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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


Apr 13, 2021

Pre-Order The Limits of Limelight

 


Available for pre-order through Amazon, Kindle, Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, Kobo

April 13 is the birthday of Helen Maurine Brown Nichols, who became known as Hollywood actress Phyllis Fraser, first cousin and best friend of Ginger Rogers. There's no better day to announce the start of pre-ordering of my novel about Phyllis, which also features Ginger, and Ginger's mother Lela Rogers, and other notables of Golden Age Hollywood and literary New York.

      Pretty Oklahoma teenager Helen Nichols accepts an invitation from her cousin, rising movie actress Ginger Rogers, and her Aunt Lela, to try her luck in motion pictures. Her relatives, convinced that her looks and personality will ensure success, provide her with a new name and help her land a contract with RKO. As Phyllis Fraser, she swiftly discovers that Depression-era Hollywood’s surface glamor and glitter obscure the ceaseless struggle of the hopeful starlet.
      Lela Rogers, intensely devoted to her daughter and her niece, outwardly accepting of her stage mother label, is nonetheless determined to establish her reputation as screenwriter, stage director, and studio talent scout. For Phyllis, she’s an inspiring model of grit and persistence in an industry run by men.
      While Ginger soars to the heights of stardom in musicals with Fred Astaire, Phyllis is tempted by a career more fulfilling than the one she was thrust into. Should she continue working in films, or devote herself to the profession she’s dreamed about since childhood? Which choice might lead her to the lasting love that seems so elusive?
"An engrossing glimpse into a bygone era and the forces affecting a young woman's evolution into her own abilities and adulthood . . . vigorous and involving to the end." ~ Midwest Book Review

"Based on a true story . . . A witty and meticulously researched treat." ~ Kirkus Reviews

"A biographical novel as bright as the Golden Era . . . A lovely tribute to the larger-than-life celebrities of early Hollywood . . . a glitz and glamour novel that shines brighter the deeper you go." ~ Independent Book Review

"A time capsule of Hollywood's Golden Era . . . a captivating novel of Tinsel Town's perils and pitfalls, trade-offs and triumphs!" ~ Leslie Carroll, author of American Princess

"Porter's elegant, warm and well-researched novel is a joy to read! Perfect for lovers of historical fiction and tales of remarkable women. 5 of 5 Stars." ~ Literary Redhead, Goodreads

Photos of Phyllis, today's birthday girl, with her Cousin Ginger.



Mar 29, 2021

2021 Book Reviews

 


London’s Number One Dogwalking Agency: A Memoir

When Kate Macdougall’s latest and last costly mistake as a London auction house employee results in termination, she decides that a lifelong affection for canines is sufficient justification for setting up as an urban dog-walker—despite the fact that she hasn’t had a pet dog since childhood. So begins this delightfully witty and utterly immersive memoir of the travails and the joys in her quest for personal fulfillment and monetary sustenance.

In 2006, when she starts her business, dog-walking wasn’t actually a profession, a fact her divorcee mother will constantly point out. Alternating from certitude, ignorance, bravado, and doubt, Kate cobbles together a collection of clients even more idiosyncratic, demanding, and eccentric than their pampered pets. Her most sterling and useful characteristic is the ability understand of dogs as a species and as individuals with unique needs for exercise, companionship, discipline, and diet. Her fond acceptance of their habits, quirks, phobias, and preferences enables her to match them with appropriate members of her own staff, each of whom also presents certain eccentricities that must be coped with or dealt with.

An added complication is the dog owners, who in the main prove more difficult to handle than their precious but often neglected pets. Here, too, Kate eventually excels, through trial and error, resignation and resolve, keeping in mind the needs of the animal each time she confronts the difficult, demanding, and judgmental humans connected to them. Alert to class indicators, within her own broken family and those of her clients—the comfortable, the classy, the creepy—she not only matures, but earns insight into her own neediness and hopes for the future. She and her employees gamely navigate the city’s challenging geography and the intricacies of transportation logistics as her clientele expands. But just as her reputation seems assured, the financial collapse of 2009 and ensuing recession threaten her small measure of success with corporate ex-pat Americans and Londoners who abruptly decide that a dog walker is a luxury too far in hard times. It is then, amidst all the stress and panic, that her canine-averse fiancĂ© suggests getting a dog of their own, an adventure in itself, and a first true test of their solidity as a couple and their readiness for marriage, parenthood, and an inevitable search for the ideal location in which to live.

This is a memoir about dogs—endearing and memorable and challenging ones—but it’s also very much about humans. How they relate to their pets and other people, their ease or difficulty in doing the right thing for themselves and their animals, how their good traits and bad ones are revealed through their interactions with the dogs and the dog-walkers. Not only is it beautifully, cleverly written, ultimately it is deeply moving memoir of overcoming struggles and finding identity and purpose in the life of a flawed but admirable young woman. (William Morrow, hardcover/ebook/audiobook, 6 July, 2021) 




You Belong Here Now, Dianna Rostad’s debut historical novel, offers a complex and nuanced portrait of home life, community values, and persistent struggles facing a Montana ranching family in the 1920s. Their challenges multiply with the arrival of three fugitives from an orphan train traveling from New York City: teenager Charles, Irish immigrant Patrick, and scrawny Opal, all of whom have been rejected as adoptees in the course of their cross-country journey. Nara Stewart, the fiercely independent female protagonist, is dubious about keeping--much less adopting--the orphans, but the need of farm labor overcomes her reluctance. Charles, burdened by a violent and possibly criminal past, grows into a determined protector, not only of his fellow orphans, but the family who can't fully trust him but strive to redeem him. The characters' varied internal and external conflicts are realistically portrayed, the period detail is skillfully blended, and the harsh land itself—its wild creatures and pervasive threats--are depicted with flair and faithfulness. Very highly recommended. (April 6, 2021, William Morrow Books, paperback, 368 pp.)



Gardening Hacks: 300+ Time and Money Saving Hacks by Jon VanZile

             In a well-organized collection of tips and hacks, Master Gardener Jon VanZile offers hundreds of time- and cost-saving suggestions for the indoor and outdoor garden. Workable and effective non-toxic and natural shortcuts are a valuable commodity, and this knowledge is creatively and systematically shared, numerically and through a searchable index. VanZile covers germination of seeds and propagation by cuttings, container plants, containers, care of tools, pest control, and collecting the harvest. Among the more interesting tips: using honey as a rooting hormone, seed starting in an ice cream cone (not the sugary kind), cinnamon as an anti-fungal treatment to protect seedlings from wilt, powdered milk as a calcium booster for tomatoes, and the myriad uses of coffee grounds.

            For some, the proposed outdoor decorations might go against personal aesthetics and allowable degree of whimsy in the garden—re-purposing broken and discarded objects into “funky displays” might not suit everyone’s style. But the wealth of advice presented is sound and safe, and the presentation style is readable and sincere. (Adams Media, paperback/ebook/audiobook, 256 pp., 6 April, 2021)






Rhapsody, Mitchell James Kaplan's third work of historical fiction, presents the long and challenging affair between pianist-composer Katharine Swift (Kay) Warburg and George Gershwin, her extramarital lover, soulmate, and collaborator. Their compelling story is revealed through evocative prose and lyrical imagery, peopled with literary and theatrical notables of the 1920s and 30s and replete with references to stage productions and compositions both obscure and renowned. Situations, settings, and dialogue bring to life the vibrant period between the world wars, one of innovation and exploration in music and popular entertainment, experienced atop a lofty pinnacle of wealth, talent, and emerging fame.

 Kay's permissive yet tortured marriage to financier and sometime lyricist James Warburg, and her detached mothering of three daughters is overshadowed by focused commitment to Gershwin and her determination to promote her own musical gifts. And while creativity—solitary and mutual—lies at the core of the emotional and relational arc, embedded within the novel is an examination of ethnic and cultural identity in America as totalitarianism begins its inexorable march across Europe.

Elegantly-attired characters emerge from exquisite New York apartments to attend elite social gatherings and explore Harlem jazz joints. They endure rehearsal agonies and celebrate opening nights. Throughout, Kaplan's skill and the lovers' looming fate propel the reader towards a poignant but inevitable conclusion. (March 2, Gallery Books, hardcover, 352 pp.)





Comedic and elegiac, farcical and tragic, complex and engrossing, Leslie Epstein’s Hill of Beans is an energetic and entertaining depiction of the symbiotic relationship between moviemaking and warmongering. This detailed and imaginative representation of Hollywood dynamics and military events, before and during World War II, is revealed through the minds and motives of multiple characters. The disparate witnesses are Abdul Maljan, ex-pugilist and masseuse to film mogul Jack Warner and President Roosevelt, Warner himself, the fictional half-Jewish German starlet he lures to Hollywood, the Reich Minister Joseph Goebbels, and gossip columnist Hedda Hopper. With the later addition, at the height of World War II, of Joseph Stalin and General George S. Patton. 

The connections between the film industry, politics, and war, are wittily and movingly drawn. The author’s uncles, twin screenwriters Philip and Julius Epstein—Academy Award winners for Casablanca—would have loved this fictional version of their boss, the priapic punster Warner, their own antics, and the haphazard creation of their iconic film. (March 1, 2021, High Road Books, hardcover, 352 pp.)





London and the Seventeenth Century: The Making of the World's Greatest City

by Margarette Lincoln

     Relying on descriptive skill, contemporaneous accounts, and engaging insights, Margarette Lincoln presents the people, economies, concerns, and contradictions of seventeenth century London. In an era when church towers dominated the skyline, matters of faith and pursuits of the flesh drove the citizenry to foment rebellions and indulge in the innumerable pleasures available to them. James I, the first Stuart monarch, was succeeded by his second son Charles, whose death upon the scaffold brought the dynasty to a temporary conclusion. A detailed presentation of the volatile Interregnum, which its many contradictions of puritanical politics and economic thrust, is followed by the Restoration.

Like his father, the second Charles understood the imagery of kingship—as well as the high costs of rigidity and raising the displeasure of the populace. Coronation swag, one learns, is no new thing, neither is the royal interest in fostering positive and powerful imagery of kingship. Tested by years of exile, Charles confronted plague, fire, and wars, while many of his subjects sought entertainment in playhouses and coffee houses, and others pursued scientific investigations. The author devotes significant attention to the crucial shipping trade and the expansion of commerce to the Indies, East and West. His busy reign was succeeded by his Roman Catholic brother’s very brief one, and on the accession of his nephew and niece, William and Mary, Parliament’s power was reinforced, and the nation’s purse was directed to the Continental war, a preoccupation of the Dutch-born king. This monumental achievement in research and presentation brings to life a fascinating and extremely turbulent era in the life of this great and influential city. (February 23, 2021, Yale University Press, hardcover/ebook, 384 pp.)



Mar 6, 2021

The Return to Blogging

 The blogging went on hiatus for the second half of my Pandemic Year. It wasn't exactly intentional, but not entirely accidental, either.

As 2020 wound down, my Isle of Man trilogy was re-published in an ebook omnibus edition. Ordering information available here.

I was preoccupied with final proofing and edits and more proofing for The Limits of Limelight, my 14th historical novel, scheduled for publication in mid-September.


This 3rd work of biographical historical fiction features Phyllis Fraser (whose first cousin was Ginger Rogers), plus notables of Golden Age Hollywood and literary New York. Advance Reader copies are being distributed, and early reviews are most gratifying. I'll be sharing a great deal more as pre-order time and publication day draw nearer.


The snow arrived early--as it often does--when the roses were still blooming. It made for some interesting photographs:



Christmas was appropriately festive, despite quarantine conditions. It was also white.


As was February, much to young dog Dot's delight. 


Senior dog Ruth, isn't as thrilled.


There has been a benefit to lockdown times, and that's the ability to do writers' conference presentations and to participate in bookstore events and meet with book clubs who selected Beautiful Invention: A Novel of Hedy Lamarr as their monthly reading  selection. I've had a wonderful time sharing information about Hedy and her frequency-hopping innovation during World War II, and discussing her films and Golden Age Hollywood.


I've begun work on novel #15, which marks a return to the theatrical realm of 18th century London. When not writing, I've been reading like mad--new releases by author colleagues, advance reader copies from debut and veteran historical novelists. Now that my NetGalley account is reactiviated, I intend to post reviews there and here in coming weeks. 

If I made New Year's resolutions, one of mine would've been to be a more dedicated blogger in 2021!

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!