Research, we search

Since I’m out and about promoting A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING, I’m reposting some of my favorite pieces from previous years. This is a reader question from Aimee Celeste originally posted in August 2014.

You do a lot of great research for your novels. What are your favorite resources for historical details, particularly in the time periods you write in?

I have a wide variety of sources, and I’m not remotely snobbish about where I start. For instance, I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia and children’s books. With Wikipedia, I go straight to the bottom where the sources are linked. Following those can take you to websites you might never have found on your own. I have prowled through parliamentary archives, period newspapers, art museums, and stately homes without ever leaving my study.

With children’s books, I can get a quick overview of a foreign country including agriculture and industry, history, topography, and demographics, giving me a quick shortcut to which areas need focused attention. I also follow archives and museums on Twitter to keep up with their latest exhibits, and museum curators often keep blogs full of arcane information. My favorite books for research are memoirs and journals kept by people who lived in my setting during the time period I’ve chosen–especially if they were children at the time. Children retain lots of detail in their memories, the sort of detail that can flesh a novel out beautifully. I also read cookbooks and natural history books to get a good sense of what people ate and what animals and plants were around. And I keep an eye out for information about fashion, transportation, sports, music, etc. just to add extra depth.

Finally, if there’s an author who writes great nonfiction about a given time period, I find them on Twitter or check out their blogs for even more goodies!

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Reminder–chat tonight!

Just a quick reminder, I’m chatting tonight–1/18 (Wednesday)–at 9pm eastern at the Writerspace chat room. Please drop by and visit! I’ll be giving away a signed copy of A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING and answering questions. Hope to see you there!

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A little how-to chat

It’s release month for A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING, so that means lots of travel! Please use the social media links at the bottom of the page for the latest on where I am and what I’m up to. Don’t forget the Writerspace chat on January 18 at 9pm eastern! Since I’m out and about promoting PERILOUS, I’m reposting a great reader question about how to write clothes. This post was originally up in August, 2014 and the question came from Megan B.

Where do you get your ideas for what the characters wear?

Oh, the clothes are so much fun to play with! Since I tend to stick with a time period for several books, I get a thorough grounding in the popular silhouettes and fabrics. Luckily for me, there are photographs of 1880s and 1920s fashions, so there isn’t much guesswork. There are websites devoted to period fashion, and I also have a small selection of costume and photography books. I will hit museums for special exhibits that feature period clothes, and I study the artwork of the era as well.

Once I know the shapes and fabrics, the colors come into play. Colors themselves can be tremendously important. For instance, in mourning clothes, bombazine was favored because it lacks sheen. (This is why a widow wearing black satin might find her choice exciting comment where a duller black silk might go unremarked.) Colors are a good way to show trends–during the reign of Marie Antoinette there was a rage for the color puce, a reddish brown hue the color of a flea’s back. (There was also a thoroughly unsavory fad for a color called caca dauphin when she delivered the long-awaited heir to the French throne. I’ll let you imagine the rest for yourself.) White has often been the color that sets the rich and idle apart from the working classes, while red telegraphs boldness in most circles. I choose colors based upon the messages they send, but also based upon whether or not they’re supposed to flatter the coloring of the character wearing them. And current fashion magazines are also a great source of inspiration–read them long enough and it soon becomes clear that there’s nothing entirely new under the sun!

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I’m on tour!

So today I’m at the Poisoned Pen in Phoenix–after what I’m assuming was a fabulous event yesterday at Murder by the Book (I’m writing this in advance like the keen multitasker I am…) Since I’m on tour, I thought I’d repeat a post when I was answering reader questions. This was a great query on structuring mysteries from reader Jessica and originally appeared in August, 2013.

What’s the process you follow when writing a mystery? Do you know the answer (who done it) and work backwards, or do you let the characters lead to you the answer?

For me, writing a mystery is a simple thing from a structural standpoint. I always know who did it and why when I begin. Now, I also make sure that a number of characters could have done it and could have WANTED to do it–this helps with red herrings and plot twists. And more than once I’ve been tempted to change horses midstream and let someone else do the killing. I haven’t done it yet, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if I succumb to temptation one of these days…The reason I haven’t done it yet is because it could require a phenomenal amount of rewriting and I do like to work clean.

I was intrigued to read that Agatha Christie often wrote without knowing who the murderer was. When it came time to write the last chapter, she would select the least likely candidate, then make THAT character the murderer. She would go back and rewrite the few things that were necessary to make it all fit–which I think accounts for both her occasional misses and her far more frequent brilliant innovations.

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Sorry for the all caps, but I’m excited, y’all! Since we tweaked release dates, it’s been awhile since I’ve had a new release, and I am beyond delighted to share Veronica’s second adventure! It tickles me to no end to know that some of y’all are heading to bookstores today and cracking open the fresh hardcovers, some of you are opening up your e-readers to find her already sitting there, butterfly net in hand, waiting…

I am leaving on tour tomorrow, and I cannot wait to see you and talk to you about Veronica. If you can’t make a signing date, don’t forget to head to the Appearances page to hit up one of the kindly booksellers to get a personalized copy ready for you. I’ll also be hopping around Instagram, Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook this month, so be sure to check out those feeds for pics from the events or reader questions answered. And on January 18 at 9pm eastern, I’ll be over at Writerspace for a live chat, so we can visit then if you’re not close to one of our tour bookstores. Hope to see you there!

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Comfort reads!

Oh, it’s been cold and blustery and damp here, my dears–a typical start to January in my neck of the woods. It’s perfect reading weather, although I’ve been busy revising the third Veronica book and preparing for the launch of A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING. I have still managed to sneak in some pleasure reading, and here is my perfect list for a cold, drizzly, grisly afternoon!

First, you need something warm to drink. Tea, cocoa, coffee, mulled wine, bouillon–it doesn’t much matter as long as it’s soothing. Next, a flame of some sort. If you’re lucky enough to have a fireplace, I’m envious! I make do with candles and the Yule Log channel for as long as it lasts. (It doesn’t seem possible, but having it on DOES make the room seem cozier.) If you’re the kind of person who likes music when you read, then a little Brahms would do nicely here. Finally, something to keep off the chill, snuggly socks or a lap robe will do. A draft is not at all what you want when you’re reading, particularly if it’s a mystery. You’ll just think the cool breeze against your neck is a villain approaching with a sharpened letter opener in hand…yes, this kind of weather is perfect for a little genteel crime, don’t you think?

Here are some books to while away a winter’s day with pleasant thoughts of murder:

*Stephanie Barron’s Jane Austen series. I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and I adore mystery, so what could be better than Jane Austen as discreet detective? For this weather, I’d suggest JANE AND THE WATERLOO MAP as an excellent place to start.

*A STUDY IN SCARLET WOMEN. If you haven’t already made friends with Sherry Thomas’s delectable new take on Sherlock Holmes, this is a perfect opportunity. Lowering afternoon fogs are just the thing when you’re reading gaslit London…

*Rachel McMillan’s Sherrinford and Watts stories. I do seem to be stuck on Sherlock at the moment, don’t I? Well, if you’re looking for a sprightly pair of female sleuths, this is the series for you.

*THE SECRETS OF WISHTIDE by Kate Saunders. A mid-Victorian series debut with a delightful older female sleuth who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty…

*MY COUSIN RACHEL. A classic by Daphne du Maurier. As much psychological thriller as mystery, it’s a delicious exploration of the effect of a femme fatale upon a younger man.

*COUSIN KATE by Georgette Heyer. Confession, I haven’t read this one yet, but it’s on my TBR pile, and I am SO looking forward to it. A cross between her bright Regency romps and her Golden Age mysteries, this one is billed as a period Gothic, just the thing for a dark and stormy night…


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Happy New Year!

So 2017 is here, brisk and shiny and new, and it’s time for me to think about the release of A PERILOUS UNDERTAKING–out in just ONE WEEK! I am touring and I so hope you’ll be able to come see me. We’ll be talking about Veronica, Victoriana, mysteries, and more, and I’ll be signing stacks of books! Can’t make it personally? No problem. Just contact any of the stores where I’m appearing ahead of time and they will make sure I sign a book just for you.

Here’s the quick list of signings from the Appearances page.

And if you’d like contact info for the stores, here’s a link to each site:

Murder by the Book

The Poisoned Pen

Litchfield Books

Fox Tale Books

Hope to see you there!

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Stealing from Sally

So for the last post of 2016–thank GOD this year is almost finished–I decided to swipe part of the guest post written for us by Sally Kilpatrick last year. She had some great New Year’s tips, and I want to send us off on a positive note. I believe–I have to believe–that 2017 will have some good things in store for us all. I wish you peace, happiness, good health, prosperity, and all the books you can read. See you in the new year!

As you sing “Auld Lang Syne” this evening, I clink my cup of kindness with yours and wish you the very best. Here are the top 10 things I learned in 2015:

10. Planners only work if you write down essential dates in them immediately. (No, using the calendar in my phone does not work for me. I’ve already tried that.)
9. There comes a time when one needs to stop joining. That time was about five years ago for me.
8. Breathe. If you’ve forgotten how, go back to yoga.
7. Always bring copies of your own books. Always have business cards. Always be kind.
6. You’ll feel better if you quit eating so much crap. Promise.
5. Ask for help.
4. Tamp down those twinges of jealousy. Each of us has his/her own path. If you’re patient, things often work out better than you could’ve imagined.
3. Ask yourself if you have all of the people. Having the people is far more important than having the things.
2. Writing is like teaching—and probably most other endeavors in this world—the one person you reach/help/entertain is worth several others that you didn’t. Focus on the positive.
1. Do as I say, not as I have done.

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Are you caught up with Julia’s holiday adventures?

If you’ve read the five Julia novels but not started on the novellas, now is a great time to start! They begin with SILENT NIGHT, picking up just after the action of THE DARK ENQUIRY finishes. They are digital only, but you don’t need an e-reader. Kindle, Nook, and Kobo all offer free reading platforms for your computer or phone. Just download them, purchase the novella–currently $1.99–and get reading!

Here’s a peek at what’s in store:

Tis the season for an investigation! Lady Julia and Nicholas Brisbane return for a Christmas caper at Bellmont Abbey….

After a year of marriage…and numerous adventures…Lady Julia and Brisbane hope for a quiet, intimate Christmas together…until they find themselves at her father’s ancestral estate, Bellmont Abbey, with her eccentric family and a menagerie of animals.

Nevertheless, Julia looks forward to a lively family gathering…but amongst the celebrations, a mystery stirs. There are missing jewels, new faces at the Abbey, and a prowling ghost that brings back unwelcome memories from a previous holiday—one that turned deadly. Is a new culprit recreating crimes of the past? And will Brisbane let Julia investigate…?

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A holiday round-up

Taking a wee break to spend the holidays with my family, my dears, so here is a seasonal post from 2013. You might have missed it the first time around, and I hope you enjoy.

If you just can’t get enough seasonal cheer, here are a few books you might enjoy:


*CHRISTMAS POEMS Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets


To drink, I would suggest the Marches’ very own recipe for wassail punch as published in SILENT NIGHT, the Christmas novella:

Recipe for March Wassail Punch


Drinking wassail is an ancient tradition. Dating back to Saxon times, the word itself comes from the greeting “wæs hæl”, roughly translated as “be you healthy”. In the counties of southern England renowned for cider production, drinking wassail originated as a bit of sympathetic magic to protect and encourage the apple trees to bear fruit. While wassail and other punches were very popular during Regency times, by the later part of the 19th-century, they had been largely supplanted by wines and other spirits. The Marches, however, care much more for their own pleasure than for what is fashionable. They serve their wassail the old-fashioned way, out of an enormous wooden bowl mounted in silver with a roasted apple garnish. Their wassail is, as tradition dictates, served quite hot and is deceptively alcoholic. Proceed with caution.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Core a dozen small apples. (You will only need ten for the wassail, but leftover roasted apples are delicious with cream, yogurt, or ice cream.) Loosely spoon brown sugar into each apple place in a casserole dish with a small amount of water. Bake until tender, approximately 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently warm 2 pints hard cider. (This is not available in the juice aisle of the grocery store. It is wonderfully alcoholic and tastes deeply of apples. You can find bottled varieties at wine and liquor stores, but the very best is fermented by apple farmers for their own use. Find one and befriend him. The Marches get their cider at the source from the Home Farm at Bellmont Abbey.) To the warming cider, add four cinnamon sticks, crushed with a mortar and pestle, and four pinches ground cloves. (In a bind, ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon may be substituted for the sticks.) Grate in fresh ginger and fresh nutmeg to taste. Lord March’s secret ingredient is a cup of his very best port, added just in time to heat through.

When the apples are plump and bursting from their skins, remove them from the oven. Put one into a heatproof punch glass and ladle the wassail over. The March family recipe calls for a garnish of a fresh cinnamon stick for each glass.

This recipe will serve six Marches or ten ordinary folk.

And for some mood music:

*To Drive the Cold Winter Away Loreena McKennitt

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