Saturday, December 21, 2013

Downtown Abbey Christmas Special Update

On December 25th season 4 of Downton Abbey will come to a conclusion with another Christmas special. This year the action is in London with Royal Glamour and additional stunning locations across England. Here are some pictures and the trailer. For all of us Americans we get the whole season starting on January 5th. So get ready fans our turn is coming soon!

The Prince of Wales
The whole cast


At Buckingham Palace
Rose with the Prince of Wales

Their Royal Highnessess

Mr. Carson & Mrs Hughes at the seaside. Are they actually going swimming?


For all of you that want a little teaser to whet your appetite- here is the trailer:
Get ready fans. Season 4 for all of us here on this side of the pond is soon to begin!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

You know You’re a Jane Austen Addict When?????

With the recent release of the movie Austenland about a woman who is so obsessed with Jane Austen that she spends most of her savings on a trip to a Jane Austen theme park, I thought it might be fun to see how many of us fall into the “Addicted to Jane Austen Zone.” Ask yourself the following questions. If you answer yes to only one to three, you’re a mere fan. Five to eight, you’re an aficionado. If all ten apply then you wish you could step into a time machine and go back to 1812!


 1)     You have a t-shirt, bumper sticker, and duffle bag all bearing the logo “I Love Mr. Darcy!”

2)     You have both the VHS and DVD version of the 1995 version of Pride and Prejudice, but your friends and family wonder why you bother – you can recite the whole thing.

3)     You have a Jane Austen figurine on your desk at work.

4)     Your pet bears the name of one of your favorite Austen characters.

5)     Whenever someone makes you mad, you look them in the eye and say, “You have insulted me with every possible method, I must beg to return to the house.”

6)     Your dream vacation is a trip to England to visit the Jane Austen museum’s at Chawton and Bath and once you arrive, you never want to leave!

7)     You compare people you know to Jane Austen characters. On a regular basis.

8)     You drive an hour to take English country dance lessons. And then several hours to attend an authentic Regency ball.

9)     The contents of your closet look alarmingly early nineteenth century with bonnets and gowns that you plan on wearing to aforesaid ball.

10) When you first heard about Austenland, your immediate reaction was – “how soon can I book a ticket?”


To fuel your Jane Austen and all things Regency addiction, books and movies are released year after year. One of my favorite authors, Laurie Alice Eakes, just released a new winner A Reluctant Courtship. This novel, the third in the Daughters of Bainbridge House trilogy is a stunning conclusion to the series. Full of Laurie Alice’s usual combination of romance, intrigue, and Regency glamor, you will love this novel.  I looked forward to this story ever since the second title, Flight of Fancy was released.


In honor of this release and for all of you that answered yes to any of the above questions, I am giving away a copy of A Reluctant Courtship, plus a copy of Julie Klassen’s most recent novel, The Tutor’s Daughter. So leave a comment with your email to win this great Jane Austen Addict/Regency Package!!


***Congratulations to Jillian, our winner of the copy of Rebellious Heart by Jody Hedlund and Wives of the Signers that I gave away last week!
*****Don't forget to leave your email with your comment to get the great Regency Package above!
As usual - Happy Reading and Writing!


Saturday, October 12, 2013

Great History = Great Fiction!

Recently, I had the privilege of reading a novel by one of my favorite authors. As usual the novel did not disappoint. It was filled with the combination I have come to expect from that author, a blend of adventure, intrigue, and swoon-worthy romance. Best of all, the characters in the book were based on one of the most famous couples in history. The book: Rebellious Heart, by Jody Hedlund, is a fictional account of the lives of John and Abigail Adams.

It takes a talented author to create compelling fiction from real life events. The seamless detail required of fiction makes this task, at the very least, daunting. But Rebellious Heart, does just this. Since I analyze everything I read, I thought it might be interesting to see just how Jody did this.
First of all, the book wasn’t a true biography. Although many Hollywood critics complain when a biographical movie deviates from the actual incidents that occurred, in fiction this is often necessary to weave a compelling story. Deciding what to cut and change in the lives of people as famous as John and Abigail Adams, must have been a challenge. But as an author, we can remember that this is first and foremost fiction, therefore liberties can be taken. The novel also contains an intriguing subplot that may have never happened to the real characters but added interesting conflict to the lives of the fictional ones. This, plus so many other elements, kept the pages turning and what could have become a dull story for the modern reader became a true gem in the hands of a talented author.

The facts in the book blended seamlessly into a fictional story and as I was not familiar with the life of this couple, other than obvious basics, it was a surprise to me to learn in the end what was true and what wasn’t. I appreciated that there wasn’t long paragraphs of back story and that it read like a novel based on fictional characters. Be careful of this in your own historical novels. Readers want first and foremost a good story with characters they can relate to whether they are real or fictional.

To help us, as writers, I’ve come up with three tips for writing a story based on actual people or events.

Three Tips for Writing Biographical Fiction:

1)     Be Accurate: While most people will not know whether or not everything in your story is historically true, you should try to be as accurate as possible. If not, readers who are familiar with the history may wonder whether or not you did your research. Use the author’s note to relay to your readers the changes you made.

2)     Be Accurate but Use Author License: Depending on whether or not you are writing a story loosely inspired by true events or a full-fledged fictionalized account, use author license to make the story compelling and riveting. Don’t sacrifice readability for getting the facts straight.

3)     Research as Much as Possible about the Real People: In the author’s note of Rebellious Heart, Jody even listed several of the books she found helpful. This was a nice addition for readers who might want to delve further. I’ve found in my own writing that extensive research about the people or events you intend to fictionalize also sparks new ideas and new elements. Often the things that happen in real life really are more compelling than the things you try to think up yourself.

In conclusion, I’ll reiterate the title of this post – great history really does make great fiction. From movies such as Titanic or Lincoln, to novels such as Rebellious Heart, history, like fiction, has the ability to sweep us away into another world.


To celebrate the recent release of Rebellious Heart, and to give one blog reader a chance to win a copy of the book along with a copy of the book, Wives of the Signers, an anthology that includes Abigail Adams, leave a comment with your email address about your favorite real events based book or movie. You will be entered into a drawing to win this package of two great books!! Don’t forget to leave your email so I can contact you!  I will draw a winner this Friday, October 18th.


Calling All Jane Austen Fans!
Do you like Historical Romance and everything Jane Austen? Next week I will be giving away another two fabulous books. Laurie Alice Eakes's book, A Reluctant Courtship is being released this week on October 15th!! Plus, along with that will be a copy of  Julie Klassen's newest book, The Tutor's Daughter. So check back next week for a chance to receive both of these great Regency Romances.  

Happy Reading and (of course) Writing!


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Starts That Will Make Readers Finish!

As well as being a writer of fiction, I am also an avid reader. And in the course of my reading I have put down several books because the first few chapters weren’t going anywhere. Either they were bogging the book down with unnecessary backstory, or they were too involved that the reader had no idea what was going on. Here’s five ways to avoid the above mistakes, and write starts that will make readers finish.

1) Start with an unusual statement, something that goes against the status quo. By unusual, I mean a line that will keep the reader hungering for more, not confusing them. Some classic examples include,

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” — A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

"Scarlet O'Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were.” - Gone With The Wind, Margret Mitchell

2) Never start with long winded backstory. Although I love the starts of the above novels, and although writing standards have changed drastically since the era the novels were written in, I don’t advise beginning with the entire history of the hero’s life, or what happened to the heroine when she was six. Unless, of course, that’s where the story starts. Instead, weave in backstory as needed, slowly and seamlessly.

3) Don’t begin with the character waking up or hearing his alarm clock. (lol) We all know what happens when someone gets up, we don’t need to read about it. If the character’s morning rituals are essential to the story, weave them in later, rather than throwing them at the reader at the beginning. Or show them as a flashback. Anything but on page one.

4) Don’t begin with a battle or car chase. The oft quoted story of the Hollywood producer and the young screenwriter applies here. We want to know who’s in the car or who the armies are. Instead, begin with a different pivotal point and save the car chases for a few chapters later.

5) Last but not least practice, practice, practice. Try several beginnings, and see which one fits. Poll friends and family. Read authors you admire and study their first page. And most importantly never give up.

 Do you prefer a cinematic beginning or does a description draw you in?

Happy Writing!

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Downton Abbey Season 4 sneek peek - plus trailer!

Its the moment we've all been waiting for! Downton Abbey season 4 officially kicks off on September 22 in the UK and for us here in the states on January 5th, 2014. Our schedule for episodes on PBS are:

Episode 1 – Jan 5, 2014
Episode 2 – Jan 12, 2014
Episode 3 – Jan 19, 2014
Episode 4 – Jan 26, 2014
Episode 5 – Feb 2, 2014
Episode 6 – Feb 9, 2014
Episode 7 – Feb 16, 2014
Episode 8 – Feb 23, 2014

Here's a brief peek at some new cast members.

Lily James as cousin Lady Rose
Tom Cullen as Sir Anthony Gillingham

Julian Ovenden as Charles Blake
Mary and Branson- single parents- how sad!
Branson with baby Sybbie - isn't she cute! 
Three leading ladies - minus one! :(
For all of you that just can't wait. Here's the just released trailer to whet your appetite!
Hang in there die hard Downton fans- January will be here before you know it!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Introducing..... King George VII! Plus Downton Season 4 update!


The pictures of Prince George Alexander Louis, future king of England are finally out!
How precious!
What a great Dad! He even changes diapers!
A family portrait!
                                                                                                      Don't forget the dogs!
Do you think George looks like his Dad?
Hope you enjoyed this intimate look at the future King! Its history in the making!
Downton Abbey Fans Rejoice!! Tomorrow, August 31st the official trailer for Downton Season 4 is released. Check back tomorrow for a link and get ready for another great season starting in the UK in September and for us here in the states in January! What surprises lay in store this year??

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

A Creative Mind: Fostering and Keeping it!

A writer's best friend is their creativity. Without it, writing a 90,000 word novel would be impossible or at the very least incredibly boring. But how do you keep your creativity up and page after page, novel after novel? The following tips will help you to keep that section of your mind from losing its edge.


1) Read

All writers need to keep being readers. I get some of my best ideas from continual reading. This means both current and classic novels. Some people think classic works are from days gone by. However challenging your mind with classic novels keeps the ideas flowing. Also, keep reading contemporary novels as well. I can’t wait until new releases from my favorite authors come out. They don’t come out fast enough for me!

2) Ask Questions

One of the best ways to maintain creativity is to ask questions and seek out the answers. Will there ever be enough time in life to get all of the answers to all of the questions we humans have? No! When you stop asking questions and seeking new information, you become dull indeed!

3) Look - Listen- Learn

The power of observation! Keep your eyes and ears open -then take notes. Some of my best last name ideas come from just looking at products in the grocery store. I am always on the lookout for story ideas, names and places and I keep a list of all of them as you never know when they might come in handy.

4) Dreams

Have you ever woke up in the middle of the night with a great story idea! Make sure you keep a pen and paper nearby. Also, never stop dreaming during the day as well. Writers are thinkers and dreamers. When we lose this we lose the spark on our stories.

Creativity abounds! Books, movies, music, children, pets, vacations, etc etc. Let the creativity flow in your mind and right onto the pages of your books!!

Happy Writing!


Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess on the birth of their baby boy George Alexander Louis (nickname Georgie)  the future King of England!! Next week's post will contain baby pictures from the first photo call!!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Royal Babies Throughout The Ages

With the birth of the Prince or Princess of Cambridge – and future King or Queen of England, just days away, I thought it might be fun to take a peek through the Royal photo albums and look at some previous British monarchs – when they were babies!

This is the future Queen Victoria. She looks much different now than in the pictures we usually see of her. I wonder if it was difficult to get her to sit still for the portrait. :)

King Edward VII looking much younger than in his coronation pictures. He was the second child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and waited over 60 years to become king!

The future King George V looking dashing in a sailor suit. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a picture of George or Georgie as he was called, as a baby.

 Two kings in one picture! King Edward VIII (far right) who abdicated in order to marry Wallis Simpson and his brother and successor, George VI, who grew up to pull the country through WWII and who is father to our current Queen.

 Our current Queen, looking adorable and wearing lovely jewelry even at a young age!

 The Queen looking down at a baby Prince Charles. Love the bassinet!

 Princess Di and baby Will! Smiles all around!

And the beautiful Princess Kate, accompanied by Prince Harry and Prince William!
Just a few more days to wait, everyone!!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

How To Accomplish Your Summer Writing Goals!

Many writers, myself included, rely on the summer months as their time to “power write.” Longer days and fewer winter activities make this the perfect opportunity to get more writing done.

Some others might spend summer taking a much needed break from the written word, but for those of you who try to accomplish more writing during the summer, I have four tips to help you make the most of the upcoming summer months.

1) Be very selective about what you spend your time on. For those of us who like to say yes to everything, this goes against our natural inclinations. But the truth is, none of us can do it all. A very wise college professor once said “Life is about choices.” We all can point to time that we waste on unnecessary activities such as watching television, surfing the internet, or talking on the phone. Writing is a discipline like everything else. If you want to achieve your goals you have to set boundaries around your activities. And as writers, we have to decide when to say no and when to say yes. If the Lord leads, let this be the summer where you say YES to writing.

2) Establish a strict schedule.Think about getting up an hour earlier, or going to bed an hour later. Squeeze extra writing time in where you can. Author Jody Hedlund uses the quiet moments at the beginning and end of the day for writing, instead of other administrative tasks, such as blogging, twitter, facebook, emails, and the like. Get your writing done FIRST as that is your main goal and use any leftover time for less important tasks.

3) Set a goal. This device is used by many successful and disciplined people and it works for writers
too. Set a reasonable goal for yourself and try to keep working toward it. Maybe it’s writing 50,000 words, or sending out 20 query letters. You might not always succeed but you’ll get a lot more done knowing you have a finish line. And that’s where number four comes in.

4) Reward yourself. Whatever you do, no matter how trivial, reward yourself with something special. Go see a movie, take a walk, or treat yourself in some small way. Of course, achieving the goal is by itself a great reward!

I hope this summer is a blessed one for you and your writing journey!!

Any ideas of how you plan to accomplish your writing goals this summer? I'd love to hear them !!

Happy Writing!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

What novel became the highest grossing movie of all time?

Recently, I‘ve been re-watching one of my favorite movies. The film came from one of the bestselling books of all time, and is considered the second favorite book of American readers, just behind the Bible. This book has all the elements that are necessary for a bestselling novel and I think as writers today we can learn a lot from classic books such as this to help us improve our own writing. If you haven’t already guessed what book I’m referring to, it’s Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Gone With The Wind. Now before all you lovers of today’s current fiction scoff at looking back to the classics for inspiration, let’s take a look at the elements of this book and see what we can glean and incorporate to enhance our own writing, upping that elusive bestselling status. To that end, I’ve came up with three elements included in Gone With The Wind that need to be included to produce a bestseller today.

   1) Protagonists We Love to Hate and Hate to Love:  While we may not want Scarlet or Rhett as neighbors or best friends, we secretly love them and wish we could write such characters that get on our nerves, stir us to deep emotion, and cause us to cheer them on all the while knowing that they get what they deserve. The very name Scarlett is representative of fire and wildness. She is the epitome of survival in the harsh aftermath of the Civil War and represents more than just a mere female leading lady. She is the South at its best and the South at its worst. She knows how to take lemons and make lemonade, even if it is at the expense of everyone around her. Through all this she still hangs onto the past and we see her continued vulnerability in the one thing that she thinks she wants, but in actuality wouldn’t be good for her - the less than manly, romantic dreamer, Ashley Wilkes. Then there’s Rhett, her counterpart scalawag and comrade in southern connivery. While we hate to admit it, all us ladies would be swept off our feet by this ungentlemanly gentleman even though he might not be good for us. Compared to the boring Ashley we wonder why Scarlett can’t see the forest for the trees. Sometimes we just want to slap her and tell her to wake up. But oh, that we could write such characters that ignite such emotion in our readers. Bestselling novels, movies, and even television all have characters that we love to hate. Think Lady Mary and Thomas in Downton Abbey, Emma Woodhouse from Emma, Jo March in Little Women and Willoughby from Sense and Sensibility. All these characters have one thing in common that is a necessary ingredient in our leading men and ladies- Passion! They may be debilitatingly irritating but they all are extremely passionate characters that cause us to relate to their human strivings.

2)      Counterpart Secondary Characters: If it weren’t for Melanie and Ashley how would we see the opposite of Scarlett and Rhett? We need these characters to balance out our protagonists and we also need them to make us agonize when their very goodness still leaves them with problems and pain. Ashley represents the lost south and the dreamy status that it once held in the heart and mind of Scarlett. A past that she cannot regain and really would she have survived in its trivialities of parties, balls and teas? She would have had no need for her passion, spunk and ability to survive against all odds. Ashley balances out Rhett’s wildness, and yet for all his outward gentility he is inwardly miserable. Melanie, whom Rhett considers to be the only truly decent person he has ever know, counterbalances Scarlet and we can just envision her as our sister or best friend. Inwardly we know we should be more like her but in our human nature we just can’t help being more like Scarlett. Because of her innate goodness we feel all the worse when tragedy befalls her. Again, Mitchell’s genius comes through with this ability to create characters that cause us to experience this love hate relationship. We see this same counterbalance in other popular works of fiction. Think Sybil or Anna in Downton, Beth in Little Women or Colonel Brandon in Sense and Sensibility. A good novel must include characters such as this that counterbalance the flaws of our protagonists.

   3) A Setting That Inspires: The timeframe that the novel takes place provides ample opportunity for conflict between the characters and also stirs emotions in us with the history taking place. The Civil War was a time of division not only between north and south but also between families and even between the past and the future. Always causing examination between what is, was, and what could be. Mitchell uses this framework as the backdrop for her characters to develop and grow. Really compared to the setting and history within the novel, the characters are small potatoes. In a sense the setting, historical time period, and the very land of Tara are characters in and of themselves. Tara becomes the “mother figure” and nurturing element in Scarlett’s life after the death of her human mother as it was part of her so deeply all her life and in the generations that came before her. As Rhett says “You get your strength from this red earth of Tara, you’re part of it and it’s a part of you.” Once again, Mitchell gets us so deeply ingrained within the setting, land and history that we feel as though we are there living it right along with the characters. Good novels all use this technique to make the story come alive and not just feel like these elements are only afterthoughts. The characters are so caught in the time in which they live that they are paralyzed to act or think differently even though they stretch the bounds to the breaking point.  Think Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist and Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence. Wharton was another master at using this in her novels.

It took Margaret Mitchell 10 years to write Gone With The Wind and she only wrote it to the pass the time while trying to recover from an auto injury that refused to heal. It was the only book of hers published in her lifetime. The movie version received 10 Academy Awards and is considered the highest grossing movie of all time and one of the most successful period romance novels of all time. This post is not to say that a great novel has to take 10 years to write or that it should be as long as this book (one critic said it was too long and should have been shortened from its 1000 pages down to 500- imagine that!) But I am saying that it takes these elements to make a great story. Several current works of fiction that I have recently read also contain these elements and one of them is currently up for several Christian Fiction awards. So when crafting your stories, think of these elements. And if they are lacking in your work, you just might want to get out that dusty copy of Gone With The Wind or sit back to watch Scarlett and Rhett dance across the backdrop of Atlanta. While they are entertaining, they also are bound to inspire you to new heights in your own attempt at writing a bestselling novel.
Happy Writing!


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

How does a book make the New York Times Bestseller list?

Ever wonder how books make it to the New York Times Bestseller list? I was thinking about this, as I read the list whenever I can, and thought it might be interesting to see how books make it on the list and the criteria involved.
According to Reader Views (read the whole article here: the process of a book making it on this list is a rather arbitrary one. The New York Times has relationships with various independent and chain bookstores and wholesalers throughout the United States,  that report their weekly sales to the New York Times. These sales do not include sales of books through the internet, such as Amazon, or in department stores, or even in stores such as Walmart. The books that sell the most copies each week (during a seven day time period) in the stores they are monitoring determine which ones end up on the bestseller list.  According to Wikipedia, “The sales figures are widely believed to represent books that have actually been sold at retail, rather than wholesale, as the Times surveys booksellers in an attempt to better reflect what is purchased by individual buyers”. So say your book actually outsells a bestseller in sales in your hometown of West Branch, Michigan (my hometown). This book will not make the list because your bookstore is not reporting those sales to the New York Times. Also, the sales must occur over a short period of time (seven days) rather than slow steady sales over a longer period of time. Accordingly, a book that sells over a million copies over the course of several years will not make the list, even if its lifetime sales are more than a New York Times bestseller. This is why you will see writers actually asking readers to not purchase their books in stores or on Amazon until a certain date. They then put out promotions during that time to encourage purchasing, thus making sales during that specific timeframe very high. If enough sales are achieved during this time they then make the New York Times bestseller list or Amazon’s top seller list. To achieve a ranking in Amazon’s 1-10 list, a book must sell over 500 copies in a day.

Michael Hyatt has an article on his blog telling how he achieved his goal of getting his book Platform on the New York Times bestseller list. Along with many other techniques, he actually asked people not to purchase his book before the official release date and pushed for big sales during that week by offering “can’t say no” promotions. As a result of this he sold at least 11,000 copies during that first week thus making the bestseller list.
So does making it on the New York Times bestseller list actually constitute a bestseller book? Many books sell over a million copies in a short period of time and then quickly fade from the spotlight. Whereas books, like the Bible, or certain classics, never appear on any list but their total sales far outsell any bestseller, just because they are good literature, or books that stand the test of time.

So there you have it. If your goal is to get on the New York Times bestseller list or another bestseller list you’ve got a big job ahead of you. Frankly, I think we as writers should concentrate on producing the highest quality fiction possible and let the bestseller status take care of itself.  

Happy reading and writing!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Selfridges - The First Modern Department Store

Starting March 31st and airing every Sunday thereafter for seven weeks, we patient “ex-colonials” finally get to delve into the world of Edwardian London, in the form of the new TV miniseries, Mr. Selfridge. As a huge period drama fan, I have been intrigued by this series since it is based on a real person and I thought it might be fun to share some of the history behind it!
Before 1909 when Selfridges opened, well-bred Edwardians didn’t shop. Ladies visited their dressmakers and gentlemen their tailors. Walking into a shop and browsing around, the way we do today, simply wasn’t the fashionable thing to do.

But an ambitious American, Harry Gordon Selfridge, decided to change all that. And change it, he did.

Born in 1859, Harry Selfridge didn’t appear on the retail scene until he married Rose Buckingham, the daughter of a prominent Chicago gentleman.  He worked at the famous Field, Leiter, and Co (later called Marshall Fields). Off to a revolutionary start he introduced the maxims  “The customer is always right” and “Only ____ shopping days until Christmas.” J
The Selfridges visited London in 1906, but it wasn’t until financial worries began, that Harry considered opening a store in London. Selfridges was built on a loan of 400,000 pounds and was the first building in London to have a steel frame.

Selfridges was an instant hit to the people in London. It was the first department store to allow customers to handle items before purchasing – “try before you buy” and to display perfumes and cosmetics. The store included a library, reading and writing rooms, special reception rooms for French, German, American and "Colonial" customers, a First Aid Room, and a Silence Room, with soft lights, deep chairs, and double-glazing, all intended to keep customers in the store as long as possible.

Mr. Selfridge played an active role in the store’s running, coming in daily and overseeing, directing, and inspiring his employees with his cheerful, ambitious attitude.
Many famous names of the day loved Selfridges – dancer Anna Pavlova was a big fan of the fur department and after Louis Bleriot became the first person to fly over water, his airplane was displayed at Selfridges for four days. This was very exciting since aviation was in its early stages. Having the plane on display drew crowds of 12,000 people. From then on, Selfridge was proud to sell anything “from an airplane to a cigar”. This is attested by the changes that have occurred at Selfridges over the years.

You can still shop at Selfridges in London today. A testament to the history of shopping and a man named Mr. Selfridge.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Learn Great Writing From Great Reading – Review of “A Noble Groom” by Jody Hedlund

It’s rare to find a book that embodies all the elements of good writing - plot, characters, dialog, description, historical accuracy. On average, this happens one out of every ten books I read and it’s always a eureka moment, like discovering a rare gem. I found such a gem in Jody Hedlund’s latest novel, A Noble Groom.  I thought it would be neat to share some of the things I learned as a writer from this fantastic historical. I won’t give any plot details away, so you can read the book for yourself.


Great Writing Elements include in A Noble Groom:

1 – Similes and Metaphors – To find so many well-chosen similes and metaphors in one book is rare and I enjoyed every one. One of my favorites was “Annalisa’s lips were stiff, like the crusts of day old bread.” It’s difficult not to sound cliché when making use of these elements, but Jody found fresh and clever ways to describe her setting and characters. I tend to add these in my editing stage, but I try and make a note every time a creative phrase pops into my mind. Definitely a way to add an extra sparkle to our writing.

2 – Conflict – This book is loaded with conflict. As soon as one problem is resolved, another takes its place. From external conflicts with nature (the characters are farmers), to internal conflicts between the hero and heroine, there was never a moment where something wasn’t going on. Jody Hedlund says that before she begins writing, she makes a list of all the different obstacles and conflicts that could happen to her characters, and then inserts them in as needed. A great idea and one that would save many hours of writer’s block.

 3 – DescriptionA Noble Groom proved the point that you don’t need a lot of effusive description to effectively set a scene. Rather than describing everyone’s hair color and eye color, Jody used more memorable descriptions, like giving one character a wheezing cough. She didn’t go on and on in a “grocery list” description way, but described the few details so effectively that I completely pictured it. Giving each of your characters a tick or something different and using that as the basis for describing them can be far more memorable than the average description.

4 – Likable Characters – The hero and heroine were both likable and believable. They weren’t perfect, but had an equal balance of good qualities and flaws. I especially liked Carl, the hero. He was such a kind, considerate guy. J The secondary characters ranged from a villain I loved to hate, to a cute little girl who was a great foil for several of the characters. There was a perfect mix of good and bad and even one character that did some not so good things for very valid and admirable reasons.

 5 – Romantic Tension - Sparks flew between our noble hero and the heroine he wants to protect. Anyone who says CBA novels lack romantic passion should read this book. There weren’t a lot of kisses, but each one was swoon-worthy and provided lots of conflict for the lead characters. Dialog between the leads added sparks and the happily ever after was well-deserved.

All in all, one of the best books I’ve read this year. And when you’re reading it, you can say you’re working – (that is) improving your writing craft.


Recently widowed Annalisa Werner has the feeling her husband was murdered but can't prove it. Alone with her young daughter in 1881 Michigan, she has six months left to finish raising the money needed to pay back the land contract her husband purchased, and the land is difficult to toil by herself. She needs a husband. With unmarried men scarce, her father sends a letter to his brother in the Old Country, asking him to find Annalisa a groom.

For nobleman Carl von Reichart, the blade of the guillotine is his fate. He's been accused and convicted of a serious crime he didn't commit, and his only escape is to flee to a small German community in Michigan where he'll be safe. He secures a job on Annalisa's farm but bumbles through learning about farming and manual labor.

Annalisa senses that Carl is harboring a secret about his past, yet she finds herself drawn to him anyway. He's gentle, kind, and romantic--unlike any of the men she's ever known. He begins to restore her faith in the ability to love--but her true groom is still on his way. And time is running out on them all.

I Just could part with my copy of A Noble Groom! But you can purchase it on Amazon real quick by just using this link:
Giveaway!!! In honor of great reading, I’m giving away a CBA historical romance to one commenter. (A surprise pick) Along with that, an elegant bookmark that goes along with Jody’s book, The Doctor’s Lady. Leave a comment to be entered and I will draw a winner on Friday.


Happy Writing and Reading,


Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Peek Into Mrs. Patmore’s Kitchen – Downton Downtime recipes

With Season 3 of Downton Abbey completed, the countdown until next January begins again. I’m secretly hoping to be in the UK to see Downton in September, but it’s doubtful that will happen. J A girl can dream though....

While we wait for Season 4, I thought it might be fun to prepare some Downton recipes. We made these for our Season 3 Downton parties every Sunday night and they were all very fun and surprisingly easy to recreate. Carson would be proud!

Recipe One – Raspberry Meringue – Otherwise Known as the Infamous Salty Pudding


  • 16 fluid ounces of milk
  • 1 vanilla pod, split or 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 ounces caster sugar (super fine sugar or sugar substitute)
  • 4 egg yolks (freeze the whites if you aren’t making your own meringues)
  • 5 ounces fresh breadcrumbs
  • zests from 2 lemons
  • 7 ounces raspberry jam
  • 4 ounces caster sugar (super fine sugar or sugar substitute)
  • 1 tbsp. icing sugar
  • 1 pint fresh raspberries
  • 2 tbsp. caster sugar for garnish (not salt!)
  • meringue cookies, or make your own (we made our own and it was pretty easy)


  1. Preheat the oven to 300F.
  2. For the pudding base, pour the milk into a pan and add the split vanilla pod. Bring slowly to the boil over a medium heat.
  3. Separate the eggs, and reserve the whites to make the meringues.
  4. Place the sugar into a large bowl with the egg yolks and whisk until the mixture is light and creamy.
  5. Slowly pour the egg mixture into the hot milk, whisking all the time, then add the breadcrumbs and lemon zest.
  6. Half-fill a roasting tin with boiling water to make a bain-marie (water bath). Pour the pudding mixture into 4 x 4 oz individual ramekins, or one large oven-proof baking dish and place them into the bain-marie.
  7. Place the bain-marie in the center of the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes for the individual molds, 30 – 40 minutes for the larger version, or until the pudding or puddings are almost set, but still slightly wobbly in the center.
  8. Place the jam into a small pan over a low heat and gently melt. Spread the jam over the top of the pudding when it has finished baking and cooled.
  9. To serve, gently remove the pudding from the molds, and transfer to a serving platter(s), garnish with raspberries and meringues, and sprinkle with some extra caster sugar. Or salt. J
Everyone was pretty impressed with how this looked. (See picture above)

Recipe Two – Crepes Suzette – Ethel (and Isis’s) Favorite


For the crêpes

·         110g/4oz plain flour, sifted
·         pinch of salt

·         2 eggs
·         200ml/7fl oz milk mixed with 75ml/3fl oz water
·         50g/2oz butter
·         1 medium orange, grated zest only
·         1 tbsp caster (fine) sugar

For the sauce

·         150ml/5fl oz orange juice (from 3-4 medium oranges)
·         1 medium orange, grated zest only
·         1 small lemon, grated rind and juice
·         1 tbsp caster sugar
·         3 tbsp Grand Marnier, Cointreau or brandy (we used rum flavoring)
·         50g/2oz unsalted butter
·         a little extra Grand Marnier, for flaming (if you feel bold)

To make the pancakes

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl with a sieve held high above the bowl so the flour gets an airing.
  2. Now make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it.
  3. Then begin whisking the eggs – any sort of whisk or even a fork will do – incorporating any bits of flour from around the edge of the bowl as you do so.
  4. Next gradually add small quantities of the milk and water mixture, still whisking (don’t worry about any lumps as they will eventually disappear as you whisk). When all the liquid has been added, use a rubber spatula to scrape any elusive bits of flour from around the edge into the centre, then whisk once more until the batter is smooth, with the consistency of thin cream.
  5. Now melt the 50g/2oz of butter in a large pan. Spoon 2 tbsp of it into the batter and whisk it in, then pour the rest into a bowl and use it to lubricate the pan, using a wodge of kitchen paper to smear it round before you make each pancake. Stir the orange zest and caster sugar into the batter.
  6. Now get the pan really hot, then turn the heat down to medium and, to start with, do a test pancake to see if you’re using the correct amount of batter. These little crêpes should be thinner than the basic pancakes, so when you’re making them, use ½ tbsp of batter at a time in a 18cm/7in pan.
  7. It’s also helpful if you spoon the batter into a ladle so it can be poured into the hot pan in one go. As soon as the batter hits the hot pan, tip it around from side to side to get the base evenly coated with batter. It should take only half a minute or so to cook; you can lift the edge with a palette knife to see if it’s tinged gold as it should be.
  8. Flip the pancake over with a pan slice or palette knife – the other side will need a few seconds only – then simply slide it out of the pan onto a plate. If the pancakes look a little bit ragged in the pan, no matter because they are going to be folded anyway. You should end up with 15-16 crêpes.
  9. Stack the pancakes as you make them between sheets of greaseproof paper on a plate fitted over simmering water, to keep them warm while you make the rest.

The Sauce

  1. Mix all the ingredients – with the exception of the butter – in a bowl.
  2. At the same time warm the plates on which the crêpes are going to be served.
  3. Now melt the butter in the frying pan, pour in the sauce and allow it to heat very gently.
  4. Then place the first crêpes in the pan and give it time to warm through before folding it in half and then in half again to make a triangular shape.
  5. Slide this onto the very edge of the pan, tilt the pan slightly so the sauce runs back into the centre, then add the next crêpe. Continue like this until they’re all re-heated, folded and well soaked with the sauce.
  6. You can flame them at this point if you like. Heat a metal ladle by holding it over a gas flame or by resting it on the edge of a hotplate, then, away from the heat, pour a little liqueur or brandy into it, return it to the heat to warm the spirit, then set light to it. Carry the flaming ladle to the table over the pan and pour the flames over the crêpes before serving on the warmed plates.