Grousable Books Newsletter: September 15

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Named after mystery writer and critic Anthony Boucher, Bouchercon is the a huge convention of mystery writers and readers. This was my first time, and it was fantastic. Mystery folks are the friendliest and nicest people. Why? I think it’s because all our bad attitudes end up in our books (don’t like someone? kill ’em in print). Could also be a deep sense of justice that doesn’t want other people treated unjustly. 

I had the honor of presenting on a panel about historical mysteries, but although I saw someone taking photos I have no idea where they ended up. So instead here’s a pic of what I got for free or bought in the book room:

stack of books

Everyone (approximately 1500 in attendance) was welcoming to newbies like myself. Famous authors mingled easily with the lesser-knowns, and there was a genuine feeling of support. I got so many ideas!

But just in case you think it was all roses, know also that I:

  • missed all my meals the first day and ate pretzels for dinner, 
  • locked both my keys in my hotel room on the second day,
  • dealt with an uncooperative hotel toilet, 
  • had my blouse slip down and partly expose me at a cocktail party, and
  • left five copies of Murder at an Exhibition at the consignment counter and when I returned they had been stolen.

Then I came home and washed my brand new cloth sunhat and shrunk it to doll size. 

About historical fiction

Inspired by the historical writing methods authors discussed at Bouchercon, I jumped back into journalism this fortnight with an article on Medium. Authors write historical fiction using various processes and sporting various ambitions. Most are somehow aligned with the past, but this isn’t true of everyone. In fact, it was reading so much bad historical fiction that led me to write my own.

To my mind, there are two approaches to historical fiction. One is to focus on a story first, a story that could take place at any time, and just use the past as a colorful setting. I feel this does human history a disservice. Yes, there are stories with universal themes that could take place whenever. But the past is much more than a setting.

In 1953 L. P. Hartley wrote, “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” I much prefer Faulkner’s “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Bouchercon panel

“Where Do You Start: How Writers Get Their Ideas and Do Their Research” panel: Marcia Talley, Ann Parker, Claire Boyles, Anne Louise Bannon, Gary Bush

Mining the past, using it to discover people, themes, and quotidian concerns gives a historical novel a purpose. The setting, the time and place, becomes a character. Its personality is driven by the story the author chooses to tell. To the people living at that time, they didn’t think they were historical — they are in the present. They would be concerned with the politics, fashions, and ideas of the day the same as we are in the now. They may “do things differently”, but their loves, ambitions, and hatreds are the same motivations. There is no need to hammer away at a “connection” between past and present; it is always there.

Possum report

All the other possums seem to have moved on except Cassie and little Petunia. But there may be more. One eats exactly half of a tomato, as if leaving the other half for me. It’s done so neatly that I’m tempted to leave out a slice of mozzarella cheese and bit of basil to balance their meal.

tomato neatly eaten in half

We have a couple of raccoons who come through the backyard like hoodlums, strutting like in Saturday Night Fever and looking at me through the glass door as if to say, “yeah? wanna make something of it?” I don’t, and they move on. Little flocks of birds come through and stop at the feeder, the Thai basil fights to stay upright after the recent storm, the delphiniums struggle to bloom again, and the zinnias make small segments of the garden look like Disneyland’s It’s a Small World landscaping.

garden flowers

I stuck a grape vine trimming into water and it took, and it’s time to plant sweet peas.

A marvelous bookstore

Verbatim Books in North Park San Diego has been great to work with. They are one of the few bookstores in the area that takes consignment from local authors. They shelve my books, and are happy to have me replace them when they sell. 

Verbatim Books

Of course, since they have so many used books, including some delicious old cloth-bound goodies, I spend money every time I go in. Oh look — the Diana Gabaldon novel about the bees! that Julian Barnes I always wanted to read! a book on Civil War captains published in 1913! My royalties are spent before I get out the door. The folks who run this consignment thing are smart

Rest of September special: 20% off e-books at my shop

What’s up for deals in September? Bouchercon kept me busy, and the free short stories are no longer available, but I’m still on for Authors Selling Direct, where you can buy A Heart Purloined from my Grousable Bookshop.

And just to sweeten the deal, here’s a coupon code for all my books only for my newsletter readers.

For 20% off, use coupon code “september” through the end of the month at my store. It even applies to the Tommy Jones Mystery trilogy!


Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books.

Want to read previous blog posts? They’re here

Until next time!


Grosable Books Newletter: September 1

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Literary fiction in hardcover

Whether book readers have been awaiting it or not, I certainly have. My literary novel Before the Time Machine (2021) is finally available in hardcover.

hardcover book: Before the Time Machine

There’s something about literary fiction that seems to require a hardcover version. Maybe it’s the idea that it will be in libraries, or the snob appeal, or just feeling something a little more solid and more permanent in your hand. 

This is the book I had to write, and it was my first published work of fiction.  It’s a dual-timeline novel about a present-day historian researching H. G. Wells, young Wells becoming an author during the 19th century, and the conversation they have across time and space. 

Next up for hardcover: Murder at Old St. Thomas’s.

Garden report

The watermelons dried up after Hilary, the tropic storm that, in this part of California, was not.

Each season something comes to the garden that’s new. I like fig beetles. They’re kinda funny. Last year a few came to drink the juice from the grapes, and ruined a couple of figs. Fig beetles fly with faulty air traffic control systems, bumping into things. I’ve had them bump into my face, and I just saw one bump into a Mourning Cloak butterfly (called the much more lyrical Camberwell Beauty in the UK).  They’re the bumper cars of the natural world.

But this year, they held a bumper car convention in my grapes. I didn’t know. I didn’t see. I failed to notice that some of my green grapes weren’t grapes, that half of the clusters were beetles. They were so quiet about it. I’m afraid there will be no Grousable Jam this year. 

I had to cut down the clusters, because they’d split and it smelled like a winery. The clusters were dropping grapes all over the deck.

I won’t say it was fun, but it was surreal, being surrounded by peckish and angry beetles as I closed the bar at Happy Hour. 

So instead of worrying about grapes, I wrote a poem.

Authors Selling Direct

I join a lot of promotions hoping to find new readers, but this one on Book Funnel (Sept 1-18) is particularly interesting because authors couldn’t get in without having their own online “shop”. The idea is to promote authors who sell through their own websites rather than (or in addition to) a retailer (Amazon, Waterstones, etc.). I only recently opened the Grousable Bookshop at my website. 

Authors Selling Direct with picture of book

What’s the difference? When you order from an online retailer, the retailer takes a significant cut, even of e-books. When you buy direct from the author, there is no middleman. The author does have costs, including the fee to use whatever system is taking the payment, but they’re much lower. 

Having chosen my historical mystery romance, A Heart Purloined, for this promotion, it was fun to see the other books alongside it. Take a look at the Authors Selling Direct page and you’ll see what I mean!

Free short story: Murder Steampunk Style

It’s the last chance to download my contemporary mystery short story e-book for free before the end of Bouchercon on September 3, only two days away! So hurry on over to BookFunnel and grab a copy before it’s too late!

Murder Steampunk Style cover of book

This was the story I originally wrote for this Bouchercon, so it’s contemporary and set in San Diego. But I couldn’t resist some Victorian elements, so it takes place at a neo-Victorian steampunk convention. I hope you enjoy it!

That crazy technology

Some readers noticed, I’m sure, the weird formats of previous newsletters. On some people’s screens they looked fine; on others, not so much. Last time I sent a second version cuz I was so embarrassed by the first one. 

I love online technologies — I really do! But mailing list programs are a little insane. They need to keep everyone’s email — that’s no big deal. But they also need to use certain server settings to discourage the emails landing in a Spam folder at the other end. And they have lots of options, some of which don’t work very well. I’d been trying to get MailerLite to send my newsletter posts to you when I post them, but the formatting was, shall we say, unpredictable.

So two weeks ago, I spent an entire day upgrading to the new MailerLite and learning how to structure my newsletter. I didn’t like any of their formats, so I got into the HTML code (I only get free access for the first 30 days) and started hacking. Long ago (1998) I started teaching online, and if you didn’t know some code (well, it’s actually Markup Language, not code) you couldn’t do anything online. Lots of trial and error, but I’m hoping the newsletter will look better from now on! 


Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books.

Want to read previous blog posts? They’re here

Until next time!


Grousable Book Newletter: 15 August

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Welcome to BookFunnel readers 

First, a special welcome to those who downloaded a copy of “The Dancing Colonel” through Find Your Next Favorite Author on BookFunnel. The short story features the characters from my Tommy Jones Mystery books, and ties in to some themes of the British empire. I hope all newsletter readers enjoy it!

A freebie cuz Bouchercon

Just in honor of Bouchercon, the big mystery writing convention, I have a free copy of a contemporary short story available to newsletter subscribers. It’s called “Murder Steampunk Style”, and takes place at a San Diego steampunk convention. And there’s a little Victorian twist in it too, of course!

You can download the story free from BookFunnel until the end of the convention (September 4) at BookFunnel. I’ll be posting it everywhere for purchase soon, if you’d rather have hard copy.

Now, to prepare for going to Bouchercon, I really should start thinking about what I might say on the panel (Historicals: Navigating the Past from the Present, Thursday at 9am). Instead I keep thinking: what am I going to wear? should I get my hair cut? how early should I get there? how will they display my books in the shop? will it be fun and exciting? will I shrink into introspective silence in response to being with so many people? 

I shall report out later!

Dover books

At book fairs and events, I don’t just sell my own books. I also have quite a few actual Victorian and Edwardian works of the literature, the sort of thing that informs my own work. Dover has wonderful examples, including books by Charles Dickens, Jules Verne, Joseph Conrad, and H. G. Wells. 

Most certainly I recommend these. Dover editions are low-cost because many of the works are out of copyright.

Life in San Benno

This feels a little Garrison Keillor-ish, but the fictional seaside So Cal town of San Benno is taking on a life of its own as I continue writing the tentatively titled Death at Luna Beach. I’m even thinking of making a map of the place.

The City Council of San Benno is very pro-business, and the town has become increasingly gentrified. A lot of the funky beach town vibe has been lost, and a number of citizens aren’t happy about that. Rosie McMahon, a bright woman in her 70s, will help solve the murder of a man from Bakersfield whose body was found buried in sand from a bluff collapse. By her side is Lou, the grumpy newspaperman, and Tiffany, a high school student earning her civics credit by serving on the Beach Estates Homeowners Association. Plans are afoot for a new development, and then this body turns up. 

What about the police? Well, the town has only recently become a city with its own tiny police force. Rory Gallardo, who used to patrol for mountain lions above L.A., is the official in charge.

Nearby San Drogo, named after the patron saint of coffee, even hosts a state university and their resources help solve the case. 

Featured blog post

There is only one blog post this fortnight, but it’s a fun one! I conversed with Hephaestus, the big orange tabby cat from Death at Luna Beach. Always pleased to talk with one of my characters.

In the garden

If you’re following the tale of the possums in our back garden, here’s the news. 

The two children of big mama Nobby (she has a nob on her tail) return every night. Apparently, I should call them Jack and Jill, the formal names for adult male and female possums. But I’ve been saying Little Brother and Little Sister and that works just as well. She is bigger than he is. He tends to turn away from my camera.

Panda2 (very white with very black ears), who is now the size of a pot-belly pig (and resembles one!) still comes around. He could be their dad. When he and Nobby encounter each other their dislike is palpable. Might be a short story in that one . . .

We’re on the third or fourth generation of these families living in the garden, which pleases me enormously. I like my guests to be comfortable. 


Want to read previous newsletters? They’re located here at my website, where you can also find information and buy links to all my books.

Want to read previous blog posts? They’re here

Until next time!


Grousable Newsletter 1 August

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Bouchercon Historical Mystery Panel

Big news this fortnight is that I’m on a panel for Bouchercon, one of the biggest mystery writer conferences anywhere.

Bouchercon poster

It’s a panel on historical mysteries, although I believe I’m the only actual historian. Which is good, because then I can bring a different viewpoint. In fact, I hope to mention two salient ideas:

  1. Primary sources are fantastic for both ideas and accuracy. (So diaries, newspapers, old photos can both trigger a story and make it more authentic.)
  2. Historians have training and tendencies that other historical fiction writers may not have, such as an understanding of the larger historical context in which the action takes place, or an obsessive tendency to find out whether smoke/fog in a can had been on the market in 2004 (see below).

But mostly, of course, I’ll be there to learn things, meet people, and get to know new works. 

Creating a California town

Back in April I had some questions about my Work in Progress, a beach cozy mystery that begins with a body buried in the sand near a bluff: Who is he? How did he get there? And what does it mean that one of those little paper umbrellas was found at the scene?

I’ve discovered that he is Bud Carson, a scout for Western Petroleum in Bakersfield. What was he doing in . . .

San Benno. That’s my So Cal beach town. It’s somewhere vague between Los Angeles and San Diego, a previously sleepy seaside town that’s just become a city. I have a professional sleuth (the new-in-town detective Rory Gallardo) and my amateur sleuth (Rosie McMahon, an older woman who has a writing shed filled with technology, some of which she built herself). And I now know the paper umbrellas came from Dino’s, one of those wood-sided old restaurants with a neon dinosaur decor trying to go upscale. 

Mystery image for San Benno

Creating a town is a fun thing to do. It’s ironic that I set my English mysteries in real places, but I live in So Cal and I’m going to invent one. 

Featured blog post

Well, to be honest, it’s the only post I did in July! It’s been a busy month. This post is about a mystery writer (that’s me) writing a romance (which I did), and some lessons I learned along the way. 

Featured blog post

Gardening update

Mid-July here in SoCal took us from the amazingly steady rains in June to heat and dryness. That shouldn’t be news — the warm and dry happens every year. How did plants respond? It varied. At first the roses went nuts; now they’re tired. The tomatoes cowered in the cool rainy days; they they started jumping up when it got warm. One of the possums in the yard had her babies. This is her second litter this year. It was easy to tell she’d birthed them–her poor pouch was practically dragging on the ground when she walked, and when she sat to eat your could see little hands and tails poking out.

a possum eating dinner

But this possum has not seen any Disney movies or wildlife websites, so she doesn’t know she’s supposed to do the cute thing: carry around the babies clinging to her back (and singing “When I Was Single”, for those who remember America Sings at Disneyland). As she dide for her last litter, as soon as she can she leaves them hidden in the nest to go feed herself. It makes me feel good that she thinks my garden is so safe. 

AI and writing

The biggest talk everywhere these days, other than the writers’ strike, is the impact of Artificial Intelligence on writing. Already quite a few things we read on the web are written by a computer, so this should’t be news. But most studios, producers, and publishers like nothing better than to make money and getting rid of writers saves money. The creative writing produced by computer may not be up to snuff yet,.

asking AI for sources and getting a mystery

But AI can certainly deal with anything formulaic. This is because AI garners from the web not only its information (sometimes false) but also its format (which it does much better). So heck, go ahead and use AI to write a draft of that form letter/book summary/resumé. Since AI doesn’t have a handle yet on the creative stuff, most people won’l like how it writes fiction. The plots may be good (formula again!) but the expression is banal. Rather like Data on Star Trek reading an adventure story aloud.

Will I use AI to write a mystery? Absolutely not–I’m the author, so I do the writing. Will I use it as a sophisticated search engine? Absolutely. The other night I was trying to research something for my Work in Progress. I needed to know whether they had canned smoke/haze in 2004, since I wanted my sleuth to use it with lasers. Google searches yielded nothing, but ChatGPT told me when it was invented and whether it might be likely or not. 

This month’s e-book promotions: & a free book! 

Starting today through August 20, you can download The Dancing Colonel: A Short Story for FREE in the Find Your New Favorite Author campaign.

Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is being featured through Kobo for UK readers only. Special price is £2.99 through August.


Not signed up for this newsletter? You can do so here.




Grousable Newsletter 15 July

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Traveling books

I’ve always wanted my books to travel. When I was writing Murder at Old St. Thomas’s, I imagined leaving copies on trains and in bus stations, particularly in England. When I got there with books in hand, I wasn’t sure how to do it. I was quite positive that a nearby helpful British person would say, “Miss? You forgot your book”. 

So instead I gave them to individuals I met. At my hotel in London, I saw that the day person at the front desk was often reading a book. After talking about what she liked to read, I gave her a copy. 

My book Murder at Old St. Thomas's travels to Austria

This is a photo she sent of my book, which she’s reading on her holiday to Austria. I like this a lot more than leaving it on a train!

The Garden

Finally the sun has come out, so although the tomatoes are still suffering I’ve got boysenberries, cucumbers, and butterflies (I didn’t grow those, but there’s a chrysalis hanging from one of my flower pots so I’m taking credit). 

Butterflies are symbolic, and the complete transformation from the caterpillar, stem-bound and sluggish, is nothing short of magical.

The garden is a place of magic and the other stuff of fantasy, including epic battles. I’m currently having one with a bunny I’ve named Señor Conejo, so called because I used spicy pepper spray to keep him off the beans and he found the flavor quite tasty. I have built several structures to keep him away from the beans (he likes the leaves) and he has defeated each one, either by tearing it down or standing on top of it to reach higher leaves. Bunny 16, Beans 1. 

In cases like this, one can get upset or give up gracefully. Choosing the latter, I now consider the beans a “trap crop” for the bunny, so that he eats that instead of my tomatoes and squash. The lobelia, which he denudes of its blue blossoms, must be a trap crop too, I suppose. 

Lisa in London

While traveling in May, I visited many locations from the Tommy Jones Mysteries. I’ve posted them all on the video page. Here’s one of my favorites (I have not tried embedding a video in a newsletter before, so let’s see if it works!).

The pandemic meant that while I was writing Murder at an Exhibition and Murder on the Pneumatic Railway, I had to rely on my notes from previous visits, research, memory, and Google Street View. So it was quite exciting for me to visit the locations. I didn’t get to them all, but was happy to do videos near the ones I visited. On some, however, the sound isn’t so great. Next time I’ll have a lavalier microphone and do better!

A Draft is (Almost) Done

I’ve been working on my assigned chapter for an upcoming book on H. G. Wells. I’ve had almost a year to complete the research, which was significant since my expertise is only his early life and I’m supposed to cover his entire life (he lived to be 79). Now I’ve written the chapter and had it edited by three readers and two editors, so I’m doing my final (?) pass through. 

Section of the chapter I'm writing for a book on H.G. Wells

What’s interesting about editing your own work is how it changes in your mind. My first draft felt awkward, and I keep working on it until it wasn’t horrible. Then I put it aside before working on it some more, moving things around, and figuring out what was wrong with it (in this case, that I was repeating myself in several places). Knowing this, my wonderful helpers could look for those things, and they found them and more. With each edit, the work tightened up and became better. I’m pretty proud of it now.

Soon it will go to the book’s editors, who undoubtedly will find more things I need to change. That should make it better still. To say it’s an iterative process would be an understatement. 

Books are like this too, of course. That’s why they say you should write the book you want to read. Because you will be reading it many, many times!


Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is on Amazon promotion for the July Perfect Book Nook Cozies through BookFunnel.

Cozy book sale at Book Funnel this month

And all of my e-books are still at 50% off at Smashwords through the end of the month. Take advantage, e-book readers!

Don’t subscribe to my newsletter yet? Subscribe here!

1 July

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Book news

Book fairs are seriously fun. Readers get to meet authors and vice versa. And when the weather is warm and sunny, people come out thinking they might buy a book. The North Park Book Fair in San Diego was just such an event.

People were there with their dogs and children, and they had a microphone set up for author readings. A very good day.

Here’s some big news: All my fiction e-books are 50% off this month only through Smashwords. So if you’re an e-book fan, now’s the time.

As for works in progress, I am focused for just a little longer on a non-fiction chapter for a book on H.G. Wells. As soon as that’s edited, I hope to get back to writing my California beach cozy. The body has been discovered, and Rosie McMahon is on the case, but how can an elderly woman do more than the local police? And why are there developers sniffing around the town?

A chat

In addition to reading from Murder at Old St. Thomas’s at the North Park Book Fair, I also chatted with a group from the Historical Novel Society on the uses of Artificial Intelligence (AI) programs for writers. 

The best uses of AI for writers are to do business tasks: query letters, library requests. Also, AI can suggest options, create summaries and synopses, make outlines. What it’s lousy at is telling the truth or writing creatively. And sometimes it just doesn’t work.

Murder mystery writers have a hard time getting information on the things that matter to them: the effectiveness of poisons, methods of death, and how to get away with a crime!

Is it Victorian?

The Victorian era is famous for repression — repression of sexuality, women, and open speech. But we know much of this from 19th century “prescriptive” literature. These are books and articles on how a woman should tend to her home and husband, how police should behave on the job, which books are suitable for children. Men and women who don’t know each other, some say, shouldn’t mix in public.

I like to tell my students that if people weren’t committing the crime, there wouldn’t be a law. In other words, people must be doing the opposite if prescriptive literature is trying to encourage certain behavior. So to me, a tract on how women shouldn’t be uppity means that women were being uppity. Treatises on improper literature means that people are reading it, and strict behavioral rules for boys and girls means there were wild and free boys and girls. And men and women most certainly mixed in public. Here’s a bunch of people crammed onto an omnibus:

Omnibus Life in London, by William Maw Egley (1859)

So while free, sexual, open-minded characters in novels may seem to be outliers, they might not be. If you went back in a time machine to Victorian London, you would see women walking the streets alone, individuals breaking class boundaries, and people laughing at rude jokes. It was not as stiff and staid as rumors would have you believe.

Gentleman Jack

Since I don’t have HBO, I was only able to watch some of Gentleman Jack with a friend, but found it fascinating. Based on Anne Lister, the show used her diaries for information and the character’s direct address to the audience. Lister’s diaries were partly written in code, especially for the sections detailing her love affairs with young women, in the first half of the nineteenth century. She married her lover (unregistered) in 1834.

Copyright HBO

While she’s not the first lesbian (or even the “first modern lesbian” as web pages assert), she was different from other women yet respected by her tenants and local society as a businesswoman and landowner. That she cohabited with another woman wasn’t unusual; commenting on it would have been. 

The production values for the show are excellent despite a tendency toward exaggeration: Anne did not look quite as masculine and her hair did not have the 18th century double-roll style. She did wear black, unusual for women not in mourning. So yes, she was an outlier. But the fact that she was successful indicates that Victorian mores, while strict and prescriptive, didn’t always hold.

Social media

I’ve been posting daily on Instagram and Facebook, but if you want to see all my posts I have a “social posts” page on the website. It helps me keep track if nothing else! 

More news coming soon from the garden…



Newsletter 15 June of the Grouse

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Book news

Well, I manned my table (yes, a woman can man a table) with my mystery books at the Once Upon a Book Fair in Escondido, but although there were many authors there were few customers. Blame the weather (see below) or the location, but it just wasn’t happening. Met some nice authors though. That’s always the good side of these things. And I did sell three paperbacks.

Lisa at fair table

The California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City just ended, my first in-person book conference, so I was glad it focused on mystery books. It was so fun! I got to meet some of my favorite cozy mystery book authors, such as Ellen Byron, and learn from her and other expert writers in the break-out sessions. I did a signing session for my books, and enjoyed talking with other authors, working out plot twists and sticky research situations.

My first Victorian mystery, Murder at Old St. Thomas’s, also received a wonderful Critic’s Report from BookLife Prize. Rarely does a review understand exactly what the author is trying to do, but this one did!

First drafting

Some authors work on one project till it’s published; others work on multiple books at once. I’m afraid I’m one of the latter. 

Blame the hypertext mind, which many of us have from spending so much time on the internet. I could actually feel that happening to me back in the 2010s. The hyperlink (we just say “link” now) was such a cool thing in the 1990s. You clicked an underlined word and–behold!–you were on another web page. Many of us clicked and clicked and clicked until we couldn’t focus on one page anymore. 

This reprogramming means that if I’m working on one novel, and I get stuck, I just open up the next one and work on that. So people ask, “what are you writing at the moment?” and I have to say:

  1. a prequel to the Tommy Jones Mysteries, where we learn about Tommy’s childhood and how he got adopted by Inspector Slaughter and his wife, except that I have two dead bodies, one on each side of the river, and I don’t know who the murderer is–or wait, do you think there should be more than one?
  2. a California beach cozy, wherein an old lady and her cat Hephaestus work with a local curmudgeon reporter to solve the mystery of the body on the beach–do you think it’s ok to have one of those paper cocktail umbrellas be a clue?
  3. a literary novel where I have three characters set up: an older man who lives alone in London, a female tour guide who hates her life in the same city, and a high school student from America who comes over there–not sure what happens yet?

People usually nod off in the middle of listening to me explain #1.

More England stuff

So I promised more about my trip to England. I went to the British Library, both to renew my card after the pandemic years made it expire, and to view some maps.

The cool thing about setting novels in Victorian London is that there are maps: Ordnance Survey maps, maps for tourists, maps showing things like fire department zones. At the British Library, you order from their catalog on the computer, choose a room to sit in (and a table you must remember the number of), then get your books from the desk. 

Ordering off the online catalog, I had no idea how big any of the maps were. I’d also never been to the Map Room. When I got there I noticed the tables were much bigger. I went up the the desk and asked for my order, and they brought out four small items and a book so huge they could barely carry it. I flipped through the small ones quickly, then opened the giant book.

It had huge maps of parts of London, with tons of detail.

Using my new necklace with the magnifying glass pendant, I had a closer look. The guard jumped up from his seat, advised me to ask at the desk for a larger magnifier, then showed me how to use large leather weights to hold the map flat for my photos. So helpful!

The Rose Code

Just finished Kate Quinn’s The Rose Code, and I highly recommend it. Not a Victorian mystery book, and unfortunately situated among the many many World War II novels, it’s about Bletchley Park during the war. I confess I’m a Bletchley fan. I watched The Bletchley Girls on TV, and The Imitation Game. I’ve visited Bletchley and talked with the people there (one of whom told me that the masking tape X’s on the windows wouldn’t have been there then); I’ve seen the bombe work and heard how it sounds. I’ve seen the tangle of wires the characters use to program it.

The Rose Code is a fictionalized account of three women, each from very different backgrounds, who worked there, and Quinn’s research is impeccable. She blends their personal stories, the working conditions at BP, and code knowledge effortlessly, adding in a bit of a thriller element in a rescue of one of them from an asylum. It shouldn’t work, but it does. 

So very Cal

It’s been May Gray and June Gloom here. Those nicknames imply that every May and June is cloudy in the San Diego area, but of course this year is different. Or, as another gardener commented, “I guess it rains here now.” Just hoping it won’t be a No Sky July.

The very rainy winter and spring means that plants look different. A lot of us didn’t realize how much good a little more water (especially water from the sky) could do. Fruit trees and berries are going nuts (and maybe nuts are too — I don’t have a nut tree). But without the sun, those tomatoes and squash we eager beavers put out in May are suffering and many won’t make it. I’m starting more seeds. In June! What the heck?

Continuing my adventure in growing poisonous plants, my first foxglove (digitalis). Garden now contains deadly nightshade, digitalis, pennyroyal, and delphinium.

All of this is due to climate change, of course, and its unpredictable weather cycles. I am trying to get my head around the approach of Monty Don, the king of British gardening. He lost a lot of plants in the wet/dry cycle they had there this year, and is introducing plants that are resilient, rather than those that die if it’s a little too cold, wet, or dry. 

Resilience is a wonderful idea, and not just for plants!

Newletter June 1

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I did it!

No, nothing to do with books or historical fiction–rather something I’ve never had the courage to do. The first time I tried it, I only lasted two minutes before stopping (maybe that is historical fiction, now that I think about it).

Yes! It’s true! I drove in England. And, lest you doubt, I have proof:

Was it difficult? Yes. Did I read the entire Highway Code before attempting it? Yes. Was I terrified? Of course. Did I hit anything? Well, there was this shrubbery on the way in to the carpark in Richmond…

Book news

My historical romance A Heart Purloined e-book has been released from Kindle Unlimited and is now available wherever you buy ebooks (or you can get it from me). 

I wrote that book on a dare. Well, a national dare called NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). You’re supposed to complete a novel (or at least a draft) in a month and you “win”. Just the glory, not anything else. I even had to buy the t-shirt. But there was also the impetus of a writer friend trying to do the same thing, since neither of us had written romance.

Image courtesy of NaNoWriMo

The book automatically turned itself into a mystery, however, so it’s a “clean” romance (no explicit sex) set in the Victorian era around a mystery with a blackmailer who’s just died. Both Amanda Goodwin, who always tells the truth, and Jack Strawman, who lies like a rug, are searching for something from the dead man. They wind up locked in a shed together. Twice. It’s a fun story with some of that witty repartee you might see in a 1930s screwball comedy. 

I wonder what I’ll do next November. Any ideas?

Why I owe libraries

Were you that kid who spent all your spare time in the library? I certainly was. And in the summer, I’d take the bus downtown and spend all day there, sitting in the aisles and reading, then taking home a stack I’d bring back the following week for more. No one told me what to read: I floated between the children’s room and adult fiction and those books marked with the Dewey decimal system. If it looked interesting, I read it. The subject card catalog was my guide.

The Beale Library in Bakersfield as I knew it growing up

In college I could not have managed without librarians, as I tended to choose unusual subjects. These wonderful people helped me research and used mysterious machines to get dot-matrix printed answers for me from far away, from university libraries and repositories. 

And now, as an author of historical fiction, I use the databases of articles and sources to find newspapers from the 19th century, and have been assisted by librarians from the British Library and small museums, especially during the pandemic.

Although authors are encouraged to set their “library price” high for their books, since a library will only buy one copy, I set mine low. I plan to publish hardback editions of everything because libraries like them, and I’ve just submitted to the Indie Author Project which helps libraries choose books. When I cull my own books (it happens occasionally!) I donate to the library’s bookshop.

What do you owe your library?

And I’m still a historian

It doesn’t go away just because one starts writing historical fiction — once a historian, always a historian. Without real primary sources and gaps in the actual history, I wouldn’t have started writing historical fiction. 

While in Durham, I went to the Durham Museum and Heritage Center, a small museum staffed by Durham University students. After photographing every display I could find on the Victorian era, I asked about the Henderson Carpet Manufactory’s location in the 19th century. There was a photo of it, but I couldn’t quite place it on a map. (In Murder on the Pneumatic Railway, some of the men Tommy meets work at Henderson’s, including the real life Mackay, who would later open his own factory.)

The Ph.D. student working the desk at the museum that day was Daniel Burrell, and he was very helpful, offering to find an answer in the archives. More importantly, he is a Victorianist also and shared his own work on the Victorian practice of cremation, its proponents and detractors. Fascinating stuff! Perhaps this conflict will appear in one of my novels one day.

A silly play

They’re doing something strange and semi-Victorian in the West End, a play called Bleak Expectations. It’s a send up on the work of Dickens, of course, and they’re doing an interesting thing. The narrator, who is also the protagonist at a later age, is played by different celebrities. We saw Sally Phillips, and if you happen to be in London 8-13 August it will be Stephen Fry. 

Every Dickensian trope was here, and all for comedy: “Pip” growing up happy but then having everything taken away because his father died having lost the family’s money in his business, the woe of his two sisters believing marriage was the only way out, adventures being befriended and then swindled, the evil lecher, the kind benefactor, the street urchin helped by the protagonist who returns later to save him. It was well worth seeing and even if you don’t know Dickens, it was so over the top that didn’t matter.

Just a pretty picture

I leave you with this, a photo of one of my favorite places, Durham Cathedral and the River Wear. 

I did so much while in England — more newsletters and posts coming! And once I get the overgrown garden tamed, I’ll have more garden news (for now just know that two of the possum’s babies seem to be staying in the yard).

Appearance reminders:

Saturday, June 3 I’ll be at the Once Upon a Book Fair in Escondido, California.

June 10-11 I’ll be at the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City.

NEW June 24 I’ll be at the North Park Book Fair in North Park San Diego. 

Until next time!


Newsletter 15 May

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My Grousable Books newsletter for May 15 comes to you live from England, and includes England events, Magpie Murders on TV, and upcoming book signings. 

Live from England

This newsletter is coming to you directly from England, where I am doing a bit of research and a bit of book marketing. So far my most exciting visit has been to the Clayport Library in Durham, where the librarian was thrilled to accept Murder on the Pneumatic Railway as a library offering. I also brought a copy to Collected, a new bookshop featuring local and female authors, where I purchased a copy of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, a book I’ve never read. I’ve met bookshop owners and left my card.

Much of Pneumatic Railway, a cozy historical mystery, takes place in Victorian-era Durham. I did quite a bit of research, and used real names and addresses from the 1870 Durham Directory to create characters and jobs for Tommy Jones. He has to journey to Durham to bring a witness back to London, and meets a girl there, and . . . well, you’ll just have to read it!

The exact spot where Callum, the homeless man with the dog, sits most days and talks with Tommy, from Murder on the Pneumatic Railway.

I will also sign copies of my book Murder at Old St. Thomas’s in the gift shop at the Old Operating Theatre in London later this week. I’m so looking forward to meeting (in person!) Monica Walker, who invited me to Zoom talk about the book and its connection to the place which inspired it. You can view the talk here.

Oh yes, and Charles Windsor was coronated as King Charles III shortly before I arrived. I was privileged to sing God Save the King with a huge congregation celebrating at Durham Cathedral. I’m a big fan of the King because he’s a big fan of . . .


Without access to my own garden, I bring you the garden from Gresgarth Hall in Lancashire, where garden designer Arabella Lennox-Boyd has created a beautiful place.

Naturally, a great many plants grow here that are difficult if not impossible to grow in water-challenged southern California. It’s surprising how viewing many lovely plants can be followed by grumbling, “but we can’t grow that, of course.” 

Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum)

The trend here for awhile has been letting more places grow naturally. I saw a graveyard today with a sign that said the grass is being allowed to grow all year to create better wildlife habitat. Perhaps weeds need not be seen as weeds, but as a place for bees and bugs to proliferate. Goodness knows we need more bees!

TV: Magpie Murders

Not “The” Magpie Murders, as the victim vehemently insists. He’s the successful author of murder mysteries, but he’s been killed and left an unfinished manuscript, so no one knows whodunnit. The detective he writes about is in the middle of his own similar case.

I read the book when it was published in 2016 because the author was Anthony Horowitz, the genius teleplay writer behind Poirot, Midsomer Murders, Foyle’s War, and New Blood. Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the book–it didn’t seem to have the same life and intensity as his teleplays. 

So it doesn’t surprise me that Magpie Murders is really good television. I confess I did get confused between the 1950s and modern timelines, probably because the same cast plays each ensemble. Right now the show is on the PBS app and other providers. 

Don’t forget June 3

That’s the date for the Once Upon a Book Fair, where it’s my understanding that there will be dragon-led tours through the books (!) and a free book prize to win. I’ll be there with all my books to sign and chat.

On June 10-11, I will be at the California Crime Writer’s Conference, signing my books for other authors and, I’m sure, learning a lot.

That’s all for now! And don’t forget, you can find all the previous Grousable Books newsletters here.

Grousable Books Newletter: May 1

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My Grousable Books newsletter for May features a historical bit about May Day, a fun interview, an announcement that my romance is leaving KU, a bit of Vienna Blood, and (finally) a freebie short story.

Now through May 13: 50% off my mystery ebooks at Smashwords

I rarely discount anything, so this is your chance if you’re missing one of the Tommy Jones Mysteries! Coupon code 8SWQ7 should come up automatically for Murder at Old St. Thomas’s, Murder at an Exhibition, and Murder on the Pneumatic Railway. Discount for a limited time only at Smashwords. 

May Day

Here’s a bit of history, and it’s Victorian even if it’s American. On the first of May, 1886, the American Federation of Labor held a general strike. The date had been declared a couple of years before as the goal for workers to obtain an 8-hour day without a cut in pay. This was in a time when 10-16 hour days were the norm, and often in dangerous conditions. Naturally, a labor strike of this size (at least 300,000 participated) meant that anarchists and groups advocating violence would get involved, resulting in the Haymarket Affair a few days later. Protests for labor had turned into protests against police brutality in response to the strikes, and violence begat violence.

Engraving of Haymarket riot posted on my grousable books newsletter for May

Harper’s Magazine’s rendition of the Haymarket Massacre. While not accurate in terms of events, it effectively portrays the mood at the time.

Since then, workers’ unions have adopted the date worldwide as Labor Day, aligned as it is with old pagan May Day spring celebrations. Interestingly, the U.S. does not celebrate labor on this day precisely because communists, socialists, and anarchists were involved. Ours got moved to September. But without unions and strikes, we wouldn’t have 8-hour days, weekends, or OSHA protections.

A fun interview

I had the honor of being interviewed by Stephanie at BookFrolic as part of the Cozy 52 series. She asked some great questions!

Author Q & A banner posted on my grousable books newsletter for May


A Heart Purloined leaving KU

A Heart Purloined, my Victorian romance, will leave Kindle Unlimited on May 15 to spread its wings to the wider world. I hope to get it in libraries soon instead.

Mockups of A Heart Purloined, posted on my grousable books newsletter for May

Here’s the “blurb” about the novel:

England 1880

Amanda Goodwin first encounters Jack Strawman when both of them are robbing the same house, so she knows he’s a thief. As companion to Lady Brandon for two years, she has been trying to earn money to help save her family’s farm and reclaim a miniature of her grandmother. An unexpected death means that Amanda must enlist Jack’s help.

Jack Strawman is a man with a light-hearted manner which covers up a mysterious past, and it doesn’t take long for Amanda to see his flair for dissembling. His own goals come into play as he assists Amanda, but her forthright way of doing things presents problems. From unwilling partners to enchanted lovers is a path filled with robberies, kidnapping, and police investigations, all set in Victorian England.

Garden News

April is when the weather is uncertain, but the plants know the days are longer so they grow really fast. I’ve been taking cuttings from growing stems of lavender and rosemary, planting out tiny tomato plants into huge pots, and babying seedlings of cucumber and watermelon.

Photo of a possum posted on my grousable books newsletter for May

The most frequent possum visitor here is Nobby (so called because she has a knob in her tail caused by injury). Did you know that the most common possum in North America is the Virginia Opossum, and that they are the only marsupials on the continent? Nobby has a pouch full of joeys once again (she had a litter last year), and she has already defied the animal info websites by staying in our yard for two years.

TV: Vienna Blood

No, it’s not England, and it’s post-Victorian (just by a little bit), but it is a lavish production, and an international one at that. A disgruntled Slavic inspector and a young Jewish doctor specializing in neurology (psychiatry) navigate Vienna’s social minefield to solve mysteries. The performances are excellent, so good that one might not even notice the furnishings and costumes (including Max’s hat) that aren’t historically accurate.

Vienna Blood lobby card posted on my grousable books newsletter for May

Because you know, I love a lavish mystery.

A freebie!

I told you last month I’d have a freebie soon, and now I do! It’s a short story called “The Dancing Colonel”, and features Jo and Bridget from Murder at an Exhibition. But you don’t have to know the characters to enjoy solving the mystery of a colonel who drops dead at a charity ball. Was he danced to death, or was the cause more nefarious?

Cover of the freebie, posted on my grousable books newsletter for May

Click here to download the story if you already subscribe to my newsletter, or here if you don’t. Enjoy!

Divided by a Common Language

I saw a British meme explaining that the American word “math” is missing the letter “s” at the end, but it’s ok because we can just take it from the end of the word “sports”.