by her death, Sir Edward is horrified when a second rose is delivered, along with a note insinuating that he had something to do with his mistress’ death. In desperation, he begs his nephew, Charles Vance, to help him prove his innocence.

Charles Vance, the new Earl of Castlemoor, is convinced Sir Edward is innocent and agrees to work with the renowned head of the Second Sons Inquiry Agency to flush out the murderer. But the investigation soon reveals more reasons why Sir Edward may be responsible and even the inquiry agent warns Charles not to let family loyalty stand in the way of the truth. There may be some truth behind the rumors. "The roses may simply be Sir Edward’s attempt to cast suspicion elsewhere." "Misdirection." Or so the whispers say.

Desperate to stop the murders, Charles enlists the aide of notable rosarian, Ariadne Wellfleet, to identify the roses in hopes of saving the next victim. Unfortunately, his actions sweep the Wellfleet household into the killer’s net and puts friends and family alike at risk. He has no choice but to finish the investigation, regardless of the costs.

A Rose Before Dying is a witty Regency whodunit combined with a heart-warming romance in the tradition of Georgette Heyer’s The Masqueraders and Victoria Holt’s The Mistress of Mellyn. This addition to the Second Sons mystery series includes an unwilling detective whose family loyalties are tested as he seeks to catch an elusive killer. 

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Gardening in August

It’s hot—really hot—and the hardest thing this time of year seems to be keeping ahead of the weeding. The weeds seem to grow even without water or care, while the other flowers suffer as the weather reaches the highest temperatures. Last year, we had a drought, but this year, it's been raining every afternoon. That's terrific for my roses, but not so great on the weeding front as we're literally taken over by weeds. We are particularly plagued by pink purslane (Portulaca pilosa L.). It’s related to that wonderful and very colorful annual Portulaca (moss rose) and some folks have decided to stop trying to weed out purslane as it does have a lovely, bright hot pink flower about ½” across that opens during the day.

You can see from this picture that it has reddish stems and less clearly, rather “succulent” leaves. This specimen is getting ready to bloom, but isn’t quite there yet.

Some have been known to use purslane in salads as it contains more Omega-3 fatty acids than any other leafy vegetable. In antiquity, it was one of several pot herbs that “should be sown in April” according to Theophrastus (4th century BC). Pliny advised wearing it as an amulet to expel all evil due to its healing properties. It is known as Ma Chi Xian in China and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for dysentery and topically to relieve skin abrasions or insect bites.  However, it also contains oxalate, a compound implicated in the formation of kidney stones, so I personally do not include purslane in our diet, particularly since our variety of purslane is not the yellow-flowered variety one commonly uses in Europe in salads.

So you see, what is one man’s weed is another man’s sought-after herb.

And it’s hot enough now that I’ve decided not to make any real attempt to eradicate purslane from our garden. I’m very fond of it growing over the edges of our brick walkway, so I think I won’t worry too much about pulling it out.

This is, of course, the time of year when marigolds really come into their own. I’ve always loved marigolds and adore all the new varieties available. There is even an off-white one that is absolutely terrific as a “bridging” plant between the hot colors of late summer marigolds and the mums of fall, which often include rich rose and burgundy. And don’t forget the plants with colorful foliage like coleus that come in everything from lime green and white to deep burgundy. They can also be used effectively in planters and gardens. They are beautiful all summer, even when other plants have stopped blooming, since they are grown for their foliage. They do need to be pinched back, though, to keep them busy.

Late July and August is also prime time for verbenas, as shown in this photo. The plans are blooming powerhouses and will attract hundreds of butterflies and hummingbirds. They come in a variety of colors, including delicate pinks as well as hot orange and pink combinations. If planted in good soil with the occasional watering, they will grow as high as your waist in one season. Folks in USDA gardening zones 7-10 will find verbenas will grow as perennials as long as you remember not to cut them back too far in the winter. The hollow stems will fill with water and freeze, thereby killing the plant, if you forget.  Nonetheless, this is an extremely easy to grow plant that requires virtually no care and will survive if you forget to water for a few weeks.

If you grow roses, don’t forget to water them and feed them to prepare for another glorious season of bloom in late August-September. Remove any hips (dead flowers) to encourage bloom production. Old wisdom said to clip off spent flower sprays down to the first 5-leafed leaflet. I simply pinch off the hip, leaving all leaves on the stem. Leaves are good—they are the energy factory for the plant—so the more leaves you can leave a plant, the better.

Hope you are enjoying your summer garden!

Stay cool in the dog days of summer and don’t worry if you let a few weeds intrude. Just tell anyone who comments that they are an herb you meant to grow there.

Finally, although the nearby cotton field has another month to go before the cotton "balls" form, this time of year always reminds me of my second Archer family Regency romance, I Bid One American. The heroine is a "fish out of water" as an American heiress living in London. If you want a light, funny read with a touch of mystery, you might check it out. And yes, those white things on the cover are cotton...

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Thinking About the Fall

Most of you are probably wondering why I suddenly diverged from writing about writing, books, history and those types of things to gardening. The fact is, I love gardening almost as much as writing, so I thought I'd share some of the information I've gathered over the years. There is also the odd circumstance that my rose gardening and researching roses led me to set some of my mysteries (A Rose Before Dying, Smuggled Rose,  and The Necklace, to name a few) in the period when rose gardening really started coming into its own (early years of the 19th century).

Although we are firmly in the middle of summer, it will only be a few weeks before the weather starts cooling off. That means, now is a good time to line up and even order plants or seeds you want to plant in the fall.

Which brings me to the real subject of this blog: Fall Rose Planting. :) You knew I'd get there, one way or the other, right?

Fall is a Great Time to Order Roses

Fall is a wonderful time to order and plant roses.  As the weather cools, you can start thinking about what new roses you’d like to see blooming in the spring.  By ordering--and planting--in the fall, you give your roses a chance to “dig in” and get settled over the winter in their new location.  When spring arrives, they will be ready to put on a wonderful show for you.

In North Carolina, fall planting has an additional benefit in that we often start getting a great deal more rainfall.  This rain and the cooler weather will help your roses put down good roots to support extra blooms when the weather warms up in March and April.

If you’re considering taking this advice, there is a new category of “Earth Kind Roses” that Texas A&M University has been using to designate roses which stand up to insects, widely varying soil conditions, and minimal care.  The program has been used to find roses which can be used in areas, such as between roadways, where they will have to survive with very little cosseting.

A few of the roses identified as EarthKind follow.  They span a range of rose classifications and there are sure to be some which would do very well in your garden.

Belinda’s Dream:  Shrub rose with medium pink, very double flowers.  ARS rating of 8.4
Caldwell Pink:  Polyantha rose with lilac pink flowers, height up to 4’.
Else Poulsen:  Floribunda, medium pink, semi-double with 10 petals.  ARS rating of 8.1.
Katy Road Pink:  Also called Carefree Beauty, Shrub rose with medium pink blooms of 15-20 petals.  ARS rating of 8.7.
Knock Out:  Shrub with blooms that are a red blend, single flowers.  ARS rating of 8.6.
Marie Daly:  Polyantha rose in medium pink with an ARS rating of 7.6.
Mutabilis:  Hybrid China rose with single flowers (5 petals) that start out pale yellow and age through pink to deep rose.  ARS rating of 8.9.
Perle d’Or:  Polyantha rose with double flowers that are a yellow blend.  ARS rating of 8.4.
Sea Foam:  Shrub rose with white flowers which are double  ARS rating of 8.1.
The Fairy:  Polyantha rose with light pink, double blooms.  It has some (slight) fragrance.  ARS rating of 8.7.

The list of EarthKind roses has been expanding recently to include the following roses, as well:

Cecile Brunner:  Polyantha with double, light pink flowers.  ARS rating of 8.4.
Comtesse du Cayla:  Hybrid China rose with semi-double blooms that are an orange and pink blend. [Picture on the left.] ARS rating of 7.0.
Duchesse de Brabant:  Tea rose with light pink flowers consisting of approximately 45 petals.  ARS rating of 8.6.
Marchesa Boccella:  Hybrid Perpetual rose with light pink blooms that are very fragrant.  ARS rating of 9.1.
Marie Pavie:  Polyantha rose with white flowers which are double.  ARS rating of 8.9.
Mrs. Dudley Cross:  Tea rose with double flowers in a yellow and pink blend.  ARS rating of 8.3.  In North Carolina, this rose can grow into a very large and well-formed bush, about 6’ by 6’.
Reve d’Or:  Noisette rose (that in my personal experience can very well take over a small building in one season).  The blooms are pale yellow and double. [Picture on the right.]  It has an ARS rating of 9.4.
Souvenir de St. Anne’s:  Bourbon rose with light pink, fragrant blooms.
Spice:  China rose classified as an Old Garden Rose.  Spice is blush pink and is very fragrant.  It grows from 3 to 5’ in height.

 Roses Unlimited is a great source for "Earth Kind" roses, so I hope you'll check them out.

Planting Roses

Planting roses in the fall is really not much different from planting in the spring, except you do want to ensure you use a good, thick coat of mulch.

Select a site which has both good air circulation and at least six hours of sunshine.  There are a few roses, such as Rambling Rector which will grow into trees and can withstand some shade, but they are the exception and even they will do better with more sunshine!

Make sure you prepare your beds while you wait for your roses to be delivered.  It is never too soon to prepare a bed since having good soil is a key element to healthy roses.  If you can, get the Agriculture Extension Office to test some soil samples to make sure you use the proper amendments.  Good drainage is critical.  No roses like to stand in water.  If you have clay or slow-draining soil, you can add organic matter and gypsum to help condition the soil.

When you get your roses, be sure to water them well.  Dig a hole twice as deep and twice as wide as the container in which they are growing.  Plant your roses at the same depth in the ground as they were in their container.

After you dig the hole, mix the soil you removed fifty/fifty with organic matter and soil conditioners, such as alfalfa meal or cottonseed meal and gypsum.  You can also use the fine, bark-like soil conditioners to break up clay soil.

Trim back any broken or damaged stems, but leave healthy leaves if you plant before November.

Top dress with three to four inches of mulch to allow for good drainage, moisture retention, and weed control.

Once your roses are planted, don’t forget to water them (unless the winter rains have already begun, in which case you can sit back and relax).  Water deeply at least once a week; two to three inches of water is recommended.  Try not to get the leaves wet when you water, particularly in the fall as the cooler nights can promote diseases such as black spot.

You will not need to fertilize your roses in the fall, that task can wait until spring.

 Duchesse de Brabant, a Tea rose and one of the EarthKind roses that do well in the North Carolina area.  “No spraying required!” [Picture on the left.]

Interestingly enough, Duchesse de Brabant was one of Teddy Roosevelt’s favorite roses, and he frequently wore a bloom from this wonderful rose in his lapel.