Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Captain Easterday's Bargain: "It just never ------- stops, does it?"

The cover art* and blurb were recently approved for my third historical romance (and no, there are no half-clad men in this one, either). The Wild Rose Press hasn’t given me a publication date yet, but I expect it will be within the next several months.  

Captain Easterday's Bargain resulted from research on shipping in the Pool of London for a previous novel, which brought to mind my own family connection to the shipping industry. My paternal grandfather worked for Railway Express throughout the Great Depression, until his retirement in the 1960s. My father worked for the Alaska Railroad from the end of World War II until he retired in the 1970s. I worked for two years as a security officer on Seattle's waterfront early in this century. Most of us never think about how fruit gets to our supermarket in the winter, or that we can buy specialty items from half the world away and they arrive, sometimes now in a matter of days rather than months. But even with motor freight, shipping containers, and computerized tracking, some things haven't changed much since the days of sailing ships and freight wagons. As one of the managers at the marine terminal where I was stationed put it, after a long, difficult day, "It just never ------- stops, does it?"

London's cutthroat shipping trade is no place for a lady, although Olivia Cantarell has secretly acted as her father's assistant for years. Now she has inherited his company, she has no mind to give up control over it—and herself—by marrying, however flattering it is to be sought after for the first time in her life. In spite of threats and intimidation, she will fight to keep her business.

Careful, responsible, and twice jilted, Captain Marcus Easterday has no heart to attempt marriage a third time. But he cannot stand by and see a woman cheated of her livelihood by Ambrose Hawkins, rumored to be a former pirate, a man whose name is known and feared in ports from the West Indies to China.

Courted by the ruthless Hawkins while relying on the scrupulous Easterday's help, Olivia must conceal the identity of one of her clerks and protect her company and employees. Who can she trust?

*No, I don't know what kind of ship that is on the cover. Seems awfully high and ornate in the stern. If you recognize it, please let me know—I looked at a lot of pictures of sailing ships when I was writing Most Secret, but never came across one like this.

On the other hand, it conveys the maritime theme and the moon hints at romance. Works for me.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

18th Century Chocolate Cream


Most Secret, my historical romance set in the days leading up to the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, recently won Third Place in the Historical division of the Oklahoma Romance Writers of America International Digital Awards.

In celebration whereof, I’m sharing one of the very, very few 18th century recipes that use chocolate. They drank chocolate, of course, but they seldom used it otherwise: no one ate bon-bons or devil’s food cake or chocolate chip cookies in the 18th century or indeed, well into the 19th century. What made our chocolate candy and cake possible was the invention in 1828 of the Dutch process for treating cacao beans, which greatly facilitated the use of chocolate by reducing the acidity of the beans and increasing solubility.  

From The Compleat Confectioner, by Mrs. Eales, Confectioner to King William and Queen Ann, Third Edition, 1742

Take a quarter pound of chocolate, breaking it into a quarter of a pint of boiling water; mill (i.e., beat) it and boil it until all the chocolate is dissolved; then put to it a pint of cream and two eggs well beaten; let it boil, milling it all the while; when it is cold, mill it again, that it may go up with a froth.

The chocolate used must have been “drinking chocolate”, sold in tablets, introduced in England in 1674, consisting of roasted, shelled, crushed cacao beans which were ground to a gritty powder, to which were added sugar and spices. 

The closest I could come to 18th century chocolate tablets was Mexican chocolate tablets sold to make Mexican-style hot chocolate. They contain sugar and cinnamon and are much more brittle than our baking chocolate.

I used two large eggs; 18th century eggs would have been smaller; a little smaller than our “Small” eggs, which are supposed to average out to 1.5 ounces. Going by the traditional pound cake recipe dating at least to the 18th century of one pound each of flour, sugar and eggs, eggs of the period must have averaged about 1.33 ounces each.

The result was softer than modern mousse, possibly because of the larger eggs, or maybe because I don’t have a kitchen maid to beat the mixture for an extended period. I may not have boiled it as long as I should, either. But it was quite tasty. When I try it again, I’ll address those issues.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Halloween and Dia de los Muertos in New Mexico

Halloween in New Mexico is a little different. For one thing, art is in the air and water here. You can’t avoid it, and it’s catching. I have never done much decorating for Halloween, and previously limited myself to handing out enough candy to trick-or-treaters to delight dentists for months to come.

Since moving to Albuquerque, I’ve gone a little crazy. My personal best, Halloween division, was dressing a 5 foot tall, almost anatomically correct plastic skeleton for Halloween. We got it at Costco, and three considerations struck me: 1) this is the Southwest, 2) Halloween comes immediately before Día de los Muertos, and 3) this articulated, posable skeleton was just slightly shorter than the average Conquistador. You can see where this is going. So I dressed him  in a 16th century linen shirt, trunk hose (a/k/a pumpkin pants), a matching jerkin, and black velvet flat cap, and sat him in a rustic wooden arm chair, right in front of the door, with sword. Much more elegant than a warty witch on a broomstick or an inflatable plastic pumpkin. 

This year, one of our local supermarkets has an articulated, five foot (stretched out full length, I assume) plastic stegosaurus skeleton in their Halloween aisle. It’s already come down in price. I’m hoping that if it’s there the day after Halloween, it will be more steeply discounted yet. My housemate has already bought a large, hairy spider—No! not a real one!—which we will position on the porch overhang. Let me be honest, here: I will be the one on the ladder. 

Halloween is followed by Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, which celebrates loved ones who have died. And “celebrates” is an appropriate word: this is not a morbid or even solemn festival. Tradition calls for the construction of an ofrenda (offering), a sort of altar. According to Remezcla at, while the ofrenda may contain all kinds of things—a photograph and some object of significance to the person (like a baseball for a baseball player or a toy for a child), it should also contain things that “represent the four elements: fire (candles), wind (papel picado), earth (food), and water.” Sugar skulls, marigolds and incense are also traditional.

My housemate and I set up an ofrenda on the sideboard every year. We drape it with lace panels, hang a string of papel picado and often little LED lights, and put out photographs of deceased family members, interspersed with little pumpkins, autumn flowers, candy or other treats they liked, water, and battery-operated candles. We also include symbols of heroes: a model space shuttle, a miniature fireman’s helmet and a police car for first responders, pictures of people we admire who have died within the past year.

The traditional food is pan de muerto, bread of the dead. It’s a slightly sweet Mexican bread, made in a round loaf, with dough formed into “bones” crossed on top. The supermarket where we buy a loaf or two every year sells them in a couple of different sizes, “medium bread of death” and “large bread of death”, and they’re covered in very vividly colored sugar. Last year we got the deep purple ones, rather than the Dayglo pink or yellow-orange.    

Dia de los Muertos is actually celebrated over several days, from October 31 to November 2. Here in Albuquerque, the Open Space Visitor Center puts up an ofrenda honoring deceased “Heroes of the Environment”, the South Valley neighborhood holds a Dia de los Muertos Celebration and Marigold Parade, and the National Hispanic Cultural Center is holding an exhibition, community offrenda and screening of the Disney/Pixar movie, Coco. And those are just a few of the activities.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Travel in New Mexico

For my holiday mailing several years ago, I intended to do lyrics based on the Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond (Ye’ll tak’ the high road and I’ll tak’ the low road/And I’ll be in Taos afore ye …, which would actually have some relevance, because there is a High Road to Taos, and I’ve been lost on it. On the low road, too.    

For Thanksgiving that year, a friend and I were driving up to her stepson and stepdaughter-in-law’s new home in Truchas, New Mexico. Truchas is an old town in the mountains about half-way between Santa Fé and Taos, so it’s about 90 miles from Albuquerque. We hadn’t been off the beaten track much in north central New Mexico, and one tends to forget that not everything is right off the freeway, as it would be in the I-5 corridor. 

Our host had emailed directions, which seemed straightforward. Take exit such-and-such, and when you pass Chimayó, turn onto Highway and-so-forth. Except he omitted to mention that you have to take the turn-off TO Chimayó and pass the actual town, rather than passing the turn-off, though he did remember to warn us of the possible presence of loose dogs and horses in Truchas. So we drove on through some beautiful scenery and the road became less and less a main road.

Eventually we came to a town called Cundiyo, the pavement ended and the road became more of a lane. Old adobe houses sat at odd angles to it: here the side of a house, there the corner. Not a person was stirring. It was like the first five minutes of a horror film, right before the zombies show up. 

We drove on, and pavement resumed. We drove through a town with no name a few miles on. No open business in sight, no human presence detectable. By then I was expecting to see plague victims stretched lifeless by the side of the road. Or black helicopters. Having moved to New Mexico from the I-5 corridor, I’m not used to seeing towns with no sign of life either human or mercantile.

Finally we came to a crossroad with the state route number we were looking for. After that, it was easy to find Truchas, although we overshot the turn-off to our friends’ house and made an unintended detour that took us onto a narrow, muddy road (it had begun to rain and then snow). We seemed to be heading into more mountains. Fortunately, while we were turning around (the truck has 4-wheel drive, which my friend actually got to use), an old pickup truck coming from the other direction stopped to see if we needed help. The driver and passenger were able to tell us where we’d gone wrong, and we made it to our destination.

Perhaps I should also mention one oddity about New Mexico. The highway or road name on the sign is not necessarily the same that’s shown on your map, or on the online directions. Sometimes the signage will give both. Sometimes not. That’s why we missed the correct turn. Intuition is important when driving in this state, and mine was not working that day.

Friday, September 21, 2018

The Magic of New Mexico, Part I

Over the 4th of July weekend in 2009 I took a University of New Mexico Continuing Education excursion to the Mescalero Apache ceremonial near Ruidoso for the girls’ puberty ceremony. The whole thing takes 12 days to perform and years for the girls’ families to prepare for, but four days of it were scheduled to coincide with the annual ceremonial at which the Mountain Gods dance.

            There was a midway, of course, with “fair”-type food to buy and souvenirs, umbrellas (for the sun), jewelry and art, and an open space where traditional dances and songs were performed all day, with bleachers and room to set up folding camp chairs around the edge.  Apaches and Native Americans had come from all over. People camped in tents set up outside the meeting grounds. The families of the girls going through the ritual prepared mammoth amounts of food to feed anyone who showed up at meal time. Fry bread, always. Other stuff, sometimes traditional, sometimes not. What appeared to be green beans cooked in some kind of broth, salad, meat cooked in sauce (which was excellent).

            When we arrived on the 4th, there didn’t seem to be a lot of people in attendance, though more drifted in throughout the afternoon. Since it’s up in the mountains, it wasn’t as blazingly hot as it might have been, and even so, when the wind died down, it must have been nearly 90o. Evening came on and they built the bonfire around which the four Mountain Gods would dance. Night fell, and the Gods began to dance: several different sets of Mountain Gods, doing a succession of dances which relate an important Apache myth. There are four sets of Gods because there are sixteen dances, and each group does four, so the groups have time to recuperate before they’re on again. The dancing continues until 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning. 

           The moon, almost full, came up, and on the other side of the mountain range, which seemed to rise right on the other side of the highway, flashes of light began. We initially thought it was fireworks. Instead it was lightning beyond the range, far enough away that we didn’t hear thunder.  While the Mountain Gods danced, the four girls were in a teepee at the edge of the dancing ground, its opening facing east. The girls were carrying on their own ceremonies, dancing and singing under the supervision of medicine men.  When we left at about 10:00 p.m., I think we were all surprised to find that suddenly there were two or three times as many spectators as there had been earlier. They must have drifted in like fog, to fill the bleachers and set up their own chairs around the field.

            The moon, lightning, fire and social dancing (with a great ring of spectators dancing around the edge, circling the Mountain Gods) will stick in my mind for a long time. But the best memory is of a young Apache woman in fatigues, first watching in a dignified manner, then dancing in place while chatting with a friend, and finally, as darkness came down, joining the dance line when someone lent her a dance shawl.  The Apaches have a high regard for their warriors; at the entrance to the grounds, military flags flew with the U.S. flag. In the Apaches’ casino, Inn of the Mountain Gods, a few miles away, a plaque (a big one) lists all the Apache veterans who have died while serving, from U.S. Cavalry Indian scouts to losses in Iraq.

            When we got out to the highway about half a mile from the ceremonial grounds, we found it had poured.  But not on the ceremonial. Not a drop.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Some days I think I'd rather trim a quill pen

Anyone who knows me knows I am not a computer geek. However, I am generally on civil terms with my computer. It lets me type fiction and the occasional letter, email, blog post or book review, and enables me to buy stuff: old spinning wheel parts, books, medieval-style buttons, clothing, imitation musk flavoring for 16th century biscotti.

My printer and I do not have a cordial relationship. I’m on my third in ten years.
Admittedly, the first was bought, along with the computer, when I moved to Albuquerque. My Seattle computer was pretty old, as was the printer, and it didn’t make sense to bring it with me. The Pod I rented was full. I had no room in the car (the PT Cruiser was filled with clothing, things I’d been using until I actually walked out the door, and a 40 inch by 19 inch stained glass panel, among other things).

The second was purchased when the first died after about four years—needless to say, right before I needed to print some handouts with color pictures of 16th century clothing. I will say for it that it had printed one book-length manuscript, and very nicely, too.

I liked that second printer. Granted, it was big and heavy, but it printed well, and it was multi-function. It produced a couple of book-length manuscripts. It also scanned, faxed and printed photographs, and it offered to give me a massage and a permanent wave, but I declined. Which may be why several months ago it began to spray ink in a random manner. I messed around with it, following directions I found online and on YouTube, and it sort of stopped. That is, it would fling ink around only intermittently.

Then it stopped printing black ink.  No, it wasn’t because that cartridge was empty; this printer would refuse to print at all, in any color, if one cartridge was empty. But that was all right. Some people may have wondered why I was printing letters and address labels in red or green. That’s why. 

Finally, one day as the paper began to feed I heard what sounded like SNAP! CRACKLE! POP! And it stopped feeding. Clearing the jam did no good. Neither did turning it off. Restarting the computer—because sometimes that seems to have magical properties—did not make it stop claiming to be jammed. As I had researched fixing the ink problem online, I already knew that sending it for repair would cost more than a new printer.

Enter Printer #3.  It was inexpensive, got as good reviews as any other printer sold on Amazon, and was favorably rated on a site that rates printers.

I liked it … for the first couple of months. Specifically, until the first time it jammed. The manual was no help, as the illustrations were so lacking in detail it was impossible to figure out what you were supposed to do. YouTube showed the jam-clearing procedure clearly but only for a jam where the sheet was easily accessible, either from the top or from the bottom, with the paper tray removed. My sheet had vanished into the printer’s bowels and was not visible anywhere. Forty minutes later, it was unjammed. Something I did caused the paper to move enough that I was finally able to get hold of it.

Since then, I’ve also cleared a paper jam by pulling a sheet out from the bottom. What the instructions don’t tell you is that you will probably not be able to do it without tilting the printer’s front end up, holding it up with your head, and pulling the paper out with both hands. Good thing it’s lightweight.

I’m not optimistic about this printer’s life expectancy.  Thank goodness manuscripts are now submitted by email.

Monday, June 18, 2018

My English Love Affair

No, sorry, not an actual love affair in England or with an Englishman, but as I write historical romances set in England (with forays into Scotland), you have to expect a romance-style title.

I visited England in the 1970s—twice. Everything I knew about England came from reading English novels—and 99% of it was true. The only thing that had changed was that it was no longer possible to stash one’s baggage in the Left Luggage office at the train station. Because of bombs, you know.

The taxis were still the old, black ones you see in movies from the 1940s.

London’s tube stations had wonderful posters on the walls, and one of the tube stations we used had escalators with sides and treads of varnished wood—and they were fast! Like something out of a Harry Potter book. The last one was replaced several years ago.

Fish and chips were not generic: they came in different varieties: plaice and chips, sole and chips, haddock and chips, etc., and all of them delicious.

Using an English pay phone required manual dexterity and split-second timing.

The medieval kitchen at Arundel Castle gave me  new insight into what it meant to prepare a medieval meal.

In the British Museum cafeteria, the tea was hot and strong and the cups were lined up, all of them with milk in them, before the tea was poured. 

Ladies like Miss Marple actually existed (presumably minus the crime-solving) aboard the Flying Scotsman, where we shared a compartment (just like in the old movies) with three white-haired Scots ladies in tweed suits who were going home after a shopping trip. They were amused to see us gaping at the old towers that seem to be sprinkled all over the Borders.

The cheese sandwiches on Brit Rail were identical to American cheese sandwiches, but it was possible to buy shortbread, which made up for it.   

And I loved every minute of all of it … well, no, not the severe head cold I suffered toward the end of the trip. Though it did reveal that if you asked for cough syrup at the apothecary, what you got was a brown liquid that tasted like mare sweat. I couldn’t drink it but it worked anyway. It scared my body into cutting back on both coughing and phlegm, lest I attempt another dose.

I’m sure much has changed, some of it for the better (the phones, maybe?).  But I’m glad I experienced England while it still resembled the England of Dorothy Sayers, Marjory Allingham, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Manning Coles and others; it gave me an even greater appreciation of the English mystery novel.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

N.N. Light's Book Heaven

Lots of fun for readers:

Summertime is here and before you head out to the pool or beach to catch some sunshine, check out this a-m-a-z-i-n-g giveaway hosted by N. N. Light’s Book Heaven. Win bestselling and award-winning books not to mention a tote bag filled with goodies, perfect for heading out to the beach. Enter to win below and good luck! 
Literary Giveaway Portal:

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Most Secret: a romance of the Jacobite Rebellion

Most Secret

My second historical romance, Most Secret, will be released on May 28, 2018. It’s set in late summer of 1745, when the Young Pretender is gathering his army in Scotland. 

I’ve visited Scotland. I liked it and the people, though I am dubious about haggis. I visited Culloden. I sympathize with the Jacobites for a whole menu of reasons. The choice of George I, approximately number 50 in line for the British throne on Queen Anne’s death, was not popular even with all the English. There are many novels out there told from the Jacobite point of view, with Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (which I love) at the head of the list.
I thought it was time someone reported from the other side. But Most Secret is not a serious study of England’s preparation for the Scottish invasion. In fact, it’s more humorous than not.

Excerpt below:

“Forgive me for accosting you in the street, but there were reasons I could not call upon you at your home. Quite apart from the impropriety of a strange man visiting an unmarried lady,” he added.
“Are you a strange man?” The question popped out before she could stop it; something about him made her want to smile.
“So I’m told. May I carry your basket so I appear to have a legitimate reason to walk with you?”
“You can’t simply go up to a respectable female and…and…” Words failed her.
“Yes, I can. Besides, we were introduced by Lady Montfort.”
“Were we? I don’t recall it.” She would have. This outrageous creature was quite unlike the punctilious men she was accustomed to meet.
He smiled. “Alex Gordon, at your service. I am not surprised you have forgotten my presence as well as my name, considering the crush of guests at that affair—and so ill-assorted, too—”
“Were you one of them?” She failed to suppress a smile, for the Montforts’ invitations tended to be rather indiscriminate, and Lady Montfort did have some very odd relatives.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


My first historical romance novel, An Unsuitable Duchess, has been nominated for InD’tale Magazine’s  2018 RONE Award in the 17th century to Regency historical category. Voting takes place May 14 to 20, 2018; you must be registered on in order to vote. Once you register, you must click the verification link sent to you via email. 

Help me celebrate! Enter for a chance to win a copy of An Unsuitable Duchess on Amazon ( for the Kindle version). There will be a chance to win a copy of the paperback version which I’ll post as soon as that contest goes live.