Monday Musings–First scene, Wicked Widow

Boston Massachusetts, 1854

Shivering in the wind slicing across Long Wharf, Morgan Turner squinted up at Captain Montgomery’s counting room, which was, as promised, the last office in a long, tall brick building—last office, last hope.

A lump formed in her throat as she scanned the black windows. Did she dare break in? If she was arrested, the police might connect her to the husband she’d left dead on her bedroom floor. A vision of a black-hooded hangman rose in front of Morgan, his eyes gleaming death as he pulled a rope over her head, gloved hands securing it tightly against her windpipe. Her throat clenched. No, she could not risk it—

Another icy gust penetrated her filthy cloak and once-pristine blue satin gown. The tangy ocean air mixed with the pungent smell of wet wood, freezing her lungs. But could she bear another night such as the last, cowering in a damp alley, frightened by a roving gang of drunken men? If they found her—rape or hanging, which was worse?

The gang lived here, the hangman in Philadelphia.

Morgan slunk around to the back of the building where she found a shuttered window and an old, silvered board. Taking a deep breath, she strengthened her resolve. She could do this; how often had she and Amy laughed over similar escapades?

She shoved the board against the window. Wood splintered, glass tinkled, thankfully muffled by waves crashing against the wharf. Morgan stood on tiptoes and peered into the gaping hole. Silhouettes of furniture greeted her, sleeping witnesses to the profitably employed. Respectable, honest people.

Wincing at the ugly comparison to her own character, Morgan wrapped her hands around the windowsill and pulled. Her feet fought for purchase against the rough stone. A minute later she slid through the window and fell to the floor with an undignified thump, grateful for the layers of stiff crinoline petticoats that prevented shards of glass from cutting her. Pushing back her hood, Morgan rose and adjusted her itchy, blond wig. Her eyes fell upon a box of coal next to a big potbelly stove. Heat!

In a trice, she’d lit an oil lamp and the stove. While warming her frozen fingers, she surveyed the office. It was well appointed; Captain Montgomery appeared to have prospered since she’d last seen him. Not surprising. During her disastrous voyage across the Atlantic two years earlier, he’d calmly sailed them through a hurricane and brought them into port ahead of schedule, master not only of his vessel but of Poseidon himself. And still he’d found the time to offer her, a newly grieving widow, solace and assistance.

Rashly declined in favor of marriage to a man she scarcely knew.

Her heart lurched. A grieving widow then, she thought; the Wicked Widow of Philadelphia now. Her latest actions would surely revolt the soft-eyed but ever-so-proper captain.

Her eyes passed over a globe and a gold-framed painting of Boston Harbor, hanging behind a flat top desk of black walnut. At the corner of the desk sat a jar of gumdrops.

Gumdrops! Oh, oh, oh! Her hollow stomach jerked in excitement as she charged across the room.

She ripped off the top of the jar and shoved several in her mouth at once. Food, oh sweet, glorious food! Was there more? Sifting through the desk drawers, she discovered a tea box. A few minutes later, Morgan Turner, formerly Lady Morgan Reynolds of Westborough, widow of Richard Turner, and of Charles Weatherly, and of Bart Drumlin, sat down to a dinner of gumdrops and black tea.

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Monday Musings, Wicked Widow

book-759873_1280I’ve set the (e-book) re-release of Wicked Widow, formerly, Wicked Woman for Thursday, October 5th. Basically I’ve taken what I’ve learned about writing in the last 10 years and used it in editing Wicked Widow. For example

Mistress, her mind repeated with deliciously wicked excitement.  No longer a lady, no longer a wife, but a woman so far beyond respectability that she needn’t adhere to society’s rules; she was, in fact, expected to break them.  A twinge of guilt tugged at Morgan’s conscience, but she dismissed it, concentrating instead on how best to perform her new role.

has become

Mistress, Morgan’s mind repeated with deliciously wicked anticipation as she leaned against the back of the sofa, a carelessness her mother would have detested. She was no longer a lady, no longer a wife, but a woman so far removed from respectability that she needn’t adhere to any of society’s rules. She was, in fact, expected to break them. A twinge of guilt tugged at Morgan’s conscience, but she dismissed it, concentrating instead on how best to perform her new role.

It’s not a lot, the change of excitement to anticipation, but anticipation is a much better description. The addition of her leaning against the sofa back gives the reader a better feeling of place.  “Carelessness her mother would have detested” is a stronger reminder of how far she has “sunk” and how strict her upbringing was. One of Morgan’s motivations in the book, what gets her into so much trouble, is her rebellion. It’s stronger if we know it wasn’t just the biggest rebellion–that her parents were trying to force her into marrying a man she hated–but the little things as well, that she could not even relax when sitting on a sofa alone.

So those are the edits I’m making, adding little things like that along with some description here and there. The word count will stay about the same, though, because I’ve been ruthlessly deleting tag lines.

“Not enough to surrender to your demands.”  He stared at her a moment  before saying slowly, “You know, I’m rather enjoying this.  Something about that pose strikes me as seductive.”

is now

“Not enough to surrender to your demands.” He stared at her a moment. “You know, I’m rather enjoying this. Something about your pose strikes me as seductive.”

Same dialogue, but it moves faster.


“Every day.  It’s a mere half mile to my counting room, and I should have appreciated the exercise,” he said.  He settled his black-gloved hands in his lap.

is now:

“Every day. It’s a mere half mile to my counting room, and I should have appreciated the exercise.” He settled his black-gloved hands in his lap.

Also, I put quotes at the beginning of each chapter in my indie-published historical romances. I did this because my favorite romance novels when I was young were by Mary Stewart and she put quotes from poems and plays etc at the beginning of her chapters. I absolutely adored reading those quotes. I didn’t put them in the traditionally published books though. I didn’t even ask if I could. I was very sure they’d say no. But I still love them! So I’m adding them in Wicked Widow, and tweeting some, facebooking them. I’ll try to put a few here too.

The book now starts with these two quotes:

A lone, poor woman


There’s no such thing as chance;

And what to us seems merest accident

Springs from the deepest source of destiny

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller

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Monday Musings, Romance vs. Sexual Exploitation

I wanted to talk about something fun today. Wanted to talk about re-reading Wicked Woman and getting it ready for re-release. But I can’t. Today, no happy fluffy feelings.

There’s a controversy going on in the romance community about a book that crosses the line. I haven’t read the book, but the gist of it is this: A couple has two children, a boy and girl. The son dies tragically and the couple can’t seem to get over the loss. To save their marriage and their family–now consisting of father, mother, daughter–they move into the woods to live in isolation. The wife dies, the man and his daughter end up in a torrid affair, and it’s all “fine” in the end because–wait for it!–they are not related. She is adopted.

This is not acceptable.

No, that’s not strong enough. THIS IS WRONG.

People have a right to write what they want. They have a right to publish it. People have a right to read it. They can call it romance.

I have a right to say that it is WRONG.

Amazon and other retailers have a right to say no, they won’t publish it, which they did. This is not banning. This is business practice. “Banning” would mean not allowing it to be read, as in keeping it out of a library. To be crystal clear, if my town library banned this book, I would be okay with it. People have a right to ban books they believe are dangerous. This book promotes a sexual relationship between a 40-year-old man and his teenage daughter as romance. That is dangerous.

And this woman is selling her book that way on her website, as “dangerous” and “taboo”. Which is perfectly legal. She has a “you may not have the strength to handle something so taboo and titillating as this book” trigger warning. That’s not so much a trigger warning as it is a veiled insult to people who believe a sexual relationship between a 40-year-old man and a teenager, who is legally his daughter, is something to be shunned. I have read people saying that if the trigger warning were better, it would be all right.

It is WRONG.

Have I read the book? No. I haven’t read Mein Kampf either. I know what Hitler promotes is toxic. I don’t want to fill my head with those toxins. I don’t want to fill my head with the poison of the sexual abuse of a teenager in the guise of romance, either. I know the sun is hot without touching it. I know a scorpion’s sting hurts without having ever seen one. I know I’d run away from a man walking down the street with a bloody shirt and bloody knife in his hand because I make judgment calls for the sake of my health and well being.  Don’t tell me I can’t judge a book without reading it. I can. I will. I have.

It’s fiction, I hear, as if that makes it all right. As if we haven’t seen throughout the course of history how much power fiction has to change minds, to alter perspectives, in writing as well as in performance art. Laws have been written because of fiction. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was so explosive in its time that it ignited the abolitionist movement, which started a civil car that ended slavery in the United States.

Words are power. Fiction is powerful. It is not a “mere” anything. We have to stop pretending that something wrapped up in “fiction” has no impact. IT HAS IMPACT. The impact of fiction is enormous, and the writer who wields it has a responsibility.

Will this book be that powerful? No, not on a global or national scale. It’s just a book sold on a website. But it does have an impact. First on the women (and men) who have been the victims of sexual abuse, particularly if that abuse was perpetrated by a family member with the implied or actual power of his/her of a supervisory role. These people are scarred for life and although they live, breathe and enjoy their lives, the scar is still there, the hurt is still there. Calling this kind of relationship “romantic” and implying that it is consensual is devastating. I’m not such a victim, but I know that for years they have had to combat the voice in their head, often from the abuser, that says “you know you like it” or “but I love you” and the terrible second guessing that makes them wonder if they are responsible for their abuse or if it wasn’t so bad.

I am going to take a few sentences to directly address these people: YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE. It was that bad. It was not romantic. You do not have to justify your feelings. The perpetrator is a criminal even if the law has not deemed it so. You have my compassion and my respect for continuing to live your lives and not letting your abuser destroy you. This concept is wrong. Period.

Back to everybody. The problem is people will read this book, toss it aside, and go on to the next believing they were not impacted because he/she would never do this, would never allow it, would vote against it, would fight it. Are you sure of that though? Positive? Will there not be something in your subconscious the next time you hear/read about the sexual assault of a child that makes you wonder if they “wanted” it, like the teenager in this book thinks/says? You should consider that.

The bigger problem comes from the people who read this book, who are sexual predators. People who may have yet to abuse a child but who, upon reading this book, believe their feelings and their plans are justified. Who are told by this book that the twist of their minds is not sick. Who might then act upon it. Will it happen a lot? I don’t know. But if it happens once, that’s enough.

I do understand that the vast majority of people who consume erotica and porn are not predators. They’re just everyday people who want something a little spicy in their lives. And in that, I am torn. I am struggling, and maybe my opinion will evolve over time, but this is where I now stand :

1) This book is not romance, should not be sold as romance, should not be promoted by anybody else as romance, and if you do, I am suspicious of you. I can’t help it. I question your morality.

2) Honestly, I question your morality if you promote it at all. I won’t question your morality for reading it. But the promotion, yeah. I do.

3) A trigger warning should not, in this book OR IN ANY BOOK, be written in such a way that you are insulting a reader. If you do that, you’re an ass.

4) When you’re done reading it, you should have a little conversation with yourself to remind yourself that THIS IS NOT ROMANCE. In the real world, this is WRONG. In reality, a sexual relationship between a parent (and genes do not matter–it’s the family structure and the parental bonds that make a parent) and child is immoral, illegal, toxic, poisonous etc. You should do this to counteract whatever subconscious message has wiggled its way into your brain.

5) Romance writers should be standing with the women (and men) who have been abused, not with the woman who wrote this. I can’t believe I have to say that. OUR SISTERS (AND BROTHERS) WHO ARE VICTIMS AND SURVIVORS COME FIRST. We are writers, yes. We believe in freedom of speech. But we are human beings first. Who we are, how we treat others, should always be most important.

Deep breath.

I’m going to end with this. I have written books that have questionably abusive moments between hero and heroine. I own that. I have tried to redeem those relationships. I believe, strongly, in the redemptive power of love. It’s the reason I write romance. Maybe I don’t always get there, but I try.

But love cannot redeem everything. And the sexual abuse between an adult family member and a child (and in my mind people fall into this category even beyond teen years) cannot be redeemed by “romance.” It ain’t happening. Not. Ever.

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Monday’s Musing on Wednesday

lion-2449282_640I’m a very tired writer. I did a talk a couple weeks ago right after I finished my historical romance website. Then I went on vacation, Staycation really. Home most of the time although we did go for a night to Vermont (where I stayed at an old, Victorian-era hotel) and a night in Gloucester, MA. Pictures on all of that later. Or you can check some of them out at instagram.

But for all that, I hate not posting at least an occasional blog post. So. Right now I’m working at formatting books to make them prettier and more cohesive across all platforms. That requires a lot of organization, something that does not come to me naturally. At all. I am determined, however!

I’m also working on getting Wicked Widow (formerly Wicked Woman–I got my rights back and I’m going back to my original title) jazzed up a little bit, then formatted and a new pretty cover. After that, I’ll work on Wild Card (formerly the Wild One) and I really want a new cover for Shadows of the Soul.

While doing all of this, I realized these books are only currently available on Amazon. I don’t know how that happened. I thought they were at least at B&N but I guess now. Which makes me wonder if I should do Kindle Unlimited? That doesn’t matter as much, I think, to readers, but it’s something I have to debate–ie: agonize over.

I figure this will all take me about 2 weeks. Possibly 3 to get print books out.

In the meantime, here’s a picture I chose for Wicked Widow.

Ward and Morgan for BlogWhat do you think? Obviously the sword will have to go, but I really like the rest. The red hair works for Morgan (although her hair is more brown with red highlights) and the man I supposed looks a little like Ward. More important, it’s who Ward would like to look like.

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Monday Musings, trying to create a website

Look I found coffee on canvaSo I’m working at website creating. The thing that I can’t seem to find easily is buy buttons for my books. Apparently, if I want a button with the pretty logo in it, I have to make it. Today, you get to see my attempts. Aren’t you excited? You might want to run and hide right now.

All right, so first thing I gotta to is create the image. I’m doing that with Canva. So I took the Kobo logo from images. I didn’t figure they’d start to yell at me for stealing their trademark if I’m use it to create a buy button. Then I put the image in canva and here it is. Let’s see how it looks. Untitled design-28

It’s kinda small. And it doesn’t have a border. And it’s blurry. But it’s a good first try. Now, dinner, and then I’ll come back to this.

Here’s the next try 500 x 100Untitled design-29

So I googled kobo and buttons and found buttons somebody else created. But I don’t like stealing so I just took the size dimensions. 300 x 100


All right, that’s still too big. And I definitely need the lines around it. Hmmm. Let me see. I think I’ll make it half the size and put a black frame.

All right, let’s see how this looks. Hey, I can save this.

So, the size looks right. 150 & 100.  Don’t know why the bottom frame didn’t show up.

The frame thing is weird. I wonder why that’s happening. I got some curves in this one though.


All right, so on canva I increased the design box to 152 and 52. Then I made the button inside the box a tiny bit smaller, hoping that the bottom part of the frame would fit. 1

And there’s my button. I don’t have any romances on Kobo right now, but I do Amazon. So let me make an Amazon button for, say, The Wild Half and see how I can add a link to the photo afterward, which is what will make it a “button.”


Now, I’ll publish this and then see what I can find on adding links to images. All right, I think I got it. I click on the picture, hit the link icon on the tool bar and add the new link. Let’s see if that works. Damn. That didn’t work. Grrrr. . . Okay, maybe I have to preview and see if it works that way. Right now it just keeps asking if I want to edit when I click on it. . .And it worked!

Okay. So if you’re read this far you’re probably trying to figure out how I did this. I went to canva. I created a new project with custom dimensions of 152 and 50. That way I could make the actual part of the button (that shows up on the page) a little smaller. I used the slightly curved (not very curved) open frame to frame the whole button. Then I used the lightly curved colored in frame to fit on the right. I downloaded the logo and added it to the white side, then used the color to fill in the box on the right. I added text, 10, and made it white. And that’s it! I have buttons.

Gonna go make Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and Ibooks now.



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Failing on the Musings, Death and Alzheimer’s

My Mom died on May 26 due to complications from Alzheimer’s. I just don’t have the emotional energy right now to write about it on two separate blogs, but I do want to inform romance readers like I do dystopian readers. So here’s what I wrote on my other blog:

My Mom passed away last Friday. I got the call, but couldn’t make it in time to be there for her. I wanted to, because she was an atheist and I thought she must be terrified. I wanted to make it easier, but just like everything with this disease, easier is always questionable.

I thought on the way home, as I was crying and trying to drive, that I wished it was Tuesday again. Not Thursday, because the day before no matter what I did, I could not seem to ease her distress. But Tuesday, when she slept half the day. I was so sad. I felt so helpless. All I could do was hold her hand and it seemed like nothing at all. But on Friday, I wanted Tuesday back.

That’s how this disease is. You always want Tuesday back. Even the worst days of the “before” are better than the days of the “after”. I knew it at the time too. I knew when my mother would ramble on and she made no sense at all and introvert that I am, I was quickly exhausted trying to answer, that I would want those moments back. But even then, you don’t hold on to them long enough. You don’t live in the moment enough because there is always pain, often from remembering that other “before”.

You would also think that after all the years of tears that I would be mostly numb right now. I remember one terrible day driving home from a visit, crying in the car, sobbing to my mother who wasn’t there, that I couldn’t fix it. That no matter how hard, I couldn’t make the disease go away. I couldn’t get her back. And I was sorry that I’d failed her. I did–I do even now–feel like I failed her. You could tell me I didn’t. I could say I know, but no matter what, it sits in some dark place in my heart. I can no more get rid of that guilt and sadness than I can destroy the disease.

But those tears were not enough. I am so sad, hurt so much that I wish I could just rip my heart out of my chest and stop the pain. As I writer, I should be able to articulate why, I should be able to put the thoughts that bring this on into words, but I can’t. I don’t think; it just hits me. I’ve lost other people. My father, my stepfather, even my dog (who was a people, at least in his mind). They all hurt, but this is worse and I can’t say why.

This one thing, though, I do understand. I have been able to cry these last months on command. For no reason or whatever reason you wanted to create. I didn’t know why. It was weird. Now I do. It was this. It was the knowledge somewhere that I couldn’t dwell on it, that my mother way dying and I couldn’t fix it. Now it’s here and between the sobbing jags, I reach places where those tears have stopped. So that’s something.

And those are my thoughts for this week.

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Monday Musings, Why I Love Romance

Historical RomanceYeah, the picture is in no way representative of the someday book cover for this book. I created it just for a photo for this blog post. Here are the few paragraphs of my currently untitled historical romance, which is a good year and a half away from being finished.

Cathy Clifford could shoot a gun.

She’d learned three years previously, shortly after her dead fiancé’s brother tried to kill her. It only seemed prudent.

Unfortunately, she thought as she turned from the target, most men found her masculine talents intimidating, if not repulsive. She need look no further for an example than to Rupert Marston, who, for the last four days, had vied with blond-haired Scott Douglass for her attention, employing too-flattering remarks about her red curls and green eyes. She’d encouraged his attentions, hoping jealousy would compel Scott to act. Now, as smoke rose from the end of her gun, he backed away from her, his face creased in disgust. Obviously that little flirtation was over. No real loss there. Her stomach dropped, however, when she shifted her gaze to Scott.  He stared at her in astonished dismay. Would he withdraw his suit as well?

An unseasonably warm ocean breeze ruffled Cathy’s hair as she swept her eyes over the remainder of the assembled company—two servants, four women and four men, the last of whom Cole Chandler had invited to the back of his Newport estate for this little game of target practice. The women stood behind the men, all expertly dressed and coiffed, with parasols spread wide against the sun: silk and satin lawn ornaments on the expanse of lush green grass. They’d joined the shooting party to cheer the men on and exclaim over their questionable expertise.  Cathy had happily been one of them until she’d made the mistake of advising Cole on his aim. The next thing she knew, she’d left six bull eyes in the target and cradled a smoking rifle in her arms, while the collective group stared at her with varying degrees of alarm and censure. All but raven-haired Gabriel Keller who’d arrived just that morning and watched her speculatively.

After a second, his mouth curved into a tiny smile of admiration and he gave her an all-but-imperceptible nod of approval.


I started reading a new series, recommended by a friend of mine, the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. It’s interesting in that its premise is that the world uses magic. I know I’m going to like it, but I have one major problem–the main character, first person, is a man.

This is my epiphany–I’ve always read romance because the main character is a woman. I loved, loved, loved The Hunger Games for the same reason. It’s not a feminist thing (although I am a feminist). It’s that I identify stronger with a woman. Now mind you, most romances these days have both male and female points of view, but for all that the woman gets do “do stuff.” And I like that. When I read, I want to go on adventures. When I write, I want to go on adventures. And I want to do it, at least part of the time, as a woman. Most of the time, to do that, I choose historical romances.

I did not know I was doing this a a kid. I went from reading books about animals–Call of the Wild, The Black Stallion–to books about people when my mother handed me one. Victoria Holt, On The Night of the Seventh Moon, one of my all-time favorites. I loved it. I read it fast and later I read it slowly, just to sink into the story. I thought it was because of the romantic elements; I was all of 13 and entering the period of my life in which boys were all important and yet pretty foreign.

Now, decades later, I’m not so sure.

Definitely romance was a big thing in that book, and in all of Holt’s books and Mary Stewarts and Phyllis Whitney, which I went on to. But also a murder mystery. I came to believe that the mystery was also what I loved. When I started writing, it was with a mystery in every story. To this day, I cannot write a book without a dead body. I’ve tried, but I’m bored in 10 pages.

But that’s not the only reason I loved those books, either.

It’s the adventure. In On The Night Of the Seventh Moon, the heroine is almost seduced by the hero. I don’t remember it well now, but she ends up in the middle of castle intrigue in Bavaria. I think it’s Bavaria. What I remember now, many years later, is how exciting that was, to “be” the heroine in the middle of castle intrigue. Nothing I’d read had ever put women in that role.

I saw that very rarely as a child of the 60’s and 70’s. Consider that this was a time when having Lieutenant Uhura on the bridge in Star Trek was radical. Not just a woman, but a black woman, with a large, active role in a sci-fi story about exploring “strange new worlds.” But, in order to do that, she had to wear short skirts and be a communications’ officer. Heaven forbid we let a woman be science-y. The pilot of the show had a female doctor wearing pants like everybody else. To televise a series, that had to go.

So I read Holt’s books and got to be a woman adventurer. In the first Mary Stewart book I read–still one of my favorite all-time books–Nine Coaches Waiting, I got to save an awkward and lovable kid from his evil uncle. I did it (as the reader) with a great deal of courage and thought. Yes, in most of these books and in the books I wrote, the hero often “saved the day” but he never did it without the heroine being a big, big part of the adventure.

I read those books and went on to romances with sex which was even more fun. Wow, women could have sex in books and have adventures? Sign me up! Sweet Savage Love, the heroine travels through the Wild West and becomes part of Mexican War (and is also, I realized when I tried to read it a few years back, one of the most selfish heroines in the history of the genre). The Flame and The Flower, the heroine travels on ship and ends up on an early American plantation. Woodiwiss’s heroines aren’t always particularly active, but as a reader, I did get to go on adventures. In pretty much all of Laurie McBain’s books  the heroine engages in some pretty adventurous stuff. Highway men and stuff. Lots of fun!

And now, it’s many years later. The first “modern” kickass woman, Princess Leia, is now decades old. So is Agent Scully from the X-files. Kickass women in movies happens far more regularly. We have series with women detectives who shoot guns (Castle) and movies with women fighting back against men who abuse them. We have Rogue One, and a female heroine in the last three of The Star Wars series, and we have The Hunger Games and Divergent. I love it all. We are still a long way from equal in heroic roles, but women now have many different genres to enjoy strong, adventurous roles in. We’ve come a long way.

For me, I will finish with my Post Plague Series, and I’ll write historicals, because that’s where I’m comfortable. I love history. But for everybody who denigrates romance as keeping women in sterotypical roles–the history of the genre is the opposite. It gave women like me, and continues to give women a place to go where we can be heroes in fantasy world to prepare us to be heroes in the real world.

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