Monday, July 31, 2017

Priscilla Brown tries to cull her books

This contemporary romance is set on a dreamy Caribbean island, with not a bookcase in sight.
It was the fault of Shakespeare. Wanting to check the list of characters in Richard III before attending a theatre performance, I pulled William Shakespeare Complete Works from the non-fiction bookcase. Why had this heavy book been placed on the just-reachable top shelf? Not a practical idea; however, I did manage not to drop it and break a foot.  Not having looked at the tome for who knows how long, the first thing I did was remove the crumpled brown paper cover. I wondered why whoever put  it on (me?) thought it necessary to hide the title. Not as if I'd be reading  it on the bus, when a novel's lurid cover featuring a couple in flagrante delicto might require concealment.
Having sorted out Richard's relatives, I tried to return the book to its space, but in its absence a couple of its neighbours had moved in  No way was this chubby chappie going to fit. Hence, a re-organisation of the whole contents of the bookcase became unavoidable, a task still in progress, involving an embarrassing amount of dust, and regular re-fuelling with coffee and cake.
This particular bookcase holds almost all of the household's non-fiction except for my writing-specific books, and some encyclopedia-style and size which enjoy a bookcase all to themselves.Are all these titles necessary? Surely some could go to the recycling or to the charity shop?

During the re-shelving process, with smaller books on higher shelves, some go straight back into line, and Shakespeare has found a new home on a middle-height shelf alongside literary non-fiction. I can't help delving into other volumes, and I'd like share a couple.

 A small leather-bound copy of The Tempest hid next to its big brother, as if for protection from the complete works. The maroon cover is fraying at the edges, its spine has been "repaired" (not by me) with sticky tape, but the pages are intact. The inscription, written  in black ink in elegant copperplate handwriting, intrigues me. To dear Emmie, with sincere wishes for many happy returns of the day; the signature is a flamboyant and underlined Arthur, and the date is Nov.15th 07. (That's 1907 not 2007.) Pencilled on the back inside cover, a note reads November 1905, Trees Production. I have no proof, but am assuming Arthur was a relation of mine; he may have been one of my grandmother's brothers, or perhaps may go back further. Unfortunately we don't have a comprehensive family tree, and there's no one left to ask. I do remember discovering the book during a house move twenty years ago, but at that time had no interest in following up its provenance. I have no idea when or why it came into my possession. My writer's mind is now asking questions: Who was Emmie? She's dear, but how close were she and Arthur? How old was she on this 1907 birthday? Did they go to see the play together  in 1905? Maybe there's a story here, and in case, I've kept the book with my writing ideas.

The Atlas of Languages, subtitled The Origin and Development of  Languages throughout the World, is an account of language families. While it is not the kind of book to sit down and read as one might a novel, it is eminently readable and lavishly illustrated, with maps, photographs and diagrams; a treasure for anyone interested in the thousands of languages, linguistics and writing systems historical and contemporary. An aside: this title had been advertised, and when I went to the bookshop to buy it, only one copy remained. I and another potential purchaser reached for it at the same time. We smiled. He generously let me have it...we went for a coffee...(Well, I am a romance writer!)

Pausing to dip into several more books slowed the undertaking, but provided moments of reminiscence, of joy and of sadness. With three-quarters of the bookcase contents dealt with and nothing in the "dispose of" box, I admit to a culling failure. I can't part with anything. I will just have to buy another bookcase.

Happy reading! Priscilla

Sunday, July 30, 2017

I Remember When...

(Reposted from the BWL Canadian Historical Brides blog)
photo © Janice Lang

Memories can be tricky little devils. Some are so crystal clear that no manner of dispute by people who were there can derail our version of that particular truth, even if it might be a tad faulty. They can be faded sepia by time like an old photograph, or replayed in the mind like a scratchy copy of an 8mm home movie. Others are dim recollections, fragments here and there, disconnected one from another, some even running together to form one imperfect memory. And then there are other those that remain intact throughout our lives, complete with enough sensory imagery to recall every detail.

I retain a number of such memories, some from earliest childhood…like when I was two or three and I made my first snowman (a tiny one, about the size of a baby doll) outside our apartment in the Bronx. I didn’t want to part with it, even as my mother insisted it was time for a nap. Eventually she acceded to my demands and let me take it upstairs, where we put it in the bath tub for safekeeping. Not understanding the properties of snow at the time, I woke from my nap and eagerly made a beeline to the bathroom, only to find a puddle, my red woolen scarf, and a couple of pieces of coal where my masterpiece had been. A lesson in disappointment.

My all-time favorite memory from childhood is quite the opposite. After over 60 years, it remains as vivid as yesterday.

I was six years old on Christmas Eve in 1956, when my dad took me to the gas station to have snow tires put on my mom’s car. I don’t remember why I went along with him to Frank’s Amoco, but there I was in the office, standing face-to-face with a glossy little stub-tailed black mutt. Sitting by the door to the bays on an oil-stained spot, he reacted with a joyful countenance as soon as he saw me enter. We struck up a conversation (mostly one way). But he had an expressive face and cocked his ears in a most appealing way, tilting his head when I spoke, as if he understood everything I said.

Time soon came for the car to get moved into the shop, so we all filed back out onto the blacktop. The day was chilly and blustery (I’d been wearing mittens, which I’d taken off inside). Just as we stepped out the door, a mighty blast of wind took one of my mittens and blew it across the lot. I watched in a dull sort of stupor as the mitten flew on a swirling gust and then kicked around at the curb. Before I could take a step toward it, the dog tore off, picked it up, trotted back to me, and dropped the mitten at my feet. And there was that look he gave me as he sat gazing up so expectantly, wagging his little tail….

I thought he had to be the smartest dog in the world (on a par with Lassie and Rin-Tin-Tin), and I told him so. Together we climbed into the back seat of my mother’s 1955 Rambler and went up on the lift while the mechanic changed the tires. All the while we talked about what it would be like if he could come home and live with me. I told him about my two sisters and our mom, our house and yard, and “the pit,” which was the greatest place on earth for us kids to play. Like the world’s biggest playground surrounded by acres and acres of trees, and slopes to sled down in winter, picking blueberries and blackberries in summer….

The whole time we were up there on the lift, Frank and my dad had been involved in what looked to be a conspiratorial conversation, and when the dog and I got out of the car, my father was smiling from ear to ear.

“Do you want that dog?” Frank asked with a wink at my dad.

I couldn’t believe what I’d heard. It just couldn’t be true. But when I glanced up at my father, heart thumping with wild expectation, anticipating a let-down, he grinned at me like a little boy and nodded. Of course I wanted the dog, and so did he it seemed, almost as much I did.

Shadow and me, circa 1964
I guess Frank was relieved that the stray mutt had found a place to live and be loved. He explained that the dog had shown up at the gas station a few days before and hung around day and night following the mechanics as they went about their business—a kind of a nuisance—but they fed him scraps from their lunchboxes and he slept in the shop and earned his keep watching over the place. They called him Shadow, and that was to be his forever name.

My mom wasn’t thrilled—not one bit—and it took all we had to convince her that I would walk him, feed and clean up after him. Finally, she gave in, albeit reluctantly. After all, he was smelly and grungy with grease and dirt. So we gave him a bath in the tub. With all that filthy, soapy water gurgling down the drain, I fully expected him to turn white.

For the first few weeks, Shadow would manage to get out of the house and disappear from morning until supper time. We soon discovered that he spent that time hanging out at his old place of employment (a goodly trek, I might add)…until he discovered Paul the mailman. For a couple of years he even got picked up and dropped off at our house on the days Paul’s route was scheduled through our neighborhood. He became the most famous dog in our part of Massapequa. Wherever we went (he followed me on my bicycle), kids would always shout,“Hey, isn’t that the mailman’s dog?”

Shadow retired from the US Postal Service when Paul was replaced (I learned from my mother later in life that he was a bit of a Lothario). 

For the remainder of his life Shadow’s only job was as friend, protector, clown and trickster. He also had a lot of Scrappy-Doo in him, often getting into fights with much larger dogs and paying the price. But he survived the follies of his youth to remain with us for 14 years before crossing over the Rainbow Bridge a week shy of Christmas Eve, 1970. By that time we had shared countless adventures and had lots of fun together. And I had a trove of stories to tell my kids as they grew up. Maybe one day I’ll write them down. 


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, "The Serpents Tooth" trilogy: Lord Esterleigh’s Daughter, Courting the DevilThe Partisan’s Wife,  and The Return of Tachlanad, an epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book and in paperback from Amazon, Kobo, and other online retailers.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Loaf Mass

Catherine Schuyler burning the wheat before General Burgoyne can feed it to the invading British army
Schuylerville, NY before the Battle of Saratoga  A Master Passion, The story of Alexander & Elizabeth Hamilton   ISBN: 1771456744

We’re about to celebrate the first of the old harvest festivals--Lamas, or The Loaf Mass. Living in an area that still has a great deal of agriculture, I’m keenly aware of the seasons, though I’m also darn glad I don’t farm for a living. Mother Nature isn't always kind to the farmers who feed the rest of us. This year She started spring with a long stretch of uncharacteristic cold and rain, delaying planting.

Then just about the time corn and other temperature sensitive crops begin to grow, She''ll sometimes send a “a flash drought.” Not this year, though! This was generally a good year, and though things were late, there was plenty of water. When those waving green vistas turned gold, the harvest began well.

Now, in wide swatches to the east of us, where the six mule teams still pull threshers and barefoot women hoe kitchen gardens and hang clothes on lines, the corn stands high and tasseling. If we can just get a few more inches of rain into the ground, this year should provide a spectacular harvest of maize too.  

When I lived in England long ago, I was thrilled to enter my neighboring square stone Saxon church and see great loaves of bread, three and four feet high. Some had been baked in special lidded pans, but many others were carefully fashioned by hand. A stiff hard to hand-mix dough is necessary, with a nice egg wash at the end to make them shine. (It's more about keeping its shape and less about being good to eat.) Some of those loaves were shaped like sheaves of wheat and others like men. They were leaned against the altar rail among the more usual floral offerings.

When I asked who the men were, I was told that they were “John Barleycorn, the life of the fields.” This was in a pub where I sat decorously drinking a Baby Cham besides my glamorous mother--so perhaps that particular informant was thinking of the hearty, earthy local ales that were being drunk all around us. (I'd hear the phrase again, some years later, back in the States, sitting in an art house in Cambridge, MA, while watching an extremely disturbing British movie called The Wicker Man.)

Another gentlemen, of a more scholarly bent, protested. He said that these loaves were a living link to the past, to the powerful Celtic sun and smith god, Lugh. Yet another man, this one in a green tweed jacket, disagreed. He claimed the loaves represented an even more ancient Celtic divinity, a god of vegetation, one who was born, died, and resurrected again every spring, on and on, for more than a thousand years all across the British countryside. That divinity's name--since the genocide of the Roman occupation--had been forgotten.

St. Just in Roseland, Cornwall

Years later, and now baking my own bread, an Uncle who owned many, many farms presented me with a bucket of wheat that had come straight from his harvester. Cleaning out the residual dust and chaff and then grinding it into flour took time, but the bread I made from this had an extra dimension of taste, a nutty sweetness that apparently gets lost even from the finest brands of commercial flour.

 Now swaddled in a/c and so distanced from our original place in nature, enthralled by our gadgets, the Loaf Mass reminds me of a time when all humans grubbed dirt. They endured summer heat and desperately prayed for rain, hoping to raise enough food to get them and theirs through the next winter.

The impulse remains to say thank-you to the earth and the living gifts she bestows which sustain us. August always begins in my house with the baking of a few celebratory loaves, no matter how goll-durn hot it is outside.      

~~Juliet Waldron
See all my historical novels @

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Friday, July 28, 2017

A Poodle, a Wedding Anniversary, and a Opossum By Connie Vines

I had an article about the craft of writing written and ready to post.  I decided, instead, to share that post next month.


For those of you who follow my Twitter, Instagram, author Facebook page, or website, you know I often share stories about my little poodle-mix puppy, Chanel.

Please, no groaning from those of you who prefer cats.

Chanel, is lively, friendly, and poodle-like in her powers of reasoning.

She is also serious about her friendships.

Well, before the SoCal winter rains, there was a young opossum who would walk along the block wall several nights a week at 2:00 A.M.  I know this because this is the time I usually finish writing and get ready for bed.  Chanel dance in a circle requesting to step outside.  She would run over to the wall and bark, causing the little white-faced opossum to dart away.

I would pick her up, instructing her to leave “Harvey” alone.  (Yes, I know he is a wild animal and does not possess a name.)  Chanel, however, knows every ‘thing’, be it a person, toy (bouncy-ball, Side-kick, blue bouncy-ball), animal, or ‘food’, has a name.

So, this opossum was dubbed Harvey.

Harvey didn’t return during the rains, or afterwards.  Then, magically, one night a larger, more attractive, and braver “Harvey’ returned.

This time he sat on the wall and waited for Chanel to bark at him.  I’d pick her up, bid “Harvey” good evening.  While the two of them stared at each other for a few moments.  We’d go in and Harvey would leave.

Where does “Harvey” live?  I believe he lives in the yard next door (the owner is a bit of a zealous ‘collector’), or perhaps in the shrubby in a nearby park.  I’m not too sure if he has a family.

It has never gone past the ‘flirting’ stage with Chanel.   And ‘Harvey’ never ventures into our yard when we are about.

Today, all of that changed.

Today was my wedding anniversary.  My husband and I went to local home-style diner for an early dinner.  We bid Chanel bye and promised to bring her home a mini-hamburger patty.  No. Sorry. No riding in the car this time.

When we got back to the car, packed left-overs and doggie meal in hand, my husband voice his concern about something handing from his side bumper.

I bent over to examine it.  While my husband kept saying he would yank the piece of the plant out from the bumper, I objected.

It wasn’t a plant.

It had an odd texture.  It was a pale color.  It was a snake, no. A rat. . .oh, no!
It was the hook of a opossum’s tail.

“Harvey!  I hope we didn't kill Harvey!"

“Harvey?” my husband questioned.

“Yes.  See, that’s Harvey’s tail.”  The tail went limp, they turned back into a hook.

“This could only happen to you,” my husband’s response.

“Harvey just wanted to join us for our Anniversary dinner.”

My husband stifled a chuckle.  “I doubt that very much.”

“Now at least we know where he sleeps during the day.”

So, we drove home via the city streets, so not to ‘over heat’ Harvey.  While my husband explained that freeing 'Harvey' was my responsibility. When we arrived home, Harvey had pulled his tail back up into the wheel well, waiting for us to leave.

Do you have an unexpected anniversary story to share?

Happy Reading,


*The chance of rabies in an opossum is EXTREMELY RARE. This may have something to do with the opossum's low body temperature (94-97ยบ F) making it difficult for the virus to survive in an opossum's body.*

They are beneficial to eliminate rodents, snakes, insects and carrion, and they provide a VITAL “grounds-keeping” function in most urban environments.

October 2017 Release
                  Barnes and Noble

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The upheavals of moving - by Vijaya Schartz

Find all my BWL books on their site HERE

My cat Jasmine was very upset when she saw all the books disappearing from the shelves, and many of the small furniture, wall pictures and mirrors vanish from what had been her home for the past three years. And what was that strange contraption on the patio? It looked like a cage!

I only moved a mile and a half away, and I had a month to make the move, so I took my time carrying out the small stuff myself. Never would I have guessed I had accumulated so many things in the short three years I lived there.

So upset was Jasmine by the time the movers came, she hid in the cupboard under the bathroom sink for the entire duration.

Finally, at the end of the major moving day, I went to pick up Jasmine. The poor thing didn't want to come out from under the sink. After much coaxing, she finally stepped out, only to bolt back to her hiding place when she realized the entire apartment was now empty.

After much effort, that included crawling under the bathroom sink, I retrieved my reluctant little kitty (not so little, as she is a well fed cat) and managed to get her into the carrier under violent protests.

The short drive to the new place was punctuated by much complaining from Jasmine, in the carrier belted onto the passenger seat. She never liked riding in a car and let me know it loud and clear.

Finally, I took her out of the car and carried her upstairs. When I opened the carrier, she immediately stepped out then looked around. Realizing all her favorite things were here, she started purring and exploring, with her tail up, like a happy cat. My new residence, another small apartment, was now packed with boxes and piles of books.

The furniture, bought to fit the previous place, did not fit as well in the new rooms. Although of similar size, the different dimensions and proportions of the rooms did not allow for the same setup.  I had to try several configurations, as the one I had originally intended did not look good once in place. But Jasmine had already found her favorite spots. She loves windows and here there are tall trees, and birds in them. Free TV for cats!

The worst part for me was to live without internet service or TV for over a week. But after all these details were resolved, Jasmine and I are ready to enjoy our new place. Here she is, at home at last, enjoying the recliner, like any spoiled cat must.

As for me, I'll soon be back to writing, once I catch up with all my emails and social media obligations... and up to date with all my changes of address. Moving is definitely a major event, no matter that it was only a mile and a half away.

Keep up with my books on my website:

 Vijaya Schartz
 Action, Romance, Mayhem
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Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Ghosts and memories—Tricia McGill

Check out my Books We Love author page for information on all my books. 
This little story I wrote years ago is one of my favorites, for it reminds me of holidays my husband and I spent in Devon and Cornwall in the early days of our marriage. I loved those dear little cottages with a staircase hidden in the corner of a tiny living room. I so enjoyed walking along a beach with the wind blowing a gale, or horse riding in the surrounding countryside. But most of all I loved the ghost stories the locals enjoyed regaling us with.
The Blue Ball Inn

A typical Cornish Cottage
We spent quite a few holidays in Lynton/Lynmouth and also stayed at a farmhouse owned by friends. All I recall is that we drove past the Blue Ball Inn on Countisbury Hill (an old coaching inn), which still thrives, to reach it set in a vale. I saw one of my first ghosts in the bedroom of that farmhouse while my husband slept blissfully at my side. I loved the landscape that inspired R.D. Blackmore’s Lorna Doone. I had one of the first editions of the book, so small I could barely read it, but unfortunately it has been lost somewhere along the way.   
I hope you enjoy this small tale. It’s far from the romance I usually write. And I would love to hear from you if you know any of the places above or are lucky enough to live in that area.

The Ghost

On this gusty windswept day, the trees along the shore bowed in the southerly blowing in off the ocean. Mavis strode along the sands, pausing now and then to pick up a shell that caught her eye. At 84 Mavis didn't look her age, for she was spritely, always on the move. "No time to dawdle," she claimed.

Mavis enjoyed her single state. Jilted years ago by a salesman passing through who offered her marriage before skipping off, and taking her savings with him, she chose to be a spinster. Mavis’s coat was the black one she'd worn for her mother's funeral twenty years ago to this day.

"Evening Vicar," she said to the tall man who stopped and raised his hat in greeting. "Bit blowy today, eh?" The parish priest was one of the only two men in town she ever deigned to pass the time of day with. The doctor was the other one. They were fun to argue with.

"Have to expect it now Mavis, with winter on us." He smiled benevolently.

Mavis pushed the hair escaping from her bun out of her eyes, and grinned. "Best time of the year. No tourists. Darned tourists are enough to make you sick." She waved a bony hand, grimacing. She hated the streams of visitors who flocked to their little Cornish town every summer.

"If it wasn't for them the town would be in poor shape, Mavis. We need them to keep our heads above water," he said wryly.
"Make an awful mess and chase the wildlife away, and drive about like lunatics," she told him in disdain. "Must be off, lots to do." She gave him a wave and marched on along the sands. The wind grew stronger, blowing grains into her eyes. She squinted and scowled at a group of local children running her way.

"Here comes the old witch," she heard one of them say, and she laughed to herself. Good. If they thought her a witch they'd keep well away from her.

"Snips and snaps and frogs and old bones," she wailed, turning off into the bushes that shielded the main street from the sea. The branches of the smaller trees were bent low and one caught her on the cheek as she ducked under it.

"How d'ya know she's a witch?" one child asked, as Mavis leaned against the trunk of a gnarled tree to catch her breath.

"She's got a mole on her face with hairs sticking out of it, and a pointed nose, like the witch in the Wizard of Oz. And did you ever look at her eyes? They're like rat's eyes—all beady and glassy. Of course she's a witch."

Mavis cackled and pulled a butterscotch out of her pocket, popping it into her mouth as she made her way home to her cottage on the outskirts of town. With its four rooms, two up and two down, it was a bit cramped while her mother and father were alive, but now she was on her own it suited her nicely.

After hanging her coat on the hall-stand she went to the tiny kitchen off the living room and put the kettle on. It was getting dark. She shivered. That was the only trouble with winter. It was coming up to the time she dreaded. The time when the ghost was reportedly seen walking the streets, seeking revenge.

She made her tea and sat with a contented sigh on the armchair by the fire, poking at the coals until she got it glowing nicely. A loud thump brought her out of the chair with such a start that she knocked her cup of tea over. "What in heaven was that?" she whispered, brandishing the poker as she moved to stand at the base of the narrow enclosed staircase in a corner of the room. Another loud bump was followed by a strange sliding noise. The hairs all over Mavis's body stood to attention.

"Who's there?" Despite trying to sound fierce, she only managed to sound as scared as she felt. "Come on down and show yourself," she ordered, pulling the edges of her old cardigan together as if it would give her protection.

She heard a low moan and cringed back in fear. "Come on down this minute." She took a few paces back, when the top stair creaked as it always did when someone stepped on it. Her teeth began to knock together and her knees shook.

Whoever was up there was coming down. She counted the stairs. One two three... right up to twelve, but still no one showed their face. Mavis bit back a scream as she moved slowly forward. Peering round the edge of the wall encasing the stairs, she prodded with her poker.
"Ouch," a voice close by said, and Mavis jumped a foot in the air, then raced to the far side of the room to hide behind the sofa, every inch of her shaking. The wind knocked at the windows and howled down the chimney, sending sparks from the fire onto the bricks in front of it.

"Where are you?" she moaned like a frightened child. "What sort of trick are you playing?"

"No trick madam." The voice came from the other side of her sofa. Mavis peered over the top. The sofa was empty, but one of the cushions moved slightly and then a dent appeared in its middle. "I'm sorry if I scared you, but I was looking for my ring. I lost it last winter as I was passing through, and I thought I may have left it here."

"Here?" Mavis squeaked. What was she doing talking to nothing?

"Yes, I've been staying here for the last hundred years or so on my way up north. Nice lodgings you have here."

"Lodgings?" She bristled indignantly. "What are you doing coming into my home like this and thinking you can stay when you feel like it." Holding the poker in front of her defensively she walked round to the front of the sofa and began to wave it about.

"Careful where you put that, madam," the voice warned. "I died by the sword, so I don't wish to be marked again by a poker." The voice guffawed and Mavis couldn't believe her ears.

"I don't believe this," she declared, sure it was all her imagination playing tricks. "If you were a real ghost I'd be able to see you." She reached forward with a hand and moved it about where she estimated the voice came from.

"You wouldn't want to do that madam, believe me. I'm not a pretty sight. Who would be after the death I went through? At least I haven't got to carry my head around like some I know, for they didn't chop it off." He laughed again, quite cheerfully.
"They? Who's they?" Mavis was interested, in spite of herself.

"The King's guards. I was a trader. Pirate, I believe you call it these days. Oh what fun we had, smuggling in wine and perfume and fine silks and goods. I was betrayed by a woman. One I thought cared." He sighed long and sadly, then cheered up as he declared, "I'll show you where my stuff is all cached away if you like."

Mavis sat beside the dent in the cushion, intrigued now. "How can you show me if I can't see you. I can hardly follow you, can I?"

"Why ever not, madam. Come follow my voice." The cushion moved and then the voice said from somewhere near the door, "Let's go, follow me up to the large cave near the castle wall and I'll show you a way into the secret cellars."

Without thought, Mavis did as he bade.

* * *

They found her next morning, sitting in the cave where the ghost was said to haunt each mid-winter. Her eyes were unseeing, her clothes soaked by sea water, and her mind gone.

"So sad," said the vicar. "It's not like Mavis to go out without a coat at this time of the year."

There were scratches on her hands and her nails were all broken. They found marks on the back wall of the cave as if someone had tried to claw their way through. On the third finger of her left hand was a huge emerald set in a thick gold band. Mavis smiled as she touched it when they gently carried her away.

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