Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Seven, part two

American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend, Tory returns home to the United States, daydreaming of the handsome Dutchman.  To her surprise, Max arrives in Tory's New Hampshire village a few weeks later!

Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve - Installment Thirteen - Installment Fourteen - Installment Fifteen - Installment Sixteen - Installment Seventeen - Installment Eighteen - Installment Nineteen - Installment Twenty - Installment 21 - Installment 22

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

Jaap, sitting composed and silent in the passenger seat, was thinking also.  He had seen several sophisticated young women come and go in the doctor’s life.  He remembered one – Juffrouw van Trott, wasn’t it? – whom he’d overheard complaining, “You’re like something from the past, Max.  Frozen in time.”  That particular lady was ambitious professionally and socially, Jaap had thought, with no interest in rearing children; the van den Nies ran toward large and loving families.  Even the occasional girlfriend with babies on the brain seemed to see much to change in Maximilan.  Jaap acknowledged his prejudice, but he thought there was no need for his boss to take a spin class, modernize the elegant townhouse in Amsterdam, get rid of his dogs, or take any of the other actions pressed on him by various acquaintances.
As they arrived at Josh Brown’s polyglot cabin-mansion, Jaap remarked, “A lovely holiday, sir, and a delightful family.  Miss Tory perhaps especially.”
“Yes,” replied his employer.  “I agree, Jaap.  A delightfully old-fashioned girl.”
“But, Mr. Max,” exclaimed the housekeeper, “I was just thinking that yours are old-fashioned ways.”  Immediately he regretted the outburst, which suggested too close an interest in private matters.  Max just laughed, though, a rueful chuckle, and entered the house looking thoughtful.  He automatically turned on his phone; his lovely manners ensured he turned it off when attending social events, and good sense left it off when he was driving.  His mother had left a message asking that he call as soon as possible, “but no emergency,” she added.  Given the time difference, he proposed to wait until morning, and slept soundly through the night.
Setting down the telephone the next day, he was glad to have Saturday free from work pressure.  His mother had set a knotty problem before him.  “Of course, you needn’t trouble yourself with this,” she had said, introducing the subject after a brief exchange of news.  “You know Mrs. Nepala – Luisa – who came from South Africa with the De Groots?  She cared for Christina from babyhood.  Now she’s in Paris, with Mevrouw and Minjheer de Groot, and quite old.  Christina came to visit recently, and I asked after her.  I got the impression that Mrs. Nepala is elderly, not well and homesick.  She left all her children behind her, and sees them no more than once every few years.  And she’s quite arthritic.  Dearest, I know you and Christina are friendly, but I have never been comfortable that that family behaves as they ought to their household.  Christina spoke as if she was deeply concerned, but she does not seem prepared to do anything to address the situation.”
Max broke in before his mother began one of her digressions.  “What is it you think I ought to do?” he asked.
“That’s just what I don’t know,” his mother declared.  “But it sounds as if Mrs. Nepala would quite like to go home and spend her last years with her children and grandchildren, and I think there’s a great-grandchild or two.  But the De Groots seem to have no inclination to help her get there.”
“I remember her very well, of course,” he replied.  “I’ll give it some thought, and see whether I can come up with some solution.  It will need to be delicately done, I can see.”  He then described his Thanksgiving to a singularly interested parent – leaving out a few of the details, of course.  Hanging up with the usual assurances of mutual love, he knew he would need to get in touch with Christina before drawing any plans for Mrs. Nepala’s assistance.
He felt oddly reluctant to telephone his childhood friend, who had grown up to be a convenient and amusing companion for the occasional evening out.  There had never been more between Christina and him, but lately Max had felt some pressure to see more of her.  As she slipped into her thirties, she seemed to be deciding to move beyond the brief romances she had enjoyed with several very eligible men.  Settling down was the ‘right’ thing for a member of the adel – the Netherlands’ very minor aristocracy – to do at her age, and Max sometimes wondered if she had an eye on him as an appropriate husband.  He hoped not; they were clearly mis-matched in important ways, but it would be sadly awkward to have to point that out to an old friend.  Still, he remembered Mrs. Nepala fondly and wanted to help – he could handle Christina if necessary.  Never one to shirk a difficult task, he found Christina’s number and dialed.
He raised the subject of the elderly nanny and housekeeper with tremendous tact.  Christina confirmed that Mrs. Nepala hoped to return to her home town, now in the young nation of Namibia, formerly part of the country of South Africa.  “Mother and Father no longer find her useful in the flat,” she elucidated.  “But they’ve allowed her to stay on there, as the provisions in France for elderly immigrants are unacceptable for such a valued servant, after so many years.  She’s never saved up any of her salary; instead she sent most of her money back to Otjiwarongo.  As she’s not a European citizen, there’s no pension available.  My parents would gladly pay her airfare to Windhoek, but she is afraid to travel alone, and she’s horribly arthritic.  Her hands, Max, are simply frightful.  I hate to look at them.  And now she’s been diagnosed with something quite dreadful – I think a heart condition of some sort.”
“Why, Christina,” Max said, playing a part, “I wonder if I might assist.  I have a good friend in that part of the world who has asked me to visit a clinic he runs outside Windhoek.  I am planning to join him in a week or two, when I finish up here in New Hampshire.  It would be a simple matter to arrange my flight through Paris, and provide Mrs. Nepala an escort.”
“Max, how much too kind of you.  I must look at my own schedule and see whether I could arrange to join you.  I’ve been asked to chair a gala committee for a St. Nikolaas Day ball, but I’m sure we could work out something that would allow us to travel together.”
Max murmured indistinctly, and made a mental note to try to plan his travel to encompass the saint’s day.  He knew what kind of a traveler Christina was, and with an elderly patient to attend to, he had no wish to have to cater to the younger woman’s whims and demands as well.  Offering his regards to her parents, he ended the conversation and began his planning in earnest.
Meticulous and well-traveled, Max was an expert at organizing his trips.  However, the needs of a timid, elderly and arthritic companion added complications to this effort.  He pondered the possibilities as he reviewed his work schedule and made the necessary adjustments.  He considered asking Jaap to accompany him, to help ensure Mrs. Nepala’s comfort, but a woman’s company would be far preferable in public accommodations.  His mother was awaiting the birth of Joke’s first child, and his youngest sister, Pleane, would be more of a nuisance than a help.  Nanny Winton was of advanced age herself, and Sitska, his cook, was a nervous traveler.  Idly, he pulled out a leaf of writing paper and began a bread-and-butter note to the Bird family.
Here was another complication, he thought.  Tory would be the perfect travel companion, of course.
By the following afternoon, he still hadn’t thought of any better solution to his dilemma, nor even one almost as good.  Wishing he could have brought one of his dogs with him to the U.S., to provide encouragement and diversion on his presumptuous errand, he headed off for the farmhouse to make his proposal.  He found the family gathered around the coffee table in an atmosphere of distraction.  Nonetheless, they welcomed him warmly; Professor Bird thrust a mug of tea into his hand, and Emma put a couple of cheese straws and a pumpkin custard on a plate for him.  Dr. Bird, Jane and Aunt Lindy were discussing when the traffic on route 93 would be worst.  Tory smiled from the rocking chair, her excuse for not rising to greet him when he entered was obvious:  both Fiona and Titus were curled up on her lap.
No one questioned his arrival in the family circle, and Max was quite content to bide his time.  Conversation ebbed and flowed for 20 minutes before the twins leapt up and began berating each other for delaying their departure.  Tory, Max was amused to see, stayed right where she was as the bustle of departure began.  “Don’t get up,” Emma insisted, unnecessarily, and swooped in for a goodbye kiss.  Neil did the same, and the doctor stood to shake hands with them both.  They flew out together, accompanied by Jane and their parents and Great Aunt Lindy, while Tory continued her gentle rocking.
“I am hoping for a word with you,” Max said to her.  “I’ve come to beg a favor.”
“Oh, sure,” Tory said, “anything.  I’m happy to help.”  Max smiled at her easy agreement.  “Not so quick,” he cautioned.  “This is international travel and a private nursing job, not just ‘could you water the plants,’ or whatever you’re thinking.”  He grinned, then; her friend Max.  With sudden, devastating clarity she realized friendship was not at all what she wanted from this man.  “Oh, dear,” slipped from her thoughts to her mouth, and Max looked alarmed at the real dismay he heard.
“Tory, I’d no thought of upsetting you.  Of course I can make other arrangements, as my proposal distresses you.”
“Oh, no,” she exclaimed.  “Not that.  I was thinking of something else.  Do tell – what’s your, um, proposal?”
Before he could explain, or delve further, Dr. and Professor Bird and their eldest returned to the living room.  He turned to Tory to ask, “Shall I explain?”
“Max wants me to do some private nursing,” Tory told the other three, while her thoughts spun madly, returning over and over to the key idea, ‘I love you.’  The revelation having burst on her so powerfully, she was sure she would agree to whatever he asked.  ‘I really love him,’ she thought again, with a feeling of awed wonder she struggled to keep from her face.  “With international travel,” she added aloud, impressed by her ability – she hoped – to seem normal despite her churning emotions.
Her mother looked thoughtful, Dad unaffected, and Jane a trifle wary.  “Where are you going?” Mother asked.
“A bit of background,” Max began, and gave them the bare bones of Mrs. Nepala’s story, without getting into the specifics of the De Groot family’s response to their housekeeper’s plight.  “As I need to visit a friend in Namibia, I’m planning to route my trip through Paris next week, meet Mrs. Nepala there and escort her to her home.  Given the exigencies of international travel, and her retiring disposition and frail health, I hoped Tory might accompany us and help ensure her comfort.  We’ll be able to fly directly to Paris, but then will need the long flight to Johannesburg, and a change of planes there for the shorter flight to Windhoek, and rather a long and bumpy drive to her village.  I know Luisa will be more comfortable, physically and emotionally, if there are two of us to attend to her needs, and my friends and family all have other commitments at the moment.  Of course I thought of Tory, but I shall understand entirely if you’re not able to assist, especially at such short notice.”
Tory was still reeling from her sudden up-rush of emotional awareness, and Max’s words had added visions of zebras, giraffes and the sandy expanses of savannah to the images of Max and a hopeful family dancing in her head.  “I’d love to help,” she agreed quickly.  “I’ll talk to Dr. Bachman first thing tomorrow.  Janice is usually happy to re-join the team when I’m away, and especially just before Christmas.  So I’ll let you know by noon.  I’ll need a visa, right?”
“I can take care of that,” Max promised, “if you’ll get me your passport information via e-mail tomorrow.  The De Groots will cover your travel costs, including local currency for incidentals.  I shall see to all the tickets and accommodation, and hope you need do nothing to prepare for the trip other than pack.  May I propose we plan to spend three or four days in Namibia?  My friend Everard will be able to arrange a brief visit to one of the national parks, where we might spot some of the more exotic wildlife.”
Everyone sat silent for a moment, mildly stunned by the rapid pace of developments, but Tory’s father continued the focus on the practical aspects of a sudden trip to a distant land.  “Malaria isn’t an issue in the drier parts of southwestern Africa,” he noted, “but we’ll check on the specific areas you’re visiting and get you started on Atovaquone if necessary.  Are you up to date on typhoid and hepatitis?”  Tory nodded assurance, thinking of the careful entries in her travel medicine booklet.
“Winter in Paris, summer in Namibia,” her mother contributed.  “Any idea when the rainy season is?” she asked Max.  He smiled ruefully.
“It’s just starting,” he admitted.  “And while the days will be hot, I believe the nights can be on the cool side, though obviously not as cold as Paris will be.  Tory,” he said, standing and holding out both hands to her, “I can never thank you enough for your generous help, nor apologize sufficiently for asking this of you, with so little notice.  You have eased my mind considerably, though, and I believe you will be of invaluable assistance to a wonderful woman, who will benefit enormously from being able, at last, to go home.”
She put her own hands into his with the trust of a child, vaguely noticing how small they looked settling into his vast and comforting grip.  “I’m happy to help,” she assured him, smiling up guilelessly.  “It sounds like it could be great fun, and I look forward to meeting your friend.”
At that, Max took his leave of the family, and as she heard the door close behind him, Tory dropped back onto the couch in amazement.  Her mundane life seemed, suddenly, truly extraordinary.  It wasn’t the sudden trip to the world capital of romance, with a whirlwind tour of a young and fascinating country as well.  Instead, she was astonished to find herself deeply, genuinely in love at last.  She considered the implications and suddenly realized she would need to resign herself to the life of a spinster aunt; Max had made clear that she wasn’t his type, and she knew very well indeed that he wasn’t a good match for her.  She consoled herself with the thought that she could look forward to some delicious daydreams, though!
Meanwhile, back in the here-and-now, Jane was looking at her in a way that promised a serious talk, soon.  Their parents having walked down the hall to settle into their shared office, looking up Namibian culture and health risks according to inclination, Tory took the initiative with Jane.  “Paris,” she said enthusiastically.  “I hope I get a few minutes to climb to the roof at Notre Dame.”
Jane chuckled at her little sister’s opening gambit.  “You’re okay with this, Tory?  Really?  I’m sure he can find a travel nurse, or I can find one for him.  Are you going to be okay traveling with him, for at least a week?  This is one seriously mixed message, given what you told us Friday.  You’re just friends; you won’t be alone with him – and suddenly you’re jauntering off to romantic Paris together, and going on a cozy safari.”
“But you can tell he’s not thinking of it as anything romantic, right?” Tory checked with Jane.  “He’s so obviously just thinking about how he can get this task accomplished, and I could be anyone or no one or a robot for all he cares.  He just wants someone who can accompany an old lady to the bathroom at the airport.”  They both laughed then.  If she had any remaining reservations, Jane packed them into her overnight case and took them with her when she and Great Aunt Lindy drove away after dinner.
Tory had packing of her own to do, obviously.  First she had to pack up her ridiculous romantic notions and consign them to an emotional attic.  That wasn’t possible, of course; her feeling for Max was strong.  However, as a rational creature, she could tell herself that her sudden epiphany on Sunday afternoon didn’t really represent some mystical experience of true love.  A few days of excitement, constant activity and family reunions, a warm fire and a couple of pretty memorable kisses, combined with an overactive imagination, had resulted in an intense surge of feeling.  By Monday afternoon, she thought she could already feel it passing off.  Minutes later, she could feel it returning, as strong as ever.  So she redirected her thoughts to the wardrobe she needed to pack – Dr. Bachman had booked Janice to cover for her without difficulty, and encouraged her to assist Max, for whom he had developed a strong liking and respect.
So Tory turned her attention to actual packing.  She needed to figure out a wardrobe suitable for winter in Paris, a hot safari with bouts of heavy rain, and several long airplane rides, and fit all of it into a carry-on.  Fortunately, her hiking clothes would cover the Namibian part of the journey, and two pair of convertible nylon trouser-shorts, three technical fiber t-shirts, a wide-brimmed hat and a rain jacket squashed into the bare minimum of space.  With space on her mind, she opted for sturdy sneakers instead of her hiking boots, and added several pair of socks and a couple of sports bras.  She always threw a swimsuit into her suitcase – it took so little room, and she’d been caught once, in a Louisiana heat wave, without one.
Tory was never an avid follower of fashion, but when she wasn’t hiking (or biking, gardening, working...), she enjoyed dressing well.  She hung her go-to outfit for long plane rides in the closet:  a loose-fitting, loosely-knit dress with deep pockets in tiny checks of violet and black, black cotton leggings, a deeper purple, oversized jacket and low boots.  The dress and leggings were as comfortable as pajamas but a lot more stylish, and the boots were comfortable for city walking.  She could mix them up with tan tweed slacks or a gray twill skirt, and added a cream pullover and the lavender cashmere twinset Jane gave her on her last birthday.  That would give her enough to create a variety of outfits for several days.  She tucked in her jewelry bag, with a few pairs of earrings and a string of semi-precious beads in many colors.
Her big purse – the ‘personal item’ allowed by the airlines – held her toiletry kit, a long sleep-shirt, khaki slacks and a blue-gray sweater.  It also had room for a couple of magazines, her e-reader, a ziplock bag of trail mix and a smaller travel purse, with wallet and other necessities. Finally, Tory added two spoons and a cup specially designed for arthritic hands.  She had taken them, with Dr. Bachman’s blessing, from the office patient-care packages.  She would have liked to add the fork and knife as well, but knew those would cause problems at security!
It seemed amazing, but just one week after Thanksgiving, she was driving down to Boston with her parents – they on their way back to Turkey, she on her way to Africa.  She was to meet Max at the airport for an evening flight, and on Friday morning, they would be in Paris.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Lady

via email (I'm posting the pictures extra large!!):


I am a recent fan of Betty Neels and your blog!  

While at a thrift store recently I came across something I thought you might be interested in--an old copy of the magazine "The Lady", where so many of our later heroines looked for jobs, placed ads in a desperate attempt to get away from a RDD, etc.

It is an older copy of the magazine, from May of 1963, so it wouldn't have been one used by our Aramintas, looking for that caretaker/housekeeper job that just might end in marriage to a rich doctor, but I bet it is pretty similar to the magazines of later years.

I have attached four pictures from the magazine, including the cover, an advertisement page, a sample of job ads, and some listings for student nurse positions.

I hope they are as interesting to you as they were to me.

Betty Melissa

Dear Betty Melissa,

The ads here are so awesome! 
I definitely need a "relaxator" and I'm dying to know if "Miss Smallwood's Society" is legit.

I had to google the royal wedding referred to on the cover, and here's a snippet from Wikipedia:

 Princess Alexandra, The Honourable Lady Ogilvy  (Alexandra Helen Elizabeth Olga Christabel; born 25 December 1936) is the youngest granddaughter of King George V and Queen Mary..
...Princess Alexandra was born on 25 December 1936 at 3 Belgrave Square, London. Her father was The Prince George, Duke of Kent, the fourth son ofGeorge V and Queen Mary. Her mother was Princess Marina of Greece and Denmark, a daughter of Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark and Grand Duchess Elena Vladimirovna of Russia. She was named after her paternal great-grandmother, Queen Alexandra, her maternal grandmother, Princess Nicholas of Greece and Denmark, and both of her maternal aunts, Countess Karl Theodor of Törring-Jettenbach and Princess Paul of Yugoslavia. She received the name Christabel because she was born on Christmas Day like her aunt by marriage Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester.
As a male-line granddaughter of the British monarch, she was styled as a British princess with the prefix Her Royal Highness. At the time of her birth, she was sixth in the line of succession to the British throne...
... On 24 April 1963, she married the Hon Angus James Bruce Ogilvy (1928–2004), the second son of the 12th Earl of Airlie and Lady Alexandra Coke, at Westminster Abbey. The wedding ceremony was attended by the Royal Family and was broadcast worldwide on television, watched by an estimated 200 million people.
Ogilvy declined the Queen's offer of an earldom upon marriage. This meant that any children they might have would carry no titles at all.
Congratulations on your fabulous find, and thank you so much for sharing it with us!

Love and lardy cakes,

Betty Debbie

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Huge Roses: Chapter Seven, part one

American nurse Tory Bird, visiting Amsterdam with her sister Jane, meets Dr. Maximilan van den Nie whilst giving first aid to an injured English tourist.  After a lovely weekend, Tory returns home to the United States, daydreaming of the handsome Dutchman.  To her surprise, Max arrives in Tory's New Hampshire village a few weeks later!

Installment One - Installment Two - Installment Three - Installment Four - Installment Five - Installment Six - Installment Seven - Installment Eight - Installment Nine - Installment Ten - Installment Eleven - Installment Twelve - Installment Thirteen - Installment Fourteen - Installment Fifteen - Installment Sixteen - Installment Seventeen - Installment Eighteen - Installment Nineteen - Installment Twenty - Installment 21

THE HUGE ROSES (working title)
copyright 2014 by Betty van den Betsy; not for reprint or publication without permission

Friday morning, Tory was up early with the dogs, and worked off some restless energy by splitting a few logs.  When she came back into the kitchen, Jane, Emma and Neil were there, setting breakfast trays for their parents and great-aunt.  Conversation paused as she came into the room, and Tory guessed she was in for something.  She grabbed a chair and sprawled back in it, arms crossed over her chest.
Emma took the trays upstairs, Neil served leftover pie for himself and his sisters, Jane poured coffee and brewed tea.  In near silence, they all gathered at the wooden table.  Jane was the first to address the subject.  “Tory, dearest,” she asked, “what’s up with you and Max?  Are you okay?”  The three of them leaned in toward her, and Tory felt a slight welling in her eyes.
“I’m okay,” she said.  “I really like him, mostly as a friend, and we’ve kissed each other twice – the first time was by accident – but he’s too old for me, too rich, too sophisticated and too far away.  And I don’t want a fling, and he doesn’t either, and we’re friends.  I think I won’t be alone with him again.  That will be best.”
Emma was shaking her head.  “But if you might love him, you can make it work.  You can always make it work.”
Jane clearly disagreed; Neil looked thoughtful.  Tory assured them, “I don’t love him.  I haven’t known him that long.  I just like him.  But you know, he’s not quite real to me.  He’s like a crush that walked out of the television or off the poster on the wall.  Larger than life; more perfect than human.  Not quite real.  Anyway, I’m not going to be alone with him.  And he’ll leave soon, and I’ll sign up for online dating and meet someone more like us, who wants to start a family, do his own dishes, drive a used Subaru and live in New England.”
Jane reached a hand across the table; Tory took it.  Emma and Neil joined the clasp.  “We love you,” Jane spoke for them all.  “We’re here whenever you want to talk, or visit.  And you know there’s nothing at all to tie you to this house, or to New England, if you want to be somewhere else.  And Tory, there is no one in this world too sophisticated for you.  You are perfect, at ease and gracious everywhere you go.  Do not sell yourself short.”
Neil leapt up and swung across the table, grabbing his little sister in a one-armed hug.  “You are perfect,” he reiterated, his mouth close to her ear.  “Absolutely perfect.  Any guy in the world would be lucky beyond belief to get you.”  He held her tight for another moment before he let her go.  “Okay,” he said, “I think that’s enough emotional intensity for me for one morning.  It doesn’t go great with carbs.  I’m headed to the barn to see how many lacrosse sticks I can find, since Mother’s intent on this game she’s planning.”
His sisters got up and cleared the dishes in comfortable silence, broken only briefly by Tory’s statement, “Mother invited Max to come play lacrosse.”

Mother had invited several people to come play lacrosse, and about twenty neighbors and friends were gathered by early afternoon.  Some mystifying osmosis divided them into teams, and the battle commenced.  After a few instructions from Tory’s dad, Max seemed to get the hang of the game quickly, and made a useful defenseman.  He was amused to see the different personalities of his new friends emerge on the field.  The Bird family patriarch was a confident, effective goalkeeper; his wife and twin children were relentless attackers.  Jane covered the field from midfield, and Tory was surprisingly determined on defense, responding quickly to her father’s signals – though she didn’t seem to fuss about keeping score.  Scarves eventually triumphed over no-scarves, and the combatants cooled down, laughing over muddled plays and arguing close calls.
“Max,” Neil said, strolling over to the Dutchman, “good game.  Would you like some tips on cradling and passing?”  Max agreed to the tuition, and the two spent a few minutes in the yard while everyone else headed indoors for turkey soup and rolls.  Tory eyed them speculatively, but decided most likely Neil really just wanted to help the doctor improve his play.  He was a born coach.  She wouldn’t have been so sanguine if she had heard their conversation.
Emma would have said her twin was feeling ‘big-brotherish.’  Tory would have been mute with humiliation.  Neil started out with some ideas on stick-handling, but quickly worked his baby sister into the conversation.  “Tory’s great at passing,” he noted.  “Pay attention to her; you can learn a lot.  Of course, that’s true for more than lacrosse.”
Max, in a voice smooth as glass, murmured, “Indeed.”  Where Tory might have blushed or stammered, Neil didn’t hesitate.  It takes more than a dampening manner to intimidate a man who has mastered the Haakon flip.
“She’s a great person.  She’s probably a bit too much of a pleaser – you know, tries to make everyone happy, sometimes at her own expense – but she does know she needs to draw the line at some point, and she’ll do it.  But she’ll wait a long while before she sticks up for herself.  She’s got a little bit of an inferiority complex, always comparing herself to Jane, who’s Type A-plus-plus, or Emma, or even me.  We get, y’know, some weird minor celebrity because of the sports.  Her kinds of achievements can get lost in the skewed value people place on money or fame or whatever.”
“I assure you,” Max began, his voice a few degrees colder.  “No need,” Neil interrupted.  “I’m not her keeper; she makes her own decisions.  But not a lot of people realize there are still – well, old-fashioned girls.  That’s what Grammy called Tory.  She’s tough as tungsten when it comes to academic work, or patient care, and you should see her get a pill into an angry cat.  And she’s very successful in her work.  She doesn’t always do what needs doing when it comes to protecting herself from being hurt, or taken advantage of, though.  None of us wants to protect her, unless she asks for help, but none of us,” he paused and took a dramatic shot with the lacrosse ball – “none of us wants to see her get hurt.”  Neil dropped his stick’s shaft to the ground, and rested his hands on the head, gazing blandly at his guest.
“No one wants to see Tory hurt,” Max noted, speaking in crisp monosyllables.
“Man, we should get in and get at that soup.  My dad makes the best turkey soup in America,” Neil recommended.  As he strolled to the house, he added, thoughtfully, “Y’know, I’m pretty sure Tory hasn’t even kissed, like, half a dozen guys.  And she broke up with her only serious boyfriend when she was nineteen.  That’s pretty old-fashioned.  That and all the baking.”  He grinned, as if to assure his companion the lecture had ended.  The doctor did not grin back.
Tory noticed that Max seemed quieter than usual, almost grim, as he and Neil came in through the kitchen door.  Once he had served himself, though, she saw him chatting with her father, seemingly content.  So she circulated with the coffee pot with an easy mind – until Emma stalked toward her and hissed, “Neil talked to your doctor.  I’d flay him alive if I were you.  Actually, I kinda did already.”  Tory froze in her tracks for a moment, coming back to life as Jenny Fisher headed for her, determined to get a top-up on her coffee.  “You all right?” Jenny asked, and Tory only squeaked slightly as she exclaimed, “Great!  I’m great!”
She kept an eye out for Neil, and found him in a corner of the living room, in animated conversation with Gina Semple.  “Hey, Gina,” Tory carolled.  “My brother’s almost 30 and you’re in high school.  I need to talk to you,” she threatened, turning to Neil.  She got him by an elbow – gratuitous; he would come with her, but she was in a mood to grab something – and steered him toward the pantry.
“Emma is the most unnatural twin in history,” her brother complained.  “I don’t know what you’re all worked up about, but you have no reason to be.  We just chatted a bit.  He thinks you’re great.  And I was not flirting with Gina.”
“A, Gina was flirting with you, and you were encouraging her,” Tory began, struggling to keep her voice down.  “B, you are an unnatural brother.  I told you already that Max and I are just fine.  I do not need your intercession, he certainly doesn’t, and you’d better tell me what you said, because I think you just stirred up a fire that was dying on its own just fine, thank you so very much.  Oooh!” she ended.
“Go ahead and slug me in the arm if you want,” Neil offered.  “Violence is never the answer, but your puny punch hardly qualifies as violence.”
Tory had to hoist herself onto the pantry counter, but once up she was able to slump down in defeat.  Neil put an arm around her shoulder and said, in a much softer and more sincere voice, “Look, kiddo, I’m sorry.  It was next to nothing.  I just told him you’re great, and you deserve the best.  He just agreed.  No big deal, really.  I didn’t do it to upset you – you know that.  I apologize, but I’m not sure I wouldn’t do it again.  He seems like a great guy, but we don’t know enough about him just to take him on faith.  I know you’re a big girl and can handle yourself, but I want him to know you’ve got lots of fans and admirers who’ll step in if there’s anything going on you need help handling.  And I was totally polite about it, and pretty subtle and European for me.”
“Spell subtle,” Tory challenged.  “I know you can’t define it.”  She couldn’t hold out in the face of her big brother’s obvious love and concern, though.  With a light buffet against his shoulder, she forgave him.  “It’s okay, Neil, it is.  I just wish you hadn’t, and you had better never do anything like that again.  Remember that just because you and Emma have no shame doesn’t mean I don’t get embarrassed when my family butts into my private life.”
“I’ll be good,” Neil promised.  “Mostly.”  They headed back into the party, laughing together.  Tory wasn’t laughing long, though.  She had to find Max.
He was in the hall, putting on his coat, and Tory sidled up to him.  “Umm...” she began, “I’m sorry about Neil.  He was acting without authorization.  I don’t even know what he said, but I’m pretty sure he shouldn’t have said it.  You said everything we need to say to each other last night, and you’ve been great, and I hope we can be friends still and everything.”  She had her eyes on the floor, so she didn’t see Max’s eyes brimming with amused tenderness.
“I am your friend for life, Tory,” he assured her.  “And I quite like your brother, as well, actually.”
“Well, you’re welcome to him if you want him,” Tory snapped, then mused, “The poor thing.  He wants to be macho and protective, but Jane’s out setting the world on fire, and Emma can take care of herself better than anyone I know, so he’s left with me, and I’m not exciting enough to get into any real trouble.”
The doctor laughed richly.  “That’s the best kind of exciting,” he said.  “Trouble isn’t as much fun as the movies make it out to be.  With three sisters, I know a bit about it.”
“Really?”  Tory was surprised to hear that.  What kind of trouble could stolid Max van den Nie’s sisters get into?  “I won’t pry,” she assured him, yearning to do just that.  Instead she held out a hand, and they shook and exchanged continental kisses.  He strode out the door, pausing briefly to give the gleaming brass knocker an approving look.  Altogether, his first Thanksgiving had given him more than just a surfeit of turkey.  He had a lot of food for thought, as well.
Jaap, sitting composed and silent in the passenger seat, was thinking also.  He had seen several sophisticated young women come and go in the doctor’s life.  He remembered one – Juffrouw van Trott, wasn’t it? – whom he’d overheard complaining, “You’re like something from the past, Max.  Frozen in time.”  That particular lady was ambitious professionally and socially, Jaap had thought, with no interest in rearing children; the van den Nies ran toward large and loving families.  Even the occasional girlfriend with babies on the brain seemed to see much to change in Maximilan.  Jaap acknowledged his prejudice, but he thought there was no need for his boss to take a spin class, modernize the elegant townhouse in Amsterdam, get rid of his dogs, or take any of the other actions pressed on him by various acquaintances.
As they arrived at Josh Brown’s polyglot cabin-mansion, Jaap remarked, “A lovely holiday, sir, and a delightful family.  Miss Tory perhaps especially.”
“Yes,” replied his employer.  “I agree, Jaap.  A delightfully old-fashioned girl.”
“But, Mr. Max,” exclaimed the housekeeper, “I was just thinking that yours are old-fashioned ways.”  Immediately he regretted the outburst, which suggested too close an interest in private matters.  Max just laughed, though, a rueful chuckle, and entered the house looking thoughtful.  He automatically turned on his phone; his lovely manners ensured he turned it off when attending social events, and good sense left it off when he was driving.  His mother had left a message asking that he call as soon as possible, “but no emergency,” she added.  Given the time difference, he proposed to wait until morning, and slept soundly through the night.

Friday, August 15, 2014

True Confessions of Betty Magdalen

Darling Bettys, I pop in from the outer reaches of Facebook Land to ruthlessly exploit the riches of long-form blogging. It's craven but you'll love me for it anyway.

Betty Keira was back. And this time it was personal.
One of the things that I love about Betty heroines is how chummy and curious (in a well-bred way, of course) they are.  If there's a housewife making her way home on the Tube, squashed up next to an Araminta, she's going to unburden herself on a host of issues. If Maisie the ward maid wants to natter on about her sister's husband and her no-account nephew, she'll do it to the friendliest nurse of the bunch. If an Olivia wants to sight-see around London while her international business tycoon husband is off making more buckets of money, she's going to loiter on the sidewalk outside a society wedding or poke about in all sorts of places. Maybe an affinity about this trait is why I felt no compunction about backing Betty Magdalen into a corner the other day about her writing.
Over the course of The Great and Terrible Blog, we had several writers come out of the woodwork to add their two cents over a particular question about publishing or character development. It was so interesting to me and I wanted to know more. Like a Cranky Baby up after naptime, my needs Must. Be. Met.  

Betty Magdalen has been an Uncrushable Jersey Dress reader from the days of it's callow infancy. We're thankful she stuck around, frankly. She is the author of Love in Reality, The Cost of Happiness and Blackjack & Moonlight. Here's her bio on Amazon:
After pairing up lawyers romantically in her head for fifteen years, Magdalen Braden traded in her job as an attorney to set her inner matchmaker free. Today she draws on her past adventures in a Philadelphia law office to write her sexy contemporary romance series, The Blackjack Quartet.
Blackjack & Moonlight, the third installment in the series, was a finalist in the prestigious Romance Writers of America® Golden Heart® contest in 2012. All four books contain love, romance, and a solid dose of legal humor.
Magdalen connects with readers at her local satellite of the Lady Jane's Salon® reading series, and with fellow writers at her Romance Writers of America® chapter.
When not writing, she enjoys spending time with her crossword-loving husband, their Rhody-mix dog, and two omnipresent cats in the Endless Mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania.

So she's awesome, pretty much. She also writes considerably more steamy stuff under a pseudonym, Christina Thacher. 

Before I really started the interview, we kicked around a little on Facebook, instant messaging each other. Her answers and my questions were on the fly. I'm in red and her responses are in black. My first question was about Brighton:

I actually don't like too much sex in my romances because it is so often done without any connection to the characters.
I try to keep my sex scenes relevant to the actual relationship.
So you learn something about the people and not about their anatomy.
I was reading a vintage Mary Stewart this weekend where the heroine's boss is an authoress and there's lots of talk about being stuck and how it's so hard to work past that. How do you manage to do a rework when the original work was probably so hard to get through?
The one I'm working on--well, the one "Christina" is working on--is a good example. I got my editor's comments, and waited three months before tackling them. That's because we released Blackjack & Moonlight in the meantime and that was a bit of a palaver.
Anyway, now I'm back to it and it's fine. I've "fixed" the heroine so her motivation is much clearer. Next I need to fix the hero so his conflict is clearer. I find thinking about them as I'm falling asleep is helpful.
Everything else, I suspect, will be a matter of revision and adding.

Meanwhile, as Magdalen, I have to finish a full-length novel (#4 in the Blackjack Quartet) that's stalled and stopped a few times. Again, I just need to dig deeper to understand the characters.
I know that's a bit mumbo-jumbo, but it's all about the characters. If I'm in touch with them, I can write the story.
That is quite a lot to trust an editor to reciprocate with. (I assumed, as you are an indie author, that your editor would be a copy editor mostly) How did you find one you liked?
Do you use the same editor for both your kinds of books?
I do now. I was lucky. Deb (my editor) had rejected Blackjack on behalf of Carina Press (Harlequin's e-only line).
I'm pretty sure Deb herself liked it but [her boss] hated it. Or just thought it wouldn't do well.
Anyhow, Deb then turned out to be Carina's editor for some anthologies that Christina was involved in.
She was so good as Christina's editor that I hired her freelance for MB stuff, and now she can do both.
Deb is the best. In my acknowledgements, I warn family and friends: if there's a burning building, I'm saving Deb first.

I don't need a lot of copy editing, and Ross can do what I need.

But he knows nothing about how romances work. Deb's a 20-year professional in the genre.
Do you ever dread having to write a book that you've already worked into a series? Does it ever feel like homework?
Yes and no.
Yes because it's work, and I have to do it when I'm otherwise retired. (KNITTING!!!!)

But no, because those characters already exist and I want them to live and thrive and find happiness and make babies and be ecstatic.

But at this point it was becoming cumbersome to pretend that I didn't want ALL the details about EVERYTHING. So I took to a longer format and let Magdalen loose: 

"Tell me all about it, darling." Betty Keira ruthlessly wrings the details from Betty Magdalen.
What is it about lawyers? I have met more than my share who did a 180 degree pivot to go into creative careers. What gives?

It’s the last great generalist degree. Oh, and it’s a language course. Basically three solid years learning jargon, idiom, context, and usage. Both spoken and written. At the end of law school, you can talk to any lawyer. Why you’d want to is another matter.
When I started law school in 1992, I volunteered for the school newspaper. I wrote a story on how nearly half of all Penn Law grads were no longer working as lawyers. Some were business types (joint JD-MBA degrees), some had quit and sought a new vocation, and some were doing cool stuff like writing novels or running vintage jazz record stores.
Twenty years after graduating, I’m one of those off-the-beaten-track types.
How did you decide to become a writer? Betty Neels famously decided to after a trip to the library and an overheard conversation (which sounds so prosaic and just like a Neels heroine who has to support a family and decides to just roll up her sleeves).

I’d wanted to write when I was a lot (LOT) younger, but I couldn’t manage it. (Writing is hard. Law school was easy.) So I gave it up until 2009 when I read a series of mysteries by another former lawyer, Julia Spencer-Fleming. The series (you have to start at the beginning with In the Bleak Midwinter) has an amazing romantic subplot. I’ve told everyone—if you stitch all the hero-heroine bits from the first six books together, it’s the best romance I’ve ever read.
Anyway, I finished the six books, immediately reread them, then skimmed them. At the end of all that, I knew what my writing had been lacking: heart. I resolved then to pick up all these plots I’d stashed in my head and do them justice. (I’m trying to, at least.)
Joseph didn't know if the world was ready for genre-bending dinosaur revenge fantasy novels.
When did you finally begin to tell people you were a writer? I imagine you’re pretty much waving your flag now but when you began was there any sort of head-ducking or initial apology for not being Steinbeck or Tolstoy but being a romance author instead?

Saying, “I’m a writer,” is tricky. By definition, if you’re writing, you’re a writer. But until you have a novel published, it seems boastful. When Love in Reality was released (December 2012), I could say, “I write romance novels.” Of course, I was also in an MFA program for creative writing. That helped.
So what I say now is, “I write romance novels.” People are very respectful, I find. I even have people saying they want to read one!
Priscilla wrote with her thinking cap on
What are the tools you most like to use as an author? (Answers could include but not be limited to a bulletin board, a particular writing software, Pinterest, a writing tablet by the bed...etc.)

A lap top, obviously. I just use Microsoft Word because I’m not a plotter or planner; the other software (I have it, I just don’t use it) helps with that stuff.
I have to be able to shop for houses online. Once I can see the two dozen photos of the interior I can write about that house forever. (Which is good because once the house is sold, the photos disappear!) I’ve used Pinterest for clothing. I also Google characters’ names to make sure I’m not writing about someone famous.
I’m terrible at using social media for marketing. I have a love-hate relationship with promoting my own books. So, for example, I use my author’s Facebook page to share photos and videos from the trail cam on our rural property. Has nothing to do with Philadelphia lawyers, but people like to see the fawns…
I just ripped this from the pages of Wikipedia:  “Stephanie Meyer says that the idea for 'Twilight' came to her in a dream. The dream was about a human girl and a vampire who was in love with her but thirsted for her blood.” Authors take inspiration from all sorts of places but how do yours tend to come?
This is not mine but I snorged out loud so in it goes.

So hard to know, honestly. Sometimes it’s an exercise in problem solving. Other times, it’s a scene or vignette that comes to me and makes me think, “I need to write about this.” One thing is clear: I’m always writing about people who are not yet living their authentic life. My novels are exercises in self-discovery more than romances. I just like the happy ending as a reward for doing the hard work of growing up.
I recently came across a great letter written by Jane Austen to her niece who was writing something or other and Jane comments on her place names: “The name of Newton Priors is really invaluable; I never met with anything superior to it. It is delightful, and one could live on the name of Newton Priors for a twelvemonth.” Tell me, because I need it to be true, that naming things in an imaginary world is the funnest thing ever.  (By the way, I have read books where the writing is excellent but the names are forced or clunky and it kills things. You don’t seem to have that problem.)

Most of the places in my books are real. For example, the heroine of Blackjack & Moonlight, Elise Carroll, lived in a small row house across from Fitler Square, a small park in the British style. I was looking at photos online of Fitler Square and saw that it boasts a set of bronze sculptures of turtles. An adult and two babies. When Jack, the hero, sits there, he’s thinking about those sculptures, which leads to thoughts about kids, and so forth.
I did have to create an English village for a storytelling game, Storium. (They’ve asked me to create the framework for games to write their own Jane Austen or Georgette Heyer-style Regency romance. My world, The Stylish Assembly, isn’t available yet.) I wanted something pronounceable but distinctive and very, very fictional. So I went with Much Haddam. Seems like it could be real, but isn’t.
What is your general approach to writing a full length novel? (Heavy outlines first or…?) Does it get easier after clearing the hurdle of the first one?

I’m what’s called a “pantser” or “headlight” writer. I write by the seat of my pants, or as E.L. Doctorow put it, “[Writing is] like driving at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” It both gets easier and harder after the first one. On the one hand, everything’s easier once you know you can do it. With writing, though, the first novel feels freakish, as though someone else wrote it in a fog of self-assurance. When it’s poorly received or panned or simply never read, there’s an assumption that all future books will be equally overlooked or disliked.
We’ve talked and agree that Betty Neels would have an extremely difficult time being published by an established publishing house these days.  So, pretend you’re giving advice to a young Betty Neels on getting her work out there and let us know some common mistakes indie authors make when they first start out:

Any advice I could give The Great Betty Neels, I really should be prepared to follow myself. Without the gift of hindsight, and without the supposed-curation granted by a contract with an established publisher, how would she know that anyone would like her distinctly-not-the-mainstream romances? We know now that she has a legion of followers, but when she was starting—?
The answer seems to be precisely what she did: write what interests you, write what you want to read, write what you love. And keep striving to get better at it without obsessing about the one or two books that aren’t perhaps your best work.
At what point did you decide to pull the trigger and become self-published?

After I failed to get that supposed-curation that comes with having an agent or editor want to publish you. My husband, Ross, and I had a deal: If every possible agent (approximately 70 names) who represent romance authors passed on Blackjack & Moonlight, then I’d self-publish. They did, so we published the first book in the quartet, Love in Reality. By that time, Blackjack had been selected as a finalist in RWA’s Golden Heart ® contest…and still couldn’t get an agent.
How important is social media to your marketing? Do you hate marketing?

Hate it, and I suck at it. We’ve done it both ways—published a book with no marketing at all and published the next book with a full-court press to get reviewers, readers, blurbs from other authors, etc. At the end of the day, I still feel that the best work I can do is to make my books better.
You don’t fit my idea of an indie author--you formed a publishing company, you pursued your MFA from Stonecoast and employ an editor. Comments?

It’s unfortunate that some self-published authors don’t take the time and care to ensure their books are competently edited and error-free. (It’s also a shame when traditional publishers don’t ensure that their books are error-free.) For years, it left people with the impression that all self-published books are badly written, unedited, and full of typos.
That’s no truer than any other cliché. Here’s what I’ve learned: people who dislike a book will cite any errors or infelicitous writing as a basis for their dislike. But a well-written book can be just as despised. The fact that it’s well-written is never a sufficient condition to raise the reader’s estimation.
I’m an indie author because traditional publishing doesn’t think my books are going to make them enough money. Those agents and editors could be right. I’m lucky because I can self-publish. I’m lucky that my husband is a computer genius, that I have a great editor, I can afford professionally-designed covers, and so forth.
One of my favorite things you have ever done is that T-shirt you made on our Inaugural Bettysday:

Betty Neels was 59 when she wrote her first romance novel
I still have time

I can’t tell you how that inspires me. Maybe you can though?

Well, I made it! I was just shy of my 57th birthday when Love in Reality came out. I’m not (yet) writing four full length novels every year, but I may get there before I turn 59. More than The Great Betty’s formidable and dependable output (I still remember waiting for the next one every three or four months!), I’m inspired by her unwavering sense of the books she wanted to write. I’ll happily live with a fraction of her output if I can be as calmly certain that I wrote the books I wanted to write.
It’s a cliche that authors say their books are like their babies and that they can’t choose a favorite but is there a character or couple that is?

Not yet. (LOL) I don’t feel that my books are my babies. I’m a crafter, and I’m process-oriented. That means that it’s the making that engages me more than the final product. I’m still worried that I’m not improving as a writer, just as I’m worried that I’m a mediocre quilter or a so-so knitter. Once a book is released, it’s available for other people to rate and assess. I’m okay with that.
How many drafts do you typically make? When you cut something fabulous from a book that isn’t working do you keep it in a repository to use again?

I’m working now on the fourth book of the quartet, Lost and Found. I’ve started it three times and I hope I’ve finally got the right beginning. I save everything, and some of it I may actually cannibalize for a later draft.
Once I have a finished draft, I send it to my critique partner, Zara Keane, and to my editor, Deb Nemeth. They may require me to change a lot or a little. At some point, the book is ready for copyediting, which is mostly done by my darling husband, aka my publisher. Then it gets proofread at least twice more. So in the end…anywhere from six to ten drafts.
I’ve seen pictures of the small table Jane Austen used to write (in longhand, with a dodgy ink source), and a picture of Betty Neels at a small desk with an electric typewriter. What does your office/space look like where you sit down to write?

Our house is old, with a traditional space called a “keeping room” back in Colonial days. I used to sit in there (it’s where the wood stove is) but we just replaced the oversized armchairs with a long sofa. Now I sit in an adjacent room, simply because it has an oversized armchair. I do have a storage room an office…
Stephen King has talked about how he tends to write for an ideal reader (his wife) and that he gets so needy when he finally hands a manuscript over to her for her first read through. Do you have other readers (aside from your editor) who serve that function? Do you get needy for good feedback too?

Sadly, Ross is not my ideal reader. My critique partner is great because we started writing around the same time. Our styles are different, though, so we don’t always agree. Believe it or not, I am my own ideal reader. I strive to write precisely the books that I want to read and can’t find.
Writing groups. Helpful? Painful? Both? I can’t imagine any of, say, some of the early untrained Harlequin writers spending any time in more formal workshops to improve their craft (with mixed results, of course) and I wonder if a go-it-alone approach would work anymore.

I used to belong to a mixed writing group (some mysteries, some feminist fiction, some humor, etc.) where I was the only romance writer. I’ve also been in an informal online writing group, workshops, writer’s conferences, etc. I really believe hiring a professional editor whose work you admire is the best and most efficient way of improving.
I read this from F. Scott Fitzgerald (on the subject of being a writer) recently:
“We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives--experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.
Then we learn our trade, well or less well, and we tell our two or three stories--each time in a new disguise--maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen….Whether it’s something that happened twenty years ago or only yesterday, I must start out with an emotion--one that’s close to me and that I can understand...What you aim at is to get in a good race or two when the crowd is in the stand.”
I liked what he said about needing to feel and understand an emotion before he wrote it but I’m not sure it works that way for all writers. Your thoughts on the above?
Betsy, Madge and Gladys were all surprised when they discovered they'd each had a moving experience with Mr. Fitzgerald.

I’ve certainly experienced it as a reader—I’ve read a passage in a romance and thought, “Yes! This!!” The alchemy of turning our deepest experiences and feelings into fiction—that’s harder to see with romances. My own experiences at falling in love haven’t shown up in my books, maybe because I was older than my heroines when I did find my heroes!
I do think, though, that all writers betray something of their real angst when they write. I write about people who aren’t where they should be, or are pretending, or lying to themselves, or are blocked from happiness. I’ve experienced all of those things myself, so it’s not surprising that I’m writing about that over and over.
Essie Summers occasionally makes her heroines authoresses (I’m so surprised that Betty Neels never did--only venturing close enough with an illustrator and a greeting card sentiment writer) and sometimes she’ll include a paragraph (written from the heroine’s perspective) that expresses her irritation that people always assume an author is constantly mining their friends and relations for copy--that an author has plenty of imagination on her own not to need to hijack the experiences of others. But, again, I’m not sure it works that way for all writers. How much YOU is in your books? How many autobiographical details might work their way in and do you have to be careful not to turn acquaintances into characters? Or do you just give it up as a lost cause and do it?

When I left the last major law firm I worked at, everyone assumed that HE would be in my writing. Hah! I haven’t used a single former colleague in a book. On the surface, I myself am nowhere to be found in my books. I have, however, given my characters some real estate I used to occupy.
Truthfully, I don’t find writing about tremendously real people that useful. Take lawyers, for example. My characters are smart, funny and able to fall in love. They’re fictional! I love that I can make them better than lawyers tend to be.