Money Tree

I am by no means known for my green thumb. I do remember to water my houseplants once a week (well, most weeks) and most of them appear to be happy. My outdoor plants are largely dependent on rainfall (my rain gauge picked up 66 inches last year), although I do water them now and then during dry spells. I live southeast of Houston, not too far from Galveston Bay, and last night we had our first freeze in several years. I won’t know for a while which plants survived, and I won’t worry about it until spring.

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But a sad case came into my life a couple of weeks ago, and I have resolved to nurse it back to health. A day or two before Christmas, a friend left a money tree plant for me on my desk at the Scorekeeper. This is probably what it looked like at the time, but I wasn’t there to see it.

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Jo Anne didn’t give it much thought, and she had no reason to go into my office, so when I came in to work on Tuesday morning after Christmas, I found the plant pushed off the desk onto the windowsill, with most of its leaves chewed off, the victim of Sam, one of the office cats. Jo Anne thought the poor thing was a goner. It definitely wasn’t safe from Sam on my desk, and it wasn’t going to get enough light anywhere in my office, so I brought it home. This is how it looked on New Year’s Eve, with just a hint of new growth.

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I’ve left it in my kitchen (yes, it’s sitting on the stove, giving you a hint as to my cooking habits—the microwave is on the other side of the room), following the instructions for a bright, well lighted area without too much direct sunlight, and it seems to be on the road to recovery. This is how it looks today, two weeks after its encounter with the plant-eating cat, still hanging on to the largest surviving leaf. All the other leaves are new, with more to come.

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According to my on line research, the braided trunks of the money tree symbolize locking in good fortune for someone keeping the plant in her home or office. This particular money tree has certainly seen the ups and downs of fortune. I’m hoping we’ll thrive together.

Happy New Year 2017

Well, here we are in 2017, not a year I ever gave much thought to, back in the day. Anyone remember Y2K? The world didn’t end, or even falter, on January 1, 2000, and I’m going to assume that civilization as we know it won’t collapse this year, either.

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This morning my blog post from one year ago popped up on my Facebook feed, reminding me of my annual attempts to take stock. My resolutions, such as they are, remain the same. Write more. Publish something. Declutter the house. Lose a few pounds. Read more.

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I didn’t do well on “write more” this year. I did some editing on my Jinn books, and some for friends. I did not start a new manuscript, but I have some ideas for a fourth Jinn story. I entered the third Jinn story, Jinn on the Rocks, in two contests, and it made the finals in one, the West Houston RWA Emily contest. Fifty percent is about my standard—folks tell me that’s because I have a “strong voice.” I hope that’s true. I’m still dragging my feet on independent publishing.

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I wrote 53 blog posts, about one a week. That’s down from when I started in 2011, but fairly steady, and it gives me an outlet. I’ve written a few columns for my RWA chapter newsletter (Grammar Gremlins—you can find them in the articles section of this site if you’re interested). I went to the RWA National conference in San Diego in July, had a great time, learned a lot, and came home with every intention of diving back in. It was a very shallow drive.

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I have done a bit of decluttering—the old office is clearly in mid-process, just as it has been for months. The garage has a long way to go. The old sewing room, where my exercise bike sits mostly ignored, is in pretty good shape, with a work table for editing and a very old TV for noise. The plumbing jumped up and bit me when I tried to install a new washing machine, and the extensive work that caused took most of September, and a serious chunk of my bank account.

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Lose a few pounds? Yeah, well, I’ve gained about four. Better luck this year.

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In February I finally bought a smart phone. I won’t go so far as to say it has changed my life, but it sure has made some aspects easier. Contact with the outside world when the power or the Internet connection goes out. I deposit checks with it, and my relocated address book ties into navigation. I love the camera! It takes beautiful pictures (in spite of my minimal photographic talents) and sends them anywhere. I still don’t use it much for phone calls, but I have learned to text, usually in complete sentences, with punctuation. Some things don’t change.

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I did pretty well on reading, although it often feels like I never have enough time for it. I bought myself a new Kindle this year, a Voyage, and it’s a big improvement over my old keyboard Kindle (which I thought was pure magic when I got it in 2011).

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I raised my Goodreads Challenge target from 50 books to 60, and read 69 (compared to 72 in 2015). 41 of those were ebooks, a number that has risen steadily over the years. I’m sticking to that target this year, five books a month. According to Goodreads I read 19,705 pages this year (20,131 last year).

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In 2016 I read 14 romances, 21 mysteries (mostly cozies), 19 science fiction novels, five mainstream novels, and ten nonfiction books. Most of them were good; my average rating on Goodreads was 4.5 stars. I suppose I tend to be generous, knowing how hard it is to write a book.

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I plan to Keep Calm and Carry On in 2017, and wish you the best of luck with whatever comes your way.

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Happy New Year!

Merry Christmas!

Last night I watched A Christmas Story, the only holiday movie I’ve watched more than once or twice. I can’t begin to count how many times I’ve seen it: at least once all the way through every year, and even more in segments. I can turn it on at any point and know exactly what’s going on. In fact it’s playing in the background right now.

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Santa BearI love this movie because I see so much of my own childhood in it. Oh, not the BB gun, or the bully Scut Farkas. But the nerdy little kid? That was me, frequently broken glasses and all.

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I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee in the 1950s, a few years after the movie setting (I think—the year is never specified and the world outside Ralphie’s immediate view is never mentioned).

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I grew up walking to school in a snowsuit that barely bent at the joints. I lived in a house much like the Parkers’. We had a coal furnace, although it was better behaved than the one Ralphie’s Old Man fought with. The school room, the clothes, the weather, all bring back memories.

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I grew up listening to the radio, my mother’s favorite source of entertainment, even after my grandfather gave us an early TV set with a roundish screen about ten inches across. “Little Orphan Annie” was before my time, I think, and I never sent away for an official decoder ring, but I did drink Ovaltine.

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My dad worked at an advertising agency in downtown Milwaukee, and on Thanksgiving we would join all the families in the business in the office, several floors above the main drag to watch the big parade and the arrival of Santa Claus (back in those days the Christmas season did not begin before Halloween!). That is, the kids watched the parade from the office windows. I suspect the adults were across the hall drinking martinis.

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Ralphie’s ambitions for his theme ring a big bell. Heck, I still hope for a rousing reception for my written words (and I’m just as disappointed as Ralphie when the praise doesn’t materialize).

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And his daydreams! Mine didn’t involve creeping marauders or a Red Ryder air rifle, but I definitely lived in them (and sometimes coerced my friends into acting them out).

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And, of course, the broken glasses. I spent a large part of my childhood wearing glasses held together with tape at the bridge. I don’t remember ever breaking a lens, but I was hell on frames.

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So did Ralphie grow up to be a writer? Of course he did—he grew up to be Jean Shepherd. Thank you, Mr. Shepherd, for all the stories, and thanks to the movie crew for a treat that makes my holiday brighter every year.

Susanne Alleyn: Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders

If you write historical fiction, you need Medieval Underpants and Other Blunders, Susanne Alleyn’s “Writer’s (& Editor’s) Guide to Keeping Historical Fiction Free of Common Anachronisms, Errors, & Myths.” If you read historical fiction, if you’re a history buff, you will enjoy this voyage into everything that goes wrong in writing about the past.

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medieval-underpantsUnder General Rule #1, Never Assume, Alleyn discusses underwear, geography, dialog and slang, British vs American English, foreign phrases, what Alleyn calls “presentism,” that is, inserting modern attitudes into historical situations, first names, and introductions.

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Why didn’t most women wear underpants until fairly recently? What do the modern British mean by “pants”? Why doesn’t fall follow summer in Britain? What’s the difference between “arse” and “ass”? When should your characters call each other by their first names? Who should be presented to whom, and why?

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General Rule #2, Wikipedia Is Your Friend, gives a starting point for basic research on food, plants, and animals (Old World vs New World), names (all the way back to ancient Rome), and guns.

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Where did dandelions come from, and when, and why? What plants and animals had Europeans never seen before the sixteenth century, and when did they make their way into widespread use? What does anybody mean by “corn”? What plants and animals had pre-contact American Indians never seen? What’s the difference between a pistol and a revolver? Between a musket and a rifle?

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Under General Rule #3, Do Not Borrow Your Period Details & Information From Other People’s Historical Novels and Movies, Alleyn discusses unnamed novels, Braveheart (Wallace never wore a kilt, and as for that French princess, forget her), several versions of A Tale of Two Cities (even Dickens flubbed a few details when he wrote historical fiction), money, English aristocratic and royal titles (with examples from Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey’s family and Downton Abbey,), lighting, and travel (historically very slow).

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What was money really worth, and what would a sou buy? How many farthings made a penny? How many shillings made a crown? A pound? A guinea? What’s the difference between John, Lord Throckmorton and Lord John Throckmorton? Between a marquess and a marquis? Why is an earl’s wife a countess?

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General Rule #4 is Don’t Just Swallow the Propaganda, Cliches, and Myths. The English and French versions of the French Revolution (Alleyn’s specialty) were very different. This section also includes hygiene and cleanliness, table manners, physical stature, teeth, servants and housekeeping, cafes and coffeehouses, doorknobs, glass and pottery, paper, pens, and pencils, restaurants, rubber and elastic, stirrups, telephones, window screens, and finally death and burial.

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Why did Renaissance doctors discourage bathing? What was the etiquette of eating with one’s fingers, and when did forks come into use? How tall was Napoleon, really? Why were servants more necessity than luxury, and why was being a servant a good job? What’s the difference between a house maid and a parlor maid? How did execution by guillotine proceed? What was life really like in the first half of the twentieth century? When was the fountain pen invented?

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Alleyn includes a final section on research, with several pages of references, broken into time periods, covering ancient times to 1950.

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Even if you are writing about a time and place far removed from Alleyn’s specifics (mostly France, England and North America), her topics and information will give you insight into the details you should be researching rather than assuming. Even if you are building your own world of fantasy or the future, these are details you need to consider.

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And if you are reading the book for entertainment, there is so much interesting material here, and more than a few mysteries solved.

Three Good Mysteries

Kate Parker’s Deadly Wedding continues the adventures of Olivia Denis, begun in Deadly Scandal. Set in London in the late 1930s, the series combines mystery with a touch of cloak and dagger adventure. When Olivia agrees to help out with the wedding of a distant cousin, she doesn’t expect to find herself investigating a deadly-weddingmurder. And two attempts and another murder. As Olivia probes the family’s secrets, she has more and more reason to be glad that these people, with whom she spent much of her childhood, are only distant relations. Along the way she learns things she never knew about her father (they’re working together to investigate the murders, but Sir Ronald still doesn’t want to acknowledge Olivia’s job as a journalist), she sees some terrible sights on a trip to Vienna shortly after the Nazis move in, and the coming war colors everyone’s future. Olivia is a determined, independent woman, surrounded by a range of interesting characters, and her instincts for mystery solving are strong. I hope we’ll be seeing more of her Deadly adventures.

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Send In the Clowns is another (#4) thoroughly enjoyable Country Club Murder from Julie Mulhern. This time Ellison Russell witnesses a murder in The Gates of Hell—a haunted house attraction where her daughter Grace appears to have overstayed her curfew. Of course the body disappears send-in-the-clownsbefore the police get there, but when it does turn up it opens a whole can of worms for Kansas City society. Ellison deals with her snobbish mother, her goodhearted but old fashioned father (who thinks Ellison needs a man to “manage” her), and struggles with her up and down feelings for police detective Anarchy Jones and lawyer Hunter Taft. I love the characters in Mulhern’s series, and the 1970s setting is spot on.

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Janet Evanovich’s Turbo Twenty Three is the latest in the long-running series about Stephanie Plum, accidental (and accident-prone) bond recovery agent. I still love this series. Stephanie and Lula still make me laugh out loud. If Lula’s turbo-twenty-threedescription of going into a public men’s room (her idea for a new reality series, after Naked Bungee Jumping didn’t work out) doesn’t make you laugh, you should probably be reading something else. This installment features an enraged clown, murders at an ice cream factory, Grandma’s new boyfriend (a tattooed biker, but age appropriate), Randy Briggs (the three-foot-tall naked bungee jumper), Joe, Ranger, Rex the Hamster, a slimy booby trap, several fugitives, and another wrecked car. All in a day’s work for Stephanie and Lula.

Cheryl Bolen: Ex-Spinster By Christmas

Ex-Spinster By Christmas is a holiday gift for fans of Cheryl Bolen’s House of Haverstock Regency romance series, bringing siblings, in-laws, grandmothers, and babies from the Upton and Ponsby families together for Christmas at the country estate of the Duke of Aldridge.

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ex-spinster-by-christmasBut all is not holiday cheer for everyone. Lady Caroline Ponsby, the Duke’s sister, has had her fill of being a spinster. It’s not that she hasn’t had suitors—eleven men have offered for her since she came out into society—but the only man she cares for is Christopher Perry. Unfortunately, for all his affection, he seems averse to marriage and has never proposed. Caro is convinced that he never will. She wants a home of her own, and a baby. In short, she needs a husband, and she sets her sights on Lord Brockton, a handsome rake with an impressive home and a bad reputation.

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Christopher Perry has been madly in love with Caro since the day he met her, but he doesn’t believe himself worthy of a duke’s daughter. He’s immensely wealthy, but his money came from trade, and, even worse, his great-grandfather was a Jewish jeweler. How can he ask a lady like Caroline to marry so far beneath herself?

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When Christopher learns that Brockton is courting Caroline, and that the notorious rake has been invited to the family’s country home for Christmas, he is devastated. When his mother and sisters abandon him to attend another sister’s delivery, Christopher decides to take up his own invitation to the country, determined to prevent Caroline from making a terrible mistake.

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When the country Christmas holiday turns out to be far more eventful than anyone expected, true colors are revealed. Will there be a happy ending for Caro and Christopher? Well, this is a Christmas romance, after all.

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Ex-Spinster By Christmas is a holiday treat for Regency readers, and especially for lovers of the House of Haverstock stories, who will be happy to reconnect with so many members of the extended family.

Donna Frelick’s Fools Rush In

Fools Rush In is the third installment in Donna Frelick’s Interstellar Rescue series (after Unchained Memory and Trouble in Mind), but it is easily read as a stand-alone novel. In fact it is really a prequel to the other books, introducing Rayna Carver, agent of the Interstellar Rescue Service and Sam Murphy, a space pirate with a passion for liberating slaver ships (supporting characters in the earlier books). Gabriel Cruz, Sam’s friend and the hero of Trouble In Mind also appears in Fools Rush In.

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fools-rush-inFrelick’s universe is based on the presumption that the Gray aliens (Minertsans) are indeed abducting humans (as well as members of many other species) to work as slaves in their mines and factories. Fools Rush In opens as Murphy’s pirate vessel, the ShadowHawk, captures a Minertsan slave ship, the Fleeflek, on which Rayna is undercover, hoping to make her way into the munitions factory on the planet LinHo, one of the acknowledged pest holes of the galaxy. Her plans disrupted but not put aside, Rayna sets out to convince this inconvenient pirate to help her continue her mission. Sparks fly, both professional and personal.

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Unlike Trouble In Mind, which is set largely on Earth, Fools Rush In takes place on starships and occasional dingy and dangerous ports. Frelick’s books are science fiction romance for the science fiction lover. The romance, while satisfying, never overshadows the action plot, which involves sabotage, space battles, and general skulduggery. Frelick does not go out of her way to over explain her universe, either. We meet Thranes, Patarons, Minertsans, and other aliens, with just enough description to make them interesting, but never bogging down in back story. We learn just enough about Rayna and Sam’s earlier live to understand their reasons for fighting the slavers.

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Frelick’s Interstellar Rescue series is set in a grim reality, and there is considerable graphic violence (and some graphic sex), suitable for the tone of the novel. If you enjoy science fiction with a layer of space opera and a believable love story, start the series with Fools Rush In.

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