Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Sugar and Spice and...by Sheila Claydon

Click here to find my books at Books We Love

No! I definitely do not feel like this picture of Kerry in my book Double Fault. She was at her wit's end trying to bring up 2 year old twins on her own,  and so missing out on the joy children can bring, whereas I am feeling blissful!

With the partial lifting of the CoronaVirus lockdown in the UK, my house is now full of teenagers, dogs and, not to put too fine a word on it, mess!  There are dog toys all over the conservatory courtesy of the 11 month old puppy, dog beds taken apart with blankets and cushions awry as my own dog attempts to hide her bone, and a muddy towel on the the floor by the garden door because it's been raining and they all know the rule of paws being wiped before they come in.

Then there are the teenagers. With iPhones attached to their hands like an animated extension, their music and chatter has banished the long silence of lockdown. Of course the bathroom is now far from pristine (although they do hang up their towels to dry), and I'm just ignoring their bedrooms until they go home again. There is more washing too. And more housework. But there are many compensations.

The long walks to the beach with all three dogs, the games in the garden, the different meals as they take over the kitchen and make bread, or a club sandwich, or risotto, or soup, are all welcome. They are both good and practising cooks too, so no longer having to provide every meal, as I did for their grandfather and me during lockdown, is a real bonus, even if their clearing up skills still need quite a bit of refinement!

And the conversations! With one a budding biologist who is also testing her political opinions, our discussions range from the interesting to the heated to the downright amusing, while the younger one concentrates on educating us about everything to do with horses and craft projects. We do learn a lot too because, thanks to their permanently available friend Google, they access facts and figures 24/7, and have the sort of conversations with us that their busy, hard-working parents rarely have time for. Hopefully they learn from us too. They seem to because, during lockdown, I had many phone calls from the biologist for advice on setting up a herb garden, while the arty/horsey one sent me regular updates on her painting projects. Today a tie-dye kit is arriving but it'll be staying in it's box until the rain stops as, lovely as it is to have family with us again, I do draw the line at tie-dying indoors!

Then there is the little one in Hong Kong, who should have been with us now but, thanks to CoronaVirus, cannot travel. It doesn't stop her joining us though...often, and loudly. She reads to us via Skype and we manage to play card games too. And now they are all on school vacation she doesn't just call us, she also calls her cousins, making it possible for all of them to maintain a relationship despite the distance.

In other words I prefer the mess, noise and busyness that comes with having young people around to the peace and quiet we enjoyed during lockdown. And eventually, Kerry in Double Fault was able to do that too. That's the good thing about happy endings!

Sunday, July 12, 2020


One thing consistent in all my novels is my characters like to eat! I love to write food as sustenance, satisfaction, medicinal, a gesture of love (or hate, in the case of poisoned!).  What a great way to plum (you should excuse the expression) the depths of plot, character and the senses of smell and taste on the page!

Summer fruits are part of this glorious season. Berries, rhubarb, peaches…perfection! I am lucky enough to have all growing in my small side-of-the-house garden.

 Here in New England, rustic summer fruit baking includes pies, slumps, cobblers, buckles, grunts, crumbles and crisps.

What's the difference? Not a lot. The basic formula: fruit combined with some sort of sweet batter or streusel or crumble topping. And they all taste better with a dollop of ice cream, yogurt or whipped cream.  A slump and a grunt are the same thing. So are a crumble and a crisp.

Peach Melba Pie

Am I making you hungry? Here are some recipes from the great King Arthur Flour site to get you started:





Happy baking!

The Kansas Flu Pandemic?

                                    Please click this link for book and purchase information

COVID-19 piqued my interest in the Spanish flu, which devastated the world from 1918-1920. This led me to place library holds on several e-books about the subject. The first one available was More Deadly Than War: The Hidden History of the Spanish Flu and the First World War by Kenneth C. Davis. This short book, aimed at young adult readers, turned out to be an excellent primer on the pandemic. It taught me a lot I didn't know.

The Spanish flu was first noticed in Haskell County, Kansas in January, 1918. Two months later an outbreak appeared in a Kansas army training camp. More outbreaks erupted at other camps in the United States as the country prepared to enter World War I. US troops brought the disease to Europe and passed it on to other allied soldiers and civilians. German soldiers picked it up from allied prisoners they released.
Crowded sleeping area at Naval Training Station, San Francisco, California

Both sides in the war supressed news reports on the disease, to keep up morale and not let the enemy know their troops were weakened. Spain was neutral in WWI, which freed journalists to broadcast reports on the new disease striking their fellow citizens, including the king of Spain. The name Spanish flu stuck. To this day, Spain would like that error fixed. I might suggest calling it the Kansas flu pandemic, but the World Health Organization now recommends that we no longer name diseases after places to avoid the negative effects on nations, people and economies. To add to the controversy, some researchers speculate the Spanish flu originated in France, China or the eastern USA. Recent studies on recovered samples of the virus suggest it was initially transmitted by a bird.

Unlike most viruses, the Spanish flu, H1N1 influenza A virus, attacked a disproportionate number of healthy, young adults. One theory for this is that their strong immune systems overreacted. Another is that an earlier strain of the virus gave many in the older generation immunity. It's now estimated that the Spanish flu's four waves killed close to 100 million people worldwide , about 1/20th of those alive at the time. It is history's second most lethal pandemic, after the Black Death. 

Sprinkled through More Deadly Than War are stories of historical figures who contracted the disease. In addition to the Spanish king, Walt Disney and artist Edvard Munch recovered. US President Donald Trump's grandfather was an early victim. According to the family account, Frederick Trump was walking down a New York City street, when he suddenly took ill. He died the next day. The cruel virus tended to act swiftly. Some called it the three day fever. 

Was Edvard Munch's agonized painting "The Scream" partially inspired by his suffering from the Spanish flu?

The primary advice in 1918 for escaping the Spanish flu sounds familiar to people living through COVID-19 today. 
  • Wash your hands. 
  • Maintain a social distance. 
  • Avoid crowds. 
A friend sent me links to my home city Calgary's history of the Spanish flu. We know the precise day the disease arrived - Oct 2, 2018, when a train from eastern Canada brought patients to Calgary's isolation hospital. Unfortunately, the measure didn't isolate the disease from Calgary residents. An estimated 38,000 people in our province of Alberta contracted the Spanish flu; 4,000 died.

Poster in 1918 Calgary, courtesy Glenbow Museum

Will my interest in the Spanish flu filter to my fiction writing? I'm mulling potential ideas for my next Calgary mystery novel.  

Saturday, July 11, 2020

The Language of Flowers by Karla Stover

A Line to Murder (A Puget Sound Mystery) (Volume 1)        Murder, When One Isn't Enough    Wynter's Way
Murder in Tacoma WA.              Murder on Hood Canal   Gothic Mystery

and a bunch of shorts on Amazon

"I need an idea for my blog," I said to my husband.

"Why not flowers," he said, after a moment's reflection."

At the time, we were hiking in the woods and and admiring a native shrub called Ocean spray.

Where we live, the first thing to bloom is camas, a beautiful blue flower that was once very important to the local Native American diet. It's followed by Scotch broom, a really invasive shrub with pretty yellow blooms. A group of nuns who settled in Steilacoom, WA. get the blame for bringing in the seeds but they could just as well been in on the clothing sailors wore (the seeds not the nuns).

Rhododendrons follow, then daisies, fox glove, sweet peas and now the Ocean spray which is a low-growing shrub of droopy cream-colored flowers. However, none of these have anything to do with the language of flowers.

When I was little and we were poor, new books were rare. Instead, I inherited my mother's from when she was a girl. One of them had four complete books in one: Ruth Fielding and the Red Mill; Billie Bradley and her Inheritance; Peggy Lee and Michael; and Linger-Nots and the Mystery House. In those days, children's books didn't have to have  message; they just told stories. In the case of the Mystery House, it was an old home with a hidden room. The Linger-Nots found the room by decoding a sampler based on the flowers the maker had stitched in. I thought that was fascinating.

Back then, researching was much more difficult than it is now, but eventually I stumbled on The Language of Flowers illustrated by Kate Greenaway and published in 1884. It's still available and here's how Amazon describes the book:

 "Presents one of the most enchanting customs of the early 19th century - communicating through flowers instead of words. Hundreds of plants and flowers were given meaning ranging from the warm, simple "I love" of the red chrysanthemum to the disquieting message of the currant "thy frown will kill me." The book glows with Kate Greenaway's exquisite illustrations of the Victorian world from her 1884 book, Language of Flowers. An alphabetical listing of over 700 flowers and plants with their meanings - and a cross-index by meanings." It goes on to say, " shares the tradition, sparked by renewed Victoria era interest in botany and exotic plants and of using flowers as a means of covert communication [that means flirting or courting]an insight into a bygone era when the gift of Tamsy [ supposed to be tansy] was a declaration of war, and a Garden Daisy meant 'I share your sentiments,'this text is a real treasure."

The idea so intrigued me, I wrote a short story, a murder mystery where before she dies conveniently in her conservatory, the murder victim up ends pots of flowers in order to tell 'who dun it.' I called it "Flower Power" and sold it to a now defunct magazine for a minuscule amount.

So, what are the woods and fields where we walk telling us? Well, the rhododendrons are saying, "beware, danger and the wild daisies proclaim "I will think of it" (there are 5 different kinds of daisies in the book, each with its own meaning). The foxgloves aren't buying that, they're boldly declaring "insincerity." They might also be slamming the sweet pea's "delicate pleasures."

Flowers are important for novelists. Several years ago I read a novel-based-on-fact about a woman named Hulda Kruger who develop an important lilac garden in Woodland Washington one hundred or so years ago. The author had Hulda creating a bouquet out of hyacinths, a spring bloomer and other things that bloom in autumn. The blatant inaccuracy totally ruined the book for me.

I wonder if anyone knows or even cares about this totally cool bit of history. If so, here's a message from me, "I wish you Sweet Basil and Spruce Pine. May coronella . . . . . . . . . .

Friday, July 10, 2020

Road Trips

All my books are available at  http://www.bookswelove.com/baldwin-barbara/

            And we’re off. Whether everyone’s piled in the car or in a mobile RV; whether it’s just you, or you and a friend riding bikes or motorcycles, taking a road trip is one of the greatest adventures you can have. If you mapped out your trip beforehand, did you leave time for unexpected stops? Did you plan to specifically stop at tourist attractions along the way to your destination? Whatever you plan, DO NOT get in the car, buckle up and not stop until you get to your destination.
Lavender fields in Ontario, Canada
The very best road trips are those times you find unexpected treasures along the way. Sure, there are a whole lot of “The World’s Largest”…whatever. There are even towns that have very creatively turned themselves into a travel/tourist stop.
 One such place is Casey, Illinois, where throughout the town you will find the world’s largest golf tee, the world’s largest wind chimes, the world’s largest knitting needles (which actually work!), and the world’s largest rocking chair – all in one town!

            Yet the very best “finds” are sometimes “hidden in plain view”. Have you ever seen barn quilts while driving through the Midwest? What about a long, long row of fence with old cowboy boots upside-down on each of the fence posts? When we were kids traveling to grandma’s house in the summer, there were no interstates and we could find all sorts of things as we drove two lane highways. (Remember travel bingo?) Finding Burma Shave signs was always a great treat.

One of the most intriguing finds recently was during a drive from Niagara Falls, Canada to Sudbury, Ontario, Canada. The highway was cut through rocky hills and suddenly we began seeing rock statues high along the tops of rock outcroppings. These weren’t carved out of rock, but were rather what looked like statues of people made out of rocks. We were seeing them from the ground and they were anywhere from a foot to more than eighteen inches tall.
Further research when we had the time and we discovered they were “Inukshuk”, used by the Inuit in the north as directional markers. They are in the shape of a person to signify safety, hope and friendship. These stone sculptures were important for navigation, as a marker for hunting grounds, or possibly to denote a food cache. And we found them totally by accident!

Once upon a time I took a trip across Missouri into Kentucky to eventually end up in Tennessee. I loved the estates I saw in Kentucky, given romantic names such as “Misty Farms”. Large brick homes with tall white columns across the front were surrounded by white wooden fence, and many had green pastures full of thoroughbred horses. On the interstate, I drove by a uniquely built barn; so unique I pulled off the interstate at the next exit, turned across the overpass and returned the opposite way to get another look at the structure. Going the proper speed, I missed it again. The second time I exited the interstate, I took a back road and found a piece of history – an old tobacco barn with open slats on the sides and a totally unique interior. At that moment, I decided the rest of my trip would be made on back roads and two lane highways. As a writer, road trips such as this are invaluable for everything from collecting strange and unique names to use in my writing, to imagining scenes as real life slides by the windows.

I’ve posted covers from two books this month – “Love in Disguise” and “Hold on to the Past” because both of these are about traveling. The first takes place along and aboard the first transcontinental railroad, and the second is about a trip on the Missouri River aboard the Steamboat Arabia. Both are great “road trip” stories of a different sort, full of mystery and romance and can easily be ordered at http://www.bookswelove.com/baldwin-barbara/.

Taking a road trip is something we can begin to do as we emerge from the pandemic because it doesn’t involve large groups of people in very public places. Fill up the car with gas, pack a lunch and head out along the back roads. Perhaps you’ll come across the fire-breathing dragon we did!

And whatever you do, don't just read the billboard about the Drive-Through Safari. Take that exit!
Barb Baldwin

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Curves anyone? by J.S. Marlo

For many years, I was a member of Curves, a gym for women only. Back then, I bounced lots of my storylines on my workout friends. The grandmother angle in Unraveled was born during a workout, but that's another story...

As incentive to show up for workouts, we received Curves t-shirts for every milestone we met. First one hundred workouts, five hundred workouts...I got my seven-hundred-and-fifty-workout t-shirt a month before the gym closed. There were also monthly attendance and special events prizes, which were mostly t-shirts. So, no surprise that over the years I collected a lot of t-shirts with the Curves logo on it.

They were nice and well-made t-shirts, so I wore them in many places, not just at the gym, and I  also packed a few in my suitcase when I went on trips. I didn't think the word curves would offend anyone, and I never felt it did. If anyone looked at me funny, it flew right over my head.

Around the same time, one of my Curves friends went to a conference in the United States. I can't remember in which big city they held her conference, but she stayed in a very nice hotel.  One early evening she stood in the lobby wearing a Curves t-shirt, with the word curves positioned over her bosom. She was waiting for someone when an older couple approached her. Then out of the blue, the older woman asked her "How much for the girls?"

My friend just stared in total confusion at the woman who spoke with a strong Eastern European accent, but then it occurred to her  that maybe the meaning of the question got lost in the translation, so she replied with something like "I'm not sure I understand."

The older woman pointed at my friend's bosom. "Your sign says curves.  Where I come from it means hooker. So how much for the girls?"

We couldn't stop laughing when my friend recounted the incident at the gym a week later, but on the spur of the moment, she was flabbergasted then completely mortified to have been mistaken for a hooker or a madam. She just left the lobby and went to her room to change clothes without asking the couple which language they spoke...or for whom they wanted to hire the girls. In hindsight, those would have been interesting questions LOL

To satisfy my own curiosity, I played with Google Translate and found out that in Romanian, curvă means hooker. It was the only European language that came close to meeting the criteria.

I don't know if my friend ever wore that t-shirt again, but I stopped packing clothes with words on them when I go on trips. That being said, one of these days, that incident will end up in one of my novels.

Happy Reading & Stay safe. Many hugs!


Tuesday, July 7, 2020

First Draft Completed! by Eileen O'Finlan

After more than a year of research and writing, I've finally completed a first draft of Erin's Children! I am so happy with how this story came out and can't wait to share it with readers. 
Of course, a first draft is just that – a FIRST draft. Now I'm on to editing and revising, painstakingly looking for all the grammatical and typographical errors, making sure the story line never went astray, and that characters I was just getting to know when I first began didn't suddenly act out of character in later chapters. Flow and continuity, word choice, story and character arcs – all these things must be running smoothly throughout the entire story. The purpose of the editing and revision phase of novel writing is to make sure they do.
Still, having an entire first draft completed is a huge relief despite all the work yet to come. Two of the most gratifying words an author can type are “The End.” The only better two words, at least in this author's opinion, are “Chapter One.”