Monthly Archives: December 2011

SAFETY & SECURITY FOR WOMEN WHO TRAVEL by Sheila Swan and Peter Laufer

This book is full of useful tips and resources that any traveler might want to know, especially is you are a woman traveling alone. For some reason, common-sense tips are things we need to be reminded of. Like always registering at a hotel under your last name and initial, thus avoiding advertising the fact you are a woman. Like taking the hotel card when you register, so that if you get lost you can get someone to help you find it. Like covering guidebooks with covers made out of local newspapers, making it less obvious you are just passing through.
This book is a veritable gold mine of valuable advice, the sort that you could write on a 3 by 5 and keep with you when traveling. The best recommendation I can make is that my copy is bristling with stickies. Five stars.

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Tips from the Internet: Literary Mags & How to be an Online Critique Geek

Some of the greatest, most prolific authors of all time have found their start in one auspicious and often overlooked way – literary magazines. To get started, pick up the latest edition of the CLMP directory.
To read more of this guest post by Doug Lance, the Editor-in-Chief and Founder of eFiction Magazine, click on this link:

From Writer’s Digest: How to be an online Critique Geek. Do you need more help with your manuscript, but don’t have time to make regular meetings in cafes? Go online. Online forums offer their own unique set of advantages for critiquers. To read more, click on this link:

Have a wonderful week!


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Why do family feuds always seem to happen at this time of year? Xmas 1468.

Why do family feuds always seem to happen at this time of year? I well remember one Christmas, long ago. ‘Twas December 1468. My daughter-in-law (whom I nickname the Serpent), had been married to my son the King for nigh on five years. My second son George, was a charming boy of nineteen. Yet I could not procure a bride for him. My sister Cath, a lady of advanced years, had been obliged to marry the Serpent’s brother John.  That is all you need to know, dear reader, to appreciate the following…



“The Serpent was ensconced by the fire, clad in a magnificent dress of silver and blood-red brocade. In four and a half years of marriage, she’d given Edward two children, both daughters, and now she was heavily pregnant with their third child. Edward sat next to her, and of course her numerous Woodville relatives surrounded them: her father and mother, her six brothers, and her nine sisters with their stolen husbands.
I was forced to sit by the windows, facing them, with Warwick and his family on one side, and George on the other. Icy fingers of air made their way through the casements, chilling my fingers. I placed them in the folds of my new velvet gown.
A flurry of movement caught my eye. One of the Serpent’s sisters, Jacqueline, had wandered over a few feet away and started nibbling at some nuts. She looked like a rabbit with her fine, strong teeth, and as she talked, she continued to nibble.
“How fare you, sweet Johnny?” she said to her brother. Sir John Woodville was a well-made young man of three-and-twenty years.
“I fare well,” he replied evenly.
“How does marriage suit you?” Nibble, nibble.
“She is very kind.”
“She does not excite your passion then?” Nibble, nibble.
John sighed but made no reply.
“Is she not too old for you?” Nibble.
John occupied himself in taking his new kid gloves off. They were dyed black to match his hose and fit perfectly to his shapely hands.
“How have you the patience to bear it? Why, she has no teeth, her breath is foul, and she—”
“Couldn’t you get this marriage annulled?”
Her bell-like voice rang out as silence suddenly filled the room. My gorge rose. I stood.
“Don’t you think you should keep your wicked thoughts to yourself?” I snapped. The nibbling stopped.
The Serpent, her face impassive, rose and faced me. Casually stifling a yawn, she lumbered slowly towards George and held out her hand. “Come, brother. Come, keep me company. You know how to play piquet, no?”
George flushed as he rose and bowed to her. They went to sit near the fireplace with her family.
I went slowly back towards my place near the window, taking care to take a seat that was in earshot of the proceedings.
George tried to be polite, by she goaded him as she always did.
Suddenly, George leapt up, knocking over his chair. “How dare you insult me like this!” He jutted out his lower lip, making him look exactly like a sulky child.
The Serpent smiled sweetly.
I put my finger to my lips, but George ignored me.
“I already have a bride,” he said.
“Sweeting!” she called across the room to Edward. “Were you aware that your dear brother planned to marry?”
Edward rose, his blue eyes blazing. “Who is she?”
George faced him, scowling. “You don’t have any right—”
“Who is she?”
George flicked a look over at me.
I nodded.
“Cousin Bella.”
“What?” roared Edward.
“Why not?”
Edward shushed him with a wave of his hand. “I expressly forbid you,” he said loudly into the dead silence that followed, “to marry your cousin Bella.”
“It’s not right!” exclaimed George. “You block me at every turn. You prevented my marriage to Mary of Burgundy. Now you won’t let me marry Bella. Just because you’ve married a whore yourself doesn’t mean you can prevent me from making a good match.”
Edward went white. “You will apologize,” he said in a voice that cut like a knife.
George glared at him as Warwick went to stand by his side.
Edward put his hand on the Serpent’s shoulder. “You are talking of my wife, your liege lady, and my Queen.”
The Serpent covered his hand with her own and turned to smile up at him. They were a fortress together against the rest of the world. How had I failed in my attempts to pry Edward away from the Serpent?
My belly filling with ice, slowly, I stood.
What happened next is something that I am too ashamed to repeat. You will find it in Volume 4 of my memoirs, titled Two Murders Reaped. And now I must say “farewell”. I hope that your Christmas season is more peaceful than mine was…


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To all those procrastinators out there:

It is 10:29 AM PST as I sit down to write this. Which makes it 1:29 PM EST and 6:29 PM (or 18:29 if you prefer). You have FIVE AND A HALF hours if you live in England, TEN AND A HALF hours is if you live on the East Coast and THIRTEEN AND A HALF hours if you live on the West Coast.

Time to get cracking on getting that all-important-present for your nearest & dearest. If you’re looking for a historical novel that combines a family feud with a love-affair that puts the legitimacy of the current Queen of England into doubt, written by a complete unknown, look no further than THWARTED QUEEN!

Please go to the Navbar, click on “Books” and then click on “Thwarted”.  Or look to the right and click on an image under “Titles Available”.

Or go to my Amazon author page.

If you like reading about Lady Cecylee, please say so on Amazon! Her ladyship will be delighted.

Happy Holidays to Everyone, and my best wishes for a safe, happy & healthy New Year!

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Filed under About Cynthia, News & Notes, Promoting Yourself

A JOURNEY OF ONE’S OWN by Thalia Zepatos

The subtitle of this book is UNCOMMON ADVICE FOR THE INDEPENDENT WOMAN TRAVELER. And this book is exactly that. I don’t know how author Thalia Zepatos does it, but she manages to tuck every conceivable thing you could possibly wish to know, if you are a woman planning to travel alone, into 250 pages. It covers the pros and cons of traveling alone versus traveling with a companion or taking a tour. It talks about creating your own journey, how to find and meet friends in different cultures and what to expect from those cultures. It talks about sexual harassment and how to deal with it. It covers packing and how to make the transition back home.

For the first time in my life, I am leaving the safety net of traveling with my husband, and am setting off by myself into a part of the world known for its machismo and consequent harassment of women travelers. I am so glad I found this book! Five stars.

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Show, not tell. Again.

I don’t know about you, but I find that dictum Show, don’t tell the thorniest piece of advice about writing. It is so hard to get right. Naturally, when I started to write, I did a lot of telling. Then I got the idea that you should put things in scenes. Great! I thought in my naivete. I’ve got that nailed. Then my novel kept getting rejected by agents, but they didn’t have time to tell me why. I took a writing course at the beginning of this year, and found out that tells were ingrown into my prose style like a bad case of kudzu. So I’ve been trying to weed them out. Yesterday, I read a wonderful piece of advice about showing and telling that I hope (maybe) will finally put the whole issue to rest. (For those of you who want to look it up, you will find it in DESCRIPTION AND SETTING by Ron Rozelle, pp. 66-72.) Compare the following:

The city suffered significant damage in the blast.

The smell of death was a little fainter than the day before, but the places where the houses had collapsed into tile-covered heaps stank vilely and were covered with great, black swarms of flies.

The first sentence is clearly a tell, the sort of thing you would read in a newspaper.
The second is far more descriptive, the sort of thing you would find in a novel. Notice that the author of the second piece never tells you that the city suffered significant damage in the blast. He or she conveys this but the use of telling descriptions. Notice that I used the word telling, because (of course) the second piece is full of tells. How could it not be? But the tells pull the reader in because the content of the descriptions are powerful and they have been word-smithed by a careful choice of words.

The takeaway message?

  1. Do not make anything you write come off as a report.
  2. Choose to show more often than you tell.
  3. Remember that you will have to tell sometimes, because your novel is going to be very clunky and long if you don’t have some narrative summary.
  4. When you use tells, draw the reader in by using emotionally powerful descriptions, then seduce them by using beautifully crafted prose.

Image: British Pathe

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ON PERSEPHONE’S ISLAND by Mary Taylor Simeti

I bought this book because I plan to travel to Sicily next spring and am currently reading up on it so that I have as much understanding about this fascinating place as one can gain from an armchair, and also to prepare me for the actual experience of going there.

I was delighted to see that Mary Taylor Simeti had done a travelogue of Sicily, because I remembered her charming tale of Queen Constance and her various travels around Italy that I read some years ago. I was not disappointed in this book. Simeti plans her book around a year, starting with the old New Year that occurred November 1st, with the Feast of the Dead, and gradually working her way around the seasons so that the end of the book finished one year later.

Although she spends much time discussing her garden and her various meanderings around the Sicilian countryside with her family, this book is also a snapshot of life in Sicily during 1982-1983. I was a young woman then, freshly married, and her vivid prose enabled me to go back in time nearly thirty years ago, to re-remember events that I had completely gotten, such as the Italian government’s successful attempts to divert the lava flow of Mount Etna, so that it did not go into populated areas. (They did this using dynamite). But I loved this book because of Simeti’s relentless quest for the shadow of Persephone and the Greek civilization that existed on Sicily so many years ago. Highly recommended. Four stars.

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Monday Tips: Carve out some time to meditate

My tip for this month is to carve out some time to meditate.

“Don’t ask me to make time for one more thing!” you say.

I reply that even I, who am naturally rather lazy, have finally hit upon a perfect way to get some meditation into my crowded day. I do it immediately after getting up. There is something about being half asleep that makes your meditation practice go a whole lot easier.

“But I don’t have time!” you say.

I reply, “Set your clock for 10 minutes, and you will feel much better about starting your busy day. Find a comfortable seat so that you can sit with a straight back. Close you eyes, and breathe deeply. Focus on how you feel. Where are your aches and pains? How do you feel? Focus on breathing gently as you mentally massage those places. If you have any time left over, practice listening deeply to the sounds around you. And set your intention for the day. What do you want to accomplish? You will find that your ten minutes has passed, and now you can begin your day feeling refreshed and focused.”

Do you have a meditation practice that you’d like to share? If so, drop a comment in the comment box.

Have a wonderful week!


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Donald Maass’ WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL is a compendium of advice honed from Maass’ 30 plus years as an agent. This book is designed to help the novelist at any stage of her career write a breakout novel, by which Maass means a novel that gets onto the bestseller lists.

Even though this is a book written by a successful agent, it doesn’t feel like it. It feels like a book written for writers by a writer. Organized into eleven chapters, nine of those chapters are solid advice on craft. And the advice is intelligent and thoughtful. In a random flip through the book, I discovered this gem about the psychology of story telling:

“When an author pitches a great story premise, almost always the first question that spring to my mind (and I will bet to yours, too) is this: Could that really happen? It is an odd question. Fiction is not life. And yet for some reason most readers, me included, need to feel that the story we are being presented has some basis in reality. Why? The answer to that question lies in part in the psychology of storytelling, or rather story receiving. A work of fiction grips our imaginations because we care, both about the characters in the tale and about ourselves. To put it another way, we are concerned about the outcome of the story because what is happening to the characters could happen to us.”

This book is full of such gems. The best endorsement I can give of it is that my copy bristles with post-it flags. If you are a writer, or even an aspiring one, buy this book. Five stars.

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Tips from the Internet: How to create a ROUNDED character, and how to grab your reader’s emotions

Here are a couple of things I found on the internet:


  1. From Terrible Minds:  The most important thing you can do is make your reader FEEL something. To do that you must be
    1. An excellent liar.
    2. Someone who is at least mildly disturbed.
    3. Capable of thinking of profound evils and delirious virtues in equal measure.
    4. Willing to commit acts of overwhelming cruelty to invisible, non-existent people.
    5. Someone who had lots of imaginary friends as a child. And possibly as an adult.

To read more, click on this link:  FYI Chuck Wendig (who runs this site) had good advice, but a somewhat foul-mouthed. So be warned.


From Writer’s Digest: How do you create a well-rounded character? Vary the status of that character from scene to scene. You will find that your character reacts differently, and becomes more interesting in the process. To read more, click on this link:



Do you have any tips you found on the internet you’d like to share? Feel free to drop a comment in the box below.


Have a wonderful week!


Image is taken from

This piece first appeared in the September newsletter. If you would like to read more such tips, or hear about how my progress on THWARTED QUEEN is going, please sign up for the newsletter by clicking on the appropriate link to the right.

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