Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Writing with Betty: Beverly Farr

Betty Beverly was kind enough to come around for a cuppa and a chat about her literary adventures. I've dipped into her catalog and found it to be full of humor and sweetness. Let's find out more about her! 
You write under pen names. Can you tell us a little bit about the genres under each one and why you decided to split them this way? The pros and cons of pen names and, now that you're down the road a little bit, if you would do it differently?

Some people want to publish everything under one name, which is fine, but years ago, I remember picking up a Georgette Heyer book, thinking it was one of her historicals (yay) and finding out it was one of her murder mysteries (boo) so I think of my names like that.
Beverly Farr writes sweet contemporary romances and contemporary Jane Austen Variations
Jane Grix writes traditional Jane Austen Variations and Regency Romances
Cass Grix writes the paranormal/fairy tale Jane Austen Variations

And I wouldn't change it, I like having the three names.  Beverly Farr is my maiden name, Jane Grix is Jane for Jane Austen and Grix (which was my mother's maiden name and her family came from England), Cass Grix is Cass for Jane Austen's sister Cassandra.
Betty Beverly assured me it was nothing like
being a three-headed dog... Bit of a disappointment, really.

Are you traditionally published, self-published, a hybrid?

I am self-published. 

When did you get your start writing and is this what you do full time?

I've been writing since I was 8 years old, and started writing romances when I was about 12.  I wrote more as a hobby for years, self published in 2012 and in 2015 started writing full time.

What does your output look like? (From what I can tell, you have a pretty good catalog and I wondered how long you tended to work on a book before you sent it into the world.)

Some stories take a long time (I'm currently working on a story I began more than 20 years ago) but some are quicker to write.  My quickest book was DARCY'S SPOTLESS REPUTATION which I wrote in 8 days.   But it's a novella and funny, so it almost wrote itself.  On average, though, a novella takes about a month and a novel about 2 months.
"Of course, it goes slower when I take time to write
original poems about my love of software user interfaces.
You might be our only Jane Austen Variations writer among the Betties. What appealed to you about that genre? When reading Pride and Prejudice, for instance, how do you find the right thread to start pulling, unravelling the tale and knitting it up into a different pattern?

P&P is my absolute favorite book of all time.  I used to read it at least once a year, but now I keep it on my desk and read bits almost every day.  I still find passages that I never noticed before (because I read too fast)

I get ideas when I'm driving in the car.  For my current story DARCY IN LOVE AND WAR, I just thought, "What if Jane was dead before the story starts?  If Jane wasn't around, would Bingley just fall in love with the second prettiest girl in town - Elizabeth Bennet?  I think so, and then what would Darcy do when his best friend is falling for the woman he is falling for?  And how would the Bennet family dynamics change?  

Is it wrong to be rooting for a round of shirtless fisticuffs?
Who, among your books, is your favorite set of main characters and why? (Or in the case of Darcy and Lizzie, which of their books delights you most?) 

I do love Darcy and Lizzie, but with now that I've written 23 variations for them, it's hard sometimes to remember what events go with what story!  As for my other books, the one I'm working on is usually my favorite.  I just re-edited HER EX NEXT DOOR which I published in 2012  (it's one of my husband's favorite stories) and I was surprised how much I liked it again.  I really like Derek, the tall, dark and sexy IT geek/billionaire hero of that story. 

What was the hardest of your stories to write and why?

The easiest answer is that the hardest story is always the current story.  I tend to hit an "oh, no, I'll never finish this" moment in the middle of every story.  However, it is true that some stories come more easily or flow more easily.  One of my most emotional/difficult stories was SOMETHING SWEET by Beverly Farr, book 3 in my Love and Chocolate Series because the heroine is a single mom with an Autistic child.  I have three children on the Autism Spectrum, and I wanted to be true to them as well as to all the moms with children with special needs.  Amanda in that story is a Cinderella figure, downtrodden, but still kind and hard working.  She gets a prince of a guy in Rick, the owner of a popular bakery chain in Dallas.

What tools to you use to help you write? (I'm thinking of things like Pinterest or Tumblr or favorite songs to put you into a head space or a Costco-sized tub of peanut M&Ms or software or, or, or...)

Country Western music helps me because it can be angsty.  I particularly like Keith Urban music.  I often pick one song that provides an emotional theme for a book.  My story Forgotten Honeymoon was written while listening to Faith Hill's THIS KISS on a perpetual loop.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of the writing process?

My absolutely favorite part is seeing my books in paperback - opening up a box of new books!  Then I can give them out to my friends.  My least favorite part - finding an obnoxious typo after I've already hit publish and I have to wait 12 hours before I can upload a correction on Amazon.

Betty Keira dislikes the part where the computer fails to read her mind.
Besides The Great Betty, of course, who are your favorite authors that you dip into again and again?

Georgette Heyer for Regency Romances/Romantic Comedies
Carla Kelly for Regency Romances
Dorothy L. Sayers for her Peter Wimsey mysteries, particularly the romance ones with Harriet Vine
Diana Gabaldon for the Outlander Series.  It gets racy and I skip some violent bits, but she is great with dialogue.
Dick Francis - His books about steeple chase jockeys fascinate me
Sarah Price  for her Plain Fame Amish series (she's a friend in real life, and is brilliant!)
Beverly Cleary.  I adore Ramona the Pest
Edgar Rice Burroughs.  I read all the Tarzan books and lots of his other adventure stories.

Why do you continue to read and reread Betty Neels books?

They are warm, comforting books - like a hot bath at the end of a long day.  I like them because they contain interesting things - interesting homes, interesting food, interesting medical problems.  I like them because there are no trips to Brighton (although I would like the stoic heroes to talk a little more!)  And although some of the characters can be over the top, there are often clever lines of describing people and why they do what they do.  When I read a Betty Neels book, I imagine a movie in my head.  Her books are a perfect escape.

As an extra bonus, here's Betty Beverly, herself, chatting about the joys of sweet romance:

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

No Roses in June -- Video Review

Come for the stoicism, stay for the Power Rangers.

No Roses in June--1961

Back up, Horse. Edward Campbell is about to make his move.
If wedding dresses could talk, what stories they could tell. This one, hanging in an apartment window, billowing into the room would natter over the back fence about the broken engagement she witnessed.
"The wedding was days away and he flew in from South Africa
peddling some story about irresistible passion.
Said he's ALREADY married to her best friend!"
Though Ian, her ex-fiance, tells her that she can 'take it', Fiona MacDonald is not without the need of a restorative. As a good minister's daughter, she's not going to down a bottle of gin and get tight. But she will don a tight dress, garish make-up and go out to have a night on the town in the company of a noted Lounge Lizard. She ends up at a dive called Cat on the Tiles with “rowdy, thought-banishing company”.
"What has being decorous and disciplined ever done for me?"
Just as she is thinking very seriously about pounding jello shots off of Lounge Lizard's sloping shoulders and signing the waiver for Girls Behaving Badly: Dumped in Edinburgh, she encounters a Hot Colonial-type sneering at her. But, after all, she will never see him again. (Gentle Reader, this is her future husband.) After a fender bender in the parking lot, Hot Colonial makes himself their designated driver. Fiona is dropped off last and the conversation goes really well.

Edward was about to lose his five star Uber rating.
Him: You smell of whiskey and look like a hussy.
Her: You have the musk of self-righteousness which is much harder to shower off.
Him: Don't pass out on me since you are definitely drunk.
Her: I'm drunk on sorrow!

Fiona passes out. Not the best look for a girl trying to maintain that she is Most. Certainly. Sober. And as Hot Colonial carries her up to the apartment, let us pass around the box of Kleenex and dab our eyes gently over the fact that she has been carried across the threshold in the muscled arms of a stranger on the very night her ex-fiance carries his own bride across another. The Colonial sees the wedding dress and flings Byron (who knew a thing or two about shagging and inconstancy and diss tracks) at her feet: soon
Seek roses in December, ice in June;
Hope constancy in wind, or corn in chaff,
Believe a woman, or an epitaph
Or any other thing that's false--

Soon, Fiona has taken a job as a governess on a super remote (Is there any other kind, Essie?) sheep station in New Zealand. She is met by her new boss, C. Edward Campbell, the Hot Colonial.

The trollop walks off the plane and he extracts the damning information that Ian jilted her. Of course, thinks Edward, Fiona was tramping it up with another man. She deserves what she gets. He's popped her into the same blender as his perfidious sister-in-law Fleur (also at Cat on the Tiles that night) and hit PUREE.

As much as he'd like to send her away, they have a real emergency on their hands at Belle Knowes. Edward's brother recently died (in an "accident" with a gun) and his sainted sister-in-law (the first wife) died much earlier. Edward quit his job to run the farm and raise the children but help is hard to come by. What can he do?
You could take me back to Dunedin, Mr. Campbell.
It is very telling that when she offers him a way out, Edward does not take it. Instead, he says, "It might straighten you up to taste life at Belle Knowes for a few months. It'll scare the hell out of you, of course." Yes, Mr. Campbell. But I didn't know we were running a Benevolent Home for Wayward Girls.

Her first test in The Great Rehabilitation of Fiona MacDonald, Lady-Delinquent is on the boat ride over to the station. The rabbiters are flirtatious, the dogs are out of control and there is a hot wind kicking up. She exhibits heroism by saving a dog from going over the side of the boat, wins the trust of the captain and kisses an old rabbiter as a matter of honor. Edward sneers. But, note: This is when he says, later, that his heart did its first flippy-flop.

He's so sure though that she is rotten. " up here is rather stripped of frills. Veneer soon cracks. You'll show up as shoddy before long." Instead of trying to explain herself to a brick wall like that, Fiona takes the stoic road and waits for time to vindicate her.

When Fiona discovered that Sam Elliott would be her Spirit Guide
on the Stoic Road, she decided to stay the course.

Into the Tar Pits of Fiona's Likeability many creatures come to drink, sinking in the inky depths. Let us make a survey:
  • Miss Trudington. "Quite Victorian" and Edward's best hope to "straighten" Fiona up. Instead, Fiona gives her a make-over and cures her arthritis. 
  • Her charges, Victoria, Elizabeth, William and James. Half Maori, half Scots. Edward is sure she will be a terrible influence on them but Fiona begins as she means to go on, ringing the school bell, whipping them into shape, opening each day with a prayer and homily. They adore her because she is unstinting in her affection for them, unsparing in her discipline and, unlike one of Edward's old flames, NOT A RACIST.
  • A Maori station hand and his wife. He's gotten into trouble over alcohol (A real case of someone needing to work out his own rehabilitation here in the mountains.) and she is dangerously pregnant with their second child. Fiona does all the housework when the wife goes on bed rest, which proves her to be both not lazy AND NOT A RACIST. 
Other steps on the road to Fiona's Rehabilitation include learning to ride horses (Something which terrifies her), giving mobility-saving massages to Trudy and taking the children to the cottage over in Wanaka for a couple of weeks. Edward agonizes over letting her go sample the wild lights of an obscure New Zealand town, but decides it will be fine as long as there will be another adult around to watch her. 

Miss Trudington was not the chaperone Edward hoped she'd be.
Meanwhile, Fiona just wants to do her job, have her character vindicated and love the children (all the while weeping discretely into her pillow for Ian). Moving on from that loss feels impossible. But (Symbolism Alert) have I told you what Edward's profession is? Road-building. Cutting passes through impassable terrain. Linking two distant points.When Ian sends an opal necklace (to match the engagement ring he got her), it's Edward who sends it back with a reminder that Fiona isn't his wife and that opals are kind of tacky anyway. I dearly hoped that when Edward's letter arrived, Ian's new wife opened it and caused a scene.

One day, Edward asks Fiona to clean his study out and she finds an airmail letter from Edinburgh. It's Fleur's letter (telling her husband (the children's father) that she is going to leave him for another man--Edward) but it's not been opened. Robert never saw it. Ergo, the gun "accident" really was an accident. Edward tells Fiona that night that the emotional thickets have been cleared. (Claps hands.) It's time for him to do some courting!
Alas, Edward was not as specific and unmistakable
as Teen Legend Jake Ryan.

But first a rescue. Fiona and the children are caught in a landslip and she rushes to save James, the wee-est of the children, bracing herself above a protective culvert and shielding his body with her own. I love this scene so much. Fiona can be compared favorably to Mother Teresa and Edward is cool-headed and competent, engineering her way to safety. He stitches her up later but his cool-headedness deserts him and he rushes to the garden to vomit.

Yes. Essie Summers turned vomit into a love token.

Further tokens of love are Edward inviting her brother in from South Africa and having the domestic intelligence to have extra wild pig and cream on hand for her surprise guests. (Grab him, Fiona!) When Trudy is on the verge of announcing her engagement to an old beau, Edward takes Fiona aside. Isn't it time to admit they love each other?

The timing of that is too perfect. Fiona wades into him with a lot of stabbing exclamation points about how he's never trusted her and now that he's about to be left high and dry of a chaperone, he can't start doling out the magnanimity. But Edward isn't going to back down this time. They're going to finally get it sorted out. He doesn't wait for her to explain that night in Edinburgh but takes her on wholly on the faith she has given him. It's New Zealand where there is ice in June and roses in December and Edward Campbell can believe in women.

Edward got the rest after a probationary period of abject grovelling.
Rating: 8/10 Digging Out the Sheep. There are so many unforgettable scenes in this one. Here is a sampling:

  • That image of the gauzy wedding dress wafting into the room--first when Ian is breaking her heart and again when Edward is judging her so harshly. 
  • The rescue with little James and after when Edward is stitching Fiona up and has to excuse himself to throw up. 
  • The young children greeting her with a haka on her first morning at Belle Knowes.
Something I wasn't crazy about was how devoted Essie was in re-quoting an exact quote (in one case a Joyce Dingwell poem about tourniquets) when it's resolved. ("Hey, Edward, remember how you said [quote]. It is being resolved this very minute!") It's mistrustful of the reader and these aren't long books.
I liked the little moments of side-eye Essie casts the rest of the anglosphere about New Zealand not having an established "color-bar". She wants none of your apartheids and Jim Crow laws.
But the real genius of this title is how Essie Summers shows Fiona and Edward's relationship building even when he hasn't put aside his distrust of her and she hasn't gotten over the broken engagement. Some authors would push too hard here, making them too obviously in love too soon. But Essie takes her time, clearing obstacles and whacking back misconceptions like she doesn't have a hard, 190 page count to fret about. 

The Misunderstanding: He thinks she leads a secret debauched life and must be reformed by wholesome isolation and fresh mountain air.

Location: Belle Knowes a sheep station on the shores of Lake Wanaka, Otago region, New Zealand

Other Notes: Mentions made of Pigeon Island, Lake Wanaka, Hyndman's (a bookstore in Dunedin). Writers Patricia Wentworth (p. 102) and Joyce Dingwell (p. 114) are mentioned as well as one of her own poems (p. 115).

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Writing With Betty: Janna Roznos

I have another author interview and, I can't tell you how much I enjoy hearing from the Betties on the subject of writing. Betty Janna was good enough to sit down and answer a few of my most pressing inquiries:

We're here to ask the hard-hitting questions.
Is writing something you've always done/always wanted to do?
I have always been a writer. I made my living working in the aerospace industry here in southern California as a subcontract administrator so I spent my time reading contracts and writing them. Over the years, I've volunteered to write newsletters for several non-profits, grants for our local historical society, and of course I've written stories for myself. I have intermittently written fiction but usually gave up on it for various reasons until a few years ago when I finally decided it is now or never, so I sat down and started writing the book that was rolling around in the back of my head.

Since then I have been published in an anthology, Secrets of the Moonlight Cove. A group of writers from the local Romance Writers of America (RWA) that I belong to invited me to participate. It was a HUGE learning process for me . . . getting an editor, applying for a copyright, meeting the deadline, and of course working within the group of writers and having all our stories intertwined with each other.
Moonlight Cove sounds like a place with ghosts
and nosy kids and a pesky dog.

What draws you to the romance genre? Are there other genres you would try?
I'm interested in reading books with strong, unique female protagonists and romance novels seem to always meet this. Also, reading is a joy for me, so I want the happily ever after or happy for now ending. I get enough of ‘bad’ news from the newspaper or watching the evening news. I don’t want that in my books.
I grew up reading Harlequin romances – those with the red edged pages. I didn’t belong to the Harlequin reading club nor did I know anyone who did. I bought them at the local YMCA used book sale. Needless to say, vintage Harlequins hold a special place for me.
My other reading fascination is Mount Everest. Ironically, I suffer from altitude sickness so although I do like the outdoors (my husband and I fly fish) mountain climbing is off my agenda so I read about it.
Do you work with a critique group/belong to a trade organization?
I am a member of the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and belong to two of their local chapters; one chapter is quite large (over a hundred members) so they have the resources to bring in some 'rock star' authors for programs. They also sponsor a local writers conference at one of the big hotels, which is always well attended.
The other chapter is quite small (about twenty members) so the programs are usually local writers. So, both chapters offer different perspectives.  Several of us got together and started a critique group but unfortunately it didn’t last – other priorities got in the way and it folded.
Actual footage of a folding critique group.
Tell us a little bit about how you developed the idea for your latest story.
The current story I am working on (rewriting in fact!) was inspired by the recession. I saw so many people my age mid - fifties lose everything: first their job (their career really) and then their house, their car, etc.
A good friend of mine, we grew up together and he has been like another brother to me, lost everything in the recession. Yes, he did make some poor financial choices too, but what stuck me was rather than reinventing himself he kept trying to grab onto what he had. I think the people who came through the recession were the ones that reinvented themselves for the ‘new’ economy. And so, my book is about a middle-aged woman who is wants to rebuild what she lost but then discovers — through a series of unfortunate events and meeting a really great guy, too — that for true happiness she must reinvent herself to be able to live happily ever after.
What was the biggest roadblock to getting out that first draft?
Although I've read lots of books, writing a book is very different. I struggle with grammar and spelling (And no, grammar check programs or spell check programs are not a help!) I also get frustrated and throw off the work and do something else. I’m very good at procrastination!

"I could plot my next chapter or paint my whole house with this
tiny brush while I have an affair with Richard Burton!"

However, the more I write I think the better I am getting at it. Also, I try to ignore that voice in my head that is constantly telling me I’m not good enough, or that no one will want to read this, or this isn’t any good.
What challenges do you find in making time for writing? How do you overcome those?
Even though I’m ‘retired’ I still find it a challenge to make the time to write. There are lots so of distractions – my garden, family, walking the dog, watching You Tube videos (Oh My Gosh! Don’t get me started!) and just life that demands attention.

I demand attention too, Betty Janna.
Tell us what challenges you about the process ahead of you--marketing, query letters, rejection, bad reviews, technical issues, etc., etc.
Writing is only one half of the equation - getting published is the other half. So many people have told me to just go head to publish it myself (through Amazon or iBook or another eBook platform). And, I think . . .yeah right! Self publishing is fraught with lots of decisions it’s not as if you just hit a few keys on the key board and then whamo! You have a book. I have entered a few writing contest and have done reasonable well – no wins . . .yet, but I have gotten some good feedback and that always helps.
I've loved hearing about favorite books that our Author Betties love and are inspired by. Which are yours (of every and any genre)?
Looking over my bookshelf, some of my favorite authors (in no particular order) are: Joanna Trollope, Julie James, Madeline Hunter, Pamela Aidan, Elizabeth Hoyt, Mary Burchell, Anne Weale, and Essie Summers. There are more, but books have a way of coming into my life and then leaving again on to their next home.
What do you like about Betty Neels? Any favorite books of hers we can fight about?

Partisans for 'Caroline's Waterloo' and 'Dearest Love' enter the octagon.
Betty tells a good story! In just few lines she sums up the character that as a reader we can truly see, identify with, and relate to. Her protagonists are strong woman within the context of the story. She also writes of a world that I’m not sure ever truly existed – right and wrong are definitely defined, good triumphs over evil. Love conquers all. It’s a place I think we all would like to live.
I think my favorite Betty Neels book is Dearest Mary Jane. It is the one I return to again and again for yet another reread; however, I haven’t read all of Betty Neels so who knows maybe I will find another favorite one of these days
Thank you so much, Betty Janna!

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Come Blossom-time, My Love--Video Review

Come Blossom Time, My Love--1961

*reads description of heroine with light
brown and curling hair...checks cover...
reads description again...*
Jeannie Fraser (22) is a typist by day and Cinderella by night. Like any good Cinderella, she comes with an evil step-parent (Miserly Bertram Skimmington who owns a pickle cannery!) and two siblings--Peter (14), who dreams of owning a sport coat, and Teresa (9), who writes revenge poetry.

One day, Jeannie gets a letter from her dead-fairy-godmother bequeathing her an orchard in Central Otago. And it is about time! Peter is on the verge of step-patricide, Teresa has the sort of cough that carries off operatic sopranos to have romantic on-stage deaths and Jeannie has eaten enough 'hateful, horrible tapioca' to last her a lifetime.

Jeannie couldn't take another night of pudding.
So she kidnaps the children and disappears. Yes. You read that right. She lays a false trail, buys new clothes, registers under fake names...It only wants aviator glasses and trench coats to be more thrilling.

When she makes it to her new estate, she walks bang into the path of her new manager. And, quelle horreur, THEY KNOW EACH OTHER. Ahem. Back in Auckland, Jeannie caught him in a torrid embrace with her noble boss's Very Young Wife.

Jeannie is ready to go off-grid like a doomsday prepper, and is horrified to think that she could be tracked down if her manager talks. For his part, Fergus MacGregor is still furious about the Puritanical self-righteousness she exhibited when she walked in on him committing a Class C Human Resources Violation in the boss's office.

Jeannie thought that his melting brown eyes bumped it up to a Class B.
And so they square off for The Great Patriotic War of Mutual Misunderstanding. Of course the children adore him. Children cannot be trusted to hold a grudge when you really need them to. Living on the same land doesn't help her either. Their proximity to one another means that little bits of correct information get shaken loose like sheetrock dust raining into a basement apartment. He notices that she is careful not to spend too much of the inheritance. She admires how he looks after his elderly uncle. She is quick to pitch in on the harvest. He's been trained as an accountant.

And if it all looks like they're headed south on the gentle wheelchair ramp to Sensible Conjugal Bed-flannels, never fear. Neville is here. He's a local sheep buyer and I cannot imagine Essie Summers writing him without the hugest grin on her face. He is an unapologetic scoundrel and gets all the best lines.

"No good getting mad with me. Just forget it.
I'm quite unsnubbable."

He is NOT, marriage material. When he asks her out, Fergus arranges to come and watch the children, bringing a game of Monopoly under his arm and some bottles of pop. (Does he hope Teresa will blab family secrets? The lime-fizz can't hurt.) Now Jeannie has no excuse to hide herself away. Soon she discovers that Neville has an unfortunate family connection: Cecily. The Young Wife. The Torrid Affair-er. A woman who knows Jeannie disappeared and has good reason to hate her.

Over time, Jeannie hates thinking of that overcharged moment in her boss's office, even more than she used to. Fergus is fighting his own attraction for a woman who doesn't trust him. When he kisses her, he says, using insult like a suit of armor, "Neville will teach you if I don't." A girl cannot take that sort of thing lying down. She retorts, with a sort of malicious sting, that it's been pleasant to learn from Neville. But then she trips all over her dawning realization.

The next time they kiss, it's for a better reason: wanting to. Too bad it's the night that Cecily, like a taco combination plate, returns. Thereafter, the emotional landscape becomes inflamed and feverish. No. Wait. That's her appendix. It bursts on the way to the hospital. Though they have just had ANOTHER fight, Fergus lies and says he's her fiance.

Editorial Hectoring: Look, Fergus. I might have thought twice before adding another layer to the constraint and complication already so abundant in your relationship. But what do I know? I've only been married for twenty glory-filled years. 
The More You Know.........
When she is recovered enough to be interviewed by the Press, word leaks out that they are engaged. "I'll be termed an opportunist," he says, reading the item he helped to plant. His bright eyes are on hers, waiting... When she calls the idea ridiculous, he breathes easy. It won't matter to her that he has nothing but a modest bank balance and a decent car.

When the engagement becomes known, they are forced into acting out the charade. But not in private, Fergus. "You know I'm a bounder," he replies. "You knew it from the start." He might allow his lips to twist cynically but they are too busy rearranging themselves over HERS.

Later, Fergus confesses to having spent three month in prison on a charge of drunk driving. (That's why he's always pounding lime-fizz.) Jeannie's faith in him finally makes him tee up his pride, whacking it with the 3 iron for a long bomb down the fairway. May it be forever lost in the rough or eaten by an alligator.

Then, Cecily's husband, The Noble Boss, dies.

ROLL CALL! We have:
Cinderella, Who is On the Lamb and Pathetically Pleased with her Sham Engagement
A Chiseled Jaw With a Mysterious Past and an Unspoken Passion for the Girl Who Wears His Ring
The Well-looking Widow

Bad-Girl Guidebook, Rule #4: If you can't BE good, have good lipstick.

The end comes when Cecily tries to blackmail Jeannie with the knowledge of how she left Auckland. Frightened for her brother and sister, Jeannie duly breaks off her engagement and Fergus gathers them all in Cecily's drawing room like Miss Marple, cracking the case at the end of the who-done-it. There will be no more things left unsaid and he addresses the DUI first. It was Cecily who was drunk and grabbed the wheel. He sold his accountancy practice to pay for her reconstructive surgery. But, all in all, he will be a decent marriage risk. (Which Jeannie had already sorted out for herself.)

Jeannie unburdens herself about the Tyrannical Pickle Man and finds out that he DIED the day she left Auckland! Cecily, the lying snake, kept that info back. Oh, and she threw herself into his arms, that day in the boss's office.

It's all over but the, kissing. There is a LOT of kissing.

Rating: 6/10 Fire at the drapers. I have a lot more affection for this book than that rating suggests. It's kind of an outlier for The Summers Canon since the hero is an orchardist with a past. There is a smashing secondary love-story for a later-in-life couple. I also love that Jeannie has a really good reason (two actually--Peter and Teresa) to stay quiet about why she left Auckland. So it's not just pride keeping the plot going. But I wanted the main characters to have more fun together--to see that they would be a great couple--and, though I generally love the bits of poetry Essie Summers sticks into her books, these were not well integrated. Ultimately, I find that the parts hang together awkwardly. Still, it's a sweet book and I really love the way that the hero really has a serious set-back that impacts his marriageability.

The Misunderstanding: She thinks he's chasing a married woman. He thinks she is a snob who refuses to mix with the rural community.

Location: Strathlachan, an orchard near Corriefield, not far from Dunedin in Central Otago.

Other locations mentioned: Fiji, Auckland, the Roxburgh Hydro, the Leviathan (a hotel in Dunedin), the drive (also in Dunedin) through the Octogon, down Princes St and to the Burns statue, First Church on Bell Hill

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Moon Over the Alps--Video Review

Moon Over the Alps--1960

First order of business. Check out her orthodondia.
Nobody with teeth that good will ever be considered plain.
Penny Smith (actual name) has an awful fiance, terrible relatives and an inferiority complex. She's come to stew about them on a holiday where the fogs of indecision clear. Her engagement must come to an end. Unfortunately, an acquisitive magpie steals her engagement band just as she is on the point of mailing it back to Rotten Dennis.
She finds it...(reads text closely)..."horribly fouled".
So now she's got a poop-ring. Her moral compass is better than mine because she sends it to a jeweler to be cleaned instead of back to her crappy fiance. (PUN INTENDED)

In the mean time, enter Charles...Smith (not actual name). He's on vacation too, irritated that all the ladies are swiping right on his Tinder profile. Because of the crushing realities of modern dating, Penny's only annoyance is fending off the Entertainment Committee looking for another spiffing shuffleboard player. The two Smiths decide to join forces for the duration of their vacation--leaving the details of their pasts behind them and pairing up anonymously. (And you thought my Tinder reference was off the mark.)

But who can resist a tropical moon? Not these two. Soon Charles is making veiled promises and Penny is wishing her poop-ring were already winging its way to Dennis because she would like to snog Charles with a clear conscience. They snog anyway, you guys.

Who hasn't returned a man's feces-encrusted love-token?
The next morning, Penny overhears Charles telling someone that she's fine for jaunting about on holiday with but she's rather a PENNY PLAIN!

Heartbreak, like an odd-job man, has trod over her happiness in hobnailed boots, crushing the tender flowers of her love. Moments later, when Penny finally receives the ring back from the jeweler, Charles is there to see her slip it on. Now it's his turn for the odd-job man to wade through the fresh cement of his budding devotion. (As a metaphor, this is killing it.)
When interviewed, the laborer could not be bothered to do more
than shout over the sound of his concrete saw: "DON'T SEE HOW IT'S

Though the terms of their agreement had always been "What Happens in Picton, Stays in Picton", Charles turns white and calls her a "rotten little cheat". Thankfully for the page count, she does not spend a moment wondering why a man who was so scathing about her looks should appear so shattered when he discovers she is taken.

Fast forward to Dragonshill. Penny has cut all ties with her poop-fiance and the terrible relatives to take an emergency job on a remote sheep station in the mountains. The father of her charges has been in an accident in South America, the mother has rushed to his side and "Uncle Carl" is there too.

Her responsibilities are the education and minding of four young children, most of the cooking and cleaning, and the companionship of Madame Beaudonais-Smith, a 91-year-old French woman. Let me skip a lot and tell you that she is FANTASTIC at it, whipping up delicious meals, enriching the young ones, baking bread for fun, being a champion skier, and speaking French with Madame after the poppets have gone to bed.

She's out to win "Survivor: New Zealand Sheep-wife"
Finally, "Uncle Carl" comes home and, lo and behold, he is Charles, Beaudonais-Smith. The tender flowers of her love come poking hopeful shoots up and she's bashing them back like emotional Whack-a-mole, hiding behind the formality of using his whole double-barreled name to keep her safe. He relies on the tried-and-true method of quelling his own burning passion--a classic of elementary school relationships: Name-calling. 

A cheap two-timer. Someone who cuts and runs at the first chance. A girl who is not to be relied on. 

A letter from her poop-fiance (I can't go change it now.) makes Charles scathing enough for even his grandmother to notice.
Madame: Charles totally likes you. Like, like-likes you. 
Penny: No, no, I am a hump-backed, wall-eyed toad! 
Madame: You have assests, girl! Your voice.
Penny: Um...?

See, the French have a proverb: "The tongue is the road to the heart."  (Clears throat, steps to podium, taps microphone) Dear Peoples of France, We know how you kiss. We have a name for it. That proverb's a little on the nose...even for you.

But Penny is coping beautifully with all the hardships of back-country living until Verona shows up. Verona is just a stunning auburn-haired model with an antipathy to mountain living. Of course Charles is in love with her and not adverse to flirting with Penny to show Verona (whose name I cannot sign off on) he's got more than one string on his bow.

I'm going to skip a lot here but notable highlights include Charles chucking Penny into a horse trough when she won't use his first name; Charles rifling through Penny's closet, choosing a dress and making her come to tea when she prefers to act like a servant; the careful way Charles proposes in hypotheticals, painfully aware that a mountain man hasn't much to offer; the almost Victorian law Penny lays down when she demands he (the son of the household) not 'meddle' with her (the help)...

Penny had to remind herself that she did NOT want to be meddled with.
Definitely NOT.
Usually NOT.

One of the reasons she can't duck into an empty closet with Charles for some light meddling is that Penny has grown to like Verona. Despite her having all the qualities necessary to be a really cracking villainess, Verona is also a delight. But when a nearby neighbor is horribly injured, the truth comes out. Verona doesn't love Charles at all, but this other fellow with the crushed ribs...

As for Charles? Embracing Verona would be as exciting as watching butter melt. (I don't know your life.) He makes it clear that he is not attracted to alabaster princesses, but is he interested in Penny Plains?

We don't find out until after the best adventure ever. Penny, with no help at all, has to hike out to the snow-bound hut where Charles has sent a distress signal, stitch up his bloody wound, assess the likelihood of death (High), throw his massive frame onto a wonky dogsled and drag it over terribly rough ground (on her bloody knees) back to the homestead--all while Charles is out to it.

Oh my gosh, you guys. I live for this stuff and I cannot approve of myself at all. It's all martyrdom and yet here I am: standing in a queue waiting for my Triple, Venti, Non-fat, Caramel Martyr-iato.

As he recovers, Charles comes to the slow, dreadful realization that she was the one who saved his life and in what manner she did so. Later, he discovers her raw and blistered shoulders and says these actual words (no-I-am-not-kidding): "Off with your blouse."
Is this the right moment to tell you that Madame
investigates 'glandular fever' in one of the shepherds by
examining his groin?

He summons the courage to try to win her again and has the good sense to laugh in her face when she tries to peddle the lie that she is just not interested. He knows she loves him. She's got the scars to prove it. So when she finally flings his words about 'holiday jaunts' and 'Penny Plains' at his feet, he tells her he'd been talking about a stupid boat and begins to tell her in no uncertain terms just how attracted he's been.

When they finally get engaged, Madame is waiting for them in the salon with the parure of family emeralds.

Rating: 8/10 Digging out the sheep. Honestly, this rating means nothing. I struggled to start this book but once I got going, I raced to the end. The really glorious part is that Essie Summers takes the time to go through Charles's wrong-headedness, point by point. Sometimes I feel so short-changed in that department by these mid-century Harlequins but if Essie Summers makes her characters suffer, there's going to be some settlement of the accounts. And I love it.

The Misunderstanding: He thinks she's a worthess two-timer. She thinks he finds her plain and that he's in love with someone else.

Location: Starts in the Queen Charlotte Sounds near Picton. Ends at Dragonshill, in the mountains near Lake Tekapo in South Canterbury

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Five Reasons to Read Betty Neels

I am a terrible door-to-door salesman. Granted, my evidence for this rests on an abysmal record of moving beef jerky sticks for the 4th grade school fund-raiser. But I did no better hocking chocolate bars, frozen cookie dough or novelty lollipops. Betty Neels, though? I am an evangelist for Betty. Here is a loosely compiled list of reasons everyone should read the works of The Mighty Betty Neels.

Come buy what I'm selling.

The cads: These rotters work more angles than a lesser-known Kardashian. (To what end, Betty Keira? To what end? To seedy, loveless Brighton, my Betties.) They run out of petrol on lonely Dutch roads, march British nurses past antiquated mummies without a fortifying tea, stick them with the bill when offers to 'get away for a quiet weekend' are refused, run from fires, practice medicine poorly and, worst of all, damage original Gina Fratini gowns by being stupid and bad kissers.

Yes, yes, I ought to long for the complicated embrace of classic literature's multi-faceted characters. But that's like telling myself I ought to eat kale instead of hot Cheetos. Those hot Cheetos have to be eaten, ladies. Just leaving them in the pantry would be wasteful.

The cleverness: Let me give a hard eye-roll to the suggestion that sweet romance is, de facto, dumb romance.

For the love of Grabthar's Hammer, declining to write
about sexy-times is not proportionally related to IQ.

Consider some Neels characters. Chef Florina Payne dumping lemonade over the woman who insulted her sacred honor, enjoying the chemical reaction all that acid is likely to do to tinted hair. Or Gideon van der Tolck of The Silver Thaw, whose proposal, given too soon, betrays the depth of his love as well as the self-preserving humor he cloaks it in. How's about Rose Comely wooing her Dutch doctor by singing nursery rhymes to little Duert ter Brant as he revives consciousness, setting the doctor firmly on the path to appreciating the Amazonian goddess masquerading as a plain Gold Medallist.

Betty Neels is a master of the satirical observation, the not-quite-nice impulse noted and smothered, and the soft, soft moment when everything changes forever. 

The comfort: You Betties are a well-read lot so I find it particularly sweet that you've taken books from The Canon to the hospital as you've gone through surgery or turned to them after the loss of a family member.

Following the inexorable courtship of a vast Dutch surgeon and an excellent British Night Sister who will invariably fall asleep in his socking, great Bentley as he drives her into the country for a spot of fresh air before bed... It's all very gentle and undemanding. Even when Aunt Thirza dies of leukemia, it sounds like the most charming pop-off in recorded history. Tea, a moss rose bush, the lies of a medical professional, and one's own garden. I found myself nodding, "What a lovely way to die." When one is feeling poorly, Betty Neels can be counted on to deliver the goods.
"Take some iron pills, lie down and go towards the light..."
The cast: So many extra characters round out the world of Betty Neels. Indian owners of the local grocery store who tot up the canned goods even while the lovers make their declarations, Jan in Cassandra By Chance, tending an ogre in a lonely cottage. Careless sisters forgetting to pay the nanny or forgetting they even have children, mothers illustrating in garden sheds, fathers with an elderly Morris and a dicky heart...

There's something for everyone here.

The craving: Okay, yearning. But I wanted another 'C' word since I was already on a roll.  Though our characters stay well away from physical 'no-fly zones', this does not mean they are unmoved by passion. For instance, Never Say Goodbye's Isobel Barrington. I'm thinking of the amber necklace--a token from a man she is sure doesn't love her--worn surreptitiously under blouses, next to her skin. All the heroines who take dreadful private nursing jobs to run away from hot, hot Dutchmen. Proposals, second proposals, swooping kisses, gleams in hooded eyes, slowing a car through a village on the off chance he might see the heroine in the yard...
Sometimes you have to read the subtext
So many feels, so much wanting. And The Great Betty's genius is getting you to want her couple to get together as much as they do.

I cannot hope to spark the next battle in The Great Turban Wars with this post but I'd like to know some of your reasons for reading Betty Neels.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Writing with Betty: Interview with Ilana Miller

Betty Ilana looks like she knows secrets and might share them.
Perhaps she is going to tell the new Baroness that
she IS a Baroness whether she wants to know or not.
Sadly, this will end with a cup of coffee being spilled
down her frock.
As an Adjunct Professor of History, Betty Ilana is super smart. But I also feel that she is the kind of Adjunct Professor of History who would nod approvingly and cast a sympathetic eye over my plan to wear a bedazzled tiara when I totally watch the entire broadcast of the upcoming royal wedding (even the part--no, especially the part where guests are dropped off in mortifying mini-buses, decanting on the sidewalk in their big hats and wedding finery.). I loved how game she was for this interview. Let's go.

When and how did you get your start writing?
I’ve been writing since I was in the 2nd grade.  It began with a trip diary that was given to me before a 5 month trip to Europe and Israel (when I first visited Holland and mother bought me a pair of wooden shoes which I never wore!), onto the third grade when I wrote short stories, and on after that. Mostly I just wrote for my friends and myself, but later I thought I would try to write a Harlequin Romance.  Like most people, I was under the mistaken impression that it was a piece of cake.  Boy, was I wrong!!  Those little romances are very difficult.  
Yes, Tom Hanks. They are. They really, really are.
I tried a couple, even got an agent, but nothing happened.  Later on when I was doing my Masters, someone suggested that I submit my thesis to a medium sized British history publisher.  It was accepted, and the rest, as they say, is …er…history...

Where did you get your love of royal history?
My mother bought 3 volumes of My Life  by Queen Marie of Romania in New York city in the late ’40’s.  She was a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and her memoirs were fascinating and chock-full of amazing photographs of the Queen and her huge and varied extended family, “The Royal Mob” as QV called them.  I was about 9 years old when I pulled them out of the bookshelf.  I spent hours pouring over these photographs and eventually reading the memoir.  Along with that, I had also read portions of  Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie and was completely enthralled with the mystery of Anastasia.  As a graduate student I read a massive amount of biographies and memoirs of QV’s family and the Romanov’s and have been writing about them ever since. 

You write non-fiction* which I imagine must be so rich but so frustrating since you're not making up the people in your books and you have to take them as you find them. Who is the coolest person you've researched?
*Historical fiction too.
Even her pen name sounds smart
Actually, I suppose I like the limitations of writing non-fiction.  Although you can project some of your theories (hopefully thoroughly grounded in facts), you have an outline and you just go along for the ride, the story is already there.  The most wonderful person I’ve written about is Princess Victoria of Hesse and by Rhine, who became Princess Louis Battenberg and later the Marchioness of Milford Haven.  Her family name was translated to “Mountbatten” and she is the mother of Lord Mountbatten, the grandmother of Prince Philip, the sister of the Empress Alexandra, and first cousin to 41 other grandchildren of Queen Victoria.  She was smart, practical, she weathered great tragedy in her life and was completely honorable.  She was also someone who did her duty, not a virtue that is celebrated these days.  She became a role model for me. I wrote about her and her three sisters in a book called The Four Graces: Queen Victoria’s Hessian Granddaughters.

Whose story have you been sorry you couldn't change?
A couple.  I guess like most people who are interested in this, I wish I could have at least saved the five children of Nicholas and Alexandra.  The parents, I have very little use for, but I hate that the four daughters, one son and five servants, completely guiltless, were murdered with the pair.  I might also change who Nicholas married as Alexandra was completely unsuitable to be Empress of All the Russias.  However, theirs was personally a devoted and passionate love story.  I don’t imagine one of them would have liked to have lived without the other.
I would change Prince Harry's story, of course. Putting off growing a
beard for so long was a massive blunder.

You have worked with a co-author. How does that make the process harder? How does it make it easier?
Easier since I didn’t have to write the whole book.  However, with the gentleman with whom I collaborate, I don’t get the impression he puts half the thought into things that I do.  However, he is also my publisher, so I am grateful get things out there.

Where do you get the ideas for what to write about next? Do you have much choice?
My publisher gives them to me mostly.  He publishes a royal history magazine and I am responsible for a feature called “Who’s in the Photograph”.  

With a follow-up feature called "Who's Taking the Photograph?"

He owns nearly ½ million rare royal photographs and he choses one and I write about it.  He has the awareness of where my specialties lie and so usually gives me one with people about whom I have many opinions.  Since it’s a feature, I can serve up those opinions at will.  As far as another royal biography, it is possible I will write one in collaboration with my publisher about the Greek Princesses, cousins and sisters of Prince Philip.

I imagine non-fiction writers to be more organized and systematic about their writing since they can't just go where their imaginations take them. What would I be surprised to find out about non-fiction writing?
I think you would be surprised to know how much of one’s own emotional experiences go into writing about historical personages.  I think, for me, it was like understanding a friend's problems and issues and putting myself in their shoes.  Because of that, there is an amount of perspective that is personal.  I’m not sure that’s the right approach, but it works for me.
Araminta liked when Maise the Ward Maid confided her problems,
but she wondered if it was bringing her down.
Let's pivot and talk about your own reading tastes.
My favorite books are historical novels, non-fiction biographies (big surprise),romances and science fiction.  My favorite historical novel has to be Katherine by Anya Seton.  Other favorites were Gone with the Wind, Exodus, The Nun’s Story.  In the 1970-90’s I also read lots of what were pejoratively called “bodice rippers” with lots of trips to Brighton, but I also loved the time-travel ones, and also like time travel science fiction.

What do you find appealing about the works of Betty Neels? (It can't be the royals because they hardly show up--a couple of minor British royals open hospital bazaars and then there's the Dutch edel but otherwise hardly a mention*.)
I actually remember one of the RDD’s living near Het Loo, which is of course one of the residences of the Dutch Royal Family.  I discovered TGB in the 70’s when one of my girlfriends lent me of those Harlequin Omibuses which contained Fate Is Remarkable.  I loved it.  A few years later I was in London and looking around for some airplane reading in the book section of a department store and there she was  — another double header which of course I read on the plane with great pleasure. Eventually I started collecting as most of us because I found that these books, despite their formulas were good for constant re-reads.  Why?  I’m not sure…I know we’ve all said how cozy, comforting and relaxing a read they are.  
Better if they're well-creased paperbacks.
Better yet if they're all on Kindle.

I suppose I like that most everyone is friendly, good, honorable and does the right thing.  I love that they eat scads of food and don’t get fat.  I love that they have servants who love them and whom they love.  Their appeal is that they are the epitome of NICE.  Also, they are better than sleeping pills.

*I remembered that the Dutch queen does pop in at a garden or tulip farm in at least one of the books.