Questions you might get asked when people learn you write any kind of romance novel

I was talking to some friends/acquaintances the other day and I was asked why I have a different name on my Facebook profile. When I explained that I write and set up my Facebook page under my pen name, then the questions started. I am used to most of the common ones like “how do you find the time?” or “is anyone we know a character in your books?” or “where do you get your ideas?” but the latest ones were around how hard it is to write a sex scene. (No off color puns intended.) So, for giggles, how many of you romance writers out there get the same questions and how far out of whack are my responses?

Question: “Do you get embarrassed writing that stuff?”
When I first began to write, yes, I did. In high school, two friends and I would write steamy love letters for our classmates to give to their boyfriends. One girl provided the imagination courtesy of a purloined (from her parents) copy of The Joy of Sex, the other relied on her own experiences and a facile understanding of common jargon and street slang. I was the grammarian who kept the purple prose flowing and reasonably well written. Was I embarrassed? Oh yeah, but I learned a lot from a theoretical perspective. It all came to an end with a very uncomfortable conversation with the head mistress of the school, a rather dour nun, and my father when one of the letters was seized during the exchange of money for the letter. Yep, I was the one caught selling the goods. My accomplices got away but I was left with a rather unsavory reputation since it was assumed I had been relying on my own (nonexistent at that time) expertise in the area to create such “disgusting and sinful” letters that would ultimately see me writhing in the fires of hell, or so Sister Mary David assured me. My father’s response out of earshot of the nuns was to laugh but he did step up his intimidation tactics of any poor guy who tried to date me.

Later on, my very first romance story (which will NEVER see the light of day unless it is published posthumously and I hope I have burned every page of it well before then) was a sweet little formulaic “bodice ripper” tale that took the better part of 2 bottles of wine and much giggling between me and my best friend to get the scenes correct. I think the giggling was more from the wine than the topic though.

Between then and now, I have read a lot. I’ve read books that were full of vague euphemisms (“mutual splendor” anyone?) to raw and raunchy porn for women. What I have come to realize is that it’s more embarrassing to write something that takes a reader out of the story to think, “Wait, what? Is that even physically possible?” or “Where did that extra hand come from?”

Question: “Do you write about your own sexual experiences?” aka “Have you really done THAT??!!!?”
The short answer is: sometimes yes and sometimes no. Everyone has heard the old saw of “write what you know” so they assume that if you write it, you’ve done it. I always caution people, especially my husband who is fond of raising an eyebrow and remarking that he can’t recall us every having done whatever my characters happen to be doing, that writers have very fertile imaginations. Let me repeat that. We..have…very…fertile…imaginations. We also know how to do research and the internet is full of research material if your imagination fails you.

Would you go up to a friend who writes a crime novel and automatically assume she/he knows how to violently kill, dismember, and dispose of a body based on personal hands on experience?

I rest my case.

Question: “Why didn’t you make it more/less explicit?”
Well, here’s the rub. (Again, no pun intended.) In my opinion, different stories require a different approach. I know I get annoyed by a certain popular romance author, who shall remain unnamed, because the last four books of hers were more or less recycled sex scenes from her prior works. Change the names, change the locations, and change the villains, then presto – new book and more royalties. Otherwise the sex was a cut and paste. If nothing else, I do not want to annoy my readers. Especially, since I do not have a large following, yet.

When I write, I pay a lot of attention to what makes sense and what is in character for the players in the scene. I let their personalities shape how explicit – or not – the scenes will be. The language used to describe body parts and who is doing what to whom will be pretty character specific. If my hero is an edgy bad boy, then there may be some explicit language and it’s not going to be a tame scene. If the heroine is shy and virginal, she’s probably not going to know exactly what she wants or to be comfortable talking like an experienced woman.

If a scene isn’t racy enough for you, use your imagination to figure out what the characters may or may not be doing out of your eyesight. Likewise, if it’s too racy, skip the next couple of paragraphs or pages. Sex scenes, even in my romance novels, are not the main attraction. At least I hope not because I put a lot of thought into character and plot development.

Question: “Don’t you worry about what your family/friends/co-workers will think of you if they read your books?”
Not really. I do write under a pen name to somewhat shield them but anyone with even basic skills of internet research could figure out who I am in real life. I also rely on the fact that: (1) I am not a widely published novelist at this point, (2) it is fiction and anyone who knows me is aware that I am very imaginative and my mind can go in some pretty odd directions at times, and last (3) if someone wants to make assumptions about who or what I am based on my writing, it’s their problem.

What other questions have you had to field about writing romance novels?

Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres. Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind Publishing (www.secondwindpublishing.com) or Amazon.com.

5 Comments

Filed under Mairead Wapole, writing

How Are Easter’s Dates Calculated?

Today April 20th, Easter Sunday. Easter can fall anytime between March 22nd and April 25th. Have you ever wondered why?

Some of our holidays, like Christmas, are celebrated on the same day each year, while others follow a different set of standards. The leaders of the early church determined Easter needed to be celebrated on Sunday each year, and rightly so. In the early days, it was set on the Sunday following the first astronomical full moon after the spring equinox.

Then in 325 AD, the Council of Nicea decided they needed to establish a more standardized system for determining the date. Astronomers were able to approximate the dates of the full moons in future years, and established a table of ecclesiastical full moon dates. These dates would be the basis for setting holy days on the ecclesiastical calendar.

According to Mary Fairchild, in her article “Why Does the Date for Easter Change Each Year,” she writes, “At the heart of the matter lies a very simple explanation. The early church fathers wished to keep the observance of Easter in correlation to the Jewish Passover. Because the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ happened after the Passover, they wanted Easter to always be celebrated subsequent to the Passover. And, since the Jewish holiday calendar is based on solar and lunar cycles, each feast day is movable, with dates shifting from year to year.”

By 1583 AD the table for calculating the ecclesiastical full moon dates was established and been used ever since. According to the tables, the Paschal, or Passover, full moon is the first ecclesiastical full moon after March 20, which was the spring equinox date in 325 AD.

The early leaders were mindful of the best way to set Easter’s date, and I commend them. Calculating it is not as complicated as I’d once thought. Happy Easter.

Christine Husom is the author of the Winnebago County Mystery Series.

1 Comment

Filed under Christine husom, How To

This Month, a Baseball Rant—J. Conrad Guest

Make no mistake, I love the game of baseball. As a youth I dreamed of playing professional ball. Alas, it was not to be, and I’ve spent the rest of my life chasing other dreams.

Photo courtesy of Sommerville Photographie

Photo courtesy of Sommerville Photographie

A few days before the new season started, it was announced that my Detroit Tigers had signed the game’s premier hitter, Miguel Cabrera, to a contract extension that likely will keep the old English D on the front of his jersey for the remainder of his career. The cost to keep him in Detroit for the next eight years: $292 million. I read somewhere that that amounts to $48,000 per plate appearance, for playing a kid’s game. A few days later, the Angels signed Mike Trout to a six-year contract extension worth a reported $144.5 million, after which he reportedly stated he was pleased with the amount of money because it represented security.

I’m old enough to remember when Pete Rose signed a deal with the Cincinnati Reds for $750,000, only to sign with the Philadelphia Phillies a few years later for $3 million. If the standard of that bygone era was an obscene amount, to what does $31 million year amount? Most of us will work close to half a century and never earn $31 million for our life’s work.

What price can one put on security? In today’s economy, is three month’s worth of savings enough to provide security should one lose their job? If only one percent of a MLB player’s career spans twenty years—the average career lasts but 5.6 years—is any ballplayer worth $31 million dollars a year?

There was a time, prior to the players association, that the owners took advantage of ballplayers, to the point they, well, pretty much “owned” them. The players deserved a larger share of the gate; after all, without them, the owners wouldn’t have a product to peddle. But most players held jobs in the offseason, tending bar or doing menial labor. After they retired, they worked other jobs.

Ty Cobb, the game’s first super star, played 24 years of baseball between 1905 and 1928. In 1927, after leaving the Tigers, Cobb signed with the Philadelphia Athletics, earning $85,000—more than 12 times the average player’s salary at the time. Accounting for inflation, Cobb would earn $1.14 million a year for playing in today’s game—a steal considering he still holds a number of baseball records.

Yet Cobb never got rich playing ball. He amassed his fortune investing in General Motors and Coca Cola. At the time of his death in 1961, Cobb was worth $12.1 million. That’s equal to $94 million in 2013 inflation adjusted dollars.

In his will, Cobb set aside a quarter of his empire to establish the Cobb Educational Foundation of Atlanta,which has, as of July 2013, awarded more than $15 million in college scholarships to tens of thousands of poor kids in Georgia. He also donated a large portion of his Coca-Cola shares to build the Ty Cobb Healthcare System, which today is composed of eight full service hospitals and care facilities throughout Georgia. Residents of Royston, Georgia refer to Cobb Memorial as “The hospital that was built with a bat.”

I try not to lose myself in the petty squabbles between billionaire owners and millionaire players. If I did I’d likely stop watching the game, and I’m not willing to do that because it’s still a beautiful game, largely unchanged since the early part of the twentieth century, even if this year they expanded replay review. Football, with annual changes to the rules and what constitutes a catch or a penalty and instant replay, little resembles the game I grew up watching. The NHL eliminated the center line, added a trapezoid behind the goal, and changes from year to year what constitutes a penalty to create more scoring and protect the players from injury. Maybe there would be fewer injuries if they eliminated helmets because the players would show more respect for each other, like they did before helmets were mandatory; but that would slow down the game.

I understand the importance sports hold in our society. It provides a sense of community. During the Great Depression, America found baseball a distraction to its depression. But $31 million a year for playing a kid’s game? Who do you blame: the players for being greedy, or the owners for overspending to keep a player from jumping ship to another team? How about the television stations who overpay the league for broadcast rights? The fans for paying thousands of dollars for season tickets? Is blame even to be found? After all, I likely wouldn’t turn down a $31 million advance for my next novel if Second Wind could afford it. But I wonder if I could, in good conscience, accept that contract knowing that so many others work far harder for much less.

But the real reason for my April rant is this: when colleges and universities look to make budget cuts, it’s always the arts that suffer, never the sports programs. Are sports really more important than the arts? Truly, what is a society without culture?

Novels connect us to the past, both to writers who long ago passed away and to ways of life that are no more. Novels express feelings, ask “why?” or “why not?”, and define values and traditions. They communicate ideas, and some novels do nothing short of change the world. I recently read a Facebook post that put forth the notion: If reading bores you, you’re not doing it right.

Without art, a culture erases its own future history.

More and more Americans today confess to not reading novels, even while they admit to enjoying reading. I don’t know about you, but I find time to do the activities I enjoy.

J. Conrad Guest, author of: 500 Miles To GoA Retrospect In Death, Backstop: A Baseball Love Story In Nine InningsJanuary’s Thaw, and One Hot January

Click to purchase

Click to purchase

4 Comments

Filed under Art, J. Conrad Guest, musings, writing

Sea of Destiny – Part 22 by Dellani Oakes

sea of destiny coverKyle feels foolish after Carmelita teases him about being a lustful male. He endures a lot of ribbing from her, but it’s a bit much on his male ego at the moment. Fortunately, Emily understands and isn’t deterred by his behavior.

“You look very pretty.”

“You look very wet.” Emily giggled, rubbing his face with the towel. “Thank you.”

Again, he was overcome with the urge to kiss her. She wasn’t more than a foot away. He leaned toward her, lips itching for hers.

“Daddy!” Mindy flopped down on his outstretched legs.

Wincing slightly, he grinned at his daughter. “Mindy! Having fun?”

“Did you see me win?”

“I sure did!”

“Adam heped me! He gived me a ride.”

“I saw. That was very nice of him.”

“He’s my boyfriend.” She nodded solemnly.

“Oh, he is, huh?”

He exchanged a look with Emily. She suppressed a grin.

“Gonna have to talk to that boy,” he murmured to Emily over his shoulder.

“I think this daughter is safe from his wiles for a few more years,” she giggled.

“Not long enough.”

“Daddy, are you gonna come wif me to music?”

“I didn’t know there was music. Do you want me to come?”

She gave him an appraising look. “But you can’t sing good. Miss Emily, can you sing?”

“I sing very well, Mindy.”

“Will you come? We’re gonna sing the princess songs!”

Emily raised an eyebrow, waiting for Kyle to explain.

“The Disney princess songs,” Kyle interpreted. “Jasmine, Ariel, Belle….”

“Ooh, those princesses. I’d love to come. That’s if Daddy hasn’t got other plans.”

“Daddy is thinking of taking a long nap after lunch. You wore me out with all that dancing. You aren’t too tired are you? Don’t let her wear you down.”

“I’d love to go. When is music?”

“We go eat and then we sing. Adam’s other girlfriend told me all about it.”

“His other girlfriend?” Her father looked puzzled.

“Yeah, her name is Maggie. Her’s older than me. Her’s the big girl with blonde hair.” She pointed across the pool.

Maggie was indeed a big girl, probably 5’9”, blonde, very pretty. She had a flock of teenage boys around her. Adam, he noticed, was surrounded by teenage girls.

“Damn,” he whispered, gaping.

Emily smacked his chin, clicking his teeth together painfully. She looked annoyed.

“Sorry. Remember what I said about nice earlier? That was nice taking a holiday.”

“I see that,” was her terse reply.

He brought her hand to his lips as Mindy hopped up and ran to her sister. Who was not, he noticed in passing, flocking around Adam.

“And this is nice returning. I apologize. I’m a man forced into celibacy for over a year. I’m gonna look, but I won’t touch.” No one but you.

His fingers brushed her cheek, bringing her face closer to his. The kiss he’d wanted a few minutes ago tingled his lips, making him smile. Opening his mouth, he teased her lips asking her to open to him. His kiss deepened then, possessing her gently but adamantly.

The none to gentle clearing of a throat behind him made Kyle stop. Turning around, he saw Cindy standing there, tapping her foot, arms crossed, frowning at him. She looked so much like her mother, he nearly choked. Margo had that same expression on her face the first time she saw him—and for a similar reason. He was kissing her younger sister in a more than friendly fashion. She’d been only a few months older than Cindy when they met.

Swallowing hard, he forced a smile. “Hey, baby.”

“Dad, please. Can you control yourself for five minutes? You’re embarrassing me.”

“Sorry, honey. I wasn’t trying to.” If I had been, I’d have broken Adam’s balls for flirting with you. “What do you need?”

“Lita said to come get you so you can get ready for lunch. They’re serving in about twenty minutes. That’s if you can drag yourself away?” She raised an eyebrow, arms akimbo now, foot still tapping angrily.

“I’ll be right down. Thanks.” He hoped she would leave, but she didn’t.

Kyle stood, leaning over to help Emily to her feet. She clung to him for a moment, swaying slightly. Concerned, he held her by the waist until her grip relaxed.

“Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. I sat too long in the sun. I’ll be okay.”

“I’ll see you to your cabin so you can change.”

“I’m okay, Kyle. Go with your daughter.”

“Sorry, you’re stuck with me. Don Quixote at your service.”

Gracias, Señor Quixote. I’m alright.”

© Dellani Oakes

To Buy Dellani’s Books http://tinyurl.com/mcsmntg

Leave a comment

Filed under Dellani Oakes

My First Shot At Regency Romance by Christina OW

I think I should start with a little introduction :)

Hi, my name is Rinah and I go by the author name Christina OW–it’s my mom’s names and initials. I couldn’t think of a better way to honor her and all she’s done for me being a single parent raising three girls. I write Paranormal, Contemporary, Fantasy fiction romance and now Regency/Historical romance. I must say, so far Regency romance has been my favorite to write– it feels like giving unknown personalities from the 18th and 19th century life by telling their ‘what if’ story and I find it remarkable.

Once upon a time, long long time ago I wasn’t much of a fan of historical books. Yeah, shocking! But I used to think the Old English was too distracting and I didn’t like the description of the characters especially the male ones–too unmanly. An image of a pale out of shape stuffy dandy with an annoying nasal voice kept popping in my head when I’d read some of the dialogue. And the women, they annoyed me most. Always written like complete air heads who fainted at the littlest things and hang onto the belief that without a man their lives were meaningless! I also didn’t like that they didn’t have a say in their own lives– I became a true feminist while reading those books. So I stopped reading them all together until I happened across a book by Jerrica Knight-Catania. There was nothing wrong with the genre I was just reading the wrong categories and books by authors who didn’t suit my taste.

She introduced me to lust worthy heroes and strong heroines despite their limited life coupled with restrictions of the society  and the best description of a world I wished I’d seen first hand. And let’s just say the forbidden fruit is tastier even for a passive audience like a reader. The illicit affairs, the forbidden loves and the lengths the heroes and heroines would go for happiness… regency romance became a fantasy fairytale to me full of passion and excitement that drew me in and left me craving for more! After just one of Jerrica’s books I became hooked, an addict for the genre searching for authors with the same writing style and adding them to my favorite authors list. Then one day I just thought, why not try my hand at it?

I knew I would need to do a lot of research to make the story authentic enough and change my way of thinking and writing to fit the genre and then finally, I let my imagination weave the rest and thus TRIAL OF LOVE, book #1 of THE SLAVE BOUND SERIES was born! It took a while before I queried it because I was so frightened it wouldn’t be good enough. But I took the risk, figuring the only way I could truly know it was read worthy was if I queried it to the same publisher who published a good number of my favorite regency/historical books.  I queried to Second Wind Publishing and Mike loved it. It was a long road before the final product was out but I’m proud of the book we both put out.

Trial Of Love, a turbulent love story about a slave from America and the Earl who saved her from a fate worse than death.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00015]

Blurb: After her mother’s death, Melanie’s life in America is full of heartache. Still, she has never allowed herself to despair. She was responsible for the care of her beloved father. Then he remarried a woman to wicked to be considered a mother to Melanie or her two sisters. After years of abuse, the stepmother sells Melanie off—to work in a brothel, and about to be sold to the highest bidder. Through a series of fortuitous events, Melanie falls into the care of Christopher, Earl of Ashworth, who has family issues of her own. The solution to his problems—and redemption for Melanie—wind together toward destiny.

Book Link: http://www.secondwindpublishing.com/product_info.php?products_id=237

It was great meeting you all!I look forward to my next post in the 2W blog.

See you in the pages of Trial Of Love!

3 Comments

Filed under blogging, books, Christina OW, fiction, history, Mike Simpson, writing

Conversations by John E. Stack

Communication is very important in relationships whether it’s husband and wife, people dating, or parent and child. Feelings are expressed, ideas are bounced around or maybe you are just having fun talking. Conversations are key in life in order to see how things are going for others.

Spring break afforded my wife, my youngest daughter, and I the opportunity to spend some peaceful time at the beach. Once in a while you just need to get away, rest and regenerate. Usually, we walk on the beach we talk and in seeing that we have a 4 year old, we often experience different levels of conversation. Allie has the gift of talking and often monopolizes our conversations. Thus, conversation is usually about Allie or conversation is with Allie.

Cream - seashells
(Stock Photo)

This year Allie decided to collect shells. She wanted to pick up every shell she saw declaring how beautiful each piece was. Many times we would tell her that a particular shell was broken or not very pretty, and we would throw it out. We decided that we would take the select ones and make her a necklace.

The next day we walked again, and my wife told Allie not to pick up the broken shells. This happened several times, but Allie continued to pick up the broken shells.

The conversation turned when Allie asked where all the shells came from. My wife picked up a piece of shell that had been tossed by the surf and said, “Allie, look how pretty this is.” Allie responded with, “Mom, your shell is broken.” My wife answered, “Yes, but God used the waves to smooth out the edges and make it beautiful.” She further explained that God had made the shells just like God had made people.

Allie pondered on this for a while and said, “God had made the shells. God made shells like God made people. Sometimes people are broken like the shells and God smooths out their brokenness and makes them beautiful.”
We decided to keep collecting all the pieces of broken shells, pretty or not, and make necklaces so we could be reminded that like the shells we are all broken but God can make us beautiful again.

My wife often gets that higher level of conversation that I miss out on. I look for times and topics to use to spur conversation and sometimes I’m successful and sometimes I’m not. Therefore, conversations that I have with my daughter are quite different.

For some reason, I am the chosen one. In this I mean that when Allie has bathroom issues, she usually chooses me to help. When I hear “DAD” echo from the bathroom, I often cringe because of the pungency. During one particular occasion, she was quite aromatic. As I about choked to death and was trying to hold my breath I remarked, ”Wow, you know you should bottle this as a cologne.” Without missing a beat, Allie responded with a line from Larry the cucumber in Veggie Tales, “Yes, this is my finest hour!”

I may not get the sentiment that my wife gets, but at least we have some exciting conversations. And, lots of laughs.

***John E. Stack is the author of Cody’s Almost Trip to the Zoo and the soon to be released Cody’s Rescue Adventure at the Zoo.

1 Comment

Filed under fun, John Stack, life, writing

The unexpected inconsistency of coffee, by Sheila Deeth

Pattie’s sitting at the table with Mary, drinking coffee, eating cookies, and trying to encourage her friend. But it’s time for work, so she tidies away the cups and plates, leaving Mary staring down into the dregs of her… cup… Really? And leaving me wondering how I failed to notice this inconsistent caffeine, through gazillions of edits, proof-reads, beta-reads, sanity-checks and more. But, alas, there is more…

“At least you didn’t give up entirely on the math,” says the professor, placing another page of Jeremy’s manuscript on the table. But then he stares at his coffee cup, and it’s left to the reader to guess why cup or page might have provoked his comment.

Then there’s that conversation between Troy and his dad. I know they’re at the garage, but all the reader knows is they’re drinking coffee. So why does Troy suddenly throw down an oily rag?

The good news is I’m getting better. I may not have spotted these errors in those earlier gazillion edits, but I saw them this time. And I fixed them. I know Murphy’s Law says there’s bound to be something more, but when Divide by Zero is re-released, it will rise renewed with Second Wind’s angel and a mug of coffee brewed to a three-times better consistency.

With Easter coming at the end of the week, what better time to celebrate renewal?

So thank you Second Wind for giving my first novel its second wind.

Sheila Deeth is the author of Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum and Imaginary Numbers, all coming soon from Second Wind.

3 Comments

Filed under books, fiction, musings, Sheila Deeth, writing

The Coroner Takes a Ride: Prologue

When I took the chief’s job at the West Hepzibah Police Department – 21 years ago – I spent some time looking at town and road maps of the area to get the lay of the land, so to speak. I reasoned if there was a West Hepzibah there must be an east equivalent – maybe even a north and south. In fact, where in hell was Hepzibah proper?

Everett Hartsell set me straight. He was 62 then –20 years older than I at the time. He knew everything about everything – and everyone – it seemed to me. Amazingly, neither he, nor his wife Jane, was a gossip. He was the county coroner and had survived every election challenge for so long that he ran unopposed most of the time. Jane was a couple of years away from retirement as principle of the East Sykes middle school. Between them, I am sure they knew all of the town’s betrayals and selfless loyalties – all deeds scandalous and laudable – but they kept their own counsel.

 I latched onto Everett as a mentor almost immediately, to help me understand all things West Hepzibah. Margot and I became friends with Everett and Jane. They loved to play cards, and we occasionally went to their big house on Upper Linwood Avenue – they had better hosting facilities than we did at that time – for a few games of pitch. We mixed and matched our playing partners, had great conversations and learned a lot about our new hometown.

 Everett and I would frequently meet at Nelly’s downtown for coffee. I brought up the question of Hepzibah’s whereabouts during one of these breaks. Everett laughed, then said, “Come with me.”

 He led me to his pickup truck outside, and we headed out of town. Up Main Street, left on Linwood Avenue, and then a couple of miles up the hill until Linwood turned into Foster Mountain Road – a two lane black top not particularly distinguishable for anything but a nice view of the Brushy Mountains to the east, and the ramp of the Blue Ridge to the north. In another two miles or so, the blacktop road narrowed. Maintenance was spotty. The shoulders were crumbled and potholes more frequent. We passed several mobile homes. They weren’t arranged in the rows and columns of a conventional trailer park. Many were in small clan-like groupings that suggested family compounds. At some point we passed a sign that marked the entrance to North Carolina Game Lands, and a couple of miles beyond that, we came to a crossroads. Everett turned left onto the gravel road intersection, and parked his truck. “Here we are,” he said.

The remains of an old gas station were on one side of the road. A Sinclair gasoline sign was hanging by one chain and swung in the light breeze. A pump island was still there, but the pumps were gone. Weeds grew up through cracked and broken paved sections around the station, and most of the windows were shattered or missing. The stone foundations of a half dozen other structures clustered around the crossroads. Over one of the larger ones, a lone chimney stood above the remains of whatever it warmed at one time. Cater-cornered from the gas station on the other side of the crossroads was an abandoned church – a framed derelict missing most of the windows and doors and much of the siding. A sign had been spared. It hung on the skeleton of the church next to the front steps. The primitive lettering ‘Hepzibah Baptist Church’ was faint, but still legible.

There were blackened spots dotting the landscape here and there. Some on bare ground; some on whatever paved sections still existed. They looked like the remains of old campfires, with dark ashes, and partially burnt sticks and pieces of scrap lumber. Bottles and cans were strewn everywhere and broken glass littered the area. I looked to Everett for an explanation. He told me the story:

Colonel Jonathan Foster got out of the Confederate Army toward the end of the Civil War. His own little piece of that army had dissolved around him somewhere in Virginia shortly before Appomattox. He and many of his men – yeoman farmers – were reluctant combatants. They knew well what North Carolina Governor Zebulon Vance meant when he characterized the conflict as “a rich man’s war, and a poor man’s fight.” Foster headed back to claim the plot of land in the North Carolina mountains that his family had owned for generations. He married Hepzibah Bennett – the daughter of a Charlotte businessman – to help him run it. They raised two sons.

He found a promising seam of granite and used it for the foundation of the large house he built – then decided to make a go of the quarry, and hired workers. He timbered the land and planted tobacco. A settlement grew around him and he opened a small store. A church was built, but the region was sparsely populated, poor, and poorly defined – as were many North Carolina counties at that time. Foster named his little outpost Hepzibah and lobbied for its designation as the county seat of Foster County. The state legislature didn’t grant it.

His enclave gradually disbanded, even as his army of farmers had. The winters were harsh, the tobacco migrated to lower sections of the Piedmont and granite was found in Mount Airy.The road builders preferred the land below and to the west of him. A West Hepzibah began to grow and prosper. His wife, in what might have been a final indignity, moved away from her namesake town to a fine house in West Hepzibah and began efforts to improve the cultural climate there. Foster stubbornly clung to his mountain.

He set out one day to plead his case, yet again, to the legislature. His apparent intention was to ride to Morganton and make his way by rail to Raleigh. His horse returned the next day, but he did not. The remaining settlers, with an occasional reinforcement, clung to the site for a few more years as automobiles improved accessibility, but all eventually moved to more promising locations. The not-quite town became a collection of tumble-downs, furnishing fuel for the campfires of hunters and hikers. Locals scavenged the quarry for their own projects, until even that was too much trouble. Two boys drowned in the water that collected in the bottom of the quarry and a gate was put across the single road leading in. Hepzibah vanished from the maps.

Chuck Thurston

 

Leave a comment

Filed under writing

Author Anne George’s Vulcan

While looking through photos I took a few years ago of Eastern Europe, one in particular reminded me of a very special and favorite writer, Anne George. Anne was also the first writer I ever met and she, upon learning I was interested in becoming a writer myself, was full of enthusiasm and encouragement. I attended many of her book signings and fell in love with her Southern Sisters series of cozy mysteries. People often tended to be discouraging to the fledgling me, but not Anne. She may be a huge reason I am writing this blog today. I listened to her and she inspired me to stick with it until I was published.

Anne George

Anne George

 

 

 

 

 

This post is not about me, however. Anne’s Southern Sisters Series is about two sixty-something, totally opposite sisters who live in Birmingham, Alabama. The narrator, Patricia Anne, is petite, both in height and weight and is a retired school teacher who has been happily married to Fred for forty years. She tries to live a Southern Ladylike life, but it’s not easy to be prim and proper with a sister like hers who calls her, “Mouse.”

Mary Alice is five years older and admits to weighing 250 pounds and, as she says, “is five foot twelve inches tall.” She is known as “Sister” and has been married three times to incredibly wealthy and much older men, all of whom left her widowed, and who are all buried together in Elmwood Cemetery. Mary Alice is constantly on the lookout for a good time and invariably this causes trouble for them both—and hilarity for the reader.

Since the sisters live in Birmingham, Alabama, there are sites mentioned in the books that will be familiar to readers who know the city. But, I have spoken to readers who have visited Birmingham just so they could see those sites. One in particular, mentioned several times in various books is seen from Patricia Anne’s kitchen window; the bare backside of the god Vulcan, a towering monument to the iron and steel industry of the area, sculpted by Giuseppe Moretti in 1904. This sculpture is not fiction, it actually exists. The photo below was taken by Kent Russell and is on Flickr.

Vulcan

Vulcan

 

 

 

 

This brings me back to perusing my Eastern Europe photos. While in Belgrade, Serbia, I took a photo that reminded me immediately of Anne George’s Vulcan. I’m not meaning to make light of either of the monuments, it’s just the similarity is quite arresting. The Victor Monument in the Belgrade Fortress, sculpted by Ivan Mestrovic (1928) was erected to celebrate the breakthrough of the Thessalonica front in WWI. But, the two sculptures resemble one another, and I couldn’t help smiling as I thought of my friend Anne George.

Serbian momument

Serbian momument

 

 

 

 

 

The Southern Sisters series consists of eight books. For those of you who have not read them, I heartily encourage you to give them a try. They are delightful. In addition, Anne, a poet of some renown, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a book of verse titled Some of It Is True. Sadly, she passed away in 2001 and I was never able to thank her for her inspiration and encouragement, but she and her books will live forever in my heart and on my bookshelves, and in many others’ as well.

6 Comments

Filed under blogging, books, Coco Ihle, fiction, fun, Humor, musings, photographs, Travel, writing

Easy Does It

Psychological Concept on the Brick Wall.I’m a simple guy with a simple mind. In fact, if I were able to take a look inside my head, I could count my brain cells on one hand. Of course, if I could figure out how to do that, I’d be smarter than I really am, and the whole exercise would be moot – whatever that means.

Because of my need for straightforward living, I tend to struggle through most novels. It’s not the twisty, complicated plots that lose me. It’s the characters the author has created, or more specifically, the characters’ names.

I’m the kind of reader that actually likes to read each word of a book, savoring the prose while hoping not to miss anything important. Each word has to register in my head before I can move along to the next one. That can create problems for me. Sometimes, while cruising through a page, I’m suddenly forced to hit the brakes and linger over a word. Why? Because the protagonist has come down with a little something Medical doctor stethoscope's listen. Isolated.only their Otolaryngologist can fix. Really? He couldn’t have an ear, nose, and throat doc like the rest of us? The author just stole five seconds of my life, only because he or she wanted me to know there’s such a thing as an Otolaryngologist. I don’t care. I just want my five seconds back.

But my real issue, the one I constantly scuffle with as I read, is the prevalence of curious and unconventional character names. Did you really have to name the next-door neighbor Proleune? Sure, she only pops by once every other chapter or so to borrow a thimble (or OliveOilsoupcon, no doubt) of olive oil, but still. And is anybody alive really named Staczswiyk, or Ishnoued? C’mon, authors of fancy books, what are you thinking? Did you actually know a Staczswiyk? Did you share a cup of tea with Proleune once, and she, or he – who the heck knows – was so damn inspirational they warranted this sort of homage?Morning tea A pleasurable, six hour read just grew into a torturous three weeks of anguish. And it’s only three weeks because I gave up after page fifty. Listen; if I want to read in another language, I will buy a book written in that language. Am I expected to enroll in a ten day Pimsleur Approach course, just to read something written in my native tongue? I’m not even sure how to pronounce Pimsleur, although since it was the butler’s name in a book I read once, I had to make something up for my own sanity’s sake. I think I was calling him Pimmy by chapter two.

I take a different approach to creating character names for my books. I’m not out to impress anyone by inserting the sort of obscure, literary names even Dr. Seuss would pass on, so I make it easy on myself – and my readers. I use pet names.
Portion of Lasagne with Basil

BART

BART

JOSEY

JOSEY

Not the kind of pet names I would call my wife when pleading with her to make her special lasagna. I mean actual pet names. Take for instance Bart Josey, an unpretentious, forthright character from The Knowledge Holder. The Bart I knew in real life was an unpretentious, forthright Springer Spaniel – very sweet, very smart, with a very easy to pronounce moniker. The same goes for Josey, my first cat. Her fur was so soft – just like her name.

See? It’s not really difficult to create a painless character name. And to you writers who have never had a pet, just Google popular boys’ and girls’ names of 1960, say, and pick one of those. Jane, Dick, and Spot never interfered with the story. Nobody ever stumbled over those names. They were simple – like me.

SIDE NOTE ABOUT PETS:
I CONSIDER MY TWO CATS TO BE MY WRITING MUSES.
IF YOU HAVE A PET MUSE, CHECK OUT MY WEBSITE CONTEST FOR A FREE AUTOGRAPHED BOOK.

* * *

Harry Margulies is the author of The Knowledge Holder and the to-be-released The Weight of the Moon. When he’s not writing about romance, money, women and other subjects he thoroughly enjoys but knows nothing about, he’s frittering his precious time as a cartoonist.

4 Comments

Filed under Harry Margulies, Humor, musings, writing