One of the most fun things about writing Stella Hart is her dialogue. She’s a classic, F. Scott Fitzgerald-style New York flapper working in Hollywood as a silent movie actress and running around the globe solving murders with her hunky love interest, George Barrington, 13th Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike. And she talks like a party girl of that era–if she were alive today, her TikTok would be amazing. The 1920s were a period of huge upheaval and cultural growth, and the slang reflects that. What amazed me when I started researching it was 1)how funny and snarky it was in a very contemporary way, and 2)how many of these expressions still sound modern right now. I mean, check this stuff out:
Bunny: Someone sweet but not very smart, usually female, though Stella has been known to apply it equally to men. ‘Dumb bunny’ is one step more clueless. ‘Poor dumb bunny’ is just pitiful.
Bushwa: One of Stella’s favorites, something that isn’t true, a less coarse word for bullshit. See also: Applesauce, baloney, banana oil, horsefeathers, hokum
Carry a torch: I still use this one today but apparently it originated in the 1920s. To have a crush on someone, particularly someone who doesn’t crush you back.
Crush: Also from the 1920s – a romantic infatuation
Eel’s hips, the: Something that’s awesome and amazing. See also: The cat’s meow, the bee’s knees. Stella usually takes this one a step further and says ‘the hips of the eel.’
Giggle water: alcoholic beverages. Stella’s favorite is champagne, but George prefers a good gin and tonic.
Jalopy: An old, junker car, though Stella uses it ironically to refer to George’s very expensive, state-of-the-art roadsters.
Kid/kiddo: A familiar form of address. Stella tends to call any woman she likes ‘kid.’
Nerts: A wholesome expletive to express disgust, dislike, or disbelief. Stella saying, “Nerts to that noise!” never fails to make George laugh.
Ossified: Intoxicated. See also: Spifflicated.
Screwy: Insane, bizarre, crazy. Bugs Bunny uses this one a lot, too–I think Bugs must have learned to talk in the 1920s.
Sex appeal/sexy: The 1920s is when this expression first became common, and it was still considered rather risque.
Valentino: A handsome, sexy man, obviously inspired by the movie star Rudolph Valentino. Stella applies it to George; George rolls his eyes.
There’s lots more, obviously, but these are some of ones Stella uses a lot. Check out her latest adventure, The Baronet Unleashed, on July 29.
The third Stella Hart mystery is available now for pre-order from Falstaff Crush. This is the one that takes place in Hollywood in the 1920s, and it’s an absolute scream. You’ll love it, I promise. Click the cover to … oh. You want a sample before you’re ready to commit. Fine then. Have a look at Chapter 1.
The Baronet Unleashed – Chapter 1
Stella was chained to the castle wall with shackles that were becoming damned uncomfortable. “Do your worst, Lord Blackguard!” she exclaimed with much tossing of her waist-length locks. “I shall never submit!”
“We shall see about that, my dear!” Blackguard snarled, bracing an arm over her head. He leered down at her, his hot breath smelling suspiciously like gin and tonic. “Is your virtue worth your father’s life?”
“You heartless fiend.” If her hands had been free, she would have slapped a delicate wrist to her forehead. As it was, she made do with flopping her head sharply to one side, trying not to dislodge her wig in the process. She closed her eyes and heaved her bosom, such as it was. “How can you be so cruel?”
“Easy,” Blackguard said, leaning too close for the camera to see his lips. “Your friend Sylvia wrote me this way.”
“Eddie, I swear to heaven,” she hissed through clenched teeth as she bit her lower lip in maidenly revulsion. He had made her laugh and ruin three takes already, the swine.
“Unhand that damsel, you cur,” a props assistant droned from off camera. Blackguard, also known as Edgar Worth, Hollywood’s most celebrated heavy, recoiled toward the camera, and Stella broke out in her most elated smile.
Lance Laramie swung in on a rope tied to a crane, a stunt he had perfected on his and Stella’s first picture together, The Ape Man Unleashed. But this time, alas, he missed his mark. Instead of landing lightly between Stella and her villainous attacker, he overshot and crashed face first into the wall.
“Darling!” Edgar cried, dropping character to run to his lover’s aid. “Oh, your poor nose!” Everyone on Maid of Avalon knew Lance and Edgar had been much more than roommates for years, though the rest of the world was in the dark.
“Now, Eddie, don’t make a fuss,” Lance honked as his hand filled up with blood.
“Cut!” the director shouted, incensed. “For God’s sake, get some ice!”
“You poor darling,” Stella said.
“Oh, I’ve had worse, I dare say,” Lance said gamely. “Not to worry…” His eyes rolled back in his head as he collapsed.
“Somebody get the nurse!” the production assistant called as the director flung down his bullhorn, followed by his hat.
“I’m sure he’ll be fine,” Stella said to Edgar, who looked on the point of hysterics.
“His nose is squashed flat!” Edgar said.
“It is,” she had to admit. She would have liked to have given him a comforting pat or something, but she was still chained to the wall.
“Clear the way, please,” a medic said. The nurse led Edgar gently away as Lance was heaved onto a stretcher.
“Say, Eddie,” Stella called as they all walked away. “Do you have the key to these shackles?” But no one seemed to hear.
“That’s a wrap for today, everyone,” the assistant director called through his boss’s dented bullhorn. “See you all tonight at Mr. Scott’s party—sober, if you don’t mind; it’s for charity.” Lights were going off all over the set.
“Excuse me!” Stella shouted as people started disappearing from the stage like rats deserting a sinking ship. “Isn’t anybody going to turn me loose?” She gave her shackles a healthy tug, but the props department had outdone themselves. They didn’t budge. “Oh come on,” she cried as all the lights but a single spot went out. “This is ridiculous!”
A man’s silhouette stepped into the spotlight. “Pardon me, miss,” a familiar voice said. “Are you in distress?”
“George, thank heavens,” she said, laughing with relief. “They’ve all gone off and left me.”
“So it seems.” Her fiancé, George Barrington, thirteenth Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike and the future Lord Barrington, came out of the light. “That’s rather a pickle you’re in, Miss Hart, if you’ll pardon my mentioning it.”
“My handsome hero,” she said. And he was, too; he looked very dashing and just a bit disreputable in a stylish leather coat. “Go quick and find out who has the key.”
“Oh, I have the key,” he said, holding it up with mischief dancing in his eyes. “But what makes you think I’m the hero?”
“Oh dear,” she said. “The villain, then?” She felt a lovely little flutter in her stomach. “Will you ravish me before you set me free?”
He leaned closer, bracing a hand on the wall the same way Edgar had. “What an intriguing suggestion.” His lips were so close to hers, they were almost kissing already. “I suppose I could.”
“I’ll scream,” she warned.
“Well, maybe not scream,” she said as he nuzzled behind her ear, making her shiver. “More like sigh…and maybe the odd moan or two.” He made a bit of a moan himself as he kissed her, pressing her to the wall.
“Miss Stella!” her maid, Sophie, bellowed, her heels clicking on the concrete floor. “Are you still in here?”
“Damn the woman,” George grumbled, banging his forehead against the wall over her shoulder.
“George, darling, stop,” Stella said, laughing. “You’ll be concussed.” She kissed his cheek. “Over here, Sophie!”
“Hey, what’s this?” Sophie said, coming into the light. “Mr. Barrington, I’m surprised at you!”
“If it helps, I’m thinking of dead puppies,” Stella murmured in his ear.
“Thanks for that, sausage,” he muttered, stepping away. “Sorry to disappoint you, Sophie.” He unlocked the shackles.
“Oh, I’m not disappointed,” Sophie said. “Just surprised. You ought to leave her chained up there until she promises to stop postponing the wedding.”
“It’s not my fault!” Stella protested. “No one expected The Ape Man Unleashed to be such a smash.”
“No one who hadn’t seen you and Mr. Laramie in those rags they called costumes, anyway,” Sophie said.
“And Bertie said we really needed to strike while the iron was hot,” Stella finished.
“Bertie said,” George said. “You mean Nathan Stanley said.”
“Him, too.” Nathan Stanley was her stepfather’s partner at Pinnacle Pictures. He was also the one man on the planet she had ever seen George openly dislike. “The point is, Maid of Avalon was already in the pipeline, and Lance and I were under contract. I really had no choice.” They both looked skeptical. “Anyway, we’re almost done. We should be one more week at the most. Just as soon as we wrap, we’ll be on the train to New York and on a boat to England in plenty of time to be home at Barrington Hall for the new wedding date.”
“And our visit to your grandmother in Newport?” George said, arching an eyebrow.
“We may just have to give Granny Hart a miss,” she said.
“There’s a shocker,” Sophie said.
“Trust me, darling, it’s no great loss,” Stella said.
“Say, are you folks almost done?” one of the stage technicians called from the shadows. “I’d like to lock up sometime before midnight.”
“All right, keep your shirt on,” Sophie called back. “We’re coming.”
With Sophie’s help, getting out of her costume and into her jodhpurs was the work of moments. “Call ahead and tell Bertie we’re on our way,” she told Sophie as she tossed a scarf around her neck. “I’ll see you at the house.”
“No taking any long, romantic rides,” Sophie ordered. “You’ll need a full overhaul before that party tonight.”
“See you later, kid,” Stella called back over her shoulder.
George was waiting outside the stage on his shiny new red Indian motorcycle. “It’s a bit chilly, sausage,” he said, handing her a pair of goggles. “Would you like my coat?”
“No, thank you.” She slid the goggles over her curls and climbed on behind him, snuggling close. “I’ll be fine.”
And that’s it, kittens! To find out what happens next, get your copy starting July 29!
13 stories of horror, romance, and that perfect moment when the two worlds collide. Vengeful spirits attacking the living, undead lovers revealing their true nature, and supernatural monsters seeking love, await you. Pull the blinds closed, light your candle, and cuddle up in your reading nook for some chilling—and romantic—tales.
With stories by: Emily Blue, Lucy Blue, Kevin Ground, Rowan Hill, Naching T. Kassa, Emmy Z. Madrigal, R.L. Merrill, N.C. Northcott, Emerian Rich, Daniel R. Robichaud, Daphne Strasert, Tara Vanflower, and B.F. Vega.
“Jacob McCardle, Miss Smith.” He was one of the young surgeons who’d come for the symposium. She had noticed him at meals and rather liked the look of him, particularly when he’d laughed at Lizzie’s jokes. “Lizzie and I have become fast friends, and she’s asked for my help.” He had beautiful blue eyes that held no hint of guile or evil. “My family is very active in the call for the abolition of slavery in the northern colonies. If you’ll allow me, I’d like to assist you in your escape.”
Part of Rosalie wanted desperately to deny any of it was happening. She was still so much a child herself. Her stepmother couldn’t mean to sell her. Her father couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t have just been a thing to him all this time, a piece of property, but when she looked again at the document in her hands, she had to admit it was true.
“That’s very chivalrous of you, Mr. McCardle, but this is Virginia,” she said. “If we were caught, you’d be arrested and probably hanged. If you help me, you’ll be risking your life.”
He smiled. “I’ll be risking my soul if I don’t. Now hurry, please—bring only what you absolutely must.”
“All right, but…” She looked around the room at a loss. She would need her clothes, of course, and her books. There was so much, all the lovely things her father had given her, a life full of beautiful objects. But never her freedom. “Oh Papa.” She sighed, tears spilling down her cheeks.
“Rosie, hurry!” Lizzie insisted. “She could be back any minute.”
“I fear the child is right,” Jacob said. “I overheard Mrs. Smith already offering you to one of the more affluent men present as a—” He broke off, glancing at Lizzie. “Laboratory assistant.”
“Oh dear God.” It was a nightmare. It must be.
Suddenly there came a clatter from outside. Her window overlooked the front of the house, and looking down, she saw a carriage drive up. When it stopped, four men armed with muskets leapt out.
“We’re out of time,” Jacob said. “Get a wrap and any keepsakes you can carry in a purse. We have to go now.”
“Hurry,” Lizzie said even as she threw herself into Rosalie’s arms. “I love you.”
“I love you, sweet.” Drawing back, she untied the ribbon from her sister’s hair. “To remember you by,” she said, kissing the little girl’s cheek.
“I’ll get her to safety, Lizzie, I promise,” Jacob said. “But we must go now.”
He took her hand in a firm grip as they hurried down the back stairs and out through the serving pantry that led to the covered walkway to the kitchen. They broke into a run as they crossed the backyard and headed into the trees. Under the oaks, it was black as pitch, but Jacob seemed to know where he was going, and Rosalie had always been a good runner, even in a corset. The lights of the house had just disappeared behind them when she saw a single dim lantern glowing just ahead.
Another young man was waiting, holding the bridle of a horse that was hitched to a wagon.
“You’re a madman, Jacob,” he said in the flat accent of the North. “This is robbery, plain and simple.”
“Kidnapping, actually,” Jacob said. “Now, go back to the house and as we are friends, say nothing.”
“Not a word,” the other man said. He made a sheepish bow to Rosalie. “Godspeed, miss.” He walked away fast the way they had come.
“You’ll have to ride in the back, I’m afraid,” Jacob said, leading her around the wagon. “And that’s not the worst of it.” He threw back a tarp from over the cargo, and the ungodly stench made her feel faint.
“What is it?” Three long wooden boxes were laid side by side, and she suddenly realized what they were. “Oh no.”
“Cadavers from your father’s laboratory,” Jacob said. “The third box is empty. Hopefully if we’re stopped, no one will touch it after they’ve opened the first two.”
“Corpses?” Rosalie wasn’t particularly squeamish—she had assisted her father in his laboratory for years—but she had a horror of small, enclosed places. “No.” She backed away. “I can’t. I’m sorry, but I just can’t.”
“Miss Smith,” Jacob said, catching her. “Rosalie.” He held her and looked into her eyes. “You can, and you must.”
In the distance, she could hear a man shouting. They’d be after them soon, those men with the muskets, hunting her down like an animal.
“You have nothing to fear from the dead,” Jacob said. He stepped back to show her the coachman’s pistol and sabre he had tucked into his belt. “And I will protect you from the living.”
“All right.” She took a deep breath of the cool night air, trying not to smell her fellow passengers.
He opened the third coffin and helped her up into the wagon.
“The boards at the bottom are loose, and there’s a hole in the wagon underneath,” he said. “If the worst should happen to me, slip out, hide, and run. I have sent my servant on ahead to Boston to an attorney, a Mr. Henderson, who keeps an office on Broad Street. Make your way there. You’ll be expected.”
To read more, read Haunts and Hellions at: Amazon.com
So yeah, I’ve been away for a while, and regular readers have probably guessed why. My lovely dad who fell almost exactly a year ago passed away on September 18. I just had to go look up the date because I couldn’t believe he’s been gone that long already. I’ve been in a kind of disconnected fog since I got the first call that he was going to the hospital. As I’ve told what feels like every human soul I’ve ever met already, I spoke to Dad on the phone at about 6 pm on Saturday, September 12. (I didn’t see him because I hadn’t seen him since his skilled nursing facility went into total lockdown in March and thanks very much to everybody who refused to wear a mask or acknowledge the danger until it was too late; we all appreciate you very, very much.) At 1 am on Sunday, September 13, I got a call from his floor nurse telling me that he seemed confused and upset and was being sent to the hospital with what they suspected was a very much treatable infection. By Sunday night (we still hadn’t been allowed to see him, by the way), his ICU doctor at the hospital was telling us he was desperately ill with a massive infection throughout his body that was causing his blood pressure to plummet and his kidneys to fail. They put him on high-powered drugs to try to knock back the infection before his organs were too far gone, but by Monday morning, we knew that wouldn’t work, that the most they could do for him was prolong his life in his current state – unconscious, unresponsive, and probably in pain. So following the wishes he had outlined for us very carefully months ago when it seemed ridiculous to even worry about such issues, we opted for palliative care and waited for him to die. They told us maybe hours, maybe days. We got days. He couldn’t talk to us, and we saw very little evidence that he even knew we were there. But at least we got the chance to see him and talk to him. And he was comfortable – I cannot say enough nice things about the care he received from his doctors and nurses during that horrible week or the kindness they showed all of us.
On Friday afternoon about 5 o’clock, he died.
At my sister, Sarah’s urging, I wrote his obituary. “We can’t let everybody’s last impression of Dad be the man they saw at the nursing home,” she pointed out, and of course she was right. So I did the best I could to capture him as he would have wanted to be remembered–if you’re interested, you can read the obit here.
I’ve tried to write a little bit on fiction projects since–I was already up to my knees in Stella 5 and enjoying it very much. But it’s just not happening. I’ve got finished books in the pipeline; I’ve got editing projects for amazing books from other people that I still feel energized about. But I think I’m going to take a break for a couple of months from trying to produce any new story of my own. I talked to my publishers last week, and John and Melissa were, predictably, extremely supportive and keen to help. I’d say I can’t even imagine how I’d get through this if I didn’t know they have my back, but I can imagine it; I went through it when my mom died. And trust me, kittens, if it’s at all possible, always work with people who are decent humans first and talented artists second; it makes all the difference in the world. My little sister and fellow author, Alexandra Christian, has an amazing new book that actually came out the week Dad died, Falling Into Rhythm. It’s so good, y’all, and she worked so hard on it and was so excited about it finally coming out. If you’re looking for a good romance read, you really will love it. And like me, she could really use a win right now.
Anyway … I’m okay. I really am. I have a wonderful husband, and our whole family is extremely close, and we’re hanging on to one another and getting one another through it. And I’m not going anywhere; I’ll still be around, banging on about one thing and another. But my heart is broken, y’all. And I just wanted to tell you why.
Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything. ― Plato
Take a journey through five melody-infused worlds where music inspires love to bloom.
“Tempo of Temptation” by Lela Bay / Regency Perhaps it is best that Mr. Leon doesn’t recall Petra’s mortifying declaration of love. Could their intense attraction during an impromptu midnight concert inspire her to risk her heart again?
“Contact High” by Emmy Z. Madrigal / New Adult
Raul’s addiction is just another symptom of the hard life he’s been dealt but when Victoria sings, his troubles fade into the background. Can her music inspire him to get clean?
“Her Immortal Beloved” by M.M. Genet / Historical
Beethoven’s plan is to write the ultimate love song that transcends all time for his beloved. Will the woman of his heart let his music inspire her?
“Rick Prince and the Manhattan Muse” by Naching T. Kassa / Steamy
Heart-broken musician, Rick Prince, is inspired by the beautiful single-mother, Zella. He has no idea she holds a secret from his past which may tear them apart. “Love Comes to Kenneth’s Valley” by Kate Nox / Inspirational
Grayson Greer motivates his congregation through music, but after the death of his wife, the pastime is shrouded in pain. Can Rachel’s love inspire him to move on?
**Read Free Excerpt Below**
by Emmy Z. Madrigal
Raul waited for daybreak and then snuck out before anyone was awake. He lit up and walked toward school. He didn’t want to go, but figured he could go to Park Lake and sleep on a bench. The fog was thicker than usual that morning. He thrashed through it, crossing the track so he didn’t have to walk as far. The fog closed him in, making him feel like he was the only one on Earth. Cars honked far off, but after a while even those sounds were locked away in some far-off land of the living.
A voice startled him and he froze, thinking someone was talking to him.
“It seems we stood and talked like this before…”
Raul spun around, looking for who belonged to the voice. He couldn’t see anyone. Okay, sure, he’d taken a few puffs that morning, but not enough to cause hallucinations. He threw down the joint and smashed it out with the toe of his worn Doc Martens boot. What was in that shit?
“We looked at each other the same way then…” the girl’s voice sang on.
Raul closed his eyes and tried to focus on which direction the voice came from. He ran ahead a little, following her tune.
“But I can’t remember where or when.”
A shape formed in front of him, unmistakably Victoria’s. She bounced a little when she walked, her blonde wavy hair swinging behind her, releasing the scent of strawberry shampoo his way.
Her voice captivated him. It curled around him like the fog and touched him in a way he couldn’t describe. He walked along behind her. Not too close to be creepy, but close enough to hear her finish her song. A strange feeling filled him—an overwhelming wish to know her better. But what was he thinking? He stopped in his tracks, allowing her to disappear in front of him into the fog. What good would it be for him to know her better? He could never possess her song. He wasn’t the romantic type who sat around reading poetry and asking girls to sing to him. Fuck that.
Yet, with every fiber in his being, he wanted to speak to her.
Maybe talking to her would dispel the magic? Maybe talking to her, he’d find she was just as worthless as the other girls he fooled around with. Maybe, if he fooled around with her, the spell would be broken.
“Vic,” he called, running after her.
“Hello?” she called back, into the fog.
Once her form became clear in the fog again, he second-guessed his motive. She stood, gripping her backpack strap with one hand, looking so innocent, her eyes questioning if it was safe. She wasn’t his prey. She never would be. He went after the fast girls, the girls who didn’t challenge him, the ones who just wanted to be with him to say they had conquered Raul LaMond, when in reality he had conquered them.
“Raul?” She blinked innocently, her cheeks rosy from the fog or walk, whichever.
“Yeah.” He shrugged. Now what?
“Um, hi.” She smiled and his heart beat fast. Why? Who was she? Just some little innocent brat who sang. So what? But something in him urged him to talk to her.
“You’re up early.”
“You got an A1 class?”
“Nah, just…” Change the subject, chump. “You got A1?”
He nodded and stepped in line beside her, heading to the choir room.
She walked next to him, smelling of cherry chap stick and making him want to taste it. What was he thinking? Kiss Victoria Knox? Really? Victoria was vanilla and pure and, well, Victoria. Raul was a mix of trailer trash and vato. His mother had given him up. He still didn’t know why. Besides, Victoria didn’t exude sex appeal, not to him anyway. Although, she did have a nice body. A cute, short one, with a nice rear that stuck out just enough and breasts that peeked out of shirts slightly, enticingly, not like the girls he fooled around with who showed off the whole enchilada.
“We’re here.” She smiled, nervously biting her bottom lip. See? Even she doesn’t understand why you’re here. Get out.
“Yeah, well, see ya.” He turned to go and she gave a little wave, hopping up the steps to the choir portable.
Something in him didn’t want to see her go in that door. If she went in that door, he’d never have the guts later to—
She turned, her blonde hair swinging around and her green eyes sparkling with friendly cheer.
“Uh, lunch. Wanna eat by the park?”
“Um…” she considered, obviously wondering why he was asking her to the park alone, without Greg, or their regular lunch crew.
“I need to talk, but if you’ve got plans…” he said.
“No, it’s alright. I could come. Meet you by the lockers?”
“Yeah.” He turned and walked away before she changed her mind and before he messed it up.
Once around the corner from her class, he paused, leaning against the wall, taking a deep breath. What the Hell was he thinking? He hated feeling like someone held his heart in their hands. It wasn’t safe to trust. It wasn’t safe to care. Everyone he’d ever cared about had left him. His anger grew and he turned, slamming his fist into a locker. It made a loud bang in the quiet quad.
“Hey! Who’s over there? What are you doing?” a teacher called.
Raul turned heel and ran. It was foggy, so there was no way he’d been seen. He’d be gone before he could be ID’d. He swung around the end of the school, off school grounds and across the street.
When my hubs and I got married, there were a few things I had to learn to cook. Toast with Vegemite and mild cheddar cheese. Ham and cheese sandwiches with butter on the bread instead of mustard. Pea and ham soup like his mum makes. But the thing I had the hardest time getting right was Australian meat pie. My first few attempts, I used short pastry like I’d use for any savory pie and made the filling with sirloin and mushrooms and red wine, and it was yummy. And he ate it and said it was good. But finally after about the third time I made one that way he admitted that while that was a very nice steak and mushroom something or other, it was NOT an Aussie meat pie like he missed. Like the ones you get at a bakery. Like the ones you eat with “sauce” (aka ketchup) while you watch the footie.
So I went back to the internet and the drawing board and discovered an Australian blogger’s recipe that I finally adapted into this. And after a bit more trial and error, he swears this version is perfect. From what I gather, this is to Australians what the hot dog is to Americans–your basic religious experience. And like hot dogs, it’s cheap to make. So, you know, win win.
One helpful hint I wish someone had shared with me: give yourself about an hour and a half to get this done. None of the steps are complicated or particularly time-consuming, but you’ll need to pause between stages.
1 pound hamburger
1 onion, chopped (I have also used dried minced onion in a pinch.)
1 cup water, divided
2 beef bouillon cubes
1/4 cup ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
A generous sprinkling black pepper
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 generous pinch ground nutmeg
3 tablespoons plain flour
2 sheets frozen puff pastry
Brown the hamburger and the chopped onion over medium-high heat until the meat is cooked through and the onion is translucent. DO NOT DRAIN THE GREASE. I know, it hurts my soul, too, but it completely screws up the texture. Add 3/4 cup of the water, the bouillon cubes, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, pepper, oregano, and nutmeg; stir it all together. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, cook for 15 minutes.
Blend flour and remaining 1/4 cup water into a smooth paste. Add it to the meat mixture, stir it in thoroughly. (That’s what does magic with all that grease you left in the meat; it makes a really yummy gravy.) Remove from heat and let cool for about 20 minutes. While the filling cools, thaw your puff pastry and preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
Grease a pie dish and line it with thawed puff pastry–roll it out to the size you want. Fill with cooled meat mixture. Brush the edge with beaten egg wash or milk. Top with the second sheet of puff pastry, again rolled to size. Seal the edge by pinching it with your fingers or with a fork; trim off the excess. Cut vents in the top. Brush the whole top with the beaten egg wash or milk.
Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 25 more minutes or until golden brown.
This makes four Thunder-sized servings or six non-Thunder-sized servings. We eat it with tater tots, and he squirts ketchup all over the top of his. Do with that information what you will. All I’ll say is, it’s pretty darned tasty.
So yesterday, the Thunder from Down Under and I pulled into our driveway at lunch, and there was this tiny little dark lump near the carport. “What is that?” I asked Thunder. My sister next door has baby kittens at her house, but they’re two different shades of orange.
My massive Viking of a husband, in melting tones, said, “Awww, it’s a baby raccoon!”
And so it was. He didn’t seem to be afraid of us, really – he didn’t scamper away when we approached him, just sort of wandered. And he wasn’t bawling like baby raccoons do when they’re scared. But he looked weak and tired.
So Justin the Hubs and our brother-in-law, Derek, caught him gently and tucked him up in our doggo’s travel kennel, and Justin consulted the interwebs for someone who knew how to help.
By the time I got home from work yesterday, Baby Trash Panda had a blankey, food and water, and half a Krispy Kreme doughnut (classic glazed), and seemed a lot more alert and energetic. And Justin had found a certified rehabber who said he’d be glad to take him just as soon as he got home from picking up an orphaned baby possum in another county. We took that as a good sign.
So after dinner, we packed him up and drove off into the boonies to Doctor Doolittle’s house. Truth be told, we were a little apprehensive. But once we saw the guy had “White silence = white consent” painted on the back window of his pick-up truck, we figured we were in the right place–obviously he was our kind of people. And sure enough, he was very, very nice and seemed to know exactly what to do.
And this morning, he texted Justin and let him know that our own little Rocket has settled in nicely. So nicely, in fact, that his new dad thinks someone else must have tried to tame him then turned him loose (because apparently people just suck). He seems to have no fear of humans, and now that he’s had a couple of meals and a good night’s sleep, he doesn’t mind being picked up and handled at all. So instead of being returned to the wild, he will end up being one of Doctor Doolittle’s housepets. And we are very much okay with that.
This is him with his foster sister, a mama cat with whom we understand he has already taken to snuggling when she goes in his cage.
Have a great life, Baby Trash Panda!
UPDATE: Just in case anybody’s still worried about him. His new name is Shadow, and I think he’s managing.
I have a new book out. It’s called The Passion of Miss Cuthbert, and it’s the second in my series of romantic mysteries starring amateur detective Stella Hart. Stella is a silent movie actress in the 1920s whose stepfather owns an English manor house. Her fiancé and partner in crime-solving is George Barrington, Thirteenth Baronet of Kingsley-on-Pike. Stella is white. George is white. Stella’s mom and stepfather are white. Stella and George spend this installment on an ocean liner where the passengers we meet are all white, including the corpse, the killer, and Miss Cuthbert, the frumpy chaperone whose passion ignites the plot.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of weeks, you begin to see my problem.
The book was actually released as scheduled on June 4, 2020, a/k/a Day 10 of the protests following the murder of George Floyd by officers of the Minneapolis Police Department. That morning, my publishers and I talked it over and agreed that yeah, any kind of big promo push for my book that day would be disrespectful, tone deaf, and just generally gross. We all had friends on the front lines of the protests. More importantly, we had friends and colleagues whose lives were in danger every time they left the house.
I won’t pretend it made me happy to ignore my book release. I worked really hard on that story, and I’m proud of it. Plus it’s the first book I’ve ever written specifically and completely for Falstaff Crush, the Falstaff Books romance line, and I think that’s kind of cool. And trust me, I’m as arrogant and self-involved as any writer alive, and I really, really want to sell books. But not even I could stomach doing commercials for an easy-breezy story of a white girl on a cruise ship last Thursday.
John, Melissa, and I decided to wait to do any major promo until tomorrow, June 9, and as you can see, I’m blogging about it today. Is that any better? Is it still too soon? Honestly, I don’t have a clue.
Diversity has been on my mind with these books since the beginning. My original inspirations for this kind of story were two of the most overtly racist popular writers of the twentieth century, Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse. (If you don’t know what I’m on about, Google it. I don’t have the heart to tell you.) I knew going in I had to fix that, that my main characters were going to be sensitive to the world view of people not like them and aware of their privilege. And I think I’ve stayed true to that; I hope I have. But in these first two books at least, everybody is still #sowhite. I actually toyed with the idea of making Stella’s lady’s maid, the wise and fearless Sophie, a Black woman. I even floated the idea to my alpha reader, my sister, Alexandra Christian. Together we agreed it was a bad idea for two reasons: one, I’d only be doing it to have a Black character in the story, and two, if my story was only going to have one Black character, she did NOT need to be a lady’s maid.
So in Book One: Guinevere’s Revenge, which is set at that English manor house, everybody’s white. The second book I actually wrote for the series was The Baronet Unleashed. It takes place in Hollywood and has multiple Black characters, at least two of whom are scheduled to turn up in future installments. But when I started writing the Miss Cuthbert story, I realized it needed to happen before George saw Hollywood, so The Passion of Miss Cuthbert became Book 2, and The Baronet Unleashed became Book 3. If we’re all still around and books are still a thing, it should be coming out sometime this fall.
I wrote The Passion of Miss Cuthbert in January, February, and March of 2020 as the dumpster fire that my own personal life had become exploded outward into the dumpster fire that has engulfed everybody else. Writing it was my comfort, my escape, and I make no apologies for it. It’s a damned good book. Do I wish that for the week of its release, half of America was not at war with the other half? That we weren’t all in danger of getting sick and/or making one another sick, that some of us weren’t threatening violence for the right to make our neighbors sick? That Black Americans could live their lives as safely and fearlessly as I do mine, that we as a country could collectively agree to that as their inalienable right instead of brutalizing them in the public streets for even asking? I do, of course I do. I wish that every day whether I have a new book out or not. I’ve written lots of words that speak to that wish both in fiction and not, and I’ll keep doing that because writing words is the thing I do best.
But this week, I’ve got Stella, and she’s good. She’s fun. She means well. If that seems wrong to you, I get it; ignore me. My feelings won’t be hurt. But if you could use what my editor calls “All goodness and light with just a little touch of murder,” let me hook you up.
I have a book of my own coming out this week, and trust me, I’ll be telling you all about it. But watching the news and talking to my friends and reading the internet this week, I feel like it’s more important to shine my little spotlight on books from some of the amazing Black women writing romance. I know all four of these women as fellow authors, and I’m lucky enough to call a couple of them friends. But in every case, their art gives me joy as a reader and makes my own genre and my own writing better. Every one of them is irreplaceable, and I cherish every word they write. So to borrow the catchphrase of my own publisher, click the covers and buy their shit!
Dahlia Rose – Perci Rules the World (The Perci Podcast Series Book 1)
By day Percelle Meadows works at the Municipal Archives of New York City. From blueprints to vital statistics, if you need it, she can find it. By night, Perci takes on her persona of social jetsetter and all of her adventures are gobbled up voraciously by her fans. Being a forty something (hey age is just a number!), her life is just beginning all over again. Lovers, champagne and dancing the night away, it was so different than how she was raised, who she was taught to be.
Naima Simone – Ruthless Pride (Dynasties: Seven Sins Book 1)
Millionaire CEO Joshua Lowell earned his icy reserve and arrogant pride through painful experience. He refuses to allow gorgeous but determined reporter Sophie Armstrong to dredge up his family’s dark past—or circulate rumors of his secret child. But Joshua’s fierce pride is at war with his heated desire for Sophie, the only woman who could ruin him…or save him from himself.
Raelynn Blue – Firebreather
Angela Brown came to Alaska to study dragons, not fall in love with one. But when Ryuu Sho Jin, a brilliant and beautiful dragon shifter, falls into a life-threatening fever, she realizes how much this clan and this dragon have come to mean to her. She risks her life and binds herself to Ryuu as his lifelong mate. In his arms, she discovers passion and terror like she has never known before, and feelings for this man she never realized she could have. [Full disclosure: This particular book was published by Falstaff Crush.]
Nikki Prince – It’s Complicated (Undeniable Book 1)
Ashton Locke has had a thing for Keiko Jarrett since college. So when she proposes adding friends with benefits to the mix, he’s intrigued, but wary. Sure, he’s always wanted her, and is definitely not ready to settle down with anyone, but what happens if one of them crosses the line?
Usually right around this time of year, I’d be crowing with glee that ConCarolinas was coming up at the end of the month and that I was going to be there and that I hoped all y’all were going to be there and how it was going to be awesome!
But this year, we’ve got the Corona going around, and it’s just not safe. So like pretty much every fandom con I know about this spring, ConCarolinas in its known, in-person version is a no-go for 2020. And yes, we are all very sad. I only do one con a year, so I feel like I’ve lost a major connection to my tribe. I have a powerful need to hug other geek necks, and I can’t wait until it’s safe for us all to gather and crow together again.
But all is not lost! Because the people who run ConCarolinas are just as bummed out as we are AND all super-talented and super-tech-savvy and super-committed, they’ve found a way for us to all connect online. The Facebook group Con-Tinual: The Con That Never Ends is hosting an online version of ConCarolinas that has already started and will pick up steam throughout the rest of the month. We’ll have panels (I actually did one last night on Zoom with a bunch of other crazy writers on creating a world bible for your book series), watch parties, vendors, music, and much general hanging out, all from the safety and comfort of your own secured bunker or living room. I’ll check back in here as my own stuff is available, but in the meantime, just go on and sign up. It’s a good time, I promise.
Update: Here’s a link to the recording of our world-building panel: World Building Bibles at ConCarolinas (Me, Alexandra Christian, author and editor Melissa McArthur, author and editor Theresa Glover, author Joelle Reizes (J.D. Blackrose), and author Natania Barron, having a marvelous time.)