Exciting news...

When an author says "exciting news" it usually means a great thing...either we've found an agent, landed a publisher, or have signed a new contract. In my case, my fabulous news is that I just signed the contract for my next historical romance with The Wild Rose Press!

This latest novel takes place thirty-years before A Hundred Kisses, in 1263, and serves as a prequel (though each can be stand-alone novels). There will be much more coming from me over the next year...a back cover blurb, cover art (oh, I can't wait!), excerpt, and release date. Plus I'm working on a few more novels...

But for now a few teasers to hold you over.

First hint:

Ahhhh Vikings...and Viking ships! Our trip last spring to see the  Draken Harald Harfagre  was misty and mystical in Mystic, CT. I asked lots of questions and stared in awe as I was in research mode. The kids got to "steer" at the steer board and we learned a lot about Viking (Norse) ships. The Draken impressed me to no end: 115-feet long, 26-feet wide, and built with 10,000 planks. Oh, and the hull was filled with rocks!

Ahhhh Vikings...and Viking ships! Our trip last spring to see the Draken Harald Harfagre was misty and mystical in Mystic, CT. I asked lots of questions and stared in awe as I was in research mode. The kids got to "steer" at the steer board and we learned a lot about Viking (Norse) ships. The Draken impressed me to no end: 115-feet long, 26-feet wide, and built with 10,000 planks. Oh, and the hull was filled with rocks!

Another hint...

Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands. This was a beauty to visit! It is the seat of Clan MacKenzie (and Clan MacCoinneach from my novels).

Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands. This was a beauty to visit! It is the seat of Clan MacKenzie (and Clan MacCoinneach from my novels).

Hmm, here's one more:

Dryburgh Abbey, Scotland, former home to the Premonstratensian order of canons/priests. Though now in ruins, the building and grounds were awe-inspiring  and eerie to visit.

Dryburgh Abbey, Scotland, former home to the Premonstratensian order of canons/priests. Though now in ruins, the building and grounds were awe-inspiring  and eerie to visit.

A summary of hints:

Norse warriors...

a final battle for Scotland...

the mystical powers of the Ancients of Uist...

a vengeful Scotsman and a merciful Healer...

and a journey to heal body and heart.

I really enjoyed writing this novel, especially my research into Viking/Norse culture and my continued journey of Scotland and medieval history.

I'll leave it at that for now. More to come soon! I'm very excited for this prequel to be released in the next year!

In the meantime, if you've not read the other book, hop over to Amazon! Like trilogies? Never fear...if all goes well, I am writing the sequel to A Hundred Kisses as well.

p.s. Like audio books? A Hundred Kisses will be released later this year via Amazon audible! Stay tuned!

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The Perks of Research: Mad River Valley, Vermont

Ah, I love research and travel. Among my suggested list of ways to research (books, library/online research, in-person resources/interviews, museums, etc.), my favorite is to actually go to the source...to touch, smell, and breathe it. Living only 3 hours away from my next book's locale (central Vermont, in the quiet, rustic, gorgeous Mad River Valley), means one thing...road trip! The hubs and I planned a getaway with the kids north for Memorial Day weekend so I could do some hands-on research. And take time off from our busy schedules.

Getting ready to hike a 3.5-mile part of the 273-mile Long Trail (that runs North to South in Vermont) up to a warming hut in the Mad River Glen ski area with views of the valley and nearby mountains.

Getting ready to hike a 3.5-mile part of the 273-mile Long Trail (that runs North to South in Vermont) up to a warming hut in the Mad River Glen ski area with views of the valley and nearby mountains.

More familiar with the White Mountains in New Hampshire and the coastal towns and mountains of Maine, I now know why the Green Mountains are called such. Not only is Vermont a very "green" and environmentally-conscious state, it is in fact, quite green in late spring through summer. Granted, I'd visited Vermont once before to tackle a climb up Mt. Mansfield, but this time my goal was different: research. We planned a relaxing, low-expectations itinerary with plenty of down time. 

Our explorations included visits to the historical, small towns of Waitsfield, Warren, and Iraville, and a few others along the way. No visit to Vermont would have been complete without a tour of Ben and Jerry's and cheese tasting at Cabot Creamery (yum!). Rounding out our trip: a 20-ft cliff jump into a water hole (brrr...I took the pictures and kept my shoes dry!), long country drives, waterfalls, and a climb up Mt. Stark. Note the mud in the fourth picture below...Vermont is known for it's 5th season in early spring, "Mud Season," and we got to experience the tail end of it.

Our days were filled with overcast skies, some sun, and rain, but that's to be expected over Memorial Day weekend in New England. The Warren Lodge was a splendid find! The courteous staff provided us with s'mores fixings and we enjoyed nightly fires by the Mad River while our kids went for a dunk (with clothes fully on -- why not? -- and also with bathing suits later once they realized they had them). It was a lovely respite from the daily grind of school projects, chores, and work assignments (okay, okay, I did do some writing over the weekend!).

Vermont Signatures:

  1. Cows

  2. Covered bridges

  3. Green Mountains

  4. Farms, meadows, long drives

  5. Cheese, ice cream, chocolate

  6. Rivers and waterfalls

  7. Hikes or skiing

  8. Rustic small towns

How do you actually do the research?

Well...

1. No matter what you do, make sure you have fun. Take in the moments and cherish them.

2. Take lots of photos!

3. Chat it up with locals - ask questions about anything! There are always stories to be heard, or some interesting facts only locals know.

4. Get trail maps, brochures, road/park maps, etc.

5. Visit places off the beaten path.

6. Observe people in their everyday routines (parks, restaurants, etc).

7. Eat the local cuisine.

Well, that's all from here! Hope you enjoy the photos, and always remember to follow your heart and have fun while on this ride called life. And when researching, take it all in...and write detailed notes.

The Scottish Tongue

Recently a friend asked me if I would put a glossary in the back of my newest book release, A Hundred Kisses, to help with the Scottish words.  That got me thinking…how does one pronounce some of those mixed vowels and perplexing consonant-vowel duos? Admittedly, during my writing journey when I came upon the names, towns, and phrases while researching, I found myself googling their pronunciation as well.

In my opinion, there are 3 types of readers and approaches when a perplexing foreign word comes along. Let’s use an example from my novel. The isle of Uist. Seems simple, doesn’t it? Och, aye, maybe not.

The Three Types:

1.     Glossers: People that glide right over it (you fast readers, you know who you are) and they just assign it some arbitrary sound – or heck they just see the word and are like “U-something”, moving on… You readers are speed-readers and oh, how I envy your nonchalant approach!

2.     Ponderers: People that stumble and look at it for a longer time and come up with how they think it may sound. YOU-IST. Okay, got it. Or no wait, maybe it’s UHST. Okay, that’s what I am going to say in my head even if it’s not correct.

3.     Seekers: And then there is group three. These readers want…no, NEED to know how it sounds. So, they look for the glossary. Darn, not included. Okay, then… off to google or Wikipedia they go. Ah, now they know what it sounds like. Got it. And they also know all about it. Uist just happens to be an isle in northern Scotland, has some standing stones, and actually there is a North Uist and South Uist, and at one point it was inhabited by the Norse (Norwegian Vikings). So this group knows more than just the pronunciation.

And yes, the pronunciation is YOU-IST.

Depending on my mood and the book, I can be any one of those three types of readers. Word pronunciation can be a great discussion point between friends reading the same book, with groups on Facebook pages, and between people commenting on blogs.

Ever hear of a character named Leg-Hair? Well, if you are an Outlander-phile (ahem, yes I am!), you have. That would be the bonnie Laoghaire in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series. Look at that name! I can see why many of us called her Leg-Hair (it also went along with her conniving, prissy character). But really, it’s pronounced LEE-ree. Whoa! Mmphmm! We were way off the mark, huh? To help with the Outlander-addiction, the current Starz television series which has brought the book to the screen, had put out a series of lessons on “Speaking Outalnder”, videos on word pronunciations from the series. It was entertaining.

Now, given that A Hundred Kisses takes place in 13th century Scotland, my use of Scots vernacular is minimal; I use just enough to set the story. There is a mixture of traditional Gaelic words, Scots slang, and regular Scottish vocabulary that has its own unique challenges.  A contemporary story could be vastly different, as Scots phrases are commonplace, much like those in any other country or culture. Granted, my thesis advisor, who hailed from the land of pointy crags, sheep, magnificent stone castles, kilts, golf, and whisky, did teach me a phrase or two – but those couldn’t be repeated here. They are a bit colorful, to say the least. However, he also taught me how to understand the lilted “r” and to appreciate the tunes of a fantastic Scottish folk band.

And just for fun, I threw some Norse into my book, as the isles are rich in both Scottish and Norse history.

Which one do you fall under, my fellow lovers of words? Glosser, Ponderer, or Seeker? Come on over to my Facebook page and share your reading approach to befuddling and fun words.

Sláinte,

Jean

A sampling of some words from  A Hundred Kisses . Created by WordArt.com.

A sampling of some words from A Hundred Kisses. Created by WordArt.com.

Finding Magic and Myths in Scotland

Thistles and heather. Kilts. Castles. Ruins. Craggy mountains. Rain. Lots of rain. Sheep.

Magic. Mystery.

My trip to Scotland fulfilled a bucket list goal and it also fed my imagination for writing about this windswept, mystical place. It was a memorable trip indeed!

When I finally made a trip to Scotland in 2008 after reading books set there (Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, or Judy Garwood’s books, anyone?), I was not disappointed. Those books were just teasers. I was going to see the real thing. They don’t call me a Daydream Believer for nothing (although I was not a homecoming queen, but the Monkees got it pretty close). Kilted Highland lairds (and Jamie Frasier), castles, mountains, and enchanting romances…ah, yeah, I was hooked. And as luck would have it, I even married a man with Scottish ancestry, who – drum roll, please – wore a kilt for our wedding (round out with a bagpiper for entertainment). So, for our anniversary a few years later, it only seemed logical to set off on a fairy tale trip. My husband had studied in Scotland for a semester in college, so he brought a wealth of insider knowledge.

Oh, but did I mention that it rains in Scotland? A lot. Even though September is supposed to be a drier month, many of our supposedly breathtaking sights were shrouded in a gray cloud of heavy precipitation. Aside from our mishaps (which I'll elaborate upon in a moment), Scotland fulfilled my preconceived notions, with my own Scottish knight by my side to escort me through the perils of winding highland roads, haunting castle ruins, and dark alleyways to questionable hostels.

Lone sheep wandered down the middle of a meandering country road. Windswept moors, heather fields, and green rolling hills flanked our drives. Wild rocky trails and impressive mountains greeted us on our hikes. Blue lochs were aplenty (yes, Loch Ness is a deep beautiful loch and no, we didn’t see Nessie – but we did see the ghostly remains of Urquhart castle) on our two-week trip in this geological gem of a country. I think I gasped on the tarmac when I emerged from the plane in Glasgow.

My husband and I packed our itinerary because when we go tramping, we set the bar high and want to soak it all in! What can a couple do in less than two weeks? Well…

  • Visit a dozen castles and palaces (Threave castle required a rowboat ride across an overflowed River Dee)

  • Kayak on the astutely named Loch Awe to the ruins of Kilchurn Castle

  • Hike through Highlands and mountains

  • Watch a Highland game

  • Partake in culinary delights such as haggis and fish and chips

  • Carry on conversations with locals (about the upcoming American presidential election)

  • Drive over sketchy bridges to reach Rua Reidh, a lighthouse hostel on the North Minch of Wester Ross (no, not the Westeros of Game of Thrones fame, but I can see the striking similarities)

  • Expand our navigation skills on double-roundabouts (like a figure 8), one lane roads, and left-side driving

  • Meander through abbey and church ruins

  • Take a moment of reflection at the remains of Culloden battlefield

  • Stay at the haunted (yes, there's a ghost) 14th century Borthwick Castle

Certainly there were lows (err, mishaps?)…blowing out a car tire on a rock, getting a manual car instead of an automatic, while driving on the opposite side of the road (it is the UK, after all) – oops!, castles closing before we got there, getting lost on city roads, plodding trough the deluging rain to find a hostel down a dark alley, and hiking a washed out trail through Glencoe, while hundreds of midges made a home in my hair…okay, those are a lot of mishaps for one vacation. Nonetheless, I left Scotland feeling rejuvenated and inspired and ready to take on the next big novel!

The setting in A Hundred Kisses (release date is this spring, stay tuned!) takes my hero and heroine on a journey across Skye (another soaker of a day on our trip – those majestic Cuillin, yeah, they were hidden by rain – thank goodness for internet research). But their journey begins at a signature castle, Eilean Donan, and remarkably, sunshine visited us that day. This castle is as resplendent and utterly romantic as all the pictures portray. We even managed a solo visit right before a tour bus arrived. We didn’t get out to the big islands to see standing stones, so as luck would have it, there’s a bit of that in my novel, too. I did say I have a good imagination (and love research), right? Our visit to Dryburgh Abbey inspired one of my “practice novels” (the manuscript currently sits on my desk for revision, awaiting resurrection as I contemplate throwing a ghost into that story). And magic? What thirteenth-century Scottish romance would be complete without that magical element entrenched in those standing stones and a culture rooted in superstitions (remember Nessie)?

So, how did we do on our Scotland adventure? Thistles and heather – check! Kilts, castles, ruins, craggy mountains, lots of rain, sheep – check!

Magic and mystery?

Checkmate.

Slioch (a view from a hike up Ben Eighe), a thistle, Eilean Donan Castle, and Glencoe.

Slioch (a view from a hike up Ben Eighe), a thistle, Eilean Donan Castle, and Glencoe.