Be Warned: These are the scribblings of a writer unruly, unsupervised, and largely unrepentant

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Confessions of a Romance Writer

I have a confession. Well, several actually.

            One of my worst habits is reading the last page of a book first. I know, I know! I'm awful. What about the suspense, you say? I can hear my sister screaming at me, "JAYYYYNNNE."

            Suspense, schmense. I don't do well with surprises.

            The truth is, I tend to get a better feel as to whether or not I'll enjoy the book if I read the last page -- or at least the last paragraph. So I cheat. I can always pretend I haven't read it, can't I?

            Second confession -- sometimes I skim read. I feel very guilty about this one because, as a writer myself, I know how much work goes into a book, so I ought to do the author justice by reading every word. But I'm an impatient reader and I like to be drawn thoroughly into the story. If that's not happening then I'll start to skim.

            Third confession -- I'm a dreadfully picky reader. If there is one line that seems wrong to me, that's pretty much the book finished, because I won't be able to forget it. If there's animal cruelty in the book, I'm done. If it's set in England and the author has used too many American terms, I'm done. If its historical and there are too many anachronisms, I'm done. If it's a book with a storyline that's too predictable, too "trendy", or been done too often, I'm done.

           So, being fully aware of my own shameful sins as a reader, when I write my own books, I do my best to prevent any other "JAYYYNNNE"s from skimming, rolling their eyes, or spoiling the story by guessing ahead. When they pick up one of my books I want them to think, "Ooh this sounds different and interesting", then to read every word and enjoy it. And when they get to the end, I want to leave them thinking about the story and the characters for at least a little while longer.         

            I've always flirted with the idea of writing a book that could be read by starting at any chapter and then reading in a circle --especially to thwart those who, like me, flip to the last page first. Ha! What if a book could be begun anywhere in the story and still enjoyed?
            Well, with The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora, I think I made a good effort at writing a story just crazy enough for the chapters be read out of order and still make sense by the end. I was tempted, in fact, to put the chapter numbers all over the place, but I'm not sure the publisher --or the editor-- would have appreciated my little joke.   

            Hmm. I have no doubt a psychiatrist would have something to say about my slightly masochistic desire to keep readers on their toes and spinning like Misty Copeland or Darcey Bussell.            

            But it's for their own good. I wouldn't want them to end up like me, huddled by the library shelf, sneakily perusing final pages and convincing themselves that it's all ok.

            Because sometimes, my friend, the last page is only the beginning.

Find my newest release and an excerpt here -  The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Character Showcase - Lady Flora

I'm afraid I cannot tell you much about her, or it might give the story away. Suffice to say there are two Lady Floras. Maybe more. And all disgracefully behaved. So instead of a showcase today, here is an excerpt from The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora.


 * * * *

            Gesturing impatiently over her head, he followed her out into the hall, leaving the wide doors open so that the two of them remained within sight of the others, but not close enough to be overheard.

            "It is not necessary to show your gratitude in person, Lady Flora. Surely our solicitor explained everything to you." He bowed his head an inch toward her, as if he spoke to a six year-old who must be told they couldn't have trifle and should be satisfied with gruel. "Is there some part of it that you did not understand, madam?"
          "Your grace, I'm afraid I understand none of it. I have never been so confused in my life, and that is saying a very great deal, for I've been in some dreadful pickles, I can tell you. And may we please have an ordinary conversation between two people? Whenever you refer to yourself as "we", I feel as if I address an entire battalion instead of one man, and it's most disconcerting."

            He glanced over at the others inside the library and then back to her. "Very well. I suppose you wonder why I am so willing to take you on as a wife, but a man of my position has many burdens and responsibilities to shoulder. Marriage is simply another and the sooner it is done the better. Your family is most eager to have you settled and their haste suits my plans. Further, we...I do not ask for a great dowry, which I believe will please them." He cleared his throat. "I thought a July wedding, here in the chapel at Castle Malgrave, would be most convenient. After the London season is completed and before the grouse shooting. A very small number of guests—" He paused, frowning down at her. "I am sure this is all most astonishing and gratifying to a young person such as yourself, Lady Flora, but please moderate your expression. The folk within might think me in the throes of an obscene suggestion."

            She meant to laugh, but it came out of her in an unladylike snort. "They wouldn't be far wrong, would they?"

            His scowl hesitated and then deepened. "I do not have the pleasure of understanding."

            "You cannot possibly imagine a marriage between us would be a good idea. Are you quite mad? You must be!" After all, she'd done everything possible to dissuade him, whenever Great Aunt Bridget looked the other way. She thought it was working wonderfully, until this happened. "Besides, I am far too young to think of marriage."

            "Seventeen is perfectly adequate. Many women your age are already mothers. There is nothing—"

            "But you're not in love with me, are you?"

            "What the devil difference does that make?"

            "Precisely. If you were an ordinary fellow, who earned his way in life, you would understand. You would learn that things do not simply happen because you click your fingers and command them to."

            His eyes narrowed, nostrils flared. She'd seen stallions kept too long in the horse boxes that looked like that. "Explain yourself, madam."

            "Plumm said you mean to manage me. You, your grace, feel adequate to that task, do you?"

            His head tilted slightly, confusion slowly finding a tighter hold on his countenance. "Your faults are many, your behavior in need of correction, but it is not solely your fault. I know your parents died when you were young and of an impressionable age. Since then your family has neither guarded nor guided you well. I'm sure the uncertainty must have made life difficult for you. I can give you discipline, stability and order where they—what's the matter now? You look as if you might be sick."

            She clutched her throat. "Please say nothing to my great aunt about this. She'd never forgive me for spurning such a romantic proposition. Promise me you will say nothing to her."

            Now, for the first time within the short span of their acquaintance, she observed a slight crack in his polished armor. A face unaccustomed to self-doubt and rejection could not be prepared with any expression to hide that moment of panic when he felt the floor falling out from under his conceited boots. Possibly for the very first time in his self-assured life, no servant could prevent his discomfort.

            "Am I to understand that you... you refuse me, madam?"

            "I most certainly do, you poor, dear, misguided thing."

            She looked into the library again and seeing that they were slyly observed by several pairs of eyes, gave a jaunty smile and waved. Immediately they all looked away again, prim and appalled by her casual, irreverent ways.

            "I shall not stay for supper, your grace. I suppose it wouldn't be proper now, but may I take some cake for the journey and for my brother, Francis, who is home from school and has so very little enjoyment? Bessie Bentinck says your cook makes very good lemon cakes. I have been in the greatest anticipation of tasting the delight since we got here and yet there were none served last night at dinner with the syllabub. But I ...I think there might be some in the larder. I think. Perhaps. Somebody mentioned something about it..."

            The young man before her seemed suddenly to grow an extra few inches in height and he had already towered over her. Swallowed up by his shadow she took an uneasy step sideways along the wall. 

            "Cakes?" he muttered.

            "Yes, you know, the sweet, sugary—"

            "I know what cake is, madam." He followed her along the passage.

            "Surely you cannot deny a girl lemon cakes, especially not when you keep the best French cook in England."

            "I begin to think that is the only reason you accepted my invitation to Castle Malgrave."

            "Well, I..." She laughed uneasily, hands clasped before her.

            "I see." He raised his chin to look down from an even greater height. "And in London last week at the Bentinck's party, when I spoke to you at some length on the subject of marriage and its benefits, surely you knew what I was about. I am highly unlikely to strike up a conversation with a young lady about marriage merely to pass the time of day."

            "I assumed you spoke in jest on that occasion, your grace. That was before I realized all your stories are very dull. I waited for the good part."

            "A jest?" His eyes darkened. "You stood next to me for seven and twenty minutes anticipating the conclusion of a joke?"

             "I do love a good laugh."

            He swayed backward and made an odd sound, like a bag of flour landing on a hard surface. Two fingers curled against his brow as if to wipe away an invisible mark. "It seems I have inadvertently given you one."

            She felt sorry then, for although the Duke of Malgrave was a pompous arse it couldn't all be his fault. It seemed likely he had never learned to laugh at himself, whereas she'd had plenty of practice at that sport. At that moment she actually liked him a little— more than she had done before. Much more than she would have thought possible just a few weeks ago when they first met...

* * * *

Find out what happens next (and the mischief that leads to this ill-advised proposal) on May 23rd! You can pre-order your copy now here -- Amazon 
Image: Aphrodite by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Friday, May 18, 2018

Character Showcase: Fortitudo Maximilian Fairfax-Savoy

            The Duke of Malgrave, Fortitudo Maximilian Fairfax-Savoy,(known by his very few close friends as Maxim) is the reluctant hero of The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora. He is also occasionally named 'Fred', but only one person in his entire life ever calls him that. Only she would ever dare.

            Born to the fifth Duke of Malgrave, and the only surviving son and heir to a vast estate, he has grown up carrying many burdens and responsibilities on his shoulders. He cannot afford to fail, since there is no 'spare' to take his place, until he has a healthy son of his own. Everything he does, therefore, must be for the good of his estate, and he has known this from boyhood. At only sixteen, he inherited the title and property following the sudden death of his father, and since then his life has never deviated from that staid path laid out by the demands of duty and tradition.

* * * *

            Fortitudo Maximilian Fairfax-Savoy was not prone to folly. Indeed, even the purchase of new cannons for his tin soldiers when he was seven and a quarter had required a list of pros and cons. As for pranks, he had no taste for them, having been the unfortunate target of several cruel jests in his early school days.

            No, the sixth Duke of Malgrave made no move without giving every potential consequence grave consideration beforehand. Usually.

* * * *
         Then, one day, walking late into a party and stumbling unexpectedly into a game of Blind Man's Bluff, he finds himself being mauled by an irreverent young woman in a blindfold. And from that moment onward his life is never quite the same again.
* * * *

            As she fell against his chest, her questing, ungloved fingers running over his startled face, Maxim, who had never known an indignity like it, was rendered irately speechless, until she cried out, "Is it Whitworth, the butler? Or—oh!— a wooden hat stand? I feel a protuberance!"

            With her laughing breath blowing soft by his cheek and some very delightful parts pressed against his torso, Maxim had suffered a most inconvenient reaction.

            Setting her swiftly away from him— removing the temptation— he'd managed a tight reply, "No, madam, it is the Duke of Malgrave, and might I inquire what you think you are about, stroking my face?"

            At once her blindfold came up and the laughter was snuffed like a candle flame between two dampened fingertips. He had a habit of causing that effect. Even among his peers, Maxim's presence brought the shadow of an older gentleman come to spoil their game. He didn't know why. Perhaps it was something to do with his own childhood and the fact that he'd spent much of it alone, when he wasn't away at a grim boarding school. There, a "game" consisted of swimming from one end of an ice cold lake to the other, and, if one came last, receiving ten strikes of the cane and no supper. Incentive to excel, they called it.

            Never, since then, had he participated in anything to which there was neither a clear victor nor any apparent point. Or any sport he could not win.

            But this particular sport was new to him.

            Of course he'd had experience of women— it was a necessity of life— but nothing quite like this. Nobody who felt quite like this. Nobody who laughed like this.

            The young woman, with those prying hands tucked hastily behind her back, had let out a disappointed gasp and then a belated curtsey. "Your grace. Forgive my impertinence." Then she turned away to chuckle with her equally addled young companions. She did not look at him again. Not even a coy glance from under her lashes.

            Of course, he was never "pretty" in the effeminate way that was fashionable for young men of the time. He did not wear wigs, powder and perfumes. He did not cover himself in patterned silk, diamond rings and affected manners. That tortuous boarding school he attended as a boy might have "toughened" him up, but it did nothing for his social graces, and nobody else dare attempt to file down his awkward, sharp edges. He had never been one to waste his time practicing poetry, riddles, or asinine and "witty" banter. But he had no need for these things, even as a young man. With his reputation for an uncompromising, unforgiving temper and ruthless success already in all his endeavors, nobody looked to Fortitudo Maximilian Fairfax-Savoy for a joke.

            To his relief, the blindfold and the game had been set aside and respectable, dignified conversation took over. But Lady Flora and a group made up of the livelier guests went off to the far side of the room, setting up the card table for some further entertainment of their own. Much noise soon ensued from that quarter, and although he successfully fought the urge to turn and look at her again, he found the husky tenor of her laughter most distracting.

            From then on she had steadily invaded his tidy world, running through it like a puppy with one of his gloves in its mouth.  Deliberately— or so he assumed— seeking his attention.

            Maxim generally rationed his attendance at social engagements. "I am too busy and have too many duties pending," he would say, "to lurk in an over-heated room and do nothing for several hours but listen to the ramblings of imbeciles."

            He was, however, aware of the need for a wife and, subsequently, heirs for the estate. It was one of those "duties pending".

            So this year he had put himself out more often, accepting invitations he would once have consigned directly to his dressing room fire. Several of his acquaintances had recently commented on the duke's livelier social calendar, and he had just realized himself that the change was entirely due to one woman.

            Newly awoken to the novelty of this strange, unlikely attraction, he began studying Lady Flora Chelmsworth as wife potential.

* * * *
            But are his plans destined for disaster? Is he about to hear the word "no" for the first time in his life? And what will be the consequences for both the duke and Lady Flora?

            Find out on Wednesday, May 23rd!
Image: Portrait of George Fitzroy, 4th Duke of Grafton (Artist unknown)
and "Young Boy Feeding His Pet Rabbit" by Henry Raeburn c. 1756

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Character Showcase -- The Dowager Duchess

The mother of our hero in The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora has, on the surface, great concerns for the Malgrave estate. In the beginning of our story she is determined that her son will not marry the "unsuitable" woman he has chosen.

"I did not spend twenty years as mistress of this estate to see it handed over to an unworthy chit with no sense of decorum or dignity, and no appreciation for centuries of tradition."

But her concerns are not all about the estate . She is a woman with scant kindness in her soul, steered by her own petty feuds and selfish needs, truly caring for little beyond her own comfortable place in life and the preservation of it. She was raised to value her own survival and prosperity beyond that of anybody else and she is constantly on her guard against those who threaten her tidy status quo. She has no interest in the lives of those she considers inferior to herself. Even her only son is barely noticed by her, until he has some hope of happiness on his horizon. And then, if it seems likely to interfere in her own contentment, she must meddle until it is dashed beyond repair.

From the moment of his birth, she never wanted to hold her son. The pain, inconvenience and indignity of the entire proceeding was too much for her and she blames him for all of it -- even for the forceps used to pry him out of her. He is the only surviving child born of her arranged, loveless marriage to the duke. Since he is the heir "without spare", she constantly puts pressure on his shoulders, reminding him of the need to work quickly in providing the estate with his own son and heir. But the woman he chooses to breed must be perfect, of course -- of excellent pedigree, virtuous, well-behaved and obedient. Not an outspoken, rebellious, flirtatious troublemaker.
If a woman wants to get things done her own way, she must do so slyly and behind the scenes, but apparently nobody has told that to Lady Flora Chelmsworth, who is disturbingly honest and straightforward.

The dowager, naturally, means to be remove this revolutionary from her son's line of sight as swiftly and ruthlessly as possible. He ought to know his duty to the estate and not be tempted by his "trouser wick" to wander from the path. The young duke has always been a creature ruled by his head, rather than any other part, so this entire affair is a mystery to his mother. What does he see in that wretched girl?

 But she is familiar with the Chelmsworth family of opportunists and crooks -- not to mention the girl's great aunt, who once stole away one of the dowager's lovers and a sapphire necklace that should have been hers. With that devious family pulling the wool over his eyes, she does not trust in her son to see sense before it is too late. After all, he is something of an innocent when it comes to women and their scheming ways. Or so she thinks, not aware of the fact that her son has studied her for one and twenty years, gathering all the material he needs about treacherous females.

 It will be necessary, she decides,  to get her claws out and fight dirty. Entirely for the good of the estate, of course.

She reckons, however, without the equally determined efforts of Halfpenny Plumm, her son's devoted servant, who is just as dedicated to the duke's happiness as she is to ensuring he has none.

* * * *

The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora coming next Wednesday!

(Image: Mary Robinson as Perdita by John Hoppner)

Monday, May 14, 2018

Character Showcase - Goody Applegate

Goody Applegate is an elderly lady who, at one time in the heroine's youth, was her guardian. She lives in a quiet, out-of-the-way cottage, surrounded by fruit trees and a lush garden of vegetables and herbs — all of which she uses to make her splendid wine. The bottles of this magical elixir are kept on a shelf in her long, narrow pantry, each one colorfully labeled with painted images of the ingredients within. Our heroine has fond memories of watching Goody Applegate make her wine. She often thinks of that pantry with the neat row of bottles and their pretty, water-color labels, over which such time was taken and love given.

 Goody Applegate and her self-sufficient, hard-working but tranquil lifestyle, is a great inspiration to our heroine as she matures into a woman and finds her own way to happiness.

But when the grown-up Lady Flora seeks to reunite with her guardian, she just cannot seem to find her or even locate the village in which she once lived. Her last memory of Goody Applegate is of the lady, on a foggy day, sending her off into the custody of newly-found, very fine relatives, while whispering encouragement and a warning.

 "It is time for another adventure. Now, you must be a proper lady and keep your shoes on. This world to which you go now is very different to the one you knew before, but you will soon find it just as familiar."

She had not realized back then that her new life would turn out quite so remarkable and she yearns to tell her old guardian all about it. But will she ever see Goody Applegate again or is that dear lady lost in the past -- a place that has become increasingly puzzling to her as memories return that seem highly unlikely?

 Was Goody Applegate ever there at all, or is she merely a construct of Lady Flora's imagination? Her relatives now deny the woman's existence. Yet the inspiration she gave her protégée remains a strong guiding force in Flora's life, leading her, at last, to find happiness and love.
You can read more about Goody Applegate in The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora -- coming next Wednesday!

Image: Girl with a Tray by Philip Mercier (1689-1760)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Character Showcase - Ha'Penny Plumm

            Master Plumm is the loyal, hard-working solicitor (often also looked down upon by certain folk as a "dogsbody") of our reluctant hero in The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora. He is also a partial narrator of the story, a man of many secrets and machinations. And a bit of a romantic, which nobody would ever guess by looking at him.

            "For a man who looked as if he might be falling apart, his stuffing oozing out at the seams and his clothing possibly rescued from a house fire in a less elegant part of town, Halfpenny Plumm possessed a remarkably strong sense of self-preservation and a whip-smart cunning. He knew how to work the slyest of contrivances to benefit himself and keep his master contented, all while he seemed— in the eyes of an unfamiliar observer— to be a patient that wandered by accident from the nearest asylum.

            He had the sort of mulligrubs demeanor that really only looked at home in London drizzle; might have been created by it, all the lines formed in his face by the constant drip of rainwater..."

             Born in poverty to a woman who preferred raising her gin bottle to raising her many children, Halfpenny Plumm started out with very little in his favor, and at one time seemed destined for a life of crime. And a brief one, at that. But as a young boy his fortunes took a turn for the better, when his plight came to the attention of a benevolent and wealthy gentleman of the nobility. Plucked out of the Marshalsea Prison and saved from the gallows, Plumm was granted the opportunity of an education and, with it, a second chance. He has never forgotten that kindness and now seeks to repay it in any way that he can.

            "For five years Halfpenny Plumm had faithfully served the sixth Duke of Malgrave, and for twelve years before that he had served the young man's father. He had a reputation for getting things done the way his masters wanted them, enforcing their every will and fancy — not that there had been many "fancies" on the young duke's part..."
            When Plumm is given the task of getting the young duke a bride, he quickly realizes that this will be his greatest challenge to date. His master, you see, having already chosen the woman he wants, anticipates no problem whatsoever. The sixth duke has never been refused anything in his one and twenty years, so why would he expect that to change? But Plumm fears the worst, for this chosen young lady is the very opposite of his stern and somber master. Everything about this proposal shouts disaster, apparently, to everybody but the duke himself.

             "Plumm and his master had only known her for a matter of weeks and yet it was already patently clear— to one of them at least— that Lady Flora Chelmsworth grabbed life for herself with both hands, after she'd run over it, traveling at speed, forward or backward; that she did not wait for anything to be acquired for her, and she enjoyed a very lively perspective that was seldom upright and steady, but taken from all manner of precarious views. Furthermore, she appeared to have formed opinions of the world and a woman's place in it, that had no foundation in real life.

            And her fiery collision was now imminent with that sturdy, immoveable, brick-lined icehouse known as the Duke of Malgrave. Plumm rather suspected the icehouse would come out of this with the greater injury and yet it was his responsibility to keep that structure free from scrapes of any kind..."

             When the inevitable failure strikes, it grieves Plumm greatly. He decides to do all in his power to reverse calamity and get the duke exactly what he wants. One way or another. However long it might take.

            After all, having known the benefit himself, he is a great believer in second chances.


* * * *

READ MORE in The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora - Coming May 23rd!
Image: The painting Le Discret by Joseph Ducreux c.1791

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Coming up!

When a playful and blindfolded Lady Flora Chelmsworth collides, literally, with the arrogant and staid Duke of Malgrave— subsequently manhandling his person and mistaking him for a butler— it is not an auspicious beginning. Assuming she hasn't made the best of impressions, Flora is shocked and alarmed when he soon proposes marriage. And with her troubles, she can only decline the offer.

 For one thing, she's not the woman he thinks she is. For another, she's not even sure that she knows who she is. Her past, as she remembers it, contains blood-thirsty pirates, Covent Garden concubines and a babe in a hatbox. And that's just the beginning. Or one of them. It wouldn't be fair to marry this very proper and painfully dignified gentleman, whose life is loaded with duties and responsibilities, his past free of mystery, scandal and misadventure.

 Rejected by the impertinent chit, his pride wounded, Malgrave should forget this curious bump in his usually well-planned path. Unfortunately, getting ahead of himself—unaccustomed to refusal—he has prematurely commissioned her palm-sized portrait. Anonymously, of course, for discretion's sake. Now, hidden in some secret place, where only he shall ever see it, her replica will serve as both a reminder of that humiliating mistake and a caution against similar temptations.

Little does he know that Lady Flora's miniature portrait will also one day bring her spinning back to his arms. From a far greater distance than he could ever imagine. Several hundred years, in fact.

* * * *

Catch your copy of The Peculiar Pink Toes of Lady Flora on May 23rd!