Research Trip!

By the time A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder came out in 2018, I had already done enough research to plot three books. At the time, I didn’t know if there would be any more. When I signed a contract for an additional three, I decided 2020 would be the year I travel for research. I knew at some point in those three books, Frances and George would marry and they’d have to take a wedding trip somewhere, right?

We all know what happened to travel plans in 2020, and 2021 wasn’t much better. I finished books four, five, and six with my sleuths remaining firmly in London. Then I got an offer to write three more. What luck! The timing couldn’t be better both for me and my characters. Travel was happening again in 2022. And, for my characters, the Paris Exposition of 1900 was just beginning.

I don’t like to get too far ahead of my books, but I’m sure you know that while we wait for the publisher to release book six, which I’ll be blogging about in the coming months, I’m hard at work on book seven. I won’t say anything about the plot, it’s still subject to change anyway, but I had so much fun doing research in Paris, I just have to share it!

The image at the top of this post is of the exposition grounds. They covered 543 acres with the prime locations at the Champ de Mars, the Trocadero, the Esplanade des Invalides, and along the banks of the Seine. But most of the structures built for the exposition were temporary and are no longer there. I needed help to recreate the past, at least in my mind. I found our guide, Lucien, through a group called With Locals. A history lover and former teacher, he was as geeked out about uncovering the historical details as I was. If you ever need a guide to Paris history, visit him at: Une visite avec Lucien (google.com)

Lucien found some wonderful images from the past like the Palace of Electricity below. It was fitted with five thousand incandescent lamps and glowed like a beacon at night. Can you believe something this detailed was built to last less than a year?

Of course we did some exploring on our own too. The more I experienced of the city, the more I could see Frances and George there. I can’t say for sure, but you may see some of these settings in future books too! 
Pictured below: Eiffel Tower from the Seine, Notre Dame Cathedral, Interior of the Paris Opera House, Sacre Coeur Basilica in Montmartre. 

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Cover Reveal!

I just returned from a fabulous research trip which I will share next month. This month, I have some art for you!

It seems so early to do a cover reveal for a book that won’t be out for eight more months, but I’ve seen it up on some of the online retailers’ sites so if I want any element of surprise, it’s time to reveal the cover of A NEWLYWED’S GUIDE TO FORTUNE AND MURDER!

Do you like it? There is so much going on, which makes sense because the plot is positively diabolical! I had so much fun writing it and I hope you love it. Here’s what the book is about:

With her new husband George busy on a special mission for the British Museum, Frances has taken on an assignment of her own. The dowager Viscountess Winstead needs someone to sponsor her niece, Kate, for presentation to Queen Victoria. Frances—who understands society’s quirks and constraints as only an outsider can—is the perfect candidate.

Kate is charming and intelligent, though perhaps not quite as sheltered as she might first appear. More worrying to Frances is the Viscountess’s sudden deterioration. The usually formidable dowager has become shockingly frail, and Frances suspects someone may be drugging her. The spotlight falls on Kate, who stands to inherit if her aunt passes, yet there are plenty of other likely candidates within the dowager’s household, both above and below stairs.

Joining forces with her beloved George, Frances comes to believe that the late Viscount, too, was targeted. And with the dowager seeming to be in greater danger every day, they must flush out the villain before she follows in her husband’s footsteps, directly to the grave . . .

A Newlywed’s Guide to Fortune and Murder releases June 27, 2023, quite a while from now, I know, but if you’re an early shopper, I’m including some links below.

Amazon US

B & N

Indiebound

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The Enduring Royal Family

I’ve never been a royals watcher, but I do have a lot of respect for Queen Elizabeth II and the fact that she devoted 70 years of her life to the service of her country. As someone who retired from her job at 55, I find that absolutely amazing. Yes, she and I had very different jobs, but it’s hard to believe she didn’t occasionally want to throw in the towel and hand off the monarchy to her son, or she could have made him her deputy and handed some of her work off to him. Instead, she saw it as her duty and persevered. She’d been the queen for my whole life. I can’t picture the British monarchy without her.

In my books I have now reached the final year of Queen Victoria’s life and reign. Like Elizabeth, she gave all of her adult life to the service of her country—in her case almost 64 years. There are similarities in their heirs to the throne too. Both were the eldest sons. They were sometimes chastised for their behavior, and both were tied to a scandal. And neither of them was privy to their mother’s work.  
There was some question about what kind of King Edward would make, just as people are now wondering about Charles. But upon his ascension, Edward VII, the former wild-child Prince of Wales everyone called Bertie, became an immensely popular and beloved king. Hopefully, Charles III will enjoy the same success.



My husband and I are heading to London in a few weeks, so we’ll see for ourselves how the public receives the new king. This is definitely a research trip though. I think you know that I am always working two books ahead of the one you’re reading. Here’s a little hint about what’s coming up in book 7—we’re also going to be visiting Paris! And if I need to do research in Paris, it’s very likely Frances and George will visit too.

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The Writing Community

I gave a talk for a local Rotary Club this week. Public speaking is not my favorite thing to do, but I keep telling myself the more I do it, the more comfortable I’ll become. So, when a friend asked, I said yes.

I have to admit, I really knew nothing about the Rotary until this week. With the help of Google, I learned that, among other things, their purpose is to foster goodwill and provide humanitarian service. A community of people doing good works.

On the other hand, I write crime fiction. I spend my days thinking of ways to kill people.

Why would they want me to speak at their luncheon?

I decided to talk about the writing community, using my path to publication as an example. Since those of you who read my posts are all readers, I thought you might enjoy it too.

Part of the whole attraction to writing—and I think this is true for most writers—is that it’s something we do by ourselves. Unless you are co-writing, it’s a solitary occupation. Again, for most of us, that’s perfect. But once you have something written, you need someone to read it and give feedback.

So, I joined a writers’ group, and it was great. I learned how to give and accept criticism. And I learned I wasn’t alone. There were a lot of us hoping to find an agent or publisher. After doing another revision, I did find an agent, and she took me though another round of revisions. Then we got an offer from a publisher for three books!

That scared me to death. I was pretty sure they wouldn’t give me two years to write each book. But I really wanted to do this, so, with a little push from my agent and reassurance from my husband, I said yes and signed my first publishing contract. Gulp!

From that point on, it was on the job training. Publishing is a big mystery. At least from an author’s perspective. It seems to run on faith, somebody’s gut feeling, serendipity, and maybe a little magic. I don’t mean to present publishers in a bad light. The industry has been chugging along since Gutenberg. I’m sure they know what they’re doing, but apparently, they cannot share that information with their authors. When I asked my editor for a schedule, he referred me to my book’s release date. After a little back and forth, I learned that anything between that moment and that release date was all a matter of chance.

Meanwhile, my second book was due in just a little over a year. A year sounds like plenty of time to write a book, doesn’t it?

Except, you’re not just writing a book. I was given two weeks to send in all my ideas for the book cover and the cover copy and of course my author bio and photo along with an 8-page questionnaire.

I finished everything and started working on book 2.

Then my editor asked for an outline for the second book. As I was Googling, How to write a book outline, I got an email from a writer friend. You need to join a debut author group, she said.

A debut group is a private Facebook group of authors who are all launching their first novel in the same year. This is where you find people who are going through the same experience. We were there for each other’s highs and lows. To help each other with promotions, or edits, or ideas, and to crack the publishing code. Obviously, some of the authors would publisher earlier than others and since they were farther ahead in the process, they could provide the rest of us with what our publishers wouldn’t, some idea of what to expect.

A little research told me there was no such group for my publication year. So, I created one. Did I mention I’m an introvert? I had to find newly minted authors and invite them to my group. We ultimately ended up with 125 members, authors who wrote across all genres. It was the best support group ever.

Then, as the clock was ticking, I got back to writing book 2.

After a few months, I was emailed a big file with my copy edits. I had three weeks to get through them. From the debut group, I had a feeling I wasn’t going to like this. I had thought I’d delivered a clean manuscript, but my copy editor managed to find multiple errors on almost every page. After a few days of correcting my grammar errors, I began to wonder if English really was my first language.

I finished the copy edits a far more humble person and returned to making all new grammar errors in the next book. Meanwhile, 2018 arrived. That was pub year and in the debut group our books started releasing! It was joyous. We were so excited for one another. We celebrated with the newly pubbed authors and cheered each other on.

Around February, a big package came in the mail. Page Proofs. This is a mock-up of what the interior of the book will look like and it’s the last chance to find any errors before the whole thing goes to the printer. I had two weeks to find those little buggers and the debut group came through again with proofreading tips.

The next distraction to writing book 2 came in March. I received a box from my publisher. The Advanced Reader Copies! These are super cheap, soft-cover versions of the book. They’re meant to be given out to reviewers and bloggers. By the time I got back to writing, my deadline was only about three months out. I sent the manuscript to my writer friends to get their feedback. And since they were reading for me, I returned the favor. So, I spent about a month reading and editing friends’ manuscripts.

At the same time, I started working with my publisher’s marketing team. This mainly consisted of more writing. Lots of interview questions, articles, and blog posts. I got my manuscript back from my friends, made a few changes, and sent it off right on the due date.

Four weeks later, the first book released. I held it in my hands! All my debut author friends celebrated with me! I had a big launch party. I could have floated on cloud 9 forever, but there wasn’t time. The outline for the third book was due in two weeks.

And there were more debut author books to celebrate. It was about that time that I realized I was no longer that solitary author. I was part of a community. I’m now writing my 7th mystery and I have to say, I have never been part of a work environment like the writing community. In an industry where there can be only so many products (books) produced each year, you would think we’d be competitive and cut-throat. Instead, we’re very nurturing.

Other authors have reached out and helped me every step of the way. Each time that’s happened, it made me reach out and help someone else. I love writing. I adore being an author. I still don’t know how publishing gets done. But I’ve learned that like every industry, it’s not the job that’s fulfilling, but the people you get to work with and the community you create.

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The Countess of Harleigh Continues!

A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder (A Countess of Harleigh Mystery)

Four years ago today, I threw myself a party. It was to celebrate the release of my debut novel, A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder. I still couldn’t believe I’d finished writing it, let alone found an agent, and a publisher, and was at that moment in a book shop, Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookshop, to be exact, where copies of my book were on the shelf!

I’d done what other writers had preached—I wrote the book I wanted to read. It wasn’t easy but I loved the creative process and editing process, the plotting, the writing, the cutting! Then one day, I finished! I couldn’t think of another word to change or plot to twist. The thing must be done. Now what? I started letting other people read it. When they responded favorably, I looked for people who would actually critique it.

Finally, it got to a point where I either had to take the next step and send it out to agents, or just put it in a drawer and forget about it. It didn’t feel like a big risk to just send it out and see what kind of response I’d get. What I got was a few rejections, a lot of silence, then an offer! I couldn’t believe it! Somebody in the publishing business liked my book enough to believe she could sell it!

Then she sold it, and I totally freaked out! It was exciting, but it was also terrifying. The publisher wanted two more books in two years, and I would have to sign a contract. What if Etiquette and Murder was a fluke and I couldn’t do it again? Fortunately, by that time I had lots of writer friends and learned that this fear was so common, it had a name—Imposter Syndrome, the fear that sooner or later everyone would realize you had no idea what you were doing. Over the years, I’ve learned that it never quite goes away, but we learn to live with it.

With the encouragement of my husband and those friends, I went from sticking my toe in the water to diving in. It has been the most enjoyable and rewarding career I’ve ever had. (It could pay better, but nothing is perfect.) I love writing so much that when I turned in Mischief and Murder, the final book in that contract, and my agent asked if I wanted to try for another three books, it only took a moment to say, yes!

Just a few weeks ago, I turned in book six, the last book in my second contract and I’m delighted to say that thanks to you readers, I just signed on for another three books! I could not be happier to take you on three more adventures with Frances and George! And I think it’s fitting that the announcement came out on the anniversary of the release party for the book that started the series.

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IT’S PUB DAY!!

The big day for me and Frances Wynn. A BRIDE’S GUIDE TO MARRIAGE AND MURDER releases today, and for Frances–she’s getting married!

On the eve of her marriage to George Hazelton, Frances has a great deal more on her mind than flowers and seating arrangements. The Connors and the Bainbridges, two families of American robber barons, have taken up residence in London, and their bitter rivalry is spilling over into the highest social circles. At the request of her brother, Alonzo, who is quite taken with Miss Madeline Connor, Frances has invited the Connor family to her wedding. Meanwhile, Frances’s mother has invited Mr. Bainbridge, and Frances fears the wedding may end up being newspaper-worthy for all the wrong reasons.

On the day itself, Frances is relieved to note that Madeline’s father is not among the guests assembled at the church. The reason for his absence, however, turns out to be most unfortunate: Mr. Connor is found murdered in his home. More shocking still, Alonzo is caught at the scene, holding the murder weapon.

Powerful and ruthless, Connor appears to have amassed a wealth of enemies alongside his fortune. Frances and George agree to put their wedding trip on hold to try and clear Alonzo’s name. But there are secrets to sift through, not just in the Bainbridge and Connor families, but also in their own. And with a killer determined to evade discovery at any cost—even if it means taking another life—Frances’s first days as a newlywed will be perilous indeed . . .

Amazon usa flag canada flag uk flag Bookshop.org Barnes & Noble Indiebound

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A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder

It’s June! That means it’s time for another Countess of Harleigh mystery!

And she’s getting married! Yay! Hey. Wait a minute…how can Frances be the Countess of Harleigh if she’s marrying George Hazelton, who is definitely not the Earl of Harleigh.

Can she keep her title?

Should she keep her title? To find out, I had to do a little investigating into British titles.

Only one person at a time holds a hereditary title. There are cases where the titleholder is a woman, but since it’s usually a man, that’s how I’ll present this. In fact, I’ll use the fictious Wynn family who hold the title, Earl of Harleigh, as an example.

When Reggie’s father was alive, he was the Earl of Harleigh. His eldest son, Reggie, would have taken any lesser title attached to the family, unless there wasn’t one. In this case there wasn’t one, so while his father lived, Reggie would be addressed as Lord Reginald Wynn. Never Lord Wynn. His wife, Frances would have been Lady Reginald Wynn. Less formally, she might have been Lady Reggie. Never Lady Wynn. Never Lady Frances.

When Reggie’s father died, Reggie became The Right Honorable, The Earl of Harleigh, or Lord Harleigh. It was a hereditary title, and he was stuck with it. But for Frances it would still be a courtesy title. After Reggie died, she became Frances, Countess of Harleigh. That’s even true if they had divorced. But what happens when she remarries? Hmmm? Frances and George do get married. And these are the Countess of Harleigh mysteries, aren’t they? Should I really be drawing your attention to this?

I consulted my usual guide, Titles and Forms of Address, about this issue. There I learned that upon remarriage a widow forfeits any right to her previous courtesy title. That’s the rule. However, in practice, at least in Frances’ day, widows and divorcees frequently continued to use their titles after remarriage. Even though there is no legal justification for this, the courts have backed down and given no ruling when an ex-husband has brought a suit against an ex-wife for retaining her former title. Even Catherine Parr, the last wife of Henry VIII, continued to be known as Queen Catherine after her marriage to Lord Seymour of Sudeley.

So, strange as it sounds, the answer seems to be, if Frances wants to remain Frances, Countess of Harleigh, she can. You’ll see, in A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder, she hasn’t decided yet. Her mother has certainly encouraged her to keep it. Frances did spend nine years earning it. But on the other hand, she loves being Mrs. Hazelton. What do you think? Should Frances keep her title or style herself as Mrs. Hazelton? And if she becomes Mrs. Hazelton, should the series still be The Countess of Harleigh mysteries?

If you’d like to purchase a copy, follow this link!

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Victorian Photography

Research is always one of my favorite parts of writing historical fiction. When I read an advertisement in a 1900 London newspaper for a photographer who will come to your wedding or garden parties, I thought, perfect! In A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder, Frances and George are finally getting married. Photography wasn’t exactly new by that time, and it was exciting to learn that it had evolved to the point that the photographer could come to you. Frances and George lead busy lives. They would never have wanted to sit for a portrait like their parents might have done. A photographer who would come to the reception and take twenty to thirty minutes of their time taking several posed photos would be perfect. But how exactly did it work in 1900?

 Luckily, I found an expert to help me out. Dave Wilson of The Victorian Photography Studio in Gettysburg, PA actually works in the wet and dry plate photography that was available in the Victorian era. Wet plate photography had to be processed within minutes of exposure. But in the 1870s dry plate photography came along, which allowed photographers to go out and about, photographing nature, or events, or weddings because the dry plates could wait for processing. Back in their dark rooms, the photographers could make paper prints from the glass plates using sensitized paper and light and the customer would have his portrait.

Though sitting for a portrait no longer involved maintaining perfect stillness for several minutes, taking photos outside of a studio, meant the photographer had no control of the surroundings. Unintentional photo-bombing could result in a “ghost” in the background—a figure in motion that looked more like a blur.

Flash photography, though improved, was still fairly dangerous for both the photographer and the surroundings. Since Frances and George are having their reception indoors at her brother-in-law’s elegant London townhouse, they decided natural light was safer for all concerned. Frances and George are about to have enough trouble at their wedding reception. They don’t need a fire as well.

If you’re interested in historical photography, click on the link above for the Victorian Photography Studio for more information.

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Mystery Conventions Are Back!

I was lucky enough to spend last weekend at the Left Coast Crime Convention in Albuquerque and I had a wonderful time!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, Left Coast Crime is an annual mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, both readers and authors, and it’s always held in Western North America. Just in recent years, it’s been held in Hawaii, Reno, Vancouver, San Diego, and Albuquerque. The idea is to bring readers, authors, critics, librarians, publishers, and other fans together for a long weekend to pursue their mutual interest—crime fiction!

Author, Mary Keliikoa and I co-hosted a table for the Saturday Awards banquet.

Sadly, the last time we all gathered was 2020—which was cancelled due to the pandemic on the first official day of the conference. There are quite a few big mystery conventions like Left Coast in the US. Malice Domestic in Maryland, Thrillerfest in New York City, and Bouchercon, which like Left Coast, moves to a different city every year. They are all run by volunteers. They all involve some form of author panels, meet and greets or author/reader connections, book signings, banquets, party nights, a ton of fun and hugs and laughs! And that year, one by one, they were all cancelled. The organizers worked their tails off to put together some form of virtual connection, at least to present awards for those authors who were nominated. And we all said, Next Year, like it was a battle cry. Unfortunately, everything was virtual in 2021 too.

Two years later, in Albuquerque, it was such a joy to gather together again! Someone pointed out how fitting it was that Left Coast Crime was the last time we gathered together. Now we’ve come full circle. In 2023, Left Coast Crime will take place in Tucson, AZ. If you love crime fiction, you should check it out!

Just a few of the dozens of panels: Female Sleuths in Historical Mystery, The Importance of Family, and Spies, Official and Otherwise.

Books and Left Coast souvenirs!
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The Gilded Age

Have you been watching The Gilded Age?

Alva Vanderbilt (left) and The Mrs. Astor

For those who haven’t, it’s a series about the ultra-wealthy and the ultra-elite in 1882 New York City. I’ve heard several people complain about the exterior settings and the costumes, but what Julian Fellowes gets right, are the characters and the general attitude of new money verses old money.

I’m fascinated by this era. It’s where Frances has come from, albeit she didn’t attempt to break into New York society until 1889. It would have been just as difficult for her as it is for Gladys Russell. In fact, it seems a little too easy for the Russells, who I think may be based on the William K. Vanderbilts. But I think this only because the fictional Bertha Russell rules over her children with an iron fist, very much like Alva Vanderbilt.

Unlike Bertha Russell, Alva worked much harder to gain acceptance in Mrs. Astor’s New York society. Little by little, inch by inch, she gained ground in her campaign—not just to be part of society, but to rule it. To do so, she had to gain Mrs. Astor’s acceptance. She planned a ball to celebrate the completion of her fabulous new mansion on Fifth Avenue and let it be known her guest of honor would be her long-time friend, Consuelo Yznaga, who made one of the first Trans-Atlantic marriages to the heir to the Duke of Manchester. Nobody in society would miss their chance to meet a future duchess, not to mention the entertainment Alva was planning for the evening.

Vanderbilt Mansion on 5th Avenue.

Alva sent out 1600 invitations, but she didn’t send one to Mrs. Astor, whose beloved daughter, Carrie, was beyond eager to attend. It made perfect sense that Alva didn’t invite the Astors, since she couldn’t claim any sort of acquaintance with Mrs. Astor. There were rules in New York society after all. One of them was that the older, or longer established family made the first move toward friendship. Mrs. Astor had never called on the Vanderbilts, so Alva could never call on her. Mrs. Astor may not approve of the Vanderbilts, but neither did she want to be left off any guest list or have her daughter be the only young lady who didn’t attend the ball.

Mrs. Astor sent her calling card to Alva and Alva immediately sent the invitation. The ball, held in 1883, cost more than $250,000, but it made Mrs. Astor acknowledge the Vanderbilts and it made Alva a shining start in New York society. From that point on, there was no stopping her.

Now that I think about it, Bertha Russell still hasn’t been acknowledged by Mrs. Astor. Maybe there will be a ball in upcoming episodes.

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