Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Home is Where the Heart is. by Victoria Chatham

For many of us writers, creating homes for our characters is par for the course. Think Downton Abbey, Tara in Gone With the Wind and the family hacienda, Las Tres Marias in Isabel Allende’s debut novel The House of the Spirits.

Elements of places we have lived or visited and loved, often form the basis of our fictional homes. Writing a book often means wearing many hats – one of them being an architect. Designing a home for our characters means that we, and the readers, know where in a house the stairs that the character might use are, where the windows and doors are so that if we involve a line of sight in our story, we know there will be no obstructions. Where are the bedrooms and how many of them, if a contemporary book, have an en suite?

Because I write historical romance, I have incorporated aspects of many stately homes that I have visited into building a home for my characters. The essence of my fictional houses, however, stems from my experience of living for eleven years in a 300-year old house.

My first view of it was in early April. Sunshine bathed its long roof, comprised of approximately 5-tons of Cotswold stone tile, and tall chimneys. In the garden, a profusion of daffodils danced beneath a row of cordoned fruit trees. For the non-gardeners amongst you, a cordon is a method of training the side shoots of the trees (usually apples and pears) at a 45-degree angle to promote support and ultimately fruit production. The lady of the house sat at her spinning wheel on the lawn, white hair drawn into a bun at the back of her neck and long, gray skirts spread out around her. It was like a vignette of the past, and I instantly fell in love with Ivy Cottage.

A cottage can be many things to many people. My impression of a cottage was a two-up, two-down home with a thatched roof. In Canada, what people refer to as a cottage is, to me, a house and so was Ivy Cottage. Its five bedrooms sprawled over a hodge-podge of levels. Two sets of stairs, one in the middle of the house and the other at one end, had different depth risers and half-landings in odd places. The house itself had started life as a stone build, but the second storey was of locally produced red brick. The windows and doors all needed replacing as none of them was a good fit.

I moved in in August, a long hot month when, once the windows had been pried open, dried the house out to the extent that wallpaper started peeling off the walls. There was much work to be done, but I was determined that the living room with its inglenook fireplace, parquet floor, and oak beams would be ready for Christmas. By then we were blocking draughts with heavy cotton velvet drapes at the doors with the additional application of kitchen plastic wrap stuffed around the window frames.

My family and friends thought I was mad for exchanging a comfortable, modern, double-glazed and centrally heated home for this unheated, draughty rural pile. People came and went, shaking their heads at my supposed detraction from what was considered the norm. I didn't care. There was room for my kids to play and explore. There was room to grow vegetables. I left the far end of the garden wild, so we were visited by rabbits and hedgehogs, and a fox made a path in the long grass beneath the hedge. I never cut it, letting what flowers and wild plants grow where they would which in turn attracted bees and butterflies.

I had robins and wrens nesting in the hedge, along with noisy sparrows. The teasels, that self-seeded and came up in different parts of the garden every year, attracted goldfinches. I fought the bullfinches and chaffinches for the fruit blossoms and fixed bacon fat on the bushes for the blue and great tits to stop them from peeling off the foil tops on the milk bottles to get at the cream. Woodpeckers and thrushes, both song and mistle thrushes, the latter helping to keep the garden free of snails, were constant visitors. A one-legged black bird became bold enough to perch on my hand for breadcrumbs.

All good things come to an end, and the end for me was coming back one year from a late vacation in Spain to find the house empty and cold. By then my boarders, as had my two boys, moved on, leaving my daughter and I and our two remaining dogs. I thought of all the work that had gone into the house and what still needed doing. At that point, I had neither the heart or the funds for further renovations and with much reluctance but all practicality, put the house on the market.

It is still there. I drive by every time I go home to England, noting the changes, my heart bleeding for some of them, but understanding that it is no longer my home and hoping that the current occupiers are as happy there as I had been.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Woo-woo Man Strikes Again

To Purchase From Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Talaber/e/B00UC407R0

The Woo-woo Man Strikes Again
Oh, the woo-woo thing kicked in again on me this week. I received an email from Dear Jude, publisher of Books We Love. It mentioned that we should go online or go down to our local library and request that I want to receive or look at my published novels. This way they would be in the system.
I thought to myself, do I even have a library card? Yes, I know this is heresy, haven’t even been to the library in as long as I can remember. Didn’t even remember if I owned a library card, must have at one point in life, but since I moved to BC, but I doubted it.
I was looking for a novel to help my fellow writer with a project he was working on and looked through the books in my collection. One seemed to shine at me, a book I hadn’t picked up in over fifteen years, at least. In fact, don’t even remember what the book was about. I noticed that there was a book marker inside and opened it up. Lo and behold, my long lost and long forgotten library card stared back at me. I nearly fell down the stairs in shock. I really had forgotten I’d even had one.
But I do remember in the old days how I’d go to the library to do all of my research or to second hand bookstores. In fact if I had something I needed to know on something I was writing about, I’d often walk in, walk right up to the book I needed and open it to the page that had what I needed to know. Yup, eerie, spooky stuff. But that was me, the woo-woo man. Now, I mostly Google everything, how times have changed. I wonder how much valuable knowledge is rotting away on old book shelves. I think the internet really is making our society dumber in some respects and destroying some industries, the music for one. But that’s a rant for another day.
Now if I can just visualize next weeks lottery ticket numbers. Now we’d be talking.

To Purchase From Amazon https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Talaber/e/B00UC407R0

Frank Talaber

Frank Talaber’s Writing Style? He usually responds with: Mix Dan Millman (Way of The Peaceful Warrior) with Charles De Lint (Moonheart) and throw in a mad scattering of Tom Robbins (Even Cowgirls Get The Blues).
PS: He’s better looking than Stephen King (Carrie, The Stand, It, The Shining) and his romantic stuff will have you gasping quicker than Robert James Waller (Bridges Of Madison County).
Or as is often said: You don’t have to be mad to be a writer, but it sure helps.

Writer by soul. Words born within. 
Karma the seed. Paper the medium.  
Pen the muse. Novels the fire.

My novels on Amazon are at (copy and paste link):  https://www.amazon.com/Frank-Talaber/e/B00UC407R0

Twitter: @FrankTalaber

To Purchase From Amazon 

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Gardener Ted's Spring Vegetable Garden and Hydroponic Gardening by J.Q. Rose

Cozy mystery author J.Q. Rose
Dangerous Sanctuary available at the Books We Love bookstore

Writing stories has been a pastime for me since I was seven years old. Making up characters and setting them in different situations has always been so much fun and satisfying. I enjoy  conjuring up novels today on my laptop as much as I did when I was a kid with pencil and paper stretching my imagination and sharing stories with friends.

My husband's lifelong pastime is gardening. He loves growing plants. So much so that his starting seedlings in a hobby greenhouse set us on the path to becoming business owners with a flower shop, garden center and greenhouses. Now in retirement, he is living his dream of gardening year round. He has a small winter garden in Florida and a very large garden in the summer in West Michigan.

Let me introduce you to Gardener Ted and his 2017 spring garden. 

He is always experimenting. 
This year, he is trying a no-till garden. No roto-tilling. In the photo you see all the dead-looking grass? That was rye that he planted in the fall. He digs a trench in the dead rye grass and plants his seeds.
In this photo he is watering the green beans (string beans) he just planted today, May 15. 
Next to it is rhubarb which comes up every year.
 You can see the baby pea plants are just getting a good start.
The onions are finally getting some growth. We have had pretty cool nights and days this spring, so the plants are waiting to grow. But once it warms up, there will be a big growth spurt.
 This morning he cut rhubarb for the first time and cooked it. Do you like rhubarb? I can eat it in a strawberry-rhubarb pie, kind of, but he loves it "stewed" in a pot. Just rhubarb with LOTS of sugar, no crust.
 This is the best results we've had for our strawberries in the past couple of years. 
Look at all the blossoms.
My mouth waters when I think of those delicious red berries coming on in June. If every blossom turns into a strawberry, we're going to be gorging ourselves, the family, and the neighbors on lots of strawberry shortcake and pie. Oh, and don't forget the strawberries on ice cream. Mmmm...
This winter Gardener Ted designed and constructed a hydroponic growing system. The dictionary defines hydroponics as "the cultivation of plants by placing the roots in liquid nutrient solutions rather than in soil."

This is the first system he built in Florida and raised delicious, clean varieties of lettuce.

For his spring garden, he has completed his new and improved system, including doubling the growing capacity of the Florida one.

The plants' roots are in the water to extract the nutrients out of the water flowing through the pipes. Gardener Ted carefully monitors and controls these factors every day.

The water is pumped out of this big gray container, through the large pipes, and then returns to the container to be pumped through again.

This system produced the best tasting, crunchy lettuce we've ever had.

Cleaning the fresh pulled lettuce heads from the hydroponics growing system is a dream. The heads are so clean, I just run them under the kitchen faucet, and they're ready for the toppings and dressing for a delightful fresh salad.

Besides working in the garden and having the satisfaction of eating the delicious veggies, he loves spending time with our grand kids and sharing his gardening knowledge with them. They love chomping on the vegetables as they help him harvest the crops. Someone said how much sweeter a pea is when eaten in the garden.

Are you a gardener? Vegetables? Flowers? Why do you garden? Wishing you sunny skies and plenty of rain!

Connect online with J.Q. Rose here.
Photos by J.Q. Rose

Friday, May 19, 2017

Everything You Need to Know About Kansas by Stuart R. West


When I tell people I write books set in or around Kansas, I’m either hit with dumb jokes (“I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.”) or derision (“Do they have electricity in Kansas?”). Then they ask “why Kansas?” Besides the first rule of write what you know, Kansas holds a lot of variety and interesting locales for a thriller writer. Really.

So instead of explaining it time after time, I’m going to condense it into a basic primer. Here’s everything you need to know about Kansas. You’re welcome.

FACT: Cowboys and Indians (at least the “traditional” Roy Rogers types) aren’t running rampant through our dirt streets. Back in my college days, I had a friend from Venezuela who told me when he first came to Kansas (and don’t ask me how a Venezuelan ended up there!), he expected shoot-outs in the streets, barroom brawls, and guys in one-piece long-johns with a back flap.

Folks, Kansas isn’t the old Wild West. Not anymore. And it’s not all farmlands either. For instance, I live in a suburb ten minutes away from downtown, Kansas City, Missouri (where my book Chili Run takes place), and ten minutes from the growing, thriving megalopolis of Overland Park, Kansas (where the Zach and Zora books take place). If I feel like going farmland/country (see Ghosts of Gannaway), I can hit that in about thirty to forty minutes.

See? Variety! Everything a thriller writer could possibly want (excluding shark tales, natch).
 FACT: Kansas still has active pockets of the Ku Klux Klan and the mafia. Not really a selling point, just an unfortunate fact. And good-to-go villains should I ever need them. (Not everything’s up to date in Kansas City.)

FACT: It’s illegal to sing the alphabet on the streets at night in Topeka, Kansas. Don’t ask me why, but it’s true.  It’s also against the law to catch fish with your bare hands so take your penchant for noodling elsewhere, ‘cause it’s not wanted in Kansas. Here’s the best one: at one time it was against the law to serve ice cream on top of cherry pie. Thank goodness they changed that law.

FACT: Kansas is host to the world’s largest ball of twine, the world’s largest prairie dog, and possibly even more disturbing, the world’s largest hairball! That’s right! Kansas is known for its culture, too! (The hairball in question was taken from a cow’s stomach, weighing in at 55 pounds.)

FACT: Thank goodness plans to build a “Land of Oz” tourist attraction in Kansas were scrapped. Not only would it have done more damage to Kansas’s beleaguered reputation, but the last thing we needed were thousands of munchkins causing havoc in the streets. True riff-raff, I tell you.

FACT: Kansas alcohol laws are among the strictest in the United States. Prohibition lasted until 1948, longer than any other state. Until 2003, you couldn’t buy alcohol on a Sunday or have a glass of wine with dinner. Grocery stores still prohibit the sale of alcohol (unless it’s 3.2% beer). There’re some really strange, detailed laws governing alcohol. The legislators had a whole lotta’ time on their hands since they weren’t drinking.

FACT: Kansas led the way in feminism and civil rights! The first woman mayor in the United States was elected in Argonia, Kansas in 1887. And the first black woman to win an Academy Award was Kansan Hattie McDaniel for Gone With the Wind. Take that California and New York!

FACT: Kansas has the largest population of wild grouse in North America and I don’t even know what a “grouse” is.

FACT: Kansas is home to two “Big 12” colleges: The University of Kansas and Kansas State. Oddly enough, they hate one another. I should know. I lived through the KU/K-State riots in the ‘80’s. Just like in the old Wild West, people ran through the streets smashing windows and beating people. I guess not too much has changed after all.

There you have it, everything you need to know about Kansas and then some. And, of course, you can read all about the seedy, secret underbelly of Kansas in my books. 

I dunno…maybe I should just move.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Well, what have I been up to? by Nancy M Bell

You can click here to find out more about His Brother's Bride.

Now on to the good stuff. I just got back from a 15 day cruise from Fort Lauderdale to Los Angeles. I know! How cool is that? It was a wonderful time with stops in Aruba, Cartagena, Columbia, the Panama Canal, Puentareans Puerto Rico, San Juan del Sur Nicaragua, Huatalco Mexico ( a well kept secret) and Puerto Vallarta Mexico. We went on two tours through mangroves. One outside Caragena where the water was thigh deep and there were no crocodiles. We got in low riding dug out canoes which a local guide poled through the waters past birds and a fisherman who demonstrated how to fish with his net. Then a taste of coconut water right out of the coconut and traditional dancing. I got to take part with a young native man, what a blast. The mangrove in Puerto Rico were another story. We sailed along (in a much bigger boat than Cartagena) the Tarcolas River seeing many birds and lizards. The waters are deep and they do contain many crocodiles! We saw some smaller younger ones and then were thrilled to see Tornado (as the locals call him) The crocodile is a huge 14 feet long. He lay half-submerged only a few feet from us. Then submerged and went off in search non vigilant cattle looking to drink from the water's edge.

Panama Canal was amazing, takes all day to go through the three locks and across Gatun Lake.

In Nicaragua, we visited a 16th century church built by the Spainards. Then we traveled to Amaya which is where the first female president of Nicaragua lived, it is now a resort for people to relax at. No WIFI, no TV etc. It is right on the huge Lake Nicaragua which is home to two large volcanoes. The acid rain from the volcanoes can be an issue for the surrounding farmers. The flowering trees were spectacular, the rainy season is just starting so much of the landscape was sere and brown, but starting to bloom.

In Puerto Rico brilliant yellow trees flared on the hill sides, they are called Yellow Oak by the locals or The Sun Is Shining Tree. We also saw Plumeria trees blooming in Mexico and Nicaragua.

I didn't manage to get any good pictures of the beautiful yellow trees. I've also been keeping busy promoting my Canadian Historical Bride book His Brother's Bride. Here's a small excerpt:

From Chapter Eight

The low winter sun bathed the snow in a red-orange glow and touched the bare trees with gold. Annie’s breath puffed out before her as she struggled to wade through the knee deep snow. Where were those blasted cows? She’d searched all their usual haunts when they managed to knock down the cedar rail snake fence. Today they’d simply walked over the top of it where this afternoon’s wind piled the drift high and hard enough to make easy passage.
She glanced at the sun. If they didn’t miraculously appear soon she’d have to leave them. Father would be livid, but there was no way Annie wished to be caught in the wintery bush after sunset. The moon was full and the chorus of hunting wolves had serenaded her for the past two nights while she lay with the quilts pulled up to her nose in bed.
Sighing, she stopped on the edge of the gully where the small creek lay frozen below. No sign of the five cows she was searching for. Thank heavens for small mercies the bull was in the barn and so she wasn’t also dealing with his fractious nature. Most of the time the animal was quite tractable for her, but in the bush with his harem…? Annie shook her head. Quit woolgathering, girl. Or you will be wolf bait. She let go of the trunk of the maple sapling she was using to balance and stepped back. The wind changed and she froze. Is that them? Is that Sally’s bell?
The evening wind carried the distinct, but faint, clang of a cow bell. Annie frowned, they never headed east when they went on a ramble, especially in the winter. Setting her jaw, she turned her footsteps toward the sound. Now she’d found a trace of the missing animals she couldn’t very well in all good faith head for home. Although that was exactly what her frozen fingers and toes were urging her to do. Wrapping the scarf tighter around her neck and lower face she set off.
A branch sprang back at her and slapped her cold cheek. Uttering words which would earn her a beating if Father ever heard her, Annie blinked back the sting of tears and plowed on. If only Steve and Evan were home she wouldn’t be out in the rapidly darkening woods on her own. Ivan was helping search but only closer to the house. Why couldn’t the stupid war in Europe just end? Annie missed her brothers more than she ever thought she would and not just because they made her lot in life easier. She forced herself to keep moving, distracting herself with thoughts of the war and her brothers. Evan’s last letter had the return address of a convalescent home, he said he was fine but had come down with the influenza that seemed to be running rampant through the wet muddy trenches in Belgium and France. Some associates of Father’s in London had sent some newspapers with their last post. Of course they made the whole affair seem much more glory filled than it was, but Father said if you read between the lines and what they weren’t saying you could determine a great deal.
A loud moo startled Annie so she nearly tripped and landed on her bum. Only by grasping a young birch sapling did she manage to avoid falling. However, the tree did dump its small load of snow on her head. Yelping, she jumped back and beat the wet snow from her coat and scarf. The light was fading and the bush was full of deepening shadow. The cow mooed again and she turned in that direction. In a few minutes she came across the track the silly things had beaten in the snow. Moving quicker on the easier going Annie called for the herd. If she was lucky they would be cold and hungry and quite tired of their adventure and happy to come to a familiar voice. Only Sally and Maud were still milking, but their udders should be making their demands made by now too. Another point in Annie’s favour.
Shoving through some serviceberry bushes she emerged into a bit of a clearing. Releasing a sigh of relief at the sight of all five missing bovines, she spread her arms and began herding them back toward the barnyard. The sun was mostly behind the trees and low hills but there was still enough light in the sky for her to determine which way was home. A long shivering howl rose into the clear royal blue heavens which was answered by another and then another.
“C’mon, girls. Get moving unless you’d rather be somebody’s dinner.” She waved her arms and the cattle obligingly moved off toward home. Annie smiled, their sense of direction when it came to food and home was probably more finally honed than her own. Although, left on their own they would have stayed where they were waiting for someone to come find them and urge them home.
“Need some help?” George’s voice sounded from the deep shadow just to the right of the trail.
“George? Is that you?” Annie couldn’t keep the breathlessness sound from her voice. “You scared the life out of me,” she declared coming even with him. “How did you know where to find me?”
“Ivan told me which way you were planning to go.” He fell into step beside her, the cows moving ahead of them at a quicker pace now.
“You went to the house? Was that wise?” She frowned at him.
“Just by luck Mister Miller sent me with a message for your father. It was fairly late when I arrived and Ivan was just coming in from the bush. Mister Baldwin was worried for you and I volunteered to go out and look for you. Your mother didn’t want him out in the dark with that cold he has.”
“Well, I’m glad it was you who found me. Go on, git up there, girls,” she interrupted herself to urge the cows on.
“I’m happy to hear that.” George took her mittened hand in his.
“You must be frozen! Where are your mitts?” Annie was aghast to see his hand was bare.
“Don’t have any, I’m afraid.” He shrugged.
“Why, that ridiculous! Surely the Millers can spare you a pair of mitts!”
“Not so far, but the winter’s young yet. It’s just the end of November.”
Annie stopped in her tracks digging in the big pockets of her coat. She pulled out a pair of thick hand knit mittens and shoved them at him. “Here, they’re a bit tattered, but they’re warm.”
“No, now. They’re yours, I can’t just take them.” George shook his head.
She ducked her head. “I made them myself. It would please me if you would wear them.”
“In that case, how can I refuse,” he replied gallantly and pulled the mitts over his reddened hands.
“Oh, I can see the lights of the house. We’re almost home. You must come in and get warm,” Annie insisted. The cows broke into a shambling trot at the scent of home and scrambled back over the drift and broken fence into the barn yard.
George halted and caught her hands again. “I mustn’t. Mister Miller was expecting me back some time ago. I still have chores to do there.”
She tipped her head back to see his face better in the strengthening moonlight. “You won’t be in any trouble will you? For being late, I mean?”
“I would for sure, except your father was kind enough to write me a note explaining he asked me to go and look for his lost cows. No, that should set things right.” He paused and leaned down to brush her cheek with his. “You go on in the house, I’ll lock the cows in the barn and throw them some hay. I have permission to borrow a lantern for the walk home. Go on.” George released her hands and gave her a gentle push. “I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”
“You will be careful? And be sure to take a full lantern.”
He nodded and moved toward the barn.
“Good night then, George,” she called softly.
“Good night, Annie.” His voice floated back to her through the moonlit shadows.

Home is Where the Heart is. by Victoria Chatham

AVAILABLE AT AMAZON.CA For many of us writers, creating homes for our characters is par for the course. Think Downton Abbey , Tara i...