Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Arc of the Story..."Where the River Narrows"

Billie Burke as Glinda, the Good Witch of the North
“It’s always best to start at the beginning.” Wise words from the Good Witch of the North in one of my all-time favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz.

Then again, I doubt old Glinda ever wrote a novel or she probably would have come up something a bit less confusing. Unlike Dorothy, I would have asked, “What is the beginning?”

Okay, in the context of the movie, this is pretty much self-explanatory: If you’re heading from Munchkin Land to the Emerald City, you start out on the Yellow Brick Road and keep going until you reach the big gate with the broken door bell. But with a novel, it ain’t that easy. You can start in media res (in the middle of the action) or at square one, as in Tom Jones, by Henry Fielding, with the lead character as a baby. You can start at the end and work backwards, or with a prologue…. The possibilities are nearly endless.

Today’s readers are not so forgiving as Mr. Fielding’s in the middle of the 18th century, or Charles Dickens’s in the 19th  or even Margaret Mitchell’s in the early 20th century. They want something more fast-paced. They want to jump into a book without the long preambles and slow development our pre-multimedia-consuming ancestors found so appealing. Gone are the days of the family sitting around the fire, by candle- or lamplight after supper on a long winter night, reading aloud as the sole form of entertainment.

The fact that I write historicals places certain restrictions on how I approach the arc of a book. The characters are vital to the plot, and the setting has nearly equal weight when planning how the book will be structured. I like the deep third person point of view that allows the reader to see through the eyes of more than one character, and I try to include just enough details of time and place without them being overwhelming.

In Where the River Narrows (with fellow BWL author Ron Ady Crouch, to be published

         cover photo © Janice Lang
by in July 2018), I’ve chosen to begin the book at a what I consider to be a logical start-off point. The Exposition introduces the characters (Elisabeth Van Alen, her family, servants and neighbors, and Gerrit Bosch, the groom-to-be in this “Brides” story) without a lot of preamble. The goal is to show them going about their normal lives while painting in the features and subtleties of the era as a natural offshoot of their daily activities. But to simply present a bunch of people running around in costumes performing out-dated tasks would be boring without a hint of something about to happen. Something is brewing that will upset this idyllic scene and have far-reaching consequences.

Before the proverbial cart is overturned, relationships between the characters are established, the groundwork laid for the “bride” aspect of the book, and the external conflicts put in place that are responsible not only for capsizing the wagon but for trampling its contents under foot.

Following the “Exposition,” we move on to the “Rising Action.” After the inciting incident (the event that sets the wheels turning), the story takes on an entirely different feel. What had been normal and comfortable no longer is so. War does this, and war, in the form of the American Revolution, has dire consequences for Elisabeth and Gerrit. There are losses and separations. Loved ones die, confidences are betrayed, and the survivors are forced to carry on amid harsh and forbidding circumstances. In this part of the book, Elisabeth and the remnants of her family and servants make a perilous trek to Canada where they hope to seek asylum among the British troops and loyalists to wait out the conclusion of the war. On the way, they meet up with an assortment of colorful characters based on historical accounts from a variety of sources. Once they arrive in Quebec Province, they need to survive further hardship and privation.

The Climax, Falling Action, and Denouement haven’t been written yet. (Neither, for that matter, has much of the Rising Action). But the arc of this story plays out nightly in my mind before I fall asleep. Even though I do not “plot” per se, this book is already as indelible as it could be. There is room for change…but not much. That depends on the research materials I continue to pore over. As anyone who’s ever written a historical novel will tell you, there are gold nuggets waiting to be mined from some dusty old tome that can put a new spin on even those story elements that today seem untouchable.

We shall see….


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, Winter Fire, 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 BWL Author page for more information and links to order, or visit her website. All of Kathy’s books are available in e-book from a variey of online retailers, and in paperback.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Syllabub & Candy Memories  A Master Passion   ISBN: 1771456744
Alexander and his Betsy

A delicious 18th Century treat with which our Founders--and their wives--were entirely familiar.  I'm sure the Hamiltons served this at their dinner parties, especially during the spring, when the cows have freshened and the cream is at its thickest.

Here's a recipe, a variant of many to be found on the web or, yesterday, in what are now historic cookbooks. 

1/4 cup sweet white wine such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer, or, if you want it less sweet, Chablis
2 TBS Brandy (Golden Brandy gives a paler color)
1/2 cup of sugar
1/2 vanilla bean seeded
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp. lemon zest

4 wine glasses

In a small nonreactive bowl, mix wine, sugar, zest from lemon and the vanilla bean. Let this stand over night in the fridge.

12 hours later, remove the vanilla bean. Using another chilled bowl, take the heavy cream and  using a whisk + elbow grease or an electric mixer, whip 'till it forms soft peaks. (Take care not to over work it and turn the cream into butter.)  When the peaks form, spoon into glasses and let stand.

As the picture above, I use wine glasses (these look like Colonial Williamsburg glasses to me) filled 1/2 to 3/4 full, then covered with plastic film and stored in the fridge. After an overnight, the mixture will separate, leaving a layer of cream on top of a liquid. The longer it stands, the more separation you get. The bottom liquid will show the color of whatever wine + brandy was used. Use any brandy you like.

This is a modern recipe. No fridge or plastic film in the 18th Century. They simply stood the glasses on a table, covering them with a clean cloth to keep would-be buggy diners from drowning themselves. The acidic nature of the dessert would preserve it at room temperature for some days. I've seen some 18th Century sieve gizmos which they used to lift the head of cream from the glass, then they'd serve the syllabub as a two-parter, using the wine/brandy liquid for a chaser.  (I prefer to spoon a little of both out of a wine glass, and then, child-like, slap the cream straight down on my tongue. (Many years ago I knew a little girl who turned her jelly sandwiches jelly side down each time she took a bite. I think I got the idea of eating Syllabub that way from her.) Another method was to use the cream as a topper for fresh fruit, while enjoying the liquid in a separate glass.
A Sugary Digression:  

In my grade school days, I lived in Skaneateles, NY, where we were snowed in for what felt like eons. Sometimes I entertained myself with a candy recipe book that had been written before World War One; it had my Grandma Liddle's name inside the front flap. 

The directions said things like: "Take a piece of butter about the size of your thumb..." (My thumb? Your thumb? All of my thumb? To the first joint?") I'd just have to guess. This was, in a way, a great cook book for a kid in a way because it made me think and also try to learn more about ingredients. I'd also ask my adults questions, something that my parents thought was mostly a good thing.

What I created sometimes worked--consistency is a hob-goblin of mine--but sometimes I'd end up with chocolate cement or--if you yanked it off the fire prematurely-- syrup. The last could be poured over ice cream, which wasn't a bad option, but let's face it, a lump of sugar + cocoa makes a great
 "gateway" drug for most kids. It wasn't a bad way to spend some of a snowy Sunday.

Syllabub is very sweet, so something plain, like crackers or tinned biscuits or good homemade rolls may be served with it.  You'll often see plates of these items in period pictures of Syllabub parties.

The excerpt which follows is taken from Hannah Wooley's "The Queen-like Closet" recipe book, (London; 1674)

Take one Quart of cream, one Pint and an half of Wine or Sack, the Juice of two Limons with some of the Pill, and a Branch of Rosemary, sweeten it very well, then put a little of this Liquor and alittel of the Cream into a Basin and beat them till it froth, put that Froth into the Sillibub pot and so do till the Cream and Wine be done, then cover it close and set it in a cool Cellar for twelve hours, then eat it.

This lady appears to be having her arm yanked right out of her sleeve in this  
scene depicting events in Richardson's 1740 novel, "Pamela." 

I do approve of this recipe's final instruction. 

~~Juliet Waldron

See all my historical novels @

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Ask a Writer about His or Her Pet by Connie Vines

Ask a writer about his or her pets and you’ll likely hear a story of long-term friendship and love.

We spend a lot of our time alone with our computers, so it’s likely that we, perhaps more than others, appreciate the benefits our pets bring into our lives.

They are the ones that sit close by while we type out our bestsellers, soothe our sadness when our work is rejected, and rejoice (or stare at us in puzzlement) when we squeal over our successes.
Just what kind of pet is best for a writer?  Does the genre a writer specializes influence the appeal of one type of pet over another?

I explored the various health benefits provided by the different types of animals we may choose to share our lives with.

Fish: The Low Maintenance, Calming Option

There are few things as relaxing as watching a group of fish swim around in an aquarium. Just sitting and observing these little gilled and graceful beings is good for you, particularly if you’ve had a stressful day.

Researchers reported in 2015 that people who spent time watching aquariums and fish tanks experienced measurable reductions in heart rate and blood pressure. The more fish in the tank, the more they improved people’s moods. It was the variety they liked—watching the different shapes and colors as the fish moved around.

Fish are known to provide a calming, tranquil effect, and their aquarium can be a truly beautiful addition to your home or apartment.

Fish don’t require as much care as other types of animals, nor do they need the same amount of space. They don’t suffer from separation anxiety when you’re gone (at least as far as we know), they get by with minimal cleanup, and they are quiet—no worries about bothering the neighbors.

Cat: Good for Your Heart Health

Owning a cat is good for your heart, and that’s just the beginning. In a 2009 study, participants who had the royal pleasure of owning a cat had a lower risk of death from heart attack or stroke than those who didn’t—more specifically, a 30 percent lower risk of suffering from a heart attack.

In fact, cats are so good at helping protect your heart that they were named as “better than cholesterol meds” in a 2008 article in Psychology Today.

Researchers theorize that it’s the action of petting cats that helps reduce stress levels and protect the heart. Cats are notoriously lap animals, and we humans experience a number of health benefits from simply stroking their fur, experiencing their warmth, and listening to them purr.

The purr may be what gives cats their true healing superpower. A 2006 study by Fauna Communications found that the average cat’s purr has a frequency between 25 and 140 Hz, which covers the same frequency range as that used for therapeutic bone growth, fracture healing, pain relief, wound healing, tendon repair, and muscle and joint repair.

Indeed, the purr originally developed in the cat as an evolutionary way to heal their own bodies. The sound and vibration may do the same for us on a smaller scale.

A cat does require more time and energy than fish, obviously, and you’ve got to be able to handle the regular litter box cleanup. They are great for small homes and apartments, though, as they can be total inside animals. They’re usually less destructive than dogs when left at home, so if you travel now and then and don’t have a yard—and you don’t mind the occasional cat hair on your keyboard—this may be the best pet for you.

Guinea Pigs: Great for the “Cuddle” Factor and for Kids

Like all pets, guinea pigs provide us with companionship and stress relief, but they have a special quality that was discovered in a 2013 Australian study.

Researchers gave guinea pigs to one group of children with autism spectrum disorder as well as to another control group. They found that children with autism, when playing with the guinea pigs, showed significantly increased positive social behaviors. They also displayed less anxiety. The researchers concluded that the animals acted as “social buffers” for the children, while providing measurable effects on their anxiety and stress levels.

These cuddly little guys are similar to cats in that they chirp and purr, their sounds potentially soothing and healing, and they also provide the “petting” benefit, as they love to be held and loved. And unlike some rodents, guinea pigs are not nocturnal, so they won’t wake you up with their rustling at night.

They’re also a fairly economical option when considering pet ownership, they work well in small homes, and they’re actually considered to be “clean” animals, preferring their houses to be fresh and tidy.

Guinea pigs are quiet and friendly, but they do need your attention.  So, if you do have to be gone for long hours at work, you may want to consider getting two, so they can keep each other company.

Horse: The Best Option to Get You Outdoors and Feeling Confident

The number of health benefits associated with owning a horse are so numerous it would take a whole other post to list them all. Horses not only help relieve stress, they get you outside and get you active, providing a really enjoyable mode of exercise.

You work all your muscles while riding, and then there’s the grooming, mucking out the stalls, throwing hay, hauling water, and more that builds up muscle strength and aerobic capacity. Studies have shown that these activities can be qualified as “high-intensity.” One of the really unique benefits of horse ownership is that when you ride, you stimulate and ease digestion. The horse’s gait is so similar to a human’s that your internal organs react as they would when you take a walk, which means a quick ride after dinner is a great idea.

In a 2012 study, researchers reported that horseback riding was particularly beneficial for women riders, encouraging physical activity and stimulating self-confidence. Women, in particular, also seemed to enjoy the psychological interaction with the horse, and experienced benefits in mental and emotional well-being from being around them.

According to a 2017 study, horseback riding improved memory, learning, and problem solving. Apparently, the vibrations produced by the horse’s movements activated the sympathetic nervous system, which resulted in improved performance on cognitive tests.

Bird: The Pet That Talks Back and Lives Long.

My parents owned and were breeders of pet parakeet for many years. I remember banding the newly hatched birds and placing them back inside of the ‘bird house’ inside the Avery when I was very young.

Birds are intelligent creatures. The National Audubon Society says that birds have problem-solving abilities and cognitive capabilities that demonstrate high intelligence. You can teach most to do tricks, and some to talk. That requires interaction, which helps relieve stress and stimulate your brain. Give them some toys and they’re also really entertaining to watch.

Birds may not be as naturally loving as some of their furry counterparts, but with regular interaction they can become very affectionate. Some even accompany their owners on regular daily errands, so if you want some company when getting more paper or ink, look into pets of the beaked variety.
Birds are also longer-lived than most other pets, which can save you the frequent grief that comes with losing critters like guinea pigs, cats, dogs, and fish, which usually don’t live nearly as long. They’re fairly economical to keep.

Birds usually work well for those living in apartments and condos, though they can be noisy if they don’t get enough attention. Birds can also be messy. Most experts recommend you let the bird out of its cage for several hours a day, and that can mean cleaning up after it wherever it happens to go.
Since birds tend to peck and flick their food and bedding materials about. You’re likely to find little pieces of it on the floor, in the corners.

If, however, you work full-time at home and you like the idea of a long-lived, intelligent pet that’s amusing to watch (I have found birds love to entertain people), a bird may be the way to go.

Dog: The King of Companion Animals

Okay, I saved the king of pets for last. Indeed, the dog has the most scientific research behind it as far as what it can do for humans, and the benefit list is long. They do most everything all the other pets listed here do, and more.
Yes, they relieve stress, promote exercise and activity, and provide the “petting” and loving factor. They’re smart and can learn all sorts of tricks from you, stimulating your brain and theirs at the same time.

Dogs are regularly used as therapy animals, as they can help people heal faster from surgery and illness, while lowering stress levels in caregivers. Studies have shown that dogs, like cats, help reduce heart disease, and that dog owners are way more likely than those without dogs to stick with their 30 minutes of daily exercise. Because of a dog’s demand for that regular walk, it can help you lose weight and work out your plot problem.

Scientists have found that social ties are important to our long-term health and wellbeing. Dogs help here, too. Dog owners make new friends more easily, because people are more likely to talk to someone when they have a dog with them.

Many writers are prone to depression, which makes a dog the perfect companion. A 2004 study reported that the hormonal changes that occur when humans interact with dogs help people cope with depression. Just a few minutes with a dog releases feel-good hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin, and oxytocin. It also reduces the stress hormone cortisol.

Dogs may even improve your relationship with your partner or spouse, as shown in a 1998 study. Researchers reported that couples who owned dogs (or cats) responded better to stress, had closer relationships, and were more satisfied with their marriages than couples who did not own these pets.
There are some drawbacks to owning a dog. If you have to be gone for any length of time at all, you’ll need to find a pet sitter or kennel. They tend to need more attention than most pets, require at least a basic level of obedience training, and can be destructive when you’re gone.

There are few animals that provide as much interaction, stress relief, and understanding as a dog, though, as any writer who owns one will tell you.

 Any Pet Will Benefit a Writer

It’s fun looking at the pros and cons of different types of pets—and obviously I can’t cover them all—but the bottom line is that any pet is better than none. There’s something about caring for another living thing that brings out the best in us.

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that pets decrease blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels; reduce feelings of loneliness, encourage physical activity, and provide opportunities for social interaction. It’s fun to debate which critter is best, but at the end of the day, what matters is having something around that you care about, and that needs you.

What is your favorite kind of pet?  
Are your friends surprised by the type of pet you hold dear?  Or are the two of you 'the perfect pair'?

Any guesses as to what type of pet(s) for favorite BWL author(s) has (past or present).

If your are a frequent the BWL author blog you probably have a good idea.
Guesses are welcomed in the comments section :-).

Happy  Reading and Happy Holidays!


Please visit these sites to purchase my current releases:
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Monday, November 27, 2017

Is technology making our lives easier, or more complicated? by Vijaya Schartz

Sci-fi tells us where the technology is going in the Ancient Enemy series. Find these books and others from Vijaya HERE

We rely on technology so much these days, that the simplest hick-ups can ruin a perfectly good day... or week... and even a life. As a science fiction writer (among other genres) I love futuristic technology, but it sometimes gives me nightmares.

I remember  a long time ago someone saying "If cars were as unreliable as computers, no one would drive." Well, now computers drive our cars as well. Last summer, a Tesla on autopilot ran full speed into a semi, killing the non-driver. As much as we would like to think technology is perfect, it isn't. And Uber is implementing driverless cars!

We have learned to accept these glitches as growing pains. And like everyone else, I did, gracefully... until a few days ago, when Firefox updated their browser.... and my personal nightmare started.

"Faster and more powerful" said the update. All of a sudden, my passwords were not recognized... most of them anyway. I am still locked out of my main email account with Cox.... and cut out from my business mail. I can't access my account at Amazon. Facebook still works, and so does my online banking, but I am scared to even try to access many of my regular writers and readers sites, for fear of the nightmare.

I tried to contact Cox, of course, but their automatic phone butler keeps you listening to music for hours and never lets you speak to an operator.

"Just reset your password," says one site... but in order to do so, they must accept my old password, which they don't. Then they say they'll send you an email to confirm and you will have to acknowledge the change by clicking the link they emailed you, before you can log in again.... but I can't access my email! Grrrrr.

Although usually comfortable navigating cyberspace, I suddenly feel inadequate. Am I getting old? Am I wrong to expect updates not to mess up my carefully organized life? Or is there something more sinister going on?

Maybe there is a story in here... every life experience can be fodder for popular fiction, right? Imagine a world where glitchy computers make life and death decisions... Or is it already happening, and we are not aware of it?

There is a big difference between technology and progress. Although we are making great leaps in technology, progress lags behind, since progress is the evolution of the human mind and the human condition. I think mutual respect, quality of work and life, and caring customer service are part of progress, but these seem to be sorely lacking in today's society.

Sorry for venting here, but I was wondering if you had similar experiences with glitchy technology.

  Vijaya Schartz
  Action, Romance, Mayhem
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Sunday, November 26, 2017

A short story from Tricia McGill

Find buy links to Tricia McGill's books here
My dear sister was in a nursing home for the last nine months of her life, and so through regular visits I came to meet a lot of people, male and female, who suffered some form of dementia. One lady in particular, a sweet old soul, asked me every time I went in, “Where am I?” and “Why am I here?” So I explained each time where she was and why she was there. The reason being that her only son could not care for her any more as he had to go out to work each day. Strangely she never forgot her name. Most of us have been touched by this illness, be it a family member or just someone you know.

I wrote this short story a long time ago when I knew nothing about Alzheimer’s or the effects it has on the loved ones of the sufferers. One of my other sisters had dementia before she passed away 19 years ago. We had little idea at the time and merely thought she was becoming forgetful and having hallucinations, and only found out from her doctor after she passed. She died at home so was saved having to go into care. It’s those closest to the dementia patients who suffer the most torment as they feel they would rather have their loved one with them. But mostly it becomes unsafe for the patient to be left alone as they tend to wander off and forget whether they are coming or going. Thank God that every day our amazing scientists and researchers move closer to finding a cure.

So, here is my little story called “Who Am I?”
            Why am I in this hospital bed? I know it's a hospital so why don't I know who I am. I'm a woman, and when I looked in the mirror I had quite a pleasant surprise because I'm not bad to look at. The doctor who keeps checking up on me and asking strange questions is not a bad looker either. He gets that certain look in his eye when he examines me; I know he finds me attractive.
I look as if I've been around for a while, but I feel like a child. This is most annoying, this not knowing. I seem to recall I came from a nice place, at least I had decent underwear on when they brought me in here. My dress was a ruin, but it was a nice colour, sort of green and . . . I can't quite remember what other colour.

            I didn't have any shoes on, which seems strange. I somehow feel that I don't like walking about barefoot. The doctor said they've put my picture in the paper so surely someone who knows me will come forward soon to claim me. Perhaps I hit my head and that’s why I can’t remember my name.

            The doctor has just walked into the room, his clip-board in his hands, as usual. What nice hands he has, so well-manicured. My hands are nicely shaped too, and apart from the two broken nails are in pretty good shape. They certainly don't look as if they have to do the washing up often. Perhaps I'm a film star. Or a society queen. Could I be a television star? It's most annoying.

            'Here's a visitor, Mrs Jacobs,' he is saying, but I don't think he can know what he's talking about, because that's not my name. At least I'm sure it's not. And I'm sure they must have got the rooms mixed up, because I've never met this man who is standing over the bed. He can let go of my hand too, the old fool. I don't know him. How dare he touch me?

            'Hallo Maisie old girl,' he's saying. Who does he think he is?

            'Go away,' I tell him, but he just looks very sad and keeps hanging onto me tightly so that I can't get my hand away, no matter how much I try.

            'We're going home,' he is telling me. I have no wish to go anywhere with a complete stranger. I shall scream and then that nice doctor will take pity on me and tell this strange man to leave me alone.

            'Perhaps you'd better come back later Mr Jacobs,' the doctor is advising him and I have to have a little chuckle. I've got my way again - I think.

I wonder what we'll have for tea today. Is it Wednesday or…what comes after Wednesday? Oh dear. I wish I could remember what I was just going to do.

            'Your wife is probably better off in a nursing home, Mr Jacobs,' the doctor is now saying to the stranger. Wife? How dare they talk about me as if I'm not here? I feel like shouting at them, but I haven't got the energy. Why am I so tired?

            'She must have walked a long way, for she was found in Brighton near the beach. When they reach this stage it's better for them to be cared for by well trained staff. She's not safe to be left alone, and you can't have your eyes on her every five minutes of the day.'

        The stranger looks as if he's crying. I don't know why he's so unhappy. It's a lovely day. Look the sun is shining.

The subject was handled very sympathetically in these movies:

Help and information is one click away on the internet or one phone call away.

Tricia McGill's Web Page

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