Take Those Daily Field Trips to Inspire and Expand Your Almost Royal Writing Mind

Just as your body needs food and water daily to keep running, I think it’s just as important to take time to feed your mind. Meditation, prayer, motivational readings—are great ways to get the mind in focus on who you are and where you want to be, prioritize what’s important, and opening it to new ideas and interesting new things to try. As a writer, I’m always on the lookout for new ideas, settings, and happenings that can refuel my writing mind. It’s a challenge to come up with fresh ideas and transforming them into your storylines. You don’t have to take grandiose trips to get those fresh ideas either, you’d be surprised what you can find in your own little neck of the woods. Here are some of the daily field trips I find that refuel and reinvigorate my writer idea cache.

  1. Take a drive. I live in southern California where cars rule and traffic is bumper to bumper, making for a less than ideal driving experience. I’ve made a point of finding roads off the beaten path, where I can put the top down on my convertible and enjoy the breeze against my face as I drive a winding road. I turn on my favorite music and enjoy the views. It’s amazing what you can see and hear and smell when you take a relaxed drive—a glimpse of a cabin roof nestled deep in the woods, the sound of waterfall you never knew existed, the scents of beautiful wild flowers, magnificent starry skies…the list is endless and gives me fresh ideas and new perspectives every time.
  2. Window shop. I love the French phrase, aller faire du léche-vitrine, to go window shopping/lick the windows 🙂 I love to find whimsical stores filled with unique treasures—pottery, old jewelry, anything fringe. I take pictures in my mind, thinking of scenes where I could use the charming trinkets. Character Gemma always loves it when I go shopping, giving me mental nudges to include a new ring or a fringed belt to her fabulous wardrobe. I love to look at store displays, they give me inspiration and decorating tips for the settings in my books–the placement of books, the flower arrangements, the sparkle of a chandelier—I make mental design notes for my next cozy mystery room. Warning–this field trip could be expensive 😉
  3. Eat at a new restaurant. I love incorporating meals in my scenes and what better inspiration that the tastes and smells of a new foodie find! I love exploring new restaurants and cuisines, we sometimes get into a food rut, going to the same places and eating the same dishes again and again. Variety is the spice of life so it is said, and I believe it to be especially true for the foods we eat. Who knows what new spice, or aroma, or food presentation will trigger that new sentence?
  4. Take a spa day. I don’t think there’s anything better than a day of pampering to get the mind juices flowing. Get that warm stone massage, invigorating facial, or mani/pedi—your body will thank you. It amazes me every time how much better I feel, more focused, recharged, and ready to write.
  5. Go see a local play. I’m lucky to have several small theater groups nearby, and to me there’s nothing better than watching a live play. I’m amazed at the local talent—we have some amazing, gifted, inspiring actors all around us, not just the Hollywood movie stars. I particularly love seeing plays at local high schools and colleges too, young talent giving amazing results. Plays give me a chance to imagine and visualize how a scene would happen in my books. Is the sofa too close to the bookcase? Where do the actors place their cocktails down when they are in dialog? Simple things, but amazing visualization inspiration. Ma-ma would approve 🙂
  6. Have a picnic. The weather is amazing now (at least it is here in California, I know some of my mid-west and east coast friends are still having some winter chills). Go to a local park, spread down a blanket, and feast on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Watch the children play around you, the dogs chasing butterflies. Better yet, bring along all those magazines you haven’t had a chance to read at home. whether it’s 30 minutes or 2 hours, your mind will thank you.
  7. Listen to a lecture. I happen to be a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) which meets the second Saturday of the month. They always have great lectures as part of the meeting, I learn something new every time, great to file away and use when you least expect it. Find a group that discusses the topics that interest you and show up—you just never know what might light the fire in your mind.
  8. Sometimes the inspiration comes from  right out your backdoor. Today a hummingbird whizzed by, stopping momentarily to  look down at me as I soaked in the hot tub. We stared at each other just for a second, and right before it ignited its rapid launch to another neighbor’s world, it smiled. Was it my imagination? I don’t think so 🙂

I hope I’ve given you some mind food for thought today. Minds need to be exposed in order to learn, and for a writer, it’s a never ending mind quest. What is your favorite thing to do for a mental refresh?

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. Featured picture today is the coast of Malibu. I was driving and stopped at a turnout on PCH. I was amazed at the view and was able to snap this picture. There are a ton of words that flow when I look at this picture, remembering the shot. Gemma would approve 🙂

 

 

Upstairs/Downstairs Characters in a Modern Cozy British Mystery Setting—Is the Class Distinction Still Relevant?

As an American, writing in the upscale, almost royal, cozy British mystery world of my storylines, one of the challenges for me doing character development is how to incorporate and treat characters that do not live, entertain, or perform dastardly deeds on the upper floors of Cherrywood Hall. These characters are the housekeepers, butlers, chef, chauffer and groomsmen that keep my almost royal, privileged life characters in well form. These ‘seen’ but ‘unseen’ characters perform a multitude of roles in my storylines—not just the work for their prescribed role, but also providing history, local knowledge, and unique perspectives to the main characters to give them insights they might not have otherwise. When in doubt, ask Bridges, Mrs. Smythe, Chef Karl, or Bates…

Alison Maloney’s book, Life Below Stairs, True Lives of Edwardian Servants, gives an excellent perspective of what it was like to serve in these ‘downstairs’ positions in the early 20th century. She details the various roles, and their rules and responsibilities. There was a definite servitude class structure, and no deviations tolerated. the work hours were long, and the pay minimal. Many roles were served by children, put into servitude by their poor families, or taken from orphanages and put to work. Their quarters were humble at best, with few amenities. There were separate halls and staircases used by the servants—their roles required them to be ‘unseen’. Time off was usually one afternoon a week. The first world war gave a welcomed change to the people of this world, offering new opportunities in the working world that had not been available before.

I’ve been surprised in bad and good ways as to how the ‘downstairs’ characters were treated by writers I love, perhaps because of the time period and how things were done back then. Agatha Christie uses many young women in service in her Miss Marple stories. These poor girls are usually described as inferior in intelligence and clumsy, making their training by Miss Marple a never ending challenge. Their turnover is frequent, and often times they end up as victims, with Miss Marple finding their deviant killers.

In Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness series, Lady Georgiana, often challenged by lack of funds, worked as a maid herself—undercover of course, until she was off solving mysteries for her cousin, Queen Mary. Her maid Queenie is often ruining dresses, forgetting shoes, and making poor Georgie quite frustrated. There are humorous storylines and scenes of course, but I find it sad that we’re led to believe these poor characters are so helpless that they are only being ‘saved’ by the kind heartedness of their frustrated mistresses.

One of my favorite ‘downstairs’ characters is Agatha Christie’s Lucy Eyelesbarrow, Oxford trained academic turned high paid housekeeper of your dreams, in Miss Marple’s 4:50 to Paddington book. Lucy is chef extraordinaire, household chaos tamer, and brilliant sleuth assistant. In my mind she set a whole new career path for women and clearly defined what she would and wouldn’t do, took pride in her work, demanded a high wage, didn’t worry what-so-ever about class distinctions, and loved the freedom she had to move around, and determine who her next clients would be. She was an inspiring ‘downstairs’ character, paving a path for the new class of ‘servant’.

On the big screen and small, Julian Fellowes gives us a birds-eye view of ‘downstairs’ lives in Gosford Park and Downton Abbey.  The servants in Gosford Park work away, seeing to every comfort of their masters and mistresses. Snobbery is very much alive and well. The DA servants seemed a bit happier as portrayed, and enjoyed a bit more interaction with their mistresses and masters, but there were still clear boundaries between the classes. I cringed when character Lady Grantham yelled at Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Patmore for trying on one of her coats for Mrs. Hughes upcoming wedding to Carson, not realizing Lady Mary had told them to pick one.  She apologized at the end and gave Mrs. Hughes the coat, but would a anyone ever forget that kind of behavior? Chauffer Tom crossed all social boundaries and married Lady Sybil, only to be left widowed with a young child. I wonder if Lord and Lady Grantham would have taken him into their household, awarding him an aristocratic status in ‘real’ life…

You’ll read when Bridges, the head butler, Mrs. Smythe, head housekeeper, Chef Karl, and Bates the chauffer are interacting with the main characters of Cherrywood Hall—giving their polite help and respectful suggestions to catch the deviants. I can guarantee you that they will receive the same respect and politeness in response—and their roles are highly regarded by all. It’s modern times now, time to lift any negative stigma on working ‘downstairs’ in my book. Aunt Pippa would approve 🙂

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. Life Below Stairs, True Lives of Edwardian Servants, by author Alison Maloney, an interesting, informative read! Don’t forget LA Times Festival of Books is this weekend at the USC campus, hope to see you there!

 

 

 

LA Times Festival of Books This Weekend, April 21-22, USC Campus—My First Book Signing!

This weekend is a major milestone for me, my first book signing at the LA Times Festival of Books! I’m super excited to have been invited to have my debut signing experience in the Sisters in Crime booth on Saturday, from 2-4 pm. As a newly published author, this is a dream come true for me. When I began my writing journey in 2016, I never imagined how much joy, comradery, new friendships, and adventure I was to experience in this journey. The support of my husband, friends, family and cats has been a true blessing 🙂

The LA Times Festival of Books is held at the University of southern California campus and offers readers, writers, editors, publishers, and people who just want a fun experience, a chance to gather together and celebrate the love of the written word! From their website:

“The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books began in 1996 with a simple goal: to bring together the people who create books with the people who love to read them. Since then, the festival has grown into a vibrant celebration of all of the arts, and of our dynamic, innovative and unique metropolis. Each year, over 150,000 people come to the University of Southern California campus to experience a gathering of writers, poets, artists, filmmakers and musicians like no other. The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is the largest festival of its kind in the United States and is The Times’ annual gift to our city.”

I’m amazed at the line-up of fabulous authors at this years festival, celebrities of course, it’s LA: Maria Shriver (I’ve Been Thinking); Valerie Bertinelli (Valerie’s Home Cooking); Mayam Bialik (Boying Up: How to Be Brave, Bold and Brilliant); Danica McKellar (Ten Magic Butterflies–I bought this book for my granniekids, it’s wonderful! ) Scores of other fabulous authors and storytellers, vendors, publishers, writer’s groups (Sisters in Crime/LA is fabulous, Mystery Writers of America, Independent Writers of Southern California) will be at the event too—it’s a writer’s dream 🙂

It’s not all about the books though—cooking demonstrations, art displays, music, film and TV shows, and food, food, food will also be available to attendees of the event. There will be live improv events and book readings, and panel discussions galore (including politics—but why ruin a great weekend…). Don’t forget all the great give-aways, bring an extra bag 🙂

I’ve always been a believer that your education never ends, no matter what profession you choose. It’s incumbent upon you to define the learning path that works best for you, whether that’s formal training, university, networking, professional societies. Since I’m new to the writer’s world, an event like the LA Times festival of Books is a rare opportunity to interact with fellow writers, publishers, and writing organizations I’m interested in joining. I can’t wait to learn about all the things I know nothing about. It’s a challenge I gladly accept.  🙂

So I’m reading up on the event, learning the schedules and agendas, mapping out all the booths I want to go to, and prepping my signature. My husband and cousin Janie are going to the event with me this year (yes they will be taking pictures of me in the booth serving as my publicity team). I feel like a kid going to Disneyland for the first time—it doesn’t get any better than being surrounded by books in my world. I hope if you live a drivable distance you’ll consider attending this event.  And if you come by booth 367 between 2-4pm on Saturday, I’d love to meet you!

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. LA Times Festival of Books this weekend, April 21-22 at the USC campus—check it out! Also, many thanks to Sisters in Crime LA chapter, and Mystery Ink bookstore in Huntington Beach! Gemma would approve 😉

Location, Location—Choose Your Storyline Location Wisely, It’s an Important Main Character, Almost Royally Speaking

Location, location, location—it’s the mantra of anyone who’s in real estate. If you’re a writer, it’s of paramount importance too. To me, setting the location for your storyline is one of the most important tasks a writer has when developing and outlining, whether it be for a book, short story, script—it sets the scene for the reader as to what’s to come. If you choose the wrong location for your storyline, you’ll have a much harder time convincing readers to cross over into your fictional world, and none of us want that.

What do I mean by a storyline location? Think about these books or shows (examples are some of my favorites)—what image comes to mind as you read the following? The Davinci Code (The Louvre/Paris); Downton Abbey (Highclere Castle/English countryside); Under the Tuscan Sun (Bramasole/lovely Tuscan hills); Star Wars (Galaxy/far, far, away); and finally, anything Miss Marple (St. Mary Meade/quintessential village).

In my view, the location settings used for these books and fave shows were genius. I’ll admit it, I’ve stalked the paintings at the Louvre and scoured the streets of Paris looking for the clues and locations described in the book. I’m planning a trip to see the beautiful grounds of Highclere Castle next spring—I invested 6 seasons of my life watching DA (oh how I miss thee)—I need to walk the grounds of my beloved characters, pretending to come back to the estate after church. We’ve toured the rolling Tuscan hills of Italy, thinking like millions of others how wonderful it would be to have our own ‘Bramasole’ villa, la dolce vita style.

Now granted, exploring outer space is not in my current realm of physical reality, but when I see the Star Wars galaxies and exotic worlds, I want to be there, I can imagine being there with the characters, zipping around the cosmos, dodging light sabers—I’ve been hooked. Mentally I’ve sat with Miss Marple in her garden, looking at her flowers, sipping tea, reveling in her stories of human nature and village life. I even toyed with the idea of taking up knitting…

Obviously your storyline locations don’t have to exist in real life. The Cherrywood Hall estate I describe in my book stories is fictional, an amalgamation of turrets, sea paths, follies, vineyards—scenes and pictures from my travels, magazines, shows, Pinterest, that I’ve accumulated over the years. I can describe Cherrywood Hall in detail, because mentally I’ve walked the halls and grounds many times. It’s a location that fits my storyline well, and I try to utilize it’s beauty and surroundings wisely. I want my readers to come to love these hollowed halls and grounds as much as I do, visiting often, and associating the My American Almost Royal Cousin series storylines with it.

My point is that I cannot imagine these stories or shows having different locations now. The writers and filmmakers so closely attuned their storylines with them, that for me, I’ve mentally identified, pictured, and embedded the storyline with the setting location–they’ve become a main character to me. Highclere Castle is Downton Abbey, just as Michele Dockery is Lady Mary. I’ll always scrutinize a Leonardo Divinci painting when given the chance, looking over my shoulder as I stroll the Seine, after reading the Divinci Code. My husband and I opted out of buying a Tuscan villa, but I’ve scooped up Frances Mayes wonderful cookbooks, making her wonderful dishes and eating them in our California patio, la dolce vita style 🙂

Writers and filmmakers have tried to take a revered storyline and update it’s period, modernize it’s characters, change the location from 1500’s Italy to 1990’s Miami. Foreign films get made over in language and location frequently.  I’ll even go with taking period works or characters and adapting, changing history, and expanding them into new roles such as vampire or zombie slayers (OK, I may have to draw the line there, but that’s just me and my personal preference, if it’s you–go for it!) It can be done of course, but to me changing a location is just as traumatic as replacing an actor or character—it’s hard for me to do the transplantation.

I often pose this question to my readers or social media audience—Would you let a period television drama series be filmed at your estate? I ask this somewhat in jest, since it’s a main storyline in the My American Almost Royal Cousin series of books. But every time I ask it, I visualize Cherrywood Hall immediately, and think about it. I hope you do to. What’s your favorite location setting been? What do you think when characters or locations are changed?

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. Thank you genius authors and filmmakers for telling your stories in the most marvelous of locations! Gemma approves 🙂

Cozy Mystery Writer with an Almost Royal Foodie Appetite—Even the Bad Guys, Amateur Sleuths, and Almost Royals Have to Eat, Am I Right? How I’ve Managed to Educate My Almost Royal Foodie Palate…

Breakfasts, lunch, and dinners play a big role in my stories—-and of course cocktails, one must always have cocktails available. The inhabitants of Cherrywood Hall are very lucky to have the culinary creations of Chef Karl served to them daily. Personally, I think mayhem and murders are always solved best on a full tummy, don’t you think? Imagine the embarrassment one would face just as you were about to name or catch the devious bad guy or gal, and your tummy growls with hunger, causing everyone to look at you with gaping wide eyes…Aunt Pippa would not approve.

Characters need their strength in a cozy murder mystery just to survive at times. Suppose your car gets run off the road by a devious maniac and you need split second performance skills to bring your car to a safe stop? How does a peckish fair maiden grab and hold on for dear life when pushed down a hillside, rolling violently, heading toward an air-bound exit over a cliff? Would a starving male Atlas be able to catch said falling damsel careening down said hillside, saving her from a certain hideous death?

Let’s not forget that one needs strength for romance too—a certain Cherrywood Hall estate manager I know likes a girl with an appetite, gives her stamina he says…Unfortunately the only characters that don’t get to regularly participate in the gastric treasures offered at Cherrywood Hall are the actresses trying to maintain their wisplike thespian figures. The film and costume obligations for Castlewood Manor relegate them to an ‘air and air’ diet. “Ah couldn’t do it…” to borrow a phrase from character Gemma, as she bites into a puffy pastry. I quite agree.

I’ve always enjoyed cooking. My move to California and my travels have allowed me to experience a myriad of gastric creations and flavors—giving my palate an international perspective. I adore having champagne and escargot as soon as we arrive in Paris (nothing is better than dipping a piece of a fresh, crunchy baguette into the garlicky butter sauce—Yummeaux!). Fish and chips with a pint are favorites once we hit the pubs of London ( with savory shepherd’s pie running a close second)—Henry, the barkeep at the Howling Pig Pub in Maidenford would agree 🙂 Is there any better way to top off a meal than a sticky toffee pudding? On the more formal side, I love afternoon teas at the Ritz, Savoy, and Dorchester hotels in London. It’s so fun to dress up a bit and sit in gorgeous surroundings, experimenting with a new flavor of tea, daintily eating savory finger sandwiches and pies, and deciding the order of consumption of the luscious desserts, always saving what you think will be best for last. Just writing this makes my mouth water, sigh…

Thank goodness for the explosion of foodie shows available now on television and the internet. I am a big fan of the television foodie shows on PBS, Food Network, and the Cooking Channel. You can gastronomically travel to all ends of the earth to learn about the foods and cooking techniques used in kitchens everywhere (or huts, boats, wilderness, castles—amazing where you can cook a meal). Learning about the foods and their origins gives me a whole new appreciation for not only what I eat, but what I decide my characters will eat in the stories (provided Chef Karl approves the menus of course).

Roaming the internet I get access to some of my beloved British chefs—who provide me with the quintessential British perspective of English gastronomy. Who doesn’t love Nigella Lawson’s sultry voice and luscious creations, ending with her nightly raid of the fridge? Or the beautiful, dearly departed Two Fat Ladies (Jennifer Paterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright) who take us onto gastric journeys via their trusty motorbike? Jamie Oliver gives us the organic, proper way to cook and eat (who doesn’t love a Naked Chef?) I have grown to love the Great British Bake Off—who knew learning the intricacies of Victoria sponge, scones, and gateaux could be so spellbinding?  What endears me to these particular chefs is their ability to relate to all nationalities and classes (almost royal or not)—teaching us the recipes of the British palate, without requiring a Cordon Bleu degree to prepare them.

And lastly, I have my beloved cookbooks. Nigella, Clarissa and Jennifer make me so happy when I read their recipes. I’ve branched out too, buying the cookbooks of royal chefs (you never know when the queen will come to dinner at Cherrywood Hall) and the new royal wedding baker of Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding cake, Claire Ptak (who knows, maybe she will bake the cake for an almost royal Cherrywood Hall wedding to come?) What or who inspires your almost royal appetite? Can you send me the recipe?

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. I love the 1934 menu Aunt Pippa put together for her Prince of Kingwood dinner—I’m glad Gemma decided to re-use the menu (updated of course by Chef Karl 🙂  Oyster on the Half Shell; Lobster Bisque; Wilted Salad; Raviolis Beurre Blanc; Crab-Stuffed Halibut; Rack of Lamb with Root Vegetables; and ending with Almond Cake, Strawberries, Poached Pears—Aunt Pippa would approve 🙂

 

Cast, Crew, & Carnage; the Filming of Castlewood Manor—2nd Book in the My American Almost Royal Cousin Series Makes its Almost Royal Debut!

Season 1 filming of British television period drama series, Castlewood Manor, has begun at the Cherrywood Hall estate. Actors. crew and a royal it-girl come to Cherrywood Hall, making life more than a bit interesting for Gemma Lancaster Phillips, her cousin Lord Evan Lancaster, and estate manager, Kyle Williams. Gemma has her hands full when Rosehill Productions want to develop and launch several marketing promotions to premier prior to the Season 1 debut of Castlewood Manor. Excitement runs high as Maidenford villagers and the Castlewood Manor cast and crew join Gemma and her family in these events, but danger and sabotage lurk close behind.

Cherrywood Hall business ventures are going full steam ahead under Kyle’s lead, with a new line of sherry, and the construction of a Wedding Pavilion and Honeymoon Chateau—will the new ventures pull him away from Gemma? Will there be a Season 1 for Castlewood Manor? Will royal it-girl and great-niece to the queen, Lady Evangeline Tilford, be help or hindrance to Gemma as her new assistant? Love tugs at Gemma’s heartstrings, but will romance be in bloom at Cherrywood Hall? Or will Cupid’s arrow fade to black…

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Cast, Crew, & Carnage; the Filming of Castlewood Manor is available as both an ebook or paperback now on Amazon, enjoy!

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. So excited for the second book debut–stay tuned for more intrigue, romance, and mayhem with Gemma and the inhabitants of Cherrywood Hall! Gemma would approve 🙂

Reader Questions, Reader Questions, Wouldn’t You Like to Know? Not 1, Not 2, but 27 Sparkling Questions Enquiring Readers Might Want to Ask…

My trusty sidekick board, The Roaming Crown, prodded me with it’s bejeweled crown this morning asking—what jewel of a question would an enquiring reader have when reading your book? I thought about this as I applied royal cream to my prodded psyche (coffee with cream, 3 cups). Duly caffeinated, I have decided there are not 1, not 2, but 27 questions enquiring readers might want to ask (These questions are for book 1 of the series, The Crown for Castlewood Manor, and if the number 27 is giving you a crowning headache darling, relief is at the end of the post 🙂 )

  1. Chef Karl prepares some fantastic meals for the guests at Cherrywood Hall—what was your favorite meal, or dish(es) ?
  2. Would you let a television series such as Castlewood Manor be filmed at your estate—would losing your privacy be worth a hefty payday?
  3. Main character, heiress Gemma Lancaster Phillips, has a new PhD and a care free life in Malibu, would you turn down a professorship and leave a cozy beach cottage to go help a family member in another country?
  4. Would you trade places with any of the characters (royal family, ghosts included)—and if so, who, and why?
  5. How would you act as an American suddenly meeting and interacting with British royals and aristocrats—would you be nervous, shy, if so, why?
  6. The ghostly spirit of beloved Aunt Pippa shows up now and again (or does she?), what would you do if a ghostly entity suddenly made its presence known to you?
  7. What did you think of the main setting of the book, the Cherrywood Hall manor house and estate–what was your favorite room?
  8. The British royal family is fictionalized in the storyline, how do you feel about that, and why?
  9. Have you ever attended a formal tea–what was your favorite blend, and favorite yummy, savory or sweet?
  10. Fashion is a big part of the storylines–what is your favorite outfit of Gemma’s?
  11. Americans don’t typically have a lot of chances to wear tiaras and crowns—would you like this to change—where would you wear a crown or tiara to?
  12. Cherrywood wines are a new business venture for the Cherrywood Hall estate in the book, would you like to take on a vineyard and winery to manage?
  13. Lord Evan takes his family peerage and responsibilities very seriously, but longs to be in South Africa on his ranch—do you let family responsibilities take priority over your longings and aspirations?
  14. Mothers keep a close eye on Gemma and Evan during the competition—who do you relate with more, aristocratic Lady Margaret, or actress/ma-ma Jillian?
  15. Checkered pasts and family dramas haunt the competing estates of Shipley House, Longthorpe Manor, and even Cherrywood Hall, what was your favorite backstory?
  16. What’s your favorite event in the story; the formal tea; the breakfast hunt; the formal dinner gala—which would you choose to attend and why?
  17. The ‘closets’ at Cherrywood Hall hold treasured garments and accessories the Lancaster women have worn through the years—do you have family garments and treasures worn by your family members—what makes them dear to you?
  18. Gemma gets hit with some high brow snobbery in the story—what does an American know about British estates—you’re not an aristocrat—how would you handle an almost-royal snub?
  19. The sea path, the winery, the follies scattered on the rolling hills of the Cherrywood Hall estate—where would you spend a lazy afternoon?
  20. Florals, succulents, ferns and trees—what secret garden would grow in your luscious conservatory?
  21. The search for hidden rooms and doors is a never-ending task at Cherrywood Hall—-do you have hidden doors or walls at your home, or would you like a secret room, what would you do there?
  22. Lots of questions and riddles come up during the cocktail and meal conversations at Cherrywood Hall—what’s been the biggest or funniest mystery you’ve uncovered while conversing with family and friends?
  23. Rosehill Productions has a lot at stake as they look for the estate to assume the film role as Castlewood Manor—what would be the key decision factors you would have when scouting and selecting an estate location?
  24. Would you like to learn more about the plot of the Castlewood Manor television series, where a early twentieth century American matron, who happens to be the queen’s best friend, brings her daughters over to Britain to arrange aristocratic or royal marriages for them, as the queen is doing for her princess daughters?
  25. What did you enjoy most in the story: characters, plot, events, settings—and least?
  26. If money were no object, where would you go to live (anywhere in the world), and what would your marvelous manor house look like?
  27. Why do cat’s always shed their hairs on anything black? (had to ask this after seeing some stray hairs on the feature photo—this question may be tossed  🙂

A few crown jewels to think about and discuss—enjoy! Most of all, thank you dear readers! Any questions?

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. Please don’t get your crown in a twist, I have not forgotten about the number 27, it’s Gemma’s age 🙂 Gemma would approve.

Finding Your Book Characters from Within—What (or Who) Will Inspire Your Next Character? Will You be Next?

When I write, I find the character creation process one of the more fun, and sometimes frustrating, processes there is when developing a storyline. It’s a little like giving birth—your ideas take seed, develops as you add attributes, quirks, mannerisms, voice, behaviors…the list goes on and on. Developing a character is much more than a physical description, you need to add the unique descriptors that are going to make a character come alive, jumping off the page and into the readers mind.

So where do you get your character inspiration from? I’ve been lucky to have met many, many people while working and traveling. When I meet someone, there’s always a characteristic that keeps them in my memory— a laugh, a twinkle in their eye, how they shake your hand, how they walk, a sadness in their speech—there’s always something unique. I try and archive these traits, not the actual person per se. I want to use the traits I think will make my characters unique and vibrant, pulling out the best and worst traits and incorporating them into one. Every character has to have some flaws to make them believable, as no one is perfect.

How do you decide what makes a character good or evil? That’s a tough one for me. I don’t believe there are pure evil beings. I think people are shaped by their upbringing, their surroundings, and how they were taught to interact with others. I keep this in mind as I nurture my characters in development. What happened to this character as a child that makes them so shy and timid as an adult? Were they constantly criticized and humiliated, or bullied? What is going to trigger this character to break out of his or her shell? Once he or she breaks out, will they grow and blossom into the beautiful beings they always were, or will a darkness win, seeking a revenge for a long lost hurt?

How will your character react in a crisis? What causes one character to be brave and strong while another crumbles? Just like in real life, you never know who the heroes will be until adversity strikes. Someone striding around with a lot of bravado may in fact be the first person to run or hide, caring only for him or her self, doing nothing to help others. I’ve met plenty of these types—they talk a big game, but in the end, wither and fade. Bullies tend to be such a simple character to create, because they have no depth or soul, only cowardice. As a writer, I have to decide if the bullies get redeemed in the story, and if redeemed, determine the one or two attributes or events that will cause them to grow a soul. Unfortunately, not many bullies get saved, it takes true grit to grow a soul.

I love the characters who are funny, laugh, and are always there to pitch in. It’s fun to be around these characters—they keep you on your toes, never missing a beat. They are the characters that bring humor into dire situations—inspiring the hero or heroine to take action and save them from the bad guys or circumstances. They often ask the questions that lead to clues or uncovers a façade. I try and keep plenty of these characters in my hip pocket as I write. To me, they are the spice that perk up a story, flavoring it just right.

What happens when a ‘good’ character goes bad? Just like real life, there are always people that seem so nice, are do-gooders, always there to help—and just as you thought you knew them, the inexplicable happens. The good guy turns bad. These characters to me are the more complex ones to develop. You use your writer magic to create someone that appears to be a friend, a trusted colleague, a family member—and just when you start to bond with them as a reader—wham! These characters turn out to be the villain, the saboteur, the back stabber.  These characters’ backstories should provide the clues as to who turns out to be friend or foe. Again, it may just be that one little happening that seems so innocuous, but in the end was a life game changer. Think about that the next time you give someone a smirk or ignore them…it could trigger a behavior you don’t want to experience!

I’ll keep collecting my bag of character attributes. You can bet that I’m noticing, and taking notes…a piece of you just might be a secret ingredient to my next character 🙂

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. Happy Friday everyone! I’ll be watching…

 

 

 

Social Media Neophyte Writer Drinks from the Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Amazon Firehose—Who in the Crown Jewels Has the Time to Write?

So I put my thinking crown on today, and to borrow a few words from Maria Shriver’s new book title, I’ve been thinking (too)…what in the crown jewels am I doing and when am I going to have time to write? Having bared my social media neophyte status in my last post (thanks very much to those of you who have taken your time to read it and reach out to me!), I’ve once again started to write (re-write actually) a synopsis for a special project I’m pursuing with my books.

In between words (and I do mean words, now and again I have enough to construct/re-construct a sentence), I check out Twitter, Instagram, WordPress, Amazon and Facebook, sending out follow and friend requests, hearting my likes, evaluating my rankings and ad performance, and getting up to the millisecond updates on what is happening with the world.

Who do I follow? Writers, bloggers, readers, artists, people with a wicked sense of humor—people I think have interests similar to mine, and people I think I can learn something from (and maybe I can contribute something in return). I do follow many British blogs, British writers, fashion gurus, royal watchers, castles, and foodies as I try and absorb the land of the Brits so that my main character Gemma doesn’t make too many faux pas as she navigates the grounds of Cherrywood Hall and socializes in an almost royal style 🙂 I use that British frame of mind as I write, and for me, it works!

For my featured picture today, I think the wired head with the gems and crown pretty much sums up pictorially what goes on in my little writer head during the day as I drink from the social media hose (doesn’t everyone have gems on their head?). Miles of lights blink on and off in my little gray cells as I read about politics (not even going there); pictures and blurbs of pregnant Duchess Catherine shopping for groceries and actually loading said groceries (in reusable bags mind you) in her car; celebrity break-ups (shocker—didn’t see that coming, not); writer’s tips (amazing sources, learning from the best real time–and the books and covers I’ve seen are amazing!); philosophical quotes and truisms; haunting pictures and paintings; fashions of the rich and famous; hair styles (I really want Meghan Markle to wear her hair in a messy bun for her wedding, don’t you? With the Strathmore or Spencer tiara?); and recipes (I was amazed at all the recipes featuring Cadbury crème eggs, who knew?) Oops, just blew a fuse…

OK, fully lit once more 🙂 I have decided to take some highly recommended advice on the importance of scheduling one’s time on social media, otherwise I just won’t get to my writing, and that I cannot allow. I keep reminding myself that I am in the journey, there’s no rush timeline to get to the finish line, whenever and whatever that will be. My unorthodox approach to writing and publishing the books before establishing myself on social media may not be the best approach, but it has certainly been interesting, and I want to enjoy the experience and not panic. Since I am responsible for inserting the social media firehose into my life, I need to take responsibility to manage it and use it as a tool to better my writing experience, and not drown my creativity.

Before the next post, I hope to make more progress on the outreach approaches for my books. There’s quite a few novel marketing approaches I’m evaluating (love the book marketing promo videos) as well as some more standard ones. I’m pretty amazed at the tools available on the social media platforms that target very specific clientele (for a price of course)—big brother doesn’t stand a chance against the cloud minds of social media (Cambridge Analytica anyone?)

Social media time will be scheduled. Marketing budgets will be set. Writing projects will resume. Maybe someday I’ll get a handle on the zillion tips and tricks to make my social media platforms a success. I still have YouTube to take on—and the family and friends I’ve found to connect with—how do you answer in 140 characters when someone you haven’t seen in 30 or 40 years asks you how you’ve been? That is one mystery this writer is still trying to figure out 🙂

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. Lots of questions on social media asking what you’ve been reading. Maria Shriver’s book, I’ve Been Thinking…Reflections, Prayers, Meditations for a Meaningful Life is a wonderful book, highly recommended! I’ve also subscribed to her weekly “Sunday Paper”, awesome! Gemma would approve 🙂

49 Days and Counting Since My First Book was Published and Made Available On Amazon…What I’ve Done Well, What Needs Improvement, and Most Importantly, Thank You!

 

49 days—It’s hard to believe how much my life has changed since my book, The Crown for Castlewood Manor, was first made available on Amazon. I still remember the night it went live (February 12th), when I first started getting messages from my family and friends that they had found my book on Amazon. I wasn’t quite prepared—I had just approved the uploading of the book earlier that afternoon, and had received a message that it may take up to 72 hours for the book to be available. I was over at my neighbor’s house when the first texts starting coming in, and all I can say is that there were lots of laughs and hugs that night 🙂

What I’ve Done Well (or so I think…but that’s OK)

I made the decision for now, to go the indie, self publish route. When I started my first book in 2016, I knew I was going to write a series, and that I wanted it available as an ebook and paperback. In terms of my target market, I know the kind of books I like to read and in what form, and I set out to create a series that would appeal not only  to me, but the audience of readers with similar interests as my own. For genre, I wanted to launch a cozy British mystery series of stories, built around a few main characters, that would grow and evolve as the series matured. I had the outline of the series drawn up, developed the storyline to a point that I knew where each of the books would begin and end (this shifts a bit I’ve learned), and I began writing, and finishing, the first 2 books in the My American Almost Royal Cousin Series, pretty much back to back.  The Crown for Castlewood Manor was available February 12th, and Cast, Crew, & Carnage; the Filming of Castlewood Manor, was available March 22 as an ebook, and March 27th as paperback.

I decided to work with CreateSpace in 2017, and took advantage of their editing, marketing essentials, book cover and KDP services (which as of April 20th, will no longer exist unfortunately).  I was very pleased going this route, the project team I worked with at CreateSpace were extremely helpful and quick to respond. Once the cover and manuscript editing and proofing were completed, BISACs and Keywords selected, and ISBN assigned, the CreateSpace team took care of uploading the books on Amazon, and poof, there I was! Or was I???

What needs further improvement (and yes, I know there is quite a bit of work to be done…but that’s OK)

As I’ve now learned, I kind of did things a bit backward, mybad. I had no social media presence–no Twitter–no Facebook–no Instagram. I had not marketed nor branded myself as an author, nor did I have a website or blog. I’m a fairly new member of Sisters in Crime (SinC), and am looking to participate in other writer’s organizations. I know the uphill battle I face in this big writer’s world, not only as an indie, self published writer, but also a writer marketing and social media neophyte. I’m OK with this however. I started writing because I was going to fulfill a life long dream, and I enjoy the process immensely—one day at a time. I’ll end up where I end up, and that’s OK 🙂

In the past 49 days I have become active in the Twitterverse, Instagram, and Facebook worlds, navigating and learning, and taking advantage of the awesome wisdom and resources available (really, I am amazed). I have also started this blog, working with the great folks at WordPress. I’ve secured my domain name for my future website. I selected the expanded distribution services of CreateSpace, and my first book is now also available at Barnes and Noble, IndieBound, and others via the CreateSpace distribution channels. I’m evaluating marketing services to promote my books. I’m working in my local community to do some promotional events, and I’m excited to say I’ve been asked to participate in the SinC booth for the LA Times Festival of Books at USC, April 21st, for a book signing.

If you’re choosing to write books as a paid career, I would encourage you to probably not follow my path in the marketing/branding/social media sense. I’m not saying that you should not write until these things are done, but just make sure you work on them in parallel at a minimum. It’s never too early to start this investment in yourself—kind of like a career 401K. If you do not do this for yourself, no one else will

One of the advantages of being a newbie in the writer world is that I’m quite immune to the emotions I see in the online discussions regarding the merits of self vs. traditional publishing, ebooks versus paperback, etc. I don’t know what’s looked down on or frowned upon by my writer or publishing colleagues, and that’s probably a good thing. I am making a concerted effort to learn the options with a fresh view, see the new directions and processes being taken, and network with groups I think are doing things the way I’d like to go in the future. Open options are a good thing for me right now. This industry is changing, that I do know, and I’m glad to be a part of it, free to go the path that works best for me.

I want to say thank you, to the readers of my books and blog, and the new friends and colleagues I hope to work with in the coming years. I’ve started my  3rd book of the series, so there will be more of Gemma and her family and friends in the future. I’ll keep the updates coming, and would love to interact with you—so please, send in your comments, suggestions, and questions! Gemma would approve 🙂

Crowns and Kisses,

Veronica

P.S. Today’s featured picture is yours truly—it kind of looks like I have a secret… I’ll never tell, I’m a mystery writer 🙂