Friday, April 29, 2016

#London Visit ~ Churchill War Rooms + #LondonEye #ChurchillWarRooms

A view of Buckingham Palace from
St. James's Park in London
As a writer, I obviously love to write, so I'm chronicling our recent trip to London here on my blog. Days 1 and 2 included attending a Chelsea v. Manchester City Football (soccer) match and a day trip to Stonehenge--that post can be found here.  On our third day, we began with a long and scenic walk through Green Park and St. James's Park to visit the London Dungeon. Not to be confused with actual dungeons in the London Tower, this exhibit is a tourist attraction highlighting some of the darker history of London (the plague, Jack the Ripper, Guy Fawkes, etc.).  I'm a big fan of spooky stuff, and of rides, which were part of this attraction.  It was fun take on history and interactive, with enthusiastic actors. However, my kids had a little trouble understanding some of the thicker accents.  They did enjoy when I got selected to get my tongue ripped out (I hid in a room and got to scream, until I couldn't anymore, because, you more tongue).

Somehow my photo of the London Eye even
appears spooky, but I didn't use a filter or
change the was just a gray day!
From there we rode the London Eye, a giant Ferris wheel above the Thames River.  We were able to see the city spread out before us from a maximum height to 443 feet.  There are 32 viewing capsules on the wheel, one for each of the London Boroughs.  After lunch, we made our way back toward Mayfair via Hyde Park, and then visited The Churchill War Rooms.  This was an absolute must-see--so much so that I neglected to take any pictures!  I was that enthralled with literally being inside an underground time capsule from WWII. This compound beneath the Treasury building in Westminster was created as the threat of war in Europe loomed, and finished only days before the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939.  Britain declared war on Germany two days later.  When Winston Churchill became Prime Minister in 1940, he decided he would direct the war from the Cabinet Room down there.  That room and the Map Room were key sites in the structure that housed an entire community for years.  It's truly incredible to picture all the leaders and staff involved in a war effort living together under the city, working under the threat of a direct bomb hit, communicating with the most advanced technology of the times with other world leaders.  And this museum does make it possible for visitors to picture this period in history.  In addition, there is a wing devoted to Winston Churchill's life.

A day well spent!  Next up is our adventure in Paris, including the Catacombs!  Thanks for stopping by.

Parliament from atop the London Eye

Friday, April 22, 2016

#London Visit ~ #Soccer + #Stonehenge #cfc

Chelsea v. Man City
We’ve just returned from a whirlwind six day vacation in London, with a few day trips from our home base to see as much as possible!  Part of the reason we scheduled the trip when we did was to get our oldest son to a Chelsea Football game, since he’s a huge fan, and there was a big match aligning with our school break.  Because it was a big rivalry (Chelsea vs. Manchester City), we found out quickly that tickets were hard to come by—and expensive—but my husband’s business partners who are based in London came to the rescue, finding (and paying for!) four tickets.  The game was on our first day there, and we took our first Uber ride to the stadium, had our first restaurant meal in London, and shopped at the Chelsea mega-store before the match.  Unfortunately, Chelsea suffered a loss (0-3), but we had a great time just being there.  One major difference we noticed was that eating and drinking in the stands was not allowed…that’s a big part of American sports events, and vendors usually climb up and down the stairs with offerings.  But it did make the game more enjoyable from the standpoint that there’s a lot less interruption in terms of spectators leaving and returning to their seats.

We had a beautiful day
The next day, we took a bus trip to Wiltshire, to see the famous Stonehenge monument.  It was great to view some of the countryside on the trip there, and Stonehenge was amazing.  Just trying to wrap my mind around the idea that it was constructed 5,000 years ago was difficult…it’s hard to imagine how the ancient builders were able to transport, shape, and lift such massive stones.  But the paranormal suspense writer in me was even more fascinated by the myths and mysteries surrounding the stone circle.  Sections of the layout correspond to the sunset of the winter solstice as well as the sunrise of the summer solstice.  Excavated bones indicate the site has been used for burials.  But exactly who built it and why is up for debate.  Was the site’s initial purpose religious, astronomical, spiritual, or possibly a combination?  Or something entirely different?

I caught this bird taking flight - love this shot

Now, it’s a protected monument, and while at one time visitors were allowed to walk near and even climb on the stones, erosion and graffiti issues eventually led to a low fence being erected.  Every part of me wanted to jump over and touch a stone to see if anything happened, but then if I’d suddenly been transported back in time, Outlander-style (although those were standing stones in Scotland), I would have missed the rest of my vacation with my family, and we saw some amazing things.  The rest of the week included visits to the London Eye, the London Dungeon, The Churchill War Rooms, TheCatacombs and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and the London Tower.  More posts coming on our adventures across the pond!  

It's incredible to think this was built around 3000 - 2000 BC!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Game of Thrones Characters A-Z #AtoZChallenge #GoT #GameofThrones

Game of Thrones is coming back!  To say I’m excited is an understatement.  This series of books has long been a favorite, and watching the show has become a treasured family event in a stage where convincing two teenage boys to spend time with me can be difficult.  A few years ago, I did a GoT version of “TheA-Z Blog Challenge”, something many authors participate in during the month of April.  The idea is to post a new topic every day, using the alphabet for inspiration, but instead, I made one big post highlighting one GoT character for each letter of the alphabet. It has been so popular, I decided to do it again with a new list.  I tried to find characters included in both the books and the show if possible, and if you’ve watched the show up to the latest season, you won’t find any spoilers.

A is for: Aerys II, the last Targaryen to rule the Seven Kingdoms.  He became known as the Mad King after grief and imprisonment contributed to his downward spiral of cruelty and paranoia.  When his eldest surviving son, Rhaegar, allegedly kidnapped Lyanna Stark, the eldest Stark brother, Brandon, rode to King’s Landing.  Aerys arrested Brandon for threats against the crown, and executed both Brandon and his father, Lord Rickard Stark, in a horrific manner.  When he then demanded the heads of Eddard (Ned) Stark and Robert Baratheon, Lyanna’s fiancĂ©, the war known as Robert’s Rebellion began.  Aerys was killed by Jaime Lannister, a member of his own Kingsguard.

B is for: Balon Greyjoy, the Lord of the Iron Islands.  Shortly after Robert’s Rebellion and ascension to the throne, Balon declared Greyjoy’s Rebellion, seeking the title of King of the Iron Islands.  The revolt failed, and Balon was forced to send his only surviving son, Theon, to live as a ward of the Starks.

C is for: Catelyn Stark, wife of Eddard (Ned) Stark.  Cat grew up a Tully at Riverrun, where Petyr Baelish lived as her father’s ward.  She was betrothed to Brandon Stark but was later married to Ned when Brandon was executed.

Michael Huisman as Daario Naharas
on HBO's Game of Thrones
D is for: Daario Naharas, one of the captains of the Stormcrows, a mercenary company hired to defend Yunkai from Daenerys’ invading army.  When Daario meets Daenerys, she invites him to switch allegiance, and after killing the other captains, he brings the Stormcrows to her side.  Eventually they become lovers.

E is for: Ellaria Sand, a paramour of Prince Oberyn Martell of Dorne.  She is the father of several of his illegitimate daughters, a group known as the Sand Snakes

F is for: Free Folk, the term those who live north of (or “beyond”) the wall use to describe themselves, because they do not recognize the authority of a royal king.  Those in the Seven Kingdoms refer to the Free Folk as Wildlings because of their more primitive lifestyle.

G is for: Gilly, one of women held at Craster’s Keep.  Craster, a Wildling who married his daughters and granddaughters, sacrificed all his male babies to the White Walkers (The “Others”).  When the Night’s Watch sheltered at the Keep, Gilly begged one of the brothers, Samwell Tarly, to help her escape in order to protect her male child.

H is for: High Sparrow, the name taken by the current High Septon, or head, of The Faith of the Seven, the religion followed by the majority of the Westeros (the exceptions being the north and the Iron Islands).  The term “new gods” refers to the “Seven Who Are One” worshiped in The Faith: Father, Mother, Warrior, Maiden, Smith, Crone, Stranger.

I is for: Ilyn Payne, whose tongue was removed with hot pincers by the Mad King when he repeated a rumor that Tywin Lannister, the King’s Hand at the time, was really running the Seven Kingdoms.  He was later named the King’s Justice, or the royal executioner, under King Robert Baratheon.

J is for: Jaqen H’ghar, one of the Faceless Men who worship a god of death known as the Many-Faced God.  He was imprisoned in a cage on a trip north to join the Night’s Watch, and when Arya Stark saved his life, he gave her a coin and a phrase to give to any man of Braavos should she need help in the future.

K is for: King Tommen, the young, newly crowned ruler who became king when King Joffrey was poisoned at his own wedding.  While Tommen inherited the Iron Throne through his Baratheon name, his claim is disputed since he appears to be the son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister and thus both illegitimate and the child of an incestuous relationship.  He married Margaery Tyrell, the bride of his deceased brother.

Dean-Charles Chapman and Natalie Dormer as King Tommen
and Queen Margaery on HBO's Game of Thrones

L is for: Loras Tyrell, the Knight of the Flowers and Queen Margaery’s brother.  He is a handsome and skilled knight and the former lover of Renly Baratheon, one of the three claimants of the Iron Throne during the War of the Five Kings.  The two other “kings” involved were the leaders of separatist groups, Robb Stark as the King of the North and Balon Greyjoy as the King of the Iron Islands.

M is for: Missandei, a handmaid and confidant of Daenerys Targaryen.  Originally from Naath, or the Isle of Butterflies in the Summer Sea, she was captured and sold into slavery in Astapor.  She serves as a translator when Daenerys buys the Unsullied, and is then offered employment once Daenerys sets all the slaves free.

N is for: Nissa Nissa, the wife of the hero Azor Ahai in legends.  According to followers of R’hollor (the Red God, the Lord of Light), Azor Ahai was chosen to fight the darkness blanketing the world, and in order to create the sword he needed, he sacrificed his wife Nissa Nissa, driving the blade through her heart so her soul melded with the steel.  Followers of R’hollor believe Azor Ahai will return to stand against the Others.

O is for: Osha, a wildling woman captured by the Starks during an assault on young Bran.  Although forced into servitude in exchange for her life, she formed a strong bond with the Stark children remaining in Winterfell, and along with Hodor and the direwolves, helped them escape a siege.

P is for: Podrick Payne.  Pod is a distant cousin of Ser Ilyn Payne and served as Tyrion Lannister’s squire.  At the Battle of the Blackwater, he intervened when a member of the Kingsguard attacked Tyrion.  As a result, Tyrion survived the assassination attempt, although he suffered a terrible wound to his face.

Q is for: Qyburn, a former maester stripped of his chains and title for performing unethical experiments on live patients.  He attends to Jaime Lannister’s severed limb at Harrenhal and then returns to King’s Landing with him.  After Ser Gregor Clegane, The Mountain, is gravely wounded fighting Prince Oberyn Martell, Qyburn conducts extensive experiments and possibly dark magic on the poisoned knight.

R is for: Ramsay Bolton, a former bastard of Roose Bolton known as Ramsay Snow.  He is a cruel sadist who enjoys hunting humans and the Bolton tradition of flaying enemies alive.  When the Boltons attack Winterfell, Ramsay takes Theon as his prisoner, renames him “Reek” after a former servant, and tortures him extensively.  After Ramsay’s wedding, which gives him a claim to Winterfell, King Tommen I grants a decree of legitimization to make Ramsay a Bolton.

S is for: Samwell Tarly, a member of the Night’s Watch and Jon Snow’s best friend.  He was forced to “take the black” by his father, who felt his timid oldest son did not deserve the position of inheritance.  With Jon’s support, Sam grows braver, and eventually earns the nickname Sam the Slayer after killing an Other with a piece of dragonglass.  Sam’s dream is to become a maester, and after Jon is made Lord Commander, he allows Sam—with Gilly and her baby—to leave for Oldtown to begin his studies.     

T is for: Tysha, a peasant girl saved from a group of men by Jaime and Tyrion Lannister.  A 13-year-old Tyrion fell in love with her and quickly married her.  When his father Tywin found out his son had married a crofter’s daughter, he instructed Jaime to lie to his brother, telling Tyrion she was a whore, paid to sleep with him; he then forced Tyrion to watch the guards gang rape her.  
U is for: the Unsullied, slaves chosen at a young age to train as soldiers in Astapor.  The Unsullied are treated brutally, castrated, and stripped of any individuality.  Those who survive become disciplined and highly skilled fighters.  While Daenerys is in Astapor, she buys every Unsullied from the slaver and then orders her new army to kill all the Good Masters and other supporters of the slave trade.

The baby dragons in a scene
from HBO's Game of Thrones
V is for: Viserion, one of the three dragons born from the eggs gifted to Daenerys for her wedding to Khal Drogo.  They hatch when Daenerys burns the eggs in Drogo’s funeral pyre in the Dothraki Sea.  Viserion is named for Viserys Targaryen, Daenerys’s older brother.  The ancient connection between House Targaryen and dragons dates back to the Doom of Valyria, which left only five dragons in existence—the five House Targaryen had brought to Dragonstone when they went into exile. 

W is for: Walder Frey, Lord of the Twins (also called the Crossing)—identical towers on either side of the Trident river connected by a stone bridge.  He is almost 90 years old and has many offspring, both legitimate and illegitimate.  A deal is struck to marry two Freys to Robb and Arya Stark when Robb Stark’s host requires the bridge during the War of the Five Kings, but Robb breaks his promise and marries another.  “The Red Wedding” is Frey’s revenge.  
X is for: Xanda Qo, a female warrior and princess who lived on the Summer Isles.  Once a slave herself, she put an end to the “Years of Shame” by uniting the islands under her rule and eventually ending slavery there.  Current lords from the Summer Isles attended Daenerys and Khal Drogo’s wedding, and dancers from the Summer Isles performed at the royal wedding of King Joffrey and Queen Margaery.

Y is for: the Yunkai’i, citizens of the city of Yunkai in Essos.  Yunkai sits on the coast of Slaver’s Bay and the Wise Masters participate in slave trade.  After Daenerys attacks and defeats Yunkai, she sets all the slaves free before continuing on to Meereen.

Z is for: Zamettar, a ruined city on the coast of Sothoryos, which is one of the four known continents in the A Song of Ice and Fire world (the others being Westeros, Essos, and Ulthos).  Nymeria, a Princess of the Rhoynar, led her people into exile after defeat by the Valyrian Freehold and settled briefly on Zamettar before continuing on to Dorne, where she married a Martell.  Their allied forces conquered the remainder of Dorne, and previous kings were sent to the wall.

There you have it, my A-Z wrap-up--hope you enjoyed!  See my first A-Z Game of Thrones Characters here for more.  And if you’re a fan of spooky suspense and steamy romance, grab one of my books to help pass the time to premier day!

SILVER LAKE – A haunting, an old flame, and secrets from the past…

GULL HARBOR – A dangerous ghost and an ex-boyfriend await Claire…

DIVINE FALL – (Young Adult) Revenge, Romance, and a Rogue Fallen Angel…

Sources: A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin and A Wiki of Ice and Fire. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

Outside-the-Box Promo #amwriting #writingtips

In what feels like another life, I was a Marketing major earning my Master's degree in Business.  I haven't worked in the corporate world in a long time, but my marketing background has been useful in terms of promoting my books.  Most authors don't really like's awkward and difficult.  I think we all wish our books would just go viral and promote themselves...but that only happens for a select few.  The rest of us have to work to make our books visible in a flooded market, even when we have publishers helping us with the process.  And visibility is key, because how could a reader who might enjoy a certain book even find it if they've never heard of it?

No one wants to see a flurry of posts on social media that just say "Buy My Book".  I always try to think outside the box to come up with better ways to connect with readers.  Here are a few of the marketing efforts and ideas I've been involved in or working on the last few months.

-Setting up a table at a Psychic Fair.  Obviously this is not a good fit for every genre, but I write ghost stories mixed with romance, and in one of my books, GULL HARBOR, the heroine actually *is* a psychic medium.  So this event dovetails nicely with the subject of my novels.  A psychic fair generally raises funds for a cause by allowing visitors to make 20 minute appointments with various psychic and readers for a less expensive cost.  So there is traffic all day, and the people coming are interested in the subjects in my novels.  As people wait for their appointments, they shop at the vendor tables, and not only did I sign and sell paperbacks, I handed out dozens of postcards with e-book information.  Throughout the day, I chatted with several new acquaintances and networked with the other vendors there.

These are easy to make at MyCustomCase!
-A new custom phone case.  Most people carry their phones everywhere these days.  My phone case is a fun collage of my four book covers, and it starts a lot of conversations.  If someone asks what the pictures are, I can tell them a little about what I write, and often people are excited to get more information about my novels.

-Teaming up with other authors for group promo.  Last summer, the editor-in-chief of my publishing house spoke at the Cape Cod Writer's Conference, and a casual lunch was scheduled during her visit for authors who write for The Wild Rose Press to get together in person.  Some authors traveled from quite far away, but three of us lived within a half hour of a central location and write in many of the same genres. Between the three of us, we have 14 books in the various genres of romance, suspense, romantic thrillers, paranormal romance, young adult, and women's fiction.  So recently we've been working on setting up events together, since several authors together often draw a bigger audience than one alone.  One event we're going to do is scheduled for the Halloween season, where we'll speak on the spooky elements of our paranormal books.

An author panel on publishing at a local
library a few years ago...a great event attended
by both writers and readers!  Hoping to set more up.

These are a few ideas to help think outside the box when it comes to marketing efforts!  More to come in a future post, and please chime in if you have your own tips.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Saying Goodbye to the Swingset #momlife #parenting

Last March, Cape Cod was literally buried under mounds of snow...about 80 inches total after several back-to-back blizzards.  This year, we had very little snow and a sudden warm snap that had everyone outside in shorts doing yard work.  And as we marked out the space for the fire pit we're going to build, my heart ached for what had occupied the space until last fall--the swingset.

The old swingset! Also our crazy
lab mix Mickey and my sister.
When I was growing up, a rusty metal swingset adorned our backyard, complete with poles that nearly came out of the ground when we pumped the swings with enough force. It was about as safe as it sounds--I broke my ankle playing on it, and my sister somehow ended up needing stitches in her face after an unfortunate spill on the slide.  Thankfully, we survived our childhood, and memories of that rickety contraption still come up at family events.

I snapped one last pic before
we began taking it apart...
The wooden swingset we were able to purchase for our boys was much sturdier, and the covered tower served as a treehouse and a base for countless games. The rope ladder gave them something better than my furniture to climb, and the swings changed from infant bucket seats to the real thing over the years.

But as the kids grew, it eventually became mostly the domain of our cats, who would lounge under the shade of the wooden roof in the summer or perch on the top beams to view their kingdom.  When my sister came to visit, her younger kids would enjoy playing on it, but for the most part, it went unused.  And that made me sad, both for the time that had passed and the fact that it still had plenty of life left in it for other children.

My teenage boys weren't thrilled about having something so "babyish" in the yard, either...when the soccer teams come over for Pasta Night, they need room to scrimmage each other (we even built a soccer goal - see this post for how-to).  And then we kept hearing about how the other kids had fire pits in their yards, for roasting marshmallows to make s'mores after dinner.

So it was time to say goodbye to the dependable old swingset.  I offered it up on FreeCycle, and a family with young children responded to the post.  They were delighted to have it, and I'm glad it's getting more use.  But the empty spot in the yard still creates a corresponding little hole in my heart. Time continues to march on, however, and I'm looking forward to creating new memories with friends and family around a crackling fire on warm summer nights.

The spot where the swingset used to reside...I miss it.