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Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Creativity (An 8-Part Series): Part VIII - Magic and Wrap-Up

By Kristy McCaffrey

Don't miss
Part I   - Imagination
Part III - Shape-Shifting
Part VII - Synchronicity

Magic is the art of reaching into a deeper reality and bringing gifts into the ordinary realm.

We have the power to remake our world, not just in a small and intimate sense but the world-at-large as well. It's up to us, however, to take our passion and direct it into creative projects. When writing a story and becoming completely immersed in the project, the very laws of time and space are changed. That is the power of creationthe power of each human being to hone something from nothing. It's magic.

What's your calling? Whatever it is, everything that isn't a part of it must fall away. To fulfill one's life work, there must be focus and follow-through in creating an environment for it to thrive. Everything must be aligned around this foundation—100% devotion is required; half measures won't work. As the inner life becomes more complex, the outer life becomes simpler.

"...our job is to make choices that create the right conditions for [our calling] to flourish. The Gift is indestructible. It is a seed. We are not required to be God. We are not required to create the seed. Only to plant it wisely and well." ~ Stephen Cope

Magic is any mysterious power that produces extraordinary results. Each one of us possesses that power. How will you add magic to the world?

"...we each...have feminine spiritual superpowers, such as touching, knowing, feeling, relating, expressing our true voice(s), visioning, healing..." ~ Sera Beak

Works Cited

Beak, Sera. Red Hot & Holy: A Heretic's Love Story. Sounds True, Inc., 2013.

Beck, Martha. Finding Your Way in a Wild New World: Reclaim Your True Nature to Create the Life you Want. Free Press, 2012.

Cope, Stephen. The Great Work of Your Life: A Guide for the Journey to Your True Calling. Bantam Books, 2012.

Moss, Robert. The Three "Only" Things: Tapping the Power of Dreams, Coincidence & Imagination. New World Library, 2007.

Wrap Up

Thank you for traversing the wilds of creativity with me these past eight months. I hope something here ignited a spark for you—of knowing, of inspiration, of simply having a way to express a longing that won't let you go.

Now, go forth and perform your work. The world needs it, and only you can do it.

Connect with Kristy

Monday, August 13, 2018

Cowboys in Chicago

Anyone who has researched cowboys and cattle knows of the Chicago Union Stock Yards.

In 1848, when Chicago was only a hub for transporting livestock from the West to the rest of the country, small stockyards such as Lake Shore Yard and Cottage Grove Yard, were scattered throughout the city along various rail lines.

As the railroads expanded westward, Chicago evolved into a large railroad center. With the increase in the number of trainloads of livestock, the need for a centralized stock center became obvious.
In 1864, a consortium of nine railroad companies acquired three hundred and twenty acres of swampland south west of The Loop, and the Chicago Union Stock Yards was born.

By 1890 the yards were handling more than nine million cows, pigs and sheep a year. That’s a lot of hooves!

But I wanted to know who took care of all those critters.
Before the creation of the stock yards, tavern owners provided pastures and care for cattle herds waiting to be sold. Eventually they built 2300 livestock pens on the 375-acre site.
[They also built hotels, saloons, restaurants, and offices for merchants and brokers, but that’s another blog.]
My next question: who moved all those animals around? I had visions of cowboys working in downtown Chicago.

Now, I will admit that I stretched the truth a bit for the sake of my story, Her Christmas Wish. I needed Will (the hero) to see the possibility of a new livelihood out from under his father’s thumb. So I made up cowboys. (That’s why it’s called fiction.)

In truth, the cowboys only moved the doggies as far as Dodge City, Kansas City, or one of the other termini of the cattle drives. They didn’t drive them all the way to the windy city.
In the early days of the Stock Yard, drovers herded cattle, hogs, and sheep down two wide thoroughfares from the railroad cars to the pens. Then the railroad consortium built more rail lines, delivering the livestock right to the holding pens—and removing the need for the drovers.

It’s a shame really. A thousand head of longhorns mooing their way down Michigan Avenue ahead of a couple of heart-stopping cowboys would have been entertaining—and the stuff of nightmares for poor Mrs. O'Leary.


Sunday, August 12, 2018

Book Review: Innocent as Sin by C.A. Asbrey



Nat Quinn and Jake Conroy are just doing their job—robbing a bank! But when Nat sees Pinkerton agent Abigail MacKay is already there, he knows something isn’t right. Is she on the trail of The Innocents again, or has she turned up in Everlasting, Wyoming, by coincidence?

Abi can’t believe her bad luck! Nat and Jake are about to make her true identity known, and botch the undercover job she has carefully prepared for—a job she’s been working on for months. When Jake discovers she’s cooperating with a sadistic bounty hunter who never brings in his prisoners alive, he suspects Nat might be the next target. How could Abi betray them like this?

On top of everything else, someone has dumped a frozen corpse after disguising it as a tramp. The town is snowed in and the killer isn’t going anywhere, but can Abigail’s forensic skills solve the murder before anyone else is killed? Abi and Nat manage to admit their feelings for one another, but will that be enough to overcome the fact that they’re on opposite sides of the law?

The Innocents and Abigail MacKay must work together to solve the murder case, but they’re still best enemies. It’s an emotional standoff, and they’re all INNOCENT AS SIN…

My Review:

CA Asbrey did it again! Innocent as Sin is just as addictive and charming as her debut novel, The Innocents!

I was immediately hooked from the first page and found myself transported back in time to where we left off with Nat and Abi and Jake. We get to dig a little deeper into the history of Nat and Jake and see how their past made them the men and family they became. We also get just a few hints into Abi's past as well. The connection between Nat and Abi is just as, if not more so, magnetic but yet still fragile. But this isn’t just Nat and Abi’s story - it’s also Nat and Jake’s story as well as Jake and Abi’s story. Each relationship individually and collectively is unique and provides a necessary element to the overall story.

This book had me giggling and happy-sighing, tearing up and worrying. The interaction between Jake, Nat and Abi, how their bond was nurtured, strengthened and tested, drew me into the story so strongly that I experienced the same emotions as them. Several surprises leave you struggling to breathe and not shatter into pieces.

The twists and turns of the murder mystery provided its own form of entertaining torture in following and piecing together the clues and trying to pick up on any hints that may be easily overlooked. Just reading about the forensic techniques and tools available at the time boggled my mind in their great but limited results.

Without losing momentum from the first book, this sequel delivered everything I was expecting and more! I am anxiously waiting on pins and needles for the next in the series, and will not shy away from begging for many more to follow! (no pressure! haha!) CA Asbrey quickly solidified herself as one of my favorite authors with the way her words weave and envelop me into her world!

Purchase Link:

Thursday, August 9, 2018

New Release -- CATCH A DREAM by Cynthia Breeding

Beautiful schoolteacher Elizabeth O’Malley travels through time from the 21st century to awaken in a barn in Texas—in 1849! To make matters worse, when she’s discovered by Texas Ranger Miguel de Basque, he believes she’s a prostitute suffering from amnesia—how else can her skimpy attire and wild tales of time-travel be explained?

Elizabeth is determined to find her way back to her own time, but as the months go by, she finds herself attracted to the handsome Texas Ranger. Even though they have different ideas of what their relationship might be, the desire between them is undeniable.

When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Apache, Miguel will risk everything to rescue her and bring her home. But can he keep her in his time? It seems their lives are not their own anymore. Will their love be enough to CATCH A DREAM—and hold it together—forever?


     “Oh.” His dark eyes narrowed, and he studied her. He stepped closer and lightly touched the bruise on her forehead. “Is it possible you hit your head on something and can’t remember where you came from? I’ve heard tell that can happen.”
     “I know where I’m from. The twenty-first century—a hundred and sixty years into the future. We have cars and smart phones and computers—“
     “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Miguel interrupted, but for the first time he looked undecided. “I think I should take you to Fort Worth to see the Army doctor there. Maybe he can give you something or help you remember—“
     “No! If you won’t believe me—and you found me in your barn like this—what makes you think another person will? He’ll think I’m crazy.”
     Silence met her remark and she looked up to find Miguel regarding her. “You think I’m crazy, too! That I’ve just invented this whole story!” Fear suddenly struck her. She was truly powerless here, stuck in a time warp.  “I’ve heard what the insane asylums were like in this century.” She fought to control a rising hysteria bubble in her throat. “I don’t have any relatives here. No one to vouch for me.  I’ll be locked away and end up rotting somewhere.” She started shaking uncontrollably.
     Miguel put steadying hands on her shoulders. “All right. Calm down. Working girl or not—and I don’t have anything against them—I won’t send you off to rot, Elizabeth.”
     He’d used her first name. Why did that seem important? Whether it was that or the fact that she suddenly felt safe in his arms, as though she’d known him before. The trembling subsided. She looked up at him with troubled eyes. “What am I going to do?”


Wednesday, August 8, 2018

THE COMANCHERO'S BRIDE by Kaye Spencer – August #blogabookscene #PrairieRosePubs #westernromance

Blog-a-Book-Scene is a monthly themed blogging endeavor from a group of authors who love to share excerpts from their stories. Find us on Twitter with the hashtag #blogabookscene and #PrairieRosePubs.

The theme for August is Alone Again, Naturally. The scene below is from my western romance novel, The Comanchero’s Bride.

Isabel jerked awake. She lay still, listening, but all she heard was the incessant wind worrying the brush and buffalo grass. Heart pounding, she looked to the horses. They stared away from camp, heads high, nostril flared. It hadn’t been her imagination. Whatever had startled them had awakened her. Hurrying to them, she quieted them, listening and watching just as they were. Then the sound came again—the unmistakable crack of distant gunfire. With a sinking feeling in her stomach, she knew Mingo was at the heart of the gunfire.

She spent a few minutes soothing the horses while waiting to hear more gunfire, but no sound came. Walking away from camp with the shotgun cradled in the bend of her elbow, she found a slight rise where she could view the land without sky-lining herself. As far as she could see, there was nothing but empty, endless prairie. No sign of Mingo. No sign of another human being. She felt suddenly small and alone, a tiny speck on the vast Texas prairie.

Returning to camp, she prayed nothing had happened to Mingo. She refused to believe he was dead; they’d come too far to fail now, but tears welled from deep inside, and she swallowed hard, clenching her teeth in determination to choke back the crippling fear rising in her heart.

Think. Don’t be a ninny. There’s no reason to assume he won’t return. It’s not dark yet. There’s still time.

But her instincts told her otherwise. He’d been too apprehensive earlier, edgy. Only now did she realize how much he’d downplayed his worry for her sake. Their words before he left, the way he’d lingered with her in his arms, but most of all, the last look he’d taken before he’d ridden away, she now understood were all he had to give her. He went out to kill Grayson with the belief he wasn’t coming back…

The Comanchero’s Bride is available on

You will also find The Comanchero’s Bride in this boxed set of six western romance novels, Under a Western Sky, which is also available on in digital format or for KindleUnlimited. Click HERE


September's Blog-a-Book-Scene theme is Critters and Creatures.

Until then,

Kaye Spencer

Website/Blog  |  Twitter  |   Facebook  |   YouTube 

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

The Rules of Mystery Writing

The Rules of Mystery Writing - Or Are They? 

C.A. Asbrey

Ronald Knox was a mystery writer who belonged to the Detection Club, a society peopled by such legendary mystery writers as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, G. K. Chesterson, and E. C. Bentley in the early 20th century. Among his novels: The Viaduct Murder, Double Cross Purposes, Still Dead.

Knox was also a Catholic priest, which is perhaps why he was tempted to write a 10 Commandments of detective fiction. I thought it might be fun to look at these and also famous examples of where they have been soundly broken with great success.

It's generally accepted that practically all of the rules have become obsolete as society has evolved and changed. This, however, is an excellent tool for writers of historical mysteries who want to reflect times gone by. It's always fun to break rules too.

The Rules.

1.  The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow.

One look at Goodreads will show you a myriad of modern books told from the killer's point of view.  Laura by Vera Caspary was one of the biggest hits of the 1940s and was made into a classic film noire starring Humphrey Bogart. Caspary famously said, "My agent wrote one of the worst contracts ever written. I signed it as carelessly as a five-dollar check."

Agatha Christie also uses a device in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd where the killer narrates and documents the actual denouement in a way which acts as a suicide note.

Without a doubt this rule can now be discarded and even used as a very successful device, even when writing historical mysteries.

2.  All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course.

I'd argue that Edgar Allan Poe had already broken this rule in the Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, so this rule was already thoroughly redundant. This was further compounded by classics like Henry James' Turn of the Screw. It was first published in 1889 under the title The Two Magics. Whether or not this can properly designated a murder mystery is up for debate, but the brooding menace and overwhelming threat certainly made it an early thriller. James' work certainly did influence Benjamin Britten's work Owen Wingrave in which a ghost causes the title character's sudden death. Supernatural mysteries are now a sub genre of their own ranging from vampires, angels, ghosts to demons and everything in between 

3.  Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable. 

Someone should have told A.A. Milne when he ventured away from Winnie the Pooh and produced the classic book The Red House Mystery. This country house crime caper could have been written especially for fans of Gosford Park or Downtown Abbey. The black sheep of the family returns only to be found shot dead in a locked study. A pair of amateur detectives never rest, except for tea, in their efforts to find the truth, despite secret passageways and suspicious servants. By the 1940s, it appeared that no self-respecting large country house could hold its head up in respectable company unless it had at least one secret passage, numerous concealed doors, and a dungeon. 

4.  No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end.

This is another rule soundly ignored by Knox's contemporaries. The Stertton Street Affair by William Le Queux uses Orosin, a relatively unknown poison for very good reason - he made it up. Since then I'd venture to suggest that this device has been extensively used. Agatha Christie had an encyclopedic knowledge of poisons, and in her prime she released a veritable pharmacopeia of murder methods. While these are well-known to the average murder mystery reader now, these were new and complex to her readers at the beginning of her career. 

5.  No Chinaman must figure in the story.

Well, it's a good job nobody told  Earl Derr Biggers when he created Charlie Chan in 1924. As laughable as this is, it's a good indication as to how far we have moved from our great-grandparents concept of race.

It follows on from another sub rule "A servant must not be chosen by the author as the culprit. This is begging a noble question. It is a too easy solution. The culprit must be a decidedly worthwhile person – one that wouldn't ordinarily come under suspicion."

The whole thing reeks to us nowadays, but that rule was almost instantly broken by Mary Roberts Rinehart’s 1930 novel, The Door, in which the butler does actually kill his employer. This was then developed into a play which was wildly successful and gave rise to to the old chestnut, "the butler did it" which is infamous today.

6.  No accident must ever help the detective, nor must he ever have an unaccountable intuition which proves to be right.

Well, it's clear that Knox never solved any real-life murders. All kinds of accidents and intuitions have helped to snare murderers such as Lt. John Russo snaring Chanel Lewis for the murder of Karina Vetrano. The Yorkshire Ripper was caught on a traffic stop based largely on police intuition after a minor traffic infringement, and Ted Bundy was also caught in a routine traffic stop. 

7.  The detective must not himself commit the crime.

Hercule Poirot was turned into the killer by Agatha Christie in Curtain. He fakes his need for a wheelchair to fool people into believing that he is suffering from arthritis, to give the impression that he is more infirm than he is and kills the person who is manipulating others into committing murder. This continues to be used as trick to surprise the reader both openly and covertly from Double Indemnity to Darkly Dreaming Dexter to this day. 

8.  The detective must not light on any clues which are not instantly produced for the inspection of the reader. 

I actually think this one holds up, although the trick is to bury the real clues in an avalanche of red herrings and subterfuge so the mystery can't be solved too easily. It really is no fun if the reader cannot play along. A mystery is a game to be played with the reader and they'll feel cheated if all the clues aren't out there for them solve the mystery too.

9.  The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, must not conceal any thoughts which pass through his mind; his intelligence must be slightly, but very slightly, below that of the average reader. 

I'm not sure the friend needs to be stupid at all, but a second person is a very handy way of explaining more complex matters to the reader through dialogue. It's not fair to expect everyone to be au fait with the science or forensics involved in detection.  It seems that many writers agree with me as the genre is littered with clever sidekicks. Albert Campion's burglar-turned-man-servant, Magersfontein Lugg, is able to ferret out clues and supply his master with insider gossip that comes in mighty handy when solving cases. He also has excellent criminal contacts used by his boss.  The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Precious Ramotswe, the first female private investigator in Botswana, is assisted, both in and out of the office, by Grace Makutsi, efficient agency secretary and her assistant. Grace is far from stupid and aptly demonstrates the true role of the sidekick - to fill in the gaps in the detective's skill base, to show the humanity and show-case their ability to form relationships (and I'm thinking of Sherlock Holmes and Adrian Monk in that example), and to provide a sounding board which allows the detective to reveal clues and plot through dialogue. They shouldn't be there to make the reader feel superior. They have work to do. 

10.  Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them. 

Good old Agatha Christie used this one in The Big Four where Poirot pretends to have (and poses as) an identical twin brother named Achille. The classic movie Dark Mirror,  also made great use of this device, as did everyone from Shakespeare to Bette Davis in Dead Ringer. Twins and mistaken identity can be great fun to play with, as long as the reader has enough clues to join in the game.

I think W.H. Auden get the last word here. It just has to be a good story.  "Detective stories have nothing to do with works of art."

New Release -- INNOCENT AS SIN (The Innocents Mystery Series) (Volume 2) by C. A. Asbrey

Nat Quinn and Jake Conroy are just doing their job—robbing a bank! But when Nat sees Pinkerton agent Abigail MacKay is already there, he knows something isn’t right. Is she on the trail of The Innocents again, or has she turned up in Everlasting, Wyoming, by coincidence?
Abi can’t believe her bad luck! Nat and Jake are about to make her true identity known, and botch the undercover job she has carefully prepared for—a job she’s been working on for months. When Jake discovers she’s cooperating with a sadistic bounty hunter who never brings in his prisoners alive, he suspects Nat might be the next target. How could Abi would betray them like this?
On top of everything else, someone has dumped a frozen corpse after disguising it as a tramp. The town is snowed in and the killer isn’t going anywhere, but can Abigail’s forensic skills solve the murder before anyone else is killed? Abi and Nat manage to admit their feelings for one another, but will that be enough to overcome the fact that they’re on opposite sides of the law?  
The Innocents and Abigail MacKay must work together to solve the murder case, but they’re still best enemies. It’s an emotional standoff, and they’re all INNOCENT AS SIN…


     It took another half-hour before Jake saw her neat, feminine figure approaching, her light blue dress standing out against the sun-parched dust of the streets. By this time, his breath came in rapid, shallow pants until his fingers prickled and his head spun. The everyday sounds of the town swamped his senses until they crashed around his skull in an echoing cacophony. Her voice reverberated, unusually strident and harsh, echoing between the screaming and shouting from years ago in his head.
     "Jake?" Abigail's eyes darted around drinking in the surroundings, looking for danger. Why greet her openly in the street, near her gate? His glazed eyes sparkled and the pupils looked enormous, but he didn’t seem drunk.
     "Abi, come with me. It's urgent."


Blog - C.A Asbrey - all things obscure and strange in the Victorian period
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Links to books

The Innocents
Innocent as Sin 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Books Books Books

BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS – Elizabeth Clements

Books can entertain, irritate, inspire, transport, bore, heal, amuse, inform, depress, terrify, anger, educate, exhilarate, liberate, transform….The list of verbs is endless. But in a word, books are—magical!

For a little girl in the ‘50’s, living on a farm with no electricity, no playmates except my two dolls and a black and white dog, books opened up a new world for me. I can barely remember my very first book, probably before I even learned to read. I don’t recall the name or much about it except it was a chunky, 5x5 square hardcover book with lots of cartoon drawings. My next book was Alice in Wonderland, then Treasure Island and Tom Sawyer.

Oddly, I still remember a bit of what those covers looked like, shiny and colorful with no book jackets. My  mom also bought me Heidi and I read that book so many times I almost had it memorized. The Alps setting particularly appealed to me, perhaps because I was born in Austria, but sadly I was too young to recall any of it when we left. I like to think, though, that the Alpine images are somehow magically imprinted in my DNA. To this day I love the mountains and as soon as I see the outline of the Rockies as we head toward Calgary, my heart does a little happy dance and I feel happier the closer I get to Banff. It’s like coming home.

Once I learned to read, I acted out the fairy tales. I especially related to Cinderella, because initially, one of my chores was to dust and sweep every Saturday. I never passed a mirror without seeing Cinderella—it would take me a long time to dust….

Saturdays were special because it was our weekly trip to town to get groceries, and for me that meant a trip to the library. Our town theater didn’t sell popcorn on the premises, but one could buy it across the street at a little kiosk. I’d get my bag of popcorn and go to the library and visit with Mrs. Bolton and her orange and white tabby. I’d share my popcorn while visiting with them, then gather up an armload of juvenile mysteries and deposit them in the truck. Next, I’d buy a ten-cent ice-cold bottle of grape pop at the local news and tobacco store that had big water coolers stocked with all kinds of pop that musically rattled from the flow of water around the bottles. Then, off to the movies with my last quarter!

Gradually my reading interests drifted from Trixie Beldon and the Bobbsey Twins to teenage sleuths Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton and The Dana Girls. I don’t recall exactly when we got our black and white television, but I was well into my teens when I became hooked on the Perry Mason series and wanted to be just like Della Street. Actually many years later I did become a legal secretary, but my bosses sure weren’t Raymond Burr (laugh). More visits to the library with armloads of Erle Stanley Gardner’s books and I read every one available.

Mary Stewart became another beloved author. Her settings were so beautifully described that I saw the mountains and lakes, the twisting roads through the pines and in one unforgettable paragraph of description, she grounded it with something like…the smell of pig. Maybe I need to make another trip to the library because I would love to read that book again. It might have been Airs Above The Ground. In that genre of romantic mysteries, who can forget Daphne DuMaurier’s My Cousin Rachel or Rebecca and that unforgettable opening sentence: Last night I dreamed again I was in Manderley or something very similar.

I fell in love with adorable Little Joe on Bonanza until one day I really, really noticed tall dark and brooding Adam. I think that’s when I truly progressed into adult books, specifically historical romances written by Frank Yerby. And I read all the books written by Grace Livingston Hill, which, thinking back, were probably Christian romances, but so beautifully romantic to a teenage girl. I still vaguely recall one book where the heroine lived in a barn and the hero had it transformed into a beautiful home for her. I think I was intrigued and enchanted by the idea of such a caring and generous hero. Here’s a blurb I found about her books.

It's the "backstory" that makes Grace Livingston Hill's books come alive….Because they were contemporary fiction in Grace's day, her books are essentially a living history lesson. If you're a lover of 20th-century history, you'll find first-hand accounts of the way people lived and the issues of the day. Just take a look at the copyright date, brush up a bit on what was happening in that year, and you're ready to experience what it was like.
 Avon Books used to publish hard-cover nurse romances, so I raced through those, as well, but unlike my admiration for Della Street, I never aspired to become a nurse, despite the romantic stories. I’m far too squeamish at the sight of blood. Kudos, though, to the wonderful women who become nurses and surgeons.

Books about Scotland and Egypt fascinated me. I’ve jokingly said that I hoped I was the Laird’s beloved daughter and not the scullery maid (perhaps inspired by those Cinderella fairy tales?) And of course movies like the Ten Commandments and another oldie, The Robe, probably influenced my interest in Biblical epics. Beautiful, golden Helen of Troy played by Rosanna Podesta, stays vivid in my mind even to this day. Here’s a short video clip of the movie:

And then there was unforgettable Steve Reeves as Hercules. He was probably my first romantic hero with his handsome chiseled looks and muscled torso (even before Pernell Roberts from Bonanza)  Image result for *Steve Reeves

When I was ten I wanted to either become an archaeologist or a New York newspaper reporter. Books about Scotland or Egypt fascinated me, the latter probably influenced by Cecil DeMille’s epic classics. Becoming an author never occurred to me until one day, while expecting twins. I had to lie down a lot and dug into a shopping bag of Harlequin Romances that my mother had brought me. After reading a bunch of them, I became so incensed with one that I threw it against the wall and declared I can write better than that! A few years later, in the middle of making breakfast for my four sons, a plot dropped into my head and I turned a new page in my life (no pun intended).

Around about the time I went to secretarial college, I discovered another author to follow: Jean Plaidy. Oh, my, did she write a lot of books. History, especially English history, had always fascinated me and as a result of reading all her books, I became very knowledgeable of English, Scottish, French and Italian rulers. The Plantagenet monarchs fascinated  me. I think as a result of literally devouring her books and my English-Lit teachers emphasizing that every sentence should have a noun, verb and clause, well that all influenced my writing style, which was very formal, including the dialogue. I know it was the main reason my first book was rejected by Harlequin years later. And I wasted a lot of time not writing when life intervened and the creative juices chilled. Ah, so says the weary voice of experience.

Image result for serge anne golon angelique series

When I was twenty, I discovered Bertrice  Small’s The Kadin. For years I thought it was a true story, not just factual history woven throughout. Then one day I was intrigued by a beautiful gold-haired heroine gazing at me with her aquamarine eyes. I bought Angelique, the first of nine books translated from the French husband and wife writing team, Sergeanne Golon. I foolishly lent my entire collection to a co-worker and sadly, never got them back. To this day, Angelique remains my favorite romance heroine. That was an induction into sensual historicals, quite different  from Jean Plaidy’s historicals.

A few years later, Kathleen Woodiwiss published her first historical, The Flame and the Flower and ignited a sensuous blaze through the historical romance world, fanned even more when Rosemary Rogers debuted Ginny and Steve in Sweet Savage Love. 

What an era of exciting sensual romances that included Valerie Sherwood, Laurie McBain and Lisa Kleypas, to name a few. These ladies changed how historical romances were written. Actually it only reflected the changes taking place in the 1970’s. Avon Books led the way with their Avon Ladies. Avon even came out with a calendar with each month featuring a popular historical romance cover. I kept that calendar…and the gorgeous Tom Selleck/Magnum P.I calendar, too. lol.

Sadly, and to my indignation, these books eventually earned the reputation of being referred to as bodice-rippers because of the sexy covers and violence perpetrated on women, when in fact they were a more realistic portrayal of those historical times—women basically had no rights and were often possessions or pawns in arranged marriages. Often, they were a rich heiress and as soon as she was married, her fortune was taken over by her husband. Besides, human nature doesn’t change, just the window dressing.

In the early 90’s, I entered my first historical in RWA’s Golden Heart competition and it nearly made the finals, having gone to a fourth judge. Having come so close, I searched for books that had won awards and happened upon Hummingbird by LaVryle Spencer that had Golden Heart Winner stamped on the cover. Enchanted,  enthralled, I bought every book of hers I could find. I also discovered Elizabeth Lowell and love her westerns; her medieval trilogy is unforgettable.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance and influence of a great cover (and love mine that Livia created for Beneath A Horse-Thief Moon). I was in the bookstore one day and was drawn to a new release by an author I’d never read. The cover had a couple in a romantic pose on a four-poster bed, discreetly veiled by netting, but when you turned the step-back cover the netting was gone and WOW! Yet, I put it back because she was an unknown. Then, I reached for it again and read the back, and returned it to the shelf. Yet, the cover intrigued me, so I read a few pages and laughed right there in the bookstore. That book was called Seize the Fire. My Google search did not find that original cover on her reprints, but I bought every one of her books and they, along with LaVryle, Elizabeth, Sandra Hill and several other authors are on my keeper shelf.

One other author whose books I love and who is most famous for his westerns, particularly his Sackett books, is Louis L’Amour. However, he has two non-westerns that stand out in my mind: The Walking Drum and Last of the Breed. The latter fascinated me, of an American test pilot who crashed his test plane in Siberia and eluded capture for two years. It’s a story of gritty  survival and so far from my usual reading, but riveting.

Over the decades, the criteria shifted in romance, moving away from familiar themes. We still have Alpha males, especially popular Navy Seals romances and action-adventure tales, but the heroes are given a softer side where the heroine is concerned, and the heroines have become feistier, moving away from the delicate hot-house orchid stereotypes. I’ve particularly noticed the change as I’ve immersed myself in reading again. There are more labels for books now, perhaps like the movies that had to get PG ratings to protect the innocent.

Back in the snail-mail age before the Internet or Google, sharing of writing techniques wasn’t a click away. It meant trips to the library or bookstore. There was no writing group to join and exchange ideas and information. Answers to query letters took months and even longer to find an agent. I discovered Writer’s Digest Magazine and subscribed, but I was still too traumatized by that first rejection. So, I’d finish writing a book, put it aside and start a new book. You see, if I edited that book, it meant I should submit it and thus face another rejection, so I simply avoided submitting…very much to my regret twelve books later.

If the reader gleans nothing else from my blog, especially if you’re a writing novice, please take to heart not to repeat my mistake of self-protection by letting your book collect dust. There is so much information available on the Internet and an increasing number and variety of writers’ groups to join where writers willingly share information and writing tips. Submitting electronically these days is not only instant, but costs nothing compared to the carrier pigeon days of printing out your manuscript and including an SASE along with it to have it returned months later—hopefully with some comments scribbled in the margins.

I think it’s safe to say that for me, there is only one drawback to our electronic age—there is so much easy access that I am often lured away from writing because there are far too many interesting articles to read, groups to join, information to share, schmooze with authors, “clip” recipes, etc. So, discipline is more necessary than ever for this author—especially when procrastination is my middle name.

I hope my trip down memory lane has stirred some memories of favorite books with you or prompted you to look for some of those books that probably are only available in libraries now. For  me, I’d love to revisit these books I’ve mentioned. So many books, so little time. And I have books I still want to write…and dust off the ones I have written, edit them and send on their journey, a journey I was too vulnerable to take back in my thirties.

My dream of getting published came true this year and what a wonderful, exciting four months it has been. At times, I believe my smile stayed on for days! My only other little piece of advice I wish to share with you is follow your dream and never give up, no matter what it is. I never gave up on mine, but I stumbled during parts of the journey and pondered far too long by the roadside.

I've shared a rather long list of some of my favorite books and authors and have left many out. I’d love to hear about your reading experiences, what authors influenced you and motivated you to write.