Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Hail the New, Ye Lads and Lasses!

So we're saying goodbye to 2013, aren't we? Goodbye to a year full of firsts and lasts and possibly more heart-ache and heart-balm and heart-lessons than any year I have yet lived. I don't think I wrote quite as much this year as last or even the year before, but I sure as heck lived and living is always the better half of writing. In numbers, I:

Read 44 books
Rode 10 planes
Touched down in 3 foreign countries (France, Hungary, Romania)
Counseled at 2 camps
Led 2 Student Action Teams
Wrote 90 posts here (this makes 90! I love even numbers)
Baked 1 cheesecake 
Listened to 4 seasons of Cabin Pressure
Watched 3 seasons of Downton Abbey
Read 6 Penelope Wilcock books
Went to 1 wedding
Went to 1 funeral

So much life was jammed into this last twelve-month. So many good things among the tough that I can't help but thank God for it and ask for another year of such productive, adventurous, tumultuous soul-growth. Yes, bits were hard but bits were beautiful too and I'm not sure but the beautiful bits far outweighed the rough. There is so much to look forward to in 2014! For one thing, the publication of Fly Away Home! In six weeks (please God) you'll be able to buy a copy of this book...so many of you have been around since I first started writing it; I consider you its dear aunts and uncles and it's been a treasure to have your support.

"Adventura". That was the word for 2013, though I didn't set out to choose a word. I love it when people choose a theme for their year, but I am a sensible soul, all things considered, and I prefer seeing what the year handed me at the end. Adventura = adventure with a lot of soul things attached to it. That's not the literal translation but that's what it means to me and my friends and family. I am excited to live 2014 and see what I'll be telling you a year hence. What things will have changed? What things will be the same? I don't know. But what I do know is that it is a year planned in the Book of History. A year that has been in God's view since time before time...and I cannot wait to take part in it. :)
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord God has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of our Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all those who mourn, to grant to those in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes." -Isaiah 61:1-3
Have a lovely New Year, darlings.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

2013 in Readables

Per usual, Abigail beat me to the punch with her 2013 Books-Read list, so if it looks like I'm being a copy-cat, fie upon that. This year was actually a rather productive year, reading-wise. I always forget to update my Goodreads page, preferring to keep a hand-written sheet of the titles I've read. There is something so much more satisfying about chalking up another one by hand over just typing in a few more words on my laptop.

Forty-Four, that page says. And forty-four good ones, I think.

Penelope Wilcock's Hawk & Dove trilogy
(I devoted an entire post and a guest-post to these books. Read them.)
Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
(I need say very little more except that it is thoroughly underlined by now.)
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
(Read it and weep and hurt and love.)

I'm going to categorize the rest of the list. This was a good year, book-wise, and I would recommend pretty much any of the books I read as being clean if not terribly captivating. (Looking at you, Beverly Lewis ;) Of course you must use your own judgement, but as I'm not in the habit of reading Twilight or stupid Harlequin romances (and not much fluffery either) you can be pretty-well sure I'm not going to recommend trash. If you don't have time to read the whole list just pick your favorite category and have a look at the books I read there this year. :)

1066 And All That by RJ Yeatmen, W.C. Sellar
The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir
Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana Jr.
The Secret Armies by Albert Merrin
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand

//Theology & Life//
A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
Don't Waste Your Life by John Piper
A Sweet and Bitter Providence by John Piper
Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist
The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers
The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
Every Living Thing by James Herriot

Eats Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss
P.D. James Talking About Detective Fiction

The Final Crumpet by Ron & Janet Benray
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
The Tuesday Club Murders by Agatha Christie
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy Sayers
The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie

//Historical Fiction//
The Door in the Wall by Marguerite d'Angeli
The Hawk & the Dove by Penelope Wilcock
God's Wounds by Penelope Wilcock
The Long Fall by Penelope Wilcock
The Hardest Thing to Do by Penelope Wilcock
The Hour Before Dawn by Penelope Wilcock
Remember Me by Penelope Wilcock

Songbird Under a German Moon by Tricia Goyer
The Covenant by Beverly Lewis
The Betrayal by Beverly Lewis
The Sacrifice by Beverly Lewis
Fire by Night by Lynn Austin

The Orphan King by Sigmund Brouwer
The Fellowship of The Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien
Dragonwitch by Anne Elisabeth Stengl
The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

//General Fiction//
Bertie Wooster Sees it Through by P.G. Wodehouse
Carry on, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Spring Fever by P.G. Wodehouse
The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

Manalive by G.K. Chesterton
At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare

As I look back on this year, the list pleases me. There are so many memories tied into the books themselves or my reading of them, and I am glad to see I have rather a balanced diet of weighty-to-fluff, though I am sad I didn't get to Dickens this year! For Christmas I was given Orthodoxy by Chesterton (at last!) and The Red House Mystery of A.A. Milne (thrilled about this one) along with a gorgeous hardbound, illustrated copy of The Hobbit by Tolkien, and I have promised to read Jill Willliamson's newest novel, Outcasts, by the end of January so my reading will continue! If I finish any others by the end of the December, I shall certainly let you know. :) What do your reading lists look like?

Monday, December 23, 2013

I have something to announce:

I have hinted around for some time about changes that are going on, exciting projects I am in the midst of, news about my books, and several other things. Some have said that if it looks like a duck, sounds like a duck and walks like a duck, it probably is a duck. (unless it is a goose, in which case I think you're being over-particular.) In the same vein but in an altogether more refined way, you have probably put two and two together:

This winter I am striking off on my own as an Independent Publisher/Author. What this means is that I am starting my own imprint for my books and will be going through a printing/publishing company to bring my novels to your hands. This step was one I deliberated for quite some time. After prayer, long discussions with my writer-counselor-friends and family members, many mornings of thinking it through while washing dishes, and my general good sense, I have chosen Indie publishing as my route.
At first, I feared I was giving up - not pressing through to wait till a publisher accepted me. But my reasons for independent publishing were not that I was impatient and tired of working and waiting. I looked at my talents, my vision, my dreams, my style, and realized that I am never going to be one of those people whom an editor can tack down as their next what-have-you. I don't like being nailed to one genre. I write what I want to read, and if other people like it then hip-hip-hurrah. I love my little public but it has never been my vision to be world-famous author. I only seek to be well-loved, not famous. To write my books and bring my stories forward without someone else's opinion on "what's trendy" is my dream. Actually, I'm reminded of the character that inspired Mr. Barnett from my short-story, "How About Coffee?":
"I never asked for fame and fortune--I never sought it," he said. "I am a mere whim of these people: here today, gone tomorrow." He moved his fingers as if sprinkling chaff to the wind, then smiled. "Why should I care for the opinion of Society when society chose me itself? Let it raise me and lower me as it will. I am the same man it found me at the first."
That is the whole of my sentiments regarding why I am choosing independent publishing, and proud of it! For me and my books, I am confident this is the best method. That being stated, I am pleased to announce that Fly Away Home will be released Winter 2014 with a projected debut-date of Valentine's Day! Perfect release date for a romance, right? I have been working with cover-designer Rachel Rossano and we have been concocting something beautiful. Well, she has been concocting it. ;) I cannot wait to show you!

Over the next month or two this blog will be a mad hattery of celebration, updates, trivia, announcements, and generally wonderful things! February 2014 - mark that on your calendars and stay tuned for more information on the release of Fly Away Home!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Adventus Poetry

And sometimes you sit down to write a blog post and end up with a shard of real-homesickness that takes the form of this:


Pregnant, weighted.
Breath is baited
Hope has faded
With the night
Silent, holy,
Wanting solely
To be healed from
stabbing fright.
What if all this--
love and peace-kiss--
falls in dust
of crumbled prayers;
Nothing left but
hearts that slam shut,
hands that claw
and empty stares?
Lord, deliver!
Rend the shiver
As our swollen
bodies lie
In the dark net
of the "not yet"
where we, wandering,
fear to die.
Filling tombs
And swelling wombs
And still we wait
and watch in vain;
Has Heaven, blank night,
Turned from the sight
Of our wounds
And formless pain?
Silence deepens,
Hillside steepens,
Voices roughen
Like a blow
Question pours out
stubborn, draws doubt:
Poisoned arrow
On a bow.
Waiting, clinging,
Sighing, singing
In our half-lit
Lord, deliver!
Rend the shiver
Bring forth joy
From barren wombs.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

In Order to Know Fewer

"We read a good novel not in order to know more people, but in order to know fewer. Instead of the humming swarm of human beings, relatives, customers, servants, postmen, afternoon callers, tradesmen, strangers who tell us the time, strangers who remark on the weather, beggars, waiters, and telegraph-boys--instead of this bewildering human swarm which passes us every day, fiction asks us to follow one figure (say the postman) consistently through his ecstasies and agonies. That is what makes one impatient with that type of pessimistic rebel who is always complaining of the narrowness of his life and demanding a larger sphere. Life is too large for us as it is: we have all too many things to attend to. All true romance is an attempt to simplify it, to cut it down to plainer and more pictorial proportions. What dullness there is in our life arises mostly from its rapidity; people pass us too quickly to show us their interesting side. By the end of the week we have talked to a hundred bores; whereas, if we had stuck to one of them, we might have found ourselves talking to a new friend, or a humorist, or a murderer, or a man who had seen a ghost."

~G.K. Chesterton: 'The Inside of Life.'
 Just thought you might be able to use a little Chesterton in your lives today. This week I've had the privilege to put my writing skills to good use up at my brother's organization. I've had honest-to-goodness real writing jobs to do. Not that I'm getting paid for it, but it is excellent practice and was actually assigned by the director of the organization who told the fellow in charge of the project, "She's a writer. A good one."  Not to put any pressure on me or anything. ;) Anyway, my words have been full of North Korea, South Korea, and Japan (not in Mirriam Neal's way ;) and I've been having fun. We took off after work last night and went into DC which never fails to inspire and delight. I wrote a little something this morning that may end up here after a little polishing. If you remember "Small Sight," that short-story I wrote last year, that was inspired by DC as well. 

On another note, my eye is twitching which feels awful.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

December's Chatterbox and I Survived The Silence-Month

I am almost done with this blogging break. I shall be back round here for good starting Friday. In some ways a month seems too short--I had not realized how stressed I was until I actually took a load of things out of my life (Twitter, Blogger, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Pinterest). My goal this month was to get back in touch with real life enough that my first impulse upon experiencing a thing wasn't: "This will make a great blog post!" or "Let me Instagram this!" Ridiculous as it sounds, I had been living life with an unconsciously materialistic viewpoint so that each little bit of life only served to be ground into flour with which to make my writing pancakes. I started the month with an eye to get a lot of writing done in the interim. What happened instead is that I lived a creative month, but from the writing standpoint, it was unproductive. And you know what? I am okay with that. I had sapped so much creativity for so long without putting anything back into the fund that my well was running dry.

I took a rest month and I'm sure my brain is the better for it.

What did that month look like? Well, in pictures, it went something like this:

Filling a quote-book with favorites

Experiments in cookery: pomegranate-orange cheesecake with a gingersnap crust, anyone?

Making jewelry. You can buy this neat poetry-ring in The Warren!

breaking my brain over geometry to enlarge by hand a 5x5 photo of Audrey onto four different 12x12 canvases

Having fun with celery as a stamp. :)

A sweet friend gifted me with an UNDERWOOD TYPEWRITER. Guys. This is the brand Callie uses. I may or may not have legitimately freaked out and bounced up and down and made excited noises and yelled when the "ding" went off.

started over with my 1000 Gifts list

Made a batch of cuties. <3
So yeah. My life has been touched by a bit of drama. I have led a quiet, peaceable, gentle life this month and I feel refreshed, relaxed, and loved. God is good, whether or not I am on a brilliant roll with my writing. That being said, I have been hard at work this month applying the final edits I made a couple months back for Fly Away Home and I will have some exciting news forthcoming about that novel. Secondly, I feel like I know Vivi and Farnham pretty well at this point which comes from just thinking about these characters for a month, reading up on Northamptonshire, and a goodly dose of James Herriot. I look forward to digging into the story with a concentrated effort soon. And speaking of The Warren, if you are looking for Christmas gifts for any of your writing/reading/word-smashing friends, check out the 20% off sale! Everything in The Warren is 20% off until Christmas and I will be continuing to add new products all month so stay tuned. :)

The main purpose of this post, though, was to announce December's Chatterbox! You know the ropes, and if you somehow missed what this Chatterbox thing is about, just click on the label below and read all about it. It's a barrel of fun. This month's topic?
I can't wait to read all your posts on this topic! Mythology in any society is an interesting thing. I want to see your characters talking about it! Maybe some of them swear by the myths of their world, maybe others are skeptical, maybe others are creators or participators in those myths. Whatever the case may be, I want to hear about it! Sorry this challenge is late this month! I have (obviously) been away. I have missed all of you and look forward to catching up about the things I have missed this month. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Dear Chaps and Chappesses:
      I wanted to let you know that in order to more fully enjoy my family, the holidays, my life, and generally to step back from the mild insanity that has been my year so far, I am going to be taking a blogging/twitter/facebook hiatus for a month. I am still available via email (the one I will check most often is heirloomrosebud(at)gmail(dot)com) if you need me or have a question or business or simply miss me too too terribly much, hit me up over there. I will also schedule the next Chatterbox so that you can participate in that. Beyond these things, you won't be seeing  me so just know that I love my little readership and all the time I spend with you, but as much as I love you I need to step back and re-focus, re-learn what is most important in my life, and actually work at some things I have been lax with. When life gets too virtual it's a little scary. I feel like John and Sherlock:
Sherlock: "Not good?"
John: "Yeah...bit not good."
(And isn't it funny that Mirriam is currently in the depths of a book called "Disconnect"?) I love all of you but I haven't been spending enough quality time with the tangible people in my life and I don't want to miss the gobs of prospective time I have in the coming month. I am actually looking forward to having time to read, time to draw, time to sew, etc. -- all the things I am generally "too busy" for in my current schedule.I trust you won't be too lost without me--you're all big boys and girls and quite capable of going along as usual, I'm sure. I will be popping back in sometime around Christmas to say FOL-DE-ROL so be good until then and I'll see you mid-December!
              Much Fondness,

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"Hi, I'm a traveling bard."

There is nothing more terrifying to me as a writer than saying something is finished. Because just as soon as I say that, I keep thinking of ways I can improve the draft, changes I could have made, things I should have done. I finished editing The Windy Side of Care today and even now (literally right now) I can't help opening the document back up and scrolling through with a cagey eye, wondering if it's really good enough. I dislike word-count limits and I struggled to keep the story within the wraps of only 20,000 words. I did it, but when I got the feedback from my beta-readers, I had to go back and fix pacing. Do you know how hard that is when you have a word-limit? It was like the finest stitchery, easing paragraphs off the start of the story to allow for breathing-space at the back of it. Now I'm much more satisfied with the pacing, but it was hard there for a while, cutting scenes of masterful dialog. (Yes, I caved and saved a complete draft of the first take so that all those conversations can exist in their own dimension forever an' ever amen.) 19,989 words. That's what the current count is, and though I will probably permit myself one more scroll-through before actually sending the manuscript into Anne Elisabeth Stengl, I really am finished.
It's terrifying.
I shared this sentiment on Facebook and a wise acquaintance of mine said she had felt similarly recently until she stopped to ask herself, "Am I doing this to win or am I doing it for the joy of writing?" And just as soon as I read Emma's words, I realized that I wrote The Windy Side of Care out of the sheer fun of it. Personally, I think it's a lovely, rollicking retelling of Cinderella, full of unexpected twists and allusions. Even though Anne Elisabeth mentioned in one of her recent blog posts that she has had dozens of stories pouring in and can even tote up a pretty good list of who she thinks the winners will be (and my story hasn't even been sent in so that's a little disheartening), even though she might not even like my story or give it a second glance...why did I write it? I wrote it because I love Alis.

 I wrote it because I love Auguste. 

I wrote it because I adored the hijinks, the tongue-in-cheek, the sparring of this retelling. I wrote it strictly to please myself, and really this is where your professional platform starts to be defined:
Who do you write to please? How far are you willing to go to please them?
I have come to terms with the fact that I'm probably not the best choice for next World-Wide Best-Selling Author. Why? Because I write what it is on my heart to write. I'm not the girl who a publisher can label as "Our Next Beverly Lewis" and depend upon to write historical romance for the rest of my career. I am very comfortable in my style, voice, books and I know that Rachel Heffington probably isn't going to appeal to everyone. I don't hope for widespread fame, but for respectable recognition. Am I writing for everyone or am I okay to sing my tales to a heroic and devoted few? Some people would call my admission professional suicide. Doesn't EVERYONE aspire to be the next Novelist Everyone Loves? Well of course that'd be nice, but for me it is a clear case of exchanging the natural for the unnatural or, in simple terms, writing in my true voice or posing as someone else. I can ghost-write in pretty nearly any style--Dickens, Wodehouse, Austen, Freitag--and maybe I could spend my whole career doing that and being successful. But for me it isn't about winning, about being the best, about becoming the author everyone aspires to be like. For me it's mostly about the pleasure of creating a thing and watching other people delight in it, however few they might be. I have always felt a connection to how the Lord felt in Genesis:
"Then God said, 'Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear'; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that is was good." -Genesis 1:9-10
I can relate to that quiet sense of "I like this" and the satisfaction and joy that floods the soul over having made a good thing - a thing that points back to you as its creator and stayed true to your nature after you called it into being. Of course God's joy over His creation is far greater than mine in my stories could ever be, but it's a shade of the same thing. And if I decided to worry about Winning and Being the Best, I'd lose all joy in my creations because they'd go contrary to my nature. Some people were made for writing what's popular. The strength of some is the fact that they entrench themselves in one spot and build fortifications and ramparts and seize the playing field. Me? I'm a bit of a wandering soul. I like to ply my trade in many places in many times in many ways. So maybe I won't go down in legends, but I know I'll bring joy to anyone who sits by my fire to hear a merry tale.

I'm going to send The Windy Side of Care into the Five Glass Slippers Contest and from there, que sera, sera. If she doesn't like it I might just do something with it myself. Lengthen that word-count, expand the plot, give you a mind-boggling Cinderella-twist and publish it myself. Either way I'll be pleased. What about you? Are you a traveling bard or an established baron?

Friday, November 8, 2013

November's Chatterbox

I am baaaaaaack people! We unfortunately lost the election by a two-percent vote and a Democrat-funded straw-man of a third-party candidate, but God's got it under control and somehow I'll suffer through Terry McAuliffe being governor. (Please excuse me while I throw up and then breathe into a paper bag, then hand it to Hillary Clinton) THAT being said, finally November can start for me! I know oodles of you have been doing NaNoWriMo and I have not, so you are very well-aware that it is November. Probably most of you don't even have time to read this post, but because Una asked if we were doing Chatterbox this month and because of course we are, I thought I'd post the next challenge!

The explanation of Chatterbox from the introductory post:
 Chatterbox is an event to help authors get to know their characters and stories better. I love to talk and I love to write dialog. Chatterbox is, essentially, an exercise in showing your character via the way he or she speaks. It's fun, it is sassy, it is simple. Each month I will assign a conversation topic and it will be your duty to write a conversation between several of your characters regarding whatever I topic I designated. Who knows? You might even end up with something you'll want to work into your real novel. When you are finished writing your post you will be able to link up with me here at The Inkpen Authoress and we'll have jolly larks reading the wide variety that springs out of the assigned topic.
To make sure that the widest variety of people can participate in Chatterbox this month (especially those of you doing NaNo) I am choosing a topic that generally comes up in pretty nearly every novel in some form or fashion. This month, your characters are going to talk about death.
 Death is a topic that is inherent to humanity and so it comes and clocks us in the face pretty regularly. Whether your MC is faced with death, or someone they are close to dies, whether they are the ones inflicting the death or whether they are discussing it, death is a prevalent. A good measure of how well you know your character is how well your know their philosophy and worldview. How would she react to the end of a gun-barrel? How would he react if his brother was killed in cold blood? How would they react if both of them were kidnapped and in danger every second their captor was around? How would she react if she was told she had a terminal illness, or what would he think of his father--his hero--slowing losing his mind from the senility of old age and becoming unable to advise him?

So....have at it, Chatterboxers. I hope you will be able to participate even through the hectic schedule you're keeping with NaNo! Best wishes for all you who are brave enough to sign up for that madness. ;) My November looks to be busy enough with editing TWSOC and starting Anon, Sir, Anon. Toodles!

Friday, November 1, 2013

Wrapping up the Mystery

Congratulations on Una Mariah winning the giveaway for The Game's Afoot Inspiration Plaque! I know the Rafflecopter also says that Leah W won, but that is an error on Rafflecopter's part - it keeps displaying two winners; Una was the first so I have emailed her and will be sending her prize next week!

I hope you enjoyed reading all the mystery-related posts in this Utterly Baffled blog party! I wish I could extend the fun and keep going, but you would soon have a missing persons case on your hand instead of a blog party because I'm off to save the country by way of campaigning for Ken Cuccinelli for Governor during these last five days before election. I love being on the ground working for things I believe in! So anyway, campaigning doesn't leave time for sleep, much less writing blog posts. ;)

Thank you to all who participated in the party! It wouldn't have been half as fun without you. Thanks for being patient and lovely with my sporadic posting schedule, and I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have! I am going to leave you with a hilarious song that Elizabeth Grace Foley sent me via Twitter. Watch it, love it, and have a wonderful weekend!

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Breakfast at Whistlecreig

I haven't really given you a broad piece of Vivi & Farnham to digest since first announcing Anon, Sir, Anon. I suppose you will be wanting chunks now and then like I've done with all the rest of my stories. Here's the thing: I'm not certain how much I'll be able to share (as far as large pieces) once the mystery gets rolling. You can never be over-careful with those things. This bit, however, is the perfect way to introduce you to two of my principle characters and their personalities, ways they interact with other people, etc. Also, it gives you to the tone of my novel which is decidedly cozy-Wodehousian-with-a-bit-of-dry-Christie-for-good-measure. It is going to be serious in parts, but the overall tone is what you see below. Enjoy this bit...it relaxed me to write it. Oh. And to reward you for your patience in reading all the way through (and for any comments/critiques you might want to provide afterward) I present you with two sketches of Vivi & Farnham. They are probably not good likenesses of my people, and they're not very good sketches at any rate, but they are inspirational to me and that's why I made them.

Farnham watched his niece at the stove, fascinated at the way she appeared to have taken up residence in the kitchen. He’d always heard that women transform a home but he’d never liked the idea. Now, however, it appeared that “transformation” meant much in the way of well-cooked food, dustless furniture and someone to talk to, not--as his fellow bachelors were fond of saying--dumping a chap on his head, tossing his cigar boxes, and snipping his curtains to fashionable shreds.
Genevieve wasn’t a pretty girl--her mouth was too small and her nose too snub. Farnham knew that but somehow as he watched his niece moving through the motions of making breakfast without a hint of the sense of imminent crisis with which he cooked, he thought he’d at last found a woman who didn’t set him on edge.
But, “See that you don’t burn the rashers,” was the only compliment he dished out.
Genevieve took up a fork and turned the bacon in the pan till it gave a maddened sizzle. “There’s no worry it’ll burn--it is all fat and no meat. Where do you buy your bacon?”
“I shall buy it at Hilton’s from now on.”
“Their pigs look happier.”
Farnham didn’t have an argument for this - he’d wouldn’t know what a happy pig looked like. “Are you my housekeeper now?”
“Someone has to do it, dear.”
He resented this Mab for calling him “dear” in that motherly tone. “I have Allen for that.”
“Allen is a butler.” She smiled that curious smile of hers where the left side of her mouth quirked upward and removed a tray of puddings from the oven. “And butlers resent housework.”
“He’s never complained.”
“They never do, but they retaliate in a million different ways. I know, dear, I took over household decisions for Mama on my twenty-third birthday. Ours invariably rubbed Father’s black shoes with brown polish until we discovered that he’d been made to cook muffins for breakfast every Thursday. Put him right off his tea and the inner peace of the household was intricately bungled till I figured out where things had gone awry..”
The smell of the frying bacon and hot puddings knotted Farnham’s stomach, but from hunger or those bang ulcers he couldn’t tell; the thought of eating meat turned his stomach to a hotbed of pain. “I don’t think I can manage bacon this morning.”
“Heavens no. This is for me.” Genevieve forked the crispy rashers onto her plate and lifted a pudding from its tin bed, settling it beside two fried eggs.
Farnham resented girls with healthy appetites. “Where’s mine?”
She nodded at the stove. “Just there. I’ll fix it for you in a tick.”
“Can’t I have a pudding?”
“Not with your ‘bang ulcers’. Yes, you’ve been speaking aloud. I’m putting you on a strict diet of porridge and camomile tea with perhaps a bit of scone if you’re quite an angel.”
He drew himself up. “Farnham of Whistlecreig is never an angel.”
“Then you’ll have to do without scones.”
“Bang it.”
“Now about this murder.”
“Yes, I was wondering when we’d get to speak about that.” He rubbed his palms together and felt the pain in his stomach fading as anticipation of exploring the thing rose. “We’ll pop round to have a look at the body after breakfast, shan’t we?”
“Your call. I’m not experienced in these matters. What is the proper ettiquette? Wait until noon and stay no longer than ten minutes, or don’t wear white after Michaelmas?”
“Do you know you’re a menace? ‘Better three hours too soon than a minute too late’.”
“You know best, dear.”
Don’t call me that.” His fist clenched almost against his will and shook out his fingers with a shaky laugh. “Sorry.”
She made a face. “No, I’m sorry - I had almost settled in my role of maiden aunt before I was uprooted and sent here and I’m used to sweetening my conversation to suit fretful children. Well, if you are to tell me what to call you, I’m afraid I must have my preferences too.”
“You don’t want to be called Genevieve?”
“Do you like it?”
He was shocked to see a shy, girlish look flit over her face as if she wanted to hear what he thought--really wanted to hear. “Oh...umm...it’s a fine name. Fine. If you like it, that is. If you don’t like it then...we’ll call you something else.”
“Call me Vivi, please. No one does. It’s always ‘My eldest, Genevieve’ or worse yet, ‘Genevieve - the capable one.’ I’m tired of being capable - it means they’ve given up on me. Call me Vivi.”
He saw the set of her jaw and the weariness behind her eyes and since he was not entirely heartless, he guessed the story of the battles she’d fought over the labels. “Vivi then.”
They had a hum of silence then--an absence of conversation, rather--filled with the homely, comfortable sounds of bacon fat hissing in the cooling skillet and silverware against china as Vivi set out a few dishes on the table.
“I didn’t know what dishes you usually used but I like the china.”
“As do I. Family heirloom.”
“Really?” She smiled and set his silverware beside his bowl of porridge.
The steam curled upward and filled Farnham’s nose with the wholesome scent of oats and milk. This, he thought, his stomach could handle, and it was nothing like the clods of rocky oatmeal Allen made sometimes. “Shall we pray?”
Vivi folded her hands and bowed her head. Sunlight from the window behind her made an aura over her head till she looked like the paintings of angelic children saying prayers before bed that he’d seen sometimes in the cheaper stores. All this Farnham took in at a glance, for he was accustomed to seeing and digesting a thing in as long as it took most men to straighten their ties.
He closed his eyes and let the rare peace fall over his shoulders. “Dear Lord, for our food we thank Thee. For our comfort, our home, our lives. May we never forget to serve Thee with our hearts and souls, and may you guide our footsteps this day. Amen.”
As Farnham dolloped honey on his porridge, he reflected on the beauty of rote prayers. Certainly he made up his own prayers--constantly--but there was a steadiness in the repetition of the same words he’d prayed every meal for the last forty years that the made-up ones lacked. It was the difference between stepping into a church under construction and a cathedral that had stood six hundred years, steeped in worship.
“The murder victim--who was she?” Vivi asked, bringing Farnham’s mind back round to the day’s business.
He grunted and flicked his napkin. “Most bodies don’t come with calling cards. How should I know?”
“Doesn’t anyone carry identification? I’d hate to be murdered and no one know it was me.”
“Remind me to get Allen to sew a label on your coat-sleeve.”
Vivi forked into her pudding and ate it while Farnham watched, idly swirling his porridge. He was thinking about what the Police Inspector had told him. “Vivi...it’s...not going to be pretty.”
“I should think not; it’s a murder.”
Farnham slapped the surface of his porridge with the back of the spoon. “Her face is...well...it’s quite...”
“Quite what?”
“Bashed in.”
Vivi chewed and swallowed then wiped her lips with her napkin. “Poor darling.”
“Wouldn’t you rather stay here?--As your uncle I want to protect you, you’ll understand, but I’m not demanding you stay.”
She smiled at him sweetly. “You’re a chivalrous old goose, but I want to come. Maybe I can be of some use.”
He wouldn’t go that far, but there might be something after all in what she said about butlers feeling resentment when forced to do work out of their proper line--Allen might not take kindly to toadying for a lady. “All right,” he said, and took a spoonful of porridge with the same dutifulness with which he took castor oil. “You can come along.”
“Eat it all. I’m going upstairs to primp and when I come back I expect the bowl to be empty.”
Farnham sighed. “Are you my nursemaid now?”
“Aren’t I? I think it was in the job description.”
Bang it. The girl was right.

And that, dear people, is your first goodly chunk of Anon, Sir, Anon. Now, I give you the sketches I promised in wretched photo-quality because I was too lazy to scan them:

This is obviously Vivi. She's labeled. She's not terribly attractive but there's something approachable about her, wouldn't you say? She's short as well--a fact mentioned elsewhere but that you might want to know.
And obviously this is Vivi & Farnham upon Vivi's arrival and subsequent appearance in the Tribunal at Whistlecreig.
 Pardon the absolutely wretched quality of these images. I just thought you might like to see what they were like. And I do hope you enjoyed the bit I call "Breakfast at Whistlecreig". Toodle-loo!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Utterly Baffled Tag

All right! No blog party is complete without a tag that you can take back with you to your own blogs, so I've concocted a tag for you with quite a lot of intriguing questions! The rules are simple: Fill out the questions of your own blog and come back here and comment to tell me you've done your post so the rest of us can run over and check it out! Also, thanks a million to all those who have entered Chatterbox! We have 13 entries to this blog event in its first month of life so I think it's been a rousing success! Now, on to the questions. I have answered them below as well!

1.) You are writing a mystery novel and decide to base the detective off of one of your writing friends: who do you choose?
2.) If you and the best of your writing-blog friends were living out a mystery, which of you would be most likely to end up as the victim?
3.) If you decided to write a mystery (or if, on the other hand, you do write mysteries) would your style fall under thriller, terror, literary, historical or cozy?
4.) Who is your favorite mystery-author?
5.) What is the best mystery you've ever read?
6.) If you were going to be in charge of solving a mystery, where would you want it to be set and what would the circumstances be?
7.) You walk into a library and find a body on the floor. Your first reaction:
8.) Your second reaction:
9.) What do you say when the policeman tells you that you are the prime suspect in the murder?
10.) How does your answer effect the powers that be?
11.) Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle walk into one of those Solve the Murder Dinner Theatres and sit down and start to spoil the fun by solving all the mysteries before anyone else and shouting the answers to the crowd: do you retaliate and if so, how?
12.) Post a quote from your favorite mystery//mystery author:

1.) You are writing a mystery novel and decide to base the detective off of one of your writing friends: who do you choose? This is actually an uber-easy question. I would choose Mirriam Neal because come to think of it, she would be a truly original personality for a sleuth. Actually, she'd make an awesome detective - one everybody would love to read about because she's just a mixture of Too Darn Cute & Impossibly Clever. Abigail Hartman would be a close runner-up because she's methodical and observant and rational which (as far as the method and perhaps rationality goes) Mirriam is not.
2.) If you and the best of your writing-blog friends were living out a mystery, which of you would be most likely to end up as the victim? Oh! Let me think for a sec....hummm....there would probably be an attempt on Jenny's life first, but I think that she'd surprise the villain by being rather unkillable. Thus, I think the first victim would be Katelyn Sebelko (poor darling!!) because there is no reason anyone would want to harm her, and that would make the mystery so complex.
3.) If you decided to write a mystery (I am) would your style fall under thriller, terror, literary, historical, or cozy? Cozy, definitely. Also loosely historical. I doubt it will ever become strictly historical albeit the mystery happens in the 1930's, but it will likely deal loosely with historical events as they pop up in the natural timeline of my character's Life & Times.
4.) Who is your favorite mystery author? Oh gee. I have really enjoyed what of Dorothy Sayers's Lord Peter Wimsey stories I've read and then again, the little of Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot novels, but as far as being able to speak authoritatively on a broad scale, I'll have to stick with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
5.) What is the best mystery you've ever read? Hmmmm. I would have to say The Five Orange Pips by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I kinda have a thing for unsolved mysteries. And as far as being somewhat of a mystery, though not really qualifying, I adore The Scarlet Pimpernel and I didn't know the YOU KNOW WHAT was YOU KNOW HIM in the final scenes. So it qualifies in my book.
6.) If you were going to be in charge of solving a mystery, where would it be set and what would the circumstances be? Oodalolly. It would be set in...in...the Lake District of England/Scotland and the circumstances would be that a body was found in broad daylight sitting upright in a rowboat moored in the middle of the lake. It would seem easy to solve except for the fact that there was a fishing competition that day and not a single person of all 50 competitors saw the boat moved into place. Furthermore, news footage of the event doesn't show it either.
7.) You walk into the library and find a body on the floor. Your first reaction: I would freeze on the threshold of the room and get very quiet. My heart would sink and I'd tip-toe over and probably prod the body with my foot (assuming it was facedown) to try to see who the heck it was and whether he was really dead or simply in a swoon.
8.) Your second reaction: I would perch on the edge of the desk, heart pounding, trying to sort out who to tell and how on earth the murder was committed. Then I realize the murderer might still be in the room and I scuttle off to phone the police.
9.) What do you say when the policeman tells you that you are the prime suspect in the murder? "Murder I might write, but I would never commit murder. I'm a christian, first of all, and secondly, I'd never be brave enough. Besides--I don't hate him; I don't even know him!" (Notice I would be flustered and not thinking coherently or cleverly."
10.) How does your answer effect the powers that be? Oh, they'd think I was sassing them and lob me off toward the station. Abigail Taylor would bail me out because she always does bail me out of everything else, and eventually my name would be cleared even though evidence of my shoe had been found on the body. (Note to self: never prod a prostrate form with your foot, okay?)
11.) Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle walk into one of those Solve the Murder Dinner Theatres and sit down and start to spoil the fun by solving all the mysteries before anyone else and shouting the answers to the crowd: do you retaliate and if so, how? I would at first be annoyed, but upon recognizing who it was, I'd probably sit there laughing helplessly and thinking what a fine blog post it would make, and then I'd edge closer and strike up an acquaintance and possibly go out for icecream with them afterward.
12.) Post a quote from your favorite mystery author:(AH! So many from which to choose!)
"It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly, one begins to twist facts to suit theories instead of theories to suit facts."
-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Well that was jolly good fun. I hope you join in, as I'm eager to read your answers to these questions. Toodle-pip and cheers, everyone. I've got to go be useful now since breakfast is almost ready.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Write Your Own Christie Contest!

I happened to pop over to agathachristie.com to look up a few facts to another Utterly Baffled post when I saw this contest advertised on the site: Write Your Own Christie
Essentially, springing from the opening scenes from A Murder is Announced, there is going to be a chance every single month to collaborate on a "new" Christie murder; each month a chapter will be chosen by the panel of judges as the next installment in this new novel. The funny thing is, this novel will end up being a pieced-together affair with chapters written by different people all over the world, yet because of how to contest is set up, it will be cohesive and brilliant! For the successive chapters, you will need to read all the chapters written and "published" so far on the site to keep up with the proper clues and mystery. One winner (one chapter) will be chosen each month, and the winners will be invited to a special dinner at the end of the ten-month contest with the judges, among whom is Agatha Christie's grandson! 
The deadline for the first chapter is tonight at midnight.


Rum thing...I might actually try out. Remember there's a chance every month to win! :D

If you are interested in this fascinating little contest, you may check out the rules and registration here. If you want to read the opening scenes on which Chapter One must be based, please head here

And if you're stuck there thinking, "Well heavens, THIS is a stupid idea," then I will just inform you different with this little paragraph:
      In 1931, in a literary game of Consequences, Agatha Christie and thirteen other members of the 
Detection Club contributed a chapter (and a proposed solution) to a collaborative detective novel 
ultimately called The Floating Admiral. 

So there and humph. 

Entry costs nothing, so will you dare and take the chance with me by midnight? ;)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Essential Fairness, Deceptive Cunning

Welcome to Day Two of The Utterly Baffled blog party! the giveaway is still open so if you're wanting to enter, please do! You can find the Rafflecopter with all its ways to win below.
Every mystery-writer's blog party needs a post with general How-To's, right? Or at the very least, guidelines from the best on what comprises an excellent mystery. Sorry to break it to you (and me) but usually our entirely wonderful idea for a mystery is not near as complicated, baffling, and intricate as it needs to be. We're looking for more Poirot, less Nancy Drew.

Earlier this fall I was in the library and stumbled across P.D. James Talking About Detective Fiction. Yes, that's a title of a book - I didn't actually stumble across her inside my podunk library literally talking about detective fiction. If I had, that would have come into a blog post far earlier than this! Anyway, it was through reading that little book that my love for mysteries was rekindled, and I got the bug to write one of my own. It's less a How-To and more of a sweeping view of the history of detective fiction, and what makes a mystery good. I copied 7 1/2 pages of quotes into my writing journal just because they were so wonderful and if the copy had been mine, you can be sure it'd be criss-crossed with underlinings and notes. (Much to the horror of some of my comrades who NEVER write in books, I am an avid underliner. Neatly, though.) I sat down to write a post about the essential components of a mystery novel and then I realized that P.D. James is a much better authority on the subject, so I am pilfering quotes from her book and presenting them to you with comment by yours truly.
"One function of the setting is to add credibility to the story...if we believe in the place we can believe in the characters. In addition, the setting can from the first chapter establish the mood of the novel, whether of suspense, terror, apprehension, menace, or mystery. We have only to think of Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, of that dark and sinister mansion set in the middle of the fog-shrouded moor, to appreciate how important setting can be to the establishment of atmosphere. The Hound of Wimbledon Common would hardly provide such a frisson of terror." -P.D. James Talking About Detective Fiction
"The detective, whether professional or amateur, needs a domestic setting if the reader is to fully enter fully into his life, and most writers provide for their detective a known and familiar place in which he can be at home." -Ibid.
I have to admit that I love to know about the characters' home-life. Which reader, having read Sherlock Holmes would be content to visit London without trying to find 221B Baker Street? Or, having read Miss Marple would fail to look up St. Mary Mead, only to discover Agatha Christie had invented the place? And yet, she wrote the village so realistically that many have been fooled, I'm sure. In creating Whistlecreig Manor and its "feudal" village, I hope to create a vivid, familiar society for Vivi and Farnham that my readers will grow to love. In keeping with the theme of atmosphere, I love James's advice as to writing the scene of finding the body:
"When an author describe a room in the victim's house, perhaps the one in which the body is found, the description can tel the perceptive reader a great deal about the victim's character and interest...for this reason the place in which the body is found is particularly revealing, and I regard the description of the finding of the body as one of the most important chapters of a detective novel."
In another bit of P.D. James's book, I cracked up at her recital of Ronald Knox's mantra for detective fiction:
"...the criminal must be mentioned in the early part of the narrative but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow. All supernatural agencies are ruled out. There must not be more than one secret room or passage. No hitherto undiscovered poisons should be used or, indeed, any appliance which needs a long scientific explanation. No Chinamen must figure in the Story. No accident must help the detective, no is he allowed an unaccountable intuition. The detective himself must not commit the crime or alight on any clues which are not instantly produced for the reader. The stupid friend of the detective, the Watson, should be slightly, but no more than slightly, less intelligent than the average reader, and his thoughts should not be concealed. And, finally, twin brothers and doubles generally must not appear unless the reader has been duly prepared for them."
This passage is generally a good example of avoiding cliches. I think the reference to Chinamen referred to hard feelings toward Asians in the 20's-30's (during the golden era of detective fiction) rather than any reason why including an Asian antagonist would be poor mystery-writing nowadays. She continues with general guidelines for writing a plausible mystery that I have already found most helpful:
"The suspects should, I feel, be sufficient in number to provide the puzzle, and more than five is difficult if each is to be a credible living and breathing human being with motives that the reader will find convincing."
"What we can expect is a central mysterious crime, usually a murder; a closed circle of suspects, each with motives, means, and opportunity for the crime; a detective, either amateur or professional, who comes in like an avenging deity to solve it; and, by the end of the book, a solution which the reader should be able to arrive at by logical deduction from clues inserted in the novel with deceptive cunning but essential fairness."
"...deceptive cunning but essential fairness." I love that line because on it hangs the whole of detective fiction. Writers of mysteries have the responsibility of presenting all the clues (I feel like Conan Doyle broke this rule frequently) and yet disguising them in such a way that their readers seldom guess the solution. My brother was always the one to figure out the mystery; I preferred watching the clues arise and then come into one big, baffling, beautiful solution at the very end.
I have no idea why I thought I ought to be the one to create a big, baffling, beautiful solution. And yet, I'm extremely anxious to see what comes of Vivi & Farnham and I love the power behind deciding a Who What When Where Why and then complicating it on purpose to baffle your dear little brains. I'm going to have such fun with this and I'm not going to tell my brother (Daniel) or my sister (Sarah) the answer to the mystery...if I can keep them guessing, I'll have met my goal.

Deceptive cunning, essential fairness. 

Thanks, P.D. James. You're an inspiration and I do wish I could literally stumble into you in my library and ask your opinion on Vivi & Farnham. To the rest of you, you really ought to read this book. And to the REST of you, if you feel generous and want to buy me Bloody Murder by Julian Symons, I won't complain.