September 20, 2017 • No Comments
In our corner of the world, fall arrives without preamble. One day it’s all sandals and ice cream, and the next woolly sweaters. Sure, there are subtle signs, like the kajillion spiders turning the yard into a hazard course. There is mist on the windows, a hankering for soup, and a need to locate missing socks. Most of all, there is an air of nostalgia, a kind of gold-hazed memory of new scribblers and fresh beginnings. September to me has always been the real New Year.
There are down sides, too, like the stubborn debate of whether or not to turn on the heat (I finally gave in last night) and the need to leave the house with sunglasses AND an umbrella just in case. But the chilly evenings provide a nice excuse for hot chocolate and the premiere of Outlander, or my personal fave, Poldark. It’s time to cocoon and surrender to the charms of a great story. Oh, and lest one forget, there’s some books about a chocolate shop to binge read . . .
August 21, 2017 • No Comments
The hero of my story KISS IN THE DARK, is Daniel Blackthorne aka the Wolf of the West. He’s a ghost, a pirate, and of course he’s lovely to look at. However, coming up with details about his wardrobe took a little bit of historical sleuthing. What does the GQ pirate wear? The last time he went shopping for clothes was about 1850, so how is he dressed while he sweeps my heroine off her feet?
Now, while the current go-to image of a pirate is Captain Jack Sparrow, that wasn’t quite the look for Daniel. For one thing, Daniel is sober most of the time. He’s also good enough at his–ahem–work that he has cash to spend on a tailor. He moves in polite society and is just as comfortable on a ballroom floor as he is brawling in a tavern. No dreadlocks or eyeliner, although there are definite hints of the bad boy in his dark curly hair and bright blue eyes. But what about the clothes?
Men’s clothing in the mid-Victorian period began to look very much like modern formal dress. The overall cut had moved on from Mr. Darcy-style breeches and starched collars to long trousers and more relaxed neckwear. Although cravats were still seen, the first neckties put in an appearance around this period.
Daniel would have worn a fitted coat for any but the most casual wear. Most were single-breasted and the image with a back view shows the accentuated waist and double buttons at the back of a typical frock coat from 1845. Formal daytime wear typically had the front panels of the coat cut away to show the garments beneath. While men’s clothing stuck to the sober hues of the Regency period, waistcoats were the exception. Bright colors, embroidery, and luxurious fabrics were a must for the well-dressed young man. The example below is from 1855. Note the collar has no lapels to speak of and the bottom sits at the natural waist. These details change from decade to decade and make it relatively easy to date waistcoats.
The illustrated fashion plate of three men dates from 1856. The man on the left is showing off his trim figure and fancy waistcoat. Obviously he’s the young and wealthy man about town, while the others show what a sober statesman or a rising professional man might wear.
Daniel Blackthorne is tall, so he wears his frock coat well. However, I’m fairly certain after wearing the same garments for around 170 years, he’s ready for a change. I wonder what he’ll make of Paris Fashion Week?
August 18, 2017 • No Comments
Those who follow me on Instagram (RowanAshArt) will know that I have a great interest in plants and flowers. It’s not just because the botanical world is photogenic enough to overcome my poor photography skills. Somewhere in the distant mists of childhood I decided I wanted to become a herbologist. Why? Maybe it was all the herbal healers that showed up in the fantasy books I read. Anyhow, herbology got laughed right out of the career counsellor’s office and I took an English degree instead because, y’know, we have to be practical.
Fast forward to the present. I’m still interested and have done some learning along the way. I’m in a pitched battle with Things That Munch in the garden, but have had a few victories, including a very healthy bay tree and a rosemary that will eventually take over Vancouver Island. With luck, I may even have tomatoes this year. It’s all about figuring out what plants go in what location and how many plants it takes to yield enough material to be useful once the deer, bugs, and rabbits help themselves.
But beyond all that, I’ve grown interested in the history and literary applications of gardening. There’s the whole murder mystery connection, with Brother Cadfael and his herbarium. There’s also the metaphor of gardening and the mind. I’m in the very early stages of developing a character with an exceptional garden, but it’s as much an expression of her past and her aspirations as of her green thumb. It’s a historical setting, so the extravagant Victorian glass houses and hand-drawn etchings of botanical specimens are part of her world. That Victorian mix of science, superstition, and adventure—not to mention their mania for collecting and codifying everything—are intoxicating to me. It’s great fun to have something in common with a character because we can both enjoy ourselves during the research process.
August 14, 2017 • No Comments
This past week was my Mom’s birthday and so celebrations were in order. We went to the Abkhazi Gardens, which dates from 1946 when the Prince and Princess Abkhazi moved there. Facts about the garden and its history can be found HERE.
We began our tour with elevenses. For those who didn’t grow up with a British father or have hobbits for their BFFs, this is kind of like a light tea or not-quite-lunch. In this case, it consisted of a sandwich and dessert spread that occupied one plate instead of the three-tiered affairs reserved for those having the actual tea. I think those portions might have been enough to feed an army of orcs or at least gardeners. Believe me, the elevenses was delicious and quite enough food.
From there, we ambled through the garden. While the property is not huge, the views are spectacular and the variety of plants fascinating. We were too late for the display of rhododendrons, but there were lilies as tall as me and pools replete with lily pads and turtles. There is a turtle in my pond picture, but he’s hard to see. Here’s the detail:
There was also a specimen called Miss Wilmott’s Ghost. I actually know this plant as sea holly, but it does have personality. I gather it became Miss Wilmott’s ghost because she scattered seeds when she went visiting and they’d come up the next spring wherever she’d been.
And here’s just one of the huge lilies:
June 28, 2017 • No Comments
Here is a lesson on deadlines and writing survival 101 aka human behaviour in action.
The challenge: between being an adult, working a 9 to 5, launching 2 different books, social media, learning how to manage independent publishing, and maintaining minimal human contact, I got really behind on the book I was supposed to be writing. To remain on track, I need to finish draft one (75 – 80K words) by the weekend of July 1, 2017. Last Tuesday (June 20) I was at around 37.5K. I am not a fast writer. On a weeknight I’m lucky to do 800 to 1,000 words.
I’m often asked for writing advice, so I’m offering up this real life example of the one true and simple principle of writing. Writers write. They are also people and need to do other stuff, but at some point during the day they must shove everything else aside and apply fingers to the keyboard. It’s the one job that can’t be skipped. The same applies to anyone in a creative industry. Call it product creation, taking care of your main business, or cuddling your muse—all the auxiliary activities from Twitter to keeping the books don’t mean a thing without Actual Work.
If it sounds like I’m shaking my finger and scolding, it’s because I’m doing that to myself. I got distracted, fell behind, and ended up in a pickle. There is always a good reason for distractions. Often it’s practical, like getting groceries or posting a blog. That’s still not putting the story on the page and, sooner or later, a deadline looms and there are not enough words.
So then what? I had to pay the piper and burn vacation days. That meant sitting down at the computer at my usual day-job start time and working through to 10:00 pm with two meal breaks of about an hour (exception – one night I went to my regular critique group meeting). Five days and 24K words later, I’m almost caught up. I have about 13,000 words and a week to go. I’ve done these marathons a few times before and they always follow the same pattern: day 1 is awesome, day 2 I’m missing variety, the sunshine, and friends, and by day 5 I’m dragging every word out with tongs and hate my characters’ guts. But I did it.
And, of course, I swear I’ll fall behind like this again. Ever. Well, not for a while. Seriously.
We’ll see how long my resolutions last.
June 24, 2017 • No Comments
May 18, 2017 • No Comments
What happened this week? I was minding my own business and I got an email telling me that my publishing line closed. Harlequin Nocturne, alone with 4 other series lines, is ceasing operations at the end of December 2018.
Good news: I will probably get the last of the Camelot Reborn books published. I am heartened by the fact that ENCHANTER REDEEMED stars Merlin. If anyone can beat the odds, it would be him. Bad news: I will have to exert effort (boo!). The nice thing about Nocturne was that they liked my stuff and getting new contracts was, for the current publishing climate, relatively straightforward.
I won’t dwell on the suckage of all this because it’s obvious. Good people lose their jobs when this sort of thing happens. Books and authors lose their publishing home. Readers don’t get the books they love. It’s also weird finding out about something so personally impactful via a broadcast email, but that is apparently how modern life rolls.
So what is my response to all this? I have Merlin’s book to write by deadline. I can’t allow circumstances to slow me down, mostly because I’m behind to begin with. This is publishing. And when this book is done, I have other projects on the boil. This is exactly why I have many things in play at the same time. I’ve learned my lessons.
Disasters? Bah, I eat them on little crackers for breakfast.
May 3, 2017 • No Comments
As sometimes happens, I was over in my corner writing Royal Enchantment while, without warning, other Arthur-related works are popping up all over the place. One instance: Guy Ritchie has King Arthur: Legend of the Sword coming soon to a theater near you. I was lucky enough to be invited to a preview and, while this film has almost nothing to do with any Arthurian legend I’ve ever encountered, I rather liked it. Lots of action, plenty of eye-pleasing effects, some good one-liners, and a competent cast. I applaud the inclusion of a female mage rather than Merlin, and the knights they included were not the usual crew, so it really did feel fresh. One quibble: Maybe it was me, but I think there were a few visuals that seemed to replicate scenes from Lord of the Rings.
This Arthur is a man of the people who grew up with no advantages and yet still holds the spark of greatness. An interesting choice of narrative, but maybe one that will resonate with us right now. A zillion years ago, I went to a weekend conference put on by the local university’s medieval studies folks. It was about all things King Arthur and covered everything from the Mabinogian to Chretien de Troyes to archeologists to Roman studies experts and on and on. I went away having spent far too much money on books and not really knowing anything more about who the real king was. I also realized it really didn’t matter. The Arthur we hold onto is a vessel, and he reflects the king we need at the time.
March 27, 2017 • No Comments
I’m writing this just to prove that, yes, I can on occasion be retrained. As a child I hated relatively few foods, but turnip-type items were high on the list, just below Brussels sprouts and Lima beans. Blech! And yet, while the jury is still out on those last two, I had a food adventure this weekend that made me less reluctant to allow rutabaga past my lips. Yes, rutabaga, that unlovely cross between a cabbage and a turnip.
How did this miracle happen? I went out for a combo celebration at one of my favorite restaurants. For my part of the combo, I had a few things to feel good about. Last August I made a pretty long list of things I wanted to do for my writing business and checked most of them off. I’ve also been nominated for a RITA award for my novel ENCHANTED WARRIOR in the paranormal romance category. As this is the second year in a row, I’m very pleased. It was high time for a treat.
So back to the root vegetables. I went to a whole foods restaurant called Nourish in the Harbour (nourishkitchen.ca) and had a dish containing blanched rutabaga noodles, charred broccoli, roasted carrots, cultured cashew cream, pickled shallots, sunchoke chips, and cured egg yolk. In other words, my meal was free of meat, gluten, dairy, small puppies, and all other politically incorrect food groups. (Yes, I remember when being vegetarian was considered weird. Now it’s for beginners.) Not sure what to expect, I ordered it as the only meatless entrée on offer and hoped for the best.
Astonishingly, it was completely, fabulously delicious. The blanched noodles (essentially long strips of vegetable, no pasta in sight) were tender and completely satisfying with a hint of the well-seasoned cashew cream. The other ingredients were beautifully colourful. By the end of the second bite, I was converted.
Sometimes it pays to give old vegetables a second chance. I’m eager to break out my spiralizer and start experimenting. If I come up with something even half as good as that dish, I’ll share the results!
But of course, one cannot live on rutabaga alone, so we moved on to desserts.
March 20, 2017 • No Comments
Cross-posted from the Corsair’s Cove Series bog here.
This happened to the composer Franz Josef Haydn. Lucky for him, the cake was filled with gold coins! I’d really like to know why this happened, and if it had anything to do with his famous sense of humor. If anyone knows, please tell me!
This curious tidbit was just one of the anecdotes offered by the conductor of this afternoon’s concert by the VSO. The program featured Haydn and Mozart, who were friends in life despite the fact that Haydn was established and Mozart the new kid on the block. Along with a couple of other composers, they had their own string quartet, so putting the two together in a programme is a natural fit.
I was at the concert because it was a Christmas present for my mother. This has become something of a tradition—rather than giving her things, I give her tickets and we enjoy them over a matter of months, usually on Sunday afternoons. It’s good mother-daughter time and she doesn’t have another object to store, wash, or otherwise take care of.
Both my parents were musicians, Mom a professional and my father an amateur. As a result, I grew up listening to orchestras. It’s interesting to see how much more the performers speak to the audience, even in the most formal settings. Conductors have always been personalities, but now they need some storytelling skills to keep the audience engaged. Since classical music is filled with love stories, bitter feuds, and—apparently—cake, I can’t think of a more delightful way to make an enjoyable experience even better.
I wonder whether the cake was chocolate?