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10 Jul Viewpoint Adventures

I wrote The Second Duchess in first person—actually, in dual first-person viewpoints. I deliberately chose to write Barbara in the first person because the book started out as a historical mystery, and in mysteries the first-person sleuth is more common than not. The book, of course, went on to become as much romance and “opulent intrigue” (a phrase used to describe Duchess by one of my crit group members, which I love) and character study as it was mystery, but Barbara’s first-person voice remained. Lucrezia, the second viewpoint character, sprang to the page in first person and never looked back.

That said—I am writing The Silver Casket in third person. It’s a bigger, longer, slightly grittier, more complex story and it needs a wider view. Even so, it’s hard to feel my way out of the close, heart-and-mind intimacy of first person and into the slightly more detached third person. Even a very tight, very subjective third person still means I’m looking over my character’s shoulder and not inside her skin. It’s disconcerting. I’ve found her—my lovely farouche floromancer Rinette—and I want to be one with her.

I suspect I will write the first few chapters both ways, and perhaps some strange combination of the two, until I find the right path.

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08 Jul Beagle Ears and Chocolate

When one is under stress, what are the two best remedies in the whole wide world?

Beagle ears and triple-chocolate brownies! Stress? What stress?

Beagle ears and chocolate!

I have to give the Broadcasting Legend™ credit. He’s the one who, when asked to “pick up a box of brownie mix,” selected the industrial-size triple-chocolate Ghirardelli bake-for-the-whole-town carton pictured. (It actually contains six normal-sized brownie mixes.)

I hasten to assure everyone that no beagle was actually given anything chocolate to eat in the course of this picture-taking session. A few perfectly healthy Innova kibbles sufficed to get their attention. And the outtakes are hilarious. I do have to share one:

Boo, on the sidelines and begging his little heart out

While I was taking pictures of Cressie, poor Boo was on the sidelines, begging his little heart out. Awwwww! (He got some kibbles too.)

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04 Jul Farouche

Farouche, by Leora LongThe introduction of this Nina Ricci perfume was my introduction to the word farouche. It is from the French, and means in general wild and shy and somewhat awkward, with an element of the outdoors. Its etymology dates to Old French forasche, from Late Latin forasticus, living outside, from Latin foras outdoors.

It is the one perfect word to describe my new heroine, Marina Leslie, called Rinette by her French mother. She has grown up mostly abandoned by her courtier parents, running wild in a crumbling Scottish castle with gardens by the sea, and she is farouche down to her bones—shy, willful, deeply connected to her beloved flowers, to wild animals, to the sea, and desperately ill-at-ease in formal or social situations. How does she end up at the deathbed of Mary of Guise, regent of Scotland, the single person that gallant and beleaguered queen trusts with an enigmatic and priceless secret? And what happens next?

Farouche the perfume incorporates top notes of mandarin orange, galbanum, peach and bergamot; middle notes are honeysuckle, carnation, iris, lily, clary sage, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley, rose, geranium and cardamom; base notes are sandalwood, amber, musk, oakmoss and vetiver. I think I will have Rinette concoct her own perfume with some of these elements. Just the list sets me dreaming. It’s unfortunate Farouche has gone out of fashion and is no longer readily available. It is definitely the official perfume of my new book.

The photograph of the gorgeous Farouche bottle by Lalique is from print ads around the time of the perfume’s debut, and was taken by Leora Long.

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30 Jun Waiting

Waiting and hoping... for bunnies!I’ve been doing lots of waiting lately. In the meantime, I’ve been:

Writing: The first chapter of my new book. Actually I’ve been doing so much research and planning that I’m only doodling with actual narrative, a line here, a snatch of dialogue there. I’m definitely an outliner and I need a detailed plan with a lot of associated research and background before my stories form themselves into write-down-able words. The upside of this is that once the characters and setting and shape of the story are firmly fixed in what passes for my mind, the words themselves pour out.

Reading: actually re-reading. The World is Not Enough by Zoë Oldenbourg. Originally published in French as Argile et Cendres, translated into English by Willard R. Trask. One of my favorite historical novels of all time.

Also reading: Mary of Guise in Scotland, 1548-1560: A Political Career, by Pamela E. Ritchie. One of those satisfying combinations of reading for research and reading for pleasure.

Cooking: sautéed chicken breasts to be sliced over salads. I think I’ve discovered the secret to perfect tender sautéed chicken breasts: marinate or season to taste, then sauté the presentation side on high heat for three to four minutes, depending on the thickness of the breast. Creates beautiful color. Then reduce heat to low, turn the breast over, cover, and cook the second side twice as long as you did on the first side. Remove from pan and let rest for five minutes or so before slicing.

Eating: well, drinking, actually. A delicious wine sent to me by my friend, mystery writer Dana Fredsti. It’s Chariot’s Gypsy 2007, a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Sangiovese from California vineyards. Unfortunately we don’t have Trader Joe’s in Texas, or this would become my co-favorite red wine with Roditis.

Walking: early mornings and late evenings because of the 100° heat. There’s nothing like walking with a beagle or two to take one’s mind off… well… waiting.

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18 Jun The Natural Garden

This year I’m rocking a natural, low-maintenance garden. After reading The $64 Tomato, I decided I’d just stick in my plants, water them every morning, and see what happened.

Come on, tomatoes, ripen!

From every blossom, a cucumber.
So far it’s working. The tomato plants are strong and sturdy (well, other than the one “Early Girl” that Cressie trampled), with burgeoning fruit and blossoms. The cucumber vines are exploding, twining up their posts with a little help from some plastic tape, and covered with bright yellow blossoms as well.

As you can see, grass and weeds abound. I whack off a little grass every so often, but that’s all. I didn’t rototill, didn’t fertilize. So far I’ve spent $23.28 for six tomato plants (I’ll have to charge Cressie’s account for the plant she broke off) and $2.95 for a packet of cucumber seeds. So even if I only get one tomato, I’ll still be doing better than the $64-tomato guy!

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13 Jun There’s a Long Long Trail A-Winding

Happy trails to me...A Google trail, that is. I’m stealing an idea from my friend and fellow Shrinking Violet P.J. Hoover, and tracking my “Google Trail.” What have I been Googling this past week in the name of research?

  • Wildflowers of sixteenth-century Scotland
  • Pierre de Bocosel de Chastelard
  • Quatrains of Nostradamus
  • Lennoxlove House
  • Antoinette de Bourbon, Duchess of Guise
  • Battle of Corrichie
  • Clan Leslie

One of the great delights of writing historical fiction with sprinkles is that one can spend hours reading about the most fascinating bits and pieces of history and actually be working. Could there be any better job?

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10 Jun Style

Alexander Pope, by Michael Dahl

True ease in writing
comes from art, not chance,

As those move easiest
who have learned to dance.

’Tis not enough
no harshness gives offence;

The sound must seem
an echo to the sense.

—Alexander Pope
“An Essay on Criticism”

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06 Jun National Doughnut Day (A Day Late, but Who’s Counting?)

Sprinkles! My favorites!This morning at the crack of dawn (well, not quite, but almost) a little boy rang our doorbell and delivered a box of doughnuts. Why, you ask? Well, a couple of weeks ago that same little boy worked his little-boy wiles on the Broadcasting Legend™ and convinced him to buy a box of doughnuts for some sort of school fund-raising project. (We live a few blocks from an elementary school and the neighborhood is awash in cute kids selling stuff.) Why doughnuts? Because yesterday was National Doughnut Day. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as National Doughnut Day. The things you learn from second-graders!

Where did the word “doughnut” come from? Well, according to my beloved Online Etymology Dictionary, it was first recorded about 1809 by Washington Irving, who took a break from managing the first viral book-marketing campaign to describe them as “balls of sweetened dough, fried in hog’s fat, and called doughnuts, or ‘olykoeks.’” So clearly the first doughnuts were hole-less, and actually resembled nuts. And hog’s fat. Yum.

I’ll take Krispy Kremes, thank you.

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05 Jun Writing while Walking

No, not with a portable device of some kind. Although according to my friend, mystery writer Dana Fredsti, there is such a thing as a laptop harness. If I had something like that I’d be dangerous, because I get very wrapped up in what I’m writing.

I mean that I write in my head while I’m walking. It has to be solitary walking—when I walk with the dogs and the Broadcasting Legend™ it doesn’t work. But when I’m by myself and the sun is shining and a little breeze is blowing and I walk down along the creek, whole scenes unroll, mostly in dialogue. Being alone means I can “read” them out loud to myself as I go, listening to how the words sound together.

And the neighbors only kind of think I’m crazy.

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03 Jun The Stars of June

Stars, stars, stars of June

June’s a morning kind of month this year—if you’re not an early riser you’ll miss most of the stargazing fun. If you like to stay up late, well, you could always just stay up till dawn.

  • June 6th. One evening treat. The Moon, one day off full, will rise in the heart of Scorpius, the Scorpion. In many parts of the United States, the Moon will actually occlude Antares, the spectacular orange star that usually marks the Scorpion’s heart.
  • June 7th. The full Moon of June. Will post more about the lore of the June Moon (to which we croon a tune) on the seventh itself.
  • June 19th. Look to the east at dawn (which for some reason makes me think of Luke Havergal, although he was supposed to go to the western gate at twilight) and you will see the crescent Moon with Venus and Mars.
  • June 20th. At first light, the Moon, the Pleiades, and the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury will form an arch in the east. Unusual and beautiful. I’d like to try to get a picture of this.
  • June 21st. The Summer solstice, the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere.
  • June 27th. Back to the evening. Saturn, which will look like a golden star, is to the upper right of the Moon. Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo, is to the lower right.