Friday, April 18, 2014

Character Interview: Tessa Steele from The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall





Character Interview:  Tessa Steele
TWP:  Today we welcome Tessa Steele to The Word Place. Tell us a little about yourself, Tessa.
TS:  I’m a librarian at an elementary school in Cedar Bluff, Arkansas. It’s a town with a history.
TWP:  What kind of history?
TS:  Well, it’s on the Missouri border, so it saw a lot of fighting during the Civil War--mostly guerilla warfare. Afterwards it was a pretty rough place, and it had a very famous red-light district, which is what’s getting me into trouble right now.
TWP:  Wait a minute! You’d better explain that.
TS (giggles): The only ‘house’ left is now a museum, and during spring break before my senior year in college, some friends and I visited it. On the wall in one room are pictures of some of the ‘ladies’ who worked there, and I recognized one.
TWP:  Should I ask?
TS:  My great-grandmother, Hallie Reynolds Steele. Nobody in the family knows anything about here before she married my great-grandfather Merritt, who ran a newspaper. She’s sort of a mystery, but I’m dying to know how she ended up working in one of those places.
TWP:  What are you doing to find out?
TS:  I’ve gotten into genealogy. You know, hunting your ancestors for a family tree.
TWP:  Have you found out anything?
TS:  More than someone wants me to, I think, but I’m not giving up. That’s the other part of the problem.
TWP:  Which is?
TS: I’m dating a state police officer, Dale McCord, and he happens to be in charge of an investigation focusing on the museum.
TWP:  What’s going on?
TS:  Dale won’t tell me anything except to stay away from there. It really makes me mad. I’m a grown woman, and he doesn’t have any right to order me around.
TWP:  Maybe he’s worried about you getting into a dangerous situation.
TS:  I can’t imagine what could be dangerous at the museum. Of course, one of the docents is a little creepy, but…
TWP:  It sounds as if you should listen to Dale.
TS:  I’m going to find out about my great-grandmother, that’s for sure, and not even Dale McCord is going to stop me!
TWP:  Good luck then--but be careful.

Read the first chapter of The Face on Miss Fanny’s Wall at Someday Is Here.


Find Miss Fanny here. (Amazon.com)


Monday, April 14, 2014

Historical 'Fun' Fact or Human Tragedy?





     Bordello, bawdy house, brothel, whorehouse, house of ill repute, red light district. All the words conjure up the same image: a place where women sold themselves.
      A friend once observed (with a wink) that I seemed to have an inordinate interest in the subject. I do, but it's not the obvious (whatever that is). I grew up in a town once so notorious for the wild and wooly life centered around its saloons (and what was upstairs) that the frontier fort commander often forbade the men to cross the river to vsit it when on leave. As late as the 1930s, my father had an office in a hotel where everyone knew the business that flourished on a higher floor. In the auto finance business at the time, he and his father loaned money to one of the "girls" who promptly disappeared with the car. The madam came to see Daddy and suggested that, in the future, he should check with her before financing a vehicle for anyone in her employ. And, the next morning, he found the missing car parked at the curb. Daddy told the story tongue-in-cheek and with a rueful chuckle from the hindsight of age and experience. But he didn't really think it was funny.
      One of my mother's bridge buddies opened an antique store on the historic 'old town' street and conducted tours upstairs to where a bordello allegedly flourished until being shut down by law enforcement in the late 40s. Along the hall leading to a back door 'escape' over the roof of another building, hung bells to be rung when a raid was eminent. Growing up after WW II, I became familiar with the old homes, now boarding houses, which had been part of the 'red light district' serving the men from two bases located in the town.
      I knew the stories in general, but it wasn't until much later that I consider the 'actors' in those long-ago and not-so-long-ago dramas. Only seeing their faces--some young and vulnerable, some old and hardened--in books and framed in tourist attractions, did I come to understand the human drama which took place in those establishments devoted to pleasure for some and perhaps a living hell for others.
      My 2012 novel, The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall, sprang from such an encounter and light-bulb moment. It is a romantic suspense which in no way glorifies those days. I struggled with bringing it to life and, in some ways, did a bit of 'preaching and pontificating' about the subject--though not, I hope, to the detriment of the story.
     I suppose I tried to incorporate sayings (There but for the grace of God...) and scripture (Judge not...) while building a story around historical fact. You can decide for yourself when you read the first chapter and view the trailer.



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Good News, Bad News, and Just Plain News

The Penelope Pembroke Cozy Mystery Series continues to sell steadily. That's good news.

Royalty checks from The Wild Rose Press and Champagne Books point to an upsurge of sales for my traditionally-published books. I'm guessing this is related to Penelope's success. That's also good news.

My belief that there is an audience out there who wants a realistic-but-clean read has been validated. That's the best news of all.

The first book (Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland) of the new Dreamland Series is finished and has gone for editing. More good news.

I'm two chapters into Book #2 (Under the Silv'ry Moon), and it's going slowly. Bad news.

Book #3(Come with the Love Light Shining) isn't even formally thought out yet. Bad, bad news.

For you younger readers, "Meet Me Tonight in Dreamland" is an OLD song now in the public domain. I love the lilting, free-flowing music and, yes, I even like the sappy lyrics. For how it sounded when it was charting #1 in 1910, listen to Henry Burr's rendition on YouTube.

For a little later version, here's Glen Gray and his Casa Loma Orchestra. Yes, yes, chickadees, I know you never heard of Glen Gray, but my parents had a cabinet full of his records when I was growing up. What are records, you ask? How do I explain. Just listen and enjoy!

And don't miss this one! Once upon a time, dancing was...

What's ahead at The Word Place? I'll be reintroducing you to The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall (Champagne Books, 2012).



When a young woman sets out to discover why her great-grandmother worked in a notorious bordello, she stumbles on secrets buried for years, but which, if resurrected, may bury her.
Blurb
 
  After recognizing her great-grandmother’s picture on the wall of a restored bordello-turned-museum, Tessa Steele sets out to track down exactly how Hallie became one of Miss Fanny’s ‘ladies’.  Threatening phone calls and letters warning her that Nosy little girls get into trouble become the least of her worries when she meets Sgt. Dale McCord, a state police officer investigating a series of so-called ‘hauntings’ at Miss Fanny’s.  Caught between her own curiosity about Miss Fanny’s and Dale’s disapproval, she goes ahead with her research. Each time she uncovers a new piece of information, she faces an even more sinister threat as well as Dale’s unexplained anger. She’s as determined to learn the truth as someone is to stop her. And Dale is determined to keep her alive—if he can.

 
 







Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Writing Conferences: What's Not to Love?

Writing conferences--what's not to love?

Several things, but let's start on a positive note. When writers get together to listen to/learn from knowledgeable speakers, ask questions, share ideas, visit one-on-one, exchange business cards, learn about other authors' books, commiserate about everything from finding a publisher to marketing--all those are good things.

After having more or less turned my back on writing conferences in general, I drove up at the last minute to attend the Northwest Arkansas Writers Conference on Saturday. What did I like about it? For one thing, it was free, although that's not necessarily a prerequisite to liking these get-togethers. There are, after all, expenses involved--a meeting room, refreshments, remuneration for speakers, and so on. I'm willing to pay a reasonable price and usually leave feeling I've gotten my money's worth.

But back to free--somehow that set the tone for a comfortably casual day. My book table was also free, and I shared it with another author (more on that later) and had the chance to visit with others nearby. Now, it's been my experience that books don't fly off the tables at these conferences, and that's not why I take mine. It's exposure. For example, I downloaded a couple of authors' books for Kindle after the conference, and hopefully some of the folks I had the chance to talk to did the same with mine. In contrast to a formal sit-down dinner, attendees had the option of a box lunch or bring-your-own.

Greg Camp and Casey Cowan of Oghma Creative Media covered a variety of topics during the morning. In the afternoon, Duke and Kimberly Pennell of Pen-L Publishing let us in on "the dirty little secret of writing" which is, "Writing is writing. Business is business." Finally, Velda Brotherton clued writers about how to become an overnight success in 20 years! Dusty Richards wound things up with Writing 101. All the presenters handed out good hard facts interspersed with humor and entertained questions during their presentations, giving the whole day an interactive touch.

I have to say, my faith in my fellow writers took an upward turn--which leads me to the negative side of (some) writing conferences.

Conferences longer than a day, maybe a day and a half, often (not always) become tedious. Some writers take more than their ideas, questions, and books with them; Mr. Ego sits at their tables and follows them around, dominating their conversations. There's a fine line between letting folks know where you are along the writing road and making sure they know you're ahead of them whether you are or not! Contests can be a good thing, but competition doesn't necessarily promote camaraderie. (Mr. Ego likes it, however.) Sometimes I get the feeling the chance of placing in a contest is the only reason some people attend.

Book tables are good for exposure, but I don't like staying with mine so much as mingling and meeting other authors. I don't take my books to make a killing, and being tied to a book table interferes with my main purpose for attending a conference.

So--in summation--I give the NWA Writers Conference five stars--and I'll be back next year!

Authors Blog Chain

The author with whom I shared a book table invited me to participate in the Author’s Blog Chain. Blanche Day Manos tagged me. Visit her blog at blanchedaymanos.com  Blanche Day Manos has written for many years and had numerous articles, children's stories, fiction, and poetry published in periodicals and newspapers. Her first two books, The Cemetery Club and Grave Shift, written with co-author Barbara Burgess, are cozy mysteries, as is her third book, Best Left Buried, due to be released within the year.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

Pollyanna

    Encounter for good or ill

      Lenore often accompanied Judge Sutherland into court, so she was knowledgeable of judicial proceedings and comfortable in that setting. Alan Ashley, however, was not. His barely-concealed anger on the first day of the lawsuit interfered with his carefully cultivated authoritative demeanor. That fueled the fires of his anger to burn even hotter.
     "Would you like to walk out and stretch a little?" Lenore asked during a recess at mid-morning.
     He jumped at the sound of her voice in his ear. "You startled me. Be kind enough to announce yourself before you speak."
     "I'm sorry, Mr. Ashley. I did tell you before we began that I was sitting next to you at the table." she hesitated. "I was thinking of going to the porch at the end of the corridor. Cortrooms are rather stuffy sometimes."
     "Yes, all right." He rose. "I'll have to take your arm."
     "Certainly." She offered a slender arm. "This way."
     "Perhaps you're wondering where my white cane is," he said abruptly as they exited the courtroom.
     "I didn't know you had one."
     "Every blind man has a white cane."
     "I see." She pushed open the door at the end of the hall. "We're at the porch. There isn't a step down."
     They moved outside into the warm autumn sunshine. "We're on the west side of the courthouse. Are you familiar with the large red brick building across the street?"
     "It's the bank," he said promptly. "My great-grandfather founded it."
     "So the Ashleys have been in Rumers Crossing for a long time."
     "Since before the Revolution."
     "How interesting."
     "Is it, really?"
     "Oh, yes, I love history. My father used to read aloud from A Child's History of the World when I was a little girl. I always wanted to travel and see the places he read about."
     "But you didn't."
     "Not yet, but I hope to someday."
     "Travel requires money."
     "Have you traveled widely?"
     "I spent six months on the continent before entering Harvard in 1913."
     "Is the Acropolis as magnificent as it appears in pictures?"
     "More so, actually."
     "I should love to stand there and soak it all in."  Lenore sighed. "The sun is nice this time of year, isn't it?"
     "A hard winter is predicted."
     "Yes, but until it comes, we have this lovely weather to enjoy."
     "Are you always so optimistic?"
     She laughed. "My brother Teddy calls me Pollyanna. That's the name of the title character in a children's book for girls, so I'm sure you're not familiar with her. She always looked for the good in everything.:
     "And you follow suit?"
     "Not always, Mr. Ashley, but I'm happier when I try to find some good in every circumstance."
    "I suppose you think I should try to find some good in my blindness?"
     "Not at all, but you have a great many advantages despite that, and Judge Sutherland  feels that this lawsuit will be thrown out."
     Sam Bernard put his head out the door. "It's almost time to reconvene," he said. "I'm going to find the facilities, Alan. Would you..."
     Alan dropped Lenore's arm. "Yes, thank you, Sam. I'm sure Miss Seldon would be mortified to lead me there."
     "Alan..."
     "Lenore smiled at Sam and shook her head to stall his defending her. When the men had gone, she closed her eyes and turned her face to the sun, breathing in its warmth.

Follow me here at The Word Place for more background blogs about 

  • Finding Papa's Shining Star
  • The Showboat Affair
  • Dancing with Velvet
  • The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall

all coming soon.

Visit Someday Is Here for more information about the Shining Star books and the others listed above.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Is he willing to fight?



PROLOGUE

France



September, 1918

He remembered a flash of light. Blinding brilliance like the sun reflecting off the snow in the mountains where he’d skied with his college fraternity brothers. Searing heat. A burning more intense than he’d ever felt from the early afternoon sun on the sandy beach where he’d frolicked as a half-naked boy. He forced his eyes open in the light of midday, but there was nothing. The darkness, blacker than any he’d ever experienced, terrified him. His mouth felt full of cotton. “Water,” he begged hoarsely. “Please...in God’s name... water!” The tin cup pressed against his lips was warm, and so was the water that trickled onto his tongue. “Who is it?”
“Rycroft, sir.”
“The others?”
“Dead.”
“My God.” Shock gave way to pain. He groaned.
“I thought you were, too, but then you moved. Rest easy, Captain Ashley. Help’s on the way.”
****
Brookston, New York
November, 1918

She sat unmoving, her rigid back pressed against the wooden slats of her mother’s low sewing chair. Her father caressed her small, delicate hands. “I’m so sorry, Lenore. I wish I could tell you that it’s a mistake, but here’s the telegram Mrs. Broome sent over.”
The young woman shook her head, gently at first, then so vigorously that her glossy black hair loosened from its pins and fell over her shoulders. “No. No!” She had been nineteen a few minutes ago when her father led her to the chair. Now, though she rocked her body rhythmically, reminiscent of her early childhood, her youth had fled.
****
Barnwell, Texas
May, 1920

“She’s a beautiful baby, Roberta. Just look at her.”
“I don’t want her. I never wanted her! I thought I was going to die. The pain was terrible!”
The man transferred his gaze from his new daughter to his wife. “Dr. Smithwick said you did very well.”
“Dr. Smithwick wasn’t lying here being ripped apart, and neither were you.” The woman’s
attractive face twisted in anger.
“Roberta...”
“Get out, Albert. Get out and take her with you. And send in the nurse.”
He did as he was told. Cradling the infant in his arms, he walked into the nursery he had furnished alone and laid her in the white wicker bassinet. “You’re my best little girl, you know, my shining star. Never forget that, sweetheart. Never.”
The doctor paused at the door. “She’s a fine, healthy girl, Rycroft. Your wife’s all right, too.”
Albert Rycroft didn’t look up. “Thank you.”
“I’ll be back tomorrow to check on both of them. Meanwhile, the nurse can handle things. Roberta says she doesn’t want to feed the baby.”
“No, I’ll take care of it.”
The doctor sighed. “Well, it would be better if...oh, maybe not. I don’t know. I’ll see you tomorrow.”
He watched the new father bending over the cradle. “My beautiful little girl, my best little girl. You’re my shining star, you know. You’re Papa’s shining star.”
****

Brookston, New York
1921

Judge Amos Sutherland, recently retired from the New York State Supreme Court, turned the pages of the thick file on his desk as he contemplated his first case since returning to private practice. The will he had just finished reading for the second time was straightforward; the pending litigation seemed without merit. He had known Alan Ashley, Sr. and disliked him intensely. He wondered if the son, to whom everything had been left, was anything like the father, though it didn’t really matter. It was for Samuel Bernard, a former student and clerk, now counsel for the son, that he had agreed to serve as co-counsel when Ashley Senior’s nephews decided, belatedly, to contest the will. “I won’t argue the case for you,” he told the younger attorney. “Turning this over to me would be a clear admission that you don’t feel competent to represent your client.”
“I don’t. Frankly, I’m terrified at the idea of going up against Trotham and Dunbar.”
“All you have to do is prove your case.”
“I’m not in their league. I didn’t even go to law school.”
“You read law with me and passed the bar on your first try. Don’t sell yourself short, Samuel.”
“I’m just being realistic.”
“The will is straightforward. Everything belongs to the son.”
“I know that, but they’re saying he can’t successfully assume the directorship of Ashley Enterprises because he’s blind.”
“Can he?”
“Of course. He studied business at Harvard and graduated summa cum laude, then took an advanced degree before enlisting in 1918. He’s spent the past two years at the Institute for the Blind, learning Braille and every other method that’s available for adapting to a sightless world.” Sam pounded his fist into his palm once, then again.
“Is he as angry as you are?” The judge sat back in his cracked leather chair, his faded eyes boring into Sam’s.
“I’m sorry. I lost control.”
“Not a good thing to do, especially in the courtroom.”
“I know, and to answer your question, yes. Yes, Alan’s angry about everything. His blindness, the fact that his fiancĂ©e broke their engagement because of it, how my father has betrayed him...and I don’t blame him.”
“Perhaps not, but you’ll counsel him against displaying his emotions, won’t you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“All right. I’ve looked at the will. Now tell me why they think it can be broken almost ten years later, and how they plan to do it.”
“Percy’s and Geordie’s father was Alan’s uncle and a partner in Ashley Enterprises until 1910, when he sold his interest to his brother. My father moved up as second-in-command. Two years later, when Mr. Ashley and his wife were killed, Father took charge because Alan was still in school. He was also Alan’s guardian. That was eight years ago. But he should have known that Alan would step up as soon as he could.”
“Perhaps he didn’t want to know.”
The quick mottling of Sam’s neck crept into his face. “My father has always liked being in charge of everything and everyone.”
“He opposed your marriage, I understand.”
“That’s putting it mildly.
“But you married Ellen despite the opposition.”
“I have no regrets. She’s everything to me.”
“I’m pleased that you’re happy. Now about the cousins.”
“Their father died two years after Alan’s parents, and they ran through their inheritance within a few years. Now they see an opportunity to recoup their fortunes. They told my father that if they were in charge, he could remain in the directorship, but they’d draw the lion’s share of the profits after expenses.”
“Those profits are considerable?”
“Ashley Enterprises is worth several million dollars—without the subsidiary holdings.”
“How do you know?”
“Alan requested the books when he came back, and Jerome Vannoy, the comptroller, thinking that Alan was going to step in immediately, produced them. Alan and I went over them carefully before my father found out and told Jerome to get them back.”
“Were there any irregularities?”
“I’m not an accountant, but they seemed in order to me.”
“Tell me about Jerome Vannoy.”
“He’s a few years older than Alan. In fact, they knew each other slightly at Harvard. Alan seems to think he’s honest. I suppose I trust him as much as I trust anyone at this point.”
“So your father and the cousins are going after Alan on the grounds that he’s incompetent because of his disability.”
“I don’t want it to come to trial for a number of reasons, among them the fact that it would be an additional humiliation for Alan, in view of everything he’s experienced already.”
“I don’t think they have grounds to bring it to trial.”
“Their attorneys, Trotham and Dunbar, seem to think so.”
“Well, the legal-beagles will profit, in any case. What do they bill an hour?”
“I couldn’t begin to guess. More than I do.” Sam ran his hand through his hair. “I really need your help.”
“Young Mr. Ashley is willing to fight?”
“To the death, he says.”
“All right. I’ll speak with him. But remember, this is your case. Because of the Ashley name, it will get a great deal of notice all over the state. When you win it, your career will be assured.”
“Don’t you mean if I win it?”
“Unless these men know something we don’t, they haven’t a prayer.” He glanced at the young woman sitting a few feet away with her stenographer’s pad. “Did you get all of this, Miss Seldon?”
“Yes, sir, I believe so.”
“Make a typewritten copy and a carbon. I’ll want you to go with me to Rumers Crossing tomorrow. If your mother is concerned, assure her that Mrs. Sutherland will make a proper chaperone and that you won’t have time to get into any trouble.”
Lenore Seldon’s normally pale face took on more color. “I’m sure Mother won’t have any concerns, sir. How long will we be there?”
“A week, perhaps. I don’t think it’s going to take that long, but we’ll prepare for all
eventualities.” He lifted his spare frame from the chair and addressed himself to Sam again. “Go back and tell young Mr. Ashley that he needs to decide on something for your father, whether it be a settlement or outright dismissal, and I’d advise you to learn whatever you can about where the loyalties of the others in the executive offices lie. If Ashley Enterprises needs to be restructured, it will fall to your friend to do it. He’ll need an independent audit of the books immediately. I’ll subpoena them if necessary.”
“I can’t tell you what a relief this is, sir. I was in well over my head.”
“Up to your eyebrows, perhaps, but not completely over your head.” The judge chuckled. “Don’t worry, Samuel. You were one of my brightest clerks on the court. I was sorry to lose you. Your practice is going well, I take it?”
“Ellen grew up poor, so she knows how to manage. We aren’t starving.”
“You’ll appreciate good times more, having experienced the lean ones.” He extended his hand. “All right. I’ll see you in Rumers Crossing tomorrow. There’s still only one hotel, I suppose.”
“It’s not elegant, but you’ll be comfortable enough. I’ll make your reservations as soon as I get back this afternoon.”

TOMORROW:

Alan and Lenore meet for the first time under less-than-optimal circumstances. Has he finally met his match in this quiet, unassuming young legal secretary?

  FOLLOW ME HERE AT THE WORD PLACE FOR MORE TO COME, AND LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SHINING STAR SERIES AT SOMEDAY IS HERE. (FREEBIE ALERT AT THE END OF THE LINK!)