Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Featured Author Renee Duke


 My name is Renee Duke, the Renee being an offshoot of Irene (pronounced, preferably, if people simply must use it, in the British way, I-Reen-ee), but I never much liked the name ‘Irene’, and at some point in my teen years managed to train almost all but my parents to address me as ‘Renee’.

Born just ahead of a snowstorm to an English mother and Scottish father, I was the youngest child in my family and the only girl. Since brothers came with the house and the bulk of my same-age cousins and neighbourhood playmates were boys, I was somewhat of a tomboy growing up. I did play with dolls and hold tea parties, but my parents’ ability to deck me out in smocked frocks ended as soon as I could dress myself, after which attempts to get me into any kind of frock, or even a skirt, did not go well. (Unless the garment in question was a kilt. Kilts were okay.)  And after the age of eleven, I did, grudgingly, have to accept wearing a skirt or summer frock to school, as they were part of the uniform.  I wasn’t terribly keen on the felt hat, either, but at least it wasn’t a straw boater, like at some halls of learning.

Before that, of course, I attended primary schools, in which uniforms were not compulsory. Back in the late 1950s, some teachers of five- and six-year olds might have been pleased to have some of their charges come to them already able to read and write, but mine was not among them. We were supposed to learn the school’s way. No one had actually taught me to read, but my mother read to me and my brothers a lot and, as with Scout in To Kill A Mockingbird, it was something I just picked up. There wasn’t much the teacher could do about it, since the know-how was already there, but she could, and did, put the cursive writing on hold (that being the form my brothers used and I copied). I found printing much more laborious and time-consuming, but was forced to print until I reached what the school considered the ‘proper’ age to start cursive two years later.

That, however, was just the physical aspect of writing. The creative aspect – that of constructing a story in the mind and transferring it onto paper – came when I was about seven or eight and my teacher (a vast improvement over the earlier one) put several topic sentences on the board and told us to write a story about one of them. Until then I hadn’t really thought about how the books, magazine stories, and comic book scenarios I devoured came into being. They were just there for my enjoyment, like the crayons I coloured with and the toys I played with. That someone had thought them up, and that I could, too, was a revelation. I had, admittedly, told stories to people verbally, but those had only been retellings of stories I’d been told. Including one a four-year-old me treated fellow train passengers to whilst travelling up to Scotland with my mother and second brother. Instead of regaling my captive audience with one of my mother’s perfectly proper tales, I went with one of my father’s less than proper tales, which a man and a young woman sharing our carriage found amusing, but two old ladies did not. A mother-embarrassing point in the trip that I’m sure my father heard about when we got home.

But to get back to my first school composition, I went all out, coming up with not just a story about the life of a banana peel (my chosen subject), but chapters, chapter headings, page numbers, and illustrations (me being, at that time, under the delusion I could draw).

From then on, I wrote stories in school and out.  In school, some teachers were more encouraging than others, most notably Mr. Smith of Garston Lane Primary, who had me do a series of early readers for the Infants class and showed me and three friends how to ink up the school printing press and roll out copies. His only mistake was to go off to the staff room and leave us to it, which resulted in him returning to four ink-covered eleven-year-olds.

I kept writing in my teens and early adult years, and began doing so professionally in the late seventies, with my first article appearing in The Living Message in 1978 and my first short story in The People’s Friend in 1981. Story and article sales to other magazines followed, but I did not turn my attention to books until I retired from teaching in 2012. My Side Trip sci-fi duology is aimed at young adults, the Time Rose time travel series, for which my latest release, Generations Five, is the prequel, at a slightly younger demographic, but adults enjoy my books too.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Comfrey, Cat Warfare, and Green Tomato Sauce

The Commoner and her King

See all my historical novels 

(Crawling out from under the bed to write this.) 

I grew Comfrey in my garden this year and the resulting plants are enormous tall spiky things with leaves that are reminiscent of tobacco. Comfrey was once used in teas, but no more. This is because we've learned that it is toxic when taken orally. Herbalists no longer recommend  it either as tea, or to be used as a wash on an open wound. 

                                                                          Feral Garden

However, the leaves and roots do contain allantonin, a protein that encourages cell division and thus healing. Traditionally, it was used as a wrap for broken limbs and injured joints. The leaves contain a storehouse of other good things --calcium, potassium, phosphorus & vitamins A, C and B12. It sends down a long taproot--sometimes as much as ten feet--to fetch nutrients up to the surface from deep in the soil. 

Why did I plant it? Well, I'd heard that it serves as an activating ingredient for compost piles or simply as a beneficial mulch dug into the garden at the end of the season. Starting it from seed on a windowsill was an early COVID project for me. The seeds must be stratified (chilled) for several weeks before planting in order for them to grow.

Comfrey has pretty purple flowers which I'm enjoying here at the end of the season. The late season pollinators are big fans too and for that reason alone I'm glad I planted it. I will chop it and dig it into both compost and garden after the first frost and and then hope for a flourishing garden next year. 

Right now, I’m typing around a gray love-sucker of a cat, our two year old gray neutered tom, Tony. He was named after Anthony Bourdain, so I should not be surprised at his over the top behavior. He's  charismatic and cuddly, but, sometimes, he's a wicked jealous cat bully.

The villain of the piece

After a few minutes of my typing away, Tony jumps down and slinks away, heading to the other side of the living room in order to mess with Kimi who was enjoying a sunbeam and minding her own business. Inspiring a PTSD attack in one of your emotionally vulnerable housemates and initiating a running battle is a sure-fire way to get my attention away from the keyboard and back to him—the place where it clearly ought to be. 

This is negative attention-getting, according to a long ago child psych course. A decade ago after this kind of inter-pussy cat escalation, I would have put Tony outside so he could test himself against the semi-urban jungle for a few hours daily. That can tone down the rambunctions of a boy cat, but I don’t want to risk losing him. 

                                                     Let's stare at Kimi until she freaks 

Moreover, I no longer want to be an accomplice to a cat's (quite normal) serial killer proclivities. If outdoor cats stuck to mice and voles--and, dare I suggest, maybe even a few of those bulb nabbing chipmunks--I wouldn’t mind so much, but my last outdoor cat--the legendary B0B--bagged way over the limit of native songbirds. My toleration of this will (no doubt) negatively affect my Karma.  
So, these days, my cats stay inside.

With three cats, I could write buckets on the hausfrau trials with multiple cat boxes, but I will spare you the gory details. 

What we house-bound humans are learning is that we must continuously work on integrating this three cat family. These particular cat-onalities continue to evolve and change, just as do the behaviors of the COVID-bound humans who reside here with them.   

And, last but not least: Green tomato pasta sauce!  Yes, this is delicious. I'd never seen a recipe before, but decided I'd try when it stopped raining here about five weeks ago. I was sick of lugging water to the large tomato pots at the end of tour lot and decided to quit. (A week after I took the plants down, it rained--naturally.) 

But as I stripped the vines I knew that some of these fine large green tomatoes would ripen but others would never get there. I used the smaller fruits in the following eyeball-it-as-you go sauce recipe. 

Green tomatoes chopped--the recipe I based this upon used 4 lbs. 

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

garlic cloves--I used 5, but we like garlic

one medium finely chopped onion

red pepper flakes or red pepper to give it a bit of heat

basil--I would say 20 leaves because it's another seasoning we like

You may bake it at 400 degrees in the oven until it reduces--about an hour--or d0 as I did, and throw it all in the crock pot and let it cook down together. 

Serve with pasta (linguini is a nice base) topped with 

pecorino romano cheese

More basil leaves 

and, if you are independently wealthy--a handful of pine nuts.  

We ate ours without the pine nuts and it was still delicious. This was one of those "plan-over" concoctions, where there was plenty left over for the next day.

~~Juliet Waldron

All my Historical Novels

What Do Bats Have To Do With Halloween? by Connie Vines

Even though we are still practicing social distancing during the Pandemic, many of us are pulling out Halloween decorations we've stored away. Or, purchasing items at local stores. 

After all, Halloween is fun!  At least in my house.

I'm not into scary, give-the-children (or me) nightmares.  It's all about the
dressing up, decorations, and "Halloween food."

Past meals have featured: Deadman-Over-Worms (meatloaf shaped like a gingerbread man with his arms at his side, on a bed of wheat spaghetti pasta). Bleeding (strawberry puree) Cemetery Cake, Bloody Fingers (hot-dogs shaped to resemble fingers). My granddaughters are positively ghoulish with glee while painting on the catsup blood. And, of course, their is the ever-popular Jell-O mold of the Frankenstein Monster's brain on the dessert table.

So what is your decoration of choice? Jack o' Lanterns, black cats, witch hats? šŸ± 

Or, perhaps bats (my personal favorites). How did these gentle mammals, not-counting the vampire bats who do like to snack on hot-blooded livestock, become associated with the spooky season, anyway?

There are a few different theories: 

They're nocturnal šŸŒ™

Experts say that nocturnal animals are often associated with death and darkness. "They engage in mysterious activities in the dark and so they have been cloaked in superstition since ancient times." Stanford University classics scholar Adrienne Mayor told National Geographic. And bats are particularly spooky.

 "The combination of dark gray, brown, or black shades with cryptic nighttime habits evoked a sense of awe and fear back in the time when the only lights at night were oil lamps and wax candles." 

And (those poor bats) because they often lived in caves, gave them a historic "association with the underworld". 

They are an in-between kind of animal 

Bats are the only flying mammal, and some cultures consider them a 'liminal' animal--not quite bird, not quite mammal. Something else liminal? Halloween. "One of the main themes of Halloween is liminality--the in-between-ness. It's between one state and another state; between growth and death; between fall and winter. 

Blame Bram Stoker šŸ“–

It wasn't until Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, that bats could change at will. "Dracula" is one of my favorite classic novels, I must confess-- but I'm not buying the evil reputation heaped upon the bats. 

I'll hang my Halloween bat decorations with a smile. 

Those little creatures save us between $3.7 and $54 billion in pest control services every year. They also help pollinate of 700 plants, including many we love to eat. It's the distorted Jack lantern's faces and the scarecrows that give me the fright. 

Do you have a favorite Halloween tradition? 

 How about a Autumn or Halloween soup?

I enjoy Pumpkin Soup After removing the seeds, etc. from the center, I oven-roast my small pumpkin. I then dice up 1/4 - 1/2 of the vegetable before tossing into my crockpot.

There are many pumpkin soup recipes, feel free to share your favorite :) 

Add roasted and diced diced pumpkin in your crockpot or InstaPot (crockpot setting).

 2 cloves of garlic, smashed 
1/2 tsp. ginger 
 2 large yellow onions (sautĆ© in Instapot or in a skillet on the stove top.) 

 Add 2 cups of chicken stock or water 
1 tsp. Cinnamon
 1/2 tsp. Nutmeg 
 1 tsp. salt
 1/2 cup Heavy cream or milk (me)  
2 cups water 

Remember adjust the ingredients to the amount of soup 
you plan to make.

If you do not have a pumpkin you may substitute 2 - 15 oz. cans of Pumpkin puree (not pie filling). 
Cook on a low setting 6 hours; high setting for 4 hours. 

When finished cooking use an immersion blender and blend soup until smooth. 

Top with a bit of sour cream and roasted pumpkin seeds (I purchase my packaged.)

Happy Halloween! And the Perfect time to settle with a cup of tea and a good read šŸµ


                            Rodeo Romance:

                                                                Native American/First People's Series:

Sunday, September 27, 2020

How long should a series be? - by Vijaya Schartz

New Release Malaika's Secret
Available everywhere HERE
I wrote many series, some as short as two books (the Archangel twin books), others as long as eight novels (like the CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE, based on Celtic legends). New authors, and sometimes readers, ask me how long a series should be. There is no universal answer to that question. A series, like a book, should be as long as needed to tell the whole story. 

The number of books also depends upon the characters. 

If they are the same characters throughout the series, is each novel a continuation of the previous book? The author cannot hold the reader without resolution indefinitely. That is how some TV series that started strong lost their momentum when the writers dragged the story too long before offering some kind of explanation or resolution. 

On the other hand, if each novel is a complete story, the series can go on much longer. A few authors have successfully published dozens of novels in the same series that way, some were later adapted for TV series, like Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli & Isles. Harry Potter also comes to mind, but as it features children, and children do grow up, that series was limited from the start. As for characters like James Bond, they can probably go forever with many different incarnations as each generation gives it a different twist. 

Sometimes, each book come with its own set of fresh characters, in the same setting, with a link to the previous and future books. That’s the case for my CHRONICLES OF KASSOUK series, where each book is an independent story with a different hero and heroine. The six novels are set on the same planet, a few centuries apart. For those reading them in the right order, they get to see the evolution of a group of marooned human settlers into a fully grown society, with its particular culture, facing ups and downs, struggling for their independence and for their rights, amid defeats and victories, until the series comes full circle in its unexpected but logical ending. 

My longest series (eight novels) is The CURSE OF THE LOST ISLE, based on Celtic legends. Since my ladies are immortal (related to Morgan the Fay), they reappear in different times in history. The first two books tell the story of Pressine the Fay. In book two, she has three daughters, subsequently featured in the following books. Melusine the Fay has four books, as she appears in different places at different times in history (books 3-4-5-8). Her sisters, Palatina (book 6) and Meliora (Book 7) each have one story to tell, so they only have one novel.

Curse of the Lost Isle series - Celtic Legends

Another technique is to write shorter series, related to each other. Three books is considered a happy number for a series. Easier to commit to for the reader. Some readers also like to only read series that are complete, as they do not want to wait until next year for the next book. The reader who enjoys a three-book series, will likely pick up the next series set in the same world they enjoyed the first time, like the Star Wars universe. 

This is the case for my BYZANTIUM series and AZURA CHRONICLES, set in the same universe with a few crossover characters. Byzantium is a space station, and Azura is a planet, existing in the same universe at the same time.

Most of my series novels are standalones, and the reader can pick up any book and thoroughly enjoy it without missing anything. Then he/she can go back and enjoy the other books as well, even if not read in the chronological order. But if you are like me, you’ll want to read them in the right order to fully appreciate the arc of the bigger story behind the novels. 

On that note the first book in each of my series is currently discounted to $1.49 on amazon. Here they are:

Chronicles of Kassouk - Book One

On the frozen plains of Kassouk, where a few aliens rule a medieval Human world, Tora, Human warrior trained by tigers, seeks her father’s murderer. But what she finds at the point of her sword confuses her. How dare Dragomir, the handsome Mutant, question her bloodline and her loyalties? And could a new enemy control the savage hordes of the fringe?

Dragomir offers to help, but Humans and Mutants are forbidden to fraternize under penalty of death... Should Tora trust her mind, her instincts, or her heart?

In the vortex of war, treason and intrigue, among blizzards, avalanches and ambushes, Tora sets out to solve the mystery of her father’s death. When she unveils the secret of her birth, she realizes Dragomir is the key, and together, they must save their planet from the invaders and fulfill their destiny... if they can survive dire persecutions from those they mean to protect.

Byzantium Book One

A gambler is cheating in a den of the Byzantium space station, and Lieutenant Zara Frankel intends to catch him in the act. She always gets her man, but this one could prove more than she can handle.
Captain Czerno Drake, code name Black Dragon, has come under cover to break his innocent uncle from the most secure penitentiary in the galaxy, on the Byzantium space station. He will stop at nothing to succeed, even enrolling the help of Zara, the lovely straight arrow GTA enforcer. When Zara realizes that she’s been duped by a shrewd but seductive rebel, her reaction surprises everyone, most of all herself.

"I love this one by Vijaya Schartz. As always, her action-packed, well-plotted out prose kept me glued to the pages of Black Dragon from start to finish." TwoLips Reviews 5-kisses and a RECOMMENDED READ

Azura Chronicles Book One

What in the frozen hells of Laxxar prompted Fianna to pursue her quarry to this forbidden blue planet? Well, she needs the credits... badly. But as if crashing in the jungle wasn't bad enough, none of her high-tech weapons work. She'll have to go native, after the most wanted felon in five galaxies. It's not just her job. It's personal.

Acielon has never seen an outworlder like this fascinating female, strangely beautiful, and fierce, like the feline predator loping at her side. He always dreamed of exploring the universe, despite the legends... and the interdiction. Is it truly a hellish place of violence, lies and suffering? If it spawned this intriguing creature, it must also be a place of wonders, adventure and excitement.

Fianna's instincts tell her someone is watching. Sheba, her telepathic feline partner, doesn't seem worried... yet, something on Azura isn't quite right.

Curse of the Lost Isle Book One

From history shrouded in myths, emerges a family of immortal Celtic Ladies, who roam the medieval world in search of salvation from a curse... but if the Church ever suspects what they really are, they will be hunted, tortured, and burned at the stake.

As the Vikings raid the coast of Alba, Pressine of Bretagne sets out to seduce King Elinas of Dumfries, chosen by the Goddess to unite the tribes against the foreign invader. Elinas, still mourning his departed queen, has no intention to remarry. Head strong and independent, Pressine does not expect to fall for the very attractive, wise and noble ruler... Furthermore, her Pagan nature clashes with the religious fanaticism of the king’s Christian heir, who suspects her unholy ancestry and will stop at nothing to get rid of her.

Ancient Enemy Book One

The Anaz-voohri have returned from the stars after eight hundred years, to claim the planet of their ancestors... a blue orb named Earth.

Since he witnessed the abduction of his baby sister by an alien creature, Zack will stop at nothing to rescue her, even if it means joining the Special Forces.

But Tia Vargas, the reckless Amazon training the secret unit for a highly classified mission, has no use for this handsome, rebellious recruit, at least not on the battlefield, until Zack’s farfetched stories prove to be true, and tragedy strikes

Enjoy the discounted reads! 

Vijaya Schartz, author
Strong Heroines, Brave Heroes

Friday, September 25, 2020

If music be the food of love—Tricia McGill


Find all my books here on my BWL page

I’ve not thought about Shakespeare’s quote that finishes with, “play on” for years. It comes from his opening scene in Twelfth Night where this phrase describes Orsino’s poor lovelorn heart. Presumably, what he wants is for his hurting heart, brought about by his unrequited love for Olivia will, much like the music, get such an excess of it that it will die.

Music plays an enormous part in most people’s lives, be it to serenade the love of your life, or simply to have fun. The choice of music, even at the funerals of our loved ones, has a deep meaning, and often gives the mourners a clear picture of the character of the deceased. These days the guitar seems to be an instrument that many young people learn to play. Going back to my childhood, one of my aunties, who happened to live in the same house as my family owned a piano. At most of our family get-togethers—if we happened to end up in her front room—she would be urged to give us a tune. Sadly, that old piano was slightly out of tune, but who cared? Auntie would bang away on the keys and everyone would play the guessing game about what she was actually playing for it took her a while to get into the music. Her eldest daughter was—let us say—forced into taking lessons, likely because Auntie never had the opportunity to have such tuition. My cousin admitted to me that she hated it and I longed to learn the piano but we couldn’t afford such a luxury. That is why to this day I cannot play an instrument, and to be honest cannot sing in tune either—so I have been told. But this lack of a musical ear does not stop me enjoying music. Life would be empty without it.

What brought about these musical thoughts is that the characters in my latest work in progress were about to have a romantic evening alone, and every couple under these circumstances would like a slow dance together. For this, you need music. In the 1940s when London was in the midst of the Blitz, this family did not possess a piano, so the next best thing was a gramophone. My hero Bill comes home with one and a few borrowed records, so the evening is complete with Bing Crosby crooning in the background.  My two eldest sisters owned a gramophone plus a couple of records that I remember clearly to this day. One was Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, the other Gershwin’s - Rhapsody In Blue. I recalled that this marvellous gadget didn’t run on electricity, so therefore I relied on good old Google to remind me how the spring inside had to be tightened, which required a wind up handle.

All this got me to thinking about early musical instruments and where they originated. Flutes made from bird bone and mammoth ivory found in a cave in Southern Germany proved to be 42 to 43,000 years old, so showed evidence of modern humans in Europe that long ago. I am still trying to imagine these Homo sapiens dancing to the music of the flute. They were more than likely used as a ceremonial instrument or a warning signal. 

A pair of trumpets found in Tutankhamen's tomb were proven to be over 3,000 years old. These finely engraved instruments depicted images of their gods.

This proves that mankind has almost always craved music in their lives. The number of instruments invented to fill this craving is endless. We all have our favourite type of music, mine is Country. My husband and I met at a local dance hall on Christmas Eve many years ago, and from then on spent most of our nights out rocking and rolling, perhaps to Bill Haley and the Comets or even The Rolling Stones. One of my sisters was a talented, mostly self-taught, keyboard player.

Enjoy your music--and what is that saying? "Dance like no one is watching." 

Visit my web site for excerpts from all my books

The Viking Village of Ribe by A.M.Westerling

My Viking romance A Heart Enslaved is available at your favourite online store HERE.


A number of years ago, my husband and I were touring Denmark about the time I was thinking of writing a Viking romance. Wouldn’t you know it, but during our travels we came across the Viking village of Ribe, a living museum situated in the south west corner of the Jutland peninsula. We spent a lovely afternoon wandering around the village. It was market day so stalls were set up with merchants selling their wares, including traditional clothing and beautiful woven cloth. 

Traditional crafts were on display as well and I absolutely adored the falcon. 

We wandered around the buildings, clumping along the wooden sidewalks and admiring the gardens surrounded by fences made with woven branches. 

We said goodbye to the three statues guarding the entrance and had one last look of the village as we walked away.

And so ends our little tour of Ribe. I highly recommend visiting this museum if you're ever in Denmark and interested in glimpsing Viking history.


All my books are available through BWL Publishing, HERE. Happy reading! 

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