Sunday, December 16, 2012

Goodreads Giveaways

I'm currently offering two different giveaways at Goodreads. Come on over and sign up for a chance to win a copy of my new contemporary romance novel, Return to Amberley, or one of two copies of my book about the differences between men and women, Writing Between the Sexes. All will be autographed. Giveaways will end in early January, and winners will receive the books soon afterward.

Here are the book descriptions, and the links to enter the drawings:

Return to Amberley

Autographed copy -- a new contemporary romance, never before published. When her girlhood crush blossomed into marriage, Andie believed in a rosy future with the man of her dreams – until Todd's betrayal sent her from the beauty of Minnesota's winters to Atlanta to begin anew. But just a few months later, Todd walks back into Andie’s life – asking for her help. The stone quarry they jointly inherited is for sale, and a good price would secure the future for both of them – paying Andie’s tuition and buying freedom for Todd to concentrate on his sculpture. They need to sell now, but the prospective buyer believes he can pick up the quarry at a discount while Todd and Andie fight through a divorce. Todd wants Andie to rejoin him at the family home, Amberley, and put a false face on their failing marriage to convince the buyer and sell the quarry. But is Andie risking her heart if she returns to Amberley?

Writing Between the Sexes

Men and women think, talk, and act differently -- which causes problems for writers who are trying to create characters of the opposite sex. When we understand the difference between masculine and feminine qualities and habits, we can use those behaviors and patterns to create characters who are plausible and unique, but not stereotypical. Writing Between the Sexes will help you to identify your own gender-specific behaviors, notice those of the opposite sex, and use both to make your characters realistic and believable.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Listen Up!

I really got into audiobooks with the Harry Potter series, partly because I so enjoyed the way that Jim Dale converted J. K. Rowling's words into a complete sensory experience. For a long time, my husband and I never went anywhere without a set of Potter tapes (and later CDs) riding along. And of course audiobooks are great for making time go faster when I'm stuck with a tedious and mind-numbing task. I can even get excited about painting a wall if I have a good book to listen to. 

The first few of my own audiobook projects are now reaching completion, and I couldn't be more excited. Three are now finished, with another five in production.

 Creating Romantic Characters focuses on one of the most important elements of writing -- creating characters who feel real, exciting, and worthy of a book. No matter how exciting the plot, it's the people in a story who make it memorable. The techniques and examples in Creating Romantic Characters will help you produce provocative, exciting, forceful characters with dynamic stories. Whether you're writing romance novels, stories which include romantic relationships, or general fiction, this book will help you create characters who are romantic and heroic, adventurous and mysterious -- larger than life. 
(Narrated by Erin Novotny)

Writing Between the Sexes is a summary of a seminar I do in person and on line from time to time. Men and women think, talk, and act differently -- which causes problems for writers who are trying to create characters of the opposite sex. When we understand the difference between masculine and feminine qualities and habits, we can use those behaviors and patterns to create characters who are plausible and unique, but not stereotypical. Writing Between the Sexes will help you to identify your own gender-specific behaviors, notice those of the opposite sex, and use both to make your characters realistic and believable.
(Narrated by John David -- coming soon)

Wedding Daze is a Regency-period short story -- the audio is just half an hour long.  It's too late for Emily to back out of her wedding, even though she's pretty sure she'll regret it if she says "I do." The groom is just as reluctant -- and their respective fathers seem to be the only ones who think the wedding is a good idea. Will Harry and Emily make it to the altar? (Narrated by B. F. Laskar -- coming soon)

Friday, October 5, 2012

Regency vests and waistcoats

Since I write Regency-period historicals, I'm always on the lookout for tidbits of information about that era -- and how they relate to today's world. So I was intrigued to find out why a stylish modern man leaves the bottom button unfastened on his vest.

It's because the Prince of Wales, Britain's regent ruler during the 1810s and the reason the Regency period got its name, was ... well, let's just say he got pretty portly over the years. When his stylishly-tight clothing got to be uncomfortable, he'd unbutton something. Finally, he just started leaving the bottom button open all the time.

So when your guy gets dressed up in a three-piece suit, he's paying homage to a British ruler from two hundred years ago. 

The illustration here is of George as a young man -- or perhaps the artist just knew how to flatter his patron.

Here's another interesting tidbit. In the US we call the third piece of a three-piece suit a vest, but in Britain, it's called a waistcoat. What Brits call a vest is what we American's call an undershirt. So you can imagine how silly it sounds to a British reader when an American author refers to leaving the lowest button of a vest unfastened. Sigh. 

As playwright George Bernard Shaw once said, England and the United States are two countries "separated by the same language." And that brings up a question. Have you faced a situation where it was tough to make yourself understood -- or tough to get what the other person was talking about -- because of an oddity in the language?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Waiting to Hear

As the date draws closer for the release of my new Regency-period historical romance, I find myself most anxious to hear the audio version.

The Birthday Scandal is my fourth historical romance... my 84th romance novel... at least my 105th book... but the very, very first which will be released as an audio book.

A few weeks ago, when the book was being recorded, actress Rosalyn Landor and I had a lovely conversation via email to talk about accents. One of the three heroes in the book is American, and she asked where he was from, so she could make him sound just right.

Rosalyn is an experienced narrator and I can't wait to hear how she shares my story about the three Arden siblings (Lucien, Isabel, and Emily) as they find love at their great-uncle's 70th birthday ball.

In the meantime, I'm in production with four more audio projects. Creating Romantic Characters will be out soon -- it's a non-fiction book about building characters from the ground up. It will be followed by Wedding Daze, which is a Regency short story (it'll only be about a half-hour long, though I wish it was more -- the narrator has such a lovely accent!). The other two projects are contemporary romances -- The Best Made Plans and The Lake Effect, which will probably be coming out at the beginning of next year.

Of course the narrator has the really hard job in this enterprise -- I've done enough radio spots in my time to have a great appreciation of the work they do. Still, I'm finding that the producer doesn't have an easy time of it, either. Part of my job is to listen to each book all the way through -- sometimes multiple times. While that sounds like fun (and indeed it is) it's also a challenge to stay completely alert in order to catch a wrong word or an unclear phrase, and then get it noted down quickly with the exact time spot in the recording, so it can easily be redone. Not at all like listening to a book for fun!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Greystone Manor Tour Continues

My apologies for abandoning the blog for a couple of months -- and my thanks to the followers who have followed up with me to say they've missed the posts, especially the promised tour of Greystone Manor, the miniature house that my husband built for me.

One of the "residents" of Greystone is a little girl about eight years old. Not a very neat little girl, you'll notice from the way her toys and board games are strewn around her bedroom -- but one with varied interests, from dolls to soccer. Yes, that is a dollhouse at the foot of the bed -- a 1/144 scale Victorian farmhouse that even includes a few pieces of furniture. All the drawers open, and one of these days I really must get her coverlet finished and on her bed...

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Signing Books & Making Friends

While I was attending ORACON this weekend (the Ozark Romance Authors' annual conference in Springfield, Missouri) I got to share a table with Jennifer Brown and Steven Anderson Law at the Barnes & Noble booksigning event. That's Jennifer and Steven sitting at the signing table.

Jennifer has been a favorite of mine since a mutual friend recommended I read HATE LIST -- and I loved it. The subject matter is heavy, but Jennifer's treatment of the aftermath of a school shooting is compassionate, sensitive, and even upbeat -- without being Pollyanna-ish. The best thing about it is that there's not a single stereotypical character in the entire book. Nobody is predictable.

Though I hadn't met Steven before, I was delighted to learn that he's a fellow Iowan at heart and he even attended the college that's less than a mile from my house. Plus I learned a whole lot about promotion and publicity from this talented guy.

Great events sometimes come in small packages. ORACON is a one-day conference, but its impact on writers and readers is huge. Mark your calendar for September 21, 2013 -- the next ORACON!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

A question from a reader about creating and using secondary characters prompted me to think about the people in a book as though they were actors in a movie -- complete with pay scales.

If an actor speaks in a movie, even if it's just one line, the pay scale requires that he be paid a great deal more in terms of money and screen credit than if he just walks through as an extra. And of course, the more actors you hire for your movie, the more money you're paying out -- even if most of them don't talk.

So authors can often benefit from asking themselves this question, before they create yet another character: "If I had to pay this person to show up and say these lines, would it be worth the money? Or could I give that comment to a character who's already in the story, and save the fee?"

In writing, of course, extra characters don't actually cost money. But we "pay" for them with space, and word count. Each new person has to be established and identified, and that takes up room on the page. But if we can use a character we already have in the story, then we can save the space it would take to create that second person -- and use it to further develop the hero, the heroine, and the love story.

Though this is especially true in romance novels where we keep a tight focus on the hero and heroine, it's something for every author to think about. Sometimes (like with a cozy mystery or a romantic suspense) we need to have more characters so that the bad guy isn't obvious. But even when the cast is bigger, it's wise to ask -- "Do I need this person? Does he play a significant and unique role in the story?Or can I combine his attributes and his contribution and his dialogue with someone else, and keep things simpler for the reader?"

Monday, June 18, 2012

Chief Wapello Comes Down

A storm packing heavy rain, lightning, and 70 mile-per-hour straight-line winds hit my town this weekend, tearing up trees, tearing down power lines, and tearing a bronze statue off the top of the county courthouse where it has stood for 120 years.


The statue of Chief Wapello, for whom Wapello County, Iowa, was named, used to stand on the tall peak just to the left of the crane arm (above). During the storm, the statue tore loose and slid down the roof peak to lodge in the valley three stories up, head aimed toward the street, with nothing much holding him there.

After much maneuvering, the crane operator gently lifted the statue free and swung him to the ground as the storm clouds gave way to a beautiful sunset.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Free book on Father's Day Weekend

I often write about glamorous characters who eat very fancy food -- which is why I keep my elaborate cookbooks in my office and not in my kitchen. :-) 

As a working writer, I need an easier way to keep my husband fed -- so the cookbook I actually use is one I put together years ago and published, mostly so I'd have extra copies whenever one got splattered up. (Do you have any idea of the mess it makes when a pumpkin pie doesn't make it into the oven? A whole lot more than if it was dropped on the way out!)

However, as the years go by I've found other recipes, fine-tuned some of the earlier ones, and moved on to an e-reader instead of hard copy... so I redid the cookbook. It's going to be a free download on Amazon this weekend -- June 16 and 17.
You don't have to be a member of Amazon Prime to get the free download (though it's only free on Saturday and Sunday). And you don't need a Kindle to read it -- you can access it on your regular computer if you have the Kindle for PC or Kindle for Mac free software.

To give you a bit of a preview, most of the recipes I've shared here in the blog are included in the Simply Good cookbook.

I hope you'll enjoy sharing some of my favorite food! 

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Writing is easy... or is it?

"Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead." Gene Fowler

Anybody besides me take exception to that comment? 

Yes, writing IS sometimes that difficult (though I usually refer to those moments as "pulling out fingernails" rather than sweating drops of blood). There are tough patches in every story, and once a writer goes pro and makes the writing a job, going to work is sometimes not fun  -- just as any job has a downside.

But if writing is consistently that difficult, then something needs to be changed. 

The kind of story? (If the author's trying to write something trendy even though it's not to his/her personal taste, it's going to be a rough road. What do YOU want to write?) 

The working conditions? (Some writers pack up and go to a hotel for a weekend -- or  week -- when they're on deadline, so they can focus. But even moving to another room, or writing with pencil on a legal pad instead of on a keyboard, can help.) 

The pace? (Has the author committed to too many hours, too many words, too much writing to be feasible along with the other demands of life? And I'm not just talking about people with contracted deadlines here. Any of us can set the goals so high we fail and end up hating ourselves and our story. What's realistic for you?)

Yes, writing is work. But unless it's fun, too -- at least a good part of the time -- take a closer look at what you're doing and what you can change in order to get the fun back, so you don't have to sweat those drops of blood day in and day out.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The tour continues...

This is the dining room of my miniature house, Greystone Manor. The chandelier is electric, but the red candles on the side tables are real. The tea cart at the far end of the room is set up and ready to serve, and the art lying on the dining room table -- waiting to be framed -- are actual watercolors painted by favorite artists. The swinging doors to the left lead to the kitchen, and just visible across the hall is the living room.

Now if I can just get the teeny-tiny maid to come in and tidy up -- straighten the chairs, gather up the used mug, and take those watercolors to the frame shop.... :)

Monday, May 21, 2012

Taking A Bath

While I was in the shower this morning, I found myself thinking about bathing through the ages.

Across the Roman Empire, public baths were popular not only for personal hygiene but for socializing. Sometimes the location of Roman baths was dictated by hydrothermal springs which preheated the water -- as in Bath, England (which wasn't called that until after the end of the Roman occupation. Go figure.)

With the passing of Roman civilization, bathing fell out of favor. By the time of Queen Elizabeth (the last half of the 16th century) doctors thought that bathing wasn't healthy and advised people to wash only body parts which were visible to others.. Exposing the entire body to water at one time? Horrors!

On the few occasions per year when a bath was unavoidable, a large wooden tub was dragged out, lined with cloths to protect the bather from splinters, and filled  with water heated over an open fire. After the bath, the used water was removed by the bucketful and carried outside to discard.

By the start of the Regency period, people were more enlightened about cleanliness and they had better equipment -- metal tubs, often a "hip bath" which allowed the bather to immerse more of the body. But by the time someone set up the tub, heated and hauled the water in, and emptied the used water by the bucketful -- well, she probably needed another bath.

A few very wealthy people started to install special bathing rooms with permanent tubs. The biggest advantage of the permanent tub was a drain hose leading outside, so the used water no longer needed to be dipped from the tub after the bath. But water still had to be heated and carried by the bucket to fill the tub.

Though the Greeks had communal showers which were something like today's locker rooms, the indoor shower didn't become practical until about 1850 -- when indoor sources of running water made it feasible. The earliest Victorian showers were used mostly by men, because doctors of the time considered women too frail to stand up to the pounding of water.

Monday, May 14, 2012

If Margaret Mitchell submitted GWTW today

From: Today’s romance publishers
To: Margaret Mitchell
Regarding: Your submission, currently titled Gone With the Wind

Dear Ms. Mitchell:

Thank you for the opportunity to review your Civil War novel. We regret that we must take a pass on the book at this time. However, since you are an excellent writer, we are happy to take the time to make suggestions in the hope that a revision would be more likely to meet with a positive response from publishers and readers.

We find that the era for saga novels has passed, because readers today have a much shorter attention span. In its present form the novel is far too large and unwieldy, and we suggest that you think hard about which story you are most interested in telling. Right now there is far too much war and too many potential heroes for the story to be a romance. Honestly, does Scarlett really need to collect every man she meets? 

Perhaps you’ll want to consider dividing the experiences which you have given to Scarlett among the three O’Hara sisters and creating a trilogy. We have found that trilogies about sisters sell well in today’s publishing climate. This would allow you to deal with each story at a more manageable length and create a true romance with each sister having her own hero. (Of course, sell-through figures on the first book would determine whether the second and third were of interest to the publisher.)

We find that our readers do not respond well to Civil War settings, so perhaps you would find it an inviting challenge to re-envision the novel as a Regency, set in England against the background of the Napoleonic Wars. Rhett would be a natural as a rakish earl, and Scarlett might be the spoiled daughter of a duke. We suggest modifying his signature line to "Frankly, Lady Scarlett, I don't give a damn."

You might also consider strengthening the paranormal elements which already exist in the story (you have hinted that Scarlett is something of a witch).

Furthermore, we don’t understand your title, and since there doesn’t seem to be a single wind metaphor in the entire novel we suggest renaming the book The Southern Rebel Blockade-Running Rake’s Gold-digging Bride.

We hope that you find our comments useful and that you are eager to tackle this revision with an eye to strengthening your story and possibly making it saleable. These suggestions, of course, should not be interpreted as an indication that we would actually buy the book if you revise it along the lines we have suggested. 

Yours sincerely,
The Editors

(My thanks to the students in my Gotham Writers Workshop Master Class, who contributed ideas and enthusiasm to this project.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Baronets and their ladies

Bridging the gap between the peerage (dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, and barons, along with their families) and commoners (pretty much everybody else) are the baronets.

Like a knight, a baronet is addressed as Sir Firstname Lastname, or more familiarly, Sir Firstname. (He is not called Sir Lastname, and never Lord Lastname). His wife is referred to as Lady Lastname.

Unlike a knighthood, a baronetcy is hereditary, with the eldest son succeeding to the title upon the death of his father. At that time, if the new baronet is married, his wife becomes Lady Lastname, while his mother's form of address changes to Firstname, Lady Lastname.

A very few modern day baronetcies have been created for women, and a small handful of baronetcies can be inherited by women or through the female line. These women are referred to as Dame Firstname Lastname or Dame Firstname (but never Dame Lastname).

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Spotlighting the Speaker

The rule of thumb you usually hear on paragraphing dialogue is to start a new paragraph for each new speaker. But there are actually so many exceptions that I think a better way is to think of dialogue as if you’re watching two actors on stage.

As we watch the play, we look at Actor A and listen to what he says, then we turn to look at Actor B and see what the reaction is and listen to what Actor B says. But even if Actor B doesn't say anything, we still turn our heads to look at the reaction (the expression, the glare, the physical motion, the deer-in-headlights stare). In other words, we've changed our focus from one actor to the other one.

When you're writing dialogue, picture the two people as if they’re on stage. Where you turn your head to look at the other person, start a new paragraph – even if that person doesn't say anything.

Whenever you want the reader to change focus – to “look at” the other person – start a new paragraph.

Then put everything about that person’s reaction into one paragraph. What he says, what he does, the attribution, all goes together. (If it’s a long paragraph, consider breaking it up by returning to the other person for a moment mid-stream.)

Keep going back and forth – helping the reader to turn her head and look at the other person – and you’ll have a more lively dialogue.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Welcome to Greystone Manor!


Above is the view which greets the visitor just inside the front door of Greystone Manor. That's the back door you can see; the front door would be behind you. Off to the right through the french doors is the living room. Yes, those are two tiny sets of armor perched along the stair railing -- and if you look closely, you'll see that the center of each wooden tread is worn from the traffic of the family running up and down. The intricate molding on the stairs was created with one tiny toothpick-sized piece of wood at a time, by my husband the master builder. (That's his thumb below, showing the scale of the wood, before the walnut stain and finish were applied.)  The rug is counted cross stitch on aida cloth. 

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Barons & Baronesses

Barons are the fifth and lowest level of the British peerage, coming right below viscounts. Barons may well be the oldest of the ranks, with the titles of earls and marquesses and viscounts originating after barons were already well established. Frequently an earl or marquess or viscount is also a baron, and the lesser title is often the one used by a titled gentleman's eldest son as a courtesy. Often -- but not always -- the baron's title is directly derived from the family name, so that if Henry Smith were to be named a baron, he might be Baron Smith.

He would be addressed as Lord Smith or my lord, and his wife would be Lady Smith (but -- oddly -- not my lady.) The baron's children are known as The Honorable Firstname Lastname.

In modern times, there are a few women who have been named baronesses in their own right, for service to the crown. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, for instance, is Baroness Thatcher -- most often referred to as Margaret, Lady Thatcher.

(Lady Margaret Thatcher would be a different individual entirely -- the daughter of a high-ranking nobleman, rather than a peeress in her own right.)

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Surprise, or Suspense?

Today I'm turning over the blog to an expert -- Alfred Hitchcock. Here's what he had to say about creating suspense:

There is a distinct difference between 'suspense' and 'surprise', and yet many pictures continually confuse the two. I'll explain what I mean.

We are now having a very innocent little chat. Let us suppose that there is a bomb underneath this table between us. Nothing happens, and then all of a sudden, 'Boom!' There is an explosion. The public is surprised, but prior to this surprise, it has seen an absolutely ordinary scene, of no special consequence.

Now, let us take a suspense situation. The bomb is underneath the table, and the public knows it, probably because they have seen the anarchist place it there. The public is aware that the bomb is going to explode at one o'clock and there is a clock in the décor. The public can see that it is a quarter to one. In these conditions this same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene.

The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: 'You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There's a bomb underneath you and it's about to explode!'

In the first case we have given the public fifteen seconds of surprise at the moment of the explosion. In the second case we have provided them with fifteen minutes of suspense. The conclusion is that whenever possible the public must be informed. Except when the surprise is a twist -- that is, when the unexpected ending is, in itself, the highlight of the story.

Though Hitchcock was talking about films, what he says about surprise and suspense is equally true in books. And nobody could have said it better.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Little Things Mean a Lot

Last night I had the joy of sharing my love of miniatures with a friend. As I watched her tour through my miniature house (the equivalent of a 3,500 square foot Georgian), I remembered the fun of building and furnishing it, and going from this:

to this:

As a child, I had dolls but no dollhouse. This house -- it's called Greystone Manor -- is anything but a toy, but I can relive a bit of childhood as I play with it.

In future weeks, I'll share more views of rooms and furnishings. Or you can get a sneak peek on my website:'s%20house.htm 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Viscounts and Viscountesses

The rank in the peerage below earls and above barons is that of a viscount -- and though it's tempting to pronouce the S, it's actually silent.

A viscount is often be the oldest son of an earl or a marquess, holding his title as a courtesy based on his father's rank. Or he can be the holder of the title in his own right, if it's the most exalted title in the family. A viscount's wife is a viscountess.

His children don't hold titles, other than being formally addressed as The Honorable Firstname Lastname, and the oldest son of a viscount -- unlike the heir of a higher-ranking peer --is treated no differently from his younger brothers.

Today a viscount's daughters are simply called Miss Lastname, regardless of their order of birth. In the more-formal days of the Regency and Victorian eras, the oldest daughter was given a bit more status by being called Miss Lastname, while her younger sisters were known as Miss Firstname Lastname.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Characters Who Keep Secrets

Can a point of view character keep a big secret, without losing the reader's sympathy? That was the subject of a program I presented last week to the Central Iowa Fiction Writers group in Des Moines, Iowa. And the answer is YES -- if the author is careful.

Here are the rules for playing fair with the reader:

Only keep important secrets.

If it’s important enough, it should be secret.
Give the character a good reason to finally break down and tell the truth.
Don’t tease.
Ask the normal questions.
Have another character ask or answer the obvious question.
Tell the truth wherever possible.
Don’t lie, no matter what.
Divert the reader’s attention to something else.
Foreshadow, foreshadow, foreshadow.

What do you think? Let's talk!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Simply Good -- Recipes for the Busy Cook

The characters I write about, in both my contemporary and Regency-period romances, eat a lot of fancy food. (They can eat all they like -- fictional food has no calories.) But I'm generally not a fancy-food person. I keep all of my elaborate cookbooks in my office, where I use them for research.

When I'm in my kitchen, I'm generally creating much simpler fare -- and I reach for a much simpler cookbook. To find its way into my personal cookbook, a recipe has to be fast, easy (or better yet, fast AND easy). Or it has to make a big enough quantity to be worth the time it takes to slice, dice, stir, and simmer -- so I can freeze some and have a really easy meal later on.

My newest cookbook venture, Simply Good, Recipes for the Busy Cook, will be released soon in ebook format for e-readers, tablets and mobile devices. I'm finishing up the details to make it as handy as possible for use in the kitchen or on the run -- like being able to look up a recipe and check the ingredients on a Smart Phone while you're still in the grocery store.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Chicken Veggie Ranch Cups

This makes an easy and delightful appetizer or canape -- excellent when paired with tea or something stronger!

Chicken Veggie Ranch Cups

1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup red bell pepper
¼ cup chopped carrot
¼ cup chopped olives
¼ cup chopped celery
¼ cup chopped green onion
¼ cup chopped green pepper
¼ cup chopped yellow pepper
1 6- ounce to 8-ounce can white-meat chicken, drained and flaked
Ranch dressing
Shredded Swiss cheese

Sauté veggies till tender. Add chicken and enough dressing to moisten; heat through. Line pastry cups with pie crust or cream cheese pastry. Top each with sprinkle of Swiss cheese. Bake 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 16 to 20 servings.

This recipe, and others posted on the blog, will be included in a forthcoming ebook called SIMPLY GOOD: Recipes for the Busy Cook.

Friday, April 13, 2012

All About Earls

Next in line of importance in the aristocracy, after dukes and marquesses, are earls. Most of them are the Earl OF something, but a few are like Earl Spencer, Princess Diana's father --who was not the Earl of Spencer. (And that's why a few American reporters have gotten all messed up when interviewing Diana's brother, the current holder of the title, thinking that his first name is Earl.)

In most cases, the earldom is the main and most prominent title that a gentleman holds, and it's inherited from a near male relative (father, brother, uncle). When the previous earl dies, then the new one succeeds to the rights and responsibilities and property of the title. Through most of history, that included a seat in the House of Lords, the upper chamber of Great Britain's Parliament.

Occasionally, a duke or a marquess is also an earl, and in that case his oldest son may use the title of Earl of Whatever as an honorary title.

An earl's wife is the Countess of Whatever. Why isn't she called ...I don't know, maybe an Earl-ess? (And that's probably enough of an answer right there! Who'd want to be known as an ear-less?) Actually it's because an earl and a count -- or in France, a comte -- are roughly equivalent. However, when William the Conqueror arrived from Normandy in 1066 to take over England, bringing a new order of aristocracy with him, the older Saxon title of Earl stuck.

The oldest son of an earl carries one of his father's lesser titles as an honorary title; he's generally a viscount or a baron. The younger sons are not titled and are formally referred to as The Honorable Firstname Lastname -- in person, they're called Mr. Lastname. This is one of the few times that being female carries an advantage, because all the daughters of an earl are referred to as Lady Firstname Lastname. And like the daughter of a duke, an earl's daughter maintains her rank as a lady even if she marries a commoner. If she marries someone with a title, then she generally uses the rank she acquires through marriage, rather than the one she has from birth.

(Which reminds me -- someday we really must take up the discussion of whether "Princess Diana" was ever her real title -- even before her divorce!)

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Asparagus Tartlets

1 8-ounce can green or white asparagus
4 ounces cream cheese
1/3 pound carrots, shredded

Combine all ingredients. With a scalloped cookie cutter, cut unbaked pie crust or turnover pastry into rounds; fit into mini-tartlet pans. Fill with asparagus mixture. Bake 18-20 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 24 to 30 tartlets.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Talking about Writing

In just six weeks this spring, I'm giving seminars for three different writers' groups, on three different topics. I'm always intrigued to see the many differences between groups -- the dynamics of how they work together, the topics they want to hear about, the questions they ask.

In mid-March, I was in Lexington, Kentucky, to speak to Kentucky Romance Authors. The topic was Writing Between The Sexes -- the differences in how men and women think, act, and talk, and how to use those differences to create believable (but not stereotypical) characters. We spent all day -- from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- discussing, studying examples, and doing exercises.

These ladies are intense. About half of them brought their laptops in order to take better notes. The writing which was done in the afternoon exercises was superb -- some of it is now appearing on the authors' websites and being crafted into works in progress. (Robyn, I'm still waiting to read your take on the Bigfoot story!)

This week, I'll be speaking to a neighborhood group of writers. Mostly poets and columnists and memoir writers, these writers are interested in hearing about publishing in general and the many changes which have come about in the last couple of years -- with many of them considering self-publishing sooner or later.

Next week, I'll speak to the Iowa Romance Novelists, about Characters Who Keep Secrets. I look forward to meeting up again with some writers I've known for years -- and celebrating many new successes!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Marquess Madness

Second in aristocratic rank to a duke is a marquess (occasionally marquis), and often the oldest son of a duke is known as the Marquess of Something because that's one of his father's lesser titles. But a marquess can also hold the title in his own right; in history when earls have provided great service to the sovereign they're often rewarded with a higher title -- sometimes they're made a marquess, and sometimes they're jumped all the way up to being a duke.

The wife of a Marquess is a Marchioness. Their eldest son uses one of his father's lesser titles as a courtesy, so the son of a marquess is sometimes an earl -- but one without personal power.

A Marquess is addressed as My Lord, or Your Lordship, and if he's the Marquess of Sheridan he's referred to as Lord Sheridan.

The younger sons of a marquess are -- like the sons of dukes -- known as Lord Firstname Lastname, and all the daughters of a marquess are Lady Firstname Lastname. They can be referred to in person as Lord Firstname or Lady Firstname.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Great first lines

First lines are tough. When I first starting writing, authors could take a leisurely approach -- setting the stage, creating an ambiance, describing a scene -- before getting into the action. But today, in a world where attention spans seem to be getting shorter by the moment, we no longer have the luxury of a few thousand words to draw the reader into the story. A few pages?-- maybe. But the opening lines have become ever more crucial.

Here's one of my favorite opening lines. I like it because I'm pretty sure -- in just two sentences -- that the heroine has a sense of humor, that she's snarky and not full of herself, and that I'm going to like her.

To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband’s dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.

– Deanna Rayburn, Silent in the Grave

What's your favorite first line, from a book you've read or one you've written?

Monday, April 2, 2012

Decadant Truffles

3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or use ½ tablespoon vanilla and ½ tablespoon almond extract)
Coatings (optional)
finely chopped nuts
flaked coconut
unsweetened cocoa powder
confectioners sugar
colored sugars
finely crushed peppermint candies

In large saucepan over low heat, gently melt chips along with sweetened condensed milk. When smooth, remove from heat and stir in flavorings. Cover and chill 2 to 3 hours or until firm. Shape into 1 inch balls. Roll each ball in one of the listed coatings. Chill finished candies till firm. Refrigerate, stored in an airtight container.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sir What's His Name

Nothing says "lack of research" faster than getting the titles wrong in a historical set in England. When a hero is referred to as Lord John Smythe one minute and as Lord Smythe the next, or he's Sir John Smythe sometimes and Sir Smythe at other times, or the heroine is Lady Jane Reynolds at one time and Lady Reynolds at another -- well, the only thing certain is that the writer didn't check her facts, and that always makes me wonder what else she got wrong, too.

If you're trying to figure out the aristocracy, reading the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries by Dorothy L. Sayers makes a good start, and it's a fun pastime as well. I'll use her fictional family, the Denvers, as an example in talking about the families and titles held by dukes. (We'll take up earls, marquesses, viscounts, and barons some other day.)

Dukes are the highest and most exclusive aristocratic rank, and are outclassed only by royalty. Sons and brothers of the monarch were -- and are -- often named as royal dukes.

Sayers' duke is the Duke of Denver; his wife is the Duchess of Denver. Though the family name is Wimsey, the duke and duchess seldom, if ever, use it.

The oldest son of a duke -- his heir presumptive -- uses one of his father's secondary titles. The Duke of Denver's son is Viscount St. George. But that title gives him no power; it's a courtesy only, setting the heir apart from the younger children.

The duke's younger sons are known as Lord Firstname Lastname. Again, this is a courtesy title and there's no power -- no seat in the House of Lords, for instance -- to go with it. This is why Sayers' detective, who's a brother to the Duke of Denver, is Lord Peter Wimsey. As the son of the previous duke, he uses the family name as a part of his honorary title. But he's not Lord Wimsey; he can be referred to as Lord Peter. When he marries, his wife isn't Lady Wimsey -- she's Lady Peter Wimsey.

The daughters of a duke are Lady Firstname Lastname (Lady Mary Wimsey is the duke's younger sister). When she marries she keeps her title, even if she assumes her husband's name -- so when Lady Mary marries a detective who has no title at all, she becomes Lady Mary Parker (but never Lady Parker).

To go back to the original examples, Lord John Smythe would be the son of a titled gentleman but not a lord in his own right. He has essentially no powers; it's an honorary title only -- while Lord Smythe's title is entirely his own. Sir John Smythe would be a baronet (more about them later) but Sir Smythe doesn't exist at all. And the only way Lady Jane Reynolds and Lady Reynolds can be the same person is if she's Lady Jane because her father had a high title and Lady Reynolds because she married Lord Reynolds -- and even then she's apt to prefer one title or the other.

Next time we'll take up Earls!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Writing Period Dialogue

It's tough to walk the line between authentic period dialogue and a style the modern reader will find readable.

Words mean different things these days --for instance, "nice" used to refer to a person who was picky and petty and who found fault with everything. Slang from bygone eras can be totally incomprehensible -- when a Regency hero says, "I'll put a monkey on that" he was NOT referring to a small primate with a prehensile tail; he meant 500 pounds sterling which was a huge sum of money for the time.

Slang and period expressions are like salt -- a small sprinkling adds flavor and zest, but too much and you're grabbing for the water glass to wash it away.

I try to write the first draft without fretting too much over what the character says, or how, or whether there's too much dialect/slang or not enough, or exactly which word to use. Then when the story's in place, there's plenty of time for revision.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cucumber Sandwiches

Tea, scones, and cucumber sandwiches makes a wonderful afternoon treat.

Peel a medium sized cucumber and slice very thin. Soak slices for one hour in salt water to make them crisp, then drain and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine mayonnaise (or ranch dressing) and cream cheese in equal proportions until smooth. Cut rounds from white bread with a cookie cutter. Spread each slice with mayonnaise-cream cheese mixture. Top with a thin cucumber slice and sprinkle generously with dried dill weed.

Cucumber slices are also excellent on deli cocktail rye bread. When I'm feeling particularly ambitious, I bake my own bread in miniature pans, so each sandwich is a full slice of bread, two inches or less square. Don't be afraid to try exotic varieties and unusual combinations. Imagination is the key.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Greetings from the Regency!

As I sit here in late March suffering the aftereffects of a nasty head cold and remembering the three rules of avoiding infection (1.--Wash Your Hands. 2.--Wash Your Hands. 3.--Wash Your Hands), I can't help thinking about how people in the Regency period did things differently.

No, they couldn't cure the common cold any more than we can. And they didn't even have the benefit of knowing what caused it, because the discovery of viruses was yet to come. But they had one thing right -- they didn't shake hands. No warm handgrips between businessmen. No "pleased to meet you" hands outstretched in greeting. No hands clasped in peaceful greetings in church.

Instead, they bowed or curtseyed -- in greeting, in respect, in acknowledgement of an introduction. Dancers of both sexes wore gloves -- and even the famous kiss-on-the-back-of-the-hand was morely likely to be a brush of his lips against her leather glove, not her bare skin.

I wonder if practicing my curtsey would have kept this stuffy nose at bay...

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Six Commandments for the Romance Writer

There's a lot of talk about the "rules" of writing romance novels -- largely because romance is often perceived as being formulaic. (Not true -- but that's a subject for another post, I think.)

But there are a few rules that it's not safe to break, if you want to be published.

1. Remember that you are writing a romance. Not a mainstream novel. Not a travelogue. Not a textbook.

2. Create a likeable heroine. Not Poor Pitiful Pearl. Not stupid. Not a victim.

3. Present an attractive hero. Not a brute. Not a wimp. Not an abuser. Not a stalker.

4. Make the initial attraction and initial conflict plausible. Not an instant hormone attack. Not instant hatred on first meeting.

5. Construct a believable conflict, a real problem between the hero and heroine. Not a misunderstanding. Not interference by malicious other characters.

6. Write a commercial novel, one that readers will enjoy. Not a book they should read for their own education or the improvement of the world, but one they want to read.

Follow those six commandments, and your story will stand a much better chance of reaching the bookstore shelves and the reader’s hands!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Scones -- A Taste of England

Now that you know how to make a perfect cup of tea (and if you don't, scroll on down the page to find out), you need something to go with it -- and the perfect "something" is a scone.

2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1/4 cup raisins, sultanas or dates (optional)
1/2 cup milk
1 egg
1/2 pint whipping cream
Strawberry or raspberry jam
Sift flour and add baking powder, salt and sugar. Cut in margarine with a pastry cutter or two knives. Add raisins or sultanas or dates if desired, and stir to coat them with flour. Mix milk with beaten egg and stir mixture into dry ingredients. Gather dough into a ball. Knead lightly and roll to 1/2 inch thickness on floured board. Cut into circles or other shapes as desired and place on a lightly greased baking sheet so they do not touch. Bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes or till golden.
While scones are baking, pour whipping cream into chilled bowl and whip with chilled beaters till the cream is very stiff and almost buttery.
Serve scones immediately after baking; they lose much of their flavor within half an hour. Let your guests split each scone horizontally and top with whipped cream and jam.
Makes 12 scones.
There's a rumor that the only reason scones were invented was to transport the weight of jam and English clotted cream (a very rich whipped cream) from one's tea plate to one's mouth. In fact, the combination of sweet biscuit, cream, and jam is so delicious that your guests will think you slaved over the scones for hours, but in fact they're as sinfully easy as they are good. I must admit, however, that sometimes I say modestly, "You wouldn't believe how much effort it takes to make these."

Friday, March 16, 2012

What Would the World Be Like If...?

A few years ago a friend suggested I read 1632. It's an alternative-history novel by Eric Flint in which a small town in modern-day West Virginia is transported back in time to -- drum roll, please -- 1632, and set down in Germany, smack in the middle of the Thirty Years' War raging across Europe.

I was utterly fascinated by the details, as the small band of West Virginia coal miners and their families set out to change the new world they must now live in. It's not the big things that cause trouble for the West Virginians. For instance, they have a generating plant and a coal mine to fire it, so they have plenty of electricity. But what happens when the light bulbs burn out? -- once the stock is gone from the supermarket, that's it. (As for toilet paper -- well, let's not even go there.)

Much as I enjoyed 1632, there's another alternative history I want to read. In 1817, Princess Charlotte of Wales, the daughter of the Prince Regent (later King George IV), died in childbirth along with her son. Because her death left no next-generation heir, the Regent's brothers rushed into legitimate matrimony in the hope of siring a future king or queen -- and that's the only reason Victoria was born at all (in 1819).

So here's the challenge. What would England -- and for that matter, the world -- be like if there had been no Queen Victoria? If there had been a Queen Charlotte instead?

Won't someone please write this book, so I can read it? Please?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

FAQs -- How Do You Research Jobs?

The heroes and heroines in my 80 contemporary romance novels have held a whole lot of different kinds of jobs, and I'm often asked if I actually did all those things. Was I a banker, a lawyer, a hotel manager? Did I run a bookstore or a B&B?

No to all of those. Maybe in my next life.

I had a fair number of short-term jobs before I settled into full time writing. My longest-lasting job was as a librarian, so when I wasn't busy with my regular duties, I was wandering the stacks and exploring all the intriguing new directions I found. (And even my regular duties helped -- as I re-shelved books, I speed-read them and set aside the ones I wanted to study more thoroughly.) And perhaps most importantly, I'm a reporter by training, so long ago I learned to ask the questions necessary to get a feel for someone else's profession and their daily routine, in order to write feature stories about them.

I was also selective about the jobs I chose and how I handled them. There are professions I never tackled, like law enforcement -- I figured it would be too hard (for me!) to make a cop sound and act like a cop. Or if it was a complex job, I sometimes gave it to the hero -- whose head I was in less frequently -- rather than to the heroine. And then I checked it out with a pro. In the case of my sexy pediatrician hero, that meant having a friend who's a doctor read the manuscript to see if I'd gotten the tone right.

The toughest story, I think, was the book about the two architects -- because their conversation had to always be on a professional level. One of them couldn't exactly explain to the other who Frank Lloyd Wright was and why his Prairie School of architecture was important!

Another challenging profession was in The Takeover Bid, where my heroine ran a junkyard that she'd turned into a classic car business. Though I resisted, she just would not do anything else, so I gave in and read up on classic cars. And when I wrote the book about the two lawyers (The Fake Fiance) I took my attorney to lunch and picked his brain about when attraction crossed the line into unethical behavior.

People love it when their professions are shown accurately and positively, so most of them are happy to help writers get it correct. It helps to have some scenarios in mind of things you'd like your characters to do, and then you can ask concrete questions.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Perfect Cup of Tea

Though the custom of afternoon tea didn't come into full flower until after the Regency period had ended, there's no more perfect combination than curling up with a cup of really good tea and a historical romance. (Unless you add something chocolate, of course.)

The average American makes tea by zapping a mug full of water in the microwave for a minute or two, then dunking a bag in the water till it turns color. Microwave ovens heat quickly but often unevenly, which means part of the water may be overboiled while another portion is hot but not yet boiling. The result is usually a muddy cup of tea.

Instant hot-water faucets, if set at the proper temperature, should produce water that’s hot enough to make an acceptable single cup of tea, but they usually don’t produce near-boiling water quickly enough to make a full pot of tasty tea.

A true cup of tea takes very little longer and very little extra work, yet it returns enormous rewards in taste and satisfaction.

To make perfect tea, start with a kettle of cold water. Let the water run for a bit before filling the kettle, so the water will be fresh and fully aerated. While a kettle is best, water which has been brought to a full boil in a covered pan will also make good tea. Set the burner at the highest temperature, to bring the water to a boil as quickly as possible.

While you’re waiting for the water to boil, fill the tea pot – preferably a china one, which holds the heat better – at least halfway with hot water from the tap. Let the warming water stand in the pot until the kettle boils, so the tea pot will be thoroughly warmed. (This keeps the boiling water from cooling off too quickly as you pour it into the tea pot, and it also keeps the tea pot from cracking because of the sudden temperature change.)

Fill a mesh tea ball with one teaspoon of loose tea for each cup of water the teapot holds. Don’t fill the tea ball more than half full; tea leaves need room for expansion. Or use one high-quality tea bag per cup of water.

The instant the kettle begins to boil, empty the warming water from the pot, put in the tea ball or bags, and pour still-boiling water over the tea. Let the brew steep for three minutes. Remove the tea ball or tea bags. Serve with lemon or whole milk (not cream) and sugar to taste -- and enjoy!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Laws of Inheritance

Many a younger child thinks that the eldest in the family is the favorite and believes that the first-born gets special privileges. In the 19th century, in England, the eldest son may or may not have been the favorite child, but he was certainly the favored one. The system was called primogeniture -- which means first-born -- and it was set up largely to preserve property rights in an era when land was the main source of income and wealth.

The reasoning went like this: The relatively small islands which comprise the United Kingdom had been fully settled for hundreds of years, with all the land claimed. By 1800, there was no room left for expansion, no new acres to be claimed and developed. If  a man's property was divided between several sons at the time of his death, then each of them had less land to till or to rent -- and therefore a lower income. If each of those sons also had several sons, and so on, within a very few generations each individual would be reduced to a tiny parcel, inadequate to maintain a family.

The system of primogeniture means that the oldest son (first-born daughters were bypassed by their younger brothers) inherited the vast majority of his father's holdings, while younger sons had to find other ways to make a living.  During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the second son often went into the armed services while a third son took orders in the church.

In the western hemisphere, the situation was much different. President Thomas Jefferson had just purchased more than five million acres from France in the Louisiana Purchase, which would eventually become all or part of 15 of the United States. With plenty of space for expansion and settlement, primogeniture never became the standard in the United States.

In England the rise of manufacturing meant that land was no longer the main repository of wealth. Families could make their livings from other sources than agriculture, and gradually primogeniture died out -- except for royalty and the aristocracy, where it remains in effect. The eldest son is the heir apparent, inheriting his father's title and most of his property.

Even there, however, modern sensibilities have created changes. When Queen Elizabeth's third child -- Prince Andrew -- was born in 1960, he moved ahead of his older sister Anne in the line of succession. In 2011, however, new legislation provided for succession of the British crown to follow a strict line of birth order. That means that if the first child born to Prince William and Kate Middleton is a girl, she'll be the queen someday -- even if she has half a dozen younger brothers.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Starting Them Young

My eight-year-old granddaughter, reading her very first romance novel (my sweet traditional contemporary, The Takeover Bid -- chosen because it includes a dog named Scruffy and no actual love scenes). I'll keep you posted about how she likes it!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Writing Historical Dialogue

It's tough to walk the line between authentic period dialogue and a style the modern reader will find readable. Words mean different things these days --for instance, "nice" used to refer to a person who was picky and petty and found fault with everything. And slang from bygone eras can be totally incomprehensible. When a Regency hero says, "I'll put a monkey on that", he was NOT referring to a small primate with a prehensile tail; he meant 500 pounds sterling -- which was a huge sum of money for the time.

Slang and period expressions are like salt. A small sprinkling adds flavor and zest, but too much and you're grabbing for the water glass to wash it away.

But it's just as important to know what a historical character wouldn't say. Would he say that his train of thought had been derailed? -- not in an era before railroad tracks crisscrossed the nation. (In fact, the first known use of the term "derail" dates to about 1850.)

But with so much to think about, how can a writer keep it all straight and still focus on the story? It makes sense to write the first draft without fretting too much over what the character says, or how, or whether there's too much dialect and slang or not enough, or exactly which words would have been used or not yet invented. Then when the story is all in place, there's plenty of time for revision. It may even be wise to make a run through the manuscript looking at one character's dialogue at a time -- keeping the flavor by trimming or adding as necessary in order to remind the reader that this person is from another time – without drowning her in "salt".

Friday, March 2, 2012

Day in the Life of a Housemaid

One of the many challenges in writing historicals is finding the right details to surround the characters. If, for instance, I have my heroine notice what a housemaid is doing, then I need to know what sorts of things the housemaid would likely be doing.

I recently got my hands on a copy of The Complete Servant, first published in 1825 and written by a married couple who had been in service their whole lives. They worked their way up from footboy to butler, and from maid of all work to housekeeper. It's fascinating (and exhausting) reading.

The housemaid tidies up each downstairs room and cleans the stoves, fireplaces, and hearths -- including taking out the ashes, scouring the fire-irons, rubbing the backs and sides of fireplaces with black lead, washing the marble hearths (you'll be glad to hear that the chimney pieces only need to be scoured once a week!) Then she sweeps the carpets after strewing damp tea leaves on them to catch the dust, sweeps the floors under the carpets, shakes and dusts the window curtains, brushes the dust off the windows and the ceilings, and puts all the furniture back in place. When all the downstairs rooms have been cleaned, she goes up to the bedrooms of the master and mistress of the house, empties the slops, refills the water containers, and cleans the fireplaces there.

And that's all before breakfast.

The rest of the day she spends making beds; laying fires; cleaning the landings, staircases, and passages; doing needlework; making and caring for all the household linens, and helping with the fine laundry. On Tuesdays and Saturdays she'd give the house a real cleaning, scouring each room instead of merely wiping or sweeping it, including rolling up the carpets so they could be beaten or shaken outside.

According to The Complete Servant, "If the housemaid rise in good time and employ herself busily, she will get everything done in time to clean herself for dinner." Wages? The grand sum of 12 to 16 guineas a year.

I don't know about you, but I'm going to be whining less this weekend as I swoop through my house with Swiffer and vacuum cleaner!

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Why Reading, Writing, and Regency?

I don't remember learning to read, but my mother once told a sizeable audience that I was a difficult birth because I had a book in my hand while she was pushing and I refused to put it down. I started writing when I wasn't much older; there's some perfectly dreadful poetry in my baby book, and I wrote -- and actually finished -- my first romance novel when I was a freshman in high school. That was about the time I fell in love with the Regency period in British history, too -- the time from 1811 to 1820 when King George III was too ill to rule, so his son the Prince of Wales became Prince Regent.

So there you have my personal Three Rs -- Reading, Writing, and Regency.

I burned that first romance, and the next five books I wrote. I've sent better than a quarter of a million words up in smoke. But that was how I learned to write, and that's why my next 80 books -- contemporary sweet traditional romances -- were published. Then after a period of burnout, my career path took a hard right turn and I started writing spicy historical romances, set during the Regency period I'd enjoyed reading about for so long. The Mistress' House, Just One Season in London, and The Wedding Affair were published in 2011, and The BirthdayScandal will be coming in 2012.

I also teach writing -- mostly romance writing these days -- at Gotham Writers Workshop,

When at last I added a blog to my social networking -- my website is, on facebook I'm Leigh Michaels, and at Twitter I'm @leighmichaels -- it seemed natural to combine my interests in reading and writing and history... and share the results with you. I'm looking forward to learning as I go, and I hope you'll enjoy this journey along with me!