Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Romance of Scotland ~ by Harriet Schultz

To wrap up our mini-vacation to the Scottish Highlands, I'm delighted to welcome Harriet Schultz onto the blog today. I met Harriet on Twitter last year. I've read both of her books and really enjoyed them! As an added bonus, Harriet is offering to give away TWO e-copies of Legacy of the Highlands! All you have to do to enter is leave a comment in the comments section below. We'll leave the giveaway open until next Tuesday at midnight and contact the winners on Wednesday morning. (Don't forget to leave your email in the comments section, or check back to see if you won next week.)

The Romance of Scotland ~ by Harriet Schultz

 Scotland is one of my favorite places to visit. Perhaps it’s the country’s dramatic beauty or its captivating, romantic and brutal history or something else entirely. But there’s a quality about Scotland that draws me to it.
My husband and I spent three weeks there last year. It was a vacation for us both, but for me this trip had an added bonus. I would see, hear and smell the locations in my already-published romantic suspense novel, Legacy of the Highlands, to see if I’d gotten it right.
It was with a sigh of relief, therefore, that we dropped off our rental car 1,500 miles later.  For me, that relief came from the realization that I’d chosen and described key settings well. My husband’s was that we hadn’t killed ourselves or anyone else as we drove on the wrong side — to us — of Scotland’s narrow, unforgiving, and occasionally one-track roads where drivers of cars traveling in opposite directions must have the good manners to “give way” or crash head on.
We followed the coast north from Edinburgh to John O’Groats with a day trip to the Orkney Islands before continuing as far west as we could go. We then turned south as far as Oban before returning to Edinburgh for our flight home.
Two destinations were of particular importance to me — the coast north of Aberdeen, between Cruden Bay and the town of Boddam and Arbroath Abbey where the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath was prepared.
A pivotal dramatic scene in my novel required a location that had physical characteristics similar to Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher. The Internet is a wonderful research tool and I felt confident that the Bullers of Buchan, near Boddam, could be the perfect place for the action I’d planned. But I had to be sure. I posted my question to a Boddam-area chat room. Participants not only confirmed my hunch, but actually went to the site and then posted videos — with sound! — so that I could have a sense of the place. Their generosity was stunning and I thanked the Grampian Life Forum in my book’s acknowledgments.
Despite this, I still wanted to see the Bullers for myself. It was raining as we entered the small car park and headed up the narrow path to the deep hole in the cliffs that fills with the churning waters of the North Sea. The sound was deafening. Hundred of squawking birds nest in the rocks and waves pound the cliffs with a roar. It was perfect.
Before visiting the Bullers, we stopped in the town of Arbroath. My novel is contemporary, but a phrase in the Declaration of Arbroath and an oath taken by its signers form the basis for a murder that occurs almost 700 years later. It was with wonder that I roamed through the abbey’s preserved ruins, imagining the courage it took to ask the Pope to urge the English to leave Scotland and her people in peace.
Novels are creations of a writer’s imagination. And while there’s a bit of leeway in fictionalizing actual locations, I think that the more real they are, the more believable the tale. 

Harriet's bestselling prologue, Lust and Honor, is available as a FREE download on all the retail sites.

To find out more about Harriet Schultz, visit her blog or follow her on Twitter @HarrietSchultz. And don't forget to leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of Legacy of the Highlands

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Rose Petal Masquerade #12Masque

“Meet me in the rose garden.”
That voice. I knew it so well.
They said a new resident moved in today. But I didn’t know it was him. He wore a simple black mask, tied around his strong-boned face. He had always been the handsomest man in the room, the life of every party.
He winked, and disappeared into the crowd of swirling chiffon and lace. A sultry jazz tune drifted from the speakers in the crowded dining room, transformed into a glittering ballroom just for tonight.
I stole out to the garden. Moonlight bathed the manicured grounds in a silver glow. I followed the scent of the roses to the gate, and heard his footsteps trailing behind. 
Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if I’d stayed with him. If I hadn’t chosen practicality and stability over passion. 
I’d raised three children with another man. But I always kept up with news on James, especially after my husband passed away.
“You look beautiful tonight, Eve.” His hand was on the gate behind me. His breath sent shivers of memories dancing over my skin. “Do you remember the first night we met?”
“How could I forget?” I turned, looking up at him. My hand drifted self-consciously to my frizzy white curls. “In my uncle’s rose garden. You guessed my favorite flower on the first try.”
“Lavender roses.” He plucked one from the vine, the petals rustling in the wind as he slipped it behind my ear.
Sixty years of marriage. I couldn’t remember the last time a man had tucked a flower in my hair. “How did you know it was me?”
“I saw you dancing.” His hazel eyes held a hint of mischief. “You can still move your hips better than any woman in the room.”
I skimmed a palm down the skirt of my pink dress. “I had one replaced. I haven’t danced much lately.”
“Maybe you could show me the scar later.”
He wiggled his eyebrows and I laughed, remembering how easy life was when we were teenagers. How simple life was before marriage, mortgages, children. He held out his hand. “Dance with me.”
I hesitated. I felt compelled to show him what lay beneath the mask, the years that had etched lines into my once beautiful face. My arthritic fingers toyed with the ribbon and I let it fall away. I let him look at me, at the lines, at the scar where Susie’s swing had caught me above the eye. I’d worn the mask of motherhood, wife, cook, chauffeur, teacher, counselor for so long; it was my portrait now. “This is me.”
He traced a thumb tenderly over the deep lines fanning out from my eyes—my laugh lines. “I think,” he murmured, “there’s still room for a few more.”

This piece was written for Meg McNulty's (@charitygirlblog) Twelth Night Masquerade Flash Fiction Contest. Rose Petal Masquerade is 467 words. I'd love to hear what you think!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How I Learned to Love Scotland by Author Jen McConnel

Photo by Jen McConnel

I'm feeling a bit Scotland-obsessed these days. Maybe it's the cold weather making me long for a cozy pub and a pint. But whenever the nights grow long, I dream of far-off places of mystery and magic. I'm very excited to introduce you to an author who writes magical stories set in Scotland. I picked up Jen McConnel's debut novel, The Burning of Isobel Key, over the holidays and really enjoyed it. The historical sections of the book were particularly well-written and I found myself worrying about Isobel throughout the day and looking forward to picking up the story each night to see what would happen. But what really came through for me was the author's love for Scotland and the richness of the setting throughout the book. I asked Jen to write a post about why she loves Scotland and decided to set her stories there and was pretty surprised by her answer!

How I Learned to Love Scotland by Jen McConnel

I have a terrible confession to make.

When I traveled to Scotland in 2007, I hated it. The rain dampened my spirits, and the chilly winter winds made me realize I'd packed rather poorly. I was a bit of a grump for much of the trip, and I really wish I could have a do-over!

The sun shone only for one day out of my two-week trip, and at the time, I didn't realize what a magical day that was. But once I was home and looking over my pictures, I realized just how magical Scotland is. That one sunny day was while I was on the Isle of Skye, and the Fey magic of the island seeped into my skin without me noticing it. On Skye, there are giants who fell asleep and turned to stone, a stream that bestows fairy beauty on those brave enough to submerse their faces in it, (guilty of trying!"), and villages and farms straight out of another century. It's a place where it's easy to believe that all legends have a bit of truth to them.

It was a combination of that one beautiful day and the legends that filled my trip that inspired me to write The Burning of Isobel Key. The book revolves around a seventeenth century woman accused of witchcraft, and Scotland certainly had its fair share of bizarre witch cases. While I was there, I learned that although the Scottish burning times started a bit later than the rest of Europe (the first major witch craze, the Berwick trials, didn't happen until the 1590's.), people continued to be tried for witchcraft into the eighteenth century. For a land that's filled with magic, that's a pretty unforgiving legacy. The stories I heard while I was on that wet vacation took root in my mind, as did the overwhelming beauty of the Scottish highlands and coast. In 2009, I sat down at my computer and started to weave a novel based on my experience in Scotland and my deep fascination with the burning times. Although I conducted most of my research after the fact, the time I spent in the venerable old town of St. Andrews informed the setting of my novel, and I drew on my own travel experiences to tell the story of a pair of American friends traveling through Scotland in the winter. Like me, the main character, Lou, didn't know what to expect when her journey began, and like me, she found herself falling under the spell that Scotland casts.

So the next time you find yourself cranky because of the weather, look around you: I bet the rain and the clouds are hiding something magical!


What about you? Have you ever traveled to a place that you didn't fall in love with until after you left?

Find out more about Jen McConnel on her website. The Burning of Isobel Key is available now on Amazon. And look for the novella sequel, The Key Inheritance, on January 15th!

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Enchantment of Scotland ~ Meet Author Suzan Tisdale

I am always fascinated by where authors set their stories. What draws them to a place and makes them want to live and breathe a setting through their characters. The setting of my Seal Island Trilogy is very special to me. The real-life island that inspired my stories spoke to me in a way that no other place ever has. I feel so blessed to return to those enchanted Irish shores every day.

I have read several romances set in the Scottish Highlands recently, and I feel a kinship with these authors. They seem to share a love for this land that translates onto the page and transports the reader to a faraway place. I asked Suzan Tisdale, author of the popular Clan MacDougall Series, to share a little about what drew her to Scotland and why she decided to set her stories there.

The Enchantment of Scotland
Author Suzan Tisdale
I’ve been asked to write about the beauty of historical Scottish Culture. There are so many things, places, people, and ideals that draw me to this land, that fascinate me, that take my breath away in awe and wonder. I simply cannot pinpoint one thing, one person, one ideal, or one place. 
When I conjure up images of this magnificent land and the medieval time where my stories take place, those images warm me from toe to head. My mental meanderings take me to a time and place where men were men and women were women and each were strong, honorable, and proud. They fought alongside one another for independence from tyranny, for the right to choose their own destinies; they fought for the inalienable right to be free.
Although I am a writer, I often find that I cannot explain fully what is in my heart when I think of Scotland and her rocky shores, her lochs, her valleys, her mountains. It could take hours, if not days, to express everything that is in there, in heart and mind, so I shall begin with just a few of them.
Scotland is kilts and plaids and arisaids. Scotland is rain, wind, fog and snow. Scotland is cobblestones, whiskey, and horses. Scotland is strong men and women, rocky terrain, mountains, forests, lochs, and castles. Scotland is proud clans, golf and people with heart. 
Scotland is the Stone of Destiny, Eilean Donan Castle, and Aberdeen. Scotland is romance and song and poetry. Scotland is harps and bagpipes and music.
Scotland is speaking Scots, Gaelic, and sexy brogues. Scotland is heather and Highlands and oceans. Scotland is Hogmanay, first footers, and bon fires.
Scotland is Robert Burns and James MacPherson and Allan Ramsay. Scotland is broadswords, arrows, targes, and hauberks.  Scotland is the Silkie of Sule Skerry, faeries and Daoine Shie.
Scotland is the fight for independence, the Jacobite uprising, and the fight for freedom. Scotland is hearty folk with bawdy senses of humor. It is beauty and wonder and strength. It is tradition. It is warmth. It is romance. It is unyielding pride.
Scotland is honorable men and women not afraid to protect those that they love.
Scotland is devotion, faith, family, and proud people.
Scotland is so many things. 
This era we refer to as ‘medieval’ was filled with strong men and women. Some could argue that it was also a time when women were traded and bartered for like sacks of grain. What people miss is that it was the same for men! Many times neither party had any say in the matter, so both parties had to make the best of a sometimes less than perfect situation. Such is the way of a Scot. 
There are so many things about Scotland and her culture --medieval and current --that I find beautiful and my list seems to grow on a daily basis. 
I’ll end here with a few of my favorite Scottish sayings or proverbs:
12 Highlanders and a bagpiper make a rebellion.
Never marry for money, you can borrow it cheaper.
They speak of my drinking, but never my thirst.
Scottish by birth. British by Law. Highlander by the grace of God.
Be happy while you’re living, for you’re a long time dead.
You can find out more about Suzan Tisdale on her Blog and the first two stories of her Clan MacDougall Series are available at Amazon.
What about you? As a writer, is there a particular place/setting that inspires you? As a reader, are you drawn to books set in a particular country?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Rose Petals into the Sea

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday season celebrating with friends and family. I have a feeling 2013 is going to be a magical year. :) To start off the first day of 2013, I'm jumping into a flash fiction blog hop that's already been going on for a few days, but I promised the host I'd write a piece for today's prompt.

It's day EIGHT of Stacy Bennett-Hoyt's 12 Days of Christmas Blog Hop. The theme is GIFTS and each day has a prompt. Today's prompt is SEA.

"Is it true Grandma was a selkie?"
"Aye." Grandpa sat back on his heels in the rose garden, a wool cap shading his blue eyes from the sun. "It's true."
"Do you miss her?"
He stood, wincing as his knees creaked. "Every day."
I watched him hobble to the edge of the cliff, throwing a handful of petals into the ocean. "Are the roses for her?"
Grandpa nodded.
I gazed out at the wide rolling sea. "Is she out there?"
"She's out there."
I squinted, scanning the surface for seals. "Can you see her now?"
"No." Grandpa shook his head. "I have not seen her since she left. But I can feel her, as sure as a storm in my bones."
I picked a rose from the basket, peach with red-tipped petals. "Do you think you'll ever see her again?"
Grandpa smiled. "She carries my soul in her heart. And I hers. We will find each other after this life, or in the next."
I twirled the thorny stem in my fingers. "That's a long time to wait."
"A lifetime is only a heartbeat to wait for true love." He motioned for me to join him by the cliff edge. The wind kicked up, a salty ocean spray lifting my blond hair as I walked to his side. He laid a handful of rose petals in my palm. "Watch."
A breeze snatched the petals and they floated, dancing weightless in the air until they spiraled slowly one by one out to sea.
"Now, close your eyes."
I closed my eyes, barely breathing as the faintest notes of a siren's song drifted over the waves.
"She was my gift," Grandpa whispered, clutching my hand. "My gift from the sea."
Thank you Stacy (AKA @Rowanwolf66) for luring me into writing a piece of flash fiction on the first morning of 2013! The 12 Days badge was designed by artist and writer, Angie Richmond. You can read my recent interview with her here. Rose Petals into the Sea is 288 words. I'd love to hear what you think!
Image credit for the photograph: