Real Estate

They were an adorable young couple. Bright-eyed, eager, excited. The guy was a redhead and definitely chuffed to be scouting for a new home. His companion was quieter, but looked determined. The weather was warm and full of spring promise: a perfect time for house-hunting.

They arrived at our property, almost quivering with excitement and we greeted them with smiles. As they darted about, looking over everything, we knew they were liking what we had to offer. Yes, there are some drawbacks to our place. We have pets, for instance, and nothing we do seems to keep the crows from our neighborhood, so there’s noise, sometimes. Occasionally, we hear sirens from the nearby fire department or the busy street a mile away. But all in all, it’s a nice location with old trees and many plants, including a blackberry bush and some apple trees, even a big sunflower. A fenced yard for the kiddos.

I think having a family was on their minds. They had that look in their eyes, like they had a special secret between them that was more than young love. They were shy about speaking of it, but I’m a mom. I know that air when I see it.

It surprised us when they indicated that cost was not an issue. Yes, some things weren’t ideal and they might have to make some adjustments, but I could see their hearts had already been engaged. He looked to his little partner and she kept nodding. She looked at him and he seemed to puff up a little. They were ready to deal. Heck, they were ready to move in, right then and there.

And that’s when it got a little weird. Before a deal was made, they went out for a bit, then came back with building materials. We tried to reason with them, to tell them to wait and check with their agents or whatever but they refused. They wanted this spot and only this spot. Without another peep, they began to build an addition onto our house.

We were flabbergasted! We tried everything we could think of, short of turning the hoses on them, to get them to cease and desist. I mean, they were obviously just kids and didn’t know any better. We let the pets loose. We made noises. We put up threatening pictures in the windows. We ran the electric awnings back and forth, back and forth, every time they approached. But they persisted. They had staked their claim and were bent on getting that new nursery built before things started hatching. We could have called the cops, but that seemed too extreme.

Finally, we gave up. Nothing was going to drive away this pair. We watched as she sailed back and forth, quiet as ever. He was much clumsier, bless his heart, and kept running into things. Building materials drifted down and settled in the yard as they went about their project. We took down the pictures and left the awnings alone. They had moved in, lock, stock, and lumber.

Now, they’re getting quieter. He goes for take out most days and she hangs around the house, settling in. We’ve made our peace.

Once the eggs hatch, it might not be so peaceful, of course. We’ll have to wait and see. House finches may not be the best judges of real estate–I mean, between two giant awnings, really?–but they don’t give up. All hail the biological imperatives of spring!

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A Freezing Curse

An excerpt from my medieval romance, WINTER’S KNIGHT:370px-Design_for_a_metalwork_book_cover,_by_Hans_Holbein_the_Younger

Somerset, England  September 1364

“I have naught to offer you, sir knight.”

Edmund peered at the old woman at the table. Dim and dirt-grimed, the interior of her shabby hut felt overheated and stifling. The tallow candle on the nearby ledge created more shadows than light. It was a fitting home for the ragged crone before him.

“Rumor says you’re skilled in charms and cures. I seek a remedy.”

“Who are you?” Her faded blue eyes were sharp.

“Edmund of Beckthwaite.” He waited to see if she recognized the name. It wasn’t likely but some had heard the name, a very few. Some just knew The Winter’s Knight.

“And?” she prompted.

He reeled off the story he’d repeated down the decades. “I was born in the year of our Lord 1117. I bear a curse. I freeze every living thing I touch. Moreover, I never age. I cannot be killed, and I cannot kill myself.” He peered at her, chin up, daring her to laugh, as some did. Or shriek, as did others.

“I’ve naught to offer you, Edmund of Beckthwaite.” Her tone was matter of fact.

The woman watched him, her gnarled hands resting on the rickety table between them. Her home stank of bitter herbs and years of cooking messes. Not a promising place for a need as great as Edmund’s. Still, he had to ask. If there was a chance as slim as a blade of grass, he would ask, but now it seemed he needn’t have bothered.

His ears filled with a rushing, temple-throbbing noise, the too-familiar sound of his hope draining away. He’d expected the answer to be no, yet there was always a bitter moment when he realized he’d allowed himself to have hope, only to have it dashed to bits. As always, rage followed on the heels of disappointment. He should know better. Nearly two and half centuries and everything he’d tried had been a failure. Most often, the people peddling these cures were thieving bastards who seized his money and sent him away with some useless nostrum or charm. The only difference with this crone was she was honest; she’d admitted at the outset that she could not help him. He rose to leave. She lifted a hand.

“Yet, sir, there is a book.”


It’s All Grist for the Mill

I suspect every writer has snippets of ideas, or lines or phrases, or descriptions they’ve gathered and have stashed away for later use. Maybe they’re on cocktail napkins, maybe they’re in a nice, organized file. Maybe they just rattle around in our brains, tickling our fancies. But they’re there, murmuring to us every now and then, saying “You want me. You know you do.”

And I do want them. Some of them eventually make it onto the page. Many others are still in the desk drawer, so to speak. I love them, but I can’t always shoe-horn them into a current work in progress, much as I’d like to. So, they have to wait. They may never make it into a book but I plan to be patient and watch for the opportunity.

Here are a few that are tugging at me today:

Overheard in an airport queue: “The boy has all the patience of a burning house.” As the mother of sons, I say, yes, mostly.

Words of wisdom from a friend: “Never dance in a tight blanket.” Self-evident, right?

From my teaching days: “In this debate, it was all either black or white. There was no gray matter in between.” I think we’ve all heard that same debate at one time or another. Maybe more often than we’d like.

From a recent magazine column: “I have now added a night cream to my beauty regiment.” Them’s fightin’ words. Was the cream drafted or did it volunteer?

My own words after my first book had arrived in the hands of the knowledgeable: “As God is my witness, I thought horses could throw up.” Do your research. Take nothing for granted.

What my father laughingly claimed my mother used to mutter over a hot ironing board: “You want starch? You got starch!” Never mind the big burn spot over the pocket of your shirt, Dad…

Information from a woman who once accosted my mom on the street: “The Soviets are planning to steal the Polaris submarine tonight, with the help of the Oceano Beach Volunteer Fire Department.” She was having a rough Cold War, obviously.

Old Scandinavian adage: “There’s no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothing.” Some fashionistas would no doubt agree.

This is one I did add to HOUSE PROUD: “I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. I was pushed.” I confess, it’s true.

Around our house: “Cosmic Location Services to the rescue.” When it turns out your sunglasses were on your head the whole time. That’s probably never happened to you, though, eh?

I have more dramatic, more novel-typical ideas for characters, plot, etc., waiting to be used, but these little bits of verbal oddness are still clamoring for attention. I hope they’ll get their turn soon.

Anybody else have some of these gems rolling about in their brain?

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to This Post

I was setting out to do a post about the book that made me want to write romance novels. On the way, something very interesting happened. A fun sort of coincidence of stars, perhaps?

The book that made me fall in love with romances was this one: 140Kathleen Woodiwiss’ medieval romance, THE WOLF AND THE DOVE was the first romance of its kind that I ever read and I was enchanted. The story of Aislinn and Wulfgar was such fun and so surprisingly appealing that I was hooked. I handed that copy around to girlfriend after girlfriend (we were all impoverished students at the time so we shared) until I finally had to retire the battered edition to my bookshelf lest it crumble away from too much handling. When my friends finished it, they invariably had big grins on their faces. They and I went on to read many more.

A few years later, I was supposed to be writing my doctoral dissertation but was sidetracked by the idea of a medieval romance and the fact that I had a computer/word processor for the first time. It was so easy to write on that box! No paper, no Wite-Out, no waiting. It all just started to flow. I never did write that dissertation, but I wrote, and sold, this book, instead:2799951

SILVER AND SAPPHIRE was a love-letter, of sorts, to Woodiwiss and THE WOLF AND THE DOVE. It was a delight to write and of course I was so proud that it became my first published book. The story of Ariane and Tristan was out in the world, with a lovely cover, at that.

Jump ahead to the present day, when I went looking for the exact cover art from THE WOLF AND THE DOVE that I had back in the day (evidently it’s a rare edition; or maybe everyone else wore theirs into dust, too). In my search, I came across this:

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How amazing is that? The German edition of THE WOLF AND THE DOVE sports the very same cover as my first book. Now, I love all these covers. Woodiwiss’ original Avon edition featured art by the talented Harry Bennet, who did such exquisite covers for many, many books. My cover was done by the equally amazing artist, John Ennis. But how weird that the cover of my book, inspired by Woodiwiss’, should end up as the cover of THE WOLF AND THE DOVE? Some might say I should be insulted to have my cover co-opted in that way. Really? Not me. I couldn’t be more delighted at this odd meeting of these two books. Somehow, it seems like a circle fulfilled.

Kathleen Woodiwiss passed away in 2007. She will be remembered for the joy she brought to her many fans but also as a pioneer in the romance genre, when she decided she wasn’t going to close the bedroom door on all that passion, dang it. When she made sure we knew that the conquering Norman, Wulfgar, figured out how much he needed a strong, feisty woman like Saxon Aislinn in his life.

There are those who believe romances denigrate and enslave women in a fantasy of happily ever after solely because of the presence of a male in their lives. I beg to differ. I just don’t think we can brush off millions of women as deluded and misled. Far from enslaving women in a fantasy world, Woodiwiss’ work, and other writers of her generation, in my humble opinion, form a cultural marker in the story of the more open way women in the last half of the 20th century began to think and speak and write about relationships and their own sexuality. They reflected women’s bid for sexual freedom and equality at a very grass roots level. As books that are primarily written and read by women, they were, and are, part of a dialog about who we and who we can become. I’m honored to be part of that tradition and to share this little connection with one of my favorite books. Such a cool co-inky-dink.

As fighter Sonny Liston once said: “Life a funny thing.” Amen to that.

All Houses Are Haunted

Work in Progress: An excerpt from HOUSE PROUD, the first in the Ros Bedford cozy mystery series. farmhouse-on-coastal-plains-at-dusk_w725_h483

All houses are haunted. Oh, maybe not at first, when they’re not much more than nails and lumber. And, no, I don’t mean that all houses carry revenants or spooks determined to exact some sort of revenge upon the living. Nothing all ectoplasmic like that. But once a house is inhabited, when people start living in it, then the events, the quality, the tenor of those lives start to soak into the walls and floors and the house becomes haunted with the echoes of that particular past. Tumults and trials, setbacks and triumphs, all are part of the patina that time gives to an old house.

Sometimes it’s lovely sort of haunting, with a comfortable, sink-into-an-armchair sense of peace and of lives well-lived. Those don’t get noticed so much. Other times, it can be turbulent or sad or plain irritating. Then it gets troublesome.

My name is Rosalynde Bedford and I’m a house historian. People hire me to research the history of their older homes or buildings to find out who used to inhabit them, what events took place there, or what role they may have played in the history of their town, state, or even country. The tools of my trade include deeds, old city directories, architectural guides, census records, and even old fire insurance maps. The people who hire me want to know if their house is significant, or notorious, or notable in some way. Many of them want to have their homes listed on the National or State Registers of Historic Buildings. More often than not, they also want to know if George Washington slept there, if it was a bootlegger’s hideaway, or if it was the site of some famous–or infamous–event. You have no idea how many people are delighted to learn that their new home was once a bordello. I guess you could say my job is to first figure out how and why a house is haunted, at least according to my definition of haunting. Then it’s up to me to tell the story of how it all happened.

That was why I was hired to research the old house up on Sunset Ridge. And, while I was looking for skeletons in the closet; I wasn’t prepared to find a dead body in an upstairs bedroom.

Love and Death

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Death Tarot card, circa 1450

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The Lovers Tarot Card, circa 1450

Interesting phenomenon: I’ve written and published romance novels for some time. For many people, when I tell them I write romances, they’re happy to hear it, they love a love story, where can they get my books, and what do I read, and so forth. It’s a delight and I’m always deeply grateful that they’re even interested. There are also those who couldn’t care less what I do for a living, as long as we share some other bond. Or they couldn’t care less, period. It’s all okay with me.

Certain others, though, react as if I’ve just told them I extort money at gunpoint from the elderly and disabled. Or that I wash my feet in the sinks in public restrooms. Okay, maybe not that extreme. But the news makes them blink and stammer and look away. Not wishing to make them more uncomfortable, and because I’m gonna write what I wanna write, regardless, I don’t pursue it.

Counterpoint: I tell those same stammering people I write mysteries. I can almost see them sag with relief. Oh, that’s better. She’s not writing THOSE books anymore. Now I can tell my friends what she does for a living. Again, not a real problem for me personally. You don’t get into writing for publication if you’re too thin-skinned to get knocked about.

Yet, the situation begs the question: why is it more acceptable to some folks to read or write about our fellow human beings getting bludgeoned to death than it is to write about people falling in love? Is it the love story part that makes romances anathema to them? All that emotional stuff? The gooshy stuff, the passion? Is it just about the sex? Just the tired old notion that all romances are simply dreck?

I know why I like mysteries but sometimes I think, what am I doing, writing about murdering people? Is it the satisfaction of offing someone in my fantasies? Is it the thrill of putting someone in jeopardy? How do we weigh death and loss against love and life in relationship with another person?

There have been myriad articles written complaining that romance writing gets no respect. I understand that point of view. It stings to have your work dissed in some corners. However, I say to my fellow romance authors, let it roll off your back, love your many fans, and if you have to, weep all the way to the bank. Romance isn’t going away. Neither are mysteries. I’m also not getting into the relative literary merits of romance vs. mystery novels. Quality varies across every genre. This blog post isn’t about that issue. It’s just me working at the puzzle of why romance unnerves some but murder makes them feel at home.

If I begin to write, say, hard science fiction, how would that fit into the mix? I have some friends who’ll never relax until I write children’s books. (Which, by the way, I consider one of the toughest genres to write!) For others, I’m not a real writer until I craft a lofty literary work that sells five copies but somehow leaves my spirit unsullied.

I don’t have the answers. The only reasonable response to it might be: Go fig. Maybe I’ll take a survey someday and see what comes up. In the mean time, I’m content to be intrigued. Like the comic used to say: Humans is the craziest peoples! That’s why I like to write about ’em.

Random Thoughts

The Web is a wonderful thing. Type anything into a search engine and chances are you’ll find hundreds, if not thousands of entries for your topic. As a writer, I can’t tell you how much time I’ve saved on trips to libraries or how much money I’ve saved by not having to purchase reference books, where are sometimes rare and real dang spendy. I still love libraries and real books, but I often lack the time or the cash. The Internet is a real blessing for writers. A big thank you to those who share solid information, available to all.

One of the most entertaining things I’ve found on the web is the random generator. I’m a big fan of them for plot, character names, world building and more. There’s something about going to a website, typing in, choosing, or clicking on something and almost instantly receiving new ideas. Okay, I admit, I rarely use what comes up, but they attract me and sometimes I find they trigger something that inspires me in my writing.

Are random generators cheating? I don’t think so. After all, they cannot do the writing for you. They can’t edit. They can’t proof-read or critique. In no way can they insure that your writing will be published, or even be worth putting out there.

But, damn, they’re fun. And the sheer absurdity of many of the results is a delight.

Here are few samples from some of my favorite RGs

*From the Really Random Plot-O-Tron, Traditional Fantasy Edition: A mad orc decides to find a set of mystical objects with the help of an assortment of fruits and vegetables. www.springhole.net/writing

*From Seventh Sanctum, Magical Objects: The Scimitar of Deadly Generosity   http://www.seventhsanctum.com

*From The Shakespearean Insulter: “There’s no more faith in thee than in a stewed prune.” Henry V  http://www.pangloss.com/seidel/Shaker

*From the Writers Storyline and Plot Idea Generator: An imaginary friend has limited time to hunt for a chocolate factory. http://writers-den.pantomimepony.co.uk

*Fictional Character Name Generator: Male–Vidal Sporacker  Female–Kitty Croopbucket http://www.jimwegryn.com

*The Advertising Slogan Generator: Entry word “mystery” There’s No Wrong Way to Eat a Mystery http://www.thesurrealist.co.uk

*Random Sentence Generator:  The reaction founds the blue approval. http://www.wordgenerator.net/random-sentence-generator

To all of you boffins and mavens out there who create these tools, again, big hats off! Check ‘em out. They might prove Really Useful for you. If nothing else, you’ll be amused.

With love, Laverne Lurtnoodle, who reminds you to:

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