Saturday, August 29, 2015

NEVIS, A 1957 Visit

It was 1957 when Mom and I traveled to Nevis.  It was January, which is the best tourist weather in the Caribbean, with lots of sun. We flew up from Barbados to Antigua and then on to mountainous St. Kitts on the old British West Indian Airways in a DC 3. We boomed along slowly, carefully skirting majestic cumulus clouds.  Flying was a less exact process in those days, and deep in the innards of those big clouds rough weather could be hiding.

I was pretty excited, because we were going to see the place where my hero, Alexander Hamilton, had been born.  Mom said there probably wouldn’t be much to see but the island itself, however, she too was curious about this (then) rarely visited speck in the West Indian sea. Honoring Hamilton, I knew, was a kind of family tradition. My Grandfather Liddle always spoke highly of his great achievements as a Founding Father. So, after a foray into the musty interior of a used book store, my usually critical mother had been approving when I’d arrived at the cash register with Gertrude Atherton’s 1902 “dramatic biography” of Hamilton in hand.    

Mrs. Atherton had studied her subject with care. She, being an adventurous woman (and probably well-heeled), had traveled in the 1890’s to both Nevis and St. Croix, another island where Hamilton spent part of his youth, to do research.  All her skillful, ardent Edwardian prose went straight to my head. By the time I finished her book, I was convinced that Alexander Hamilton was the most romantic--as well as the smartest, hardest working man--among that crew of geniuses who’d shaped our early republic.

Mom and I stayed overnight in St. Kitts.  I remember that as one of the coldest I ever spent in the West Indies. There were shutters, and although we closed them tightly, the wind whistled through our room all night. Our plane was supposed to leave in the afternoon for Nevis—there were two ways to get there—on a ferry or in a small plane—but I was famously sea-sick. The plane would be small, completely full with four passengers and the pilot.  

We arrived at the airport –which was just a tin-sided, palm-frond-roofed shelter—and then waited and waited. The little plane (probably a modified Super Cub) was in parts in a shed next to the runway, because “somethin’ was not right”. My mother and I both grew anxious, as you might imagine. I sat on a wooden bench cradling Mrs. Atherton’s book.  I was by now well on the way to memorizing it.

Finally, we took off, even though the sun was going down. The adults, used to the vagaries of West Indies travel, made graveyard jokes, but falling out of the sky into the ocean didn’t really seem possible to me, not when I was on the verge of my Hamilton epiphany.  Half an hour later, we arrived—landing on an island which is little more than a mountain whose cloudy head juts from the sea. 

The runway was a grass field. Men holding poles with flaming, kerosene-soaked rags wrapped about their tops illuminated our landing area.  A couple of bounces later, we were down. Then another wait, until a couple of taxis appeared to take us all into Charlestown.  

At the guest house, lit by kerosene lanterns, the gray-haired proprietress, looking as if she’d stepped out of the 1920’s in her dowager’s ankle-length dress, took one look at me and said she didn’t allow children—“especially not American children” in her house. Looking around the room, with lots of antimacassar-backed chairs and delicate-legged side tables, every surface of which was covered with china figurines, I had a notion of what she was worried about.  Mom put on her most glacial demeanor and said that I was a perfectly well-behaved only child who spent all her time reading and who would certainly never enter the good parlor unless invited to do so.  “And besides,” she added, “I have brought her all this way from New York State to see where her hero, Alexander Hamilton, was born. Show her your book, Judy.”

I held out the beloved book for the old woman’s inspection.

“Ah,” she said, examining the cover. “Why, it’s Mrs. Atherton! Do you really like it?”

“Very much,” I said. “I can’t stop reading it. Hamilton goes with me everywhere.”

For the first time, the lady smiled. She extended her hand and said, “Come with me, my dear, and I’ll show you my very own copy of that book.” 

And sure enough she had one, the only other copy I’ve ever seen “in person.” Who could have predicted that this would be the thing that would convince her to let us stay?. Our hostess then explained the kerosene lamps.

“It’s after six o’clock now. From 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. we have electricity, after that we use these. It makes for early nights.”

On the very next day, we contemplated a heap of stones by the harbor which were said to be the remains of the Hamilton house. We did a lot of one-of-a-kind things there. We bathed in the hot springs in our swim suits, everything very informal. You just paid the man who hung around there, and he walked along with you to the hollows where the water steamed, warning you first about which pools that would scald you. These gravel-bottomed pools were shaded by a grove of towering palm trees. The tall ferns and delicate flowers clustered about the “baths” were the lushest and most beautiful I’d ever seen.

Another day, we traveled up the mountain to see the ruins of sugar mills. We particularly admired one that had been turned into a hotel where we met the owners and enjoyed lunch. There were always clouds gathering around the top of that mountain every afternoon. We were up so high that day that these gray clouds enveloped us, eventually bathing everything with a surprisingly cool tropical rain.
On other, more ordinary days, we swam from a beach of brown sugar sand, but it was often cloudy,  more so than the other islands we’d visited. We weren't keen to swim too far out into that mysterious gray-blue water, either, as there was often not another soul around for as far as the eye could see.  

It's been a good many years since that visit, but Alexander and his beloved Betsy are still with me, as well as so many treasured memories of that lovely, mysterious, cloudy-headed island. It was hard to let go of a story I've been writing off and on and for ever so long, but here, at last, Books We Love has published it.  





Friday, August 28, 2015

Profiling ~ Getting to Know Your Characters By Connie Vines


Image result for psychological profiling

  1. the recording and analysis of a person's psychological and behavioral characteristics, so as to assess or predict their capabilities in a certain sphere or to assist in identifying a particular subgroup of people.

It's always a good idea to get to know your characters before starting your novel.  Of course, little quirks and warts always show up as the story progresses.  However, I feel it is a good idea to 'get to know' your main characters before jumping into to your story.

How, exactly is this possible?  Our characters are not 'real' people.  Perhaps they are not 3-dimensional people``but as a writer, my characters must be 'real' to me and to my readers.  Otherwise, I do not have a novel or a believable story to tell.

So. how exactly. do I go about 'profiling' my characters?

Here are a few things which I implement:

See what he/she will share with you.  What he hides, what motivates him, and what he really needs.
  • Basic Information:  What is the character's age, sex, ethnicity?  Describe his physical appearance (include unique features, scars, dimples).  How does he dress?  What about his clothing speaks to the kind of person he is (carefully pressed/rumpled and stained).  What item does he carry about with him.  What is it he can't live without?
  • Voice:  Does the character speak quickly or slowly?  Does he overuse any verbal tics?  Are his sentences choppy or rambling?  Is he well educated? Working class?  If you were blind folded, could you pick-out your character's voice in a room filled with people?  Why?
  • Education and Finances:  Is he naturally intelligent, clever, witty, or shy?  Is he book-smart? Self-taught, or experienced in a specific field?  Is he barely scraping by, allow him to live comfortably?  Is his job a job, or personally satisfying?
  • Special Skill and Talents:  Day-to-day skills?  Computers, mechanical, green thumb, cook?  Talents?  Name on unique talent the character has that no one knows about, and one talent he openly shares.  Are any of these skill a pride or and embarrassment?  Why?
  • Family and Family dynamics.
  • Morals and Ethics:  Is is always of particular interest to me because most of my stories deal with social issues.
  • Identity vs. Persona:  What five words would your character use to describe himself?  What 5 words would his best friend/family member use?
  • Secrets and Fears:  What is your character's biggest secret? His biggest fear?
  • Backstory and Wound: Thinking about that fear and secret, the once your character doesn't want to reflect on or admit to. . .what event in his past caused the very thing he feared come to pass?  How this event sent him on a new life path?
  • Needs, Desires: What is your opening moment--the start of the story?  What makes this day any different from any other day?  What does he think will make him happy? What does he care not wish for?  What would allow him to face any challenge/hardship?
Now to but it all together!  The more you know about your character(s) the better you story.  Of course, not everything you discover ends up in your story.  However, it certainly makes the journey more vivid for both the writer and the reader.

My characters are all very different, and lead very different lives.  Yet, I trust each is unique and vivid to my readers.  Each story is a mini-world filled with love, heartache, adventure, and always,always--a happily ever after!

Happy Reading!


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A word or two about the Vikings--Tricia McGill

My BWL books on Smashwords

As you can probably guess I have a fascination for the Vikings. There have been many tales told of them and their exploits, their travels, and above all about their raiding, looting, ravishing, and brutality. Most of what we have learned of their exploits comes from findings in graves and digs in places around the world that they inhabited. My main fascination with them is because of their great seamanship and their wonderful skills at building the ships that allowed them to sail to far off places. Their navigational skills set them apart.

The Vikings came from all over the region known as Scandinavia. They didn’t get along with each other and fought with their countrymen as fiercely as they fought with their enemies. The word Viking comes from “vikingr” which means pirate, or “Viken” the area around the Oslo fjord in Norway. They were also called Norsemen (men from the north)

The deck of a longship
Vikings were skilled in metal work and this helped their society to create the sharp axes they used to cut down the wood needed for building their famous ships and houses. After the trees were cut down the land that was left was perfect for the farmers to grow their crops. The Vikings prized their swords and it was said they even gave them names.

Warriors would often be buried with their weapons so they could use them in the afterlife.
A Viking craftsman’s chest was discovered in Sweden in 1936 that contained amazing implements and tools that were used for metal working and carpentry. Is it any wonder their longships were a masterful work.

The Vikings did not invent the runes but adapted a script in use at that time in parts of central Europe. The Vikings had a 24 letter alphabet that was reduced to 16 letters by AD800. Runes were replaced by the Latin alphabet as the Vikings were converted to Christianity.
Viking 16 rune alphabet

Vikings were masters of their environment and because of this their culture flourished. So, coastal settlements obviously became over-crowded. Thus the first adventurers set of in their wonderful ships to find new lands. Early Viking raiders were known to arrive at a new land in the spring, spend the summer there looting, then sail home for the winter.
A Viking jeweler's tools
Domestic Viking objects found at Coppergate, York UK
Vikings despised weakness. Even their poor babies who were sickly were often thrown into the sea at birth or left outside to perish so they would not be a burden to the family.
If you watched the series on TV last year “Vikings”, which I would not have missed for the world, it had Ragnar’s wife in a quandary as by rights she should have had one of their babies killed when it was born with a slight deformity, but she refused and clung to the child, which caused all sorts of problems between them. This series was not for the faint-hearted as it contained brutality of the worst kind.

The Vikings loved their rituals. Some were horrific by our standards. They made sacrifices to their gods—of animals and people. Every nine years they held a ceremony in Sweden (according to a writer named Adam of Bremen) where animals and humans were sacrificed and their blood was offered to the gods and their bodies were then hung from trees.

I  could go on for pages about the Norsemen, but guess this is where I should end. 
Find information on all my books here at my website

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Who Are The Heroes?

On August 15th, 1945, Japan surrendered to the United States, and World War II was officially over. That day has always meant something to me: my father fought in this war, my older brother died in this war, my ex-husband fought in this war, and my husband of 36 years fought in the Korean War. To me, these four men are heroes, as are all the men and women who have fought, died, or returned home from the many wars we have been involved in.

But who are the heroes of today? Sports stars from football, baseball, basketball, and the like are touted by the media as being "heroes." Really? What makes a football star a hero? I guess it depends upon your own personal definition of who or what makes a hero.

This is mine: A hero is a person who willingly, and without a thought of himself/herself, makes a personal sacrifice for the sake of someone else, known or unknown.

This is why every member of the US Armed Services is a hero to me. Each of these men and women have volunteered to sacrifice their own life, if necessary, in order to create safety for those of us left on the shores of the United States. This is why each and every one of the First Responders on September 11, 2001, is a hero to me. They willingly and courageously risked their own lives, and many lost them, to save the lives of hundreds of people they didn't know.

Who are the unsung heroes in our midst? How about the four teachers, school psychologist, and the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary school, who all died defending their students? How about six year old Jesse Lewis, who yelled "Run!" to the first graders in his class when the gunman rushed in, but had to stop to reload his weapon before he could begin killing again? His first shot went into the head of Jesse Lewis, who had waited until all his classmates were out the door before he turned to run. Too late.

What about all the grandparents today who are raising their grandchildren because their own kids have left the life of responsibility to drown themselves in drugs, or alcohol, or who go to jail because of having committed a crime? These Senior Citizens have made personal sacrifices, some have even had to return to some form of work to make ends meet, now that they have children in the home again. Their dreams of an easy and peaceful retirement have come to a sudden halt, as they now have to begin raising kids all over again. As a grandmother, I could not do this, so to me, those who do are heroes.

Where are the values of today's society, when we read and hear over TV all the time about the praises heaped upon the sports stars, celebrities, and other people of note, all of whom are referred to as "heroes?" What exactly have they done to be considered "heroes?" As a society, have we fallen so low that a hero is nothing more than someone who has 715 homeruns, or is a celebrity having children without marriage, and who is often leading an immature and sometimes drug-filled life, but who is still held up by the media as a "star?" These are the people our children are supposed to emulate, to be impressed by, and to grow up to be "just like?" Not in my book.

Who are your heroes?

Mikki Sadil
The Freedom Thief
Cheers, Chocolate, and Other Disasters
Lily Leticia Langford and the Book of Practical Magic
Night Cries: Beneath the Possum Belly, book one

Monday, August 24, 2015

Eighteenth Century Welfare-Parish Relief, by Diane Scott Lewis

In my continued research into history, to add to my 18th century novels, I came across interesting details about the English version of Welfare, Parish Relief. Charity in this era was limited. The very poor had to rely on parish relief to survive. But first they had to prove they had a legal link, such as birth, a residence or employment, in the parish—the territorial area under the clerical jurisdiction of one parish priest—where they sought funds. People who were denied parish relief were sometimes found starved to death.

Some parishes were so small they tried to shuffle their poor into the larger neighboring parishes. The elderly and sick were turned away. A few parishes paid indigent bachelors in other settlements 40 shillings to marry their poor women to take them off the books. Overseers of the poor might interfere in a marriage between two paupers, fearing it would result in burdensome children.
To make matters worse, parish authorities were often corrupt and stingy. They’d spend the Poor Rate (the tax on prosperous citizens for the care of the poor) on themselves instead of their deserving claimants.

The poor rates were a source of constant irritation to those who had to pay them. As the population and rates rose, the richer citizens were desperate to find others to pay for their poor. Men who deserted their wives or bastard children were pursued for support. One prominent merchant was discovered to have let his mother wilt away in a workhouse—he was forced to pay for her maintenance.

For deserted children, or foundlings, wherever they were found was their settlement/parish. Self-sacrificing women often traveled to the richer parishes at the onset of labor, hoping to birth their babies in more solvent settlements. But the parish authorities were aware of this and would force these women back over the boundaries. The Parish Act of 1772 came to the aid of these women by stating: “mothers who are suddenly taken in labour will no longer be subject to be removed...” Of course, enforcing this act was another matter.

Children born in wedlock were part of their father’s settlement. If the fathers died, after the age of seven, the children became part of their mother’s parish.

Reformer Jonas Hanway—a merchant who had traveled widely (and the first Londoner to carry an umbrella)—devoted himself to philanthropy. His efforts resulted in a Parliamentary act in 1767 to set aside funds to send urban orphans to country wet-nurses, and provided incentives for the children’s survival.

Though commissioned in the late seventeenth century, the classic eighteenth century’s solution to ending poverty and idleness was the workhouse. By the 1720’s parishes could commit any pauper who sought relief to the workhouse. Ideally a shelter, these places could never make a profit since many people were indigent because there wasn’t enough work available. Workhouses became the repository of the sick, elderly and mentally retarded. Infants consigned to workhouses before Hanway’s intervention were virtually sentenced to death. Hanway called one London workhouse “the greatest stink of mortality in these kingdoms, if not on the face of the whole earth.”

Three substantial private charities would be formed to take the burden from the parishes. The Foundling Hospital for abandoned children, Magdalen House to reform prostitutes, and Hanway’s Marine Society to clothe and prepare pauper boys for the navy.

Parish relief was resented, underfunded, unorganized and corrupt. Along with these issues and the misunderstanding of poverty’s causes, attempts to help the poor, or at least make them less visible, were doomed to fail.

Enjoy my recent release which takes place in 1781 Truro, England: The Apothecary’s Widow.

Click HERE to purchase

Diane Scott Lewis writes historical fiction with romantic elements.

Daily Life in 18th Century England, by Kirstin Olsen, 1999
Dr. Johnson’s London, by Liza Picard, 2000

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Regency Fashions for Ladies by Victoria Chatham

Fans of the Regency era will, no doubt, be quite familiar with terms like muslin and superfine, half boots and spencers. It doesn’t matter in what era we set our novels, our characters need clothes, at least for some of the time depending on how hot the romance is. The Regency fashions were looser and less form fitting than in earlier eras emulating as they did the flowing neoclassical styles of Greek and Roman statuary.

So what, exactly, did a Regency lady wear under her gown? The fact is – not much! Short-legged drawers with a drawstring waist were only just coming into fashion in the early 1800s but were more popular by 1811. Our Regency belle would also have worn a chemise designed to protect the outer clothes from perspiration or prevent a silk or muslin dress from being too revealing. A chemise rarely had any trimming as the coarse soap and boiling water in which it was frequently washed would have reduced trimmings to rags in no time.

The chemise was worn next to the skin and the corset, either short or long stays over it. The short stay fitted just below the bust and the long stays reached the hipbone and created a smooth vertical line. Both styles of stays were kept in place by shoulder straps. A petticoat, usually with a scooped neckline, short sleeves and fastened at the back with hooks and eyelets, was worn over the chemise and stays. Usually trimmed at the hem, it was meant to be seen when a lady lifted her outer dress to avoid mud or to otherwise prevent it being soiled. Stockings were made of silk, knitted cotton or wool and held up by garters.

Dresses were often made of soft, clinging muslins but the oft mentioned morning dress was high necked, long sleeved and made from plain, serviceable fabrics such as wool and linen. The thin twilled fabric sarsnet, or sarcenet, was woven with different colors in the warp and weft so that when the fabric moved there was a subtle shift in color. Evening dresses, or ball gowns, were satin and silk creations, fitted under the bust, short sleeved and with low necklines. An apparent contradiction in terms was that being fully dressed referred to evening wear which showed quite a bit of skin and décolletage, and being underdressed meant wearing a high neckline as in morning clothes. Colors indicated status as young ladies wore bright colors such as pinks, pale blues and lilacs, while mature ladies dressed in purple, deep blue, yellow, strong reds or black.

Outerwear included capes, wraps, shawls, spencers (a short waisted fitted jacket) and pelisses. Rather than a pocket, which was worn under a dress with a slit in the side for access, ladies carried a reticule, or a bag closed with a drawstring and often decorated with beads. This in essence was the lady’s handbag in which she could keep her vinaigrette and handkerchief. No respectable lady would dream of leaving the house without her hat or bonnet and, at home, married women usually wore caps. Short gloves were worn at all times during the day and long gloves reaching the elbow or higher during the evening. The latter would be removed for dining.

Flimsy flat soled slippers of silk, satin, kid or velvet would be worn indoors. Often embroidered or otherwise decorated, they were usually tied with ribbons and sometimes had a short heel. For walking, a lady had her half boots made of kidskin or nankeen, a canvas type fabric. She might even resort to slipping a pair of pattens over her shoes, which lifted her up out of the dirt and mud and prevented both shoes and hem from getting dirty.

No lady would dream of leaving the house without wearing a hat, usually some style of bonnet trimmed in numerous ways. Chip straw was not actually straw, but thin slivers of wood woven into shape. Grosgrain, a ribbon most often used for trimming hats and bonnets, is still in use today and is a coarse weave, tightly woven fabric. It resembles a fine cord that lies perpendicular to the long edges with the warp (the threads which run lengthwise on the loom) being lighter than the weft (the threads that run across the loom). Grosgrain has to be sewn carefully as it frays easily and holds pin or needle marks. It was usually made of silk or wool and occasionally a combination of the two. It was most often used for trimming hats and bonnets.

Tom Tierney’s Fashions of the Regency Period Paper Dolls

Victoria Chatham is proud to be a Books We Love author.

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Titillating preview by J.C. Kavanagh

WINNER Best Young Adult Book 2016, The Twisted Climb I've been prepping for Autumn book signings and excited to meet new and...