Eight Writers Walk into a Regency-Era Ballroom…

Last chanceNicola here. Over the past few weeks we’ve been sharing excerpts from our Word Wench Christmas Anthology, The Last Chance Christmas Ball (which is currently still on special offer in the US and Canada in the run up to the festive season – you can find it here!) A number of commenters have asked about the process we went through writing the book as a group project (thank you!), so we’ve updated a post from 2015 when the anthology first came out explaining a bit about this and about the individual stories that we came up with. Today's blog title actually came from a review of the anthology that was in Publisher's Weekly: Eight Writers (collectively known as the Word Wenches) walk into a ballroom and wreak fabulous, shimmering holiday mischief all over the place."

Jo Beverley, who drew together the original post, described it as “fun: at times the sort of fun you get from a camping holiday with unpredictable weather and odd creatures invading the tent.*G*” Which is to say that it wasn’t without its challenges. Some of these were logistical. We’re based around the world. Even within the US there’s a considerable time difference between east coast and west coast, but then we add in England, which is five hours ahead of the east coast and eight hours ahead of California. Pat was getting up when Jo Beverley and I were thinking about dinner, and Anne, in Australia, was going to bed round about the time America woke up! Even in this modern age we often had to wait many hours for the answer to a continuity query.

In addition, of course, we are all strong-minded authors who enjoyed a good discussion over many, many plot points and other issues! But we did have fun, and as you'll see, we all love Christmas stories.

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In the Bleak Midwinter: The Last Chance Christmas Ball

Belsay Gloomed by AnneBy Mary Jo

Eight authors collaborating on an anthology is not the simplest of projects, but we Wenches thought it would be fun to work together, and The Last Chance Christmas Ball (now on sale for a mere 99 cents!) was the result. Our Kensington editor, Alicia Condon, suggested we might do something like a holiday ball where our characters can meet and mingle. This sounded like a fine idea, so we agreed. We had no idea how much work it would be to integrate the stories into a larger framework!

Jo Beverley created a wiki for us so we could add information about the characters and setting so instead of constantly asking things like the name of the butler or the village, we could look it up. This was very convenient.

Then the negotiations began! We talked about our requirements. Susan King, for example, specializes in Scotland so we created a setting in Northumberland, which is next door to Scotland in far northeastern England. A certain kind of great house was required. A promising house was found and modified. I casually talked about how we could have a wounded soldier in the tower as an example of what we could do, and then realized I really did want to write a wounded soldier in the tower!

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Ask a Wench for November: Those Wonderful Literary Animals

Joanna here, with Ask a Wench for November.  It’s the Thanksgiving month so celebrating all the wonderful literary animals seems appropriate.

Who’s your favorite literary animal?


Starting out with Anne:

Anne chloeI've always loved animals and, as a child, devoured books about them. Finn the Wolfhound, Wild Brother, Black Beauty, The Silver Brumby series, Kiki the parrot in Enid Blyton's "Mystery" series, Timmy the dog in the Famous Five books who went everywhere with them, and many others. 

But stories about dogs always end with the dog dying, so now I like stories with dogs, but not about them.

Probably my favorite animal in a book is the dog, Ulysses in Heyer's Arabella. A scruffy little mutt who is foisted on the very elegant hero by the soft-hearted Arabella, he quickly takes command of the hero, and his household staff. The conversations between Mr Beaumaris and Ulysses are a delight and reveal another side of the hero.

Here's an example: Mr Beaumaris goes away for a few days, leaving the dog in the care of his servants. But Ulysses fretted and refused to eat, no matter what tasty morsels Beaumaris's French chef had prepared for him. When Beaumaris arrives home, Ulysses is pathetically skinny, and his servants all try to explain.

Mr. Beaumaris, who had picked Ulysses up, paid no heed to all these attempts at self-justification, but addressed himself to his adorer. "What a fool you are!" he observed. "No, I have the greatest dislike of having my face licked, and must request you to refrain. Quiet, Ulysses! quiet! I am grateful to you for your solicitude, but you must perceive that I am in the enjoyment of my customary good health. I would I could say the same of you. You have once more reduced yourself to skin and bone, my friend, a process which I shall take leave to inform you I consider as unjust as it is ridiculous. Anyone setting eyes on you would suppose that I grudged you even the scraps from my table!" He added, without the slightest change of voice, and without raising his eyes from the creature in his arms. "You would also appear to have bereft my household of its sense, so that the greater part of it, instead of providing me with the breakfast I stand in need of, is engaged in excusing itself from any suspicion of blame and – I may add – doing itself no good thereby.”  

I'm attaching a photo of my beloved Chloe-dog, who sat at my feet (often on my feet) while I wrote many of my books. I still miss her. My Milly-dog is lovely, but she is too busy discouraging cat visits and refusing birds landing rights in my back yard (or on my trees) to supervise the writing of a book.


Pat, it turns out, is pro hedgehog: Pat hedgehog from wiki

I add animals to my books for various story purposes—Will Ives talks to his dogs in No Perfect Magic— but my lamentable memory simply doesn’t recall much of animals I’ve read about since my elementary school days. I had no books at home, no one to read me Pooh, and by the time I was in school, I’d progressed far beyond what I would have considered baby stories. I know I enjoyed the Black Beauty books but hated Lassie. I was all about horses back then and even read Zane Grey just for the horses his heroes rode off on.

Pat cover kinsaleRight off, the only “recent” book I recall with a memorable animal was Laura Kinsale’s hedgehog in Midsummer Moon (I need to go back and re-read that book!).

And loyal animals of my own—I had none. I’m not saying I didn’t have pets but that we lived on what was considered a major highway when I was a child. People would drop off animals there, and we’d feed them and after a year or two, they’d disappear. So I never developed any particular bond even after I was an adult and bought a dog for our kids. There’s a character story in there somewhere!



Andrea next, with the fictional animals of childhood:

Andrea pooh
Andrea/Cara: I have a real soft spot in my heart for animals in fiction—I think that’s because as a child, the books that captured my imagination featured so many wonderful furry and feathered creatures as brave, loyal and resourceful characters. There are, of course, the classics like Winnie the Pooh and The Wind in the Willows. Pooh was such a good friend to his raggle-taggle band of buddies. “How do you spell love?” asks Piglet. To which Pooh answers, “You don’t spell it, you feel it!” I also adore his answer to Piglet’s worrying about how to face the challenges of Life: “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem and smarter than you think.” Such a wonderfully supportive friend, and beautifully wise words for all of us to take to heart.

But I think one of my real heartthrobs is Gus the seagull from a lesser-known classic called The Fabulous Andrea fabulous flight
Flight. Robert Lawson was afairly famous children’s book author/illustrator who lived in my small town down a country dirt road at a house called Rabbit Hill. (Named after one of his award-winning books.) As a child, I loved driving past it and thinking of him writing his books in that old New England colonial house. I read them all, (and most featured animals, including Amos, who helped Benjamin Franklin in his many endeavors.) But my absolute favorite of his works was one with Gus and his pal, Peter Peabody Pepperel. Peter, by some strange scientific accident in his father’s lab, is shrunk down to the size of a mouse. Which, it turns out, makes him the perfect size to set off on an adventure to save the world from an evil scientist. Peter’s father grudgingly allows him to take on the mission and makes a small leather cabin (oh, I loved the description of its interior) to strap to Gus’s back. And off they fly . . . .

The story somehow just captivated me. Looking back, I think because it has all the themes that still resonate with me today—the bonds of friendship—even when your best friend is considered weird by everyone else; loyalty; courage, even when you’re afraid; honor . . . and a spirit of adventure and curiosity!  


Nicola Ethel bookshopNicola with a wonderful view on literary favorites. (She's a Shere Khan and Eeyore fan like me) :

It was fun trying to decide on my favourite literary animal and awfully difficult to choose. A lot of my favourites were encountered in childhood and I still love them today, especially Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin. Nutkin was such fun, irrepressible and cheeky. He had the sort of personality I wished I had as a child. Even when he had been chastised with the loss of his tail and was older and wiser he still had a buoyant spirit that couldn’t quite be squashed! He remains a special character to me to this day, perhaps because red squirrels are now so rare in the UK and they are so cute and funny to watch that seeing them is a real joy!

I guess my other childhood favourites also represented aspects of character that I found fascinating, from Shere Khan, the mesmerizingly wicked tiger in The Jungle Book to Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh, who was so gloomy but somehow, funny as well. These days I have my own “literary dog” in Angus as well as a procession of literary guide dog puppies we enjoy taking to book festivals. (The picture shows Ethel visiting an indie bookshop!)



Mary Jo, advocat:

Mary Jo here.  I certainly have my share of feline muses lounging about my desk and channeling creativity from the astral planes.  (I can see three cats from where I'm sitting at my computer, and the fourth probably isn't far away.)

Mjp bet meSince pets strike me as a normal and even necessary part of life, I'm happy to see them in books. Sometimes they are relatively low key, other times they have a vital place in the plot.  Jennifer Crusie has a fine hand with plot pets.  My favorite is Elvis in Bet Me, a splotchy orange and brown cat with one eye closed in a sinister fashion, as if he's a one eyed pirate.  Except he changes eyes, closing sometimes the right, sometimes the left.  He's a con cat. <G>

 He also learns how to turn on Min's stereo so he can listen to Elvis Presley CDs.  When "Love me Tender" comes on, he turns up the volume. Ugly and vaguely scary looking, he is the hero's accidental gift to the heroine, a gift she didn't know she needs.  He brings joy to Min's life, and immediately realizes that her ex-boyfriend is scum.  <G>

 I'm also fond of Crusie's basset hound Fred in Anyone But YouJust divorced Nina goes to the shelter to get a perky puppy to celebrate her new life, and ends up with the lugubrious Fred because he's due to be chopped the next day.  Luckily, Fred is lovable as well as lugubrious, and he finds his way into her heart and her love life in very canine ways. 

Mjp catMost of my stories have cats in them, unless it's a road book, where it would be too hard on the cat. My newest rescue, The Spook, is a ship's cat in the book I just finished, Once a Scoundrel.  He's adept at catching vermin and sleeping on people's bunks. <G>  I'm looking forward to reading about everyone's else's favorite literary pets!




Joanna here.

And my own take, rounding it all up with my wonderful dog Mandy. She came to me in the middle of her doubtless adventurous life, an SPCA stray.

Dog with possum 4

Mandy, protecting the house from a possum

She's a tough, unpretty dog with the personality of a Marine sergeant and an eclectic ancestry. She keeps the perimeter of the camp safe from UPS men and knows exactly when I should get up. Picture me pulling the blankets over my head with a “Not now, Mandy” and Mandy having none of this. Runs a tight ship, Mandy does.

She sleeps six or seven feet away from me when I work. Close enough to keep an eye on me. Distant enough so she can charge headlong against any incoming threat.

I plan to use her, slightly fictionalized, in the next story I’m writing. Still called Mandy, still brown, still uncannily smart.


What about you? Is there a book animal you remember fondly after many years?

What We’re Reading in August

Joanna here:  Season of Mists and Yellow Fruitfulness it may be, but I'm not getting ANY reading done.  You will have heard this excuse before many times. I think I may be the least readingest of all the Wenches. I'm rereading the Lymond Chronicles of Dorothy Dunnett. I'm embarked on the Game of Kings just at the moment. Rereading it is very different from reading it for the first time which was full of "Wow. I want to write that," but also a good bit of "What?" "Huh?" Also beginning and not yet very far into The Natural History of Dragons, of which you have heard other Wenches speak. I'm enjoying it.


Here's what Nicola has to say:

Www here's to usI came back from the Romantic Novelists’ Association conference buzzing with ideas and weighed down with a pile of fabulous books I am now reading my way through. First was Here’s To Us by Elin Hilderbrand. I hadn’t come across her books before; here in the UK they aren’t as well-known as in the US but I am so glad I have found her because I didn’t want to put the book down. I loved the exploration of complicated family relationships, the twists, the tensions and the resolutions. I loved the characters and the way that they interacted and found the writing style so crisp and clear. Even more I loved her descriptions of Nantucket which were so rich and vivid that I felt as though I was there! I’m on the hunt for her otWww2 midsummerher books now.

Next I picked up Midsummer Dreams by Alison May. It’s a clever re-imagining of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream in a contemporary setting. I’m only part of the way through but I am really enjoying the way that Alison has created characters who feel real and warm and alive. It’s funny and poignant and she really pins down the emotional conflicts. As it’s one of a series inspired by Shakespeare I can see myself reading the whole lot!




Anne says:Www3 paris


The story is about a man, Jean Perdu, who runs a bookshop— or what he calls 'a literary apothecary' in a lovely old restored barge on the Seine River in Paris. Jean has a gift for finding just the right book for each customer, a balm for what ails you. He can heal anyone except himself—he's locked in a frozen past (Perdu is French for 'lost')—until a new person arrives in his apartment complex and Jean's frozen present begins to develop cracks. What follows is an adventure of the heart — but be aware, this not genre romance. 

I savored it and, having read a lot of books, enjoyed recognizing the various titles Jean offered his customers. I loved the setting and the layered intrigue of the characters. It's an international best-seller.  I bought it as an e-book, but I'm buying the paper version, as it's a keeper. As Library Journal (who gave it one of their coveted starred reviews) said "if ever a book was meant to be read over and over, this gem is it.


Www7 trsut

You get two covers for the price of one, because different

Www 4 trust

 TRUST by Kylie Scott

Kylie Scott is famous for her gritty rock star series, but this is a new area for her — YA (Young Adult.) TRUST has only been out for a week or two, but it already has several hundred reviews. I devoured it in a night.

Kylie Scott has a gift for putting two fairly ordinary young people in an extraordinary situation, and then showing them learn to cope, and grow stronger from the experience. She has a deep understanding of the pressures and conflict that young people today have to deal with. TRUST is a coming-of-age story, and also a romance. Highly recommended.



I think I picked this up from a wenchly recommendation. Life in a small English village during WW2, when normal village life is challenged and disrupted and people discover new talents and strengths in themselves. I enjoyed it very much.


Andrea/Cara has two books for us, one by a fellow Wench:

I was so happy to receive my copy of Nicola’s The Phantom Tree from Book Depository recently. (It’s not yet out in the U.S. but Book Www5 phantomDepository has free shipping worldwide so you to can snatch it up—which I highly recommend!) It’s a riveting time slip story, with the action moving back and forth between Elizabethan England and the present day. The plot revolves around the heroine seeing a small portrait in a modern-day antique shop that's just created a news buzz by being identified as a lost-lost painting of Anne Boleyn. But the heroine knows that’s wrong . . .
I’m not all that familiar with Tudor times, so I loved learning about the intricate politics and family connections as well as aspects of everyday life. The writing is beautifully evocative—the manor homes like Wolf Hall and the surrounding countryside come brilliantly alive. And the characterizations are richly nuanced, both with the actual historical figures and how they entwine with the fictional ones. Nicola creates a wonderfully provocative “what-if” story for Mary Seymour, who in real life was presumed to have died in childhood. I don’t want to give away too much of the mystery twists . . . But add to the plot the heroine’s former flame, a dishy modern historian who has his own hit TV show, and things heat up as they delve deeper into the mystery of the portrait—which brings about some other surprising revelations! It’s a wonderfully layered and engaging story, and I was up until the wee hours of the morning finishing it because I just couldn’t put it down!
Www6 bobOn a very different note, I also enjoyed My Life With Bob, whose subtitle is: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues. It’s part memoir, part musing on books by by Pamela Paul, the editor of the New York Times Book Review. As a shy, introverted high school student, she started to keep a notebook of every book she read, and over the last 28 years, she's kept it up, hauling the tattered volume around the world with her as she goes on life’s journeys, both physically and metaphorically. I like the way the official blurb describes it: "It’s about the deep and powerful relationship between book and reader . . . It’s about why we read what we read and how those choices make us who we are. It’s about how we make our own stories.” There are times when she gets a little too self-consciously precious, but on the whole, it’s a fun, provocative read about how books shape our lives, providing solace, inspiration, escape, and often a prod to be better than we think we can be. And really, who among our Wench family here can resist a book about books!


So, what are you reading lately that delights, surprises, moves or intrigues you?



What We’re Reading in June

Hi. Joanna here. It's a great line-up this month.

Wench burnable book holsinger 2Andrea/Cara first up:

I’m a sucker for historical mysteries, especially ones that ihave arcane books involved in the plot. So when I happened to read a blurb on this, I couldn’t resist. But before I go on, I have a confession to make: I’ve been madly scrambling to finish a project, so haven’t had quite as much time for reading as usual. So I’m not all that far along in this book, but am liking it enough to recommend it. 

The Burnable Book. Here’s the lead blurb on the cover flap: In Chaucer's London, betrayal, murder, royal intrigue, mystery, and dangerous politics swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England's kings.

Maybe you can see right away why I was hooked. The author, Bruce Holsinger, is a professor of Medieval History, and already the ambiance of London—from the court intrigues to the stews—is really well-done. The style is a little edgy, but I’m liking the main protagonist a lot. A friend of Geoffrey Chaucer, and fellow poet, John Gower has been asked to find a stolen book that may bring down the monarchy. If you’re looking to immerse  yourself in London of Richard II, come join me in turning the pages!

And, with a wonderful, comforting set of books, Mary Jo: Wench Copper Beach

When I'm deep into writing a new book, I often reread comfort books because I know I'll enjoy them and there isn't the stress of hunting down new books and maybe not finding something I like.  So–currently rereading Jayne Ann Krentz romantic suspense novels.  I love her Arcane series, where characters have paranormal, psychic type abilities that are both blessing and curse.  WHITE LIES is a particular favorite, where the heroine can always tell if someone is lying.  This is a decidedly mixed blessing.  <G>

But my current reread is the Dark Legacy duo, COPPER BEACH and DREAM EYES.  JAK seldom does families, but the heroes of these two books are brothers, which is fun.  Sam Coppersmith, hero of Copper Beach, is the lab guy who is a genius at manipulating crystal energy.  When paranormal book finder Abby Radwell needs help, she is sent to him and sparks fly.  Quite literally. <G>

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