15 November

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Included within is a retro take on a classic TV show, an eclipse, garden news, a timely featured blog post, baseball, and The African Queen.

A look back at: Murder She Wrote

It was the 1980s, so the haircuts are embarrassing, but the show was cozy mystery at its finest. 

Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher

The main character, Jessica Fletcher, is a mystery writer. She likes to write at her kitchen table, so we have something in common. Preferring a quiet home life, she nevertheless gets tangled up in murders both in Cabot Cove and on her travels to publicize her books. One of her zillions of nieces and nephews, or a close friend, are usually accused. This means she must to step in and find the real killer, often at some danger to herself. 

Although Jessica Fletcher is much younger than Rosie McMahon, the 72-year-old protagonist in my upcoming beach cozy, they have in common a determination to get to the truth, a puzzle-solving intelligence, and a useful relationship with a gentleman friend (Seth the doctor in Murder She Wrote, reporter Lou in my cozy).

What is a cozy? Most people think of books with brightly illustrated covers, a quirky female sleuth, and some form of hobby or business that’s based in domesticity but requires specialist knowledge: catering, quilting, etc. Certainly cozies are supposed to have no explicit sex or violence. I’ve gone back and forth on whether my Victorian mysteries are cozies.

They contain nothing gruesome or explicit. They have some humor and lightness, certainly, but there are important themes riding beneath. One reader said to me, “Well, they make me feel cozy when I’m done reading them!” So I’ll keep the cozy designation and wear it with pride.

Garden news

As promised, here’s what’s up in the Grousable Garden. 

Little Petunia the possum disappeared for awhile. When she returned she was so much bigger I had trouble recognizing her. But the big dark triangle on her forehead gave her away. She’s the size of a cat now, and still a little timid when others are around.

Petunia the possum

Panda 3 is a regular now, and she’s hungry. Judging by the waddle and her very slow walk, I am pretty sure she has a pouch full of joeys. And in case you’re worried that the garden will be overrun with possums, only Petunia remains from Cassie’s litter, and Cassie herself only occasionally comes around. Being a possum is a tough life with cars, coyotes, and dogs just waiting for you to come out from hiding. 

Flower-wise, I have a very confused German iris, blooming in autumn. They’ve been pretty successful in my sandy, alkaline, So Cal garden and I’m happy about that. Veggies didn’t go well. The tomatoes pretty much came to nothing, and my gardening neighbors blame the weather. And allow me to present to you the entire watermelon crop.

Well, as they say in baseball, there’s always next season.

An eclipse

Back on October 14, we had a partial solar eclipse in this part of the country. I got a picture through a telescope. 

Partial solar eclipse on October 14

Alexander the Great was on the eve of battle in Mesopotamia, traveling with his entourage of soldiers, scholars, and priests. A lunar eclipse occurred, and the moon glowed red. Many of his followers became fearful. What kind of omen was this? The quick-thinking Alexander said it was a sign that they were going to eclipse the Persians in the war. 

I can think of a couple of baseball teams that could have used that interpretation as they headed (or not) to the playoffs.

Featured blog post

It’s not Victorian, nor H. G. Wells, nor about writing fiction, but if you’re interested in the historical roots of today’s Middle Eastern conflict, check out my history blog post.

WWI movies

In keeping with events surrounding the First World War (1914-1918), we’ve just celebrated Armistice Day (known as Veterans’ Day in the U.S.). I notice that in Britain, commemorations are deeply felt and widely understood. In America, the war seems longer ago than it does in the U.K. This is likely because the U.S. participated for a much shorter time, arriving only in 1917.

The Great War, they called it then. That’s wasn’t because it was super, but because so many European countries were involved. And because many of them had colonies, all of their colonies were involved, too, making it a global war. 

There are many WWI movies I could recommend, but I’m going to speak for the 1951 John Huston film The African Queen. It takes place at the beginning of the war, in German East Africa. The plot involves a missionary (Katherine Hepburn) and a Canadian who pilots a supply boat (Humphrey Bogart). Although imperfectly based on E.M. Forster’s book, and the events that inspired it, the film holds its own. 

The African Queen ad

Why mention it in an author newsletter? Because the two main characters are the focus of the film as they try to open up the supply route by torpedoing a large German gunboat. Two people against the opposing navy, overcoming the challenges of their dodgy little boat, the tropical heat, and the enemy being nasty. Their relationship develops as they attempt an impossible task fighting for their side. Sure, it’s a romance, but it’s also the little guys against the big guys. A classic story that still manages to give the sense of  a war at the human level, fought in isolated places around the globe. 

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.
  • Want to read my blog posts on historical research and writing? They’re here.

Until next time, keep grousing!

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!

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!

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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


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. 


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

Report Submitted: June 5, 2023