Tag Archives: The Gate House

Starting the Whole Dang Process over Again

3 Jan

Llieda dungeon3

A dungeon in Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. Might work it into a new novel.

Beginning a new novel is both exhilarating and scary. I enjoy the new ideas for plot details, setting, and characters that pop willy-nilly into my brain. Old characters poke their heads in to say, “Can I be in this one? You said it was a series.” Another says, “I’ll do one more. So you can kill me off in this one.” Then a new character comes in with “Hi there! I’m a little crazy, but I would fit right in with your story. Some of your characters are way too serious!” And I can’t forget the ones who speak to me in a foreign language, begging me to set the story in their home country. “ịHola! Soy de españa y mi pais es muy bueno. Venga aquí!”

Out of these bits of inspiration, if I can call it that, I begin to see the barest outline of a plot. And I say yes to that little voice from Spain. I will set the story at least partially in Spain, Aragon, to be precise. And just in case you are wondering, Nara Blake, Alex Collier, and Lily Carrington, all of whom appeared in The Gate House and Lydia’s Story, will be back. But I have a lot of writing to do before my readers will be able to see what these three are up to in Spain. And is Nara ever going to marry Alex?

The last few days I have been brainstorming and writing down ideas for plot as they pop into my head. My next step was to do some preliminary research. The Gate House and Lydia’s Story both had to do with art theft. My new novel also makes use of that theme. I am looking for a connection between Britain and Spain through art, and I think I have found a link.

I have made a preliminary outline, even though I am not generally a maker of outlines, but I thought this time I would give it a try and see if it would make the process any easier.

As I create the story, I will spend as much time staring into space as putting words down at the computer. But as a dear friend of mine knows, “staring time” is essential for writers, teachers and anyone who is trying to get through the day with their sanity intact.

Try taking a “staring break” today. You will feel better for it.

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Never Say Never

5 May

If you have read my first two novels, you are familiar with Nara Blake, the protagonist in both The Gate House and Lydia’s Story.

In my new novel, due out this summer, we go back to Nara’s experiences in the fictional Caribbean nation of Saint Clare. In a sense, since the other books came out first, Hotel Saint Clare is Nara’s memories of her life on the islands before she moved to England.

In Hotel Saint Clare, Nara insists that she will never leave the islands, that she is tied there through emotional and spiritual bonds, and could never live anywhere else. But she does leave. In The Gate House and Lydia’s Story we see how she broke that promise when her father became ill and they moved to England, where she discovered a connection to a new place through her father’s side of the family.

It reminds me of the saying, “Never say never.” As soon as I make a commitment to myself that I will never do something, or never do it again, I realize that that is just what I need to do now. More than once during my career as a high school teacher, I moved temporarily to another type of work and swore I would not go back to teaching, but I did, and it wasn’t just for financial reasons. I thought I would not get married again, but I did. I thought my move to Costa Rica was a permanent one, but after seven years, here I am in Pennsylvania.

Maybe Nara and I have both learned that life has a way of opening and closing doors in unexpected ways. Nara, the girl of the islands, ends up in England. And I could end up where I started — in the Midwest. Never say never.

Because everyone likes to eat, here is a link to a recipe for “rice and beans,” Caribbean-style. This is traditional on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, but I think the people of Saint Clare would enjoy it, too.

 

Caribbean rice and beans

Caribbean rice and beans

Aside

How About a Slice of Papaya Bread?

18 Mar

Blue-Lizards-Papaya-Loreto-BCS-1-550x412

In my first novel, The Gate House, Nara laments the lack of tropical fruit as she prepares a typical English breakfast at her aunt’s bed and breakfast. I lived in Costa Rica for seven years, where I, too, learned to appreciate the huge variety of exotic fruits available year round.

Although Nara’s home, St. Clare, is a fictional island country in the Caribbean, the foods she enjoys are very typical of the tropics. I have enjoyed many fresh fruits, both whole and in smoothies (known as “refrescos” in Costa Rica) during my time there. One of the most common is papaya, and I don’t mean the small Hawaiian variety.
Papayas in Central American and the Caribbean can be as long as twenty inches, and their sweetness is indescribable. They are cheap and available everywhere, from supermarkets to small produce stands on the street. A main ingredient in a fruit salad or on a lunch plate, they also make a great smoothie with milk. Although not a traditional recipe, the following recipe for papaya bread is moist and delicious. It will work with either type of papaya, just make sure it’s ripe.

Papaya Bread

Cream together until light: 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup butter

Add and beat until fluffy: 2 eggs

Add: 1 cup mashed ripe papaya, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, 1/2 cup raisins

Sift together: 1 1/2 cups flour, 1/4 tsp. baking powder, tsp. soda, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. allspice, 1/2 tsp. ground ginger.

Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Pour batter into greased and floured 9×5 loaf pan.

Bake at 325 degrees for about 1 hour 5 minutes.

In my new novel, Hotel St. Clare, which is due out in the summer, you will see what Nara was doing in the islands before she and her father moved to England. She was a girl of the tropics, walking barefoot on the beach and eating fresh fruits with rice and beans. No wonder she had difficulty adjusting to life in England!

A Full English Breakfast with Variations

25 Jan

On the first page of my novel The Gate House, the main character, Nara, bemoans having to prepare a full English breakfast at her aunt’s bed and breakfast. If you have not had the opportunity tuck into one of these artery clogging delights, I will describe it for you.

A full English breakfast consists of thick British back bacon, eggs, sausage, baked beans, tomato, mushrooms and toast. Just so you don’t have the impression that the tomato and mushrooms add a healthy touch to the meal, these are cooked in the frying pan in the grease left from the bacon and sausages, hence another name for these concoction, the fry-up.

There are many regional variations in England itself, before moving on to Scotland and Ireland. Every region has its own sausage and bacon, and chips (French fries) are often included. In the north of England, as well as Scotland, you will likely find a slice of black pudding on your plate. The Irish prefer white pudding (same as black pudding but without the blood), and a slice of thick brown bread. The bread is the best part of the whole deal in my opinion.

In my travels around the British Isles, I have learned to order only a part of an English breakfast, if at all. Scrambled eggs, toast, maybe a sausage. Or eggs, toast, tomato and mushrooms. I first encountered a Scottish breakfast in a bed and breakfast in Lincolnshire. It was the original Gate House, for which my book is named. The proprietor, who was Scottish, prepared the whole meal for us, including the black pudding, which I passed on. By the time I reached Ireland, I had learned to order only portions of the meal, but I do love that brown bread. I also learned that in Ireland, and probably Scotland too, I could order porridge (oatmeal) and clean out my arteries once in a while.

My character Nara, who grew up in the Caribbean, craved the fresh fruits of the islands. She has my tastes.

 

The “Nature” of Setting

17 Jan

Image

I have always wondered how a person’s surrounding affect they way they live. How is it different to grow up on the flat land of Illinois in the midst of corn fields and soy beans, compared to a city overlooked by an ancient castle (Edinburgh, Scotland), or the lushness of tropical trees and flowers. Different people react in different ways to their childhood environment, and I am not sure it has anything to do with whether or not a childhood was happy. I had a very happy childhood in Illinois in the midst of the corn fields, but I have no desire to go back there, and neither do my brothers. We were always taught to think big, dream big and explore the world, and we have done just that. Illinois is where I am from, not where I am.

In my latest Nara book, tentatively titled Hotel St. Clare, which is actually the beginning of her story, we go back to the island country of St. Clare, where she grew up, and will see how her island upbringing helped to shape her personality and character. At that time, and at the beginning of The Gate House, Nara had very strong ties to St. Clare and life on the islands. But circumstances and people change, and perhaps if she returned, it would not be the same. By the end of Lydia’s Story, how would she feel?

What do you think? I would love to hear how other people have been shaped, or not, by the place where they grew up.

Seeing a Project Through to the End

19 May

I am currently working on finishing a writing project that I began at least nine years ago. Yes, nine years. It was the project I was working on before my trip to England and the inspiration for The Gate House, my first published novel. After that I wrote Lydia’s Story, a follow-up to The Gate House. But I have always felt that I needed to go back to the first story, tentatively titled Nara of the Islands. This is the Nara who appears in both of my later books. In The Gate House, Nara has recently arrived in England from a fictional Caribbean island called St. Clare, and her boy friend back on St. Clare has stopped calling her.

I thought it was important to finish telling the first part of Nara’s story because it shows who she is and where she came from. Her background is half British and half islander. She never knew her mother. Her father kept secrets from her. Telling the beginning of her story is important to the development of Nara as a character. When I wrote The Gate House, I took the characters from this earlier piece and simply placed them in a new situation. Now is it time to finish the beginning of the story.

And there is something satisfying about finishing a project. I have a knitting project I began in January and hope to finish in another month. And I will finish both of these projects. Completion is difficult — everyone has unfinished projects of one kind or another lying around — but the satisfaction of completion is worth the work.

Forward to the Past

27 Apr

Writers never throw anything away, or at least they shouldn’t. This week I pulled out an old “almost novel” that I wrote before my first one, The Gate House, was published.

This one, tentatively titled Nara of the Islands, is really the original story of my protagonist who appears in both The Gate House and Lydia’s Story. This book tells of the years just before she and her father moved to England, and her life in the fictional Caribbean island nation of St. Clare.

It is interesting to read something that I wrote almost ten years ago, and to see how my style has changed, and the images of my characters. It is a very different book from the last two in some ways. Although it is somewhat a mystery, there are elements of magic that I let go of in the later books.

I think it is a story that needs to see the light of day, for better or worse. I plan to polish it and at least self-publish on Kindle later this year.

If you are a writer, do you sometimes “resurrect” old pieces to rework them? And readers, what about other types of old projects? Is it fun or frustrating to go back something you worked on in the past?

Giving Birth to “Lydia’s Story”

25 Sep

My newest novel, Lydia’s Story, is now available all the major book sellers.

If you are a writer, you know what a wonderful rush comes along with writing those words. If you are not a writer, just think of any major project you have embarked on in your life — giving birth to a child, completing a college degree, running a marathon. And as with any major project, the work isn’t done yet. I want people to read my book!

I describe Lydia’s Story as a sequel/prequel to my first novel, The Gate House. I took the main character, Nara Blake, and moved her forward in time by about a year, but then I gave her a challenge. I placed a stack of her great-grandmother’s diaries in her hands, and posed a dilemma. The family has always held that Lydia and Allan Roberts died in the London Blitz in 1940 or 1941, but the diaries go up to 1942. As Nara reads and learns more about her ancestors, she finds that she is on a collision course with a brother and sister from France who are also looking for their lost heritage, but theirs are valuable works of art that were lost during World War II.

I loved the research into how the British worked to preserve their precious art works and cultural heritage as well as protect their island from invasion by the Germans. I loved putting the pieces of the novel together, melding past with present, and tying the sections together with Lydia’s diary entries.

My “baby” is out in the world now. I wish her the best. I will support her as best I can, and at the same time, I am ready to start something new.

 

Why Set My Story in World War II?

16 Sep

My newest novel, Lydia’s Story, is a sequel/prequel to my first novel, The Gate House. It is a sequel because the same main characters, Nara Blake and her family, continue their story of life in a small English town, where too much seems to happen. It is a prequel because the book also tells the story of Nara’s great-grandparents, who died in World War II under mysterious circumstances.

I decided to tell this partially historical narrative because I wanted to bridge the family history in Nara’s family, as I try to bridge that history in my own family.

My dad was an American soldier in World War II. He and my mom married in 1942, and after three weeks of marriage, he went overseas to North Africa and Europe and did not return for three years. I have always considered this one of the greatest love stories I have every heard. At the same time, I am fascinated with British history, and the heroism of the British during World War II is beyond remarkable. We in the United States do not know what it is like to have our country bombed consistently for months on end. We have never had to send our children away to the country to be safe from the bombing, as Londoners did during World War II.

I put together my thoughts and feelings about that remarkable period of history, and the result is Lydia’s Story.

Coincidentally, my own great-grandmother’s name was Lydia, and she was half Welsh. But that’s another story.

 

Too Many Ideas

1 Sep

Writers are often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?”

I believe most writers would answer the same as I do — it’s not a matter of coming up with ideas, it’s a matter of weeding out the ideas and deciding which ones I really want to develop in a short story, a novel, or maybe even a series.

My first two novels both center around the main character Nara Blake, who is loosely based on the daughter-in-law of a friend of mine. Once I had the character, I took her from a Caribbean island to England, and after solving the mystery of a ring of art thieves in The Gate House, she moved on to discovering her great-grandmother’s secrets in Lydia’s Story.

Along the way, I have considered writing a mystery series set in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I am still toying around with something historical, and maybe involving magic, centering around the treasure King John supposedly lost in the Wash on the coast of England. Since I am a teacher, I have come up with many unused plots involving teachers. And after talking with a friend who is starting a business staging houses for sale, I think that might make a good base for a story. And then there are my mother’s letters from World War II. I would like to do something with those.

I am not the kind of writer who can sit down and write for eight hours every day. I am too restless. I need breaks. So most of my ideas will never be more than ideas. But it’s great to have this mine of inspiration. When it’s time to start something new, I just need to pull out one of the plots or characters and start developing a story.

What kinds of stories do you prefer to read? Something close to home? In a different geographical or historical setting? Do you choose a book for the plot or the characters?

Whatever the reader’s choice, at some time a writer has dreamed up an idea, and carried it through.