Snippet

Thought I’d share a short excerpt from my latest Muddy River supernatural mystery, TATTOOS & PORTENTS:

Festus took a swig of beer before saying, “You know I travel a few times a year for my job.”

I nodded. “You write ads for small businesses and do online advertising for them, but once in a while, you have to meet with them to keep up to date.” The warlock was a whiz at clever campaigns and images.

“This time, I drove to a town east of here on the river, like we are,” he told us. “I met with the business owner and was ready to start home when I must have blacked out in my car. Thank Hecate I made it that far or I might have crumpled on the street. I don’t know how long I was out, but when I came to, I had the tattoo, and I’ve been having the same nightmare over and over again every night since it appeared.”

Raven scowled and looked my way. “Have you dealt with anything like this before, Hester?”

I shook my head. “Sounds more like Fae magic than ours.” I studied the dark ink, a Celt symbol. “May I touch your tattoo?” I asked Festus.

He rolled up his sleeve again, and I placed my hand on it. “I feel both Fae and witch magic.” Keeping my hand on the tattoo, I cast a spell, and suddenly, an image appeared in the air before us, a scene that played out as a movie.

We were seeing the images through someone else’s eyes. Whose, I couldn’t tell. But we were walking along a river bank, picking leaves and roots to brew for potions. We felt the sun on our backs, but the air was cool. Leaves were changing colors, and some had already fallen to the ground. Autumn. Late October maybe?

We could feel the seer’s thoughts and emotions. Whoever it was, was new to the area, surprised by how many varieties of plants grew there. She almost had her basket full when the sound of movements made her glance up. A swirl of spirits raced toward her and whirled around her like a gray tornado of dead souls. Wisps of faces flashed past her.

I’d seen spirits like these before at the voodoo village across the river. I knew the spirits could do no harm, but this girl was frightened. She screamed, dropped her basket, and threw up her hands to defend herself. Then, she heard more movement behind her, but before she could turn, pain exploded in the back of her head and oblivion overtook her.

TATTOOS AND PORTENTS Hester cover

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A Short History Lesson (for me) for the Regency period

I love Regency romances and mysteries, but I don’t know enough about the history of the period to keep everything straight.  Luckily for me, my good friend M. L. Rigdon (aka Julia Donner) agreed to a Q & A to help promote her latest novel, MORE THAN A MILKMAID.

More than a Milkmaid--Mary Lou

Help me welcome her to my blog.  She’s my critique partner and close friend, and I’m also a huge fan of her writing—and not just because I’m prejudiced. I’m pretty picky about what I consider good writing. Not that anyone would know that. I simply don’t review books I don’t like or admire. And I admire her work. Her latest novel, MORE THAN A MILKMAID, is one of my favorites.

Thanks so much for asking me here today! And yes, you are biased, but for my latest venture into the Regency world, it may have to do with you providing the title. Remember? We were at a Scribes writing group and I whined about not being to come up with one. Thanks again for that!

I’ve been reading more novels than usual set in or close to the Regency period. The mystery I’m reading now makes the Prince Regent and his father, actually most of his family, look really bad. It shows the Prince as a spoiled, narcissistic hypochondriac and womanizer who’s so pampered, he couldn’t possibly rule a country. His “handlers” do it. Is this a realistic view of him? Was his father really mentally incompetent—crazy or Alzheimers—at this period?

George III reigned as one of the best monarchs until his mental condition worsened. He was admired for his devotion to his wife and family, huge contributions to charity, and his great pride in being an Englishman, even though 100% German. He was strict and pious, which unfortunately was not passed down to most of his children. His son, eventually George IV, was the opposite of his father in every way, although he did love one woman for many years. The problem was that she was unsuitable as a royal wife.

When the Regent became George IV in 1820, he burdened the country with massive debt. One estimate stated that he spent over 4 million a year on his stables. (A wealthy man spent around 5 thousand a year.) Add to that lavish parties and extravagant building projects. Since he behaved exactly the opposite of his father, George was widely unpopular and mocked.

Back to Dad, George III, the controversy regarding his illness is ongoing. In my opinion (take it as you will), the porphyria disease as the cause of his mental problems doesn’t fit. That doesn’t mean that he didn’t suffer from it, just that it’s doubtful it made him nuts. The arsenic found in the DNA from his hair also doesn’t sound like a true cause for dementia, which was intermittent. (Arsenic was an ancient remedy for many ailments, especially venereal disease, but George III was monogamous.) Bipolar fits better, especially since there are studies about neurotransmitters and George was born 2 months premature. High sex drive is often connected to bipolar and George fathered 15 kids. Hmmm…

Did the Prince go on to become a good king? Did the Hanover house lose its rule eventually? And when did Queen Victoria become queen? Close to this period?

George IV was a mess and fortunately reigned only a decade. His only legitimate heir died. The next in line of surviving brothers was William. He had no legitimate heirs, so the line moved to previously deceased Edward the Duke of Kent’s daughter, Victoria.

QE II is a descendant of the House of Hanover.

I get confused about what’s really happening in history at this time period. Is England still fighting the Napoleonic wars? When is the French revolution when French aristocracy fled to England for safety? You mention both in your books. Asterly was a spy for England against Napoleon and Cervantes’s mother fled the guillotine. Care to elaborate?

Napoleonic Wars started in 1800 in Europe. England entered the war in 1803 until 1815.

Louis XVI was executed January 1793 and Marie Antoinette 9 months later.

Reign of Terror began in the summer of 1793.

Significantly, Marquise de Lafayette returned to France and was never hassled. He was as admired there as he was, and still is, in the US.

Most of the books I’ve read in this period hint at how badly England treated Ireland and maybe Scotland, too. How bad was it? Which of your books dealt with this?

It’s mentioned in many of them but most detailed in The Dandy and the Flirt.

I’m not as familiar with Irish history, but the enclosures in Scotland were horrific, as bad as what the USA did to Native Americans.

In MORE THAN A MILKMAID, you have a wealthy father marry a greedy young bride who does everything possible to steal all of the inheritance he left to his daughters. How did inheritances for female offspring work at that time? What are entailments? How was the title and money passed on to heirs?

Primogeniture, inheritance in England of titles and properties, or entailment, cannot be sold. It follows the eldest born of the male line. Women only inherited if monies or properties, were specifically willed to them and administered through trustees or an elder male member of the family or a person of confidence.

 

In Heiress and the Spy, Elizabeth’s fortune was supposed to be administered by trustees. She directed them. In that case, I took liberties and had her late father arrange special conditions.

 

Dowry pertains to what the bride brings to the marriage. Everything she owns goes to her husband. A settlement had to do with what legal arrangements were set aside for the financial wellbeing of the wife/widow.

 

On a fashion note, the heroines in these stories wear day dresses and then dress for dinner each evening. Did they dress formally every evening?

It wasn’t unusual to change four or five times a day—clothes for the boudoir, morning dress for breakfast, carriage or walking dress, habits for riding, frocks for receiving callers. One always dressed for dinner and then there were different types of fancy dress, such as ball gowns or court dress. In the country, a woman could probably get away with changing twice a day. Men changed didn’t change quite as often but most certainly had specific attires for every event or social function.

Anything you care to tell us about this particular book?  An excerpt to tempt us?

 

I’ve gone on a bit long, as I often do when it comes to history, so will just add a blurb.

 

Lenora Asher’s happy future came to a tragic end when the lad she was contracted to marry lost his life in a fire. Grieving and rebellious, she refused to agree to her family’s plan for an alternate future. When they cast her off, she found work and refuge with an estranged aunt and settled into the struggle to survive—until one day she discovers the love she’d thought long dead was quite vibrantly alive. He returned to show her that the troubled road to happily-ever-after littered with barriers of doubt, distrust and resentment are no obstacle for a man risen from dead, one who will do whatever is needed to restore her love.

https://www.amazon.com/More-Than-Milkmaid-Friendship-Book-ebook/dp/B08426CBBF/ref=sr_1_2?crid=2XQJR2NRLJV2X&keywords=julia+donner&qid=1581613418&s=books&sprefix=Julia+donner%2Cstripbooks%2C154&sr=1-2

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML

Blog: https://historyfanforever.wordpress.com/

Website http://www.MLRigdon.com

https://www.bookbub.com/authors/julia-donner

https://www.facebook.com/Julia-Donner-697165363688218/timeline

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s the thing…

Okay, this is definitely a matter of personal taste, and I know it.  But when I read, I read for ME, and no one else.  So what pulls me in works for me, and maybe wouldn’t even interest anyone else.  And what turns me off, well…that might not even bother someone who was more interested in plot or setting or whatever.  But that said, when I start a book, and I love the building romantic relationship, even when the book isn’t a romance but a mystery or fantasy, it REALLY BOTHERS ME when that romance was there  just to pull me into the story and it dies for whatever reason (actual death/political turmoil/etc.) and something or someone else is introduced to jolly me up one or two books later.

There, I said it.  I don’t jolly up all that fast, and I harbor resentment that I thought I was going to enjoy a wonderful romance and got a terrible disappointment instead.  I didn’t really understand this when my agent first asked me to try my hand at romances.  I wanted to show a protagonist, a smart woman, who’d lost her husband and rebounded with Mr. Wrong before she found Mr. Right.  Readers weren’t thrilled with me, even when I made it perfectly clear that the first guy was a BIG mistake and the guy in the background was HEA.  But how much worse is it when an author makes me believe that the woman/’man in the romantic subplot SEEMS to be Ms./Mr. Right and then…he’s not?

I’ll tell you how bad it is for me.  I finish that book, and it’s the last one I read in that series for a long time, maybe for forever.  Because I feel cheated.  Tricked.  And I’m only thinking of that now because tomorrow’s Valentine Day–a time for romance (in theory).  And because I’m reading a book I L_O_V_E, and I’ve been all happy with the tenderness between the hero and the actress he loves, UNTIL I saw an ad for a later book where he marries someone else.

Right away, that tells me that 1.  The relationship is going to fall apart later on or 2.  The author’s going to kill off the love interest.  Both of those plot contrivances aggravate the heck out of me.  Which means, I’d better enjoy this book while I can because when I reach the end, I probably won’t want to buy another book in this series for a long time unless this author comes up with some miracle where whatever happens kind of feels okay.  But it’s too soon to tell.  And I doubt it, because I know similar plots have been death kneels for two previous series that I’d be reading book after book for centuries to come (if I lived that long), until the romance got shot in the foot.  Bang.  Done.  Kaput.  And I felt like the rug got pulled out from under me.

There are many flaws in books I can grumble about but overlook, so it’s odd that this one bothers me so much.  Especially since I love mysteries more than romances.  But who said that enjoying a book had to make sense?  What about you?  Do you have anything that trips your trigger?  Or makes you a fan forever?  Share it with us!

Visiting

Instead of my usual Mystery Musings today, I’m visiting a writer friend’s blog.  C. S. Boyack was kind enough to share his site with me today and suggested writing about any research I do for my Muddy River stories.  You’d think writing about witches, demons, and shifters wouldn’t take much, but I still manage to get intrigued by all kinds of articles about witches and Druids, etc., so I hope you visit me at Craig’s.  And while you’re there, check out his blog.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.  He writes pretty entertaining books, too.  I especially enjoy his Lanternfish and Serang novels.

https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2020/02/11/tattoos-portents/comment-page-1/#comment-50058

Craig also is one of the talented writers for The Story Empire blog, and I’ve shared links from there often.  It’s worth looking at: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/blog/  

And while you’re there, I hope you leave a comment.  I love them.

Lots of Cooking/No Writing

Every year, for a while now, we have friends over on Oscar Sunday for a party.  My daughter drove up from Indy on Saturday afternoon, and we visited and went out to eat to build up our energy for an all-day cooking extravaganza.  We don’t mess around.  When we cook for the Oscars, we try to make Wolfgang Puck proud:)  We might not be in his league, but we take inspiration from his go-for-broke style.

The menu this week year: mushroom/puff pastry turnovers, shawarma chicken with tzatziki sauce, beef satay, ham pinwheels, Greek topping bruschetta, fruit pizzas and key lime pie cupcakes, among other things.  Mary Lou brought spinach/artichoke dip to die for and deviled eggs.  And then Dawn sent her HH with decorations for our living room.  I’m talking two fake palm trees strung with white lights, a shimmering streamer “curtain,” banners, and balloons.  This is me with the palm trees.  At the other end of the room, there were more decorations.  Dawn takes parties seriously:)

Oscar party 2020--me

Dawn and her David, Mary Lou, and John S know their movies.  Holly, HH, and I?  Not so much.  But it’s fun listening to them debate cinematography, best actors and actresses, directors, and costume design.  There are so many things that go into making a great movie.  Just like there are so many things that go into making a great book–characters, pacing, plotting, voice, setting, and dialogue, among others.  Most writers I know study movies to see how they’re put together and what makes them work, then can apply many of the same things to writing.

Every year while watching the Oscars, though, I marvel at how dedicated the people who are nominated are.  So are the writers I hear on panels when I attend conferences.  And when artists of any kind get down to talking about their work, the ones I’ve heard realize how lucky they are if they’re noticed or discovered, and they can list all of the elements of hard work that went into what they created.  It’s a joy when all of that hard work pays off, when everything comes together to let you win a part, sell your first novel, get good reviews, or win an Oscar.  But there are so many wonderful, talented people who never win an award, but keep doing what they do and work hard to do their best at it.  I applaud them, too.

 

 

The Long Haul (first fourth done)

I finished writing the first fourth of the latest Jazzi Zanders cozy I’m working on (book 6).  Which means, the set-up of the book is in place.  The set-up always introduces the main character (Jazzi), and since this is a series, hopefully most readers have met her before.  But, again hopefully, some readers might be new to the series, so I try to introduce her in the middle of doing something with her husband, Ansel, to show their relationship and what they’re up to this time around without boring people who already know them.  Just enough information for new readers but not so much it’s repetitive from past books.  A balancing act.

Jazzi comes with a decent-sized cast of characters:  her mom and dad, her sister Olivia and her husband Thane, her cousin Jerod, whom she and Ansel work with flipping houses, and his wife Franny and their kids, along with Ansel’s brother Radley and his girlfriend Elspeth, Jerod’s mom and dad, and friends Walker and Didi and kids.  And then there’s Gran–with the gift of “sight” and her friend Samantha.  I know–a lot, so I try to introduce them a little at a time.  Impossible at the Sunday meal that Jazzi hosts every week to help keep her family in touch with each other.  They all play into the storylines of each book.  In this one, Olivia becomes a major player.  She owns a beauty shop with her mom, and when she bullies Jazzi into coming to the shop before it opens to get her hair cut and shaped, they find the shop’s new employee working on an early customer, even though no one’s given her a key to get inside.   Things go downhill from there, as I’m sure you can guess from my working title:  The Body in the Beauty Shop.

In the first few chapters of each book, I also try to introduce the new house project they’re working on for their flip.  This time, they’ve chosen a grand brick Colonial home in Wildwood Park, a pocket of distinguished old houses surrounded by busy streets.  It’s widow’s walk needs replaced, as does the railing on the balcony over the solarium.  And as usual, the kitchen and bathrooms need gutted and updated.  But other than that, it will be a quick fix.  I’ve started buying more home magazines and looking up pictures of rooms on Pinterest to get new ideas.

And then there’s the matter of a murder or two.  And in this book, I struggled to decide between two different cases and caved by going with both of them.  I’ve never done that before, but I wanted to bring Jazzi’s ex-fiancée back into the stories, AND I wanted to focus on Olivia.  So I have Jazzi trying to help two friends clear their names instead of one.  She just didn’t have enough to do getting ready for her family’s big Easter celebration, and a protagonist at loose ends is a sorry thing to read.

Anyway, the set-up for a new book is always fun to write.  It’s introducing characters, setting,  the story’s big question, and any minor characters we need to know.  It’s all things new.  But once I start on the second fourth of the book, which is now, where subplots start twisting around each other, people lie when asked questions, and everything gets complicated, the writing gets trickier.  And before I know it, I’ve reached the morass of the middle muddle.  Before I wade to the last fourth of the book when things start moving again, I usually end up mired in doubt and positive another book sounds lots more interesting.  But that’s all part of the writing process.  It’s just a matter of putting one word in front of another until I hit solid ground again.  But for now, I’m celebrating.  One-fourth of the book is done!

Yay! Tattoos & Portents is up!

I’m doing a happy dance around the house.  My chihuahua’s staring at me like I’m nuts.  My husband joined the conga line, and my cat’s unimpressed.  But then, it’s hard to impress Dutchy.

Muddy River 4 came from an idea my husband had and kept pestering me with.  He looked at images of tattoos online and could picture them moving to “talk” to each other.  He mentioned it so many times, I decided to use it in my book.  I already had Druids near Muddy River whose tattoos writhed and could stretch to grab someone.  I just needed to come up with a new twist for this story.  And I had a lot of fun having people leave Muddy River and return with a tattoo staining their right arm and incessant dreams that repeated themselves over and over again.

When Festus, a friend of Hester and Raven’s, leaves on a business trip, he returns with a tattoo he can’t remember getting and dreams that make him lose so much sleep, he can hardly function.  When he asks Hester for help, she realizes the tattoo was placed on his arm by a witch who’s imprisoned in a voodoo priest’s basement, and the dreams are cries for help.  But where is the witch?  And how do they find her?  Soon, they discover there are more people with tattoos, and each one holds one piece of the witch’s story.  To fit them together, Hester must touch each tattoo and let the vision it contains open up for them to watch, sort of like looking into a crystal ball.

And that’s how I got the idea for the cover of the book.  I wanted a background that would give a dream-like feel, and a Celt tattoo like the ones the witch implanted on peoples’ arms.  And I wanted something to suggest that Hester was seeing visions of the scenes the witch sent them.  And this is what I ended up.  Hope you like it.