A Just Measure Official Release

It’s 1892 in Lancashire, England and William Somerset, the 6th Earl of Devonton, and his sister, Lady Angelica, are about to receive important guests at their ancestral home, Chalkley House. For some unexplainable reason, a sense of foreboding falls over Lady Angelica from the moment their guests arrive. When murder eventually invades Chalkley House, Lady Angelica realizes her feelings of dread were an omen of things to come.

I released my first – and hopefully not last – British murder mystery this week. A Just Measure is set in Victorian-era England in one of the great aristocratic homes of bygone days. Though Chalkley House is fictional, I enjoyed every minute spent researching the homes of the English nobility that fill our minds with visions of lords, ladies, butlers and footmen. Immersing myself in the past in this way was a true labor of love, and I hope you sense that as you roam the halls and grounds of Chalkley House yourself. 🙂

Available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3iPUErn

Cover Design: Charlie Edmisten

Cover Model: Lori Butler

A Just Measure

Within the next week or two, I’ll be releasing my newest novel – a Victorian-era murder mystery set in Lancashire, England.

My oldest son is the one who encouraged me to write it. For the longest time, he’s been telling me I should write a mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers & G.K. Chesterton. This book is my lowly but wholehearted attempt.

My friend, Tiwatha, also recently gave me a silver tea set which was the inspiration for part of the storyline. You’ll have to read the book to see how. 🙂

I’ve included the Prologue and Chapter One here to whet your appetite for more – at least I hope it whets your appetite for more. 🙂

Keep an eye out for the upcoming release of A Just Measure!

PROLOGUE

Lancashire, England

December 24, 1892

She stood at the window, unmoving.  She gazed through the small circle she’d created by scraping away the ice that had formed.  As far as the eye could see, there was snow.  It clung to the bare branches of the trees in the garden and cloaked the hedges with pristine beauty.  Like a glorious white carpet, it spread across the lawn into infinity.  Its beauty made the ache return.  The ache for what she would never have now.  She slowly raised her hand and pressed her palm against the glass.  

Cold.  So cold.  Like her heart.  

After several minutes, she turned from the window and stared at the silver tea set atop the small table situated between the two settees.  It gleamed as if it were brand new.  She’d made sure it looked perfect.  Now it was waiting.  Waiting for him to come and partake.  

She took a step away from the window and moved toward the table, the hem of her dress rustling across the floor as she went.  The sound was oddly comforting as she contemplated the unpleasantness that was to come.  

She hadn’t chosen this course.  It had been thrust upon her.  His actions had made it necessary.  When one steals something so precious, one must pay the price.  And he would pay.  He certainly would pay.  

CHAPTER ONE

Lancashire, England

October 15, 1892

She stood at the window, unmoving.  Her eyes hungrily scanned the landscape, amazed by what lay before her.  As far as the eye could see, trees blazed in brilliant autumnal color.  The ornamental garden and the valley beyond seemed to explode with the fiery beauty of reds, oranges, and yellows.  It was breathtaking.  As many times as she witnessed it, the wonder of the season was never lost on her.  Its beauty made her ache with a longing she couldn’t put a name to.  A something just out of reach.  

She leaned closer to the window, her heart beating with expectation as she watched for the first glimpse of the carriages.  The house was so quiet now, and she longed for conversation and the companionship of other people.  Her mind wandered back to the scene that had brought her to the point of such loneliness and she choked back the tears that threatened to emerge.  She couldn’t greet their guests with a face red and splotchy from crying.  It wouldn’t be dignified.  And she knew William expected dignity above all else.  Especially when they would be entertaining such important visitors.  

As if he had sensed her thoughts, William appeared in the doorway of the library.  “Are you ready, Angelica?  Our guests should be arriving momentarily.”  

She turned from the window to face her older brother.  He was impeccably dressed as always. Every hair in place, his collar crisp, his face a mask of aristocratic politeness.  “I am,” she said, drawing out the skirts of her emerald-green gown.  “Do you approve?” 

“It’s a fine dress,” he answered dismissively before walking across the room to join her at the window. 

“I’m so looking forward to this visit.  It will be especially delightful to have our guests over the Christmas holiday.” 

 “There’s not much to look forward to.  It’s business,” he said dryly.   

 “But it will be wonderful to have company in the house again.  We haven’t entertained anyone since mother and father –”

 “I know,” he said curtly, cutting her off. 

Angelica forced her pain back to its hidden place, knowing that her expressions of sorrow made him uncomfortable.  “Tell me more about our guests,” she said, changing the subject.  “You haven’t said much.  It will be helpful with conversation if I know more about their lives.” 

William sniffed.  “I don’t want you discussing politics,” he instructed, his words tinged with warning.  

An indignant flush rose in her cheeks.  “William, times are changing.  It’s not considered as impertinent as it once was for women to discuss politics.  With the rumblings for independence in India, we could have some very interesting conversations,” she said with a mischievous gleam in her eyes.    

“I forbid it,” William said flatly

 Angelica laughed.  “Forbid it if you will, but if politics are brought up, it would be impolite for me not to respond.” 

 “You’ll embarrass yourself.”  

“You would find it more embarrassing if I couldn’t intelligently participate in conversation because of ignorance about the issues.  Our ancestors haven’t exactly been known for silence in regard to political matters,” she said, her gaze shifting to the portrait of the notoriously volatile 3rd Earl of Devonton hanging above the immense fireplace. 

William’s gaze followed hers and he rolled his eyes expressively.  “Precisely.  All the more reason to remain silent.” 

At the sudden neigh of horses, their eyes moved back to the window.  Two elegant carriages were slowly making their way up the long drive, the sound of horses’ hooves unmistakable.  Seconds later, a discreet cough sounded in the doorway.  William turned at the sound as Angelica craned her neck to get a better view of the carriages.  

“My lord, your guests are nearing,” the butler, Mr. Drake, announced. 

“Thank you, Drake.  We’ll be in the front hall momentarily,” William responded. 

“Shall we?” he asked, offering Angelica his arm. 

“We shall,” she said, taking her brother’s arm with a smile.  

They crossed the floor of the stately library arm-in-arm and exited into the long corridor that led to the front hall.  The sound of their heels echoed off the marble floor as they came to a halt in the expansive entry hall of their ancestral home. Everywhere one looked, their family history was on tasteful but notable display.  The large porcelain vases brought to England from China by the 4th Earl of Devonton sat atop regal pedestals situated throughout the hall, and the tapestries obtained in Constantinople during the travels of the 2nd Earl of Devonton hung in full splendor on the pristine white walls.  

Portraits of their many ancestors were in clear view at the top of the majestic staircase that swept in splendor to the second floor.  Without a word uttered, every guest who walked through the immense double doors was immediately impacted by the history and nobility of the house and its inhabitants.  

William and Angelica waited quietly as the servants lined up and Drake stood at the ready to open the doors to their guests.  Angelica’s heart was pounding in anticipation.  The knowledge that their guests would be staying for several months filled her with exhilaration.  She knew William would find every opportunity to escape their company, but her heart soared at the prospect.  So many lonely days and nights had passed since the loss of their parents two years earlier.  She had been at the point of despair countless times, having no one with which to share her sorrow.  William was as closed to her grief as he was to his own, which left her to mourn the unspeakable tragedy of their parents’ deaths alone.  

Angelica shivered with excitement as she heard the horses come to a halt.  William looked down at her and tightened his grip on her arm for the briefest of moments.  Intending to steady my eagerness, no doubt, she thought.  She took a deep breath and stood to her fullest height as Drake dramatically swept open the doors to admit their guests.  The new arrivals made their way up the broad stone steps until they found themselves standing in the magnificent front hall of Chalkley House. 

Drake began the announcements in a deep baritone.  “The Earl and Countess of Montgomery.” 

William and Angelica stepped forward to greet them.  “Delighted to see you again and relieved that you made it safely here with no hindrances.  We look forward to your visit.  My sister, Lady Angelica,” William said, nodding in her direction.  

“I am so pleased to make your acquaintance,” Angelica said with a bright smile as she extended her hand to both Lord and Lady Montgomery.  After exchanging pleasantries with the obviously amiable middle-aged couple, Drake’s voice rang out again.  

“Mr. James Whitehead.”  

Lord and Lady Montgomery stepped aside as the family solicitor strode forward and exuberantly shook William’s hand.  Angelica heard his whisper in William’s ear as the lawyer leaned close to her brother.  “If we can pull this off, you will become even more fabulously wealthy than you already are.”  

Angelica saw the sneer on Whitehead’s face as he unclasped William’s hand and took a step back.  She felt a chill go through her at the nastiness of his expression.  She glanced up, searching William’s inscrutable face as Whitehead removed his top hat and handed it to the waiting footman.  As he was helped out of his coat, Angelica tried to shake off the feeling of unease.  She looked toward the doors, awaiting the appearance of their final guest. 

An Indian servant appeared at the top of the steps, carrying a man in his arms.  Drake’s voice boomed out, filling the room.  “Mr. Gaurav Bahadur.” 

The servant kept his turbaned head bent and his eyes downcast as he slowly approached William and Angelica.  Angelica’s breath caught as the man in his arms trained his gaze upon them, his lips turned up in a gentle smile.  His honey-brown skin seemed to glow, and the gold thread woven into his elegant Sherwani glimmered in the afternoon sunlight filtering through the tall windows of the front hall.   Why isn’t he walking?  Why is his servant carrying him? she wondered, barely able to contain her curiosity. 

Angelica smiled in return and the man fixed his dark eyes on her, nodding a greeting.  A warm kindness emanated from him, pulling her into its orb.  She didn’t know why, but she had the impression one would always be safe with him.  She looked up at William, expecting him to already be extending his hand in greeting.  But what she saw in his eyes beneath the veneer of civility sent a thunderbolt of dread through her body and froze her smile in place.  

Stop!

Knowing when to stop is a gift. When to stop eating. When to stop spending. Knowing when to stop saying yes…or no. When to stop participating in an unhealthy situation. When to stop closing ourselves off to love. There is wisdom to stopping in so many situations. The same wisdom about stopping applies to our writing as well. Writers are often tempted to wax eloquent with a multitude of words when a simple description would be far more effective. Readers will often opt for a story with well-chosen words and succinct descriptions over one that is overtold. There’s no magic formula to this – sometimes a wordy and lengthy description is called for – but we do well to frequently step back and consider whether it’s time to apply the wisdom of “stopping” to our writing.

A Nose Apart

My new middle-grade children’s book, A Nose Apart, is now available on Amazon! The main character of this story is a tiny and mischievous creature named Boba. Boba loves to eavesdrop on the humans who walk the trails of the nature preserve where she lives, but she ends up getting herself into a world of trouble one day when she takes her eavesdropping just a little too far. That’s where the adventure begins!

The book is primarily geared for children ages 8-12, but it also works great for reading aloud to younger children. Both adults and children alike will be encouraged by the themes of compassion, friendship and a celebration of the things that make each of us unique.

Fun fact…I got the idea for this story during my many bike rides on the nature trails near our home. As I passed by people on my bike, I would often overhear snippets of conversation. Those snippets and constantly seeing little chipmunks gave birth to the idea of a tiny creature who just couldn’t resist eavesdropping on humans. 🙂

I hope you enjoy A Nose Apart!

Available on Amazon: https://amzn.to/3bM417f

The cover art for A Nose Apart was done by the amazingly talented Erin Mulligan! If you want to enjoy more of Erin’s wonderfully unique artwork, you’ll find her on Facebook at Erin Mulligan Fine Art & on Instagram @etmulligan.

Stimulus

Photograph my husband recently captured at one of our favorite state parks

We just exited 2020, so you may have wondered if I was writing about cash from the government when you saw the title of this post. 🙂 But I’m thinking about a different kind of stimulus – I’m thinking about the things that supply stimulus to our imaginations. Like this image my husband recently captured at one of our favorite state parks. The opening through the trees in this picture prompted something in my imagination. I envisioned a young woman gazing out of a frosty window during a snowstorm. I saw her as emotionless yet furious. Her heart ice cold but bent on revenge. Because of the photo above, my imagination was stimulated and the opening to a new novel was born. The imagination is a mysterious and glorious gift. It needs only the right stimulus for new and wondrous worlds to emerge! 

PROLOGUE

December 24, 1892

            She stood at the window, unmoving.  She gazed through the small circle she’d created by scraping away the ice that had formed.  As far as the eye could see, there was snow.  It clung to the bare branches of the trees in the garden and cloaked the hedges with its pristine beauty.  Like a glorious white carpet, it spread across the lawn into infinity.  Its beauty made the ache return.  The ache for what she would never have now.  She slowly raised her hand and pressed her palm against the glass.  Cold.  So cold.  Like her heart.  

            After several minutes, she turned from the window and stared at the silver tea set atop the small table situated between the two settees.  It gleamed as if it were brand new.  She’d made sure that it looked perfect.  Now it was waiting.  Waiting for him to come and partake.  

            She took a step away from the window and moved toward the table, the hem of her skirts rustling across the wood floor as she went.  The sound was oddly comforting as she contemplated the unpleasantness that was to come.  

            She hadn’t chosen this course.  It had been thrust upon her.  His actions had made it necessary.  When one steals something so precious, one must pay the price.  And he would pay.  He certainly would pay.  

The Ever-Watching Eyes

I seem to have a theme going with using my husband’s nature pictures with my posts. 🙂 For good reason, I think…he’s an amazing photographer! He captured this image of a Praying Mantis at a beautiful state park near our home. The way it’s looking at the camera seems almost fierce. As if it’s gazing at you with a challenge in its eyes. Watching you. I found a parallel between its watching eyes and the ever-watching eyes of the editor. The editor who constantly prods us to put in the difficult work of making our manuscript as perfect as it humanly can be. The editor who charges us to comb the same work again and again for mistakes. The editor who challenges us to be more succinct. To plumb the depths of our creativity for a better way to word something. Who forces us to rethink the minutia of plotting. We may not enjoy the ever-watching eyes of the editor while we’re writing, but in the end, we’re so thankful for the unique gift the editor brings to the process. We come to truly value those ever-watching eyes for what they mean in the production of a polished and professional manuscript.

Vibrancy

A few weeks ago, my husband took this exquisite photograph in a flower garden in one of our favorite state parks. The thing that immediately struck me about this image was the vibrancy of the colors. The green, the orange, the yellow, the black. Even the white in the background. All vivid. Vibrant. Gorgeous. It made me think about descriptive words and the vibrancy they bring to our writing. Searching for the words and phrases that will add color and texture to our writing can be an agonizing process. Yet, so worth it when we pinpoint that treasure. A burnished sunset. A soul-deep agony. A split-second decision that lands us on the precipice of Hades. An open wound that bled repentance. An ice-cold stare. A tsunami of emotion. These glorious descriptions cause our words to pulsate with life. They are the color we search for as if for gold.

The Roots

I ride my bike between 6-8 miles most mornings. And most mornings, I pass this amazing tree on the banks of a stream. The thing I love most about this tree is the root system. The roots stretch out for yards in each direction, supporting and holding up the tree. It moves me every time I see it. And it always makes me think about the characters in our books being the “roots” that hold it up. Without solid, well-crafted characters to uphold the narrative, a storyline will fall flat. If readers aren’t able to connect with our characters, then we haven’t created a root system that will carry them through to the end of the book. Action is necessary to move a story along, but we must never forget that well-developed characters are what drive the action. They will always be the most fundamental part of the stories we tell. Without engaging characters, we would be left with no story to tell at all.

The Red Dress

In The Red Dress, twenty-eight-year-old Arabella Edwards is alone, on furlough, and having random panic attacks for the first time in her life during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown. To keep herself busy and her mind off everything going on in the world, she decides to clean the attic of her 1845 home. In the attic, she discovers an old chest that she is drawn to for reasons she can’t understand. To her shock and surprise, she finds a beautiful, bloodstained dress from the 1800’s inside the timeworn chest. As the story unfolds, Arabella discovers many secrets about her home and the people who once lived there. With the help of her neighbors and her family, Arabella spends the next two months unraveling the mysterious and long-buried secrets of The Red Dress.

Available on Amazon: The Red Dress

Cover Art: Michelle Mulligan

Straight Paths

When we’re writing a novel, we’re leading our readers down a path. In the best case scenario, that path is one that leads to a satisfying conclusion. It can take years to develop the kind of storytelling that doesn’t get bogged down in unimportant details, but is holistic and tightly woven. As we write, we need to ask ourselves: Does this detail fit into the whole in a seamless, artful way, or is it just something I threw in because I like it? Does each paragraph add to, rather than detract from, the story I’m trying to tell? None of us who write do it perfectly, but our goal should always be to keep our readers off of rabbit trails and on “straight paths” that at the end of the book, leave them both fulfilled and longing for more.