Saturday, January 30, 2016

A Very Short History of Spies and Spying during the American Revolution

by Kathy Fischer-Brown

As one of the world’s oldest occupations, espionage in one form or another has been around for as long as men have contended for territory and resources, waged wars, vied for crowns, and pressed for industrial and scientific advantage and superiority. While in no way possessing the skills, training, and technological tchotchkes of modern-day spies—or their counterparts in some of cinema’s great blockbusters—covert agents played a vital role in the American Revolution.

Anyone who’s watched the AMC hit mini-series, “TURN” (although I will not vouch for its total accuracy), knows that George Washington, as well as his British adversaries, relied heavily on gathering information about enemy strengths and weaknesses, their movements and supply lines when planning their campaigns. He also expended time and energy in disseminating misleading information through the same channels. But for the first few years of the war, American intelligence efforts were no match for the superior training and methods of His Majesteys agents.
This was soon to change. Under the auspices of The Committee of Secret Correspondence, created during the Second Continental Congress in November of 1775, General Washington was provided with an assortment of alpha-numeric codes, several kinds of secret ink and an equal number of ways to employ them, as well as novel means of transporting and exchanging these communiqués. In addition to hiding messages in canteens and false shoe heels, among others, one clever method involved tearing the message into narrow strips, rolling them up tight, and stuffing the slivers into the hollow stem of a goose quill pen. 

In the pictures shown here, you can see a simple but ingenious method employed by the British during their summer campaign of 1777, which ended in the defeat of General Burgoyne’s forces at Saratoga. The first picture (above right) depicts a seemingly innocuous letter from British general Sir Henry Clinton to John Burgoyne, comprised mostly of nonsense and false information. The Code Mask (shown left) was based on the Cardan System developed by Geronimo Cardano, an innovator in encrypted messages. A cut-out shape was placed over the letter, revealing the encrypted message inside the text (below right). It must have been fun composing a letter so that only the important words were shown through the mask. 
People from all walks of life served as eyes and ears for their respective causes. Among their numbers were women. Although but a few names have come down to us through history—Lydia Darragh, Anna Strong, Ann Bates, among them—no one knows exactly how many women worked behind the lines, selling food and other necessaries as sutlers in the camps and meeting places frequented by Rebels, British, and Tories. In many cases, such as that of Agent 355, a member of the famous Culper Ring out of Setauket, New York, we don’t even know their real names. It’s safe to assume that we never will.
Spying is central to the plot in the second and third books of my “Serpent’s Tooth” trilogy, set during the early years of the War for Independence. In Courting the Devil (book 2), we find our hero leading a band of scouts whose directive is to gather information vital to the American cause in advance of the British march on Albany. The heroine, Anne, is betrayed by a particularly unscrupulous American agent to Loyalists who have been misled to think she’s a spy. Her brutal “interrogation” is in no way far-fetched. In fact, I saved her from a far worse fate: that suffered by the real-life Canadian Tory spy, “Miss Jenny,” at the hands of French soldiers serving under Lafayette in 1778. Under the pretense of seeking her father in their camp, she aroused suspicions and was arrested. Not only did her captors try to beat the truth out of her, they raped her. If that wasn’t despicable enough, they cut off her hair—an act considered the height of humiliation at the time. Miss Jenny, however, did not relent and successfully completed her mission. After returning to the British camp with her intelligence, she vanished from history. It is interesting to note that women, in general, were considered too “simple” to understand the complexities of a military campaign, and for the most part, were not taken seriously. A rather short-sighted attitude on both sides of the conflict.
Captain Daniel Taylor, a character who appears briefly in Courting the Devil, was an actual Tory spy who plied his trade between New York City and the area around the upper Hudson River during the British push toward Albany from Canada. Although elusive, he was eventually apprehended by American soldiers, who went on to discover a coded message to General Burgoyne concealed in a hollow bullet in his hair. Taylor immediately swallowed the incriminating evidence, but was given a “strong emetic,” which did as it was intended. He was convicted of spying and hanged. Some say his execution was in retaliation for Nathan Hale’s death a year earlier.
In The Partisan’s Wife (book 3 of the trilogy), the reader is introduced to a number of shady characters, some real, some fictitious, as well as Washington, himself, and a few of his spy masters, as the stakes for our hero and heroine become deadly.


Kathy Fischer Brown is a BWL author of historical novels, and The Return of Tachlanad, her newly released epic fantasy adventure for young adult and adult readers. Check out her The Books We Love Author page or visit her website. All of her books are available in a variety of e-book formats and in paperback from Amazon and other online retailers.

Pictures courtesy of the Clements Library.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Earworm Mozart

I've fictionalized the creation of The Magic Flute in two novels, Mozart's Wife and My Mozart. Nanina Gottlieb, who sang the role of the heroine, Pamina, is the teen narrator of the latter Therefore, I thought I'd write about it, with all its "earworm" songs, and produced during the composer's hectic last year.

It has been said that The Magic Flute is a "pipe dream in which the ultimate secret is revealed, only to be forgotten again upon waking.” The opera is full of occult and masonic references, which would suit both the popular taste of the times (1791) for “magic,” and also the taste of Mozart and his friend Emmanuel Schikanader, fellow Masons.

Magical numbers--three Ladies, three Genii--and the multiple, nine--Sarastro’s Priests--appear repeatedly—and, because this is Mozart, in the music too. There are also a host of pairs and opposites among the symbolic characters: male/female, day/night, noble/common, perfect union/dischord. 


There are trials to be endured before the lovers may unite. Some believe that because Masonic "secrets” are revealed in the course of the action, the Brotherhood may have been responsible for the composer’s sudden demise. While I don’t subscribe to this notion, there certainly are lots of occult and masonic references scattered throughout the rather muddled story.

It is muddled, too, because Mozart had already begun to set music to a script (or "libretto") when he realized that The Theater am Weiden’s chief competitor, the Leopoldstadt Theater, had already launched a singspiel (those tuneful forerunners of Broadway) based on the exact same story. Their musical was called The Magic Zither.

Upon learning this, the writers and the composer simply changed The Queen of the Night from a good character into a bad one. Similarly, they changed her husband, Sarastro, from an evil tyrant into a benevolent “Philosopher King.”  This late tinkering with the story/music is obvious, for initially the emissaries of the Queen of the Night, the Three Ladies, give the  Prince not only helpful advice, but the magic flute of the title, to help him save the abducted princess.   Here, The Queen of the Night appears to be the injured party. Later, we learn that she and her ladies are now in league to thwart the Prince’s quest for enlightenment and the hand of her daughter.  

No one much cared, in the end, about logic. The music and the spectacle were (and are still) sufficient to create a luminous piece of theater.

Goethe’s mother wrote: “No man will admit he has not seen it. All craftsmen, gardeners…and even the “Sachsenhausers” (a rough rural suburb of Frankfort), whose children play the parts of apes and lions, are going to see it. There has never been such a spectacle before.”

This is high praise, even if the German word for spectacle carries a double meaning: “show” and “uproar.”

To quote Frederic Blume's essay “Mozart’s Style and Influence”: 

“To compose music for all; music which would suit both the prince and his valet…to compose music that had to be both highly refined and highly popular was a new and unprecedented task.”

Two-hundred and twenty-four years since this opera premiered, it's still going strong, a perfect way to introduce young people to this unique western art. Attending a first-rate production is easier and a lot less expensive than it used to be, for the Metropolitan Opera now broadcasts as many as ten operas every year directly into local movie theaters. Here's a cute clip (endure the undie commercial) :


In December I enjoyed a re-run of Julie (she of Lion King fame) Taymor's  inspired 2006 Met production. My only quibble being that I missed favorite arias, which were cut to make the show last only a tidy 90 minutes.

Happy Birthday, Wolfgang Amadeus!


~ Juliet Waldron



Thursday, January 28, 2016

What Hooks a Reader on a Story? By Connie Vines

Topic: What glues you to a story start to finish? What hooks do you use to capture your readers?

Engage the reader  

Purposely engage readers from the first words, first image, first emotion, and first bit of dialogue.
How to hook my readers?

Workshops, how-to-books, and instructors will say it’s the first two paragraphs, the first one hundred words, the blurb, the cover. . .etc. that will hook your readers.

As a rule, I agree these statements are true.

The key statement is “as a rule”.

I write what I like to read.  I like a strong opening hook, witty dialogue, or a detailed description of a setting, all have their place and all appeal to me.  If I have had a stressful day, I may prefer a book with more narrative.  A humdrum day, a fast-paced book with a strong action hook is perfect.  I assume my readers preferences are the same.

The story dictates the hook and the tone of my story.  Always.

Remember that story is primarily about characters and events. An opening without them isn’t much of an opening

When I select print books, I look at the cover, read the blurb, and scan the first three pages.  Ebooks, offer the additional benefit of reviews (though I am careful not to find spoilers) and speedy download. As a writer, I am very aware that I’m not the only entertainment venue.  I compete with movies, television, and in the case of my Teen/Tween and YA novels—video games,

I strive to forge an emotional connection between my readers and my characters.  I hope that my readers will remember my characters and think of them as friends. Friends that make an afternoon enjoyable, an evening filled with adventure, hope, love, or good old-fashioned or just plain sassy fun!

Looking for a hook?

Here are a few of mine:

Charlene hadn’t told Rachel that she’d fixed her up with a cowboy, much less Lynx Maddox, the “Wild Cat” of the rodeo circuit.  Rachel signed. She should have known.  After all, Charlene only dated men who wore boots and Stetson.  “Lynx” Rodeo Romance, Book 1.  BWL release.

Audralynn Maddox heard her own soft cry, but the pain exploding inside her head made everything else surreal, distanced somehow by the realization that some had made a mistake. A terrible mistake.  “Brede” Rodeo Romance, Book 2. BWL release.

“You and Elvis have done a great job on this house,” Meredith said as her older sister led the way downstairs toward the kitchen here the tour began. “Sorry I couldn’t get over, until now, but I’ve been sort of. . .well, busy.” Slipping her Juicy Couture tortoise-shell framed sunglasses into a bright pink case, Meredith crammed them into her black Coach handbag. She hoped her sister didn’t ask her to define busy. Becoming a zombie, and dealing with the entire raised from the dead issue over the past six months, was not a topic easily plunked into casual conversation.  “
Here Today, Zombie Tomorrow” BWL release.

Your first chapter, your opening scene, your very first words are an invitation to readers.
I ask myself, “Have you made your invitation inviting? That is, is it tempting or attractive or irresistible? Once a reader has glanced at your opening, will he or she find the story impossible to put down?”

That’s one aim of a story opening, to issue a hard-to-resist invitation to your fictional world. You don’t want to create barriers for readers. Instead, you want to make the entry into your story one of ease and inevitability. You want to make the story attractive and compelling.

I hope that I am successful.

Happy Reading,


Purchase Link

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Remembering the Challenger shuttle disaster - Vijaya Schartz

The Challenger shuttle disaster 30 years ago is one of those moments carved into my memory. I will always remember it, like people remember where they were when Kennedy was shot, or when the towers fell. I had a teacher friend who had applied for that coveted seat on the space shuttle. I was so glad he didn't get picked.

I'm old enough to remember  January 28, 1086. It was an age of innocence, when we believed space exploration had been conquered, and we would soon venture into space, build bases on other planets and soon reach the stars. Then it happened, the tragedy that broke the space program. Challenger exploded 73 seconds after lift-off.

The event was transmitted live on TV and the tragedy occurred as the world watched. At the time, it was a rare event, and children in their classrooms watched it happen with their teachers.

The explosion killed the entire crew, including a civilian, a beloved female teacher. Heroes, all of them.

Left to right are Teacher-in-Space payload specialist Sharon Christa McAuliffe; payload specialist Gregory Jarvis; and astronauts Judith A. Resnik, mission specialist; Francis R. (Dick) Scobee, mission commander; Ronald E. McNair, mission specialist; Mike J. Smith, pilot; and Ellison S. Onizuka, mission specialist.
Image credit: NASA

The exact timing of the death of the crew is unknown; several crew members are known to have survived the initial breakup of the spacecraft. The shuttle had no escape system, and the impact of the crew compartment with the ocean surface was too violent to be survivable.

At 5 pm President Regan addressed the nation live and ended his speech with: The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and "slipped the surly bonds of earth" to "touch the face of God."
In my novels, of course, I can control what happens, and I don't kill my heroes. One of the NASA space shuttles is featured in my series ANCIENT ENEMY, available everywhere in all eBook formats.

Vijaya Schartz
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick
Amazon - Barnes & Noble - All Romance eBooks - Smashwords - iBooks - Kobo

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Scorpio, that’s me-Tricia McGill

Buy When Fate Decides here.

I never thought too much about my star sign and its significance until later in life. It is very strange that out of a family of ten children only two of us were Scorpios and as far back as I can recall I was told how like my sister Joan I looked, and I was born on the 9th November and she on the 14th. We certainly bore similar characteristics in that she was ambitious and liked to get her own way. My husband always joked that the females in our family were all bossy and liked to get in the last word. She was very good at her chosen profession and I like to think that I was in mine. I certainly can’t abide being a failure at anything, although have to cede that I am no good at sports. The only sporting activity I did relatively well in was horse-riding.

These quotes are taken from my on-line Scorpio profile:

“It is true, Scorpio's can be argumentative and pack a powerful sting, but that's simply because they see all opposition as a healthy challenge.”

So, you see, it’s true what my husband always told me, I loved getting in the last word with any argument he set before me. We argued most days during our very long time together.

“They prefer their own company over those of others, and are quite okay with solitude.” 

Ah, so that explains why I became a writer, because I love spending days alone with my computer and just my dogs for company. And I do recall as a child that I spent a lot of time playing alone with my dolls and enjoying it. I still talk to myself, although nowadays I pretend I am talking to my dogs. I had imaginary friends and fairies to keep me company.

I also like studying my life path, and I found out my birth tree is a Walnut Tree—the tree of Passion. Here's another quote:

“Unrelenting, strange and full of contrasts, often egoistic, aggressive, noble, broad horizon, unexpected reactions, spontaneous, unlimited ambition, no flexibility, difficult and uncommon partner, not always liked but often admired, ingenious strategist, very jealous and passionate, no compromises.”

Yes, that’s me. See, again no flexibility, but I like the part about ‘ingenious strategist’

But this started out as me telling you something about myself. I’m a bit of an open book really. I was born in North London, last in a family of ten. My parents were honest battlers, both strong, well-loved gentle folk. I only have a handful of memories of my father as in those days (we are going back a long way) the men worked 6 days a week. The holidays were few and far between, with no such thing as medical benefits. I can’t recall him having a day off work during my childhood. He passed away when I was just 12, which was a tragedy for our mother, as after years of surviving two world wars and the depression, times were only then becoming easier.

I left school at 15 years old and can only guess it was so that I could bring in some money to help with the household costs. It certainly wasn’t because I longed to get out of school as I loved it, especially the art class, and geography (loved drawing the maps) and English class as I loved to write what we called compositions and are now called essays, or short stories. There was no mention of going on to college as that was not even considered by working class folk, unless you were fortunate enough to earn a scholarship.

I can’t boast that I tried many jobs and earned many skills, as after only a year working in the school laboratory as an assistant, and trying an office job in a laundry for a few months, I went to work for my sister who was now in charge of the workroom in a clothing manufacturing company (that’s the fellow Scorpio mentioned above).

After working my way through the jobs in the cutting room I graduated to pattern cutting and that is where I stayed for the next 20 or so years. I did have my own designing and dressmaking business for a few years when first coming to Australia, but soon found it was more profitable for me to work regular hours for regular wages than to work up to 10/12 hours a day for myself, sometimes 7 days a week. It was a learning curve and fun while it lasted, but proved to me that I was not a clever business woman, albeit a hardworking one.

Through all these years I was an avid reader but it was only when I retired early due to spinal problems that I set about writing full time. I have to thank my husband for that as he encouraged me in all ways.

The writing journey has been an eventful and fulfilling one. It has also introduced me to many friends and fellow writers, most of whom I have never met face to face and never will meet, as the likelihood of me travelling to the USA or Canada where my fantastic publisher Books We Love is situated is a pipe dream. I am not a good traveler and have only been back to England once in almost 50 years of living in Australia. I couldn’t take sitting up there for all those hours in a flying tin can more than once. I have flown since, but only within Australia. And why is it that every time I decide to use the toilet the plane hits turbulence and leaves me fearing the small cubicle where I am sitting will fall off.

I’ve always written what I love to write and never followed trends of any sort. Perhaps that was a mistake, but I still have faithful readers who have been with me from those early days and hopefully garnered a few new ones along the way.

Details of all my books can be found on my web page:

Or visit my author page on Books We Love:
For links to buy any of my books

Monday, January 25, 2016

Books We Love's Tantalizing Talent ~ Author Jamie Hill

Jamie Hill was born and raised in a beautiful, mid-sized town in Midwest, USA. At various times she wanted to be a veterinarian, teacher, cheerleader, TV star or a famous singer. The one thing she always wanted to be was a writer. Starting at about age ten, she penned romance as she envisioned it in one spiral notebook after another.

When she's not working at the day job she loves, Jamie enjoys spending time with her family, reading, and binge-watching Netflix. In her ‘spare time’ she can often be found writing, editing, or doing something more mundane like housework. After that, she's probably taking a nap.

A note from Jamie:

"I've always enjoyed reading romance novels and my preference is the contemporary genre because I can relate to it more than historical. I also love mysteries, so when a book can combine some suspense with a good romance I'm happy as can be. When I started writing I knew that was the type of book I wanted to create. Family Secrets was my first attempt at romantic suspense, and it was well received, reaching #67 on the Amazon Top 100 Paid Best Seller List. I also love series works, so the reader can catch up with the characters in later books and see what they're up to. I have three series I'm especially proud of, A Cop in the Family, Witness Security, and The Blame Game. I hope you'll check them out."

Find Jamie at Books We Love:  where you can click on the covers for more information about each title.

Latest release:
Cover of Darkness
Witness Security, Book 3

It’s US Marshal Ben Markham’s job to keep witnesses alive, but providing protection to BDSM social club owners who stumble onto double murders isn’t at the top of his bucket list. Still, protecting Mitzi Pomeroy until trial has its perks. Like close contact with gorgeous, smart-as-a-whip Assistant DA Addison Decker. Too bad Addie doesn’t come with a warning label. Who’d have thought an ADA could have so many secrets? Or that those secrets will find Ben and his partner Nick Pierce scrambling to keep them all alive? 


Discover these series:

Family Secrets
A Cop in the Family, Book 1

As if stumbling over a dead body isn't enough, Crystal Cartwright finds herself playing surrogate mother to two small boys when their father--her neighbor--doesn't come home. The kids aren't much trouble, but the thieves, drug dealers and kidnappers they're about to encounter are.

Detective Jack Dunlevy, a cop down on his luck, draws the cases no one else wants. A simple investigation involving a dead homeless man quickly changes as Crystal enlists Jack's help with the children. Drawn into a mystery that none of them could have anticipated, they're faced with a situation that will change their lives forever.


Blame it on the Stars, The Blame Game series Book 1Blame it on the Stars
The Blame Game, Book 1

Teacher Catlin McCall has second thoughts about dating the father of a student, but listening to his sweet talk one night under the stars, she finds him hard to resist. They stumble into an impetuous, passionate relationship which leaves them breathless and his family less than thrilled. A not-quite-ex-wife who decides she wants her man back, combined with a pair of manipulative teenagers, make for more problems than either of them are prepared to deal with.

Steve Naughton has no idea when he invites Catlin’s brother to join them for dinner that his fiancée has family issues of her own. Like the old adage, no good deed goes unpunished, and Steve’s surprise backfires when the truth comes to light.

“You feel like your life got thrown up in the air, and it’s landing as a different sort of life? Yeah, me too.” Blame it on the stars.

Complete List of Books We Love titles by Jamie Hill

Romantic Suspense:

Witness Security

A Cop in the Family 

Romance, Woman’s Fiction:

The Blame Game

Impulsive, a short story collection which includes

Three Wishes

Stillwaters Run Deep, Book One: Raven's Lament

Stillwater's Run Deep  Book One Raven's Lament Frank Talaber, The Writer: Mad muse inside keeps my pencil writing...