“Q” is for “Quiet”

Which, admittedly, is how it’s been here for several months!

Photo by Daryl Samuel, Life size bronze of Rip Van Winkle sculpted by Richard Masloski, copyright 2000
Photo by Daryl Samuel, Life size bronze of Rip Van Winkle sculpted by Richard Masloski, copyright 2000

Chalk it up to a prolonged but necessary sojourn in the writing cave so I could complete my new novella–A Scandal in Newport, a companion story to my first book, Waltz with a Stranger!

I started Scandal further back than I care to admit, and during my hiatus from it, I wrote two other novellas and a novel. My plan has always been to finish it, however, but to do so, I needed time to reacquaint myself with the characters and the tone of my earlier series, which is overall lighter and less angsty than my new series, The Lyons Pride. Overall, I’m pleased with the result–and hope readers will be too, when Scandal makes its appearance later this month!

In other news, I attended the RWA conference in San Diego–a subject deserving of its own post–and managed to squeeze in a short vacation in Santa Barbara. Since my return, though, I’ve been feeling like a human boomerang, zipping back and forth between destinations with very short rest periods in between. So I’m grateful for the pause that refreshes–and hope to be firing on all cylinders again sooner rather than later!

Venture Once More–Commentary on Poldark, Ep. 1

The New Poldark: Return of a Renegade
The New Poldark: Return of a Renegade

This past week shaped up to be much busier than expected, what with reviewing audiobook files for Awakened, preparing for a relative’s birthday celebration this weekend, and keeping my left forefinger clean and bandaged to prevent a systemic infection. Exactly a week ago, I developed a mysterious abscess under my fingernail that required medical attention–I’ll spare readers the grisly details, save to say that they were no fun at all–and a course of antibiotics. Treatment successful–much to my relief. It’s nice to be able to type with ten fingers again!

Consequently, it’s only now that I’ve had enough time to write up some of my Poldark-related thoughts, although a lengthy post on Winston Graham’s novels and their influence on me ran last Tuesday over at the Casablanca Authors blog. Inevitably, my perspective is that of a reader first, though my fondness of the original 1975 series has shaped my opinions as well. Comparisons are inevitable, but in the interests of fairness, I am endeavoring to keep an open mind and give the new series every chance to win me over.

And certainly there is much to admire about it, starting with higher production values that allow for more lavish sets and location shoots. Not all the scenery in Poldark 2015 is purely Cornish–a distinction from Poldark 1975, in which cast and crew spent several weeks in Cornwall, shooting outdoor footage–but the effect is lovely, overall. (Still, I would have preferred more conversations and character interactions, and fewer shots of Ross galloping his horse along the Cliffs of Alienation or Elizabeth gazing out of windows while the Celtic theme of Romantic Longing wailed in the background.)

Demelza and Her Best Friend
Demelza and Her Best Friend

I can also commend the new Poldark‘s decision to adhere more closely to the books. Poldark 1975 was a faithful adaptation, for the most part, but significant liberties were taken at the very beginning and the very end of the series, which apparently incensed Winston Graham. So far, Poldark 2015 sticks more firmly to the plot of the first novel, and wisely introduces the major characters of Demelza Carne (the heroine) and George Warleggan (the hero’s nemesis) much sooner. Demelza’s entrance–as a ragged urchin trying to defend her beloved dog and only friend, Garrick–is particularly welcome.

Angharad Rees as Demelza
Angharad Rees as Demelza

While I loved the fire and spirit of Angharad Rees’s Demelza in Poldark 1975, the writing for the first few episodes conceived of the character as a saucy sex-kitten (the scriptwriters were apparently influenced by Tom Jones), which, frankly, grated at times. Fortunately, later episodes portrayed Demelza more believably as a young woman struggling to find her place in a new social order, which is also truer to Graham’s idea of the character. I have noticed that Eleanor Tomlinson, the new Demelza, has the same coloring as Rees, instead of being dark like the character is in the novels.

Robin Ellis as the first Ross Poldark
Robin Ellis as the first Ross Poldark

Any discussion of casting would have to include Aidan Turner as the hero, Ross Poldark. Robin Ellis, the originator of the role, inhabited the part so completely that the hypercritical Graham was won over, telling Ellis in an inscribed copy of Ross Poldark, “I have never seen you put a foot wrong.” It’s too early to tell whether Turner will nail the character as thoroughly, but he has potential. Certainly, he’s got the brooding, melancholy thing down pat, though he doesn’t convey the same aura of danger that Ellis did. Graham continually describes Ross as “unquiet”–and I always had the sense that an angry Ross was a powder keg that could all too easily be set off by the wrong word or action. Turner doesn’t have that combustible quality…yet. It’ll be interesting to see if he acquires it in the upcoming episdoes.

New--And Unrecognizable--Elizabeth
Heida Reed, as an unrecognizable Elizabeth

So far, my main quibbles are with the supporting characters, who presently lack the individuality they show in the novels and in the 1975 series. I’m reserving most of my judgments until I see more of them–with one exception. The new Elizabeth is a complete misfire for me. While I’m in favor of a more nuanced portrayal of this oft-maligned character, I think turning her into this nice, sweet girl who was pressured by her mother into marrying Ross’s cousin Francis strips her of her ambiguities and complexities. And on a purely physical level, I can’t accept her as a brunette either! In fact, she looks more like the books’ version of Demelza!

Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Chynoweth
Jill Townsend as Elizabeth Chynoweth

Graham’s Elizabeth–a cool, elegant blonde–is a much greyer figure: a well-intentioned but deeply conventional young lady who cares for Ross but who also yearns for comfort, security, and a settled existence that Ross may not be able to give her. She regrets having to hurt him but she insists that theirs was a “boy and girl attachment” and that she loves Francis as a grown woman. She is also very much a product of her time: refined, gracious, even a touch bloodless. She would never run merrily along the cliffs, her curls blowing in the wind, or ride ventre-a-terre across the moors to insist that Ross not leave Cornwall. Graham’s Elizabeth would, in fact, dearly love to leave Cornwall herself, and experience the pleasures of London, which would include having her considerable beauty admired by a wider circle of acquaintances. I suspect the changes are intended to increase Elizabeth’s likeability and thus explain Ross’s ongoing obsession with her, even as the more appealing Demelza becomes increasingly entrenched in his life. Unfortunately, in attempting to make Elizabeth more sympathetic, the new series has also made her simpler–and much less interesting.

NewPoldark
Nice guyliner, Ross!

And one more decisive thumbs-down on Ross’s famous scar. I realize that Poldark 2015 might have wanted to avoid replicating the diagonal slash across Robin Ellis’s cheek and to create a distinctive look for Aidan Turner. But given how more advanced and sophisticated make-up has become in the last 40 years, couldn’t they have come up with something that didn’t look like New Ross’s mascara was running?

Until next time!

“P” is for “Poldark”: The Pleasures of Summer TV

BeachSummerCan you believe we’re more than halfway through June? And the summer solstice is upon us.

I love spring with its soft colors and mild weather, but summer was probably my favorite season when I was a kid–not least because of the 10 or 11 weeks of vacation after a long school year. While spring makes me think of pastels, summer is all about bright and bold colors and experiences. The aquamarine and turquoise of swimming pools, the emerald and sapphire of the ocean, the scarlet of ripe strawberries, the orange-gold of juicy peaches, the deep coral color inside a conch shell…passers-by may even have noticed that Blue Stockings & Crossed Genres has a new look for the season that contains several of the aforementioned colors.

Summer entertainment tends to be of the bright, colorful, noisy variety too. Beach parties, picnics, barbecues, even the average summer blockbuster (usually laden with spandex-clad heroes and things going “BOOM!”) And summer television, which can range from sports spectaculars (especially in Olympics years) to star-studded and/or lushly romantic miniseries.

The new Poldark, which starts airing this weekend in my neck of the woods, may not qualify as star-studded (yet), but, based on the source material alone, I’d say it definitely meets the criteria for “lushly romantic”: a sweeping costume drama about an 18th century Cornish mining family, boasting high adventure, derring-do, class warfare, a simmering romantic triangle, and wildly beautiful scenery–cliffs, coves, and thundering surf.  I am unabashedly excited about this series, not least because I loved the original novels by Winston Graham and the first miniseries based on them, which was made back in the 1970s. I’ve heard the new version may even adhere more closely to the books–the first series took some dramatic liberties that annoyed the author–but as you can see below, it also shares some eerie similarities when it comes to the lead couple…

Ross and Demelza, Original Version
Ross and Demelza, Original Version
NewRoss&Demelza
Ross and Demelza, New Version

Graham’s Poldark Saga was a big influence on me as a historical novelist, which I will be blogging about here and elsewhere in coming weeks. I plan to follow the new series closely and post commentary about the episodes after they air. Other Poldark fans, past and/or present, are welcome to stop by and add their tuppence, anytime!

 

 

 

 

 

Happy May Day!

A new month already? I’ve been so busy getting Awakened launched and then making Devices and Desires fit to be seen, that I completely neglected to note such April occurrences as Easter, Earth Day, Shakespeare’s birthday, and National Poetry Month! Not to mention being largely absent from this blog. I hope to be less distracted in future.

Hobby Hoss pursues maiden at Padstow festival
Hobby Hoss pursues maiden at Padstow festival

So, to start things off fresh, here’s a May Day carol from Cornwall, which is the setting for my first two historicals. Padstow is located further up the coast from my fictional village of St. Perran, but it’s famous for its traditional May Day celebrations, during which a large “Hobby Horse” (or ‘Obby ‘Oss)–formed by a mask mounted on a circular frame covered in a black skirt–runs and dances through the streets while the villagers sing some version of the following song. During the “Where is King George?” verse, the Horse sinks to the ground pretending to die, but leaps up in the next verse to show how spring in the season of renewal.

So, all together now, to herald the Hobby Horse’s entrance: “Oss, Oss, Wee Oss!”

Padstow May Carol
(traditional; from the singing of Steeleye Span)

Unite and unite, and let us all unite
For summer is a-comin’ today.
And whither we are going we all will unite,
In the merry morning of May.

The young men of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a ship and gilded it with gold
In the merry morning of May.

The young women of Padstow, they might if they would,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
They might have built a garland with the white rose and the red
In the merry morning of May.

Rise up, Mrs Johnson, all in your gown of green
For summer is a-comin’ today.
You are as fine a lady as waits upon the Queen
In the merry morning of May.

Oh where is King George? Oh where is he-O?
He’s out in his longboat, all on the salt sea-O.
Up flies the kite, down falls the lark-O.
Aunt Ursula Birdhood, she has an old ewe,
And she died in her own park-O.

With the merry ring and with the joyful spring,
For summer is a-comin’ today.
How happy are the little birds and the merrier we shall sing
In the merry morning of May.

Oh where are the young men that now do advance
For summer is a-comin’ today.
Some they are in England and some they are in France
In the merry morning of May.

640px-New_York_RenFaire_2004_maypole-1
Maypole dancers at Renaissance Faire

Coming up for Air

Autumn at Argenteuil, Claude Monet (1873)
Autumn at Argenteuil, Claude Monet (1873)

I haven’t been around much lately, and not just because my current WIP is eating my brain (although it is). Owing to “a series of unfortunate events,” summer at Casa Sherwood was–in a word–rough.  In July, my family was in a one-car accident–on our first day of vacation–that resulted in some property damage and (fortunately) minor injuries. The anxiety and stress over that had just begun to subside in August, when another twist of fate sent two family members to the ER of a (really lousy) local hospital. Both are fully recovered now, thank goodness, but it was a night to remember in the worst possible way. Granted, there were some good moments between June and September, but for the most part I have started referring to the whole period as “The Summer of Suck.”

Which is why I find it a relief to turn the page of my calendar and observe the arrival of a new month and a new season. Welcome, October, and welcome, autumn! I actually like autumn once it feels like autumn and not like a hotter, more stressful extension of summer. I enjoy the cooler temperatures, the misty mornings and brisk afternoons, the turning leaves (we do get them here, in not in such glorious profusion as the East Coast), the smells of spiced cider and wood-burning chimneys, and the resumption of Standard Time. Oh, will I be glad of that extra hour, whether for writing, reading, or even sleeping in!

Wishing everyone–in the words of Keats–a lovely “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness.” If you had a great summer, then I hope your autumn is just as great! And if, like mine, your summer wasn’t quite what you hoped, may autumn exceed your expectations in the best possible way!

Blog Makeover: A Fresh Look for Spring!

Apple_Blossoms_by_John_Everett_MillaisSome folks who happened to wander by may have noticed that Blue Stockings & Crossed Genres has been given a makeover for spring. So here’s the official bulletin: the blog now boasts a new background color, a new header, new menu tabs, and most significant of all, a new feature added to the sidebar–namely, a sign-up form for my newsletter, which I’ll send out when I have a new release or something else noteworthy to share.  Generally speaking, that may be turn out to be quarterly. As someone who’s been on the receiving end of all kinds of spam, I have no wish to inflict it on friends, relations, and readers (No, I’m not interested in the latest Get Rich Quick Online scheme. No, I don’t need a supply of Viagra or a penile transplant. And No to the nth Power of No, I do not want to see porn featuring farm animals! Pass the brain bleach!).

Other eventual additions to the blog may include a Q&A page. With just two books out at present, I don’t know how many questions there will be, but some tend to crop up repeatedly, no matter the size of the back- or frontlist. And perhaps a Miscellaneous page dealing with details that don’t really fall under the heading of the other menu tabs.

It occurs to me that I may be tinkering just for the fun of tinkering. To which I can only reply: Guilty, your Honor. Because there’s just something about spring that makes you want to shake things up, change things around, and just get out of whatever rut you happen to be stuck in. Winter can be a fine season for reflection and introspection (internal rhyme right there!), but there comes a time when analysis must give way to action. Otherwise you risk paralyzing yourself and not moving forward the way you want.

So, onward! Excelsior! Once more unto the breach, dear friends! Wishing all of you a happy, productive, and invigorating spring!

Sneak Preview of My New Work in Progress

Woman at Writing Desk, Lesser Ury, 1898
Woman at Writing Desk, Lesser Ury, 1898

Come this Sunday, I will most likely be the grouchiest grouch that ever grouched–for reasons that I explained in some detail last year. Rather than rehash my eternal grudge against Daylight Savings Time, I decided to accentuate the positive and share a bit from my current WIP, tentatively titled Devices and Desires.

Recently I took a stab at writing some BCC (Back Cover Copy), a task that seems to devolve more frequently on the author these days. (Not that I’m complaining–having read some truly baffling publisher-generated BCC in my time, I suspect authors do a better or at least more accurate job of it!)

A Little Less than Kin . . .

From childhood, Lady Margaret Carlisle’s life has been entwined with the rich, powerful, and contentious Lyons family, until her intended’s untimely death five years ago. Now a widow, she finds herself drawn into their intrigues once more . . . and unexpectedly tempted by a brilliant, lonely man, whose friendship she has long taken for granted.

And More than Kind . . .

They call him the Clockwork Solicitor, the perfect lawyerly device. But Lord Gervase Lyons’ icy demeanor conceals a lifetime of emotional scars–and an undying passion for the one woman he can never have. Summoned to his family’s Christmas gathering, where old wounds will be reopened, old quarrels revisited, and old secrets revealed, Gervase receives the chance to win her heart at last.

Excerpt

(In this scene, the hero and heroine–aged 16 and 14, respectively–come together to help his 8-year-old sister during a pet-related crisis)

“Mr. Scorton’s horrid mastiff chased Xerxes up a tree, and he won’t come down! Please, Gerry, you’ve got to help–he could be stuck up there forever!”

Gervase had closed his book with a martyred air, accompanied by a put-upon sigh. “Ju, didn’t Mother tell you to leave the little beast at home? He hasn’t the sense to fend for himself out here.”

“I–I forgot,” Juliana faltered, flushing.

“How convenient,” Gervase observed dryly. Then he looked at his sister, gazing up at him with tear-drenched blue eyes . . . and weakened, visibly. “Oh, very well, brat. I’ll see what I can do. But I’m not risking my new jacket for that wretched bit of fleabait. Which tree was it?”

Juliana, to her credit, did not so much as bristle at this slur on her beloved pet. “One of the trees we picnicked under,” she sniffed, swiping at her eyes.

Margaret surprised herself by coming forward. “Can I help?” she asked.

“How are you at climbing trees?” Gervase inquired.

“Not so good,” she admitted. “At least, not while I’m wearing a dress. But if you need an extra pair of hands . . .”

“All right” he conceded. “Come on, Ju–take us to the tree.”

Minutes later, they stood at the foot of an ash tree, looking up into the leaves. A scrap of ginger fur clung to one of the higher branches, mewing pitifully.

Gervase considered the kitten for a moment, then turned towards the blanket still spread out upon the grass. Shrugging off his jacket, he rummaged through the picnic hamper, emerging with one of the finger sandwiches. “Fish paste,” he explained, and returned to the tree.

“You’ll need both hands for climbing,” Margaret warned him.

“I’m aware of that.” He glanced at the sandwich, gave another forbearing sigh, and gingerly tucked it into the cuff of his left sleeve before starting his ascent.

“Will the branches bear your weight?” Margaret called anxiously as he shinned up the trunk. Agile and lightly built as he was, he should climb more easily than Hal or Reg, but still . . .

Gervase glanced down, his expression slightly pained. “I’ll find out soon enough, won’t I?” he remarked, and reached for the nearest bough.

Strangely breathless, Margaret and Juliana watched him climb, a slim figure moving from branch to branch, a fish paste sandwich peeking incongruously over his left shirt cuff. Up he went, balancing carefully. Once his foot slipped, and Margaret thought she heard him mutter a curse as he strove to regain his balance, then adjusted his position, set his foot on a different branch and resumed his climb.

Finally, boy and cat were face to face, with barely a foot of distance between them. Gervase clicked his tongue, and held out the sandwich just within reach. “Come along, then.”

The words were brisk rather than coaxing, but his tone was low and gentle enough. Margaret could just imagine the kitten’s whiskers twitching at the smell of the fish paste. He gave another plaintive mew, scarcely more than a squeak, stretching out an imperious little paw.

Gervase leaned in, extending the sandwich further, and Xerxes inched closer. And closer . . . until he was just within reach. Quick as a flash, Gervase tugged the kitten free of the branch, and pulled him close to his shirtfront as he began to climb down. He moved cautiously, not rushing his descent, but Margaret wasn’t sure she breathed until he was on the ground again.

“Here you are, brat.” Gervase held out the kitten and the by now half-eaten sandwich to his sister. “Now for pity’s sake, take him home, and don’t let him out until he’s bigger and has more sense than a dandelion puff!”

Juliana, eyes shining, kissed her brother on the cheek and ran off, the kitten still clutched in her embrace.

“Little pest,” Gervase observed.

Margaret couldn’t tell whether he meant Juliana or the kitten. But when he reached up to push back his hair, she caught sight of something more alarming, “Gervase, you’re bleeding!”

“Ah.” He pulled his hand back, glanced at the drops of red welling on his forefinger and thumb. “Little beast managed to get a claw into me, after all.”

“Here.” Margaret fished out her handkerchief–clean, thankfully–and wrapped it carefully around the affected digits. “Juliana will be everlastingly grateful.”

“Well, she’d better be,” he retorted. “It’s not every brother who’ll risk life, limb, and wardrobe retrieving some dim-witted cat. I must have looked a proper charley trying to coax him down.” He pulled a face. “And my shirt now smells of fish paste, though it had to be laundered in any case, so no harm done, I suppose.”

“I thought . . . I thought you were rather splendid, actually,” Margaret confessed.

He stilled, his grey eyes flaring wide. “Good Lord, was that a compliment? From you?”

Margaret felt herself flush. “I pay them–now and then,” she said, a touch primly. “When someone deserves it.”

His mouth quirked up and she caught the unexpected flicker of a dimple. “Lady, I shall study deserving,” he misquoted, and swept her a mock bow.

* * *

Hope you enjoyed this glimpse into WIP-land! And may you weather the time change smoothly and successfully.