Research and art: Grousable Books Newsletter 15 May

Grousable Books Newsletter

In this issue: follow my research, quick possum pic, author spotlight on Jolie Tunnell, Beach Town Books, and a bit of art.

A unique chance to watch me work

No, I don’t mean I get on Zoom and you watch me type, frown, and shuffle papers.

For my newsletter subscribers, and because I do love documenting history, I plan to blog my process of research for both a New Orleans-based short story and Murder at the Gasworks, a prequel to my Tommy Jones Victorian mysteries.

people at a bank

George Elgar Hicks, Dividend Day (1850)

The inspiration for the short story is Bouchercon 2025‘s anthology competition, which I plan to enter. The territory is new. Since the conference is in New Orleans, that’s where they’ve asked the stories to be set. All my fiction work so far has been set in England or southern California, so this will be a challenge. 

I’ll also be diverting into my WIP (Work in Progress). The Tommy Jones prequel is half-drafted already, but there is still much research to do, starting with understanding Dividend Day at the Bank of England, pictured above, when stockholders collected their quarterly dividend. (And no, I don’t know how this fits into the story – yet – but there’s been some sneaky goings-on at the Bank . . . )

You can come with me (to the research posts, not the Bank). The first installment is in a secret category on my blog. 

Author recommendation: Jolie Tunnell

This month my hearty recommendation is for the novels of Jolie Tunnell, who’s a wonderful person in addition to being a wonderful author of cozy historical mysteries. I became acquainted with her sleuth Loveda Brown in her first outing, The Great Loveda Brown.

Jolie writes the Idyllwild Mystery Series. Idyllwild is located in southern California, like my Bummer at Luna Beach, but it’s up in the San Jacinto Mountains, on the way to Palm Springs. Idyllwild has long been an artists’ colony, but the town also has a very interesting history, as it turns out. 

Here’s the latest tale. Go ahead and download it. It’s FREE!

Cover of Loveda Brown: The Boston Burglar

 

Loveda Brown is a governess for a wealthy 1911 Boston family, but things are about to get complicated.

The August heat could be blamed for short tempers and frizzy curls, but only Loveda Brown would know how a dead man landed in her third-floor bedroom unannounced. Or would she? The clock ticks down as Loveda and her best friend Bea try to untangle the mystery while her future becomes dimmer than a sixteen-watt lightbulb.

Can she take the heat? Or will the truth shock her world?

Download at:  https://dl.bookfunnel.com/l55do1hfrm

Quick possum pic

I’ll make this quick because not everyone is enchanted with the species Didelphis virginiana. But surely babies are ok?

baby possums

These two joeys are two of three siblings, and they do like munching, though they are careful not to be seen by the owl. They also hide when the adult possums come by.

Coming in June

If you’re in or near San Clemente, California, come on by. I will be one of a few authors at Beach Town Books for their June Author Pop-Up on Sunday, June 23. 

Beach Town Books sign

More information as I have it! But let me give the shop a shout-out, too, and not just because they’re hosting li’l ole me. Beach Town Books has lots of used books and some new in a friendly shop with knowledgeable staff. Really a special place. 

And a bit of art

I love museums, and this year I’ve had the privilege of visiting the Smithsonian in D.C., the National Gallery of Art, the San Diego Museum of Art (free every third Tuesday if you’re a local!), the Oceanside Museum of Art, and the Skirball Cultural Center and Museum in Los Angeles.

Of course, when I go I’m attracted to Victorian-era art. From a historian’s point of view, works of art are primary sources (things created during the era you’re studying). But I’m also an art history buff, interested in artistic styles and what topics are shown in the works. I take photos of both the paintings and the tags so I don’t forget.

Brook's A Pastoral Visit

Richard Norris Brooke, A Pastoral Visit (1888), National Gallery

It’s not easy to take photos of paintings in museums. The lights tend to reflect off the varnish, so I often have to photograph from the side. That’s not ideal, but at least it’s my photo.

I like A Pastoral Visit because as I get older I appreciate genre paintings, like people at home, more and more. A family together in a comfortable room, 1888 gender roles intact, food, strong adults, children, and a cat. I tend to sit and look at paintings like this for a long time.

And more!

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. You can post comments there too.

Until next time, keep grousing!

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15 October 2023

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A faster romance

Well, ok, the romance itself isn’t any faster, but obtaining a paperback book is! I’ve allowed Amazon to print its own version of A Heart Purloined. After checking the quality closely, I went ahead and listed it on their site.

What does this mean? That it will get to readers much faster, because Amazon controls the printing. None of that “will be delivered in 2-3 weeks” nonsense.

Book and ebook of A Heart Purloined

Now if you’re not sure about romance (I certainly wasn’t!), let’s be clear: it’s a “clean” story with no explicit sex, but it’s humorous. In places it’s more like a screwball comedy set in Victorian England than a romantic novel. Our heroine is confident and she swears like a truck-driver. Our hero is no gentleman, and tends to rob people. So when they fall in love, it’s uncomfortable and inconvenient for sure. 

That beach cozy

I’m 97% sure I’m going with “Bummer at Luna Beach” for the title. I hope that doesn’t make it sound like a comedy from the 1990s. It’s close, but it’s set in the fictitious surfing town of San Benno, California in 2004. You don’t suppose I could call it “historical” fiction?

A beach town kind of like the one in my upcoming book

Photo by Don Graham at Flickr

The first draft is done (I figured out whodunnit!), so the book is now in revisions and then it goes off to the editor to make sure it doesn’t read like the back of a cereal box. Releasing a beach cozy in winter seems odd, so it will likely be available in spring. I hope to have a launch party in a beach town!

Internet Joy

Doing research for writing a novel is made so much easier with the internet. Back in the day, one went to the library a lot, and the reference librarian knew what you were working on and helped you find stuff. Some materials would be in the library, but some would come in by teletype (yes, really) or fax or photocopy and snail mail. 

But these days? I can think about a way to kill a character, and I want it to be poison. I’ve heard that yew trees are poisonous, so I start googling around and find out that yes, they are. The leaves and seeds are the most toxic, and the leaves are at their strongest toxicity in the winter (it’s an evergreen). 

a yew tree

I also discover that yew, particularly the Pacific variety, is the basis of Taxol, the anti-cancer drug. So I wonder when that substance was isolated, and could it possibly be during the Victorian era? Yes! I keep seeing references to someone named Lucas. More searching, and find a book citing his book from 1856, then finally I land on the book itself in Google Books, but the article is in German.

I paste it passage by passage into Google Translate, and I’ve got the article, with a few odd colloquialisms Translate couldn’t translate. But now I know not only how Lucas got interested in yew (dead sheep) but what chemicals he used to isolate what he called taxane, and the further experiments he suggested. One of these would lead to the Pacific yew and Taxol. And I did all that sitting on the sofa.

Library Showcase

The internet, of course, cannot replace the library. I’ve mentioned before I spent much of my childhood in the library, shelf browsing the books. These days, that’s so much harder. “Search” on a computer is not the same as “browse”, no matter what they may say. Browsing is something you do looking at books near each other on the shelves, or flipping through the card catalog. There’s a lot of serendipity involved, and the knowledge needed to participate is small. But our librarians are as important as ever in teaching us how to find things. 

Local author program at the San Diego Public Library - books galore!

For the second year, one of my books has been accepted for the San Diego Public Library Local Author Showcase. The event invites authors to display their books at the library, and allows checkouts. The most popular books become part of the library’s permanent collection. Last year, Murder at Old St. Thomas’s was purchased as an e-book for the catalog, so this year of course I submitted Murder at an Exhibition

Paperback Alley

Today’s the day for the Escondido Grand Avenue Festival street fair, and I’ll be there at Paperback Alley selling books. Photos next time!

And more!

  • 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 on historical research and writing? They’re here.
  • Want to talk about what’s in my newsletters? I think I’ve fixed the Comment function on the website, so you should be able to comment now on this newsletter. If you can’t, I’ll fix it (she said with the utmost confidence).

Until next time, keep grousing!

1 October 2023

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Guesting with Alexia Gordon

I’ve been wanting to guest on Alexia Gordon’s Cozy Corner podcast for awhile now, and I was lucky enough to have the chance at Bouchercon.

Cozy Corner Podcast

She’s such a good interviewer, and it was so much fun talking with her. Take a listen at Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Mystery Movies

While I find Kenneth Branagh’s new Agatha Christie adaptations artistic and contemporary, I admit that I prefer the older versions. So in this newsletter I feature Death on the Nile (1978).

The cast is exquisite. Mia Farrow is the mentally unstable woman who loses her fiancé Simon to her friend, played by the stunning Lois Chiles.  Angela Lansbury as the colorful novelist I’ve always wanted to be, George Kennedy and Sam Wanamaker (benefactor of the new Old Globe in London) play the American uncle and financier, Bette Davis is the wealthy Mrs. Van Schuyler – what more could you want? How about Jack Warden, Maggie Smith, Olivia Hussey, Jane Birkin, Jon Finch, and David Niven? They just don’t make casts like this anymore.

Copyright Parade

Oh, did I forget someone? Hercules Poirot himself, played by Peter Ustinov. No, he doesn’t look like the diminutive Belgian detective described in the books. Rather, he makes the role his own with his comedic skills, and played Poirot multiple times in other films. 

Anthony Shaffer wrote the script, and at the time he’d already written Murder on the Orient Express, Sleuth, and Frenzy. The director was John Guillermin, whose reputation for his on-set temper is offset by his getting the best from his actors on action-adventure films. Worth a view? You bet.

Warning: viewers sensitive to caricatures/objectionable portrayals of French, Belgian, Indian, elderly, or sexually intemperate characters might not enjoy the film as much.

Trying for a hardback

Creating a hardcover version for Murder at Old St. Thomas’s was more fraught then I expected. At first I went with a 6 x 9 inch size. I wanted a cloth book with a dust cover, because to me that says “book”.

Well, cloth covers aren’t affordable, and aren’t available to the independently published. Instead, you may have a book with a laminate cover (plain or printed with the cover, which reminds me of textbooks) or a book with a laminate cover that is printed with a cloth pattern.

I like real things, not ruses and substitutes. It’s like using veneer when you want solid wood, or pasting thin brick singles over cement block. But there’s no accounting for the costs, so I went with the faux “cloth” and cover, as I had for Before the Time Machine. The proof arrived with the dust cover folded wrong.

This made the cover misaligned. I was able to refold it, but if it were sent to a bookshop, oh dear!

I’m afraid 6 x 9 just felt like the wrong size, too. It’s just got to feel right, I think. So I’m going with 5.5 x 8.5, which doesn’t seem like a big difference but looks and feels so much better. Should be available in plenty of time for holiday gifting. 🙂

Featured blog posts

There are two this time!

First, are the half-dozen or so things I learned about writing mysteries at Bouchercon.

My non-fiction work centers around H. G. Wells, whom I have been studying for several years. My particular interest is in education, both his own and the type he hoped would be provided for humanity. In his autobiography, he claimed to have been afraid of a gorilla drawn in a particular book, so of course I had to find it

October giveaway and links

If you didn’t get a chance to download a free e-copy of my short story “The Dancing Colonel”, there’s another opportunity through the Historical Crime and Mystery Giveaway.

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, keep grousing!

 

Grousable Books Newsletter: September 15

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Bouchercon

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!

Links

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 Books 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. 

Links

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 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!

Promos

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!

A cool review

Murder at Old St. Thomas's, a "richly developed historical mystery"So delighted with this Critic’s Report of my book from BookLife Prize, I just had to share. So grateful it’s called a “richly developed historical mystery”. I’ve never had a reviewer understand exactly what I was doing!

Title: Murder at Old St. Thomas’s

Author: Lisa M. Lane

Genre: Fiction/Mystery/Thriller

Audience: Adult

Word Count: 76691

Assessment:

Plot/Idea: Murder at Old St. Thomas’s is a richly developed historical mystery filled with fascinating period details, including those surrounding the medical profession, theatrical productions of the era, and societal conflicts.

Prose: Lane’s prose is layered, immersive, and immediately transports readers to nineteenth century London. The police procedural aspects of the story are carefully constructed and finely detailed.

Originality: Lane’s novel readily calls to mind works of classic mystery, while allowing the events, atmosphere, and characters to fully resonate with modern readers. 

Character/Execution: The story’s many characters range from doctors to nurses to apothecaries to actors to an extremely intelligent and observant 12-year-old boy. Lane creates a complex and decidedly unlikable character in the novel’s victim, effectively establishing early on the number of potential suspects. While the Dickensian cast may overwhelm readers, Lane brings them each to life. References to historical figures provides verisimilitude and context, while both central players and peripheral ones add to the splendor of the world Lane creates. 

Score:

  • Plot/Idea: 9
  • Originality: 9
  • Prose: 9
  • Character/Execution: 9
  • Overall: 9.00

Report Submitted: June 5, 2023