Saturday, December 18, 2010

10! 9! 8! . . .

Angelina Rain at Author in Training is hosting a blogfest over the New Year's Day weekend . . . and you're invited! Sign up your blog, and then get ready to share your best or most bizarre 2010 accomplishments along with your goals for 2011.

Go to Angelina's site for more details, the shiny graphic, and to sign-up on the linky link.  Click here!

Join us as we pop the cork on some virtual champagne and celebrate the old as we welcome the new!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When Little Plastic Animals Attack

You can tell I'm in THAT stage of novel-making by the state of my house. My housekeeping skills have never been of the white-glove variety, but I do like to have things in their place. Now, however, there are dirty tennis shoes and dog toys under the Christmas tree, stray bones and eyeballs and pumpkins from Halloween on the kitchen counters, random half-created gizmos and art projects hiding here and there.

These are the products of sharing living space with a bored aerospace engineer and crafty girlchild. I must confess, however, that one of these bits of weirdness is mine -- this one right here, the sheet of graph paper adorned with a Wild Kingdom of tiny plastic creatures. It sits right where the centerpiece used to be on my dining room table, and I am afraid that's where it will continue to sit for the next month or so.

It represents the opening scene of Book Two, the murder that must be solved by my intrepid protagonists. This scene is dense with characters both major and minor, both heroic and villainous, moving about a tight limited space, seeing only what they're supposed to see, so that the murder will be a Mystery and not an Omigod So-and-So Just killed So-And-So! (because that would make for a lousy mystery novel).

Pulling this off was providing ridiculously difficult. I couldn't remember who was where, much less keep track of what they'd seen. So I decided to stage the scene in 3D, with my setting drawn out (badly but efficiently) on some graph paper. Then I picked out little plastic critters from my daughter's toy chest to represent my characters.

That's Tai, my sleuth, played by a frisky red fox. And there's Trey, my hero, represented by a kinda pissed-off looking black bear. I chose a dung beetle to play my odious bad guy/victim, then threw in a lizard, a dolphin, and a deceptively innocent-looking chicken as suspects. The role of the red herring is played by an ornamental carp.

It felt silly to start with, but then I realized how many plot holes I was uncovering as I moved my characters around in real space and time. Who would run into whom in the hallway. Who could eavesdrop. Who I had in two places at once (oops). All of which saved me a ton of re-writing.

Wild Kingdom meets Clue is still set up on the dining room table. I'll have to move it before Christmas dinner. Or maybe I'll just throw some holly on top of it and call it decoration. Either way, I think I've found a new tool for my writer's toolbox (which is getting more eccentric by the day).

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Guy and His Gun

No, not the Hubster. My other guy, the one I spend hours with, just the two of us, while I hang on his every word. He's frustrating, challenging, and somewhat stubborn, plus I think he's mad at me right now. But he's something else, that's for sure.

His name is Trey Seaver -- we've been getting to know each other for seven years now. I wish I could put a photo of him up here, but since he's imaginary, you'll just have to use your, you know, imagination.

In the meantime, we can talk about his gun, which is almost as smooth as he is. Almost.

This is the Heckler and Koch P7M8. It's a nine-millimeter made in Germany, and it's one of the finest firearms you'll ever shoot. Or so I've been told. H&K stopped production in 2008, so they're hard to find now, and quite expensive (about $1200).

But oh, are they worth it. The H&K P7M8 is compact, accurate, and virtually jam-proof. Plus, its squeeze cocking mechanism makes it one of the safest guns ever made. Instead of a safety that switches on or off, the P7M8 requires that you squeeze the mechanism on the pistol grip (you can see it on the photograph to the right), which pulls back the firing pin. Release your grip, and the firing pin is safely disengaged. You can then drop it, toss it, kick it between the goalposts -- not a stray bullet in sight.

Most importantly, it kicks ass, and it kick it swiftly, efficiently, with style to spare. Which is exactly the kind of weapon my guy needed tucked up under his Armani suit.

One of the themes in The Dangerous Edge of Things is power -- how we get it, why we want it, how we fight tooth and nail to keep it. A gun is power condensed to its raw elemental nature. It makes us confront in direct, concrete fashion all the philosophical ideals surrounding individual freedom, societal obligation, and the value of a human life. One of my characters says that you'd better not pick up a gun until you're absolutely certain you know what you'll do with it -- and what you won't -- and that you'd better make that decision long before you MUST make that decision.

Guns are attractive, the P7M8 especially so. It's ergonomic, created  for the human hand, balanced for the human touch. It is an extension of everything humans are capable of, our fierce protective instincts combined with our predatory cunning. Guns make us ask hard questions, and they don't provide any answers. They just mutely do exactly what we tell them to do, nothing more, nothing less.

I'm not afraid of them -- I grew up around guns of all kinds, and I happen to find them quite beautiful. It's the human finger on the trigger that gives me pause. Guns don't scare me; people scare me. To my writerly ears, that sounds vaguely like a tag line from an NRA commercial. But it's the truth. When Trey pulls his weapon, he knows exactly what he will and won't do with it. I'm not sure that I do. So until I do, I think I'll let Trey be the one to carry the gun, not me.

Friday, November 19, 2010

First Gifts Blog Hop!

Here's my story -- I look forward to reading yours too. Click on the Linky Link at the end of the post to join the hop, and I'll see you down the line!

First., a confession — I had a hard time remembering the first gift my husband ever gave me. This would not surprise my husband, whose favorite nickname for me is Sheer-luck Holmes, as in, it’s sheer luck if I remember stuff from this morning, much less 25 years ago. He’s given me many gifts over the years, most of them quite eccentric, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember which one came first. Was it the yellow hardhat? The box of rocks?
    Then suddenly, I remembered. My First Gift hadn’t come in a box. There were no ribbons, no bows, not even a tag attached.
    My first gift was a poem entitled “The Raving“, penned by my teenage dearest in homage to Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” My poem mimicked its more famous predecessor in both rhyme and rhythm, cadence and tone. But “The Raving” possessed a snarky sense of humor that Mr. Poe’s deadly serious original did not. Plus, it featured trigonometry, some watermelon and my friend George. Here’s a sample stanza:

Deep inside my stomach churning, a chili dog from lunch heartburning,
Soon again I heard a bashing somewhat louder than a Ford.
“Forsooth!” said I, “I think that is
Something at my tomato lattice!
I’ll go see then what there at is
And throw out this apple core!
Let me get my baseball bat and then this mystery explore.
‘Tis just a bear! It can’t be George!”

It goes on. And on and on and on. But every verse was written with symbols, imagery, and references specific to me, and as such, it was as deeply personal as any love letter.  I keep it in my hope chest, under my wrist corsage from the senior prom and my kid’s first shoes. It may not have won a Pulitzer, but it won my heart.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Quantum Entanglement

"Not knowing is much more interesting than believing an answer that might be wrong."
-- Richard Feynman

The only kind of physics I like is the kind that rational people want no truck with -- the quantum.  I have very little patience with equations and theories and laws that explain the universe neatly and precisely.  Gravity is as inexorable as it is predictable, which makes it boring to contemplate in the abstract.  But when I lie on my back in my driveway, with pavement behind me and night before me, and I realize that the only thing between me and the gorgeous dark yawning everything is the same force that helped break my coffee cup that morning . . . well, that's about as concrete as it gets.

That's why I brew my coffee dark and drink it slow.  Because sometimes the only thing that can save us from the vast overwhelm of bigness is the small and specific.

My favorite non-scientific musing this morning is on quantum entanglement. Wikipedia describes it like this: a quantum mechanical phenomenon in which the quantum states of two or more objects have to be described with reference to each other, even though the individual objects may be spatially separated. In his book Entanglement: The Greatest Mystery in Physics, Amir D. Aczel explains it this way: "Whatever happened to one particle would thus immediately affect the other particle, wherever in the universe it may be."

I like the idea that two things can exist, separate and distinct, and yet be inextricably linked.  It sounds romantic, like photons have a life of the heart, with yearnings and loneliness and melancholy.  Soul mates at the sub-atomic level.  Or maybe I'm the one who's enamored, moonstruck with the idea that connection can exist in ways that confound even the most brilliant among us.  It makes a good case for love, big love, the kind that transcends place and time (and which I hope is never reducible to an equation).

I suspect physicists must get impatient with musers like me who want to make everything mystical.  Scientists crank up the Bell-state quantum eraser, indulge in a little parametric down-conversion, and math comes out. They're happy with this.  But  I want to see God in there.  I want some scrappy little clue.  Maybe not the double helix of some divine DNA, maybe just a smudgy fingerprint somewhere, but something.  Anything.  I feel like a forensic investigator in this world, looking for evidence of something that should require no proof.

The act of observation changes that which is observed.  I think that's why I write, why I make words and then -- in a process I have never even tried to understand -- send them into the ether where others can read them.  It changes them somehow, even if no human eye ever graces them.  Having a reader is a blessing.  It creates a cycle of energy, a good organic flow.  But just offering the words is also a blessing.  A benediction of sorts, maybe even a prayer.  We contain universes, are contained by them too, ever expanding at the furtherest edge.  And sometimes it feels like those universes are watching me, tiny finite me, the conjunction of them all.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Guest Blogger Amy Corwin on Rose Growing during the Regency

When folks ask me why I adore the Regency period (early years of the 19th century) so much, I invariably think of roses. The Regency -- and the Empress Josephine -- are among the most critical influences on roses as we know them today.

Before the Empress Josephine began her gardens at Malmaison in 1799, roses were grown mainly for medicinal, cosmetic, and aromatic reasons. The Apothecary's Rose, Rosa gallica officinalis, is named thusly for a reason: The celebrated, rich, deep pink Apothecary's Rose was considered an essential component of any herb or kitchen garden. It was used in cooking, medicine, and cosmetics.

However, the Empress Josephine changed that. Josephine adored roses and when she acquired Malmaison, she set out to create the world's first, and largest, garden devoted to roses. And despite the war with England, her principal source of roses was the Lee & Kennedy Vineyard Nursery located just outside of London. Josephine wanted a specimen of every rose known in the world and in 1804, she was able to convince Lewis Kennedy to provide her with the newest Chinese roses: Slater's Crimson Chine, Parson's pink, and Hume's Blush Tea Scented China.

Although Josephine could not know it at the time, and in fact, never lived to see it, those Chinese roses eventually became the parents -- when hybridized with once-blooming European varieties -- of our modern roses as we know them today: our Hybrid Tea roses, that bloom throughout the growing season. Naturally, with the Empress growing such extraordinary specimens, the race was on to create rose gardens to rival hers, both in France and in England. What was the darling of the Regency?

The Gallica rose.
During the Regency, there was a positive explosion of Rosa gallica hybrids. Regrettably, many of those have been lost over time, but a few lovely roses remain available. What were the Rosa gallica that the Empress Josephine and rose growers in England might have known? Let's look at a few.

Rosa gallica is an extremely old species. It tends to be low growing (which in my mind makes it a perfect specimen for today's smaller garden) and bears rich red, dark pinkish, purple, or streaked flowers. They have an incomparable fragrance. Rosa gallica is in the lineage of almost all modern roses and is certainly one of the most beautiful.  And although Suzanne Verrier in "Rosa Gallica" indicates that perhaps as many as 167 of the 250 rose varieties grown at Malmaison might have been gallicas, it may be a bit unlikely, based upon research by Jules Gravereaux and others, since she was collecting and growing so many other roses, as well. Unfortunately, since there was never an inventory made of the roses in the Empress Josephine's gardens while they existed, we may never know.

That doesn't mean that Gallicas are any less important. In fact, I would not hesitate to claim that the Gallicas are to the Regency period what Hybrid Teas are to ours: the most popular rose grown.What were some varieties? Here are a few that the Empress Josephine and other ladies during the Regency would have treasured.

The Apothocary's Rose, Rosa gallica Officinalis
This is the ancestor of many of our modern roses. Throughout history, it was considered essential to any herb or medicinal garden. It is definitely a survivor and can still be purchased (thankfully). It has semi-double blossoms in rich violet crimson with a prominent center of gold stamens. The fragrance is intense and remains after you dry the petals, so it is a wonderful addition to potpourris. This rose is often referred to as the Rose of Provins and has been one of the most important historical roses.

Agatha, Rosa gallica Agatha
Some experts class the "Agatha" gallicas as a distinct group, and some authorities say that nearly ¼ of the Gallica roses grown at Malmaison were Agathes. Agatha is a fragrant, rich pink rose with double blossoms (lots of petals) veined with deeper rose. Foliage is elongated and gray-green and the canes are nearly thornless. The rose can reach nearly six feet to under good conditions.

Enfant de France, Rosa gallica 'L'Enfant de France'
While the origin of this rose is unknown, several experts claim this rose was one of those grown at Malmaison. The rose is dark rose with lilac overtones and has double blossoms.

La Belle Sultane, Rosa gallica Maheka
This is another rose that experts believe was grown at Malmaison. It forms a tall shrub about 5' tall, with flat flowers that are almost single (have 5 petals). The blossoms have a rich fragrance and are velvety purple-crimson. This lovely rose is one of the few still in available from some nurseries.

Quate Saisons d'Italie, Rosa gallica 'Rosier de la Malmaison'
The gardens at Malmaison certainly grew this variety. This rose is a double rose, similar to Portland-type roses. The very fragrant blooms are crimson and full of petals. It is one of the few early roses that is produced consistently throughout the growing season. This hardy rose can reach a height of four feet.

I hope this gives you a taste of the quintessential Regency rose: the Gallica. It is certainly one of the most lovely and historically significant roses in the world.

Thank you,
Amy Corwin


Amy Corwin is a charter member of the Romance Writers of America and has been writing for the last ten years in addition to managing a career as an enterprise systems administrator in the computer industry.  She writes Regencies/historicals, mysteries, and contemporary paranormals. To be truthful, most of her books include a bit of murder and mayhem since she discovered that killing off at least one character is a highly effective way to make the remaining ones toe the plot line.

Amy’s first Regency, SMUGGLED ROSE, received a 4-star review by “The Romantic Times” and her second Regency, I BID ONE AMERICAN, received a perfect score of 5 from  Long and Short Reviews. Her third Regency, THE BRICKLAYER’S HELPER, is out now from The Wild Rose Press and her first paranormal, VAMPIRE PROTECTOR, comes out in November, 2010.

The Bricklayer's Helper
A masquerade turns deadly when a murderer discovers the truth behind the disguise.

After her family perishes in a suspicious fire, Sarah hides her identity by working as a bricklayer's helper. But her disguise can't keep her safe when someone discovers she survived the flames. Alone and terrified, Sarah pins all her hopes on William Trenchard, the only available inquiry agent with Second Sons. William, however, seems far too handsome and frivolous to solve the mystery, and Sarah fears that involving him may be her final~and fatal~mistake.The pair are in for a wild ride as they try to solve a decade-old mystery of murder and deceit in Regency England.

Appearances can truly be deceiving.

Find The Bricklayer's Helper at The Wild Rose Press and Amazon's Kindle store.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Guest Blogging Today

I'm very excited to be guest blogging over at Amy Corwin's Fiction Writing and Other Oddities.You can find my post at:

Amy will be joining me here, at the Fascination Files, next week, so please be sure to look for her then. She promises a look at Regency rose-growing, and since she's quite the talented historical romance writer -- and gardener -- I'm sure it will be informative.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Annette Laing on Invisible History

From Annette Laing's Goodreads blog:

So there I was, sitting comfortably in a comfy chair at Starbucks, amply supplied with caffeine, and working away happily on the third book. Everything was going swimmingly. I had a great set of plot twists, interesting new characters to work with, and a story set in the historical period I know best, the 18th century. Finally, I could use that PhD in early American history writing something people would want to read!  But I digress...

Out of the blue, the book went wrong. I finished a chapter, only to realize that I had already used up the plot points for several chapters ahead, leaving Hannah sitting outside in the piney woods of rural southeastern Georgia in 1752, waiting for a pot of water to boil over an outdoor fire. What was she thinking? I didn't know. Was she bored? If not, what was she thinking about? No clue. All she could see and all I could see were pine trees.

I packed up and went home, deciding it was time to put the writing on hold, and take to reading for inspiration. First, I tried more history. It didn't help. The history of Georgia in that period is a bit thin, so I cheated and started revisiting South Carolina history, hoping for ideas from the state next door. Thinking again about the frontier helped a little, but it wasn't that thrilling. And I really couldn't shake the strong feeling that  I was missing something big...

All at once, it came to me.

You know, for someone who claims to be an historian of religion, I can be pretty oblivious. In planning and writing Book 3, I had ignored invisible history. What I mean by that is the religious beliefs and the folklore  that livened up what to modern outsiders might just seem like a tedious landscape. The people of the past populated those spaces with ghosts, spirits, miracles, and mysteries; with tall tales and sad stories.

Native Americans would surely have had the best-developed  folklore of any group in the rural South in the mid-18th century, but they were being chased from their lands. Meanwhile, Africans and Europeans had begun weaving their own stories and beliefs around their new American homes, often drawing on the traditions of their Indian neighbors, friends, and family members. There was, of course, much exchanging of stories among these ethnic groups.  

Meanwhile, wealthier and educated settlers (who were the smallest group, but the best represented in history) were abandoning many of their supernatural beliefs. Instead, they developed a keen interest in buying and owning stuff: Houses, clothes, china, carriages, and so on. Boy, that sounds familiar, doesn't it?

My modern time travelers, however, mix with poor people in my story, and the trick now is to get them not only to witness folklore, but to believe in it.  First, I need some folklore for them to hear. So I'm reading again, and planning a trip to the Okefenokee Swamp, a rich source of spooky atmosphere and home of some of the best storytelling tradition in Georgia...

Wish me luck as I hunt ghosts and seek out tall tales. And if any of you have some cool stories from your own families, pass them along. I can borrow them outright if we both like, or rewrite them to suit!

 *               *               *               *               *               *               *               *

Annette Laing is the author of The Snipesville Chronicles, the misadventures of three kids from the most boring town in the Deep South who become reluctant visitors in British and American history. Don't Know Where, Don't Know When and A Different Day, A Different Destiny are available from your favorite bookseller; you can also find them -- and learn more about Annette's commitment to Non-Boring History -- at her website:

Saturday, September 11, 2010

How to Create Drama -- Part I

Here’s some writerly advice for ya — nothing ratchets up the tension in a scene like dropping a big ass snake right in the middle of it.

Hoo boy! Characters babble. They scream. They go for guns you didn’t know they carried. Forget that old advice about bringing a man waving a gun into the room — let a fifteen-foot reticulated python plop onto somebody’s shoulders, and things get interesting FAST.

I auditioned a line-up of menacing serpents for this walk-on role in my novel — boa constrictors and several breeds of python, including the rock and the Burmese pythons (that’s a caramel Burmese python in the photo by the way). However, I decided on the retic (as reticulated pythons are sometimes called), the big daddy of the snake world. Here’s a few snaky tidbits I’ve picked up in my research:

1. You don‘t tackle this much snake alone. One rule of thumb for snake handling is one person for every three feet of snake. For an average python —about fifteen feet long — you’ll need four really brave friends. For the largest python on record — 33 feet long and 300+ pounds — you‘ll need a NASCAR pit crew.

2. Captive-bred specimens are remarkably even-tempered, if somewhat unpredictable. Wild caught pythons, however, are extremely nervous and will bite. Unfortunately, wild-caught pythons don’t carry ID announcing them as such. The only way you’ll know is after it’s clamped down on your calf and banged you around a bit. It may not be venomous, but it’s got teeth that point backwards, the better to hold onto you as you squirm, my dear.

3. As a rule of thumb, these snakes seem able to swallow prey up to ¼ their own length, and up to their own weight.

4. A python doesn’t kill by strangling—it constricts its victim’s rib cage slowly and inexorably with every exhale, leaving each subsequent inhale shallower and shallower . . . until there’s no more room to breathe in. Cause of death—suffocation.

5. Like all snakes, pythons aren’t slimy—they’re dry and cool and silky. They’re also dense with hard-packed spongy muscle, like a scale-covered gummy bear.

6. Pythons are ambush predators; they lunge from the shrubbery, zip up on you in the water and — in the case of the green tree python — tumble from the branches right on top of you.

7. Pythons normally snack on small mammals, though they occasionally snag deer and gazelle. Swallowing such large prey makes a python slow and clunky and very vulnerable to predators. If necessary, however, it can instantly upchuck the whole business right back in its attacker’s face and make a speedy getaway. Take that, crocodile!

8. Pythons use their supersensitive tongues to “taste” where you are . . . and find out which end is your head, for easier swallowing. Which means they can find you in that dark like THAT.

9. They’re extremely valuable creatures, selling anywhere from $500 to $5000. A lavender albino ball python was once listed as the most expensive pet in the world— $40,000. Before you decide to adopt a python reticulatus, however, know it’s a long-term arrangement; they live 20-30 years in captivity.

10. Best estimates are that anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 Burmese pythons now call the Florida Everglades home. The first one was found in 1979, and since pythons have no natural predators down there in that moist steamy ecosystem, they multiplied exponentially. Right now the only way to deal with the problem is to hunt them down one at a time and drag them out by hand, which the State of Florida hires people to do (check out the story here). New career, anyone?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Penguin Love

Today at church, the visiting minister read the children's story.  All the little ones gathered at his feet, and he passed out stuffed penguins for them to fondle and moon over.  "This," he said, "is a story about penguins.  And love.  And families."

It was a sweet story, much better than <em>March of the Penguins</em>, which a friend claims should have been called <em>The Sad Life of Penguins</em>.  No frozen corpses, no ravenous sea lions.  This book was set in the Central Park Zoo.

"Now," the minister read, "It was that time of year when all the boy penguins started to notice the girl penguins.  And all the girl penguins started to notice the boy penguins."  And my first thought was, how sweet.  A coming of age story, with feathers.  And my second thought -- and this is a fine testament to just how much of a proud knee-jerk liberal I really am -- was all about the heterosexism of that statement.  Surely there were some gay penguins, I thought.

And there were.  Their names were Roy and Silo.  And this was a book about them and the chick they raised that the zookeeper named Tango, because, as we all know, "it takes two to make a tango."

It ends with the sun going down on sleeping families all through the city.  No snow. no ice.  Warm all around.  Just the kind of ending I needed today.