Kate Parker: The Counterfeit Lady

The Counterfeit LadyThe Counterfeit Lady is the second in Kate Parker’s delightful Victorian Bookshop Mystery series, in which Georgia Fenchurch, the solidly middle-class proprietress of Fenchurch’s Books, once again becomes involved in murder and mayhem through her somewhat prickly friendship with the dashing Duke of Blackford and her participation in the Archivist Society, a secretive investigation agency.

This time around, a cousin of Georgia’s friend and house mate, Lady Phyllida Monthalf, is murdered, and Phyllida refuses to believe that her cousin’s husband, arrested for the crime, is guilty. As if this weren’t distressing enough, the murder was committed during the theft of the blueprints of a new battleship—designed by the accused husband. Is he a murderer? A traitor? Or an innocent man, as Phyllida believes?

The political repercussions of the theft bring the Duke into the picture, and Georgia unwillingly agrees to his plan to investigate the crime—by posing as a prosperous widow recently returned from Singapore, an old flame of Blackford’s ready to renew their relationship.

Between worrying about leaving her shop in the hands of friends, avoiding anyone who might know her as Georgia or who might be expected to know a widow from Singapore, dealing with an impostor, going off to a country house party, and struggling with her real feelings for the Duke, Georgia is out of her element. But if anyone can cope with the unexpected, it’s Georgia, whether it involves international spies, a stolen hat box, or dealing with snobbish aristocrats.

I love the setting of this series, late Victorian London, where electric lighting is coming into vogue and the Duke has a telephone installed in the shop (with no delay—he’s a director of the telephone company). The viewpoint of a middle class spinster focused on making a living, sure that nothing will ever come of her attraction to a Duke, is refreshing, and the cast of supporting characters is entertaining. I’ll be looking forward to Georgia’s next adventure in investigation—and her next encounter with the Duke.

Return of the Hurricane Lilies

When I mowed the front lawn a couple of weeks ago, I kept watch for hurricane lily stalks and didn’t spot a single one. The lilies are usually in full bloom by mid-September, but by September 15 this year not a single stalk had shown itself. I hoped our very dry summer hadn’t done them in, but since the original bulbs were planted before I moved into this house in 1976, they are clearly tough.

Last Friday my vigil was rewarded with the first few stalks, and by this morning the lilies were up in force, a few of them even beginning to bloom. Perhaps they were inspired by the generous rain we finally got last week.  They may be a week or ten days later than usual this year, but the lilies are always a welcome sign that the end of the long hot Texas summer is in sight. So this morning I gave my front lawn a poodle cut, being sure not to disturb any of the lily stalks.  Hopefully the lawn mowing season will be over in another few weeks, too

Here is the broadest cluster of stalks, just getting ready to pop.

Lilies 092214

And here are two of the first blooms.

Lilies 092214 open

Welcome back, Fall.

Bolly-Punk: The Dharian Affairs

After I read (or perhaps misread) a review of Susan Kaye Quinn’s Third Daughter which used the intriguing descriptive “Bolly-punk,” I bought the book expecting a romance set in an alternate Victorian India. It didn’t take Third Daughterme long, however, to realize that Dharia was not an alternate India, but an alternate world. The twin full moons on the second page were my first clue.

Mind you, I was delighted by the discovery that Third Daughter is in fact a science fiction novel (with a solid helping of romance that does not go beyond kisses), and a perfectly wonderful example of world building (there’s a map of Dharia and its neighbors on Quinn’s website). And then there were the pack animals that sounded rather like elephants—with six legs. And the matriarchal society, in which Dharia is always referred to as the Queendom.

The heroine, Aniri, is the Third Daughter of the Queen of Dharia, a few days away from her eighteenth birthday. Her sisters, the First and Second Daughters, have done their duty and married appropriately, freeing Aniri to follow her heart. That is, until the Queen asks her to consider a marriage, or at least an engagement, of convenience to Prince Ashora Malik, the heir to the barbarous northern country of Jungali, taking her on a mission to discover the truth behind rumors of a flying machine/weapon that might threaten the political status quo.

That’s right, a flying machine. Plus sword fighting automatons, long distance communicators, steam trains and ladies in corsets, tiny mechanisms, sabers, all sorts of steampunk technology. Aniri is a tough, self-reliant heroine. Ash and Jungali are not quite what Aniri has been led to expect, and old family secrets rise to the surface as she searches for the truth behind the rumors. And, by then end of the book, Aniri and Ash have discovered one more secret than they expected. The last line of the novel is a doozy!

Second DaughterI enjoyed Third Daughter immensely, and downloaded Second Daughter when it was released. I just pre-ordered First Daughter, which is scheduled to release on September 29.  More reviews to come.

Writing Faster

A couple of weeks ago when I posted my lament about not finishing my work in progress any time soon at the rate of one hundred (or even three hundred) words a day, several friends recommended that I download an ebook by Rachel Aaron called 2,000 to 10,000. As it happened, I found the book waiting on my own Kindle, where it had been sitting unread for over a year. I have a lot of books on my Kindle.

2K to 10KAaron includes a number of excellent suggestions in her short (65 pages or so) book (long essay?) based on blog posts and articles. Quite a bit of what she says rings bells for me, but perhaps the most important was If you want to write faster, the first step is to know what you’re writing before you write it. When she sits down to write, she spends at least the first five minutes planning what she’s going to write that day, sketching it out on paper or computer, phrases, lists, bits of dialog, whatever helps her formulate the day’s writing in her mind.

I, on the other hand, usually sit at my computer and squeeze out one sentence at a time. My road map of late has been very limited, and I’ve been leaning too heavily on the one hundred words a day mantra. Clearly I need headlights with a longer reach if I’m going to stay on the road. So I thought I would adopt Aaron’s practice and see if it helps.

I think it will, but what really helped this month—and numerous times in the past—was a deadline.

A contest I did not enter because I did not have a synopsis at the end of August extended its deadline to September 15. I had used the same contest back in 2011 to kick myself into plotting the second half of Bathtub Jinn and writing a synopsis. The manuscript was not only a finalist in that contest, but the plotting and synopsis enabled me to finish the book in time (barely) for the Golden Heart deadline, and it was a finalist there, too.

So I adopted the contest deadline to plot the second half of the story I’m working on, and it worked. I wrote the synopsis yesterday and sent the entry off this morning. Whether or not the manuscript makes the cut in this contest, I now have a seven-page road map for the rest of the story, and whatever publishing path I decide to follow, I should have this tale finished by the end of the year. Three months or so doesn’t seem unreasonable now that I know where the story is going. I hate to say how long it has taken me to write the first half—I’m not sure I even know.

I still don’t think I could sit down and plot an entire book before I write it. It takes me quite a bit of writing to discover my characters and see where they want to go. Maybe that will come some day. Right now I’m balancing somewhere around the middle of the panster/plotter continuum. If I’m ever going to write more than one book a year, I may have to drag myself, kicking and screaming, further toward the plotter end of the scale.

The subtitle of 2,000 to 10,000 is How to write faster, write better, and write more of what you love. Sounds good to me, especially the “what you love” part. If you’ve really having trouble writing, Aaron suggests, you may be writing the wrong story.

The Adventures of Chet and Bernie

Spencer Quinn’s Paw and Order is the seventh installment in the Chet and Bernie mystery series. I’ve been a fan since the first book (Dog On It, 2009), and I read them as soon as I get my hands on them—no time on the To Be Read shelf for Chet and Bernie.

Paw and Order QuinnBernie Little is the head (and sole proprietor) of the Little Detective Agency, but the books are narrated by Chet, a one-hundred-pound-plus black and white dog of indeterminate breed, who came into Bernie’s world after flunking out of K9 training on the very last day (“There was a cat involved,” Chet remembers). Chet has a wonderful personality, alert, perceptive, and devoted to Bernie (the best human in the world), but he is also Everydog, prone to naps and impulsive barking, and easily distracted by a stray piece of bacon or a forgotten French fry (Squirrel!).

Through the first few books, the reader knows only that Chet and Bernie operate in The Valley, an unidentified area in the Southwest, where they run into a wide variety of perps (many of them, according to Chet, now wearing an orange jumpsuit or breaking rocks in the hot sun). They deal with missing teens (Dog On It), a pampered show dog (Thereby Hangs a Tail), a traveling circus (To Fetch a Thief), another missing child (The Dog Who Knew Too Much), and a visiting movie company (A Fistful of Collars). In last year’s installment, The Sound and the Furry, Chet and Bernie visit the Louisiana bayou country, where Chet meets an alligator and we learn that The Valley is in Arizona.

In Paw and Order, Bernie decides to make a detour to Washington DC to visit his girlfriend, Suzie Sanchez, a newspaper reporter. When one of Suzie’s sources is murdered and Bernie is framed for the crime, Chet is on the case. Along the way they meet government agents, foreign spies, a possible presidential candidate, Washington insiders, a strange bird with no feathers, and a guinea pig named Barnum.

Quinn has also written short stories to fill in a few of the incidents that Chet refers to now and then. In A Cat Was Involved, we finally learn exactly what happened on that fateful day when Chet somehow failed his final K9 Tail of Vengeanceleaping test (despite leaping being one of his best things) but met Bernie as a result. In The Iggy Chronicles, Volume 1, Chet and Bernie search for Chet’s missing BFF (best furry friend) Iggy, the dog next door. This year’s story, Tail of Vengeance, is waiting on my Kindle (how did I forget that? Was there possibly a cat involved?). It’s raining this morning—I think I’ll stretch out and read about the Teitelbaum case, one of those “stories for another time” that Chet so often mentions.

And then, alas, I’ll have to wait another year for a Chet and Bernie story. Or maybe I’ll just reread the whole series. Meanwhile, catch Chet’s doggy musings at Chet The Dog.

The Hundred-Word Crutch

For several years now, I’ve belonged to a one hundred words/one hundred days group, and in fact I’ve written two and a half novels and finished a third while falling off the hundred-word wagon and climbing back on again. The object is to write at least one hundred words (and/or spend a certain amount of time editing) on one’s work-in-progress (journals, emails, and grocery lists don’t count) for at least one hundred consecutive days, but there’s no penalty for dropping a day (or a month) and starting up again.

I made fifty days earlier this summer, took a break for the RWA conference, and started again on August 1. So today is Day 34, and I wrote a couple of hundred words before I went to work this morning. So now, my lazy brain tells me, I don’t have to work on it tonight. I stopped in the middle of a scene, I know what comes next, and I can leave it for tomorrow. After all, by word count, I’m about halfway through the book.

Well that sounds good, halfway through the book. Unfortunately, although I’m not real sure when I started this project, I know it was a long time ago. Too long. One hundred (or even two or three hundred) words a day isn’t getting it done.

Being a Writer

One of the workshops I attended at the conference, given by very successful hybrid author Courtney Milan, was called “The Slow Writer’s Guide to Making a Living.” A slow writer, for the purposes of Courtney’s presentation, writes fewer than three or four books a year. I’ll have to listen to that again on the conference recordings—my notes are a little sketchy. Three or four books a year—in my dreams.

I’m a pantser. I start with characters and a situation, maybe a loose idea of what they need to accomplish, and—after all, I’m writing romance—I know that the star-crossed lovers will solve their interpersonal conflicts and wind up together. How they’re going to get there, though, that’s not so clear, at least not when I’m getting started. Or even when I’m halfway through.

But I’d like to enter a couple of contests with deadlines coming up, and maybe take another shot at the Golden Heart. One of the contests only requires a few thousand words. Hey, a little editing, ready to go. The other contest takes up to 55 pages—including a synopsis. That means I’d have to plot the rest of the book, thirty or forty thousand words. Over the next two weekends. And the Golden Heart? That requires a completed novel. First draft, maybe, but complete. Deadline on that is in January.

Time to get this project moving a little faster. Not gonna get there on one hundred words a day.

Recent Reading

Half Price Books is having a holiday weekend sale, and so far I’ve managed to not set foot in the place, although I did download two books to my Kindle this morning. Meanwhile, I’m trying to catch up on reading and reviewing books. Here are a few I’ve liked recently: nonfiction, science fiction, mystery and, of course, romance.

I brought Queen of Your Own Life, by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, home from the recent RWA conference in San Antonio. Ratzlaff was one of the featured speakers at the conference, speaking on author platforms and online resources, but this book is not about that. The subtitle is The Grown-Up Woman’s Guide to Claiming Happiness and Getting the Life You Deserve. It’s a short, easy read, but it includes some thought-provoking insights from its two authors on problems most women will identify with: self esteem, defending boundaries, and female friendship. Definitely worth reading.

Sharon Lynn Fisher’s first novel, Ghost Planet, was a colony planet story with a twist. The Ophelia Prophecy is The Ophelia Prophecycompletely different, set on Earth after humanity has nearly been destroyed by the results of genetic engineering gone wildly out of control. The world is now controlled by the Manti, the largely (but not always) humanoid results of those experiments. The heroine, Asha, is a member of the isolated human community of Sanctuary, until the day she wakes up along the lake shore near a Manti male called Pax. Neither of them remembers how they came to be there, and both of them have to protect and to unravel. Their travels in Pax’s sentient scout ship, complicated by Pax’s much more mantis-like sister Iris, lead them first to another pocket of humanity and then to the Manti capital in Granada, torn by factions within the Manti. The Ophelia Prophecy is an exciting story as well as a complicated look at uncontrolled biological experimentation run amok, with a romance for good measure.

Double Whammy, by Gretchen Archer, is a very funny and very entertaining mystery, first in a series featuring Davis Way, ex-cop from Pine Apple, Alabama (where her dad is the police Double Whammychief and her twice-ex husband’s family lives). In serious need of a new job, Davis signs on with a Biloxi casino, little suspecting why she’s really been hired. Assigned to seemingly random jobs (and disguises) around the casino, Davis eventually figures out what the real problem is, with the aid of a seemingly disinterested cab driver. In the meantime, Davis falls in love with the absentee owner of her sub-let condo while avoiding another entanglement with her worthless twice-ex husband. Davis, who just might be Stephanie Plum’s distant cousin, returns in Double Dip and Double Strike, and I plan to add those to my Kindle. (I was offered a copy of Double Whammy to review—which was extremely flattering—but I already had it on my Kindle. So far I have enjoyed all the Henery Press cozy mysteries I’ve read.)

For pure romance, I recommend Terri Osburn’s Meant To Be, the first in in her Anchor Island series. When Beth Chandler, on her way to visit her fiance’s family on Anchor Island, has a Meant To Bepanic attack on the ferry (she has a serious water phobia), she has no idea the man who comes to her rescue is her fiance’s brother. Or that first impressions will lead to deep attraction. But how can a self-respecting girl like Beth switch brothers? Even worse, on a small island where everyone knows each other? The story is full of wonderful characters and a charming setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The next Anchor Island romance, Up to the Challenge, is waiting on the ever-expanding invisible To Be Read shelf on my Kindle, and I just downloaded the third, Home To Stay.


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