October 9, 2017 • No Comments
It’s traditional at this time of year to think about what we’re grateful for (besides pumpkin pie) and, really, I could go on for pages about how lucky I am in so many ways—from the fact that I’m fed and warm to little things like the perfect daily planner to keep me organized. So, to keep this post regulation length, I’m restricting my list to three things:
Today I finished an online history course and visited the university library for some research materials. I can definitely say that one of the things I’m grateful for is the opportunity to keep learning and indulging my curiosity.
I’m grateful for the people in my life—family, friends, coworkers, and writing partners. It would be impossible to get through my days without them. Period.
And I’m grateful to live where I do, in freedom and safety and in the midst of so much beauty. Plus, it’s grand to be a writer in a city liberally sprinkled with eccentrics and where people-watching is enabled by good weather. Need a character? Go for a stroll around the block and take your pick. Or, if you like, go down the street to the cemetery for some seasonal amusement. There was a Buffy-inspired photo shoot not long ago, not to mention a herd of urban deer rather perplexed by the whole thing.
September 25, 2017 • No Comments
I made this peach cobbler to get a last taste of Okanagan fruit for the year. I found a few at the farmer’s market and they still smelled like sunshine and summer. I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship with gardens and all the things that come from them, and of course food is high on that list. Decadent comfort food, in this case!
Preheat oven to 350F
Melt ½ cup butter and pour into a 9 x 12 pan.
Sift 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, 2 tsp baking powder, ¼ tsp salt
Add 2/3 cup milk and 1 egg
Spread batter over butter. Tilt pan to coat batter with excess butter.
Peel and section 6 peaches. Frozen peaches can also be used (thaw first). Toss with ½ cup sugar, ½ tsp of nutmeg and 1 tsp cinnamon. Carefully spread fruit mixture over batter.
Bake for 45 minutes. Batter will puff up between the peach slices and turn golden.
Note: In order to remove peach skins, place peaches in a bowl and cover with just-boiled water for one or two minutes. The skins will slip right off.
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.