Newsletter June 1

Grousable Books Newletter banner

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!