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Archive for March, 2016

Reivers in Hunted & Seduced #paranormal

Highland cow standing in a field with a loch in background

When I was working through my edits for Hunted & Seduced, my editor asked me about my use of the word reivers. Did I mean Reavers, the ferocious race, that featured in the television series Firefly? And wasn’t I spelling it incorrectly?

No, I answered. I mean reivers.

When I started writing the House of the Cat series, I dipped into my past travel adventures in Scotland and decided to invent a race called the Scothage. In Claimed & Seduced one of Keira’s employees comes from the planet Scothage. He looks after her livestock and wears a leather kilt.

In Hunted & Seduced, I again dipped into my Scottish memories and introduced a group of reivers who came from the planet Scothage.

Reivers were cattle thieves. They roamed the border region of Scotland from the 13th to the 17th century, raiding and plundering cattle. The reivers stole from their Scottish neighbors and also traveled across the border to plunder the English. Their main motive was to make money.

One of the most well-known reivers was Rob Roy Macgregor, made famous in the books written by Sir Walter Scott. The truth was romanticized in Scott’s novels and Rob Roy was portrayed as the Robin Hood of the far North. He was captured in 1727 and sentenced to transport to Barbados. Eventually he was pardoned, and he gave up the cattle rustling business to live the rest of his life as a law-abiding citizen.

My reivers are baddies who earn their living by stealing or capturing other spaceships for profit. In this case, they bite off a little more than they can handle.

So, there you have it – the story behind my reivers.

Read an excerpt for Hunted & Seduced

A Taste of Poison

Crime Scene: Poisons

One of the cool things about writing books with mystery and suspense elements is that you get to kill people off. The murder can be behind the scenes where the reader doesn’t see the grisly stuff, or the murder can be graphic and gritty and give readers nightmares. And then there are all the interesting methods of killing characters off. Choices galore and so much fun—for the writer that is!

Today I’m going to discuss poison. I’ve heard it said poison is a woman’s weapon. Since food is the ideal vehicle for poison and food preparation is often the domain of women, it’s simple to slip a little extra into the dinner. With poison, all the murderer requires is a way to introduce it to the victim’s system and their job is done. They don’t have to get up close and personal or get blood on their hands.

Poison was used by ancient tribes, within the Roman Empire and in Medieval Europe. Many noble families employed people to taste their food before they dined, so if the meal did contain poison, the taster keeled over first. These days most poisonings occur accidently, and the victims are often children.

Arsenic

This is a common poison in fiction, and it was very popular with the Borgias and de Medicis.

Arsenic is usually swallowed, but it can also be inhaled in industrial circumstances. Symptoms of arsenic poisoning include gastric problems, jaundiced skin, a skin rash, pain and vomiting. The skin becomes cold and victims become dizzy and weak from in drop in blood pressure. These symptoms are followed by convulsions and a coma. Death finally occurs due to circulatory failure. Not a nice way to go!

In the eighteenth century a Frenchman killed off his wives with arsenic. During sex he used a goatskin sheath to protect himself, but he placed a lethal dose of arsenic on the outside of the sheath. The women absorbed the arsenic during intercourse and died. Authorities became suspicious when so many of his wives died. He was found guilty and hanged.

Cyanide

Cyanide comes in three common forms: potassium cyanide, sodium cyanide and hydrogen cyanide. The potassium and sodium forms are solid and have the distinctive bitter almond scent while hydrogen cyanide is a gas. Cyanide can be swallowed, inhaled and absorbed through the skin. The cyanide interferes with the enzymes responsible for getting oxygen into the body. Death is fairly quick—short of breath, dizziness, nausea and a drop in blood pressure are some of the symptoms. Although the bitter almond scent is an indicator of the presence of cyanide, not everyone is able to smell this aroma.

Agatha Christie used cyanide in several of her mysteries. I distinctly recall Hercule Poirot detecting the scent of bitter almonds in a recent TV episode.

These are only two poisons to consider—there are countless others for your characters to use to rid themselves of troublesome foes.

When deciding to use poison as a murder weapon consider the following:

1. Is your book a historical or a more contemporary title?

Poisons were readily available from apothecaries in years past, and the possession of poisons didn’t prove guilt. It is more unusual to have poison readily available these days (apart from general household cleaners) and it isn’t always easy to purchase poison. Some require a special license before they can be purchased.

2. Think about the symptoms and the dosage required to kill off a character. i.e. their size, age and sex.

3. Do you want a quick death or do you want them to suffer for weeks?

4. Is there an antidote available?

5. How are you intending to introduce the poison? Will the character swallow, inhale or absorb the poison through their skin?

6. Do you want the crime discovered quickly or not? Maybe the murderer needs time to set up an alibi.

Poison is an interesting addition to the writer’s arsenal, and it might be just the weapon for you!

Authors: Have you used poison as a murder weapon before? What is the most interesting way you’ve killed off a character?

Readers: What are your favorite murder weapons in books? Do you like the sly murderer who uses poison or would you prefer a gun? Do you like your murders to take place off the page or do you like to experience them along with the characters?

Sources: Deadly Doses, a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens with Anne Klarner

Terms of Endearment

Endearments

“Hello, darling.”

“Stop right there, sweetheart.”

“Lookin’ good, babe!”

“Sugar-pie, honey bunch, you know that I love you.”

“Aw, snookums.”

Endearments and pet names have always been part of our vocabularies. They appear in movies, on television, we see them in books and magazines and hear them in our daily conversations. Some are cute. Some are private, kept for tender moments between lovers. Some are over-the-top saccharine-sweet and make us cringe.

As a romance writer, I sprinkle sweetheart or babe in my dialogue. It’s a good way of adding characterization. A man might use the casual “babe” because a woman’s name escapes him and he doesn’t want to look stupid. Our male character might never utter a sweetheart or love until he meets the one. Perhaps the first time the heroine hears an endearment she realizes our hero is serious about their relationship. The ceasing of endearments could be the signal that the relationship is important, or it might mean it’s over and the person doesn’t care enough to use a pet name.

I’m not averse to the odd sweet nothing. A sweetheart or love works for me, maybe babe in some situations, but if anyone calls me snookums they should watch out!

When I’m reading, I don’t mind endearments as long as they’re not overdone. If they’re used on every page I want to yank them out of the book. Violent, much? But it’s true. They can bug a reader if they’re used too often.

What do you think about endearments? Do they irritate you or make you smile? Are there any that make you cringe?

Grab Claimed and Seduced for #99c Alpha Spring Fling

AlphaSpringFling

I’m taking part in the Alpha Spring Fling today.

You can grab my book Claimed & Seduced, House of the Cat series, for 99c—a real bargain since it normally sells for $4.99.

Don’t delay, since the sale is one day only.

Dragon Scales

During the last few months, I’ve done a lot of reading about dragons and their different characteristics. I’ve read fiction and non-fiction.  One thing everyone is clear about is that dragons come in lots of pretty colors.

attractive blonde and big dragon

Here are a few interesting facts about dragon scales:

1. The scales cover the entire body of a dragon.

2. The dragon can make its scales stand on end, especially during the preening process.

3. Dragons like to keep their skin and scales impeccably clean.

4. Each scale overlaps and fits perfectly into the next to allow the dragon to move freely.

5. The inner part of the scale consists of hairs. Small glands around the hair follicles secrete a mineral rich substance, which coats the scales. It is this substance that colors the scales and makes them hard.

6. The scales grow and automatically renew like human fingernails and hair. Only a sick dragon will shed its scales.

7. The scales are never even in color, but will be different hues of a dominant color.

Source: The Book of the Dragon by Ciruelo

I’m about to write a new dragon story for my Dragon Investigator series. What color do you think I should make my dragon and why?

Dartmoor, the Mysterious National Park

Dartmoor Scene

Dartmoor, the first national park in Britain, was formed in 1951. It’s a large open area famed for its moor, the bogs and stone tors, and wild ponies. Around 33,000 people live within the park and many others visit to experience the wilderness.

Man has farmed, mined the stone, lived and visited the Dartmoor region for at least the last 12,000 years as evidenced by stone circles, ancient bridges and other monuments.

Since the area has been inhabited for so long there are hundreds of tales involving ghosts, both evil and benevolent. Piskies or pixies, fairies, witches and wizards also live in Dartmoor, so it’s not good to travel through the moors after dark—not if you value your life.

During more recent years, tales of the beast of Dartmoor—a big black cat—have become common. There have been numerous sightings of big cats, but so far no one has definitive proof of one residing in the park.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set his Hounds of the Baskervilles in Dartmoor, and it’s said he was inspired by ghostly tales of black dogs haunting the moors. Here’s one of the many ghostly tales of large black dogs.

A stagecoach with two female passengers was traveling from Tavistock, which is the largest town in the area. All of a sudden, the driver started whipping his horses, and when the passengers called up to him to slow, he pointed at the large black dog galloping alongside the coach. It was the ghostly black dog.

When I was deciding where to set Mistress of Merrivale, I wanted a place that was wild and potentially dangerous. The bogs and the isolated parts of the moor fit my story needs nicely. I added in a mention of ghosts and set a murderer loose. Understandably the locals become very nervous and start to glance over their shoulders and cast blame.

I chose Merrivale for my setting within Dartmoor, but my village is different from the real one since I took liberties and made it much larger. I added shops and made the church bigger. I also added to the population for the purposes of my story. In truth, the real Merrivale has an inn, a few houses, a chapel and a nearby mine, and thank goodness, they don’t harbor a murderer!

Would you be willing to walk alone at night in Dartmoor National Park? Why or why not?

Sources:

http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/england/sevenwonders/southwest/dartmoor/

Dementia: Mistress of Merrivale

 

Mistress of MerrivaleIn my release, Mistress of Merrivale, the heroine’s mother has dementia. Since my story takes place in the 18th century she hasn’t been diagnosed, but as the writer I know she has Alzheimer’s. It’s a silent disease in which the family suffers just as much as the person who is experiencing the illness. I know because my father has dementia. It’s sad watching someone you love losing connection with reality.

Dementia happens when there are changes in the structure of the brain. These physical changes might affect memory, the way a person behaves, their personality, their emotions and the way they think. There is no cure, and the symptoms gradually become worse.

Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia in our society. It was named after German Alois Alzheimer, a psychiatrist who first described the condition in 1906.

There is no single factor that has been identified as the cause of Alzheimer’s and it’s thought that the disease is a combination of factors such as age, genetics and environment.

Some facts:

1. 35.6 million people have dementia worldwide (2010)

2. In America there are more than 5 million people with Alzheimer’s.

3. It’s the sixth leading cause of death in America.

4. 1.1% of the population in New Zealand has dementia and 60% of these are female.

5. Most of the caregivers are largely unpaid. In fact according to stats in 2012 15.4 million family and friends provided 17.5 billion hours of unpaid care to sufferers.

In Mistress of Merrivale, Jocelyn is determined to find a protector who will accept her mother with her strange behavior and quirks. Jocelyn’s sisters want to send their mother to Bedlam, but she refuses to send her mother to a hospital. Instead, she hires a woman to tend to her mother and does her best to keep her parent happy and safe.

Of course everything is not as it seems, and there is murder afoot at Merrivale…

To read an excerpt check out the book page for Mistress of Merrivale

Roll Over! Beds & Bedrooms Through History

Black and Blue Master Bedroom

The other day I picked up a copy of IF WALLS COULD TALK, an Intimate History of the Home by Lucy Worsley. It’s a fascinating read, full of all those small social details that we often don’t hear about when we’re reading about history.

Here are a selection of things I’ve learned about beds and bedrooms.

1. Medieval people led more communal lives than us. At night they would sleep in the great hall, glad of the safe place of rest. The hall reeked of smoke and body odor, but it was safer than sleeping outside.

2. Medieval people who held jobs within the manor would sleep in their place of work. e.g. laundry maids would sleep in the laundry and the kitchen lads would sleep next to the fire in the kitchens.

3. A bed during medieval times usually consisted of hay stuffed in a sack, hence the saying hitting the hay.

4. A big bed would be shared, sometimes with strangers. Customs and etiquette developed regarding the communal bed. Families would lie in order of birth. If guests came to visit and stayed overnight, the father and mother would sleep in the middle of the bed between their children and strangers to prevent any naughtiness during the night.

5. The lord and lady of a manor would sleep in an adjoining room called the chamber or solar. It was a multi-function room but it usually contained a wooden bed.

6. During Tudor times the four-poster bed was the most expensive item in the house.

7. Tudor four-posters had bed strings on which the mattress sat. These would sag under the weight of the bed’s occupant and required constant tightening. This is where the expression, “Night, night, sleep tight.” comes from.

8. Housewives would accumulate lots of bed linen, enough to last a month so that laundry only needed to be done once a month. I’m glad I’m not responsible for the laundry!

9. During the 17th century bedrooms were on the upper floor. They led off each other, which meant the owner of the first bedroom had people trooping through all the time to get to the rest of the bedrooms. That would make for a restful night…

10. Corridors appeared toward the end of the 17th century, which meant the Georgians started to treat their bedrooms as more private spaces than those people of earlier ages. Their bedrooms were used as social rooms where they received special friends, conducted business and study.

11. During Victorian times privacy became paramount. Even husbands and wives had separate bedrooms and bedroom activities were confined to sleeping and sex.

12. Bedclothes consisted of many layers of sheets, blankets and eiderdowns until the 1970s and the introduction of the duvet. I, for one, am glad of this invention. Bedmaking takes mere seconds each morning.

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad I get to have a modern bedroom with my own bed. Sharing it with hubby—no problem. That seems minor when I think of those medieval great halls!

What does your dream bed/bedroom look like?

Nukuʻalofa, Tonga #travel

We made a brief stop at Nukuʻalofa during our very first cruise. The weather was horrid and it poured with rain. We decided to go for a walk anyway and managed to get very wet, but it was fun exploring a little of the Tongan capital.

Tonga Main Street

The main street of Nukuʻalofa.

Tonga

A carving on the roadside.

Tonga Washing

Washing on a clothes line.

Tonga Flowers

Hibiscus flower after the rain.

Tonga Harbor

Fishing boats at the harbor.

By the time we returned to the ship, the rain had eased off, and it turned into better day. Our clothes, however, took longer to dry out!

Safeguarding Sorrel on Sale #romance #99c

Safeguarding Sorrel, the third book in my Military Men series is on sale for 99c.

Hurry! Don’t delay. This bargain is only available for the next three days.

ShelleyMunro_SafeguardingSorrel_600x900

Note – all the books in this series stand alone.

Grab your copy here



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