I was born in New Westminster, B.C., Canada,
and raised in Edmonton, Alberta. While raising my
own family, over the years
worked as a bartender, hotel maid, cashier, bank teller, bookkeeper, printing
press operator, meat wrapper, gold prospector, warehouse shipper, house
renovator and nursing attendant. I also began my writing career. But I don't
write in just one genre. Sometimes I have a story idea, write the manuscript
and then decide what genre it fits. My past writing has consisted of historical and travel articles, seven
four mystery novels, and two
science fiction novels.
I was taught in
school that Canada doesn't really have an exciting history. Right now I am
trying to dispel that myth by writing Canadian historical for young
adults/adults, the first two of which are: West
to the Bay and West to Grande Portage.
My mystery novels are Illegally Dead, The Only Shadow In The House,
and Whistler's Murder all in The Travelling Detective Series (boxed
set), and the stand alone novel Gold
Fever. My science fiction novels are The
Criminal Streak and Betrayed in
my Cry of the Guilty-Silence of the
I love change so I have moved over thirty times in my life, living in
various places throughout Alberta and B.C. I now reside on an acreage on Vancouver Island
husband and three cats.
In 1750, Thomas Gunn, along with three
friends, join the Hudson's Bay Company and sail from Stromness on the Orkney
Islands of northern Scotland to York Factory fort on Hudson's Bay. They believe
they are starting a new and exciting life in what is called Rupert's Land, but
tragedy follows them, striking for the first time on the ship. At the fort
Thomas finds his older brother, Edward, who had joined four years earlier. He
also meets Little Bird, sister of Edward's wife, and her family.
During the first year Thomas takes part in the
goose and duck hunts, the fishing, the woodcutting, Guy Fawkes Day, the Christmas
celebrations, and the burial of a friend. He also deals with the snowfall, the
cold, the boredom, and a suicide, and learns how to survive in the lonely and
sometimes inhospitable land.
On his sixteenth
birthday Phillippe Chabot is told that his brother-in-law has
hired him to be a voyageur. He will be paddling west from Montreal to Grade
Portage to trade supplies with the Indians for furs. He is overjoyed and
receives all the appropriate clothing from his family as birthday gifts, even a
As the loaded canoe
brigade gets ready to leave, his cousin, Jeanne, accepts the proposal of
marriage yelled at her by the clerk who is going along to keep track of the
disaster strikes the brigade as the men paddle the rivers, make their portages,
and get onto the sometimes violent and unforgiving Lake Superior. In Montreal,
the city is ravished by a fire and many residents perish before it is
Seen from a certain angle, the Schuyler girls were fairy tale princesses. They had white wigs, French dresses and a daddy who owned most of
upstate New York. They had other identities, too, as frontier girls, occasionally in peril because
their father’s kingdom really was land which had once belonged to the first people who'd come here. This backstory is a familiar feature of the early days of America, how
plantations--that obscuring euphemism--took root, their aim to "tame" (harvest) all they could get from a
That's not the foreground of my stories. The girls are. They drew my interest particularly because I'm deprived--an only child. I've had to research the experience of siblings. As I read about the life that these girls lived, I realized that Margaret, Elizabeth and Angelica literally grew up together. Dutch ladies they were, but you could almost call them "Irish triplets", these same sex sibs born bam-bam-bam in 1756, 1757, and 1758. How could they not be emotionally entwined?
Back to the fairy tale idea. As it happened, these Schuyler girls each grew up and each one married a handsome prince.
Margaret was the youngest and the last to be married. She chose a life in the old-time Hudson Valley Dutch style,
which, by that time, was already passing away. She married a van Rensselaer—her
cousin, a boy she’d known all her life, whose family owned "the other half of
upstate." Land was the basis for her husband's wealth, though this, i8n the next generation would prove impossible to keep. It was a safe and well-nigh predictable marriage--even though her father was, as usual, incensed because it began with an elopement--so romantic it was almost de rigueur for any spirited 18th century lady of fashion.
Margaret Schuyler van Rensselaer
Elizabeth, the middle sister, married a wanderer, a fortune-seeker, a self-taught knight
in shining armor who sometimes, like Sir Lancelot, went completely mad. Her life overflowed with drama, and she was nowhere near as materially comfortable or secure as the other two sisters, but she always knew who she was: her husband's "Queen Bess." She bore eight children and raised every one in a time where this wasn't a given. She lived almost until the Civil War, still standing by her man and his reputation fifty years after death had parted them.
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton "Betsy"
Angelica was, by all accounts, "the fairest of them all." She picked for herself a dashing lord
of the material world, a buccaneer with a credible alias as an English
gentleman. Her daring husband knew how to conduct a lady out an upstairs window and down a ladder in the middle of the night, away to a forbidden marriage. After the romance was over, he became a businessman with the stamina to write insurance all day and gamble all night. With his position and money, he took Angelica to London, and to Paris where her wit and beauty enchanted royals as well as the brilliant and the notorious.
Angelica Schuyler Church
Of these ladies, I’d imagine that only Betsy would ever
have stood before a blackened, cavernous fireplace with a stick of wood or a
ladle in hand, directing the business of her kitchen. The complex odors of a
wood fire, which seem to us moderns like camping, would have filled the room
and saturated clothing. Mrs. Hamilton wouldn't have worn her good dresses down in the cookshop, barely even for a visit. A certain amount of greasy smoke would have been everywhere, necessitating a spring cleaning that ended with a white washing. There was little of the new stove technology in her world, except, perhaps, in
the better city homes she shared with her husband in Philadelphia and New York.
Like the English great houses, these early American “mansions”
would not have been in a rush to modernize. The best they could do was to
create a wing to house a kitchen, often a one story addition to the back of the house. In
the cities, the kitchen would be down stairs--way downstairs!
There were plenty of hands—labor
both slave and free—and plenty of fuel, for the menfolk are busy chopping down
the great northeastern boreal forest, consuming it for building and energy, for
shipping and industry. She might not have dirtied her hands scrubbing the floors,
but she’d know how it should be done, and she wouldn’t hesitate to explain it
to you while you worked on your knees before her. She wasn’t retiring, although
she probably wasn’t taller than five feet. Nothing shy about this lady within
the confines of her home; she was a Leo and a Schuyler, too, after all.
The Grange, NY, NY
Alexander Hamilton's final home
Upon which he spent entirely too much money.
Theirs is a delightful family/historical story, three women living through such a profound transition. I only wonder that it hasn't been retold more. It's been an honor and a delight to attempt to try.
I thought I’d share some interesting findings. Since I spent summers in Texas as a child, I had inside information on several facts. The other snippets came from watching the History channel and reading a multitude of historical documents. The information is in parentheses are my personal discoveries.
Feral camels once roamed the plains of Texas.
The U.S. Camel Corps was established in 1856 at Camp Verde, Texas. Reasoning that the arid southwest was a lot like the deserts of Egypt, the Army imported 66 camels from the Middle East. Despite the animals’ more objectionable qualities—they spat, regurgitated and defied orders—the experiment was generally deemed a success. (Camels can kick side-ways with all four feet.) The Civil War curtailed the experiment and Confederates captured Camp Verde. After the war, most of the camels were sold (some to Ringling Brothers’ circus) and others escaped into the wild. The last reported sighting of a feral camel came out of Texas in 1941. Presumably, no lingering descendants of the Camel Corps’ members remain alive today.
Billy the Kid wasn’t left-handed.
A famous tintype photograph of Billy the Kid shows him with a gun belt on his left side. For years, the portrait fueled assumptions that the outlaw, born William Bonney, was left-handed. However, most tintype cameras produced a negative image that appeared positive once it was developed, meaning the result was the reverse of reality. There’s another reason we know Billy the Kid was thus a right handed. His Winchester Model 1873 lever-action rifle--Winchester only made 1873s that load on the right.
The famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral wasn’t much of a shootout and didn’t take place at the O.K. Corral.
One of the most famous gunfights in history—the shootout between the three Earp brothers (Morgan, Virgil and Wyatt), Doc Holliday, Billy Claireborne, the two Clanton brothers (Billy and Ike) and the two McLaury brothers (Frank and Tom)—didn’t amount to time-frame often depicted on the Silver Screen. Despite the involvement of eight people, the gunfight only lasted about 30 seconds. Furthermore, the shootout didn’t take place within the O.K. Corral at all. Instead, all the shooting occurred near the current intersection of Third Street and Fremont Street in Tombstone, Arizona, which is behind the corral itself. (I have visited the area. Tombstone is brutally hot in the summer. The incest large. ) Bloodshed made up for the brevity. Three of the lawmen were injured and three of the cowboys killed.
The Long Branch Saloon of “Gunsmoke” fame really did exist in Dodge City
Anyone who watched the television show “Gunsmoke” is well acquainted with Miss Kitty’s Long Branch Saloon of Dodge City, Kansas. What viewers may not have realized is that the Long Branch really did exist. No one knows exactly what year it was established, but the original saloon burned down in the great Front Street fire of 1885. The saloon was later resurrected and now serves as a tourist attraction featuring a reproduction bar with live entertainment. According to the Boot Hill Museum, the original Long Branch Saloon served milk, tea, lemonade, sarsaparilla, alcohol and beer.
What did Cowboy really eat?
Cowboy food used a limited number of ingredients, partly because imported foods were expensive and partly because they needed food that kept well on the cattle trail. Coffee was an essential part of breakfast, which was large and high in fats and protein. Lunch was commonly beans, and dinner generally included something sweet like vinegar pie or apple dumplings. Because a large percentage of cowboys were of Mexican origin, spices and flavorings of that cuisine were popular.
Cowboys loved "mountain oysters," sliced and fried calf testicles. These were harvested in the spring when preadolescent bulls were castrated so they would be steers. (Served with horseradish sauce and are very tasty).
The Wild West was Wild.
But when it comes to Western Romance--it's all about the booths, Stetson, and the cowboy who wears them.
Getting to the end of writing DAMSEL OF THE
HAWK (scheduled for release April 20, 2016), I cannot help but look back
upon my first brainstorming sessions for the plot of this book. How it
evolved since then amazes me. Then again, it happens with all the books
we write. The semi-finished product as I near "the end" goes far beyond
my expectations. It's a good thing.
I know many writers write from a rough
draft. I never could. When I tried, I had to throw it away and start the
novel again from the beginning without looking at the draft. Although
I'm a plotter, my plot is never set and constantly evolves with the
characters' reactions as the story unfolds. New villains appear out of
the shadows, creating different conflicts and changing the backdrop and
the course of the story. As I research minor details, better ideas come
along and change everything again. Characters are forced to deal with
unforeseen situations. The black moment is not what I predicted at all.
Until the denouement, I do not know what the theme of the story is.
That's what keeps me writing, what keeps me intrigued, what keeps me
excited about my characters, what keeps the story alive in my mind,
brimming with possibilities.
As I discover the heart of my story, that's
usually when the final title comes to me. This book had several working
titles in the six months it took to write it, none of them worthy of
mention. Damsel of the Hawk appealed to me because of its medieval feel,
and the tight connection to the heroine and her circumstances. This is also when I start looking for images to inspire the cover designer for the cover. I've been blessed for this Curse of the Lost Isle series:
The inability to write from a complete draft is what prevents me to participate in events like NANOWRIMO. That draft written in a month would be of no use to me. So I write my novels from a rough outline,
ten pages or less, one paragraph per expected chapter, with the
beginning, the main scenes, the major plot twists, and the expected
ending. I leave plenty of room for change, to implement new ideas as
they come, adding more chapters to the outline. Often, it means I have
to go back to the beginning and add or rewrite several scenes to
accommodate a new plot line, introduce a new character, give the reader
clues, or foreshadow a future plot twist. It works for me. I don't mind
rewriting as I write.
Then, when I have a complete story with all
its intricacies and its nuances, comes the real work, the polishing, the fleshing out, the
recasting of every scene to make it part of the whole. Emphasizing the
theme, adding emotion, polishing the action scenes, the love scenes,
making the reader part of the story by adding more setting and sensory
details... That's usually the last month in my novel writing process.
Can you tell I love writing? Well, I do.
DAMSEL OF THE HAWK
Curse of the Lost Isle Book 7 (standalone)
Available for pre-order in early March:
1204 AD - Meliora,
immortal Fae and legendary damsel of Hawk Castle, grants gold and wishes on
Mount Ararat, but must forever remain chaste. When Spartak, a
Kipchak warrior gravely wounded in Constantinople, requests
sanctuary, she breaks the rule to save his life. The fierce,
warrior prince stirs in her forbidden passions. Captivated,
Spartak will not bow to superstition. Despite tribal opposition,
he wants her as his queen. Should Meliora renounce true love,
or embrace it and trigger a sinister curse... and the wrath
of the Goddess? Meanwhile, a thwarted knight and his greedy band
of Crusaders have vowed to steal her Pagan gold and burn her at
In the meantime, catch up with the Curse of the Lost Isle series at:
I sit and watch the evening news and my heart bleeds when I
see so many displaced people seeking refuge in Europe and elsewhere; fleeing a
war that they had no part in, only to be shunned by some people simply because
they seek a better life for their children. They have little hope of returning
to the land of their birth, and this leads me to wonder exactly how they feel
inside. I can’t imagine what I would do if I had to choose a few of my
treasured belongings—enough to cram into one or two bags—and leave all that I love
My husband and I and two of my sisters with their husbands
came to Australia seeking a better life in a free land. Admittedly I came
mainly to join my three sisters who already lived here, but it was also because
we were offered a better life in a prosperous country. And it has been a better
life, and for me in particular a fulfilling one. No wonder I say I have been
blessed. That’s not to say I didn’t love my early days in England. But the
weird part is that I have an affinity with Australia that is probably much stronger
than the one I had for the land of my
Australia has been kind to me in so many ways. At times I
can be brought to tears at the sheer beauty to be found in some parts, and
wonder at this odd love I have for my adoptive country. Recently I watched a show
on my TV that disappointed me in so many ways. Which was stupid, when you come
to think about it, as the comments that annoyed me were made about Australia
and not about me personally. So why should I get so upset when an outsider criticizes
things that I have no control over?
This program featured a well-liked Australian. I happen to like his shows so that is why I
watched this one. But, it turned out that he had brought his two English
sidekicks from his show produced in England, and the idea was to show them the
“real” Australia. Sorry, but bringing two Poms out and taking them on a
road trip from Darwin to Sydney down the red center of our country was not
showing them the true beauty of the landscape (just my opinion). They
constantly complained about the flies. Well, if you travel the outback in the
hottest part of the year in a small camper-van, you are going to encounter flies,
and there is such a thing as insect repellent that works really well. The side
trips they had to endure was not my idea of a great road trip. Wild pig
hunting? Not a pastime I would chose if I was showing off my beautiful country
and its strange habits. Enough said.
For years my husband and I left chilly Victoria around July/August,
hitched our caravan to our car, and set off on a 3 month jaunt around the
country. We have circled Australia, taken the inland road right up the middle,
driven across the Nullarbor Plain, let me see—four times, traveled up the east
coast innumerable times, been to Uluru (Ayers Rock) driven across the Sydney
Harbour Bridge countless times, and to be honest, there are only a few places
in Australia that I haven’t seen. And, a lot of my writing got done during the
stop-overs. My husband was a keen fisherman so I have traversed many miles of
the country in search of good fishing spots, tramped many beaches that were so
isolated I doubt I trod in any other person’s footprints.
A while back there was a discussion in our author’s group
about the movie Red Dog, well I sat in front of his statue in Dampier a long
time before he became world famous. I’ve touched a dolphin at Monkey Mia in
northern WA, seen platypus swimming peacefully in Tasmania, hand fed wallabies,
been close to an echidna, and all in their natural habitat, not in a zoo. I’ve
slept in a haunted house in Strahan Tasmania, stood inside an enormous tree in
Walpole right up the top of the country. When I see a motor home or caravan on
the road I still get a lump in my throat and wonder where these lucky people
are off to, and wish I was tagging along. I fear my traveling days are well and
truly over, although my friend and I are planning another trip across to my
second favorite state, Tasmania, in the near future.
This post was brought about as last evening I watched a show
about an Aboriginal man who has made good in this country. He revisited the
town where he grew up, and was explaining the affinity his people have for the
land. And I can truly understand this, as although I wasn’t born here, I have
such a love for this land it is difficult to explain. And I thank Fate, or
whatever had a hand in my destiny, that I found such a haven.
All of my contemporary romances are set here, don’t ask me
why, but it never occurred to me to set them anywhere else.
I once heard a teacher
say, ToKill a Mockingbird teaches us about equality and has the ability to
change us. I believe that's true. This great book has certainly changed me, and after I heard the news of
Harper Lee’s death at 89, I thought about the power of her masterpiece.
“Did you hear Harper Lee
has passed,” I asked Hubby Larry.
“Yes,” he said, and our
conversation segued into Lee’s wonderful novel.
“Why did she name it To Kill a Mockingbird?” Larry asked.
“I've heard she
originally called it, Atticus,” I
said, “But she changed the name before it was published. There’s a mockingbird reference
in the book.”
“What does it say?”
I had to unearth my copy
of Mockingbird to answer his
question. Here’s part of the quote, inspiring the title:
“Atticus said to Jem one
day, ‘Remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’That was the only time I ever heard Atticus say
it was a sin to do something, and I asked Miss Maudie about it. 'Your father’s
right,' she said. 'Mockingbirds don’t do one thing except make music for us to
enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corn cribs, they don’t
do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a
the pages, I found myself identifying with the gutsy Scout as I had as a child, and I wished I’d been able to know the
author who wrote such a trans-formative novel.
I've worked on many projects for the chamber of commerce in
Monroeville, Alabama, Harper Lee’s hometown, for more than 20 years, but somehow
we never crossed paths.
A few months ago, I
visited the assisted-living facility where Lee resided. I was going to a
business meeting there and hoped I’d get a glimpse of the reclusive Lee. As I
walked into the facility, a security guard stopped me.
“Who are you here to
see?” he asked in a stern voice.
After I told him, he
ushered me into the administrator’s office.
As I was leaving, I spotted
the guard again. “Do you stop everyone who comes in here?” I asked.
“It’s my job to guard
Miss Lee, to make sure she isn’t bothered. You wouldn't believe the schemes
people use. They’ll say or do anything to try to get their books signed or get
an interview with Miss Lee.” She rarely ventures outside, he said.
I told him I’d recently read
the long-awaited second book, Go Set a
Watchman, which features a grown up Scout and a somewhat racially
I much preferred the
inspirational Atticus in Mockingbird,
I said. I always cry at the courtroom scene in TKAM. You probably know the one.
Atticus Finch is walking out of the courtroom after hearing his
client, Tom Robinson, has been found guilty. Scout and her brother Jem are
sitting in the balcony, among members of the black community. The Reverend
Sykes, a local black leader, tells Scout, "Miss Jean Louise. Stand up.
Your father's passin'."
Amazing when you
think about it, so much talent in such a small Alabama town, population is now
around 7,000. I love going there and during my recent trip, my sister Alice Kay,
who lives in Idaho, wanted to accompany me.
“I haven’t been to
Monroeville in 30 years,” she said. She wanted to tour the town, the courthouse
and museum, and we did.
Unfortunately, one of
Monroeville’s finest restaurants, the Prop
and Gavel, owned by Tanja Carter, Lee’s attorney and friend, was closed, due
to the tragic death of Tanja’s husband. He was killed when his single-engine
aircraft crashed, taking off from Missoula International Airport in Montana.
“Tanja found the
draft of Go Set a Watchman, the
parent book of Mockingbird,” I told
AK. Alice Kay wanted to read Watchman, so I bought her a copy.
“I want it autographed,”
I told her. “Only Harper Lee’s closest friends are allowed to see her, and she
is no longer autographing books.”
At the bookstore, AK
and I spotted a signed copy of To Kill a Mockingbird.
The steep price was much more than either of us planned to spend, but I’m sure
someone will eventually pay that amount for an autographed copy of this
masterpiece that earned a Pulitzer Prize and continues to be a
bestseller, second only to the Bible, it has been reported.
The movie adaptation won
Academy Awards in 1962. Gregory Peck won for best actor. Lee gave Peck her
father's pocket watch, a friend in Monroeville said. Lee dedicated Mockingbird to her sister Alice Finch
Lee, who lived to be 103, and their father Amasa Lee. He once defended two
black men hanged in 1919 for murdering a white shopkeeper in Monroeville.
In 1934, when Nelle
Harper Lee was only eight, a black man (Walter Lett) was tried in Monroeville
for allegedly raping a white woman. Lett was sentenced to death until a group
of progressive white citizens had his ruling reduced to life. The character Tom
Robinson in Mockingbird is thought to be patterned after Lett.
Through the years, I've heard a few people say they think Truman Capote wrote Mockingbird.
These accusations are false, which I discovered after reading Capote’s letters
at the Monroe County Courthouse. In one of those letters, Capote writes about
Lee authoring the book and compliments her skill as a writer.
It is widely known Lee
helped Capote interview and type notes for In Cold Blood. She and
Capote were childhood friends in the 1930s. Capote spent his summers with his cousins
in a house next to where Lee grew up. (The character Dill in Mockingbird is
Both houses have since
been torn down, but there’s a plaque, marking where Capote stayed. Lee would
not allow a plaque on the property where she once lived.
The homes were located
about two blocks from the old courthouse, which is now a museum. (The
courthouse is in the center of town square).
In memory of Nelle Harper
Lee, I’d like to share a few facts about her. She was born in Monroeville on
April 28, 1926, the youngest of five children. Her father’s name was Amasa
Coleman (A.C.) Lee. Her mother was Frances Cunningham Finch. Amasa, unlike
Atticus, was not a widower. Lee's mother was termed mentally ill. So Harper Lee
and her siblings were raised by their father.
Her longtime friend,
Truman Capote’s real name was Truman Persons. He was two years older than Lee. Truman
spent his summers in Monroeville, and during that time, he and Lee became close
friends. Lee’s father recognized Lee’s creativity and gave her an Underwood
She earned a degree in English from Huntington College in
Montgomery, Alabama and was an exchange student at Oxford for a short while.
She attended law school for two years at the University of Alabama, but dropped out to pursue a writing career.
She moved to New York, where Truman
Persons, then Capote, had become a well-known writer. While in New York, two of
Capote’s friends made it possible for Lee to quit her job as an airline
reservations clerk and write full time.
These generous friends--famous Broadway lyricist Michael Brown
and his wife, Joy Williams, a ballet dancer--gave Lee a Christmas present, paying
all of her expenses for a year to write whatever she wanted, but it took Lee two years to write Mockingbird, I was told. The publisher said it might not sell more
than a few thousand copies, but upon publication in July 1960, the book became
a best-seller and continues to sell millions each year.
It is estimated she earned and continues to earn royalties of
more than $9,000 a day. However, her fortune never influenced her
She lived like a spartan. Before she moved into the assisted living
facility, she had no air conditioning or television set, until a caretaker
demanded them, I was told.
She never married and had no children, but she birthed a great
book that I believe changed lives and has certainlyinspired me to write, not simply to entertain, but to transform
with words. For that I’m thankful.
Below are three of my novels. I'd love for you to check them out.