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Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Schuyler Mansion Historic Site
Alexander Hamilton has been my hero since I was a ten year old, which means I’ve been imagining him for a long time. When I decided to finally write “his” book, I’d just finished a novel about Wolfgang A. Mozart, as told by his wife. It would be a familiar approach, I thought, to tell the Hamilton story from the same womanly angle. Or, so I thought—until I realized I didn’t know much about Alexander’s wife, Betsy.
Was she just another Colonial Dame? Well, Not exactly. The big house in Albany where Elizabeth Schuyler had been brought up was “American with a difference.”
Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton by Ralph Earle
Historical fiction readers are familiar with the customs of the Scots, Irish and English immigrants. But New York school children—me among them—also learned about the Dutch, who had given place names all along the Hudson and founded NYC, as well as inspiring Washington Irving to write his winking ghost story: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Although Betsy’s father, Major General Philip Schuyler, successfully “English-ified” himself, she probably learned Dutch at her Daddy’s knee. (During the Revolution, she and Baron von Steuben would find it their common language.) Hamilton’s wife, my novel’s heroine, had been born and raised folkways which retained some notable differences from those of her downstate predominantly English neighbors.
Miss Schuyler’s female Dutch ancestors enjoyed rights greater than those of any other European women. They were full legal persons, a position American women would not enjoy again until the early 20th century. They could own property and conduct business, enter into contracts and buy and sell for their own profit. Some of the richest families in old New York could trace their fortune back to the business savvy of one of these “She Merchants.” In Holland, and, briefly, in later New Amsterdam (now NYC) a woman could chose a unique form of marriage which kept her financial dealings and property separate from her husband’s. Although these exceptional rights withered after the English took over the colony in 1664, there remained a certain independence and self-reliance in these Dutch women.
Even the wealthiest ladies were inclined to hands-on. They were taught how to cook and garden, how to spin, to keep fowl, to weave and sew—as well as keep household accounts. An old family friend, James McHenry, wrote tellingly to Hamilton: “Your wife…has as much merit as your Treasurer as you have as Treasurer of the wealth of the United States.” It was no secret who kept afloat the daily affairs of this often-preoccupied Founding Father.
Dutch women were also not so quick to hand their babies—messy, inconvenient creatures—off to servants or slaves for nursing and day care. Despite the then commonly fatal water-borne and childhood diseases, Mrs. Hamilton bore eight children and raised every one of them to adulthood, something of a feat in those times.
The more I learned about her, the more she impressed me, this quiet, domestic woman behind the man. Betsy lived to be 97. Almost to her last breath, she performed her duties as co-founder of the first New York City orphanage, a cause dear to her heart.
She also remained determined that ‘Justice shall be done to the memory of my Hamilton.’” In this aim, she never wavered, preserving his papers and facing down important men who had been Hamilton’s political enemies with calm dignity.
~Learn more about Elizabeth’s life and the “odd destiny” of her beloved Alexander--orphan, immigrant, genius, and nation builder, in A Master Passion~~
In print and “e” @
Jean Zimmerman’s The Women of the House, Mariner Books, 2007
David Fischer Hackett’s Albion’s Seed, Oxford University Press, 1989
Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker’s History of New York, GP Putnam & Sons, 1894
Mary Elizabeth Springer, Elizabeth Schuyler, A Story of Old New York, 1903
Monday, September 28, 2015
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As many of the readers know, I write in multiple genres of fiction as well as nonfiction. Therefore, it only goes to reason I have attended workshops, conferences, enrolled in extensions classes, and networked with other authors to discuss the topic of story structure.
So many ideas, so many strong opinions, but no fail-proof map to success. What I have discovered is that many authors (Note: my personal findings only), agree that there are thirteen basic plots.
The following are common plot motivations that have appeared in written literature for centuries. Of course, more than one of these plot motivators may exist side-by-side, affecting the story. Take your story idea, add one or more of these motivators to it, and, so I’ve been assured, you’ll have a plot and a storyline.
- Love and Hate
- The Chase
- The Quest
- Grief and Loss
So, is this true in my own novels and fiction stories? I have three books published at Books We Love, Ltd., as well as an anthology featuring five stories to be released this fall. Let’s see if this is programed into a writer’s psyche, or if it is a learned skill.
With my Rodeo Romance, Book 1, “Lynx”. I have added Grief and Loss into my basic storyline for my heroine. While my hero deals with Ambition, and one other (I don’t wish to give away too much of the story).
In Rodeo Romance, Book 2, “Brede”, Survival, Vengeance, are added to my romantic suspense novel.
“Here Today, Zombie Tomorrow”, obviously, deals with Catastrophe and Survival (with a light-touch).
Not the result I was expecting. Why? Because, if you’ve been following my blog posts, you are aware that I follow Joseph Campbell’s “A Hero’s Journey” when plotting my stories. Joseph Campbell based his teachings/writing on the power of the ancient myth.
Of course, there is more to a story than just a great plot! So, using the accepted rule of thirteen, let us progress to adding another layer or two to our story line.
These added layers to the story do not appear to be genre specific, though some are more commonly used in romance than, say, mainstream fiction.
- Criminal Action/Murder
- Making Amends
- Mistaken Identity
- Misplaced Affection (or unnatural if it is a human and supernatural being)
I believe, for a story to be an excellent story, which of course, is every author’s goal. These plot motivators with the added layers to drive the characters in the story, result in the depth (landscape) and richness (emotion) we all crave in a good story.
Readers, do you agree that all the stories you’ve read and loved these plot lines and motivators?
I admit was able to spot many of these plot lines and layers in the works of Homer, Shakespeare, and may of the Classic Greek Myths.
What do you think? Are there certain plot lines that appeal to you more than others?
Thank you for stopping by today.
I hope to see you here next month.
Sunday, September 27, 2015
|Chaparral dog park in Scottsdale, where Talia and Kyle first meet|
This is also the setting for my new release, a contemporary short novel titled ASLEEP in SCOTTSDALE.
|North Scottsdale Desert Vistas|
|Xeriscape gardens, a marvel of water conservation|
|The famous horse fountain of their first date|
|The old town district with art galleries and Native American artifacts|
|Nieman Marcus at the Fashion Square mall|
Most fun was to imagine his mansion, an oasis in the desert, with tropical palms and a huge swimming pool. But I kept that for the cover.
Asleep in Scottsdale
by Vijaya Schartz
Find it at the links below:
Amazon - Barnes & Noble - All Romance eBooks - Smashwords - iBooks - Kobo
When Talia runs over billionaire Kyle Dormant with her bicycle in the dog park, she considers their meeting a happy accident. He believes it is destiny, but her physician's mind rebels at such notions. Their budding romance comes to a grinding halt when Kyle won’t wake up from deep sleep... with no medical explanation. Baffled and deeply concerned, Talia digs into his recent past for a plausible cause. Instead, she uncovers dark family secrets. Convinced Kyle's condition was induced, and someone wants him dead, she is anxious to save him, but the closer she gets to the sordid truth… and a possible cure, the greater the risk to both their lives.
Blasters, Swords, Romance with a Kick
Saturday, September 26, 2015
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Home means different things to different people. Because our news headlines have lately featured countless people fleeing their homeland and searching (currently mostly unsuccessfully) for a peaceful place to live, far away from war and destruction, it got me to imagining what it must be like to be totally homeless and without support of any kind. In fact the thought makes me shudder. I could not imagine life without a permanent home to come back to, without the sense of security that comes from being surrounded by familiar people and possessions.
Love for our homeland is another matter. I’ve had two in my life. My allegiance was to England during my early years, and I wouldn’t have considered back then calling myself anything but British. But ask me now and my immediate response would be “I am Australian”. One of my proudest moments was becoming a citizen of this country and receiving the proof of that citizenship. There are degrees of love for one’s homeland. We are free to criticize and say what we like, but let an outsider caste any sort of criticism on the land that we love, and we are quick to spring to its defense. It saddens me when I hear of people abusing the privileges bestowed on them or their parents who have been allowed to live here as free citizens and then decide, for reasons only logical to them, to go off and fight in far off places for causes against the country that offered them this freedom of choice.
My husband and I migrated to Australia many years ago as what was called back then ‘ten pound Poms’. In case you are too young to know the meaning of this term I will explain. Australia was calling for tradespeople to come here for a better life and to enjoy the prosperity of this land as long as we were willing to work hard and do our best. I already had three sisters living here so the decision was easy for me. Not so easy for my husband who left all his family behind. Our fare out was paid on the understanding that should we decide to return we would take care of the expense. I am pleased to say that once settled here returning to England was out of the question—for me. Not so my husband. He would have gone back at any time (if I agreed) because England was and always remained his homeland. That is not to say he wasn’t happy here and we had a good life. We arrived on a Wednesday, and with a letter of referral from his company in England, he started work the following Monday. I too had a job within a week. As a matter of interest, we arrived in the year Australia changed over to decimal currency and by the time we exchanged our pounds shillings and pence for dollars we had precisely $AU100 to start our lives here. Within five years we owned our own home.
I worked in a clothing manufacturing company and it was what was called back then ‘A league of Nations’. There were people from Italy, Greece, Czechoslovakia, Serbia, South Africa, and countless other countries. All came here with little and most ended up if not wealthy, comfortable, by sheer hard work. One man I worked alongside arrived on a ship with one spare pair of shoes tucked under his arm, and little else but the clothes he wore.
|Our home while traveling|
So, what does home mean to me? In our traveling days, for short periods of time our caravan was home, because that is where we returned to sleep at night, and it was our security. But I have to say that while on the road I was never totally content and always glad to return to my permanent home and my own bed. This is where my personal possessions are all in one place. This is where my memories are stored. I’ve had quite a few moves in my life and each new house has become my home and the center of my world.
|The dogs always came along on the trips|
I recall the first trip we set out on, towing our temporary home behind us. We’d spent about three days on the road heading to Far North Queensland. I awoke in a state of panic. It hit me that I was a long way from ‘home’ here in Victoria, and that should something go wrong then I could not just hop back home in a few hours. Of course there was always the option of flying, but that didn’t occur to me back then. This panic subsided as I got used to traveling, but nonetheless I always did, and still do, experience a feeling of contentment when I near my home.
There was one instance that I was too young to remember, but apparently my eldest sister took me away from war ravaged London to somewhere in the countryside. I did nothing but cry for our mother and home, so much so that she took me back after only a couple of days. I was told years later that our mum took me in her arms and cried, for she was just as happy to have me home as I was to be there. So, my desire to be in a familiar place goes back a long time. I never strayed far from home from then on, and had our mother still been alive I would not have left England when I did.
So, here I sit in my lovely present home, surrounded by my mementos and personal treasures, and thank whatever chance, be it God, or Fate, has allowed me the privilege of always having a place that I can call home. Home is where the heart is, yes?
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Friday, September 25, 2015
After an abnormally hot, dry spring and summer, we on Puget Sound had a freaky, one day wind and rain storm. It reminded me of another storm when I tried to be a foster mom.
Orphans of the Storm
Wind out of the south, whitecaps washing over the floating bridges, the ferry system shut down—a Pacific Northwest storm. And one post-storm spring morning while driving to work and listening to NPR, I heard that the previous night’s gully washer caused another problem: squirrel’s nests knocked out of trees leaving a surfeit of orphaned babies. An animal welfare organization who shall remain nameless put out a call for foster parents.
Wow! That sounded like fun, I thought. I could do that. I loved squirrels. I wrote the organization’s phone number down.
At work, I found a place where a box of the family Sciuridae could sleep while I worked, and where I could retreat to give them little bottles of food and some TLC. Then I called the rescue group.
“I heard about your need for squirrel baby foster parents,” I said, “and I’m really interested.”
“Well now, isn’t that nice, but before adoption can be considered, I have a few questions.”
“You understand that you have to be pre-approved.”
Uh oh. I hoped she wasn’t going to run a background check on me. The first time I went back east to meet my in-laws, one of my husband’s aunts was living in a pre-Civil War house near Holmes Hollow and cooking squirrel pot pie on a wood burning stove that came with the home I’d try and keep that on the down-low. After all, what happens in Holmes Hollow stays in Holmes Hollow.
“What’s your name?”
“Where do you live?”
“In Parkland which is just south of Tacoma, Washington.”
“Oh, now, that’s a bit of a problem.”
“Well, the babies were orphaned in Seattle.”
“I can drive there to pick some up.”
“And there are their physicals.”
“Well, who administers the physicals?”
“We have lots of vets in
and running water and everything. My
husband and I have gone to the same vet for years.”
Levity wasn’t her strong suit.
“Yes, but it has to be a wild animal vet.”
I sensed roadblocks—the result of animosity and distain Seattle feels for Tacoma.
“Well, I’ll ask our vet if he can give them their physicals,” I said.
“No can do, I’m afraid. We already have an approved wildlife vet ready to take them on.”
“Maybe I can drive to your vet, then. Where is he?”
Still, I persevered. “I could do that.”
“Every week. The orphaned babies have to be checked and weighed weekly. We want to make sure they’re getting the best possible care.”
“Are they vaccinated for hanta virus and Lyme’s disease?” I asked. “Do they need Frontline?”
Perhaps she sensed my sarcasm.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but we have strict rules and regulations about who qualifies to adopt our orphans and how they are to be raised.”
“They’re rodents, for gosh sakes.”
“You see, that statement shows a flippant attitude. I’m sorry but you don’t qualify.”
Jeez! Take it down a notch, lady.
About a week later, someone knocked on my front door. It was two little boys with three squirrel babies in a box. “Here,” one boy said, “Mom said we should give them to you.”
I didn’t know who the kids were, who their mom was, or why she thought I should have the care and responsibility of three hostile-looking rodents. Their unattractiveness knocked the romance of foster moming squirrels right out of the ring. Nevertheless, I took the box and carried it to the garage. Then I tried to put dishes of water and sunflower seeds—shelled, I might add—in the box. Nasty little buggers. Their only interest was in trying to bite the hand that was attempting to feed them.
After a few days, when it didn’t look as if they were eating, I decided to turn them loose among the apple, cherry, pear and filbert nut trees in our backyard. They scampered for safety.
And ever since, we’ve had squirrel families eating the filberts, biting holes into the fruit and, digging up my bulbs.
All without physicals or mailed reminders for booster shots.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Poisons and poisonous plants have been utilized for centuries in medications. A Persian physician in the tenth century first discovered that poisons such as mercury could be employed as curatives, and not just on the tip of an arrow to kill your enemy. But poisons had to be managed carefully.
Rosy periwinkle is also toxic to eat. However, in traditional Chinese and Indian medicine, it’s used to treat diabetes and constipation.
More well known is the Opium poppy, used to make morphine (and unfortunately heroin-the killer of many an addict). Morphine is invaluable as a pain reliever for the sickest of patients. Small doses of other deadly toxins such as henbane, hemlock and mandrake have been employed to ease the pain of surgeries. But a dose slightly too high would kill the patient.
In Shakespeare’s time, poisonous extracts were added to cough medicines. Opiates were common in cough remedies, mainly for sedation. Mrs. Cotton in the seventeenth century suggested a mixture of vinegar, salad oil, liquorice, treacle, and tincture of opium when “the cough is troublesome.”
No one yet understood the addictive nature of these drugs—if the patient lived to find out.
The chemical element mercury, another toxin, was used starting in the 1500’s to treat syphilis.
Well into the twentieth century, mercury was an ingredient in purgatives and infant’s teething powder.
Arsenic is another poison that was commonly added to medications. A chemical element, arsenic is found in many minerals. In the 18th to 20th centuries, arsenic compounds, such as arsphenamine (by Paul Ehrlich, 1854-1915) and arsenic trioxide (by Thomas Fowler, 18th c.) were popular. Arsphenamine was also used to treat syphilis. Arsenic trioxide was recommended for the treatment of cancer and psoriasis.
Numerous people suffered adverse effects or died after the ingestion of these lethal ingredients.
In my recent release, The Apothecary’s Widow, arsenic is found in the tinctures used to treat the ague of Lady Pentreath. Unfortunately, arsenic is not one of the ingredients listed in that cure, and never in such a large dose. Who murdered Lady Pentreath, her miserable husband, Branek, or the apothecary Jenna who prepared the medicines, a widow about to be evicted from her shop, which is owned by the Pentreaths? A corrupt constable threatens to send them both to the gallows.
Click here to purchase The Apothecary’s Widow.
To find out more about my novels, please visit my website:
The Power of Poison: Poison as Medicine, the American Museum of Natural History
William Buchan, Domestic Medicine: or, a treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases by regimen and simple medicines [second edition] (London: 1772)
Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Every writer falls into one of these categories, some writers may be comprised of a little of both. When I started writing I was definitely a pantser, the type of writer who sits in front of a computer and goes with the flow. As long as I had my characters, the rest would take care of itself, right? Well, not exactly.
My first book held marked similarities to raising my first child. Regardless of what I thought, I hadn’t got a clue what I was doing. To say I struggled with that first book is putting it mildly. At one point I had followed every lead my heroine gave me and finished up writing about her grandmother in pre-war Montreal
However, that was not the story I was writing. I was writing a contemporary western romance.and badly at that. Had I taken the time to consider more than just my characters I would have saved myself a great deal of time. I’m not a fast writer, and when I realized how much time I’d wasted, I went back to the drawing board as it were.
Yes, I had my characters. They usually present themselves to me fully formed. I know their names and what they look like. Next is to fill in their character questionnaire, even complete a character interview. I know my characters well by this stage but throwing them on the page and expecting things to happen just didn’t work. I found writing historical romance or fiction easier in that I simply looked up the year (god bless Google), to see what major events were taking place world-wide and went from there for my background but it still wasn’t exactly a plot, more of an idea.
When I started writing my soon-to-be-released contemporary western romance, Loving That Cowboy, I soon ran into a brick wall. I’m sure many of you will know what that feels like. The words were just not there. It wasn’t writer’s block per se, more like this writer’s ineptitude. After one very frustrating day when I wanted to File 13 all ten pages I’d managed to produce, I was ready to give up. That was when I became a plotter.
I sat down and started from scratch, looking at my two leading characters and figuring out how to get them together and listed dozens of ‘what ifs?’. All that took time, but as I reached each plot point I noted it on a pink post-it and stuck it on my white board. Very pretty it looked too. Not only that, there was great satisfaction in removing the post-its as I reached each plot point. Now I really felt that I was getting somewhere. Sure there was a fair amount of rewriting on the way, but that is inevitable.
I also went back to several of my craft books, especially Deborah Dixon's Goal, Motivation & Conflict. She recommends watching six specific movies to illustrate her lessons. Great. I love movies. I spent a week watching some of those she recommended and some I chose to work with to determine how much I'd learned. I wrote notes, I went back to the book Save the Cat for more on plotting within the three act structure and finished up that week revisiting Techniques of the Selling Writer. Thank goodness I held on to those books when I packed for my last move.
Having tried both methods, I think from now on I’ll be doing much more plotting instead of relying on my characters to take me somewhere. How about you? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or maybe a bit of each?
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Click to See Stuart R. West's Books Not too long ago, we lost our beloved dog, Zak. Zak sat at my feet non-stop while I wrote eig...