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Those of you who’ve been following EverWriting for a while may remember my blogs about growing and nurturing a pomegranate plant which I related to the process of writing Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls.

I’m back at it.

I actually had not eaten a pomegranate for years and years! When I was a girl, my first taste of this wonderful fruit (some believe to be the original ‘forbidden fruit’ of the Garden of Eden variety) gave me hives! As the ruby fruit was the only oddity in our daily composition at the time, pomegranate got the blame. I stayed away until I was well into adulthood.

My next encounter was after I had three children with no untoward results at all. Since I had already had good luck with growing apple trees from seeds germinated from the Braeburn variety and oaks from acorns my children had gathered at school, I threw some pomegranate seeds in potting soil and behold, I was the proud horticulturalist of a plant usually only grown in mediterranean climes.

This year, I bought and ate my first pomegranate after another long long dry spell and, though Iimage of pomegranate seedling have only a balcony and a few potted plants, I attempted to repeat my previous effort. As far as I know my first pomegranate is still growing in my daughter-in-law’s care but having one of my own again felt right. I have a number of lemon bushes from seed and a pomegranate was a natural step.

Of the twenty or so seeds I planted, three sprouted and one survived and the secondary leaves have sprouted.

In many ways, at least in my quirky mind, there are similarities between storycraft and horticulture/gardening. If we think of an idea for a story, we often think of it as a seed. We nurture the idea/seed with effort in the way of research in the process of germinating the story, as the seedling has germinated from its pod and thrown out roots below and first leaves above. Those first leaves and roots provide the nourishment to grow in the same way our stories grow from experience (roots) and imagine (leaves).

My previous experience with pomegranates coincided with the writing and successful publishing my multicultural, interracial novel Salsa Dancing with Pterodactyls.

This tiny plant coincides with my first American history novel, Pavane for Miss Marcher, which examines the aftereffects of the American Civil War on those who fought, those left behind and process of healing the divisive wounds.

 

 

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Book Cover Image of City of Cats

 

It’s 384 A.D., the dawn of the monotheistic state. City of Cats follows the tumultuous events of one decisive year in the life of Lupicinus, powerful advisor to the Pope, who lives a duplicitous life as a clandestine non-believer, and Saturnine, wife of a Christian senator who secretly writes against the Church. Lupicinus and Saturnine are brought together and their lives changed forever by Kharapan, a Stoic from a remote land outside the Empire.

City of Cats, by Max Diksztejn

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death-visits-a-bawdy-house-small-1A new book has been added to Featured Books today, Death Visits a Bawdy House, Adele Fasick’s recent Charlotte Edgerton Mystery.

Featured Books will be a new page on this site to introduce books by authors in my various writing networks. These featured books will include a descriptive blurb and a cover image but are not reviews; the authors’ blurbs speak for themselves. A link to the author’s website or to the book may also be included.

To start, the featured books are new or soon to be released from two friends from Romance Writers of America as well as other networking groups, Kathleen Bittner, contributes a Regency Romance, and Lynn Cahoon, shares a Romantic Suspense.

I hope you enjoy the new page, Featured Books.

Leigh

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Last summer, I had the privilege of attending a workshop offered by Ursula Renée, who writes historical novels set in the 1930s in New York City. Renée had a long list of ways to discover information about the time period, the activity, the product or just about anything a writer needs to make their book—whether fiction or non-fiction—authentic.

The book I’m writing at the moment takes place in the 1870s, in Maine, beginning in the summer, in a small village about six to seven years after the American Civil War. There are aspects of this story that are familiar to me, such as village life in Maine—regardless of the era—and human behavior.

Less familiar to me but researchable are:

  • When is the best time to prune a tree—in the manuscript, I have written that the male protagonist starts chopping away at an 100 year old oak in the heroine’s front yard at the end of summer. NO! I would be excoriated by my good friend, Paul (arborist and my former singing teacher) if I allowed that error to survive into a published novel. Laughable but it is the sort of error that can stop a reader and destroy our credibility.
  • My hero travels from Wyoming to Maine, part of the journey is by train. So. What type of train engine was hauled carriages up the coast and into Franklin County from Boston? It might be excusable to leave the details of the train as vague and non-committal. But, isn’t it better to add some meat on the bone? My research presented the Achilles. Perfect! The flawed hero of Greek tragedy carrying my flawed hero toward his destiny.
  • Speaking of post-Civil War travel, is it good enough to say coach or carriage or would landau be more authentic?
  • A young woman of this period doesn’t just wear a dress…she wears a steel hoop crinoline ‘pouf’ and pantalets, a corset with detachable sleevelets, a flat derby with ostrich feathers and bloomer skirt.
  • The American Civil War is thoroughly documented from every angle and perspective—a surefire cesspit of quicksand to sink my book to the unforgivably forgettable regions of ‘false history’. With so many truly magnificent non-fiction and fiction books available to the thousands of enactors/enthusiasts/history readers, how do I write this book?
    • Read wide – not just what is ‘accepted history’ but alternative views
    • Reject the notion that there is only one true side of history
    • Know that history is written by the victor but there is always an opposing view
    • Avoid capitulating to those who threaten you with “You’d better be on the right side of history”—see point directly above
    • Write as honestly and as judiciously as possible
  • No matter how well-researched we think our book is…someone will find a fault. Or disagree. Or think our book is the ‘worst book ever written’. There’s no remedy for this. We must write our best, write what we believe is important to say and take the criticism on the chin.
  • Writers of genre fiction have a particularly prickly relationship with the ‘expected’ but, Agatha Christie aside, a little curve ball (mixed metaphor acknowledged) can make a formula a chemical explosion. To paraphrase  Steven Pressfield from his book, The War of Art, following the recipe may make a soufflé but it doesn’t make a meal.

Of all the pitfalls we face as writers, getting our facts wrong can lead us into a hinterland from which there is no escape. Always get a second opinion.

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PennsylvaniaSeveral cultures include festivals in the Winter months, some to illuminate the darkness, some to celebrate the hope of a coming of new life. Many of us prepare a list of goals for the coming year, a list of resolutions for change and growth. For nearly 300 years, Americans have celebrated a family event called Thanksgiving.

The American version of Thanksgiving is unique because the celebration crosses all ethnic, religious and cultural groups as a family celebration. For many of us, it is a major family get-together, celebrating the creation of this country. Thanksgiving Day became a national holiday shortly after the greatest struggle America faced in the 1800s. Abraham Lincoln encouraged Americans to gather together to give thanks for the bounty of our freedoms.

In my family, my mother began her efforts days before the fourth Thursday of the month, making fudge, stuffing dates, decorating the house, ironing table cloths and napkins. We were (and still are) a large family. Until late in her life, my mother was the sole cook, hostess and bottle-washer. We young ones eventually stuffed the dates, mixed the fruit salad, prepared the stuffing (always made from scratch). But Mom was the only one of us who made the Parker House Rolls.

I have never been able to match her rolls, though I have mastered the stuffing and my basted turkeys are well-received. My husband is the king of the stuffed dates and one of my daughters-in-law has conquered the pumpkin pie.

Once again, this year, our celebrations will be much different because my husband and I are living far from our family. Chances are that we will share our Thanksgiving with friends but I wanted to share a Verrill/Rhys family traditional recipe that is always a big hit with adults and children alike.

Winter in WalesThis is also simple and great for children to participate in the preparations of this wonderful family event.

STUFFED DATES

1 package (or more) of dates (pitted is easier but not necessary: the pits separate from the fruit without much effort)

Cream Cheese, Peanut Butter, Hazelnut Chocolate Butter and/or other favorite creamy spread (Cookie Butter Cream, anyone?)

Open each date and drop a ½ teaspoon or so (personal taste is the final determinant!) of any of the above spreads into the center of the date.

Arrange decoratively on a pretty plate and try to get them to the family before they disappear.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all and best wishes for a joyful Christmas season too.

© 2014 Parts of this post were first published at ClassicandCozyBooks.blogspot.com

Photographs: © Leigh Verrill-Rhys

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Disappointments come at every juncture of our lives. As children we face rejection as players on teams, aren’t invited to a classmate’s birthday party, fail a test or don’t get the grade we wanted on a paper. These are all learning experiences and prepare us for the inevitable rough treatment we will face in the adult world. As one of the teachers in my children’s school replied to a request that party invitations not be distributed publicly to save the ‘feelings’ of the uninvited, “They have to learn they won’t always be invited. Better they learn it now.”

A hard lesson for a six or seven year old when they are one of only a few who are not going. As parents, we want to protect our children from such heartaches but preparing them for the real world also requires we make some tough choices ourselves. Who among us has not faced the disappointments we hope our children will not? If we remember how our own parents’ handled our disappointment, we may have some insight into establishing emotional resilience in our offspring.

If we are not as fortunate, we may find other sources of support and strength. Motivational speakers and writers provide inspiration and occasionally help us clear the emotional blocks that stop us from achieving the success we want.

Writers are told to thicken their skins. We will need armor for what the world of agents, publishers, reviewers and readers throw in our direction. Several years ago, I attended a writers’ day workshop during which the audience was given a catalogue of the percentages of success of all the millions of us who aspire to publish (and especially to be read).

One statistic was that only 3% of writers are ever published. An even smaller percentage at that time saw their names on the cover of a published book. Self- and indie publishing has made a significant dent in those numbers. What hasn’t changed is the need for armor.

However, no matter what we write or the genre we write in, the foundation of our stories is the conflict of the individual versus the group. Our heroes and heroines stand up to evil and injustice, even if they are borderline immoral (scoundrels, vamps, tarts, disgraced cops etc) in their own right. Most of our primary characters have faced disappointments that have given them a mark which distinguishes them from their antagonists. And how they respond to that disappointment is their defining moment.

8aa17-51jt0rtvrl-_sl500_aa300_In my novel, Wait a Lonely Lifetime, Eric Wasserman sacrifices his best interests to those of his closest friend. Eric has several reasons for this, one of which is his past experience of inferiority in comparison to Steven Langdon’s presumed success.  The truth comes to light when the now divorced Sylviana Langdon searches for the man she fell in love with fifteen years before, surmounting her own disappointment and risking her happiness on the slim hope she and Eric can have a future together.

Although my publisher praised this novel as a ‘terrific romance,’ my armor was dented a little by the occasional harsh review.

I went on to write three more novels and am working on a fifth.

Not getting chosen for the volley ball team or not receiving an invitation to a sleepover is good preparation for the knocks we all face when we begin our professional work. Being shielded from any negativity in our formative years makes us weaker and more vulnerable to the real hurts coming our way.

Either that or we seek safety in the group, subvert our thoughts, talents and futures to the will of others, too delicate to face opposition and too easily damaged to be of use to ourselves or our society.

* * *

All of my novels are available on AllRomance eBooks, Amazon, Barnes&Noble, iBookstore, Kobo and Smashwords, as well as many other related sites. Further information is also available on my website, Leigh Verrill-Rhys.
af595-salsanewebook200ThisCantBeLoveCoverFinal200_thumb.jpgNights-Before-Final200.jpg

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Standing Up to the Meanies

I started school a year later than my first grade classmates because my family had moved from Maine, where children don’t go to kindergarten. I had also come from a rural village where our nearest neighbor was a quarter mile down the road.

Adjusting to city life was made a little easier by the nearby Golden Gate Park, living in the working class community of the Haight-Ashbury and across the street from our church, Hamilton Methodist.

My first year in school presented the wonders of learning as well as the constrictions of sitting at a desk when we were called in from the yard. In Maine, I had had years of nearly complete freedom to roam as far and as wide as my pre-schooler legs could carry me.

My independence and self-reliance did not prepare me for the urban school experience. During that first year, a girl twice my size approached me during recess and told me she intended to beat me up after school. She did not offer a reason.

Fortunately, self-preservation is a primordial, embedded instinct. At the end of the day, I was out the door and on my way home as fast as my first-grader legs could go, my would-be assailant left behind but not forgotten.

Like any six-year old with parental overseers, I told my mother.

For the next few weeks, my mother walked me to school and came to meet me at the end of the day. This was a chore too many after a while. I also became disenchanted with the restrictions, as being walked to and fro limited my opportunities for adventure and exploration.

By mutual agreement, my mother sent me on my way alone. Since my personal nemesis had not forgotten her threat, I was careful to rush in to be among my fellow six-year-olds and to rush out with the same intent. Sometimes, there is safety in numbers.

From somewhere, I had the notion that I had to confront this girl. Armed with nothing more than fear and a straight back, I asked her “Why do you want to beat me up?”

She accused me of snitching to the teacher about something she had done. I declared that I had not. And that was the end of weeks of anxiety and self-inflicted trauma.

I wish I had the ability to garner the courage, at every juncture, my first-grader heart gave me, but as we grow and experience more of the dangers of interpersonal communication, the stakes are higher, the outcome less certain and often more costly.

The sense of betrayal and the equal sense of guilt, the vague sense that we must have done something to warrant the bullying, compound to confuse and enervate our stronger selves.

Bullying from family members, friends and co-workers presents so many more difficult possibilities, making a quick getaway seems the safest, most logical answer but at what cost to our sense of self-esteem and worth? The humiliation of being victimized seems to stick around a lot longer than a sense of triumph but it is the fleeting triumph that gives us the strength to overcome the next time.

And so, the bullies in my novels are vanquished and their intended victims get all they want and deserve from a life well-lived. Writing is a brave act in and of itself. The real bullies in our lives will never know, but we do.

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