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"I don’t change the facts to enhance the drama. I think of it the other way round, the drama has got to fit the facts,
and it’s your job as a writer to find the shape in real life."
Hilary Mantel


Sep 27, 2020

Celebrating Autumn





The hours, days, weeks, and months flow by--differently than they did before the pandemic, yet also much the same. As in prior years, the roses continue to bloom into autumn, the lake cottage provides a chance of scene when needed, the dogs still love their daily walks, research on a new project keeps me occupied, and I participate in zoom meetings related to volunteer activities or book events.

I study the changing leaves, and realise that 2020 won't last much longer.

Usually I'm in England or Wales and sometimes Europe at exactly this time of year. I'm missing the people I spend time with there, and look forward to reunion whenever it becomes possible.

I also look forward to being ready to blog regularly about the next book. Not quite time yet. So for now, some photos!

Ruth & Dot arrive at the lake cottage

Sunset Driveway Concerts continue

Sometimes we dine in style while listening to the music

The roses still brighten the garden



One week I had a lot of Zoom meetings. One day, as many as 3!



May your autumn be filled with colour!



Jul 4, 2020

July 2020

Half of this highly unusual year has passed, and the blog suffered from neglect as I focused on other aspects of writing life and life in general.

The winter was devoted to some continued work on my completed manuscript, with the assistance and expertise of my developmental editor. Just as I was beginning to emerge from winter hibernation, COVID-19 interrupted all plans for spring travel--to the UK for research and some truly exciting social activities (including a royal event), for family gatherings, and just generally getting out and about. I went into quarantine prior to official lockdown, due to a possible two-degrees-of-separation virus contact--which fortunately had no effect on me or the friend with whom I was spending time.

In addition to editing, I participated in a quarantine recreation of a classical work of art with objects found within the home. Because Nell Gwyn appears in A Pledge of Better Times, as the mother of my male protagonist, I chose to impersonate her.



During the stay-at-home period, I've been able to enjoy my gardens to the max. In June we hosted our annual Open Garden and Rose Party--socially distanced, of course. The combination of a mild winter  and the maturity of my 155 rose bushes and a deep need of beauty in the midst of difficult times must have combined to make this the best year for roses--ever.




I've had the advantage of socially distanced (that word again!) gatherings with neighbours and a close writer friend and her family. Best of all, and most spirit-lifting was a nightly sunset jazz concert on the driveway next door. Local professional musicians and vocalists, unable to perform at their usual venues, gathered for 100 consecutive nights to delight us. Local and national media attention ensued.



In the final week before a temporary break in the concerts, on night #98, it was my great pleasure and honour to host "Fred and Ginger Night." I wore my own roses in my hair, and a 1930s lace jacket, to present info and fun facts about the music from their films. The set consisted of Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Gershwin Brothers, and Irving Berlin. The songs performed were: A Fine Romance, Night and Day, They Can’t Take That Away from Me, A Foggy Day (in London Town), The Way You Look Tonight, and Cheek to Cheek. I had the best seat of all, the musicians were "swell," as Ginger would say, and the dancers were fantastic. What a lovely way to celebrate my novel...Ginger has a big presence in The Limits of Limelight.





The lake cottage is a welcome retreat and one of the places where my muse is happiest. I look forward to spending more time there, listening to the loons in our bay and walking our dogs and watching the sunsets and nurturing my next novel.



It's impossible to know what that remainder of 2020 has in store. I'm hopeful that everyone is able to adjust to the new normality, whatever that means for each individual and community. And most importantly, that people can keep safe and well.

There won't be as long a break until the next blog installment. I've got a planned interview with somebody who has been so helpful in my research into Golden Age Hollywood. Consider that a Coming Attraction, as they say in the movies!



Dec 18, 2019

December

Not many days left in this year of 2019, a happy and a productive and a busy one.

It concludes with--

seasonal decorating . . . 





From my novels: Hedy, Duchess Diana, her Duke, his parents, Nell Gwyn & Charles II

Lady Mandolinist, purchased weeks ago in London

 . . . and baking . . .

Lebkuchen...complicated, but worth the effort!

. . . and concerts . . . 

Handel's Messiah

. . . and watching dogs play in snow! Lots of snow.


The social calendar is very full, and I'm fitting revisions and planning for our own annual caroling party into these short winter days.

Sending my very best wishes for a wonderful festive season to all, and a brilliant 2020!



Nov 3, 2019

From Summer to Autumn



July and August somehow sped by in a flash, and I was in England and Wales for part of September, and suddenly, with a blaze of New England colour, October is over. I marvel when my calendar confirms that November is here!

For much of the summer, I was able to spend lots of time at our lake cottage, interspersed with author events--bookstore signings, radio interview, library appearance, and meeting with a book group to discuss Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr.

Off to a radio interview in a 1940s-inspired dress

Show and Tell item for a book club meeting

During July, I participated in Camp NaNo, and committed to adding another 25,000 words to my novel. I exceeded my goal.

Our younger dog Dot continued her training, formally--completing Level 2 Obedience--and informally, with her agility set at home. And she accompanied me to Maine to see friends, and had a terrific time romping along the beach.

Young Dot shows off her skills--senior dog Ruth cheers her on

A day on a beach in Maine

Other August activities included a road trip to Massachusetts and Connecticut, to attend a rock concert and do a little research at the Dr. Seuss Museum in Springfield, MA, related to the work-in-progress. I meet some famous, familiar characters there.

The Cat in the Hat


With infamous troublemakers, Thing 1 & Thing 2

September is the month I travel to the UK. In addition to spending time at the usual location in Somerset, I ventured north to re-visit Chester, a favourite city where I've got family connections. Using it as a base, I visited the area in Wales where my Evans ancestors lived--a manor house and a very large farm enveloped by hills. The weather was glorious.

One of the family properties
Making myself at home at the ancestral manor house 


An ancestor was born on this property in 1686. 

 From there, I went to London, where the social calendar was full, and I carried out research in the British Library for future novels, and was able to tour some architecturally significant buildings not generally open to the public. One of my favourite stops was the Royal Society, founded in 1660 by King Charles II, father of Charles Beauclerk, 1st Duke of St Albans and protagonist of my novel A Pledge of Better Times. He was admitted to the R.S. as a Fellow in 1722.



At the Royal Society, Carlton Place, London

Since returning home, I've been putting finishing touches on the w-i-p, and rejoicing at good news about Beautiful Invention. It's one of three finalists for the Independent New England Publishers Association Book Awards for Fiction. And it was a finalist, and winner, as Outstanding Work of Fiction for the New Hampshire Literary Awards. I attended the ceremony, never expecting bring home a prize!

My award
Winners for Non-Fiction & Fiction (photo: Ron Stone)


Award for Outstanding Work of Fiction (photo: Ron Stone)

Shortly after the ceremony, I had another radio interview, followed by an author event way down south at a Barnes & Noble where I've appeared in the past, and am invited to return.

Signing books, talking about Hedy

No NaNoWriMo for me this November. I participate every other year, and did it in 2018, plus I had a successful push to 25K words in July for CampNaNo--despite the distractions of lake life, garden tasks, and helping the young dog in her formal education. I presented a Building Your Historical World fiction workshop for New Hampshire Writers Project this weekend, and have more writers' group visits and bookstore visits on the horizon--some in-person, some via phone or Skype.

Our dog Dot completed her Level 3 Obedience (is that a doggie Ph.D.?). She celebrated by attending the Downtown Farmer's Market in her Halloween costume.

Dressed up Dot

Next come the holidays and my annual winter hibernation. Not many weeks left in this very busy and happy year of writing, travel, new dog, author appearances, and family time.

Jun 27, 2019

Historical Novel Society Conference 2019

The benefits of attending a writers' conference are numerous. It's a chance to reconnect with longtime friends and colleagues, to make new friends, to pitch book ideas--informally or formally--to editors from publishing houses familiar and not, to absorb the collective wisdom of writers at all stages of their careers, to hear the latest market news. Oh--and of course, to eat, drink, and be merry...for tomorrow, we must return to that manuscript!

HNS is an international organisation, with conference alternating between the US and the UK, and there's an Australasia one as well. I've attended UK as well as US conferences. This year we gathered at the Gaylord Resort and Convention Center in Maryland, across the Potomac River from Alexandria, Virginia, and quite close to Washington, D.C. Some members took advantage of the location to go sightseeing in our nation's capital. With  lifelong connections to the region, and relatives and friends in the vicinity, I didn't stray from the hotel until the conference ended.

My room's view of the ferris wheel & Potomac River

In the hotel's Atrium, replica of Old Alexandria--and massive window

There were extra pre-conference workshops on the Thursday. That evening was devoted to an opening cocktail reception and costume contest. As usual, those who came in period attire looked wonderful. I attended as Hedy Lamarr, costumed for her role in the film Ziegfeld Girl, which she was shooting at the time she co-invented spread-spectrum technology and frequency-hopping. Her experience making the film, and her reaction to her costume, are included in Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy LamarrMy efforts to recreate that gown couldn't match the exquisite Adrian design, or the excellence of the MGM seamstresses, but I did my best.

Hedy wore it better--of course!

Ladies in white: with debut author Finola Austin
Opening reception in the Pose Lounge atop the hotel

Having served on the Program Committee--no easy task--the line up of panels, workshops, skills demonstrations (sword fighting! wool spinning! period dancing!) and group discussions was no secret to me. I was frustratingly aware that whatever choice I made in a given hour, I was missing several amazing other options. I was involved with two panels myself, Silk Stocking Rebels: Writing STEAM-Powered Women (women of Science, Tech, Engineering, Arts, and Math), and Women of Washington. And I was co-leader for a Koffee  Klatch group chat Call off the Revolution! What-Ifs? that Would have Changed the Course of History. [Program Committee members weren't allowed to assess or approve the panels that they proposed, so I had no insider advantage to becoming a panellist!]

WRITING STEAM-POWERED WOMEN Panel
Nicky Pentilla, Mary Sharratt, Kate Quinn, Me

WOMEN OF WASHINGTON Panel 
Stephanie Dray, Stephanie Thornton, Me

I attended as many panels as I could, when not otherwise occupied. Most were on topics of interest, rather than craft, and all were well presented. Of particular usefulness, now that I'm writing another 20th century novel: You Mean it Didn't Rain that Day? The Perils & Pitfalls of Writing Modern History with Chanel Cleeton, Camille Di Maio, Renee Rosen, Stephanie Thornton, and Kate Quinn. My research incorporates so many primary and secondary sources, and all the newspaper and magazine articles about my characters.

The Friday night Hooch Through History is always a highlight, and this year was no exception--the theme was Revolution. And alcohol definitely fueled or consoled revolutionaries! Isobel Carr proceeded through her slides, and the hotel wait staff delivered the highly potent beverages in sequence, with an occasional amuse bouche.




Our lunchtime speakers, Dolen Perkins-Valez (Friday) and Jeff Shaara (Saturday), were eloquent and inspiring. I also attended the afternoon tea at which both responded to an interviewer's questions, and took questions from the audience.

M.K. (Mary) Todd has a terrific wrap-up on the agents and editors panel, and their views on the current market for historical fiction:  The State of Historical Fiction #HNS 2019. As I become aware of more, I'll add them here. Using the hashtag #hns2019 will bring up social media posts, and some great live-tweeting from the various panels. I've got so many pictures on my phone--the ones I took and ones shared or sent to me. I haven't yet  had a chance to review them all.

Along with 100 or so other authors, I participated in the Readers Festival booksigning event, and thoroughly enjoyed meeting the public and conference attendees who came.


At the Readers' Festival Booksigning, with Hedy

After the closing banquet, I was one of the professional actor/authors performing a staged reading of works by several revolutionary female playwrights, compiled by Program Chair Leslie Carroll and directed by Gillian Bagwell. At the conclusion, we were joined by banjo maestro Curt Locklear, and led the crowd in a rousing rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land."

With Leslie Carroll before the banquet

Scene from Mae West's play SEX, as prostitutes in a brothel

Me, Gillian Bagwell, Leslie Carroll, Leanna Renee Hieber

The full company: Teel James Glenn, Elizabeth Kerri Mahon,
Anne Easter Smith, Me, Gillian, Leslie, Leanna
The next event was Lady Baltimore's Ball, an after-party with period dances--reels and quadrilles--led by an expert in costume. And then there was an after-after party with my fellow performers and others who stayed up late because they couldn't bear for all the fun and fabulousness to end!

My adventures weren't yet over...a dear friend collected me and I spent a few days with her and her husband, whose marriage ceremony nine years ago took place at our lake house, and their darling dog Jasper (whom I hadn't yet met).

At the same time, my own darling dog Dot was completing her final session of Level Two Obedience, with my husband as handler. She and her classmates were working on their Downtown Dog skills, and walked along Main Street to our city's fantastic Independent Bookstore. Once there, I'm told, Dot walked right over to the "P" section in fiction--perhaps looking for my books? Good Girl!



After discussing my work-in-progress with editors, I intend to spend the summer working towards its completion. For discipline and self-imposed deadline I'll possibly rely on Camp NaNo. It's the July program sponsored by National Novel Writing Month/NaNoWriMo, which I successfully completed last November, writing 50,000 words in 30 days. Camp NaNo has a "set your own goal" feature that's more compatible with my life right now.

I came home to an abundantly blooming rose garden, and after a hosting an Open Garden for friends and locals, I plan to hide away at the lake and write. I have a few more author events scheduled, including a radio presentation, so I can't be a complete hermit!

Happy summer to you....