Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The Rocky Road

If I knew it intellectually before, I now understand experientially that the road to publishing, whether indie or traditional, is paved with boulders. They come in all sizes and shapes, and in surprisingly various forms. There are sharp, nasty boulders that trip one up and throw one to the ground, slowing and sometimes temporarily stopping one's progress; small, slippery boulders that seem to be cunningly placed purely to make one's journey 'interesting'; and, low, flat boulders designed to let one stop and rest and think.

Slipping, sliding and maneuvering among them is a frustrating, maddening, exhausting experience. Yet now I've done it, I feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. I'm glad I didn't let the boulders stop me in my tracks. It was worth all the effort to achieve the goal. 

That's right. I'm now an officially published author of my very first book. It feels good. I am well aware that the next, repeat journey will feature a few unexpected boulders I've not met before, thrown in for good measure. But nothing will ever equal that first experience.

Having said all that, may I introduce you to the product of that journey among the boulders?

To Dream Of Langston was written 8 years ago, revised and rewritten within the past year. It truly is the 'book of my heart', as is often said. It is a coming of age tale, a journey of its own for the heroine, Katherine Fairbanks. Her story in many ways reflects certain stages of my own life, so I knew how she felt - her hopes and dreams - and I understood her final triumph.

If you choose to read her story, I hope you enjoy it, that it makes you laugh and cry and dream and sigh.

To Dream of Langston - Cover photo of yellow gorse by Rae Monet

Buy link:


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

To Dream of Langston Cover Reveal

I finally figured out how to convert my cover photo to .jpeg so that I can include it here! Please continue on to  the To Dream of Langston blog...

To Dream of Langston cover photo for Chapter One of the serialized version:

To Dream of Langston Cover

I finally figured out how to get my book cover converted to .jpeg so I could include it here! Please continue on to the blog....

The cover of the first serialized chapter [those of you familiar with the flora of northern England and Scotland will recognize the golden gorse]:

Monday, September 2, 2013

Màiri's Musings From the Sunroom-To Dream of Langston

Mairi’s Musings From the Sunroom

I’m blogging today about the upcoming release of my new book, To Dream of Langston, a dream eight years in the making. It’s my first novel, and I wrote the first draft as a means of dealing with profound grief. It is, in every way, the book of my heart.

I will publish it in serialized e-book and print book format. Release date for the first installment of the serialized version is September 30. In anticipation, I offer the following for your enjoyment:

The ‘blurb’:
    From the wild and beautiful landscape of the moorlands of England's North Yorkshire to the rolling bluegrass pastures of Kentucky, one young woman's passion carries her from love's first bloom to a love everlasting.
    On the brink of womanhood, Katherine Fairbanks glories in the sweet love of the boy next door. When her life is brutally ripped apart by tragedy, she believes she will never love again and seeks only peace for her life. But betrayal sweeps her across the sea and lands her in the hands of a man she dares not trust.
    Thoroughbred breeder Jayce Langston has little interest in taking a wife. His time is consumed with the struggle to help his family recover from the devastations of America's Civil War. When a lovely, mysterious woman pursued by thugs drops in a deep swoon at his feet as he leaves a New York club, Jayce is both captivated and intrigued. He returns with her to his Kentucky stud farm in hopes of learning her identity.
     Together, they must work against terrifying odds to secure a future where love triumphs over loss.

An interesting fact about the Victorian era:
The use of ‘snipers’ in modern warfare originated during the American Civil War. Union sharpshooters favored the .52 caliber ‘Sharps’ (Berdan) rifle, while Confederate snipers used, to deadly effect, the English .45 caliber Whitworth, which had to be obtained from blockade runners.

The origin of a familiar idiom from the Victorian era:
“the three R’s–reading, writing and ’rithmetic”: It is believed the source of this phrase, widely used in mid-Victorian America, is from a toast given in 1807 by an English politician, Sir William Curtis. There is some disagreement among scholars as to whether Sir Curtis’ toast was made tongue-in-cheek, or if he was simply ignorant of the proper spelling of the words ‘writing’ and ‘arithmetic’.

An excerpt from Chapter Eight of To Dream of Langston:
Can it be only five years since that day? Surely, it is a lifetime, instead. What happened to that child who sat on the parapet of a stone footbridge and dropped gorse petals into the water, to watch them spiral away on the flood? Where did that girl disappear, whose only care was that Jamie should think her beautiful in her new dress? Is she gone, forever?
The memories of that day are etched in my mind with clarity as keen as wind off the snow; yet, they seem distant and unreal, as if belonging to someone else. Maybe they do. Maybe that girl died, and this new person I now am, took her place.
The pain of those memories is not erased, but faded somehow, like cloth bleached too long by the sun. Much of its power to wound is lost. The dreams that girl embraced were destroyed in a single instant of time. How strange, then, that another instant has brought new hope.

Sunday, August 25, 2013


People have a lot of different reasons for what they choose to see when they’re on a trip to England. What I visit depends on if I’m there with my husband or my daughter or my sister. This July was a new adventure for me: my husband and I took our two oldest grandsons, Josh who is 13, and Marcus who is 11.

My husband is a steam engine nut, and so we saw (and traveled on) a lot of trains.
More about that in another blog. England is so rich in history, much of it before anyone was thinking in terms of North America, so we went to a lot of historical sites. We saw the Tower of London; Bodiam Castle—built in 1385, the perimeter walls are intact and the moat is still there; Middleham Castle, which belonged to Richard III (he’s the one whose body was so recently discovered under a parking lot) and which still has enough left so that you can get a sense of what living in a castle might have been like, and Sissinghurst Castle. Sissinghurst is more notable for its wonderful rose gardens and literary connections (Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf), although its history goes back to before the time of the first Queen Elizabeth. We got to introduce the boys to our oldest friends as a married couple—we’re all grandparents now—and to my husband’s cousin and his wife. My husband and his cousin have been obsessed with trains since they were about five years old. Both still are. And the boys were intrigued

Me? I wanted to see Chatsworth House.
I’d read about it and its magnificence, and when I followed the fascinating story of the Mitford family (six amazingly talented—and different—daughters who were authors and celebrities in the 40s and 50s) I discovered that the youngest of them, Deborah, who is the only survivor, had been the Duchess of Devonshire (now the Dowager Duchess) and she and her duke had managed to make a business of the estate and kept it surviving when other great houses were torn down because their families could no longer pay for them. The Devonshire estate was hit with death duties of 90% of the estate’s value in the early postwar years when the government was desperate for money to rebuild after the war damage. It took them until 1980 to pay it all off, but they are the 15 th generation to live there and the present duke (Deborah’s son) has a son, who has a son, so as a member of the staff pointed out to me, they are safe now to reach the 17th.

I’m pleased to say the boys were fascinated. There was the overwhelming grandeur to start with, and the collections of various Dukes—magnificent works of art and insects and stuffed animals and minerals (great chunks of valuable minerals) and statuary. There I must say we parted company: their favorite gave me the creeps. It is a modern statue of St. Bartholomew, who was flayed alive, holding his skin in his hands.

But obviously other people came to Chatsworth for different reasons, as I discovered. There’s a long pool extending down from the house with a great high fountain up at the house end. Because of the length, it looks narrow, but you’d have to shout to be heard all the way across.

I was standing well down the pool from the house, watching some ducks on the far side, when a movement caught my eye. There was a couple across the pool from me, and the young man had dropped to one knee in front of the girl with him. Of course my eyes widened and I couldn’t look away. And was very grateful the pool was wide enough so that they weren’t aware of an onlooker.

He talked to her very earnestly. She placed one hand on his shoulder, and then he fished around in his pocket and pulled something out.  They were too far away for me to see what it was, but I was sure I knew: he took her hand and (I assume—couldn’t see) put a ring on it. She threw her arms around him in a rapturous hug.

My husband came up about them and I hissed at him, “Take a picture!” So he did. It’s a pity there was no way of letting them know we had a picture of the moment, because by the time we got to either end of the pool, around to the other wise, and then back up to where they were, they would have been long gone. I suppose I could have jumped into the pool, thrashed across, and . . . but that would have rather spoiled the moment, would it not?

May they have a long and happy life together!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Màiri's Musings From the Sunroom: Brabanter Mercenaries

 Subject: Màiri’s Musings From the Sunroom – Mercenary Brabanters

One of the things I love most about writing historical romance is that integral component of the subject, research. History is endlessly intriguing as one delves into cultures, customs, languages and habits of peoples who lived in times and places far different from one’s own.
As I study the refined societies of the ancient Brythons or those of the High Medieval period, I occasionally feel as if I’ve wandered, not into another time, but onto an alien planet. Amazingly sophisticated levels of knowledge and technology often coexisted hand in hand with bizarre—and sometimes deadly—beliefs.
One of the most gripping areas of inquiry is the art of war. Brutality and conflict have characterized humanity’s struggle for life from the very earliest of oral tradition and written record. There is an undeniable fascination in the study of the ancient methods of conquest.
An enduring aspect of the making of war throughout the centuries was the mercenary—that hardy soul, peculiarly of ‘foreign’ birth trained in the art of combat-for-pay. Also known in those early days by the various terms ‘mercennarios’, ‘solidarii’ and ‘stipendiarii’, the reputation of these warriors was such that they might be hated and feared or glorified and blessed, both at once.
However, more often than not their chosen profession was vilified by the general populace, but not, as is the modern viewpoint, because they owed loyalty only to the one who paid them. It was common practice of those days for knights and warriors to fight for coin [even Crusaders], once they had fulfilled their forty-day ‘duty’ to their lord. But the monarchs and noblemen who hired them understood their positions—and frequently their very lives—depended on these skilled fighters. They used them as extensively as their coin would allow.
Historians agree mercenary armies in general were no more rapacious than regular troops. ‘Ravaging’ and ‘siege-craft’ were methods of warfare practiced by all armies. Kings routinely pursued the ‘scorched earth’ policy as a first step in launching war.
As specific units, there were among the mercenaries those with reputations as ‘honorable’ fighters, and those who became famous for their brutality, cruelty and excessive use of force. One particular band generally classed with the latter was the Brabanters [aka Brabácons, Cotereaux or Routiers (‘ravagers’)], so called because they originated from the area of Brabant located in what is now the Netherlands and Belgium. [Brabant was made a duchy of the Holy Roman Empire, c. 1190.] Later men of this affiliation were drawn from all areas of northern Europe.
The expense of hiring Brabanters was significantly greater than other early medieval troops, but they were among the elite warriors of their day. Unlike the regular armies composed of knights performing their required forty-day service, Brabanters willingly fought year round. Warfare was their way of life.
History records that more than one king owed his continued reign to the service of the Brabanters. One example was King Henri II’s successful use of Brabanter warriors in the Battle of Dol, Brittany, during the rebellion of 1173.
Among the most famous of the Brabanters was Mercadier, “prince of the Brabanters” and commander of the Brabanter forces in southern France. He fought in the Third Crusade. Later, his loyalty was given to Richard I, Coeur de Lion, whom he faithfully served until the king’s death (and after, when he captured the archer who shot and killed the king and had the man flayed.)
Brabanter archers—crossbowmen—may be the originators of the word “gaffle”. This was a steel piece on a crossbow that provided the leverage to bend the bow.
The Brabanters were among the most ruthless and brutal of the mercenary forces. Bloodthirsty and savage, they terrorized entire populations. As a result, the Third Lateran Council of 1179 condemned them en masse, directing that all who hired them be excommunicated.
Finally, the Magna Carta of 1215 banished all foreign mercenaries from England (which King John promptly ignored by hiring large numbers of Brabanter forces under the leadership of Walter Buc.)
Mercenaries of Brabant were first seen in England with William the Conqueror, though it was not until the time of King Stephen they appeared in significant numbers. King Henri II used them extensively, but for the most part kept them out of England (they served mostly in France). A little over a century later Brabanter mercenaries served in the Hundred Years War, fighting with the English armies in Cambrai and Tournay, France.

Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases. Christopher Coredon with Ann Williams.
Henry II: A Medieval Soldier At War, 1147-1189, 1189, John D. Hosler
Mercenaries in Medieval and Renaissance Europe, Hunt Janin with Ursula Carlson
Chivalry in Medieval England, Nigel Saul
English Historical Documents. 4. [Late Medieval]. 1327-1485, edited by A.R. Myers
Mercenaries of the Angevin Empire: Reputations and Royal Power, Andrew Rice, Florida Gulf Coast University
A Glossary; or Collection of Words, Phrases, Names and Allusions to Customs, Proverbs, Etc., Robert Nares
The Influence of Low Dutch on the English Vocabulary, E.C. Llewellyn

Monday, July 1, 2013

Màiri's Musings From the Sunroom - My Tutor, the Cardinal

Living in the country has some wonderful advantages to the city. It's quiet. Private. Tranquil.
We get more visitors than we do in town. Of course, they're more often of the feathered, scaled, four-footed and eight-legged kind, but who's complaining? I find them wonderful (except when the red-bellied water snakes and blue herons eat the fish in the pond).
I love the outdoors. I truly do. Maybe it's because I've been a city girl all my life, and moving to the country opened my eyes to the beauty and wonder of the natural creation. When the wind rustles the leaves it's like watching the unceasing movement of the ocean. The variety of insects - many of which look like little 'aliens' to my worldview - leaves me spellbound. Squirrels, possums, (the neighbor's cats) and the occasional deer or wildcat wander through our back yard…and the birds! Bird species here are countless, but in my city experience, sparrows, pigeons and the occasional dove – and on the coast, seagulls – were all I knew.
Out here, I can't even name the species I hear singing to me (well, they don't actually sing to me, but I feel like they do), in our backyard ‘playground’.
It's unfortunate, then that the outdoors doesn't love me back. I won't go into that (I promise). But the situation required a bit of doing on our part to get me outdoors without being outdoors. Hence, the sunroom.
I love my sunroom. Three walls of windows through which I enjoy the outdoors all year round in indoor comfort. In winter, I curl up on the love seat with a cup of Swiss mocha while the snow turns the world into ‘wonderland’. Many a day finds me standing in awe as God cleanses the earth with mighty rainstorms. Weeks fly by while I watch spring paint the yard in glorious colors. The room is a precious gift.
This past fall a new – and rather comical – joy arrived at my haven. I was scrounging some lunch when I noticed my two younger cats in the sunroom, staring out the window with that fixed concentration at which cats excel.
They were vocalizing that strangled noise unique to cats when they want to hunt, but can't. Curious, I moved closer, and then I saw it: an exceptionally territorial cardinal landed on the sill of the window above the sunroom door and began shadow-fighting his reflected image. The cats' whiskers and tails twitched with his every fluttering movement. Their bodies strained toward the window as if by sheer will they could reach the critter.
The little fellow did this from dawn to dusk for weeks. I thought he'd eventually realize it was a hopeless venture and give up. He never did. In fact, he also discovered his adversary in the window above the other sunroom door, the kitchen window and yes, even in the reflection from the shiny black surface of our little round barbeque pit (I've never read that cardinals were smart).
Suffice it to say our little red wing fighter taught me a lesson.
Being a writer (and an aspiring self-pubber) is fun. It can be rewarding and fulfilling, but it can also be hard work and teeth-gnashing to the point of saying, "Forget it! I can't do this."
When those times come - and inevitably, they do, like now, when I’m two months behind schedule on getting my first book published - I gather the shreds of my fortitude, remember my reasons for writing, and consider the instruction of my feathered tutor.
To this day, he still fights that interloper in his territory. I don't believe he'll quit until the day he meets his Maker. Neither will I…and if you are an aspiring author with a heart full of stories to tell, neither should you.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


Right at the moment, what I most want to be is twins.

A very special kind of twins, as it happens. I want to be both of them. The Romance Writers of America’s annual national conference is coming up, and I want to be in two places at once. It would be even more convenient to be triplets, but asking for that could be interpreted as unattractive greed. I would settle for being two.

Of course the basic problem is the old one of choice.  How we fight to maintain it! I would be furious if someone tried to restrict my right to free choice. (And they do, trust me.) The contradictory part of the whole business is that once I have taken my stand like the principled citizen I am, I discover the other half of the problem. Having the choice is splendid. Making the choice is something else altogether.

Now, I realize that deciding on which of two events scheduled at the same time is not exactly the kind of issue for which the American Revolution was fought—or any of the others, come to that—but it’s a problem for me.
One alternative would be to spend time with people who share my passion for the Celtic heritage that enriches all of us. I have newly joined the chapter, and there are many people there I would love to spend time with, to connect faces with names, to share a love of a particular kind of culture that has enriched the world as a whole.
I could spend time with other people who love Ireland!
The other alternative is to spend the evening with a group I’ve come to know well.  Old friends, in fact.  Even more excitingly, a lot of them will be dressed up in wonderful finery to dance the evening away. The Regency period, however you define it, was a brilliant and sparkling era. Technically, it took place between 1811, when the unfortunate King George III was judged unfit to rule, and his son, the Prince of Wales became the Prince Regent, and 1820, when King George III died and the Regent became George IV. More generally, the period between 1795 and 1837, when Queen Victoria came to the throne, is known as the Regency Era. It was a time of great art, great writers (Austen, Shelley, Keats, Coleridge—to name just a sampling), and wonderful elegance in manners, entertaining, and spectacular women’s dresses.

That’s what some of the other attendees on that evening will be wearing. At least one of them will be a woman I’ve wanted to meet for years.
So how am I supposed to choose?
It’s quite simple. I shall become twins. Just watch me!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

How Do You Escape?  by Lane McFarland
Summer in the North Georgia Mountains has arrived in full force as temperatures creep above 90 degrees. My outside haven awaits, ready for my fingers to dig into the lush red clay.
Stooped over, sweat trickling down my face, I diligently pluck the ever present ungainly weeds crowding my vegetable and flower gardens. If only my little plants would grow so well!
Surrounded by white Candytuft and Blue Star Creeper, Black & Blue Salvia’s tentacles thrust tubular iridescent blue flowers into the warm breeze. Ruby Spider mixed with golden yellow lilies and fuchsia-colored Phlox bloom abundantly nestled between deep purple Butterfly Bushes.

Strawberries hang in abundance, the red fruit sweetening in the warm sunshine while little green tomatoes sprout on vines weaving through support cages.
Not only are my flowers budding, but wildlife is fully awake. Delicate Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Indigo Buntings, and Eastern Bluebirds are among my frequent garden visitors. Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals and Yellow Finches fill my bird feeder stations.
That was until a much larger visitor stopped by...
Finding a free meal was well worth the trip up the mountainside for this black bear. He gave thanks for his good fortune; however my feeders will never be the same.
Along with living vicariously through my books’ beloved characters in days gone by, cultivating tender plants provides a much needed escape from the pressures of my job and life in general.
How do you escape the pressures of everyday life? Do you have a special place to retreat, regroup and recharge?

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Love Affair with a Place by Beppie Harrison

Home is easy to love.  It’s home, known and familiar. Usually coming home brings a little sigh of relief. Your feet know the shape of the steps. Shabby or neat as a pin, its warmth wraps around you.
So how is it that sometimes we go to someplace entirely new, completely alien, and foreign, and from the first time our feet step onto the ground we feel we belong there?  This is not home, but in some inexplicable way this is your place, too.
That’s how I feel about Ireland.

I first started to think about Ireland as a place, as somewhere that intrigued me, years ago, when I was in college.  I was drawn to Irish writing, the medieval ballads as well as the writings of the Irish scholars, learned men during a period when there were hardly any others in Europe – the period we call (not entirely accurately) the Dark Ages.  Then I discovered William Butler Yeats, and fell in love.
Not long after that, I married an Englishman and went to live in England.  Unfortunately, it was just about that time that what the Irish so characteristically call “the Troubles” began.  It was the old Irish/English impasse all over again: the Republicans, from the Irish Republic, in the overwhelming majority Catholic, wanted Ireland as a whole to be free of English (now British) domination. The people of North Ireland, overwhelmingly Protestant – many of them descendants of the Scots Protestants that Cromwell and his successors planted on the soil of northern Ireland, having first cleared away the Irish Catholics who had owned the land before – wanted to remain part of Great Britain. Using religion as a cudgel, both sides did their best to make the life of the other side intolerable. Good men on both sides were killed; women and children were blown up by omnipresent bombs.
I went right off Ireland.
It wasn’t until over twenty years of warfare made the population too weary to continue that an uneasy peace settled, which gradually became less uneasy. The barricades came down. The barbed wire was rolled and discarded. Belfast became almost an ordinary city, no longer under continual siege.
And finally I came to Ireland and lost my heart all over again.
What is it that won me? Part of it was the history. Much of it is as ugly as the Troubles themselves. The Irish were never a calm and peaceable people. The ancient history, muddled with legend and myth, is full of fierce warriors, both men and women, and brilliant tales of their beauty and bravery. The Irish fought each other before they fought the English.
It’s been over 800 years since the English (mainly then the Normans, the new conquerors of England itself) first set foot on Irish soil and made themselves at home. For 800 years the English have tried to make the Irish English, and for nearly the whole of the 800 years the Irish have fought back.  The Reformation added new fuel to the fire after Henry VIII reformed the English church to become Protestant. The Irish by and large chose to remain Catholic. The signs of their battles are all over the country. Ireland is a land of ruins – beautiful ruins, many of them now, weathered and sturdy even in decay.
More than that, Ireland is a land of talk. Story-tellers of magnificent tales, true or not. The same Irish who loved to fight are the Irish who now love to laugh and make wry jokes about the state of their country. An Irish pub is a warm and welcoming place, a window into the common life of the Irish people.
 Ireland is green. No one could have guessed that the good Lord had so many shades of green to spread around the rolling hills and rocky plateaus of Ireland. There is good land to grow crops on and much more stony, stubborn land to be conquered before it can be fruitful, but all of it is green.
I came to Ireland late, but when I came home to my cozy, familiar home, the distant seductive sound of Irish music was still in my ears. I’ve been back since, and I’ll be going again.  And in the meantime, part of my heart still lives there, and part of Ireland lives with me.
- Beppie Harrison