Sunday, December 22, 2013

What the Dickens! - A Bit of Christmas, Victorian Style

Last week-end we went to the Dickens Fair in San Francisco with friends. It was like actually entering the Victorian world. More than 700 costumed players took part in the event, and many visitors dressed in Victorian costume to enter into the spirit of things. I wasn't always sure when I was speaking to an actor or to an enthusiast, which added to the overall "magical" effect of the day. Everyone, of course, spoke with an English accent, confusing me at first, until I "got it".


A rather complacent fellow.

A  convivial lass.

Let the celebration begin!
 Take a look at these folks. They were, no doubt, some of the actors. And they played their roles convincingly.


Dickens and friend stopping for a
photo. Very accommodating.




My friend, Susan, spied on Charles Dickens at his meal: A short
time later, Rajan and I encountered the Great Man himself:
The Dickens' enjoying supper.






The Great Man himself.






Unbeknownst to Dickens (we peeked in the window), after he left the house, the butler and maid were preparing to sit at his table to enjoy a bit of their own cheer. The gentleman at the door, watching Dickens leave, didn't seem to bea bit  aware of this.

Sly maid.

Abetting butler.

Oblivious gentleman.



Dickens was not the only famous man we met, however. I was amazed, as we wandered down Nickleby Road, to encounter another famous person. Well. Two famous people—none other than that most renowned detective and his literary colleague. Yes! Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson!

Sherlock, pondering a case.

Pondering it in depth you
might say.

Watson seemed to ponder it, too.


You may not
believe this, but as
savvy as Sherlock Holmes is, he didn't seem to get what a blog is. And he acted like he had never heard of Facebook.
I mean, really?

Still, when the Phantom of the Opera clued me in and suggested the duo might be amenable to being featured in The Strand, they concurred. Holmes and Watson, please think of this as a feature article in The Strand.
The Phantom, cluing me in.
On and on we wandered, through lanes and alleys, and even the London Docks! And what a busy place THAT was!
It's a hard life at the docks.  You
drink a lot. And you make friends
with parrots.

Tempers can still be touchy.

But, a little song and dance helps.







       There was a surprise at the docks, though. The fellow in red you see below claimed to be a Baron. He said he was organizing an expedition to America, and would I like to come along? He said his intentions were honorable, but he didn't invite my husband . .  . Doesn't that sound suspicious?
Baron Karl Friedrich
Hieronymus Von Münchausen
 and his seagoing friend.


The Baron explains about the expedition.
The matey's expression makes me think
the Baron isn't telling everything.



An honorable baron? What
do you think?
I thought he looked a little sly, myself. So . . , Rajan and I moseyed on, encountering some interesting people on the way:
A couple working out a spat.

A fanatic.

Someone doing Xmas shopping.

A violinist inside a violin shoppe.

Someone chatting with a bartender.

Hungry diners.


Waltzers at Fezziwig's Dance Party.
There was some Polka, too.














A puppeteer for a rather . . . creepy
puppet show. The puppets were monsters
And not least of all, when we went for lunch with our friends in Pickwick Place, my friend, Susan was able to snap a picture of the Queen in a procession that was most impressive. You know how processions can be. We could barely get a glimpse. Still, Susan managed to catch a quick picture on theat invention of the future, the Smart Phone. (Ah, if only Sherlock could have seen this happen, he would have been out of his mind with excitement. Next year, Sherlock, I promise to come clean that I'm not really from The Strand, but am from the future.) Because next year we will return for sure.
The Queen - Victoria, that is.

Thanks friends, for stopping by. Have you ever been to the Dickens Fair? Which character in this collection did you find the most interesting?

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New Free Kindle Download of The Fourth Wish


With the holidays drawing close, I'm offering a second free Kindle download for The Fourth Wish, this time for three days: Sunday, December 15th through Tuesday, December 17th. The last one put the book as #1 in its category. But what made me happiest was the prospect of so many young people being able to read it. Here is where to go on those dates:

The story takes place over the winter holidays. It involves magic and wishes, complex family situations, and I've been told it's very humorous. A good read for both boys and girls, ages 8 to 12.

I hope you will check it out.

Meanwhile, what are some of your favorite titles for readers of that age group?

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Victorian Remedies, Then and Now

This image (or other media file)
 is in the public domain because
 its copyright has expired
With Thanksgiving Day past, Christmas Day to come, and New Year's Eve to follow, the aftermath of the holiday season brings more than fond memories of festive meals. The traditional Christmas dinner in particular, going back to Victorian England (stuffed poultry of some kind, mashed potatoes with gravy, and cranberry sauce, plum pudding, fruitcake, and perhaps mince pie), much of which we still cook today, can leave indigestion in its wake. 

Today we might take a Tums or an Alka-Selzer or some other over the counter antacid to settle our stomachs. But in nineteenth century England, these remedies weren’t available. The famous Mrs. Beeton (Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management, published in 1861) suggested Hepar Sulph (calcium sulphide) for chronic indigestion. For indigestion produced by overeating, she recommended nux vomica (strychnine). She also supported Dr. John Cook Bennett’s recommendation of the curative power of the tomato, “almost a sovereign remedy for dyspepsia and indigestion.”

While modern homeopathy today includes small amounts of nux vomica to treat indigestion as one remedy, most medical doctors would be loathe to recommend strychnine. And calcium sulfide figures in today’s homeopathic remedies for infections rather than for indigestion. As for the curative power of the tomato, its high acid content often triggers indigestion rather than curing it.

Overeating can also cause headaches, according to Dudley Delany, R.N., M.A., D.C. (Winter, 1986/87, issue of Health World). For headaches caused by indigestion, once again, Mrs. Beeton recommends nux vomica, a cure also accepted in current homeopathic practice for this type of headache. But few of us today would be comfortable doctoring our families with strychnine or want to follow the helpful hint in an 1882 issue of Girl’s Own Paper to “Sponge the head all over night and morning with water as hot as you can bear it, and rub it dry with a coarse towel.” ( www.mostly-victorian.com?GOP1882/medicus03.pdf)

Today’s over the counter medicines usually treat either headache or indigestion, not both. Antacids provide digestive comfort, but can cause headaches. The caffeine in aspirin can aggravate indigestion and the acetaminophen in Tylenol can cause an upset stomach. However, according to the editors of Rodale’s Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs (1987 Rodale Press, Inc., p. 384), mint, especially peppermint, is a home remedy that really works for both indigestion and headache. A mint infusion is recommended for indigestion or upset stomach. Freshly picked, crushed mint leaves applied to the forehead can relieve a headache. 


Would any of Mrs. Beeton’s remedies be useful today? Perhaps her hot liquid cure for a cold—raisins, stick licorice, sugar candy, rum, and a bit of vinegar, boiled then simmered and drunk warm at bedtime—would partially pass muster. The Mayo Clinic Staff agrees that warm liquids make a patient more comfortable and suggests that warm lemon water with honey can loosen congestion and prevent dehydration (www.mayoclinic.com/health/cold-remedies/ID00036 ) while a cold runs its course. The staff also recommends bed rest, saltwater gargles, and over the counter medications to relieve discomfort, since a cold cannot really be cured—a fact that would surprise Mrs. Beeton. Of her own cure, Mrs. Beeton promises, “The worst cold is generally cured by this remedy in two or three days; and, if taken in time, is considered infallible.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Free Give Away of The Fourth Wish, November 12th/13th

Hello, friends, just a note to say
My Middle Grade fantasy, The Fourth Wish, that takes place over the Winter holidays, makes a good read for kids to enjoy with Xmas coming up soon.

You can download a free Kindle copy of my MG fantasy, THE FOURTH WISH Tuesday and Wednesday, November 12th and 13th at 

http://www.amazon.com/Elizabeth-Varadan/e/B003VOTCFG/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1308264854&sr=1-1

Meanwhile, stop by my Fourth Wish blog if you like to read about travel. It's the first post on our cruise to Canada. (First stop, Quebec City).

Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Alpine Path

The Alpine Path: L. M. Montgomery: 9781450581912: Amazon.com: Books


The Alpine Path is the title of a memoir Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote in 1917. On the cruise to Canada (mentioned in my last post), I had expected to visit her home and the museum on Prince Edward Island. We actually went by the house that inspired, Anne of Green Gables and the rest of the series. But we did not go into the Anne of Green Gables Museum, housed in her cousins' home and used as the setting for a later series. (An excursion had been planned for the entire group that was wonderful in a different way and that I will be sharing in a few days on my Fourth Wish Blog.)

 We did pass the Green Gables Farmhouse in Cavendish that had been Montgomery's setting for the Anne books (actually her grandparents' home in which she lived during her early years), and the cemetery where she was buried. (Her grave is between those two dark green bushes a little right of center and far back.)
Lucy Maud Montgomery, 1874-1942
The MacNeil farmhouse, prototype
for Green Gables in the series
Though I didn't get a chance to go into the museum, I visited the book section in a souvenir shop at one of our stops and was lucky enough to come across a copy of her memoir. It was an intriguing read. Born in the Victorian Era, she went on to become one of the most popular children's writers of the early 20th century. The memoir ends in 1912, describing her honeymoon trip to the British Isles, but she went on to write many books after that.

Her memoir's title, The Alpine Path, is taken from the last lines of a poem she clipped out of a magazine when she was young, "The Fringed Gentian." (She doesn't name the author, but it is not William Cullen Bryant's poem, nor Emily Dickinson's.) She describes her own path to publication as being the hard, steep path described in these lines of the poem: 

                Then whisper, blossom, in thy sleep
                   How I may upward climb
               The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
                   That leads to heights sublime.

When Anne was twenty-one months old, her mother died of tuberculosis and her grieving father sent her to live with her maternal grandparents, the MacNeils, at the farmhouse in Cavendish. From an early age, she kept journals full of poems and stories. In her own words, "I wrote aout all the little incidents of my existence . . . descriptions of my favorite haunts, biographies of my many cats, histories of visits . . . even critical reviews of the books I had read." The MacNeils home is the one that inspired her Anne books.

Poems and stories are what gave her her start in the publishing world. She had written them all through her college years and through three years of teaching. Always she persevered, and if there is one recurring theme throughout this memoir, it is the necessity for a writer to persevere. In time, it payed off. She had been published without payment for some time, but in 1895, while taking an English literature course at Dalhousie College in Halifax, she started getting paid for her verses.

When her grandfather died in 1898, she returned to the farm and stayed with her grandmother for the next thirteen years, except for a brief period as proof reader for the Daily Echo in Halifax. By then, she was making a living from her stories and poems, although she fretted about having to write "potboilers" with morals tacked on at the end. It's ironic that I never have thought  of Montgomery as a poet or short story writer--mainly because she is so famous for her novels, particularly the Anne series, which bought her international fame. 
The book that made her famous.
It bothered her that her later books never were quite as famous as the Anne series. After eight books, Montgomery had grown tired of the character of Anne, and wrote the Emily trilogy, Pat of Silverbush, and its sequel, and The Story Girl and its sequel. The Story Girl was her favourite of all her novels, but none of them ever achieved the popularity of the Anne books. She also wrote two adult novels, Magic for Marigold, and The Blue Castle, and, as if proving her point, I have never heard of either of these books until I read the preface to her memoir.

She married Ewen MacDonald in July of 1912 after her grandmother died the previous winter. She  continued to write many of the books listed in the paragraph above. She was writing a new book as late as 1939, a sequel to Jane of Lantern Hill, a more serious novel that was apparently the beginning of a new series. But she never finished the sequel. She died three years later, at the age of 68, survived by her husband and two sons. 

I was moved to learn that she wasn't pleased to have her other work shadowed by the Anne books. I suppose the earmark of a fine writer is to want to keep reaching out for new ventures, and she certainly did that. Speaking for myself, though, I would be more than thrilled to create a character of such lasting, international fame as Anne, who continues to captivate even today.

Anne of Green Gables, a character who still endures




Thursday, October 10, 2013

Time Out for a Little Trip


My husband and I are going on a cruise to Canada and will be back October 19th. Please stop by after that: I'll be blogging about L. M. Montgomery and her series, Anne of Green Gables, as we'll be visiting the museum on Prince Edward Island. ("Anne" is one of my favorite story characters of all time.)

In the meantime, please visit my other blog, Elizabeth Varadan's Fourth Wish, where I've been blogging about our recent trip to Galicia, Spain. (You can click on the blue blog name at the right in the margin.)

Until then, write, write, write, and read, read, read. I'll be looking forward to hearing about your favorite story characters when you come by.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

An Interview with Carole Nelson Douglas -- Part II

From a woman who outsmarted Sherlock Holmes, to a contemporary Las Vegas lady with a savvy cat, to a post apocolyptic paranormal heroine dealing with zombies, Carole Nelson Douglas's three popular series cover quite a range.


  

EV:  Your most recent Midnight Louie mystery is Cat in an Alien X-Ray. What made you decide to write a mystery series with a cat as a private investigator?

CND: I’d seen an intriguing classified ad seeking a home for Midnight Louie, a cat “as at home on your favorite couch as in your neighbor’s garbage can.” He was available to the right home for one dollar. The ad was inordinately long and probably cost $30. Curious, I wrote a newspaper feature about it. Louie was an amazing but too successful survivor, dining on koi at a fancy Palo Alto motel. He was headed for death at the animal pound when a visiting Minnesota woman flew him home. Apartment living didn’t work, and through my article he found a home on a farm. 

I made a crucial decision to write the feature from his point of view. Years later, I thought it’d be fun to use him as an anonymous part-time narrator in a quartet of romances set in Las Vegas. I provided several minor characters that narrator could have been…a rhyming bookie among them. At the very last sentence of the fourth book we learn “the character about town” is the black cat that’s been spotted here and there throughout the series. 

My quartet was “too mainstream, sophisticated, and upmarket” for what the romance readers would accept, the editor said, so she butchered the books with unilateral cuts and published them as poorly as possible to disappear without a trace. Two women who were key power buyers in the romance field and bookstore chains at the time told me they were not happy about that. Neither was I. Nor Louie. None of we humans could do anything about it, but a twenty-pound black alley cat is not going to take the insult lying down. So I moved Louie to a mystery series and he’s been happily narrating part-time and helping solve cases ever since.

EV: In your paranormal series, your investigator, Delilah Street, solves cases involving werewolves, zombies, and vampires. Is it hard to work on such different series, and do you work on more than one at the same time, or just address one for awhile, and then another? 

CND: I’d originally written high fantasy, which is set in invented worlds and which I can best describe as like The Lord of the Rings, without the epic war. There is action and conflict, but on a more personal level. So inventing new worlds, or a remade world like Delilah’s post-supernatural apocalypse Vegas, isn’t a stretch. I wanted to take Louie’s Las Vegas, which one reviewer already called “slightly surreal” because of Louie and his animal underworld, to the far-flung limits of paranormal urban fantasy. One editor described the Delilah Street series as “noir urban fantasy,” and it does include classic crime elements. 

I usually alternate writing books in series, so it’s fun to catch up in a different world. All the voices and characters reside in my mind, ready to spring into action when called. Sometimes I’ve crossed their paths in shorter fiction. I’ve put Louie in Sherlock Holmes’ and Delilah Street’s world. Louie is totally travelable and, because cats have multiple lives, can have “Past Life Adventures.” He has a story set in Ancient Egypt (Fruit of the Tomb) and visits Delilah’s world in “Butterfly Kiss.” Once Upon a Midnight Noir is an anthology of “Bogeyman,” a Delilah Street solo story, “Butterfly Kiss,” and Louie’s completion of an Edgar Allan Poe fragment set in 1794 “Norland.” 

EV: Despite the fact that Irene is historical, Temple is contemporary, and Delilah is in the future, are there common traits shared by all three of your series protagonists? If they could time travel, do your think they would be friends?

CND: Happily, the order in which you mention the three protagonists  is the order in which I created them. I'm a character-driven writer, so all three women embody my thesis that strong women can be feminine,and in different ways. They would make a heck of a threesome.! Don't give me ideas for superheroine movie!

Adler, an operatic performer, loves the psychological strength of "making an entrance." Although Conan Doyle described her as beautiful, during an investigation she takes glee in disguising herself as old or ugly. Once she lost her singing career because of the actions of others, she becomes the director of her investigations, assembling her cast of helpers and plotting the ways to discover clues and unveil perpetrators.  She has been wounded by losing the ability to practice her art, and distracts herself with crime-solving. Her swashbuckling sense of drama can blind her sometimes to the most obvious danger. She smokes tiny cigars and carries a "wicked" little pistol, and once fought a sword duel in the persona of Sarah Bernhardt's son (a pretty fellow of nineteen at the time). She and two other women went on the trail of Jack the Ripper after Whitechapel, and caught him.

Irene's historical ventures were barely launched when I noticed the breakthrough in women PIs in mystery fiction was creating a whole slew of female loners with no family who walked the mean streets and had unprotected one-night stands. Disgruntled male mystery writers called them "men in drag." AIDS was a terrifying global threat on the cusp of the nineties. So I decided to create a petite feminine woman amateur sleuth with a lot of savvy, heart, and soul, Temple Barr. Since she had a roommate who wrote some of his own chapters--a hard-boiled feline PI, Midnight Louie, from a recent quartet of romances--the series is also a homage and critique of the private eye stereotype. The series premise was "sexual responsibility in the age of AIDS."  For people and cats. That's why part of Temple's romantic triangle is an ex-priest trying to adjust to the modern sexual world. Imagine a celibate man who wants to do the right thing as a co-protagonist! Readers loved Matt and his journey. Temple is one of the few non-PI heroines to get beaten up by thugs. Dealing with it mirrored what can happen to any woman. I call the ambiance "cozy-noir." Public Relations freelancer Temple is a chronic fixer, of events, including murder, and of people.

I'd been pushed out of a successful high fantasy series early in my career.When urban fantasy became popular in the mid-2000s, "kick-ass" heroines were legion. Again, I found many of them a misleading pattern for strong women. Delilah, an unadopted orphan, has a rougher background (Irene made her way out of poverty, though). She's learned to defend herself, mostly by intelligence. She will survive in an action melee, but she also has a couple of slightly supernatural helpers, a wolfhound-wolf cross rescue dog, Quicksilver, and an unwanted attachment, a sterling silver familiar that morphs from jewelry into weapons on her body. The Delilah Street series deals with a futureVegas run by werewolf mobsters, with a trade in illegal aliens, a drug smuggling industry, and high-tech advances that turn people into zombies. Themes are personal freedom, women's self-esteem issues and sexuality. It also satirizes today's  love affair with gruesome forensics and celebrities. It's a darker world and storyline, but lightened by  black humor.

The newspaper reporter in me propels all three women's need to fight social ills and see justice done and wrongs out in the open. The would-be costume designer in me comes out in Irene's gowns and Temple's and Delilah's shared love of vintage clothes. If there's one word that's shown up most in books reviews across all my genres, it's "witty." I love writing mystery and adventure and romance, and even slide into a bit of horror at times. Doyle, Poe, Dumas, Wilde, Heyer, Sayers, Du Maurier, Tolkien, Norton, those are the men and women writers I loved early on and shades of them show up in my writing--and all my heroines--to this day.

EV: What is the most useful writing advice you ever received?
CND: I don’t remember any one thing, but here’s the best advice I can give. Jimmy Cricket said, “Let your conscience be your guide.” I say, Let your subconscious be your guide. I’ve often noted some detail or element that pops up in the writing and thought, What? or, That’s lame, I’ll fix that in the edit. By the time I move along a bit more, I realize why my subconscious threw that into the mix. It’s often amazingly crucial.

EV: Thanks again for being my guest. I enjoyed learning about your process. And, being an addict of Victorian Era mysteries, I'm looking forward to more adventures of the remarkable Irene Adler.

You can visit the author at her website: Carole Nelson Douglas Official Author Site 
Follow her on Facebook: Carole Nelson Douglas 
Her books (all three series) are available at:


Monday, September 16, 2013

An Interview with Carole Nelson Douglas -- Part I



Carole Nelson Douglas has written 60 novels, many of them in three different mystery series. Today she talks a little about her writing process and how she approaches the Victorian era series that stars Irene Adler. (You can read a review of the first book in that series, Goodnight, Mr. Holmes, HERE. )

E.V.: When did you first become interested in writing fiction?
C.N.D: In grade school I wrote, directed, and acted in plays, but I had to dragoon neighborhood kids as actors and audience. My mother put up a curtain between the living and dining rooms and served popcorn. Some plays were presented outdoors. “Cats on My Back,” was a particular hit. I begged a black cat product poster from my neighborhood shoe repair shop and adapted it into an advertising piece for the play. What a baby impresario! Imagine what I could have done with the Internet and YouTube! I’d always wanted to be an actress. My college majors were theater and English Lit. I always liked to write, but never expected to make writing my career, either in journalism or fiction.
         I wrote my first short story for an inspiring history teacher in high school (and dramatized the whole of Ivanhoe in one classroom hour). No wonder I started a historical novel in both high school and college. That college novel, Amberleigh--finished 11 years later and published three years after that
--was my professional fiction publishing debut, although I’d been a newspaper reporter and feature writer since college graduation.   
         I was moved to pull out Amberleigh to finish and market it because I was frustrated by years of hitting the glass ceiling in journalism, even though I’d been “the first woman” at my newspaper in many areas and had won numerous reporting/writing awards. 

My mentor was the late novelist, playwright, Broadway and Hollywood director and writer, and all-around swell guy, Garson Kanin. He took Amberleigh to his publisher because he was so enamored with an interview and article I’d done with him five years before. Doubleday said they would have bought the book “two years earlier,” but the Gothic mystery genre was now “off market.” The editor added that my novel transcended genre and could “still sell.” The first of several editors at other publishing houses she recommended bought it, along with my second historical novel. I was off and running, but next turned to writing high fantasy. 

E.V.: You’ve written 60 novels, including three highly successful mystery series (Irene Adler, the only woman to outwit Sherlock Holmes, Midnight Louie, a cat PI, and Delilah Street, a paranormal PI). How do you manage to be so productive?
C.N.D: My years as a newspaper reporter were a baptism of fire in how to write under any deadline. I’d only worked on the high school newspaper previously, so I had to develop confidence and quickness on the job at a metropolitan daily. I stayed until 7 p.m. the first six months until I got up to speed. After that leap, I came to define a professional writer as one who never slips below a certain level, no matter the situation. And some situations can be insanely stressful.

E.V.: What is your writing schedule like? Do you aim for a certain number of hours a day? A certain word count each day?
C.N.D.: I track word count and date at the top of the working manuscript. That’s more to encourage me to visualize the progress I’ve made than an iron-clad prod to write at a certain rate. I used to write a book over six months, two a year. With the addition of time-eaters like Internet, email, and social media, I work in more concentrated stints, but still do two books a year. I discovered I mimic the pace my newspaper years, when I did interviews and information-gathering in the mornings and wrote stories in the afternoon for the next day’s paper. So I write from noon to five or six.

About Irene Adler (The woman Sherlock Holmes refers to as The Woman):

E.V.: What stirred your imagination to write the Irene Adler series? Did the character just “speak” to you while reading “A Scandal in Bohemia?” Or did the idea come to you little by little?
C.N.D.: What inspired me was reading a publishing announcement of another new spin-off Sherlock Holmes series, and realizing only men did this.
         Women must have grown up with the stories, as I had. Why did none write a woman protagonist from the Canon? Looking for such a woman, I originally rejected Irene Adler. A glamorous performer who slept her way up was not the strong, independent woman I wanted. Finally, I reread “A Scandal in Bohemia” after many years and realized the “Irene” I was rejecting was the stereotypical “Victorian vamp” lesser male authors wrote after Doyle, not Doyle’s character, whose word was “inviolate,” and who had “the mind of the most resolute of men.”  
         Besides, having read and reread Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories as a child, I had played Watson in a high school skit I wrote. In my later journalism career, I was one of only two women to have a weekly column at my metro daily newspaper, “Good Living After 60.” (The other wrote a teen advice column.) Not realizing this was a trivial “beat” regarded as a sop to the older population and a way to guarantee “filler” Monday morning copy. I ran with it and collected some amazing oral histories. My modest interview subjects often made writing the required thirty inches a tough go, though. 
         A courtly gentleman calligrapher for St. Paul Winter Carnival had almost nothing to say. In desperation that Friday afternoon, I put Holmes and Watson on “The Case of the Curious Cursive” to discover who that person was, and won Minneapolis-St. Paul’s most prestigious writing award, for Columnists. I was competing with a perennially winning guy who went climbing in the Himalayas, among others of that all-male cast. And my humble column on an even more humble subject won, for women and for me.     
         Besides, being an actor, I always had those iconic Holmes and Watson voices in my head.

E.V.: The Adler mysteries are so richly textured in setting details; what is your approach to your research? Do you spend time in London and Europe, visiting the areas where Irene and Godfrey and Nell have their adventures? Do you mainly read, drawing from many sources?
C.N.D.: Thank you. I’d had an incredible and educational group trip to Europe for two months in college. My mother was a modestly paid elementary school teacher, but some money from my father’s death had recently become available and I was able to go at the last minute, a horrible, fresh inoculation scab on my arm raising joking comment across Europe. On that trip I witnessed a startling incident of British prejudice against the Irish, which became key to my first novel (Amberleigh, already started). I still deal that issue in my soon-to-be-27-book Midnight Louie mystery series, which has a counterterrorism subplot involving Ireland and the IRA. 
         As a theatre major, I’m familiar with the “voice” of many periods of history. I wanted to be a costume and set designer as well as an actor, and had been drawing my own book of period costume designs since high school. I call myself a literary chameleon, because I love to change voices and I evoke writers from Oscar Wilde to Damon Runyon in parts of my writing. Reading poetry aloud from childhood, and then later breaking down the techniques of my favorite poets—Poe first, then Elinor {that’s correct} Wylie and Amy Lowell, the Metaphysical poets, John Donne and the Cavaliers (sounds like a rock group) and finally Yeats, Eliot and Auden, must have contributed to my writing voice.
         I researched Good Night, Mr. Holmes in London, while attending the annual World Fantasy Convention. I particularly wanted to see Chelsea, because the original row houses were still standing and was thrilled when we happened on Bram Stoker’s former residence, because it was labeled, but not in any of the guidebooks. 
         I also traveled to Paris for Adler research, but couldn’t get into the Opera house performance area because of a rehearsal that day. That was the hoped-for heart of my trip. Then I had to cancel an opportunity to visit Prague several years ago because I broke my arm. I’ve always said I’ll probably see Prague after I’ve finished writing about it. A friend took a lot of photos, and I’ve researched everything historical forever in books, and now also on the Internet. 
         A memorable moment at my first guest author stint at a writing conference was when a woman there to get advice on writing a memoir about her years of sailing in the Caribbean heard me read from a 17th-century sailing scene in the Caribbean, and was astounded that I knew the sea conditions so exactly. I’ve rarely even been on a boat, so it was an encouraging endorsement of my research by someone who’d been there.

EV: Thank you so much for this interview. Irene Adler is one of my admired sleuths.

Part II of this interview in a coming post will focus on the other two series that also feature strong women sleuths whom Irene Adler might admire. Meanwhile:

You can visit the author at her website: Carole Nelson Douglas Official Author Site 
Follow her on Facebook: Carole Nelson Douglas (and I’ll give the url for both)

And her books (all three series) are available at:

Friday, August 30, 2013

The Only Woman to Outwit Sherlock Holmes



 I love mysteries set in the Victorian Era, and I am a fan of “all things Sherlock.” So I was doubly delighted to discover Carole Nelson Douglas’s witty mystery series featuring Irene Adler, the opera singer in Arthur Conan Doyle’s “A Scandal in Bohemia.” In Doyle’s adventure, the King of Bohemia hires Sherlock Holmes to retrieve a photograph from the singer that would compromise his coming marriage. Adler turns the tables on them both and gets away with the photograph. 

Goodnight, Mr. Holmes, the first book in the Irene Adler series, traces the years leading up to that adventure through the diaries of one Miss Penelope Huxleigh. Miss Huxleigh, a Shropshire parson’s daughter and former governess, loses her employment as a clerk at Whiteley’s Emporium in London  after a jealous employee falsely accuses her of stealing. Penelope is soon penniless on the  streets. A street urchin is trying steal her carpetbag when the book opens.

Irene Adler, a struggling actress/singer from America, quickly rescues her. She whisks Penelope to her bohemian flat in Saffron Hill, a rundown district in Central London, and the novel is “afoot”. Penelope—“Nell” to Irene—becomes the faithful chronicler of their adventures. Her quiet, prim, unassuming personality is a perfect foil for Irene’s ebullient, theatrical flair. 

While trying to forge an opera career in London, Irene makes a partial living as a Pinkerton agent. The famous American jeweler, Charles Lewis Tiffany, hires Irene to track down the Zone of Diamonds, a jeweled girdle last worn by Marie Antoinette. The “Zone” disappeared from France after the Revolution and is thought to be in England. (Tiffany approaches Sherlock Holmes with the same request, and Irene’s competition with Sherlock is one of many humorous touches in this book.)  

Irene’s singing career takes off. Nell is enjoying her own steady employment as a typist for a barrister at the Temple. (Her employer is a significant figure in the story, but no spoilers here: you’ll have to read the book to find out why and how.) The Zone of Diamonds case is still unsolved when Irene is lured to Europe to sing at La Scala, and from there to the National Opera Theatre in Bohemia. Then one morning Nell, left in charge of  the Saffron Hill flat, receives a strange message from Irene: “Nell—come at once to Prague! I need you.” 

There are so many things to like about this book, as the plot gets thicker and thicker with gypsy fortunes, daredevil disguises, breath-taking escapes. A vein of sly humor runs through it all. Tension is high right up to the last scene. Famous real life characters and famous fictional ones make cameo appearances: Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Tiffany, Lillie Langtry. Jefferson Hope, the ill-fated victim-turned-criminal in Doyle’s Sherlock adventure, “A Study in Scarlet” appears in an early scene. 

For those who like their mysteries spiced with history, glamor, and lots of humor, this is a must read. And -- good news -- there are seven more in the series.

You can visit the author at her website: Carole Nelson Douglas Official Author Site
Follow her on Facebook: Carole Nelson Douglas

Her books (there are three series) are available at:


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

An Interview with Stephanie Cowell




Stephanie Cowell, author of Claude and Camille, a Novel of Monet, graciously gave me an interview and shared some insights into her writing process and her love of history.

For those who missed the review of Stephanie's wonderful book, you can read it here. In addition, for lovers of the Impressionists and their world, Stephanie has a special set of 70 posts on her blog Everyday Lives of the French Impressionists that you can read HERE.

And now, on to the Interview:

EV: When did you first start writing?
SC: I first started writing at about the age of seven in black- and-white school notebooks. I printed in clumsy block letters and I have no idea what I wrote. I had decided early that other worlds and lives were much better than mine and I belonged there. I was drawn to young adult novels set in England or Europe…A Little Princess, Heidi, etc. I taught myself to type on my mother’s portable typewriter. By thirteen I was writing little novels which I read to my girlfriends at my sleepovers.

EV: What is your next book about? 
SC: I’ve almost finished a novel on the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and I am sure, as you love Victorian England, you know a lot about her! She was a very gifted woman but due to terrible tragedies in her family and her own bad health, she was an invalid in her father’s house in Wimpole Street until the gorgeous poet Robert Browning met her and fell in love with her. She recovered her health and ran away to live in Florence with him until his hidden past and her broken promises to her family and addiction to laudanum began to threaten their perfect love. It’s very romantic book about a brilliant, idealistic Victorian woman. I went to Florence where you can visit their apartment and stand on her balcony.

EV: Have you always been interested in writing historical fiction or have you experimented with other genres? 
SC: I wrote two novels about my New York City and still hope to revise them. They are about the New York I know which is a world centered around music, museums, old churches, neighborhoods, etc. Oddly, though I adore historic New York City, I have no desire to write about it. Several friends have done so: they travel here to research what is right outside my door. Lynn Cullen’s Mrs. Poe will be published in September; Stephanie Lehmann’s Astor Place Vintage is out now.

EV: You seem to understand the world of painters so well, and you've mentioned you were the child of artists. Do you paint yourself? 
SC: Oh no, I have no talent for drawing or painting but I see like an artist; I see perspective and color, and the changing light just drives me wild with joy. The way light falls on brick buildings and over the river and through trees. But I grew up with artists and the easel and canvases and delicate paint brushes. I love these things. My mother used to teach at the Art Students’ League and when I was about four or five the baby sitter didn’t come for me, so she took me to the school where I wandered down the hall and into a studio where a nude female model was posing. I was greatly shocked and ran back to my mother’s classroom babbling about it, much to the amusement of her students. Art is wonderful to write about; it’s so visceral.

EV: It seems to me that much of the research needed for this book would have been in French. Do you speak and read French?  
SC: I studied French during the writing of Claude & Camille and learned to read it at an intermediate level. I loved it. I never spoke it much and I have lost it a bit because I switched to Italian. There is a wonderful site in French written by one of the guides at Giverny who observed the gardens and house in every weather and season. It’s at http://givernews.com Her French is pure poetry. I made out what I could and read it every day when I was writing the novel.

EV: What advice do you have for beginning writers? 
SC: Write what you love and understand it may takes years and years before you really have completed a book which expresses your story and speaks to others. I sometimes rewrite a scene 75 times. And it may take many years to get published. The writer C.W. Gortner took 14 or 17 years before he was published and now he is doing very well. I wrote 4 novels in seven years before the first one sold and then I was so shocked that I took the next day off of work and lay in bed staring at the ceiling. I kept calling the publisher every week on some pretense, but really to make sure they had not changed their mind about publishing the book.

EV: Since you mainly write historical fiction, how would you advice writers to go about their research for a historical novel? Do you research as you go, once you have the idea for a story? Or do you do most of the research ahead of time, once you’ve decided on your story? 
SC: I generally am not drawn to a particular story or character or period unless I know something about it first. I research while I am writing and while I am revising. It happens at the same time! There is a scene in CLAUDE & CAMILLE where he finds her again in an upper class restaurant where he is trying to sell quick sketches of the patrons; he has come with Renoir because they are broke as usual. I can’t remember if when reading about the period I discovered the life of a restaurant or whether the scene came first. I think I saw some paintings by Degas and Manet with waitresses and patrons etc. and that inspired the scene.

EV: Do you have a favorite period in history?
SC: Yes, the Elizabethan. I have an odd feeling part of me lived back then. I was an actor (which means I would have been a man as there were no actresses allowed on the stage then) or a writer. But I love all periods in which I set my books.

EV: Are some historical periods that interest you easier to write about than others?
SC: I think the further back you go in history, the harder it is to hear people speaking and to present their speech to the modern reader. What was natural formal speech in 1600 can sound too formal to our ears and the casual can be incomprehensible!  I have been working a long time on a book set in 400 AD Alexandria and it was hard to make the people come to life as I wanted them at first. Then I discovered books of letters between ordinary people written on papyrus and dug up a hundred and fifty years ago in Egypt. Their concerns and subjects were the same as ours: difficult travel, letters of complaining schoolboys, love pleas, exchanges between sisters, requests for money, birthday greetings. They may have worn tunics and lived under an aging Roman Empire, but they were more like us than not. 

EV: Do you have favorite historical novels that you return to again and again? 
SC: Oh yes,  many! To name a few Girl with a Pearl Earring (Chevalier), I am Rembrandt’s Daughter (Cullen), Take Heed of Loving Me (Vining, long out-of-print but a masterpiece about John Donne, the worldly political young man who became a great priest). For a long time I read and reread Mary Renault again and again. There’s also Mary Sharratt’s The Vanishing Point and Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue.  Some of the other novels I had read to pieces (not historical) are The Gift of Asher Lev (Potok), The Lost Madonna (Jones). I am forgetting most of the books I love here! Apologies to the gifted authors! Your work is so precious to me! And there are so many books I have only read once and desperately want to read again!

EV: Thank you so much, Stephanie for sharing your writing life with us. I'm sure many who read this will take heart and encouragement from your insights.

You can contact Stephanie at her website:
https://www.facebook.com/stephanie.cowell.14
stepaniecowell@nyc.rr.com

Your can order this book at:
Random House
Barnes & Noble
Amazon


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Brief Time Out

Dear blog friends, my husband and I had to have our dog euthanized last Saturday. I will not be posting for a few days. Please come back next week.

Thank you.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Book Review, Claude and Camille, A Novel of Monet




To read this gem of a novel is like entering an Impressionist painting and becoming immersed in its vibrant colors, glistening hilights, and hidden shadows. As a love story, it traces the arc of Claude Monet's life-long passion for Camille Doncieux, the woman who was his sweetheart, his muse, the mother of his two children, and, later, his wife.

The author, Stephanie Cowell
But Claude and Camille also captures the love of art that drives artists to pawn their few possessions for tubes of paint, borrow repeatedly from friends and relatives to stave off creditors, suffer repeated evictions from lodgings, stay outside all day in freezing temperatures in order to capture the play of light on waves or snow covered fields.

In his early painting days, Claude and his friend Fédéric Bazille share a studio in Paris that quickly becomes the hub of activity for several artist friends, among them, Renoir, Pissarro, Cezanne, Degas. All the young painters are filled with visions of a new way of painting. The future seems promising, despite the fact that most of them are in debt. Almost all of them are artists against family wishes: Claude's father wants him to take over his nautical supplies shop in Le Havre. Bazille's family wants him to become a doctor.

Claude first sees Camille in a train station in Paris. Arrested by her  beauty, he makes a quick sketch of her before she vanishes. Then he comes across her by accident in her uncle's bookshop four years later. It seems destiny. Accepting his invitation to pose for a painting, Camille brings her sister to Fontainebleau as a chaperone. Later, in Paris, Camille poses again for Claude, and the portrait is accepted by the Salon in the Palais de l'Industrie. When he takes her to see the exhibit, convent-educated Camille decides she's in love with him and leaves her family and her fiancé to become Claude's lover and the darling of his circle of friends.

But Camille—Minou to friends and family—is a bundle of mysteries and contradictions: She wants to go on stage. She wants to write a novel. She wants to have lots of children. She has moods. A devoted muse and passionate lover, Camille's life centers around Claude. Or does it? Her own mother whispers to Claude in one scene, "There are things you don't yet understand about our Minou . . ."

This book was so good, I read it twice. The author's rendering of the Impressionists' world reflects her thorough research. Characters and settings come alive. The lives that unfold are entirely believable. This is a must read for history lovers, art lovers and anyone who just likes a good story.

You can order this book at:
Random House
Barnes & Noble
Amazon

For more information about Stephanie Cowell and her other books,
visit the author's website:

You can also contact her at:
https://www.facebook.com/stephanie.cowell.14
stephaniecowell@nyc.rr.com



How about you? Do you have a favorite novel you've read more than once? Do you like fiction based on famous figures in history? (Share titles, please!)