Category Archives: Writing

Tragic Beauty Olive Thomas

 

Olive Thomas
fanpix.famousfix.com

The ethereal beauty, Olive Thomas, is the inspiration for one of the secondary characters in my novel, Grace in the Wings, a Daphne du Maurier unpublished contest winner. The novel  is the first book in a mystery series that is currently being shopped by my agent for purchase.

Sophia Michelle is the older sister of my protagonist, Grace Michelle. Orphaned at 15, Sophia vowed that she and Grace would always have a roof over their heads, never go hungry and never live in an orphanage. She relied on the only asset she possessed at the time, her captivating beauty. She spent many nights “out” but always provided for her sister until she was discovered by the famous show-man, Florenz Ziegfeld, who took the girls under his wing and made Sophia a star. When Sophia is murdered, Grace is devastated and sets out to discover who killer her sister.

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Olive Thomas was born Olivia R. Duffy, October 20, 1894, to a working class Irish American family in Pennsylvania. At 15 years of age she was forced to leave school to help support the family.  At 16 she married Bernard Krush Thomas. The marriage lasted two years. After her divorce she moved to New York City, lived with a family member, and worked in a Harlem department store. In 1914, she won “The Most Beautiful Girl in New York City” contest and landed on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

Having caught the public’s attention, and the eye of the famous Florenz Ziegfeld, Olive was hired to perform in his wildly popular Ziegfeld Follies. It wasn’t long before Olive had star billing in the Midnight Frolic, a show at one of Ziegfeld’s favored venues, the Roof Top Theater of the New Amsterdam Hotel. The Frolic catered primarily to well-known male patrons. The girls’ costumes, often just a few strategically arranged balloons, allowed amusement for the gentlemen who would pop the balloons with their cigars. The beauty of Olive Thomas became legendary and she was pursued by a number of wealthy men. She is said to have had “lovely violet-blue eyes, fringed with dark lashes that seemed darker because of the translucent pallor of her skin.”

Known for her beauty, Olive was also known for her wild ways. That free spiritedness became more pronounced when she became involved with Jack Pickford of the famous Pickford family. Alcohol and cocaine became part of her partying repertoire and it proved to be reckless. She had three automobile accidents in one year. After that, she hired a chauffeur.

Jack Pickford & Olive Thomas
Broadway Scene

Screenwriter Frances Marion later remarked, “…I had seen her often at the Pickford home, for she was engaged to Mary’s brother, Jack. Two innocent-looking children, they were the gayest, wildest brats who ever stirred the stardust on Broadway. Both were talented, but they were much more interested in playing the roulette of life than in concentrating on their careers.”

The marriage to Pickford caused much trouble for both parties. For Jack, his high-brow famous family did not approve of Olive’s work in the Frolics, and for Olive, her employer Florenz Ziegfeld accused Jack of taking her away from his entertainment dynasty. There were rumors that Flo and Olive were also romantically involved.

The relationship with Pickford could even have been said to contribute to her sudden death in 1920.  After a long night of dancing, drinking, and drugs, Olive and Jack went back to their hotel room. Suddenly, from the bathroom, Jack heard Olive scream, “Oh God!”  According to Jack’s account, Olive had accidentally drank from a bottle of something marked “poison”.  After a trip to the hospital and having her stomach pumped three times to no avail, Olive Thomas died. The autopsy stated that she died of a mixture of mercury bichloride and alcohol. Mercury bichloride was the prescribed tonic for Jack’s persistant and cronic syphyllis.

Olive Thomas had a short, but successful career. She worked for the Ziegfeld Follies and Midnight Frolic and she starred in over twenty motion pictures. She was also one of the first actresses to be termed “a flapper,” along with Clara Bow, Louise Brooks and Joan Crawford.

A Born Rebel – Belle “La Rebelle” Boyd – This Month in History

There is something very endearing about women in history who defied social norms and stepped outside of the boundaries the world imposed on them to fight for their causes, their faith, their family, or their beliefs.

Belle Boyd is one such woman. This month in history, on December 1, 1863, Belle Boyd, a Confederate spy, was released from prison in Washington, D.C. She was only 19 years old.

Belle Boyd Education & Resources - National Women's History Museum - NWHM
Belle Boyd
Education & Resources – National Women’s History Museum – NWHM

I am always scouring the internet for interesting stories about empowered women in history. Belle’s story caught my eye because I also write about a Confederate spy in my novel, Girl with a Gun—the fictionalization of Annie Oakley as an amateur sleuth (now being marketed by my agent for publication.) My spy is not as crafty and endearing as Belle, nor is he female, but he shares the same rebellious and cause-driven nature.

Belle’s story begins in 1844 in Bunker Hill, VA (now West Virginia) where she was born to Benjamin Boyd, a tobacco farmer and shopkeeper, and his wife Mary Boyd. In 1855 the family moved to nearby Martinsburg. The oldest of 8 children, Belle seemed to come out of the womb a rebel. At the age of 10, Belle defied her social status—and the law—by teaching Eliza Corsey, one of her family’s slaves, to read and write. Belle and Eliza had become fast friends growing up together, and Belle wanted Eliza to enjoy some of the rights denied to her because of her color. She later states in her memoir Belle Boyd, in Camp and Prison, published 1865, “Slavery, like all other imperfect forms of society, will have its day, but the time for its final extinction in the Confederate States of America has not yet arrived.”

Always quick-witted and bright beyond her years, at age 11, it is reputed that Belle, in rebellion to being denied attendance at one of her parent’s parties because of her age, rode her horse into the family’s living room during the party. She is said to have stated, “my horse is old enough, isn’t he?”

At 12 years old, Belle’s parents sent her to the esteemed Mount Washington Female College of Baltimore. After graduating at 16, Belle enjoyed a life of dancing and parties as a debutant in Washington, D.C. This must have been when she honed her skills as a flirt and expert communicator. After a season, she returned to her life and family in Martinsburg.

Martinsburg was a town supported by the Union cause, but Belle’s family were true southerners and devoted to the Confederacy. Her 45-year old father enlisted in the Virginia Infantry under Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Belle and her mother supported the cause by sewing clothing and raising funds for the Confederate soldiers.

In July 1861, Union soldiers captured Martinsburg, invading homes and businesses. When a group of drunken Union soldiers tried to hang a Union flag over the entrance to the Boyd’s family home, Mary, Belle’s mother, intervened. When one of the soldiers accosted Mary, Belle grabbed a Colt pocket pistol and shot him dead. Thus began her career as a “rebel spy” at the tender age of 17.

Realizing her feminine power, and having mastered the art of flirting, Belle knew that she could fly under the radar of suspicion and through family connections began gathering information from Union soldiers. With the help of Eliza, Belle would send the information to the Confederate side. When one of her letters was intercepted, Belle was arrested but managed to get off with a warning for a crime that was usually punishable by death.

belleboydcivilwar.weebly.com
belleboydcivilwar.weebly.com

Undaunted, Belle ramped up her support for the South by becoming a messenger for Confederal generals P.G.T. Beauregard and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Belle used her feminine wiles to steal weapons from Union camps and smuggle precious quinine, a medicine used for malaria, across the Potomac River to secessionist towns in Maryland. One of her most significant missions was to obtain crucial information that would allow Stonewall Jackson’s forces to recapture the town of Front Royal.

In society, Belle became known as the sort of girl a boy wouldn’t want to take home to mother. She worked at seducing both Confederate and Union officers and was considered the lowest form of “camp follower” around. Not a beautiful woman, Belle had a confidence that made her looks secondary to her charms. She also had no qualms about impersonating Confederate soldiers to further garner information from Union officers.

Whether dressed as a man or a woman, Belle never wavered from her devotion to the Southern cause and that transparency became a part of her persona. It was only a matter of time before Union officials saw Belle as a potential threat. Shortly after her contribution to the recapture of Front Royal, Belle was again arrested and sent to Old Capitol Prison in Washington, D.C. where she spent a month in prison, and then subsequently spent another five months in prison after yet another arrest. After several more arrests, Belle met and married one of her Union captors, an officer named Samuel Hardinge. The two were married and had a daughter. Although unable to completely convert Hardinge to the Southern cause, he did serve time in prison for giving aid to Belle.

Belle eventually made her way to England where she wrote her memoir and launched a career as an actress. Several years later, Belle returned to the United States and married twice more, had four more children, became estranged from her oldest daughter, and spent time in a mental institution. She died in 1900, during a performance on stage in Wisconsin.

Although Belle’s life did not end on a happy note, in her later years she learned that her efforts had not been in vain. Women all across the South had taken to impersonating her, claiming to be Belle Boyd, the “Siren of the Shenandoah” or the “Cleopatra of the Secession.” She had become a symbol of feminine empowerment and an inspiration to future generations.

Sources:

National Women’s History Museum https://www.nwhm.org/education-resources/biography/biographies/belleboyd/

Bio. http://www.biography.com/people/belle-boyd

“The ‘Siren of the Shenandoah'” by Karen Abbot, New York Times, May 23, 2012, http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/23/the-siren-of-the-shenendoah/?-r=0

 

The “Gentle Ghost” of Santa Fe

Halloween is again upon us and so closes my series of ghost stories for October. I hope you have enjoyed reading about some of the ghosts of Hawaii and New Mexico. I have saved my favorite ghost for last.

Julia Schuster Staab was the wife of Abraham Staab, a Jewish German immigrant, who came to New Mexico in 1846 to establish himself as a merchant on the Santa Fe Trail. After Abraham became a wealthy businessman, he went home to Germany to find a bride. He found Julia Schuster, the daughter of a wealthy merchant from his home village of Ludge. Having come from the same small village, it is thought that perhaps Abraham knew Julia’s family before he left to find his riches in America. With great expectations he brought Julia back to his new home in the high desert of Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1865.

Young Julia Staab and Julia & Abraham
jwi.org

Completely out of place in the village of Santa Fe with its mud houses and arid landscape, Julia had been accustomed to more a more elegant lifestyle and grand home. Eager to make his wife happy, Abraham built Julia a beautiful white mansion. The Staab House, a Victorian masterpiece with a large ballroom on the third floor, suited Julia’s excellent taste.

Original Staab House Jewishbookcouncil.org
Original Staab House
Jewishbookcouncil.org

The couple had seven children, but at the death of their eighth, Julia changed both physically and mentally. She became sad, depressed, chronically ill and inconsolable. It is said her hair turned grey overnight. Her grief took a toll on the couple and they slowly grew apart. This did not help Julia’s situation and some say she went insane. She spent most of her latter days locked in her bedroom until she died in 1896, under somewhat mysterious circumstances. Rumors of Abraham’s extramarital affairs and Julia’s possible murder or suicide were never proven.

In the 1920’s a fire burned through the Staab house, destroying the third floor. When the house was rebuilt as a stuccoed, Pueblo-style hotel, the builders simply built around the remains of the mansion and then added charming casitas across the 7-acre plot as additional guest rooms.

Although she died in 1896, Julia’s ghostly presence had not been reported until the 1970’s. A janitor at the hotel stated that he saw a translucent dark eyed woman in a white Victorian gown, with white, upswept hair standing near the fireplace. From that moment on, more sightings of the same woman were reported. Staff and guests alike saw her wandering the hallways, lounging in a chair in the downstairs sitting room or standing near the fireplace.

The excerpt below is from the book American Ghost by Hannah Nordhaus, great-great granddaughter to Julia Staab. The book is an enthralling read and I highly recommend it.

“Strange things began to happen in the hotel. Gas fireplaces turned off and on repeatedly, though nobody was flipping the switch. Chandeliers swayed and revolved. Vases of flowers moved to new locations. Glasses tumbled from shelves in the bar. A waitress, not known for her clumsiness, began droppings trays and explained that she felt as if someone were pushing them from underneath. Guests heard dancing footsteps on the third story, where the ballroom had once been—though the third floor had burned years earlier. A woman’s voice, distant and foreign sounding, called the switchboard over and over. ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’ ‘Hallo?’”

One guest decided to test Julia when he and his wife requested to stay in Julia’s room. Hearing that Julia’s ghost was very particular about things in her room, he purposely left the top dresser drawer opened. Later that night, he and his wife were awakened by the sound of the drawer being slowly closed.

Entrance to Staab House from La Posada lobby www.10best.com
Entrance to Staab House from La Posada lobby
www.10best.com

I became fascinated with the story of the La Posada Hotel after our daughter decided she wanted to be married there last year. She, her fiancé and I took the hour long drive to Santa Fe to stay the night in the hotel and speak to the event planner who worked there. As luck would have it, the engaged couple was put up in one of the casitas, and I was assigned to a room on the second floor of the mansion—the room right next door to Julia’s. I had heard some stories that the hotel was haunted, but at the time, I didn’t know Julia’s story. Which is probably a good thing. Fortunately, the only thing that kept me up that night was the rowdy party in the bar at the foot of the stairs to my room.

La Posada Hotel today View from the garden
La Posada Hotel today
View from the garden

Months later, after our daughter and her new husband’s stunning wedding, I wandered into the lobby and saw Nordhaus’ book sitting on the concierge’s desk. When I asked the woman sitting at the desk about the book, she proceeded to give me the highlights and told me some of the fascinating stories other staff and guests had told about Julia’s ghost. I asked if she had any similar experiences and she said she hadn’t, although she wanted to. After her last chemo treatment, she and her daughter decided to celebrate with a weekend stay at the hotel. They requested Julia’s room in hopes they would get a visit from the familiar “gentle ghost” and sat up all night waiting for her. In the wee hours of the morning they fell asleep and slept undisturbed. The concierge believed that Julia was too shy to make an appearance when someone was expecting her. She said she’d rent the room again sometime.

That concierge is braver than I am. Now that I know the story, I’m not sure I’d request to stay in the main house again. In fact, I would definitely request one of the casitas.

If you ever get to New Mexico, a stay at the La Posada Hotel is a must. Even if you don’t get Julia’s room.

Building a Better Relationship – Annie Oakley Style

 

oakley-indians
Annie Oakley doing what she did best!

Building a better relationship. It’s something we all should strive for. In our marriages, with our kids, friends, family, co-workers, employees, the list goes on. But, often in our busy lives, we are so focused on getting things done or achieving things, that we don’t focus on our relationships. Through time and neglect, those relationships begin to sour or drift away.

A couple of years ago, I saw this happening in my relationships with my horses and I knew I had to fix it.

I grew up in New Mexico with horses in my backyard. I spent much of my youth with my favorite horse, Flying Mok (I don’t know where the name came from). We covered miles of trail along the Rio Grande and spent hours in the arena. When not riding, I would sit on a large branch of the cottonwood tree that shaded his corral and just watch him eat. I participated in some horse shows and took home my share of ribbons, but the main objective was to have fun, and we did, and our relationship proved it.

As an adult, after college and more financial stability, I got back into horses via my teenage daughter who needed a hobby and a sport. I took her to one of the local barns and her love affair with horses began and mine was resurrected. She wanted to focus on showing, so we did. It was something we enjoyed together – a mother/daughter bonding experience that softened the angst of her teenage years. When she went to college, I was left with some very lovely, very expensive horses, so I decided to go into showing full boat. My love for horses and my competitive nature fit together like a custom-made glove and I was all in.

My horses and I did very well for several years, but after a while, it seemed like my whole life became all about the next show. Sometimes I’d go to shows twice a month, often traveling far from home in search of the rainbow of ribbons. After a while, I noticed that my horses didn’t seem to be making much improvement, their neurosis and fears increased, and I became more and more frustrated. It wasn’t fun anymore.

I’d been introduced to Natural Horsemanship via a Parelli Horse and Soul Tour some years earlier. I enjoyed the demonstrations and respected the training methods and philosophy the Parelli’s espoused, but I didn’t have time to embrace the philosophy. I had to prepare for the next show!

After more years of showing, anxiety, and frustration with minimal improvement, I finally realized that my love affair with horses was dying. I decided to look at this Natural Horsemanship closer. I had to nurture my relationship with my horses because those relationships and spending time with my horses had always been my “soul food” and I was starving.

I ventured to the “mecca” of Parelli Natural Horsemanship, the Colorado Ranch Campus, for the first time in 2014, for a four-week course. I took my horse Chaco, who had been my greatest challenge to date. Chaco was energetic, athletic, spooky, unpredictable, uncomfortable with contact, and quite frankly, a bit scary to me. Other people may not have felt the same about him, but that didn’t matter. He was scary to me, and our relationship had miles to go.

What I learned in that four-week course assured me with absolute certainty that Natural Horsemanship was the path I needed to pursue, to better myself as a horsewoman and as a person. I learned that like people, horses needed to be treated as individuals. They have fears, quirks, moods, aches, pains, and NEEDS that I had been ignoring. I’d been so focused on achieving better scores, more ribbons, more awards with my horses that all I’d done was damage the relationship.

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Chaco and me watching a demo at the Parelli campus. June 2016

Three courses and two years later, I am a different horsewoman. I have a long way to go, but I am becoming more confident, more patient, and more understanding of my horses’ NEEDS and they, in turn, are starting to enjoy being with me. I can tell when I get out of the car and they come to greet me. I can tell when they are so willing to be a partner that they ask questions and trust me with the answers. I can tell when they are calm, connected, and responsive when I am working with them on the ground or under saddle. The love affair is reborn.

In the first book of my historical mystery series, Girl with a Gun, one of the sub-plots centers on the relationship between a woman and her horse. The protagonist, the not-yet-famous Annie Oakley, has a special bond with Buck, a golden horse with a midnight-black mane and tail. While Buck doesn’t exactly help her solve the murder, his relationship with Annie carries her through some tumultuous times and proves to be one that she cannot live without.

In my book series, I’ve created the ultimate horse/human relationship with Annie and Buck. It’s something I will strive for and work toward as long as I have my equine friends with me. I’m taking a break from showing for the time being, but when I return, it won’t be about achievements and ribbons. It will be about building a better relationship and that is a guaranteed win.

Success, Failure and the drive to keep creating…

I love Ted Talks. This video with Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) is so inspiring! Favorite quote: “I loved writing more than I hated failing at writing…I loved writing more than I loved myself.” Enjoy!

Stammer Verbs

This is an article by editor Rita Hoffman (@JRHwords) on Jane Freidman’s Blog. I found it extremely helpful. Enjoy!

Note from Jane: Today’s guest post is by editor Jessi Rita Hoffman (@JRHwords).

iStock_000000346856_Medium-2-1024x768

As a writer, you’ve probably heard the advice about avoiding passive voice and colorless verbs, such as is, was, went, and so on. But you may not be aware of what I call the “stammer verbs” that mar the novels of many budding authors.

I call them that because they halt the flow of a scene. Just as stammering halts speech, stammer verbs halt the flow of a written sentence. The author uses these verbs as if stammering around while searching for the genuine words she’s intending.

As a book editor, I find two verbs in particular repeatedly used in a stammering way by many beginning novelists. Let’s take a look at these little suckers and identify why they pose problems for your story.

Turned
Ever notice how often you write “he turned” or “she turned” when you’re describing a character in your novel doing something? I suspect we all do this, in our first drafts.

The king placed the scroll back on the table. He turned and walked to the window.

Libby stared at her brother, unable to believe what she had just heard. She turned, went to the door, and walked out.

Notice how turned adds nothing to the description in these two examples. The reader assumes, if a character is going to move from point A to point B in a scene, he or she will probably have to make a turning movement. That’s understood, so it need not be explained. Stating it merely slows down the action and spoils the vividness of the scene.

In the first example, rather than say he turned and walked to the window, it’s tighter writing to simply say he walked to the window. Better yet would be to describe how the king walked: he strode to the window, or he shuffled to the window.

The king placed the scroll back on the table. He shuffled to the window.

In the second example, She turned, went to the door, and walked out could be tightened to read She went to the door and walked out. A further improvement would be to get rid of went (a colorless verb) and to tell us how Libby walked:

Libby stared at her brother, unable to believe what she had just heard. She stormed out the door.

Libby stared at her brother, unable to believe what she had just heard. Crying, she hurried out the door.

Notice I didn’t suggest She walked sadly out the door, because it’s better to nail the exact verb you’re looking for than to use a lackluster verb (like walked) and try to prop it up with an adverb (like sadly).

Began
Began is another stammer verb that tends to creep into our writing unless we keep a watchful eye. Like turned, it’s typically misused as a way of launching into description of an action:

Jill sat down with a thud. She began to untie her shoelaces.

Jon put down the letter. He began to stand and pace the room.

There’s no reason to slow down the action in either of these examples with began. See how much tighter this reads:

Jill sat down with a thud. She untied her shoelaces.

Jon put down the letter. He stood and paced the room.

Or perhaps better still:

Jon put down the letter. He paced the room.

Unless something is going to interrupt Jon or Jill between the start and the completion of their action (standing, taking off shoes), there is no reason to say began. Can you see why began would be okay to use in the following sentences?

Jill began to take off her shoes as a spider made its way up her shoelace.

Jon put down the letter. He began to stand, but the man shoved him back down into the chair.

In these examples, began is appropriate, because something is being started, then interrupted. That’s not the case when began is just used as a stammer word.

Turned and began … Once you become sensitive to how these two stammer verbs infiltrate story writing, you’ll find yourself recognizing them as they pop up and naturally weeding them out. Like so many writing problems, the remedy is greater awareness.

Your turn: Are there other “stammer verbs” that annoy you? Tell us about additional verbs you would identify as “stammering” in place of efficient storytelling.

Writing Your Passion

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.

– Barbara Kingsolver
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I love this quote. As writers, we all want to sell our work. We all want our words to be cast into the world to make a difference. But, do we write to sell? Do we write to what sells? Sometimes we do, but what is more important is the passion within ourselves that, for some reason, we need to get out and share with anyone who will listen–er, read.

I’ve attended many writer’s conferences and seen and heard many successful, well-sold authors, and most of the time their main message is this: Write what you want to read. I think this is so powerful. Fiction has its trends. By the time you finish your masterpiece, it may not be sellable. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have merit. Times change. Trends change. Write what you want to write. Your passion will lead you to success–whatever your definition of success entails.

This dovetails perfectly with a conversation we had this week in the  Level 4+ Riding Course I am attending at the Parelli Ranch in Pagosa Springs, CO. As some of you know, Parelli Natural Horsemanship is a method, philosophy, and practice of partnering in harmony with horses by communicating in their language. Monday we talked about 7 Cardinal Rules for Life:

  1. Make peace with your past so it won’t disturb your present.
  2. What other people think of you is none of your business.
  3. Time heals almost everything. Give it time.
  4. No one is in charge of your happiness. Except you.
  5. Don’t compare your life to others and don’t judge them. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
  6. Stop thinking too much. It’s alright to not know all the answers, they will come to you when you least expect it.
  7. Smile. You don’t own all the problems in the world.

I would add only two things: Be who you are. Love who you are.

See you next week!

Writer’s Process Blog Tour

Greetings! I’ve been tagged in The Writing Process Blog Tour by my friend and fellow LERA (Land of Enchantment Romance Authors) sister, 2014 Golden Heart®finalist, Shelly Alexander to tell you about my process in writing a novel.

Process is one of the things I love to talk about with other writers. I love to hear about what makes them tick and how they get their stories down on paper, or on the computer screen. Some writers are pantsers, they sit down and let their fingers fly, telling those stories by the seat of their pants. Others are plotters, with pages and pages of scenes, dialogues, outlines, beginnings and endings. I fall somewhere in between. I like to think of myself as a puzzler. I start with a plan, an outline – the frame of the puzzle – and then I add the pieces, usually in a linear fashion. This is the way I work actual jigsaw puzzles. I start with the outer frame and then work from the top down, filling in the pieces.

As a part of the blog tour, here are four questions every writer must answer:

What am I working on right now?

I am working on the first book of a three book series titled Waiting In The Wings. The story is a historical mystery and takes place in 1917, New York City, in the glamorous, glittering world of the Ziegfeld Follies.

Here’s my pitch:

One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle - Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star
One of the inspirations for Grace Michelle – Doris Eaton Travis, Ziegfeld star

Grace Michelle, an introverted, aspiring costume designer in the Ziegfeld Follies, 1917, has everything she wants; pretty good for an orphan who once lived on the streets of New York City. When her sister, Sophia, the star of the show is murdered, Grace’s protected, comfortable life is shattered. She must step into the Broadway spotlight as Ziegfeld’s newest star to find her sister’s killer. When she discloses a secret from their past, Grace becomes a target and soon discovers the horrific truth about Florenz Ziegfeld, the man who raised her as a daughter.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to take real life characters from the past and breathe new life into them. I am particularly drawn to smart, strong women who were mavericks of their time. Although Grace is a fictional character, she is comprised of many of the women I researched for this novel. Some were actresses and some worked behind the scenes. Many of my secondary characters are real people who worked for Florenz Ziegfeld on Broadway from 1917 -1920. And, of course, the man himself, Florenz Ziegfeld has a starring role in my story.

It was fun for me to learn as much about these iconic figures as I could and then recreate their adventures (in pursuit of fame and fortune) in the theater and on the road. I like working within the confines of history, but expanding on that history and as I imagine what could have happened. After all, as writers, aren’t we all asking that BIG question, what if?

Why do I write what I write?

I’ve always thought I should have been born in a different era. I am fascinated with certain periods in history and can actually visualize what my life would be during those times. I’ve traveled to many places around the world and in a few of those places I have had an intense, visceral, almost spiritual connection with my surroundings. And no, I don’t take drugs – it could be my overactive imagination, or maybe I really did live in those times and places. It’s all a part of the cosmic question, who are we?

How does my writing process work?

As a history buff, I absolutely love getting lost in research. I often take two to three months to research a historical person, place or event. Sometimes, I’ve even been lucky enough to travel where my story will take place.

Once I have a character and setting in mind, then I will start to form the story. I like to use a four-act structure I learned from Lisa Miller’s Story Structure Safari class, comprised of the set up, the response, the attack and then the resolution. Once I figure out vital story components such as the Inciting Incident, Call to Action, Defining Moment, etc, then I start to outline scenes. I use sticky notes on poster sized foam core boards. On each sticky note, I will jot down what I want that scene to be. I map out all the scenes in the story and then I sit down to write. Here’s where the puzzler part comes in. Often, as I write, my characters will say or do something I never expected – which can change the story line. If this happens (and I LOVE it when it does) I have to make the puzzle pieces different shapes to fit the new puzzle. My motto for writing and for life is: Always have a plan. If the plan changes, adjust and make a new plan!

Once I have a first draft, I walk away from it. Sometimes, I don’t look at it for weeks, months, maybe a year – or several – as it’s been for Waiting In The Wings. I am usually working on more than one book at a time, so the separation isn’t devastating. I think about my stories all the time.

Then come the revisions. Revise, revise, revise. I work with a fabulous critique partner and together we work to make our stories as perfect as we can. Sometimes I share my work with other writers and always, I share my work with readers (a select few, of course) because the reader is really the one who counts. At times, I’ve used a professional editor and the experience is invaluable. I highly recommend it!

So, that is my process – for now. Life and writing is full of change.

As writer’s we all have our own process and our own way of telling our stories. All are different and all are fascinating. I’d love to hear about yours!!

 

Mark Hopkins Hotel

Last week I went to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference which was held at the elegant, historic Mark Hopkins Hotel in San Francisco’s posh Nob Hill area. What a treat! Although I have visited the beautiful bay area many times, I’ve never had the pleasure of staying at the luxurious landmark site. I wanted to share some of it’s history with you.

Hotel de Hopkins
Hotel de Hopkins

One of four founders of the Central Pacific railroad, Mark Hopkins dreamed of  building his wife Mary a grand home. When he saw the panoramic views atop the Nob Hill area, he’d found the ideal location. He built a 40 room gothic beauty which he named “Hotel de Hopkins.” The mansion was indeed grand, complete with spires and gables and one of the largest in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, he died before its completion in 1878.

Shortly after her husband’s death, Mary become enamored with Edward T. Searles, an interior designer from the East coast, thirty years her junior. The two married and moved into the mansion upon its completion. Their bliss was not to last and Mary died in 1891. She left the $70 million estate to Searles. Two years later, he donated “Hotel de Hopkins” to the San Francisco Art Association and they converted the palace-like mansion into a school and museum.

In 1906, the epic San Francisco earthquake demolished many of the beautiful historic buildings in the Nob Hill area. The Hopkins mansion survived only to be destroyed by fires caused by the quake. All that remained were the chimney stacks, the granite retaining wall and a 500,000 gallon cistern full of water. With the remaining solid foundation, the Art Association reconstructed a more modest building on the site.

Mark Hopkins Hotel today
Mark Hopkins Hotel today

In 1925, George D. Smith, a mining engineer and hotel investor purchased the Art Association building and then demolished it. He had grander plans for the panoramic hill top area. He built a large, luxurious hotel combining French and Spanish aesthetics and he graciously named it after the original site owner, Mark Hopkins. 

In December of 1926, the Mark Hopkins Hotel held it’s grand opening much to the delight of San Franciscans who deemed it “architecturally perfect, flawless in its erection, and comprehensive in its accommodations – strikingly representative of the best there is in modern hostelry.”

Stay tuned for more history of the Mark Hopkins Hotel!

Beautiful Sentiment From George Bernard Shaw

“This is the true joy in life — being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one… being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.
Life is no ‘brief candle’ to me. It is sort of a splendid torch which I have a hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it over to future generations.” 
~ George Bernard Shaw