Unseen Magic!

I love both reading and writing novellas. A well written novella can provide romance, drama, danger, family issues, and a happy ending in one swift reading bite.  And I like writing novellas because one can go through all the stages of any writing project–enthusiasm, anxiety, panic, and finally satisfaction that it’s done in a much shorter period of time than for a novel.  My theory is a novella has a beginning and an end. and not much in between, which is good because it avoids the dread Saggy Middle.

Since I like novellas, I’ve written a fair number of them, but because they’re usually part of a larger anthology, sometimes readers don’t find them. That’s why it’s nice to reissue novellas as standalone ebooks once I have the rights back.

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WWR for March

What We’re Reading

Our ever-popular monthly WWR has the usual delicious assortment of history, romance, magic, and of course, murder. <G>  There’s also a fair amount of Wenches enjoying stories by other Wenches.  First up:

Christina:  The Other Gwyn Girl by Nicola Cornick

Wow! I have no other word for this story which has totally blown me away – it is a master-class in time slip writing by fellow Wench Nicola and I loved it! Excitement, adventure, romance and historic authenticity, together with a touch of the paranormal and magical, all perfectly blended to create a story I simply couldn’t put it down. And as always, the author has loosely linked the characters to those of her previous books, which is an added bonus for me as I love to get a glimpse into their lives, however brief.

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Laying a Series Foundation

by Mary Jo

Fifty years or so ago, in the early days of historical romance when authors wrote with quill pens on parchment, a lot of books were standalones and writers might jump all over the place in terms of settings.  A pirate tale might be followed by a Civil War story, then a swashbuckling Viking setting or a Western.  But readers and writers started appreciating the fun of connected stories and soon series proliferated.  Now I’d say most new romances are as parts of series.

I started writing before series took over the world, but I was a natural series writer because I was so interested in the secondary characters, which led to connected books.  My first traditional Regency, The Diabolical Baron, was intended as a standalone because I was new and clueless.

But when I started my next Regency, I realized the hero of The Would-Be Widow, (The Bargain is an edited and expanded version) needed a best friend, and the hero of the Diabolical Baron was a perfect fit.  Plus the alcoholic antagonist from the Baron interested me and I wondered what he’d be like if I sobered him up.  The result was The Rake and the Reformer. (Now The Rake.)

In other words, I’d created a series without conscious planning.  (Much of my writerly career involved no conscious planning.)  But when I started longer Regency historicals, I decided I needed a structure for my first series.  I was thinking a nice tidy trilogy since trilogies were all the rage then.  So I wrote Thunder and Roses as book 1 of a trilogy–and ended up with the seven book Fallen Angels series.  (I told you I wasn’t much of a planner!)

I’ve liked using the structure of kids who went to school together and became life long friends.  They know each other’s pains and joys and foibles, and they always have each other’s backs.  (Well, almost always, but that’s another story.) The Fallen Angels started with boys who had angelic names who met at Eton, the most aristocratic of British public (which means private) schools.

The Lost Lords series was rooted in the Westerfield Academy, run by an eccentric and compassionate duke’s daughter for “boys of good birth and bad behavior.” Her goal was to take boys with an odd kick in their gallop and help them fit into society without losing their souls.

My contemporary trilogy, the Circle of Friends, was women who had met in a Quaker school in Baltimore, then went in very different directions–but were always there for each other.  Heck, my young adult time travel/fantasy series was rooted in the Lackland Academy, where magically gifted young people were sent to be ‘cured’ of their despicable magical abilities.   I wrote this YA  trilogy because I wasn’t able to develop my book The Marriage Spell into a series because the publisher didn’t want more books.

Until I started writing this blog, I didn’t realize just how much I’d used the old school friends structure!  Maybe that’s why I then decided I needed a new foundation for my next series. After much gnawing on the possibilities, I came up with my Rogues Redeemed series.  It began with five men in a Portuguese cellar condemned to face a firing squad at dawn, and they found that to be a bonding experience.  It took me quite a while to develop that concept. (The first book was Once a Soldier.)

Sometimes a new series structure comes with the snap of our fingers, but generally writers spend a lot of time working out new structures.  It needs to appeal to the writer and hopefully to her readers as well.  There are all kinds of possibilities besides school friends. Most of my series have been built around men because historically they had a lot more opportunities for adventure which meant they could meet interesting women along the way.

But a core group of females can also work well. One of my favorite such series is Anne Gracie’s The Chance Sisters, where four young women in dire straits are brought together by fate and decide to make themselves sisters though only two are related by blood.  Anne’s current series, the Brides of Bellaire Gardens, is built around a shared community garden which is definitely original!

Pat Rice loves houses so her current romantic mystery series is set in a sprawling great house which draws different people related to the late earl, There they might find love, or possibly be killed. <G>  Christina Courtenay created a wonderful series with her contemporary characters time traveling to Viking times with many connected characters. Now she and her characters are off to the Roman empire.

Susan King has done a number of Scottish and Victorian series.  While Andrea Penrose has written her share of Regency romance series, she’s now concentrating on two Regency mystery series, which present different structuring challenges. Each of her series features a romantic couple solving mysteries and accumulating friends, allies, and antagonists.  Nicola Cornick has found a lovely niche with dual timeline stories features relatively unknown historical women.

As you can see, there are a lot of ways to structure connected stories.  Is there a series a structure that you particularly enjoy? If so, what is it?  I love finding new ways to connect people!

Mary Jo

 

Daffodils!

Daffodils

By Mary Jo

In praise of daffodils:

“I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils”  by William Wordsworth

One of the cool things about writing a blog is that it allows me to learn more about everyday things that interest me.  I’d started researching a very different topic for today when I stopped in my local Trader Joe’s and saw that they had bundles of fresh cut daffodils in their flower section.  They’re only briefly available each spring, but this year I got lucky on the timing, so I immediately bought two bunches. (The daffs above are the ones I bought, and they are still opening.)

I’ve always had A Thing about daffodils.  Where I grew up in the farmland between Buffalo and Rochester in Western New York, the winters were long and cold and very snowy.  I thought it was normal to walk between piles of snow higher than my head (though granted, I was shorter then!) The first real sign of spring was the sprouting buds of daffodils near our house so I particularly loved seeing them. Because they grow from bulbs, they come back year after year after year.But my fondness for daffs intensified during the two years I lived in England.  The English are great gardeners in general and they seem to have a special affinity for daffodils. In early spring, all the supermarkets I patronized had buckets of cut daffodils sitting on the end of the check-out counter.  Irresistible!  They arrived in late winter and I believe they were brought in from the Scilly Isles, which are off the southernmost tip of Cornwall.  The islands are surrounded by the Gulf Stream so their flowers bloom early. (Cut flowers image on right by Danielle Barnes on Unsplash)

At the time I lived there, a bunch cost 10p, equal to US 25 cents.  (To any English folk who might be reading here, do they still have those beautiful buckets of daffs in the stores, though surely at a much higher price!  Ah, I see in the photo that they’re now a quid per bunch.  Totally worth it.)

The genus Narcissus includes daffodils, jonquils, and the flowers that are also called narcissus, and they’ve been around for a very long time. They seem to have originally developed in the Western Mediterranean but they spread widely.  There are many, many variations of colors and size but the basic shape is six petals set in a circle with a trumpet coming out from the middle of the blossom.  Some trumpets are long, some are short like the paper whites, but they all look joyful. (Paper whites on left by Annie Pratt on Unsplash.)

The name of the genus is often associated with the famous Greek myth about Narcissus, an incredibly beautiful youth who disdained all advances from others and ultimately fell in love with his own reflection in a stream.  There are different versions of the myth, but one said he annoyed the goddess Nemesis who laid a curse on him so that he could never be loved by the one he loved; reflections in water aren’t going to give much back to a relationship so he dwindled away to a flower.  (It was never a good idea to annoy Greek deities!)

I think of daffodils as very British.  They’re the national flower of Wales.  (The other Welsh national plant is the leek, which makes for good eating. <G>) I’ve mentioned daffodils multiple times in my stories when I want to make a particular point. (Orange center flower on right by Yoksel Zok on Unsplash)

Flowers in general offer us beauty all year round. While daffodils are special to me, I like just about all flowers for their colors and uplifting presence.  Are you also enthralled by daffodils, or are there other flowers that are particularly special to you?  Let me know!  I’m willing to be enthralled by all kinds of flowers! (Daffs on left by Jason Mitrione on Unsplash.)

Mary Jo, who also has a weakness for the color and fragrance of lilacs…

 

 

Salt!

Mary Jo here to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about salt. <G>

Salt is so common it’s almost invisible.  It’s in every kitchen, Historically it has been vital for preserving food as well for seasoning.  Salt is a flavor-enhancer and makes many foods taste better, which is why processed food is so often very salty and these days a lot of people have to watch their salt intake for health reasons. Hence the ‘you can’t eat just one potato chip’ syndrome. (Picture by Ludwadlin Bosman, Unsplash.)

Salt is essential for humans because it’s an electrolyte that balances nerve and muscle functions.  It’s also one of the five basic taste sensations along with sweet, sour, bitter and umami. Natural food doesn’t usually contain enough salt for us so it’s a supplement we need to ingest.

There is evidence of human salt harvesting processes dating back to about 6000 BC.  How did early humans learn they needed salt? Clearly there is some kind of instinct because all kinds of animals crave salt and there are natural salt licks all over the world.

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