Adventures in History and Romance

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy Holidaze!

Since I've been busily working on my book revisions which are due in January, I haven't had time to send out a lot of holiday cards. But here is one of our favorites that we've given over the years. It's a photo of hubby and I on a ski trip that we used for our holiday card a few years ago:

One of my favorite passages from Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" tells of the joy of remembering loved ones at this time of year:

"Again the Ghost sped on, above the black and heaving sea -- on, on -- until, being far away, as he told Scrooge, from any shore, they lighted on a ship. They stood beside the helmsman at the wheel, the look-out in the bow, the officers who had the watch; dark, ghostly figures in their several stations; but every man among them hummed a Christmas tune, or had a Christmas thought, or spoke below his breath to his companion of some bygone Christmas Day, with homeward hopes belonging to it. And every man on board, waking or sleeping, good or bad, had had a kinder word for another on that day than on any day in the year; and had shared to some extent in its festivities; and had remembered those he cared for at a distance, and had known that they delighted to remember him."

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and a blessed and prosperous year in 2012!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

“He that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast...” (Proverbs 15:15)

“In every thing give thanks...” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

I love Thanksgiving, not only for the yummy food and the time off from work (which, by the way, “Yay!” to both) but also because it’s a wonderful holiday on which pretty much everyone can agree. No matter one’s religious views (or lack thereof), most people generally think it a healthy thing to pause and reflect on the good things in our lives, whether or not we call them “blessings” by name.

This year I’m especially thankful for the many things that have happened in my life professionally. I acquired a wonderful new day job AND a burgeoning career as a novel writer.

I’m also very thankful for my family. For years I’ve kept a copy of a cartoon that I love: a college-age woman is seated in a window seat, a cup of tea at her side, writing a letter to her parents. According to the caption the letter says, “Dear Mom and Dad: Thanks for the happy childhood. You’ve destroyed any chance I had of becoming a writer.”

Thankfully, despite my happy childhood, I’ve managed to embark on a career as a writer after all. Perhaps it’s because my family had enough interesting quirks to season my life in unusual ways. (But that would be the subject of another blog post.)

Speaking of seasoning, I’m also thankful for Cherokee Publishing Company, a small press in Marietta, Georgia that has reprinted “Savannah Sampler,” a collection of fantastic southern recipes assembled by my mother, Margaret Wayt DeBolt.

Although my mom passed away in 2009, this wonderful treasure continues on. Following are two of my favorite recipes from the book. (They make great hostess gifts too!)

If you want to add a little something unexpected into the traditional turkey day, try this recipe for cranberry chutney in place of the canned goo called cranberry sauce:

Famous Cranberry Chutney
Yield: 3 or 4 cups

1 pound fresh or frozen cranberries
Rind of 2 limes, slivered
1 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup plain red wine vinegar
1 cup orange juice
1 cup diced onion
1 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp mustard seed
dash cayenne pepper
1/2 cup dried black currents
1 3-oz package crystallized ginger, snipped into small pieces

Place all ingredients in a large saucepan. Cook over moderate heat until berries pop, about 5 minutes. Continue cooking gently, stirring often, to desired degree of thickness. (This also thickens on standing.) Store in covered jar in refrigerator to preserve the color.

Or if you’d like a real change of pace, try this apricot chutney, which is also an excellent side dish for ham or pork:

Apricot Chutney
Yield: about 3 cups

1 6-ounce package dried apricots, diced
2 tbl finely diced crystallized ginger, packed
1 cup halved seedless golden raisins
1/2 lemon, finely diced
3/4 cup chopped onions
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup plain white wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1 1/2 tsp ground mustard
1/8 tsp hot pepper sauce
1/2 cup tomato juice
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground allspice

Mix all ingredients together. Bring to a boil; lower heat and cook gently to desired thickness. (This also thickens as it cools.)

These are just 2 of the wonderful recipes in the book, which covers everything from cocktails (Chatham Artillery Punch, anyone?) to desserts (Lemon Charlotte -- to die for). There is also a recipe for chicken pie that I always make around New Year’s. In the cookbook it is noted that in the book "Gone With the Wind," Scarlett and Rhett enjoyed chicken pie and champagne on their wedding night. Can’t think of a better way to celebrate!

And one of these days I’m going to actually make that recipe for Chatham Artillery Punch...

Wishing you a fantastic Thanksgiving!

PS: The Savannah Sampler can be ordered by phone from Books on Bay, 224 W. Bay Street, Savannah, GA 31401 (phone: 912-236-7115) or from Cherokee Publishing Co. (800-653-3952).

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I'm Joining the Ranks of Published Authors!

Certain events in my life this week have gotten me thinking about one of my favorite movies: An American In Paris, starring Gene Kelly. There is one scene in particular that really highlights how I feel.

Gene plays a poor but happy-go-lucky artist living in Paris. He enjoys hanging out with his friends and fellow artists, and every day he sets his paintings out for sale on the street, but he doesn't really expect to sell them. He's just happy to be producing his art and soaking up all the fun of living in Paris.

One day a wealthy woman wanders by and takes particular notice of two of his paintings. "I want to buy them," she tells Gene. "How much are they?"

Completely taken aback, Gene replies: "Gee, I don't know."

Woman (surprised): "You don't know?"

Gene: "Well, I never thought I'd get to the point where that would be an issue."

[I love that line!]

Gene then asks the woman to make an offer. "Fifteen thousand francs," she says.

Fifteen thousand francs (about US$50 at the time) was a nice bit of money for a poor artist in 1950. Gene can only stare at her in disbelief.

"For each," she clarifies, misunderstanding his look. "Will that be acceptable?"

Gene (still stunned): "That will be good and acceptable."

This is exactly how I felt this week, as I made my first ever book sale, a three-book deal to Grand Central Publishing's Forever line. Even though, unlike Gene's character, I did expect to sell my work, I am nevertheless amazed that it has happened.

I'm thrilled that my first book, an inspirational historical romance set in 1850s London, is set to be published in November 2012, with two more books to follow in 2013!

Monday, August 1, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Part 2)

Waterfalls! North Carolina has 'em in abundance--over 1,000. They come in every possible size and shape and range from easy-to-spot-from-the-road to get-out-your-hiking-boots-and-compass. My hubby and I opted for a mix of these. Over 4 days we managed to visit 11 different waterfalls.

Here is a photo of High Falls:

And this is Triple Falls:

And this is Stair Step Falls:

And this is Turtleback Falls:

And this is Rainbow Falls:

For our first day of hiking we picked the Horsepasture River because we'd read in hiking books that there are 5 fabulous waterfalls in fairly close succession. Imagine our surprise, therefore, when we arrived at the trail head at the state park to find the big trailmap board listed only one: Rainbow Falls. Where had the others gone? Could we still reach them?

For too many reasons to list here, the powers that be have decided visitors should only be told about Rainbow Falls--a big, touristy one that can be admired from a safe distance. The other 4 falls had been erased from the map, like the unfortunate "unpersons" in the book 1984.

But the waterfalls are still there, and you can get to them if you know where to look. Hence the photos of Turtleback Falls (which you can see by the number of people playing in it that it's the worst-kept secret in the world) and Stair Step Falls. Stair Step required some strenuous hiking to get to, and we had to follow directions from our hiking book like a treasure map to find it. But we were rewarded with some lovely scenery and our own private waterfall.

Our trip spurred us to watch The Last of the Mohicans (1992 version), since parts of it were filmed in North Carolina and featured 3 NC waterfalls, including Triple Falls and High Falls. While it was fun to spot the waterfall cameos, the movie itself was really too violent to be enjoyable.

I'd read the book years ago and knew things didn't turn out well for the protagonists. Nothing against James Fenimore Cooper--after all, his aim wasn't to write a "kissing book" (to steal a phrase from The Princess Bride). Hollywood, however, found a way to grant a happy ending to two of the characters, and I'm glad for this. (Since the film is nearly 20 yrs old I doubt I'm giving away spoilers.) Characters who work that hard and whom we fall in love with and are rooting for deserve a happy ending. That's my belief and I'm sticking to it. So the revised ending made the film a tad more enjoyable for me. That plus the lush scenery and the incredibly stirring musical score. And Daniel Day-Lewis, of course.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Part 1)

Summer is only half over, but has already seen two exciting adventures: my trip to the RWA National Conference in New York City, and a trip to the North Carolina Mountains to hike to some magnificent waterfalls.

My time at the RWA conference started with a bang as I won this nifty award for my screenplay "The Last Resort":

Then came the conference itself. I had a blast, learned a lot at the workshops, and had wonderful pitch sessions with agents and editors. I'm excited to see where the many opportunities opened to me will lead.

I was too busy at the conference to take photos, but I did manage a few touristy things with my roommate after the conference and before our mad dash to the airport, such as a brief tour of Central Park:

Coming soon: Summer Vacation Part II, in which my hubby and I get up close and personal with some magnificent waterfalls!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Interviewed by a Charming Rake

I’m participating in a blog chain with my fellow Heart of Carolina Romance Writers this month. This has been my first time doing a blog chain, and it has been loads of fun. At the bottom of this blog entry you’ll find a list of all the participants. I highly recommend reading their posts--you will be delightfully entertained!

The theme of this blog chain is...
Have one of your characters, from one of your stories interview YOU!

Part One: Briefly describe your interviewer.

Part Two: The interview, with — ‘you’ being the subject!

Everybody on board?  Here goes!

The Character...

Mr. James Simpson is a secondary character (but please don’t tell him that--after all, everyone is the hero of their own story, right?) in my yet-to-be-published book The Heiress Returns, set in 1851. James is London’s most amiably scandalous bachelor. He is so much fun to be around that any trouble he gets into never seems to stick. He’s also a master at witty banter. Although his time period is a few decades before Oscar Wilde’s plays, if you’ve ever seen “The Importance of Being Earnest” you’ll know what to expect from James!

The Interview...

I wait for James impatiently, because I’m leaving for New York very early Tuesday morning and I have a ton of things to do before I go. FINALLY James arrives, looking quite dashing in his perfectly tailored suit with yellow cravat and matching waistcoat. He removes his top hat as I let him in. Somehow the hat has not managed to disarrange his wavy brown hair.

His blue eyes twinkle as he gives me a gorgeous smile and kisses my hand. “A pleasure, Mrs. Harrington, as always.”

I try to reprimand him, despite smiling in return. “You are late, James.”

James takes a moment to check his cravat in the hallway mirror and says with a gleam in his eye, “I apologize. I’m afraid a certain young lady kept me out very late...”

“No doubt,” I reply dryly. I lead him to the living room and offer him a chair.

He looks around with amusement. “What a charming little cottage. Where is the main house?”

I try not to sound too taken aback. “Erm, this is it. It’s only a modest ranch, but we like it. Shall we get right to the interview?”

“Yes indeed!” He leans forward in his chair, his hands on his gold-handled cane, looking as though he were in a theater and an exciting play was about to begin. “I have several burning questions to ask you. I confess, I find you extremely fascinating.”

“Me? Fascinating?” I can’t help blushing.

He nods. “You seem to have made some decisions that I consider quite shocking.”

This startles me, as I can’t think of much that would shock James. “I’ve led a fairly tame life, actually. Although I have traveled a lot, and those three years I spent in Montreal and Ottawa, Canada were amazing--”

“No, no, no, I’m not talking about all that,” James breaks in. “What I want to know is, why did you do it?”

“Do what?” I say, not comprehending. “Get married? Move to Raleigh? Decide to become a writer? That last question’s easy. See, my mother was a writer. Margaret Wayt DeBolt -- she wrote a wildly popular book called Savannah Spectres, and also Savannah, A Historical Portrait. She was a journalist, but I’ve decided to go the fiction route...”

I stop myself. James is laughing and shaking his head.

“You’re not taking notes,” I point out.

“Dearest, you’re missing the point,” James replies. “What I want to know is, why, oh why, did you make me the secondary character?”

Oops. Somebody told him. Also, I should have known this interview would be largely about James.

He confirms this as he continues, “It hurts my pride to think I am only in the book for comic relief.”

“That’s not the case at all,” I hasten to assure him. “You play a vital role in the story, after all.”

“I’m aware of that,” he says, somewhat pettishly. “The so-called hero and heroine...”

“Geoffrey and Lizzie.”

“Right. They would never have gotten together in the end if it weren’t for me. So why am I not the hero?”

I try to think of a diplomatic way to explain. “You see, James, in my books the hero and heroine get married in the end. You have stated plenty of times that you are not the marrying kind.”

He looks incredulous. “Have I?”

“Remember that conversation where Lizzie asks Geoffrey, ‘How many men would face any obstacle, and go to the ends of the earth for their love?’ Do you remember the remark you made when you overheard this?”

He looks at me blankly.

I try to imitate his joking tone as I quote: “I certainly have never flung myself off the map for another. It sounds terribly uncomfortable.”

James waves a dismissive hand. “That was all in jest, of course. I was merely trying to lighten a very tense situation. Actually, I am a hopeless romantic. Remember the time I told my aunt that I would never marry simply for money?” He adds as an aside, "Even though God knows I need it..."

I smile. “I remember. You said, ‘I shall wait until perfect love falls upon me. Or knocks me over’.”

“I also said that I have no doubt that I shall succumb in time. In the meantime, I intend to live in the present and make myself merry, rather than worry about whom I shall marry.”  He smirks, looking quite pleased with his little joke.

“James, I will let you in on a little secret,” I say with the air of one imparting an important confidence. “The Heiress Returns is the first in a trilogy. I have big plans for you by book three.”

“Ah, hah!” he says. “I knew you had something up your writer’s sleeve. What is it? You must tell me everything.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” I say with mock seriousness.

His eyes sparkle. “Being coy now, are we?” He considers the information I’ve given him. “Book three. Why not book one?”

“You have to admit, Lizzie and Geoffrey’s story is quite compelling,” I say, in an effort to appease him. “She pretends to be a missing heiress, sort of like the woman in Anastasia. But then she falls in love with Geoffrey, the man who is supposed to be her brother-in-law. And Geoffrey, who is the youngest son of a baron, is dealing with having suddenly been made a baron himself--a position which he did not want and was not trained for. His story reminds me of George VI in The King’s Speech. Except he does not stammer.”

I can see that all of this is not convincing James. So in desperation I add, “You take the lead in a later book because I want to save the best for last, of course!”

“Now you are talking sense!” he proclaims.  “That’s what I love about you--you have an innate sense of timing.”

“Speaking of timing...” I check my watch. “James, we’ll have to cut this short. I’m going to New York tomorrow, and I’ve got to get packed.”

“New York? That backwater? Whatever for?”

“I’m going to the annual conference of the Romance Writers of America. I’m looking for an agent and an editor for the book. I want to get it published, so that many more people can get to know you!”

James rises and reaches for his hat. “Well in that case, what are you waiting for my girl? You must leave right this instant!”

I hope you’ve enjoyed my little chat with James. Please stop by the other participants’ blogs, where you’ll find more great interviews!

6/6: Aimee Laine :
6/8: Lyla Dune :
6/10: Carol Strickland :
6/12: Amy Corwin :
6/14: Lilly Gayle :
6/16: Rebekkah Niles :
6/18: Laura Browning :
6/20: Andris Bear :
6/22: Marcia Colette :
6/24: Nancy Badger :
6/26: Sarah Mäkelä :
6/28: Jennifer Harrington : (Hi, everyone!)
6/30: Scott Berger :

Friday, June 17, 2011

Mary Stewart and Memory Lane

The recent reissues of Mary Stewart books by Hodder and Stoughton got me thinking again about one of my favorite all-time authors.

I discovered Mary Stewart books in high school and was instantly enthralled, working my way through every one.  They were the perfect blend of adventure and romance.  She was also ahead of her time when she added a paranormal element in Touch Not the Cat.  Years later, as I am now trying my own hand at writing, her books are uppermost in my mind as the standard for quality and style.

Her gorgeous and evocative descriptions of the locations in her books made me want to get to France, Greece, England and Scotland. Still working on that list, but I did get to France in 2007.  While in Provence, I toured the places around Avignon, Nimes, and Marseilles mentioned in Madam, Will You Talk. Although the landscape has changed over the years, it was still so easy to imagine the events of the book. I especially loved the Temple of Diana in Nimes, the spot where the hero and heroine meet. Here is a photo of me and my hubby at that very spot:

Also loved, loved, loved the Pont du Gard:

The ruins of Les Baux, which were wild and lonely at the time Mary Stewart wrote about them, are now a bustling tourist attraction, but they are marvelous nonetheless.

From the vantage point at the top, you can look in one direction and see the wilds that inspired Van Gogh:

On the other side, green and manicured farmland and grapevines, with a hint of the Mediterranean Sea in the distance:

Last fall as I was touring the lush and beautiful countryside in England, I kept remembering the opening line of The Ivy Tree: "I might have been alone on a painted landscape..."

Her books are so lovely and intelligent as well as filled with action and suspense. I hope these reissues will garner a new legion of fans.

PS: Many thanks to Vanessa Kelly, who inspired my trip down memory lane with her own wonderful blog post last week about Mary Stewart!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Romancing the Script Contest Finalist!

So excited to find out that I am a finalist for Scriptscene's Romancing the Script contest!  They even gave me this nifty badge:

My romantic comedy is set at a fictional ski resort in Colorado that combines aspects of my favorite places to ski, and includes a ski patrol heroine and her avalanche search-and-rescue dog. Love! Skiing! Exciting search and rescues! What could be more fun?

The winners will be announced at the end of June.  But really (and I mean this) it's an honor just to be nominated!

More about the contest here:

Friday, May 20, 2011

What I Love About the Victorian Era

I love the energy and the industry of the Victorians, particularly in the period of 1840-1870, often known as the early to mid-Victorian era, before they settled into the ennui of the end of the decade.  Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were young and vigorous, and producing children at an amazing rate--9 in all! (The popular recent movie The Young Victoria is great for visualizing her as something other than an old woman in widow's clothes.) England was rising to a position of world prominence in trade, manufacturing, and colonization. Their industry and inventiveness was incredible.

People often think of the Victorians as stodgy and repressed. But in the early part of Victoria’s reign, a better description might be energetic, inquiring, and multi-talented. The worlds of science were opening up in ways never before imagined. The future seemed full of enormous promise.

Imagine a giant building made of glass.  It is the length of six football fields. Its roof is three stories high--a portion of it is arched to enclose 90-ft elm trees. When you walk inside, sunlight pours through the glass onto plants, statuary, and colorful banners. The building is filled with exhibitions of engineering marvels of all kinds, not to mention precious gems and other items from around the world. Such a place would be a marvel even today. The building I have just described was built in 1851. It was built in a matter of months with manual labor and real horsepower. The manufacture of plate glass was at that time a new technology. The photo on this blog page of the Glass House at Kew Gardens outside London gives just a tiny taste of what the Crystal Palace must have been like.

This magnificent glass building, which soon become known as the Crystal Palace, was built expressly for The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, now generally referred to as The Great Exhibition of 1851. Even today the exhibition is considered to be one of the high points for England in the 19th century.  A few weeks ago, Google celebrated the 160th anniversary of the opening of this event with their home page logo (calling it "the first World's Fair"). Prince Albert is often credited with coming up with the idea for this exhibition; this may not be completely true, but he was heavily involved in its planning and promotion and was vital to making it so successful.

It is the background for The Heiress Returns, the first book I have written in a planned trilogy. I have had such a wonderful time researching this era and I hope to bring it vividly to life in my books.

Monday, April 25, 2011

To the Shakespeare Naysayers

I recently saw a trailer for an upcoming movie called "Anonymous". Here is the basic plotline: A political thriller about who actually wrote the plays of William Shakespeare-- Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford-- set against the backdrop of the succession of Queen Elizabeth I, and the Essex Rebellion against her. It stars Derek Jacobi, who has been on record for a years as believing DeVere wrote Shakespeare's plays.

The movie looks like an exciting conspiracy-theory kind of thriller. But it is, of course, FICTION.

Try watching the 4-part PBS series by Michael Wood called "In Search of Shakespeare" if you are interested in an exciting and thrilling look at his life and work. Far from being dull, this series is electrifying.  Do this BEFORE "Anonymous" comes out this fall. Then see how the two stack up.  My guess is there will be no comparison.

There is far more to Shakespeare’s life to know than had been the accepted line for much of the 19th and 20th centuries. Scholarship of the last 10 years or so has shown just how much we CAN know of the man and his life. Far from being a myth, Shakespeare was the man far more likely to have “written Shakespeare” than any other.  Genius knows no bounds or class. More than education alone (although Shakespeare had a good dose of that), it was a life in the theater, the mind open to all he could see and learn in London, the “forge and working house of thought” as he put it, that helped to shape his plays.

Shakespeare lived in a time of religious and political turmoil. In fact, religion and politics were inseparable. Henry VIII started a tussle for crown and church headship that would continue through his children until Elizabeth firmly established Protestant rule.

Shakespeare’s family was Roman Catholic, the wrong side of the political divide. He would have learned early on to play his cards close to the vest when it came to his personal world views. His own cousin ended up with his head on a pike on London bridge after speaking too publicly about his hatred of the queen and her religious politics.

He was, above all, a poet, and he wanted more than anything else to pursue his art. He had the brilliance to see all points of view, and the wisdom to keep his own beliefs firmly out of sight. This combination enabled him to showcase the multi-variegated sides to every story. He even illustrated with clear brilliance how even every “villain” sees himself as the hero of his own story.  It is why you can read Shakespeare’s works today, 400 years later, and still make a case for any point of view you want.

Also hugely recommended:  Peter Ackroyd's "Shakespeare: The Biography," Stephen Greenblatt's "Will in the World" and James Shapiro's "A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare."  These books plus the PBS series inspired me to write my novella "MUSE OF FIRE."

MUSE OF FIRE reflects this fascinating sense of Will constantly living his life in the balance, on the edge between two warring factions. It contains references to Sonnet 145, which many scholars believe was written by a very young Will Shakespeare to his new wife, Anne Hathaway. There are two puns on her name embedded in the lines, including “Anne saved my life…” Might this literally have happened?  If so, did that event first spark the passion, and later the assiduous care of his family that persisted even after the flame seemed to have died out? MUSE OF FIRE is one guess at what might have happened.