REDHEADS, My Books Celebrate the 2%

November celebrates a lot of things, elections, Veterans, the pilgrims’ day of thanks (unless history has been dumped), but I just discovered that November’s National Love Your Red Hair Day celebrates redheads. That’s right, everyone with red hair gets good press on the 5th of November, a custom, I am told, started by two redheaded sisters.

Why as an ash blonde would I want to enter in? Why, because they make up 13% of Scots in Scotland, Mary Queen of Scots being a famous Scottish redhead and 10% of folks in Ireland, because I write books, and because the heroes and heroines in my novels often have Scottish or Irish descendants. Nothing says Scottish like red hair and freckles. Another reason is that they won’t go grey, and hence, stay eternally young, the way a good hero or heroine must to entertain centuries of readers. Give my heroine some green or blue eyes and you have a real rarity, because even among redheads, the common eye color is brown. Bees are attracted to them, I have just learned, so maybe I need to write a thriller with a redheaded victim.

Cover for New Release Coming Soon of Stone of Her Destiny

Cover for New Release Coming Soon of Stone of Her Destiny

That and because redheads are said to have increased sensitivity to pain, and you know for certain that an author is going to subject her characters to some pain. We fiction authors are something of sadists in that regard, because unless you squeeze the jar, you don’t know what’s in it. The same gene that produces red hair is linked to the gene connected to pain receptors, meaning they might require more anesthesia for intrusive medical procedures.

And in no small part would I pick a redhead because they don’t have the reputation of blondes as being flaky or “I dunno.” Their reputation is hotheaded, independent. So they make strong contenders for your attention as slightly quirky, an inherent difference which grooms them for adventure in your hemisphere.

Great authors have featured stand-out redheads through the ages. Take A. Conan Doyle in Sherlock Holmes, for example and his detective short story “The Redheaded League,” or Anne in Anne of Green Gables who is revisiting us now from yesteryear, or the Weasleys in the Harry Potter series. Then there’s “Little Orphan Annie” and Pippi Longstocking so popular in Germany that we watched when we lived an extended time there. There’s the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, not to mention Dorothy herself of Oz with her cute little braids. There’s Dana Sculley of X-files, one of my personal favorites and the fictional Madeleine of French extract, and I would be remiss not to mention my granddaughter’s current favorite fictional character, Ariel. Don’t forget our wonderful rag dolls, Raggedy Ann and Andy. Then there’s Faramir in Lord of the Rings, quite nice for a hero. In my adopted genre, Gothic romance, popular British novelist Hugh Seymour Walpole published thirty-six novels, including, Portrait of a Man with Red Hair. It is described as a macabre romance, a Gothic tale by a descendant of the author of The Castle of Otranto.

Not to mention that my aunt across the road was a redhead and, to break into brogue, ‘niver ye saw sich an independent female with firmly defined character parameters.’ My cousin the editorial writer has red hair and lots of his cousins, descendants of one of the Scottish clans which made up a huge portion of the population in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina, emigrating from the 1730’s on into the area. My own people are Scottish descendants as well (http://joriginals.net/books/how-writing-a-gothic-filled-in-my-family-line/) and included many influential leaders in local and state government.

Having red hair makes one more likely to be left handed, statistics say, an evidence of a recessive gene showing up because recessive genes like to come in pairs. On average redheads only have 90,000 strands of hair while blonds have 140,000. However, since red hair comes thicker, their hair looks just as full.

Interesting my Christmas novelette features a dual redheaded pair in A Yuletide Folly Follyhttp://books.joriginals.net/author-books/yuletide-folly/, Sinclair, who returns to her mansion and horse farm in the Pinehurst area for some intense intrigue with her geologist boyfriend and love interest, whose red hair leads him in a decidedly levelheaded direction. We hired two models who fulfilled the cover requirements for this. I’m amazed at the odds on having found them, since they are only 2-3% of the total population at large!
oil-portrait-kenna-at-castle-image-only-websize
Now we have a redheaded heroine in my newest novel, Stone of Her Destiny, by the name of Kenna. I say it takes a redhead to manage her destiny between two worlds, Scotland and the Cape Fear region of North Carolina; with the old world of her ancestry and the modern new world she and her Scottish love must conquer to stay functional. Together they have the combined ancestry which will save the day. This novel is slated for publication before Christmas of this year. I just have a couple more love scenes to incorporate into it, scenes worthy of a redhead, I might add.

Sizzle, sizzle, and still safe.

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SPA MASSAGE: Scene in A Deadly Provenance

An author friend and I were talking about our books one day concerning pivotal scenes. I mentioned the scene in my book, A Deadly Provenance, at an upscale spa in a resort beyond the Munich, Germany, area, where my heroine Lexi got a massage.

“I can’t imagine getting stripped down to your underwear and having someone actually massage you,” my friend said to me during our lunch at the restaurant.

“Oh, it’s not like that,” I said, cutting my schnitzel. “You’re in a dark room, you’re covered with sheets, your head is down in a padded doughnut, there’s relaxed music playing, and there is a protocol which is entirely objective.” Frequently, I’ve fallen asleep and missed the process. However, touch is the magic ingredient, and not everyone is going to like that. For some, it is intrusive, and they would never think of having a massage.

Massages are acknowledged world-wide for their therapeutic results. Spa retreats populate the most exclusive sites in the world; the best vie for world travelers. Some include hot baths. Czechoslovakia was known for its healing mineral waters, even in Communist days. Russians are known for their saunas. Every hotel of any stature at all boasts massage offerings of various sorts; menus exist for low pressure, deep pressure, using the feet, rocks, scents, you name it. I’ve had massages in Europe and various places in the U.S.

updated cover of A Deadly Provenance, set in southern Germany

updated cover of A Deadly Provenance, set in southern Germany

Massages reduce stress and tension, thereby reducing anxiety and wear and tear on muscles. It reduces muscle tension, improves your circulation, stimulates the lymph system, increases your flexibility, skin tone, soft tissue injury recovery, and heightens your mental alertness.

I’m picky about my massage therapist, but I go every month. I had missed at least two appointments, so this one particular one was special. Long-short story, I had hurt all over, feet, knees, shoulders, hands back, legs, side legs. Tight nodules made me almost scream with pain until they released. We talked about what was different, what hurt that hadn’t before, small talk before she left me so I could climb onto the massage table, pull the blanket up around me, the cover all warmed. The first phase was head down into the doughnut. She knocked after an appropriate interval, and I called out, “Ready.”

I explained all this to my author friend about my anticipation of that last massage I had had, and why this was so important, what made the massage in Germany of my heroine Lexi that I wrote about in my Gothic romance novel, A Deadly Provenance (books.joriginals.net/) so important. It had been a pivotal moment in my character’s life. I re-entered that fictional moment in time and began to relive it. It was every bit as real to me as a piece of history, which from comments made to me at readings, it seems that if you are like most people, you will find strange.

“I’m tracking,” my author friend said. “Lexi was touch-deprived.”

Lexi, my heroine, I explained, was in limbo in a bad marriage, a marriage where the partners were separate and unattached, where Lexi had been dumped. She was not valued over other women by her husband who had ongoing affairs. There was no physical component to their marriage. Touch was nonexistent. Lexi, I expanded on the story, had been left alone by the skiers gathering to plunge and ascend mountains, and had decided to avail herself of a long, deep-tissue massage at the luxury spa in the ski and conference resort located at Castle Enzian. Her husband had left with the party from the NC Embassy group which included the woman she suspected him of seeing. See http://books.joriginals.net/author-books/a-deadly-provenance/

This made the massage experience, I think, a profoundly human one. Touch sparks creativity, as well as connectivity. It is not that much different from a hairdresser who massages your scalp and washes your hair. Not that different from a pedicure or a manicure in a whirlpool of water and having the feet softened and prepared for a pretty finish. Professional, caring, but not personal.

And that was how Lexi enjoyed the experience in the spa in the castle, Castle Enzian. It started with herbs and lotions and scents calculated to expunge tiredness and poisonous worries that had invaded her body. It pushed away the sense of loneliness and being lost and rejoined her to that core part of herself that was able to appreciate the scents of herbs, of tactile muscle work, of having clenched muscle which the week had overtaxed, tightened, and locked up, released again.

It joined her soul to her body once again, rejuvenated her. Why, she felt beautiful once more. She felt less, well, rejected. Which made it a turning point for her in the book.

So you see, you can come along with me into Lexi’s world in this book, a book at once more exotic than your own, maybe even more real, but still as nitty-gritty as yours. Because Lexi is propelled by external realities and some internal ones into a cauldron of events which exercised her to go beyond the everyday…which forced her to extremes you may never have to face…and which bring her to decisions you may only want to contemplate and muse on. Or you may decide would be good for you to try as well.

Lexi has had to move away from her home town and her close circle of friends to a consulate in a foreign country where she must learn a new language, put her son into a foreign school, and endure the outrage of desertion by her childhood sweetheart and her husband. She must try something new, only perhaps to have the same thing happen all over again, with no way out.

From one experience to another one like the moment of truth from a massage, from dungeon to attic, around hairpin curves, to international art circles and political charities, from Nazi leftover villains to a family priest, from home to–well, that’s where I’ll stop. In conclusion, I will just say that the significance of her faith changes, her relationships undergo change, and she may turn into another version of herself, stronger and bolder, in this contemporary version of an old-time classic genre, the Gothic romance novel–or she may fold. And while a massage is only a passing event, it can be a pivotal one in a woman’s life. Without overplaying it at all.

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LADY AT CASTLE OIL PAINTING

Heroine of My Novel Is Real-Life Model

Now this painting has story written all over it, starting with the last person who asked me about the novel I was writing and asked me, “Are you doing the cover for it?” To which I responded that I needed a professional in book covers for that. However, that’s when I was introduced to a real, live cover artist who painted the dreamiest romance covers I had ever seen. I was painting on my Lady and the Falcon, or Self-Portrait with a Falconrsz_self-portrait_with_falcon_2016_redo web., so I decided to try my hand at making my current painting look like the cover for a book, and based on my success or not with that, I might try it. I studied my social media friend’s work and extracted some good pointers. They were not copycat observations, but they were stylistic touches which pulled the eye always toward the center.

So, I am in the middle of a sea-change. I am creating a series look, usually involving a castle or stately home. My books, being Gothic in nature, have a whole different suspense look than romances. Still, all the questions emerge, face or figure, woman or couple, closeup or far back…things the genre more or less dictates. I have had good cover artists, all of whom deal with clip-art art. They prefer it, since they are able to pick and give the twist they prefer to it. I set my sights on original cover art from the beginning, but thought I would have to get rich first. I mean I love Agatha Christie, and I devour her books, but I do not necessarily love her cover art. So I preferred it from at least three different angles–originality or custom work which no one else would see on anybody else’s book like they do the clip-art covers, the mood and ability to have an original painting connected to the book for different branding and advertising purposes, plus the excitement of staging a model and setting. I will just add to that, the excitement of pushing my vision with words as well as images.

One of my books, A Deadly Provenance, is the result of a photo shoot with a model from a photographer-artist friend who sold me her copyright. I had to override one of my cover artist’s opinions to use it, but it is my and many others absolute favorites so far. I hope that means it was a good market choice. Dark, fearful, an exotic setting–the setting itself is considered a character in Gothics, so it should be about right.

Meanwhile, my work with oils increased and one of my paintings landed in a large show, Woman Painters of the Southeast (WPSE),

Portrait of Colby

Colby in the Morning

so now I had two goals to fulfill simultaneously. It had to be original as well, so I had to take pictures as well as the photographers who were helping me by setting up and showing me theirs. So now I was in to choosing the model, helping set up the scene, choosing the setting, and finally, making sure the pose, composition, and model were all mine. So the painting for my novel and forthcoming book, Stone of Her Destiny, has been proceeding for quite some time with a beautiful Scottish redhead who I almost rejected the first time through due to the prevailing model look not being in line with my expectations for a Scottish lass.

Combining her with a castle appropriate to the story from my photographs from our trip to Scotland was the next order of the day. Giving her my ancestry was another. Then I added layer after layer of oil paints to drench the colors, recede the time of day to sunset, incorporate the Stone of Destiny, Scotland and earlier Ireland’s coronation stone, another. Expanding the Paul Green amphitheater in Chapel Hill to a full blown castle and grounds setting was another. Then came the colors, ramped up and running gold plus orange.

The day of the photo shoot was wonderful and started with a trip to the drugstore for fake eyelashes, full hair salon visit to make the model’s hair very curly, and try-on of several dresses from the wardrobe of the photographer who does this sort of thing all the time for her art photography. We finally agreed on a beautiful teal green dress with wonderful blue undercurrents that set off her red hair picture book fashion. I thought I would re-work the dress, but it’s simplicity actually added to the beauty, and the accidental split in the dress gave rise to the provocative bit of underpants showing. I love it because it is not deliberately provocative, but just an unguarded moment, a look which to me is classier than the all-out frontoil-portrait-kenna-at-castle-image-only-websizeal attack.

I loved doing the jewelry and working up to just enough accent to complete the impression. It’s so easy to ruin a face by just a little too much, so I have had to add slowly. I have shared it in stages and been told how much people loved the expression on her face.

All of these changes to the composite picture are both realistic and atmospheric, lending a whole different look and feel in the almost finished work   from the absolutely dazzling covers my mentor produces, a result which pleases me even more. This way, the end result is a piece of artwork peculiar to me, indicative of my style of realism, one I want and have some degree of say-so in, one which I am hoping anchors the story in the readers’ minds.

Kenna’s Castle: Cover of Stone of Her Destiny Coming Soon

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PLOTTING HOW-TO’S BASED ON HORROR & NURSERY RHYMES

Pt. I, Build Suspense White-Hot Intense  I’M ON THE FIRST STEP, I WANT MY–!

Finishing Dean Koontz’s book, Deeply Odd, was a roller coaster read, or a hide-under-the covers read, if you will. Couple that with a phone call from a friend the following morning saying she woke in the night face to face with a hairy black spider she brushed frantically away, and you have awakened some nerve endings. Seeing no black spider carcass increased her teror. How scary is that, she said. Then she couldn’t sleep, because the very thought of a missing spider struck fear into her heart. Her terror transferred to me. Image and Possibility were enough to pump my adrenalin, even though I hadn’t seen the spider. It could happen to me; maybe it was meant as a warning. I looked at my pillow, lifted it, and looked behind the bed.

The two events conjoined to reveal and deliver writing craft strategy, whole. How did it do that, you ask. Wait, wait, don’t be impatient. I promise I will deliver the secret, but before that’s done, I must divulge the name of the very best book explaining how to write a novel I ever read and followed: The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray. Many years later, a book on writing craft better than all others popped up on my electronic device, which completed my education on the secret to writing that I am sharing with you. This book was not just about suspense, but–. TMI, too soon. Now that four balls are circling in the air, hang on. I will explain what the first two events share in common.

One mystery writer actually announced in public at a reading that she hated suspense. I hate she confessed, because that was her sterling lack, imho, lack of suspense. Progression through her books just kind of happened in a flat, plodding way, and the mysteries unraveled in the heroine’s hands as she followed clues in her lackluster style. Dull. I still fervently believe that the driving force in any novel, writing, or even poetry, is suspense. What else makes you turn a page, than good, strong suspense? You must know what happened. Did the heroine get out of that burning car? Was she all right, afterward? Who killed M, and why? Is he still around? Am I in danger? What made him do that? Burning questions have to be answered. As for my friend, did she call for an exterminator? Did she change all the sheets? These cascading questions signify the investment of personal involvement.

So, let’s break those examples down. Dean Koonz’s craft in creating suspense is exactly the same that my friend gave me in her call. Koonz and my friend painted a picture with words that lingered, an image that threatened or portended threat. They said, ‘something’s coming.’ Now Dean Koonz is a master of suspense and I embarked on a path of discovery by reading his novels. My friend, unwittingly, created the perfect picture of horror or suspense: a lost black spider near your head. So I have a picture and a process. Don’t worry, I’m going into further detail about both, right now. I promise. A believable person, innocently proceeding with life, encounters the unbelievable or is being set up for a horrible experience–we are brought in on the experience all at once, like my friend, or a little bit at a time, like the novel.

At first the two events, finishing Koonz and my friend’s black spider, seen in tandem, presented only a puzzle. Dean Koonz and a spider. The novel wasn’t about one, but that’s not to say he hasn’t written a novel involving a spider. Then the reason for my blinding light experience became clear. I remembered specifically searching writing craft books for how to develop plot which I later interpreted as suspense. I read and read. None of the how-to’s proved helpful. They outlined what to do with the plot you already had, but they did not tell how to create suspense from nothing. Frustrated, I began an intense internet search on how to plot. This migrated to suspense building. None delivered answers that created excitement. I stepped up my wordplay. These answers lacked the oomph, tightness, and intensity I wanted. (I talk to myself, did I tell you?) So, when my right brain supplied the word ‘intensity’–the master key emerged. Intense. I looked up the word. “Intense–occurring or existing in a high degree; very strong; violent, excessive, or vivid; as, an intense light.”

Intense meant stretched to the max, strenuous, urgent, fervent. Intense meant strong emotion and firm purpose. All right, I needed a craft book that taught me how to make my writing intense and all those other adjectives. No craft writing book turned up one specifically. Instead, all over the internet popped up Dean Koonz’s book entitled, “Intensity.” That settled it. I had to have it. If a writer of Koonz’s stature had written a book entitled “Intensity,” I bet it was intense. I could learn from the master. I bought his book, read it, my tongue hanging out the whole way. This began my love of his work. That, and one more feature of his books I won’t reveal until later. If at all.

Yes, if you dared name a book Intensity, you had to stand by it. Intense, it was. Suspenseful, it was. And would you believe, it taught me all the things I needed to know about how to build suspense, step by step. Upon writing this article about the process, I began to remember telling ghost stories at camp and striking terror into my friends’ hearts. One saw terror in their widened eyes, constricted lips, their white, gripped knuckles. One hid under her sheets. One ran out the door. I was good at making my friends’ mamas mad, but there’s a downside to everything.

You’ve heard the old adage about the ticking clock, I’ll bet. If you want to move a book along, create a deadline, increase the pace. Have your characters running against the clock. So as a writer, you think, increase the pace. Suspense is all about the ticking bomb, tight deadlines, and racing cars. It’s a Schwarzeneger movie or a Dan Brown thriller with cars racing up the Vatican steps.

All right, we now have the principles. First—start with somebody you can empathize with, and second, relate something terrible that just happened, or better still, is about to happen, or better even than that, both has and will. The third thing, then is to increase the pace, right? Wrong.

Instead, the third thing to do is the opposite of speeding up. It’s, Slow Down. Slow down? Surely that old brain has tricked me again. Everyone will laugh me to the curb and back. Slow down. Then the flashback picture of camp days and the scary story I told and embellished, the one about the former occupant of our room who had bitterly fought a friend, got so mad that he cut off his toe, and the man died of gangrene, so now he haunts the former friend’s descendants or anyone who enters his room, returned to mind. “I’m on the first step, I want my toe.”

And immediately you return to those days in a flimsy cabin, the night black around you, ADeadlyProvenance_FinalDraft5 (1)and there you lie in the dark without a weapon, sweating, crickets and frogs creaking, and you imagine a disembodied spirit walking up from the swamp, wanting his toe. Maybe you lie in the antebellum house of your childhood that actually claims ghosts as inhabitants, where there are more steps for him to climb, and the slow creak of stealthy pressure on old wood rubs every nerve raw. The same story works with a tweak here and there. Worse still, you have to go to the bathroom which is outside the cabin in the dark, where the Thing is lurking. Or it’s all the way down the hall in the antebellum house, and you have to go past those stairs.

You lie there, waiting for the next floor board to creak, for the whisper, for the scratch against the window. You  slide further under covers. “I’m on the 6th step, I want my toe,” the storyteller goes. Oh, God. Wait. How did I miss hearing the second, third, fourth, and fifth step? Was I not listening? Did he skip the warning? Is he playing tricks on us? No he’s not consistent; he’s not fair. Oh God. And then you remembered the back story, how the person who stayed in the room you were in died, but maybe he didn’t, really. Maybe he lived and turned psycho, went to a madhouse somewhere, and now, he’s escaped and visiting you. Don’t those people sometimes take to the countryside and find their way back to the one thing they obsessed on? “I’m on the seventh step, I want my toe,” the storyteller says, his voice grating menacingly, a sharp creak emanating from the stairs again, and you scream. Was that a laugh you heard?

See how I’ve caught you? Not by speeding up, but by

steadily, eerily

creepily

slowing

so you can hear the sweat drop

listening, ears keened  to the silence

the silence pregnant with evil

wavery red like eyes

malevolent forces

gain on you

through no fault of your own–

a door slams–

you jerk–

is it the  wind?

an accomplice?

you leap up

move deliberately to the door

to the hallway

that hides another door  you know is there  but he doesn’t

where you are either safe

or a sitting target

while menace

crazy evil

irrational motives near you–

you hear a slurp

a pant

an “8th step–I want my toe”  and

you, nearly crazy with fear—

Ohmigosh, I have reached my article limit, and fear I will have to make you wait for installment two in the series, I’m on the Second Step, I Want My– ! From Intense to Suspense and then, Victory. You can’t be upset with me. I gave you what I promised so far, didn’t I? And with it, the fourth principle, which is to interrupt the anticipation yet again and again, making you more and more demanding and needing an answer. Withhold information, always withhold something crucial. Don’t blab it all out! Now, just pretend you’ve laid the book down on the table because an important stranger has knocked on your door, and you must find out what he wants. Do come back, however—oh, and don’t unlock your door for the stranger, even if he must use the bathroom or the phone, or God knows what. Even if your husband is there with you. Remember, I warned you. Don’t. And by the way, building suspense this way works in any genre. The fear principle just hypes up the romance, or whatever. You want to know what I know, don’t you? I hope I’ve done this in my book, A Deadly Provenance (http://www.amazon.com/A-Deadly-Provenance-ebook/dp/B00D4ANOZQ/ref=sr_1_fkmr2_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1370089422&sr=1-1-fkmr2&keywords=books+by+Joanna+McKethan). Read it and tell me, will you? And look for Installment Number Two on Plotting. Coming Soon.

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ART TO DIE FOR

A Deadly Provenance

Just how important is art?

Would you die for a piece of art? This was what a very select group of men fighting in the military were asked. Their answer to this question put them into the team, or barred them from it. The willingness to die for art determined the group of seven men commissioned by the Allies in World War II.

This thesis forms the guts of the box office movie hit, “The Monuments Men,” that my husband and I just saw. This movie boasted top actors George Clooney, Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett, Jean Dujardin, and Bill Murray. Based on the raw truths of history of one of its greatest treasure hunts, the film is an action drama focusing on an unlikely World War II platoon and an unlikely task offered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Their mission was to enter Germany to rescue art masterpieces from Nazi thieves and return them to their rightful owners.

I don’t know about you, but we are suckers for movies with Nazi themes. I had already done miles of research about stolen Nazi art for my gothic romance novel, A Deadly Provenance. I knew about stolen art. What I hadn’t remembered was how Nazis burnt and destroyed fantastic art in the name of censorship.

Within the time frame of this novel, 1973-1977 in the Cold War span of time, where had all the Nazis gone? Thirty years after WWII ended we might have thought they all died out or received enlightenment. Not only were they not dead, but that they survived and landed in high places of influence in Germany is a major premise of my fiction work, A Deadly Provenance. American Southerner Lexi and ethnic German hero Jon (German/Russian) know this from page one of my gripper-romance. Nazis brought secrets to stay open secrets between the newly married partners, a fact which festered and threatened their marriage and their lives.

Cultured savages, you could call these Nazis. Their idea might be closer to Nietzsche’s Uebermensch, portrayed excellently in the movie, “The Monuments’ Men.” Superior people for whom morals are weaknesses are capable of anything, and Lexi and Jon had something they wanted. Their castle was also a great place to keep current caches hidden. And whatever Jon and Lexi own is also up for grabs, as it could well increase the treasure base of the Nazi movement internationally, but Lexi and Jon will keep them from that at all costs. Or die trying.

This book is about the danger of acquired wealth. It is about belonging in a world of foreigners, trusting yourself when everyone has let you down. It is about maneuvering skillfully in unfamiliar territory. It is a saga of finding hidden treasure that catapults you into a world of intrigue. It is about priceless antiques that could be relics and could activate church and government empires, not to mention every crime syndicate in the world. It is about learning that death is not a far-fetched thought at all.

And it is about love.

It is about a past so debilitating that in its aftermath, relationships do not thrive, and barely survive. From Germany’s hills to snow peaks of Austria, Lexi and Jon ski in and out of love. She concludes that she must save herself.

Schloss Enzian, high above the quaint town of Allmannshausen, forms the fictional home for this contemporary novel in the classic Gothic style. It features an isolated setting and heroine Alexandra (Lexi) stalked by ghosts and enemies. Enemies multiply as evil tries to envelope her. Spiraling forces peak to overcome her. Lexi and Jon together uncover inherited art and literary mysteries of a millennium and more, and this draws international plots and spies into the maelstrom. In the style of Rebecca of Daphne du Maurier fame, wedded bliss turns to estrangement. This happens after the hero escorts his new wife to his castle nest of family intrigue. The marriage flounders and the hero Johann (Jon)’s motives and character turn questionable to Lexi. The relationship winds in and out of trust. Her need should unite them, but turns into a wedge instead.

A blessed object newly found—a cross—turns into a harbinger of death. Handicapped, Lexi’s vision for helping abused women emerges as a passion expressed through her art. Achieving international acclaim as a sculptress, she lends support to an art show that benefits abused women. Together with her friend the Baroness, the pair are car-chasing, Nazi-facing women who channel fear into creative action. She searches out the provenance of an ancient manuscript and the ornate cross from her mother-in-law’s Russian past. Lexi rises from one difficulty slung at her to another. Finally she, with the cross Jon gave her impulsively, maneuvers to a surprising end.

Jon rises to the occasion as well and slays a few demons. Concluding that circumstances are not friends after it is almost too late, they agree that only commitment slays the demons of abandonment and betrayal. Lexi and Jon eventually confess that the real killers are threats to individual choice, faith, and yes, to  culture and art. They elevate the expression of art to a necessity for a free and unbought soul. They realize they must divest themselves of treasures that can turn into weighty baggage.

Will they live happily ever after? That is the question, for sure…..

_____

A Deadly Provenance draws on NC author’s international experience for her novel. In her past, she and her husband worked with a group helping indigenous peoples in Soviet Russia and the Iron Curtain countries that were oppressed. From nine years of residency in Germany, traveling back and forth to the USSR and Soviet-bloc countries, she tapped into their knowledge base of life abroad and their experience of danger at every hand to write her novel. She lives with her husband Sandy on the Cape Fear River, and their grown children and grandchildren live not far away.

 

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How Writing a Gothic Filled in My Family Line

Stone of Her Destiny Coming Soon

Last year, 2012-13, was my first year as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) in the Dunn chapter which meets at Triangle Enterprise South. I came in on my grandmother’s DAR number, and one of my three Scottish lines of ancestry, due to the prompting of my husband’s cousin.

My husband’s cousin first asked me to consider DAR membership in Fayetteville.

That got the ball rolling for me, and now I look forward this fall to continuing to meet other ladies interested in their heritage. Loving your lineage is something I haven’t always appreciated, in spite of living in Averasboro, on the extension of a Civil War battleground, and in spite of descending from seven generations of Scots all the way back to the sister of the first one who entered our area arriving on the boat, The Thistle, in 1736 on the Cape Fear River. These Scots are buried just miles from me, trailing up the land I live on that was owned for seven generations, one past the original land grant.

My uncle, now deceased, was a skilled genealogist who along with another cousin researched our ancestry in Scotland beyond our borders.

My cousin has taken on the history and genealogy of the area and our family.

Grandmother used to recount who was kin to me from 2nd to 32nd cousins.

Lebanon, an antebellum plantation, figures in my current work in progress, the novel Stone of Her Destiny.

When I had the idea of writing a novel set both in Scotland and right here in the U.S.A, I began researching Scottish connections, and suddenly the excitement built, and the picture changed. Nor was it just one thing that accomplished this transformation of mind.

Historical research contributed. I discovered that the Scottish settlement that started near me was among the densest and most important settlements of Scots in America, so the sheer political power and influence of these people who were my own people was immense. One thing that impressed me was the sheer volume of Scottish settlers in the area. I had had an inkling of this earlier, since I knew innumerable “Mc’s,” but never realized the full extent of it. It stretched from Wilmington to Dunn to Fayetteville to Bladenboro and beyond.

Impressive as that was, the next revelation mattered even more to me personally: the land I lived on was the same Scottish settlement that began in 1736 when Colonel Alexander McAlester arrived in North Carolina. And similar tracts of Scottish settlers quilted together from Old Bluff Presbyterian Church cemetery near Wade all the way down to our own piece of property and beyond, property that changed hands only at death and then, to heirs.

The antebellum house my mother was first in line for as the oldest she did not inherit, was a wedding gift of Ferry John Smith and Elizabeth Smith to son Farquhard Campbell Smith and his wife Sally (Sarah Grady) in 1824.

My mother and my father had a go at saving Lebanon

Looking forward to the finished novel, the projected title is Stone of Her Destiny, Kenna, the heroine will have a fictionalized version of my own lineage which takes her to Tarbert and Campbelltown, where her forebears lived and emigrated from in Scotland. It is there that the fictional heroine, Kenna, meets and falls in love with her kilt-wearing Scottish hero, Lane, who she realizes is kin to her. She sets up in a money-losing castle and begins life amongst ghosts and other people’s connections.

Then she travels back to the U.S. and the author’s lineage for half years for relief, a relief that does not come. At Lebanon, her safe home base, she meets more ghosts from the plantation’s past depression years, and—you guessed it—international intrigue which involves her, Lane, Lebanon, Bluff Presbyterian Church, and the Cape Fear River.

All that historical research actually established lineage here and abroad to the degree  that the preposterous plot my fevered brain designed could actually have happened…well, given the other things that come into play in the novel.

I began wearing out the highway to Old Bluff Cemetery, taking photographs of all the tombstones of kin, immersing myself in the history and connections of the area. I knew all the ones who were “kin,” but at that point, I did not know the exact ones who were ‘begets.’ So I traveled from site to site, gleaning information and gathering together as many expert books as I could find.

I consulted a copy of the now out-of-print McAlester book in four parts, one of the four being my direct ancestor’s tracings. On the Fayetteville/Cumberland County site, I pulled up “Descendants of Farquhard Campbell,” and began lifting out only my own direct line and putting them on separate lines.

Suddenly my line linked all the way to the first ship to come over from Scotland. My family descended from the sister of Colonel Alexander McAlester, Isabel McAlester, who married Farquhard Campbell and was his first wife….the link clicked exactly for seven generations and was suddenly complete.

Once the link to my forebears’ past was acknowledged, the Scottish excitement began. Then my husband and I traveled to Scotland in October of 2011 and re-traced as much of our ancestors’ paths as we could document, traveling from Tarbert to Campbelltown, where they set sail.

My husband’s forebears descended from Colonel Alexander McAlester, making us distant cousins on the family tree—an interesting aside. His home place and plantation is just up the same highway from us.

Now those we traced were McAlesters. But let’s have a go at Campbells. And oh, I didn’t mention it, but my DAR connection is not based on the line I completed for the book at all. My grandmother belonged to the DAR’s based on the ‘patriot,’ William Cromartie. Add to that Smith, there may even be a fourth strain. I am pretty certain our Smith forebears are English, but I understand there are Smith Scots, as well, and the overseas connections of this line have not been authenticated as of this writing.

My list passed the unerring critical (the definition here is ‘discerning’) eye of my cousin who is the “laird’ at Lebanon Plantation who looked at my notes and confirmed every single one. Being a Smith, he had been following that line more exclusively and not the McAlester-Campbell connection.

How much does this figure in the book Stone of Her Destiny?

Actually, quite heavily, but I’m not giving any spoiler alert, except that, like all gothic novels, the Scottish castle is dark, the Plantation is dark, ghosts or things that go bump in the night abound, the hero loves the heroine madly, but there is always some question about him.

The heroine is chased from dungeon to parapet, from cemetery to attic, from country to country before she can finally breathe one sigh of relief, and dare we say or hope for it? Live happily ever after.

I am writing madly away at this book, and it is projected as a 95,000-word novel.

Research is one of the more fun aspects of writing a novel, and if even a small percentage of what I read and absorb weaves into my book, I will be happy. My novels are mainstream contemporary gothic romance novels—to string a lot of buzz words together that form the book’s appeal. I hope they string you along as well.

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