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Confession: I'm Addicted To Research

I’m addicted to research.  There, I admit it. 

I spend way too much money on research books, and way too much time reading them.  While Oxford University Press should just go ahead and open up a corporate account for me, my husband remains tolerant but unamused. Especially when half the books are for research on a book I’m not even writing. Yet. 

Partly, this is because an author has to know way more about the topics used in her books than she’ll ever actually put on the page, because after all, it’s a story, not a non-fiction treatise.  

This, of course, is my excuse.

It’s the way I permit myself to descend into the rabbit hole of Totally Unnecessary Research.  You can picture me leaping down a large hole, looking over my shoulder, smiling and waving, calling, “I’ll be just a minute!”

I’m never just a minute.  Go on and leave without me.

When I’m at work on the contemporaries, I find myself digging deep into crazy biotech, when I’ve already decided my tech-y secondary character will not be doing BIOtech, just straight coding, computer tech.

And yet…addict.  Because have you ever researched biotech, then thought of ways to twist it to nefarious purposes???  It’s insanely frightening and compelling.

A skirmish with smugglers from Finland at the Russian border, 1853, by Vasily Hudyakov

But my biggest weakness is historical research. Even when writing the contemps, I find myself on websites for medieval spice trade, or with a book sitting open beside me that discusses smuggling in 17th c.


These are not useful research topics for a contemporary story, not unless a character in the books happens to be studying the spice trade or the history of smuggling.  Which my hero and heroine are not. 

Although….wait a second….

This can become troublesome.  One must choose a story and proceed, not get distracted by all the other exciting stories she could be telling.

While writing CLAIMING HER, I found myself studying far more than was necessary about how

Wooden tankard found on board the 16th century carrack, Mary Rose.

alcoholic beverages were stored in the late 16th c.  I mean, really.  I needed my heroine to store whisky, and suddenly I’m learning about the history of bottling beer.

Fascinating stuff.

For instance, did you know bottled beer was already used by the late 16th century?  They even used expensive glass to do so (beer was sold in glass bottles in 1561 in Germany), although stoneware was more commonly used.  By the early 1600’s, the practice of bottling beer was well-established, and the debate was on: which is better, bottled beer or beer from a keg?

Do you have a preference?? 

(Note: in 1492, the Scottish Parliament prohibited any adulteration of beer or wine on punishment of death.  Careful out there, beer adulterers.)

Then there’s pocket watches.  Need I say more? 

Okay, I will.

Replica, German pocket watch, 1580.

Sweet, gorgeous, etched and carved pocket watches–with alarms!

By 1524, German inventor Peter Henlein used the invention of mainspring to create watches that did not require falling weights as the source of their power, and voila: portable clocks. 

They caught on quickly. Initially quite bulky and worn around the neck like a pendant, the later adoption of screws reduced their bulk, and by the third-quarter of the 1600’s, were small enough to be housed in, well…a pocket. (fyi, screws used to be made BY HAND, obviously, so individuals were doing the extremely time-consuming task of filing threads and cutting slots in the heads, so screws were of variable thread depth & quality.  The first screw factory in England, in 1776, with a patented screw-making machine, failed miserably. It’s not clear why, though, because…)

Gah!  See, it’s happening as I speak! So much for my parenthesis. One thing leads to another, to another…

Back on topic….I had a wonderful scene where the hero in CLAIMING HER (set in 1589) has a pocket watch, and it totally makes the heroine swoon. Unfortunately, I had to cut it. As it was one of the inspirations for the story, cutting it was like carving out a little part of me. But for various reasons, the pocket watch scene wasn’t going to work, so out it came.

But I kept researching the damned things. Because…addict.

Fortunately, not all is wasted. Maybe none is. Because if the historical detail is organically connected to the story, then it does more than just sit there as a prop.  It bolsters/reveals/reverses something that’s core to the characters. And so I learn something far more important that factoid A or B.  I learn about the hero & the heroine, even if the historical detail must be surgically removed. 

Writing the early versions of the pocket watch scene revealed Aodh & Katarina to me.  Katarina has been stuck out in her lonely castle beyond The Pale for many years, and did not expect this barbaric Irishman to upend her world. To be, in fact, the opposite of barbaric. To bring her etched silver and silk and news from faraway places from men he called friends. To show her maps of unknown worlds. To beam prisms of light into the dark corners of her life, and prove to her anything is possible. Anything at all. Even loving a rebellious, treasonous Irishman.

So, I guess this is why I waste my time.  Because it lights my fire.  And reveals the truths of my characters.

Which maybe doesn’t count as wasted time after all.  

Do you have interests that make you “waste your time”?


Waiting eagerly for Michael Stokes’s INVICTUS coffee table picture book, featuring gorgeous, stunning photographs of vets wounded in Iraq & Afghanistan.  So I was super happy to get this little video clip today, updating Kickstarter supporters on its progress.

Check it out!

Good Enough To Eat

“Books have to be read (worse luck it takes so long a time).  It is the only way of discovering what they contain.  A few savage tribes eat them, but reading is the only method of assimilation revealed to the West.”  ~E.M. Forster

Oh, E.M., how I love you. Your insights, your storytelling, your love of characters, your wit. 


And yet, we’ve all read those books that are good enough to eat, right??  The ones we feel like we’re sinking down into, as if the story is silk-water. The one when we see its cover, we smile.


What’s one of your Good-Enough-To-Eat books?

Wage Disparity in the Middle Ages...and romance, where the little guy wins

(Note: I will be sharing medieval info at the beginning of this post, and editorializing in a sarcastic manner by the end.)

William the Conqueror, aka William The Bastard, summa cum laude of the Battle of Hastings and conqueror of England, was worth what would today be over $189 billion dollars, U.S., post conquering.

William de Warenne, one of the Bastard’s stewards, was worth about $121bn in today’s dollars.

Richard fitzAlan, one of the brutal Sir de Warenne’s descendants & a leader himself in the Hundred Years’ War, comes in at a net worth of about $100bn U.S.

Double-Duke John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III, was worth what would be today over $91 billion.

The list goes on.

This sort of wage/wealth gap between rich and poor was par for the course in the middle ages.

In the 1370’s, the average English weaver was making about 700 deniers (aka: pence, aka: that’s pennies) a year.

A mason was bringing home about 1000/yr, which can be seen as somewhat a representative income for merchants & craftsman—the newly developing ‘middle class.’

(An aside, b/c I’m big on asides…this ‘middle class’ spent about 25% of their disposable income on alcohol, mostly beer. Go, Englishmen, and the women who brewed it! Another almost-quarter of total income was spent on housing costs, and, good Lord, almost 65%, of total income went for TAXES. B/C those big social safety nets of the middle ages… And thus we see the major feeder tube for the Peasant’s Revolt.)

Back to our task…

The warden of London Bridge was raking in over twice what a mason did, almost 2500 annually, which doesn’t count all the bribes and payoffs he could count on, too. Score.

A baron could count on about 48,000. That’s 48x times as much as the ‘not-wealthy-but-still-buying-a-lot-of-beer’ mason and his economic cohorts.

An earl was bringing in about 96,000. That’s 96 times as much.

That’s some pretty big income disparities, but the really big outliers, like The Bastard and his BFFs, were less common. 

And let’s recall, yes, those nobles were big on ostentatious wealth and sticking it to the little guy, but they also were fighting wars, paying soldiers, ordering goods & sometimes paying for them, i.e. reinvesting in the society with that take-home money (and of course, the looting during the wars, assuming they won, but that’s another story…)

The point being, there was cyclical reinvestment by the uber-wealthy: they took it, but they spent it too.

As for the existence of such a pervasive & insane wealth disparity, well, thank goodness we don’t have to worry about that anymore in the States.  Because it would create a de facto nobility, as opposed to, you know, a representative democracy.  Thank goodness that’s all in the past, part of a darker, less democratic world.

Oh, wait.

The AFL-CIO estimated the *average* CEO in the U.S. in 2014 earned 373 times as much as the average U.S. worker.  (Of note, that’s the AVERAGE ceo, not a smattering of Rockefeller or Vanderbilt or John Jacob Astor outliers. Average CEO take-home pay.)

But wait, there’s more. It’s like a ginsu knife. Because that 373:1 ratio vastly under reports the difference. It’s actually more like 949:1.

Now, the real truth probably lies somewhere in between, because that higher, ‘take-home pay’ ratio includes stock-based pay, which varies. So we’re talking somewhere between 373x’s (straight compensation) and almost 1000x’s more (including stock-based pay) than the average worker.

In either case, I claim WTFery. (excuse my foul-mouthed acronym-ing)

One could almost be forgiven for saying that’s not free enterprise.That it’s more like hijacking free enterprise. 

There are several theoretical definitions/understandings of what ‘capitalism’ is, how it relates to a larger political structure, and what it can, or should, do.  But this sort of accrual of vast wealth to the few, with such large disparity between them and the rest of society, is not the sort of thing that can exist for long in a representative democracy before it ceases to be a democracy in even the loosest sense of the term.   That it becomes, in fact, far more like the middle ages. Only worse.

One could be forgiven…

Which is why I think a lot of my stories are about the little guy winning against unbeatable odds, a seemingly hopeless situation.  I admit it, I carry my modern sensibilities and values into my historicals, but I think that one, the little guy triumphing in a system stacked against them, is pretty timeless.  And it (hopefully!) brings hope and inspiration to readers.

What stories have you loved where the little guy triumphed??

Help An Author Out...Plus a Kiss

Okay, girls, I’m gonna need a cover for the upcoming release of THE KING’S OUTLAW. Who wants to help??

 THE KING’S OUTLAW originally appeared in the anthology Captured by a Celtic Warrior.  

← Here’s the cover from the antho. ←

It’s HOT, and will be revised for this standalone release with some additional scenes of hotness and adventure, to make it worth your while.  

If you enjoy perusing images of hot guys & sexy clinch embraces, using your design eye &/or readerly “Oh, yeah, I’d buy that guy,” sensibilities, this is totally for you!

Just post any link(s) to image(s) you think are worthy of consideration in the comments. Nothing’s off limits, and everyone’s welcome! 

My only requirements are that it screams “medieval/knight” and “drop-to-your-knees sexy.” 

Feel free to share this far & wide with your romance reading buddies!  Got a photographer friend with warrior-esque shots in their portfolio? Pimp ’em like a pimp!

If we pick the image you suggest, you AND ANY 2 FRIENDS YOU WANT get a copy of the ebook!! Because this is all about helping each other out.

Tips: If you don’t know much about searching for images…. Stock photo sites are usually the best places, like istockphoto, shutterstock, bigstock, fotolia, or dreamstime (all followed by .com) You can enter various search terms. Different sites allow different amounts of control over the parameters (such as controlling for the gender of models, or number of models, etc). Play around, and have fun!

Here’s an excerpt from the first kiss of THE KING’S OUTLAW. One of my favorite kinds: the ruse kiss!


…There was nothing for it; he made his decision in a heartbeat.  

Sliding his hands up her arms, he spun her and almost flung her up against the side of the nearest building, then reached up and tore off her headdress.

“Good Heaven’s,” she cried, her hands flying up to capture the silky veil, but he already had it off and was tugging off her distinctive cloak next.

“Mon Dieu,” she gasped, grappling for the cloak, but he fisted it and the veil together in his hand, down by his hip, then stretched out an arm and planted his palm on the wall, blocking her face from the visitors now hurrying down the quay.

“Kiss me,” he ordered.

Her pale face tilted up, full of shock and confusion. “I beg your pardon?”

“Kiss me, then run.”


“If you kiss me, you’re a whore. If you stand there staring, you’re a merchant with a pouch of stolen seals in her hand.”

Magdalena looked down at the pouch, then up at him, into his beautiful, no-doubt criminal, eyes. Then she pushed on her toes and kissed him.

She could have done nothing more ill-advised.

She had barely touched her lips to his when he descended, his mouth hard and slanting. He plowed her open with teeth and tongue, exploring the depths of her wet mouth with sinful abandon.  There was no prelude, no warning, no kindness or care, no quarter given. She was a whore and he was having her.

He played the ruse exceptionally well.

Dizziness and heat swooped in for her like hunting birds, dispelling sense and reason and anything else that might have been of use to her at the moment. She could do nothing but cling to him, her hands around his neck, her head forced back, her spine cupped, her body…thrilling.

Madness. Madness, all.

The hand not holding her cloak and wimple closed around her hip and began to tug up her skirts. She made a feeble attempt to stop him, but his grip grew fierce, and he yanked on the gown, dragged it up the side of her leg until she felt cool air on her shin and calf.

Her head spun as if she’d been twirled like a top. Picked up by a bird and sent flying.

Her knees grew weak, but she did not break the kiss. She could not. He’d become a field of energy, the way a metal filing is pulled toward iron, or how one drop of water clings to another. She was affixed to his kiss, to his chest, which she’d somehow pressed up against, to his shoulders, which she’d somehow wrapped her arms around, to his tongue, which was tangled with hers, his hot male breath, his cunning male hand, his hard knee now making all manner of incursions between her thighs, and she, she, reveling in it.

This could not end well.


Or COULD  IT????

Have fun out there!