December 2010

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18 Dec I-11

Not much to say for myself for the past week—most of it was spent taking care of Cressie, running her back and forth to the vet, doing water lavage twice a day, taking her out on a leash forty-leven times a day, and worrying terribly over her. She is actually doing very well, walking on the leg quite normally, and to all appearances worrying much less than I am. I love the picture above, of her Snoopy-dancing (look at how her hind feet are blurred just like Snoopy’s are in the cartoons) under the squirrel-tree. I hope she’ll be doing that again soon.

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11 Dec I-10

Well, one of those roller-coaster weeks this past week.

First, the winner of the free copy of Death of a Dancing Master is Penny Tuttle! Yay, Penny! I’ve sent your email address on to Marilyn and she’ll send you your book.

The bad news of the week: poor Cressie hurt herself badly yesterday in the course of an early morning chase through the back yard. What she and Boo were chasing, I’ll never know—it was still pitch dark and all I could hear was normal beagle barking. I had gone to the door to coax them in, because it was a little too early for that—and then a yelp of shock and pain. Cressie came hobbling out of the darkness on three legs, crying and trailing blood. The Broadcasting Legend™ and I bundled her instantly into the car and took off in the dark for the emergency vet’s. Upshot: her left front leg was torn open right where it joins her chest, and her cephalid vein severed. Many stitches and fluids. Very fortunate we got her in as quickly as we did. She came home last night, bandaged to a fare-thee-well and still pretty woozy. She’s up and about this morning (you can see the little baggie over the paw-end of her bandage to protect it when we go out) and more alert.

The vet didn’t think it looked like a bite wound, although we’ve had some pretty aggressive wild critters in the back yard from time to time. We have gone over the back yard with a fine-tooth comb, trying to figure out how she could have hurt herself so terribly. We may never know. She certainly scared both of us half to death, and it may be a while before I let them out into the yard in the dark, unsupervised. I thought they were safe in our own securely-fenced back yard!

The good news of the week: a book club deal! The Second Duchess has been selected as a featured alternate for the Literary Guild, the Mystery Guild, the Doubleday Book Club, and the Book of the Month Club Online. Hooray for Barbara and Alfonso!

What I am reading: Cold Granite by Stuart MacBride. It’s way outside my usual comfort zone and I’m not sure what I think of it yet…

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06 Dec Death of a Dancing Master

A guest post today, from my friend M.E. Kemp. It’s okay, just call her Marilyn. Her new historical mystery, Death of a Dancing Master, was released this month, and I asked her to expand a little on the purity—or lack of same—of the Puritans…

Cracking the Stereotype
by M.E. Cook

I write an historical mystery series featuring two nosy Puritans as detectives. I chose Boston Puritans partly as a reaction to all the medieval mysteries that popped up after Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael series. American history is just as bloody and colorful as medieval Britain’s, I believe. I also knew that Puritans were supposed to keep an eye on their neighbors to keep them on the straight and narrow path, and nosy is a primary quality for a good detective. Another reason I wanted to write about Puritans was to set the record straight. Few peoples have been so stereotyped, even today. They may have tried to keep each other on the straight and narrow path, but they certainly didn’t always succeed.

If you want to see a painting of elegant clothing dripping with exquisite laces in shades of primrose, apple green or violet, look at a portrait of a Colonial—often Puritan—man. (Women weren’t far behind —early on they decided they would wear the latest fashions from London and Paris based on fashion dolls their sea-captain husbands brought them.) We forget that the first Puritans of Boston were actually Elizabethans, born and raised in that robust era. Eat, drink and be lusty —that was their motto, and our Colonial ancestors enjoyed themselves. It was the Victorian era that took all the fun out of life.

Tavern bills show the enormous appetites for food and drink that even a gathering of ministers enjoyed. Your average Puritan cleric could drink our most accomplished modern lushes under the table. No dainty appletinis for them. One special drink was made of rum, beer, molasses and breadcrumbs! Hearts of oak and stomachs of lead. Water wasn’t safe to drink —even tots drank hard cider on a daily basis. As for sex, they were probably more upfront about sex than we are. We’ve all heard about the bundling board. One man bragged that he “had” the miller’s wife four times a day—a “lusty big man,” he was called, and fined for adultery. On the other hand, the letters between Governor John Winthrop and his wife Margaret, who was left behind in England because she was far advanced in pregnancy, are touching and romantic.

Men and women remarried almost as soon as the coffin was lowered into the ground. Diarist Samuel Sewall was in his sixties and vigorously courting a wealthy widow, but she rejected him because he wouldn’t keep a carriage. Famous cleric Cotton Mather got himself into a romantic jam when he, a recent widower, was pursued by a much younger woman. Ministers were the rock stars of the day.

Puritans ate, drank, loved—and danced. My latest book, Death of a Dancing Master, is based upon the travails of a real dancing master in Boston. He wasn’t found with a sword in his gut but he was hounded and harassed by magistrates and ministers until he was driven from Boston. I thought to myself, think of all the suspects if the dancing master were found murdered! Think of all the angry husbands! I couldn’t resist knocking the poor fellow off.

I grew up in New England —my roots are deep, beginning in Salem in 1636. Boston is my favorite city, with much of the same seventeenth-century feel to parts of it. And there are no lack of resources —Puritans were great writers, chroniclers and diarists, with many of the great nineteenth-century historians fascinated by them. I present them as the real people they were, with the foibles and fancies of people today, except they dressed better than we do. If I crack a few stereotypes about them, I’ve done my job.

Win a free copy of Death of a Dancing Master! Just leave a comment on this blog post, and this time I’ll have Boo pick the winner. Contest ends Friday, December 10, 2010, and the winner will be announced next Saturday.

Death of a Dancing Master is also available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or through your local independent book store.

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04 Dec I-9

Random quote from my private journal:

I have three elements to my work—three strands. Writing, reading, and promotion. I should call it something other than “promotion.” Connecting. Making friends. Socializing. Heh. But that’s actually what it is. Getting out in the world. I could visualize all this as taking place in three settings—my sunny, private office, full of plants and inspiring pictures, where no one bothers me and I can write with the beagles curled up at my feet; a comfortable chair by a window with a tall glass of iced tea and a stack of books on the table beside me; and a busy, colorful marketplace rather like the wonderful old Olla Podrida in North Dallas, or Guadalupe Street in Austin, or Scarborough Faire down in Waxahatchie. Or a fantasy eastern bazaar. This represents kind of a progression of interaction, too—my writing room is completely private, while the reading nook is out in the house where other people sometimes wander by, and the worldwide bazaar is crammed with interesting people, some I know and millions I don’t.

My motivate-myself links of the week (which might help you motivate yourself as well):

The Willpower Engine: The Tipping Point of a Habit

Illuminated Mind: When You Have Everything You Need But Think You Don’t

Answer to question: what do the weird combinations of “I” and numbers mean in my post titles? It’s just shorthand for “Volume I, number 9.” I think I’ll start volume II with my first post in January.