Where Have I Been All Your Life?

I haven’t had a blog entry since <mumbles>.

December, okay? DECEMBER!

But I have an excuse, and it’s legit and everything.

Not long after I finished my previous blog entry asking for suggestions for books to ask for last Christmas, I went a bit under the weather.

We were just about to get released for our Christmas break at school. I had magnificently laid plans not to think about teaching for two whole weeks. I would write. It would be lovely.

I’m sure you already sense the inevitable disaster looming.

I got appendicitis on December 18th.

I mean, no big deal, minor surgery, in and out in three days, plenty of time to anticipate the scent of turkey filling the house. Except… because this is me we’re talking about, I had a few complications.

My last Facebook post on the 19th, which I don’t remember posting or experiencing, talked about how I wished they’d stop giving me whatever post-surgical pain meds I was on because they were making me vomit, and I longed to keep down my Jello-O.

Alas, as Jimi Hendrix might attest to, vomiting and strong narcotics don’t mix.

On the 20th, I aspirated, filling my lungs and giving myself double pneumonia and respiratory failure. The x-ray of my lungs, which should be clear, was opaque. I would spend the next week on life support in a coma. They took me off the ventilator once, but had to put me back on. There had been much hand wringing, apparently, over my prognosis.

I don’t know. I wasn’t there.

On December 28th, they took me off the ventilator again, and this time it took. I had to wear a torturous breathing apparatus that forced my lungs to breathe while I learned how, but I was awake.

On our 22nd wedding anniversary, December 29th, my husband was allowed to bring our two sons, ages 20 and 17, into the ICU for a visit. It warmed my heart to be with my family, see my boys be silly and bounce off each other. My husband’s eyes filled with tears when he said, “It’s so good to see you smiling!” How bad was this for him, I wondered.

Sometime while I was comatose or coming around, I had the most terrifying hallucinations you could imagine.

find myself pausing here as I type this. I can’t bring myself to describe them. They felt absolutely real, these experiences that nobody should ever have to go through. That’s all I can say.

I asked my husband leading questions to see if any of the things I experienced were remotely possible. No, if what he said was true, they were not possible. It was all in my head. I’m still not utterly convinced I believe him, but I must. I have no reason not to believe him, except for the vivid terror that went on and on without the respite of waking up.

That terror was replaced by consciousness and lingering paranoia, and I spent another week in ICU recovering. I was learning to breathe, to swallow, to sit up, eventually even stand. I fell at one point and wondered if I’d ever be independent again. I tried to write something down for my husband, but the letters I thought I was forming were nonsensical scribbles. I wondered then if I had lost everything.

Spoiler: I hadn’t. It all came back, slowly, as the powerful drugs they had given me wore off and I regained a more normal neurological function.

I was in the hospital for a month. They said my recovery was remarkable. I was back at my teaching job about three weeks after that. My breathing and balance were spotty (still are, but improving). All in all, a remarkable bounce-back, according to the smorgasbord of doctors on my team.

But I had lost something. I lost my spark.

I had no ambition to write, to teach, to do anything. I wasn’t just tired, I was done. This despite the fact that my near-death experience should have had the opposite effect. It should have lit a fire under me. Life is fragile, gone in a whiff. I needed to finish what I had started, to tell the stories I’ve been learning and longing to write these last few years.

But I had lost it.

I kept trying anyway, and even made some progress over these past few months, even without the passion. I began to accept that this hollowed out existence would be my new normal, that my youth had died when my lungs filled, and I would have to make the best of this sudden onset of old age.

Okay, before you get all sad for me, I want you to know I turned a corner. Spring Break, last week, I finally got my school holiday, and the rest seemed to awaken my sleeping mojo. It wasn’t lost, just dormant.

It may seem obvious that I just needed time to recuperate. That recovery only took three months after the trauma that nearly took my life, and I should have been more patient with the process. I think, though, until you go through something like that, you don’t realize how much you take for granted that your body, your mind, your life will always be business as usual.


Whether it’s a health scare, or a major life change of any sort, the sands will shift and priorities will shift with them. We may feel like we’re in one place, but we are flying through space and time at breakneck speed.

Never pass the chance to embrace a moment, a passion, a loved one. Our solid floor is just a tectonic raft that can upend at any time. And never give up on yourself, even when you are broken and exhausted. Even when the raft throws you off… just get back on. And wait for your equilibrium and balance to come back. It will, hopefully.

While there’s life, there’s hope, right?

All that to say… uh, yeah, I will try to blog more often now. Missed you!




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Brain Hacks and Christmas Wish Lists

I don’t take nearly as much time as I’d like to read. I do a lot of researching, which requires reading in bits and pieces, but pleasure reading tends to evade me.

That’s a shame, because I’m the pleasure-reader authors dream about. I get lost in the story, fall in love with the characters, cheer and cry and laugh at all the right times. I’m your favorite fangirl.

Those things also make me a terrible editor. Proofreading for errors? Sure, all day. Editing for plot holes and messy character arcs and other problems? When I’m that lost in a story, I can’t see past my tissues. It’s just a big ol’ bag o’ nope.

I digress. It’s my blog, I reserve the right.

So a few weeks back, while casually strolling through the library, I happened upon a time travel novel with a cool cover (yes, we do judge). It was Jodi Taylor’s Just One Damned Thing After Another. I expected it to be not terribly exciting, and it took a while for me to crack it open.

I was oh-so-ever-so wrong.

Turns out, it was the first book in the Chronicles of St. Mary’s series, which I wish I could hook up to my arm like an IV. I’ve just finished book four in the series and I’ve had to pause a bit before I had an emotional and intellectual breakdown.

That’s what books should do to you. In the Writing Excuses podcast for authors, they talk a lot about hacking your brain. I love that phrase! When we read, we are opening our minds to be hacked to turn black squiggles on a white page into a whole story playing in our heads, with all the pictures, ideas, and feels that go with it. It’s really an extraordinary experience if you think about it.

Anyway, I had intended today’s blog to be a wish list of what I want to read in the coming year and planned to send it to all my loved ones just before Christmas. You know, just in case they needed a nudge. But I have digressed, which I again assert my right to do.

Hey, maybe I’ll just throw this out there. Do you have any recommendations for me? I love early modern European history, romances, and time travel. You know, like my novel. I’m open to other genres as well.

What should I put on my Christmas list, provided I make it to the Nice column?

Our collective suggestions will be my next post. Make ‘em good!



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Still Here…

You’ll be happy to know that the rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated.

Seriously, though, I’m a bit confused about myself, which, at my age, is troubling indeed.

You see, I’m a teacher. You know, one of those people who take summers off, right? Yeah, well, I have never taken a summer off in my adult life. I always work summer school to stave off poverty, and as a way to teach English now at then instead of my usual history classes.

This year, though, everything changed.

First, I changed jobs, to a district much closer to home, and I teach English for special needs students. Since I changed districts, my old district decided they didn’t need me for summer school.

Wow, a summer off! Lots of time to write! Get that second novel done while I wait for the first one to be edited! Blog like a mad woman!

Yeah, no.

I turned into an absolute slug. Proving, I’m sad to say, that I have no self-discipline.

So now, I’m just finding my groove again, starting to write with some regularity, and getting back into shape, mentally and physically. Because slug.

All that to say, hey, I’m back. And one of the things I really want to do is to start monitoring all the research I’ve been doing. Which, as it turns out, was the one way I was productive all summer.

That and gaming. Sigh . . . I’ve all but left a trail of slime behind me.

So, you may notice a new page on my site called Bibliography. I thought I’d go ahead and keep a running bibliography online of the research I’m doing. Hopefully it will become a decent resource for those of you looking at the same eras as me. And you can get an idea of just what goes into the preparation for writing historical fiction.

I feel pretty bad about wasting a summer off like that. Maybe I needed it, I don’t know. But for some reason, the less time I have to write, the more time I actually spend writing.

And if that’s not confusing, nothing is.


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J is for Joiner

As in, I’ll join anything! Follow, follow, follow, that’s me.

I’ll even join a blogging challenge in the busiest time of my school year. April. Days before the U.S. History STAAR test administered here in Texas.

Yes, I teach U.S. History. At an alternative high school where the clientele is, for sundry reasons, slightly more challenging than average.

But I joined. And letters fly by, and I just can’t.

Maybe that should have been my J blog. J is for Just Can’t.

Last weekend, I joined a 5K/5K challenge in my writing group. In a twenty-four hour period, I walk 5k and write 5,000 words.

I was so tired, but I tried. I slogged through words. I walked and walked and walked. And my kid got sick and we ended up in the ER. He’s fine, but my effort failed.

I’m in another challenge where I write every day. But there are days when I’m trying to cut words, not add new ones. And days when I am researching, reading, marketing, editing, and scores of other things that involve no new words.

Like resting.

My joining efforts are increasingly difficult and don’t seem to get me any closer to actually finishing my books, and yet I join anyway.

I wonder what it is that compels us to do this? Perhaps the affirmation received when we succeed. Perhaps that group effort that makes us feel we’re part of something greater than ourselves. Especially since writing is so often a solitary endeavor.

Whatever it is, it sure is making me tired.

So, I wonder, should J be Just Say No, or Just Do It?

Knowing me, it’ll probably be the latter. Every time.


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F is for Ferrabosco

Isn’t that a great name? Alfonso Ferrabosco the Elder. He was a handsome guy, too, and a court composer to Elizabeth I.

Stories about people like Alfonso are why I became a historian.

If you never get past names-dates-events in history, if you never get to the human stories, the people, the personalities that are larger than life and stranger than fiction, then you missed the whole point.

I became acquainted with Ferrabosco through one of the characters in my novel series, Cardinal Gabriele Paleotti, Bishop of Bologna. Paleotti was from a noble family who had ties with the Ferraboscos in his youth.

The Ferraboscos has been a musically talented family. Alfonso’s father, Domenico, taught the Paleotti brothers to play. Alfonso himself traveled throughout Europe with his uncle, ending up in England.

Except, Protestant Elizabethan England wasn’t a particularly safe place for a young, Italian, Catholic musician.

Nonetheless, the Earl of Leicester maintained a circle of Italian intellectuals at Oxford University, and Alfonso was among them. In fact, he was the first to bring madrigal vocal music to England, though it would take another ten years after he left before it caught on.

Okay, but here’s where it gets good. While Alfonso was writing music in England, the Pope was hoping he could, you know, just keep an eye on things–political things–while he was in England.

And Queen Elizabeth wanted him to, you know, check things out in the Catholic world, too. He was paid quite handsomely for his position as a court musician. Entirely too handsomely.

Meanwhile, Ferrabosco got involved with a Flemish woman, Susanna Symons, a Protestant. But he traveled back and forth between Catholic Italy and Protestant England. He got in trouble for attending a Catholic mass with a French envoy. Heck, he even associated himself with the Earls of Leicester and Sussex, who were political rivals to each other.

He was burning his candle at every conceivable end. I really want to know how he did this!

By the time Ferrabosco enters the world of the Journeymen, he is fleeing England with his now wife, Susanna, leaving his two young children behind at Elizabeth’s request. He is picked up in France with all sorts of prices on his head, and in my story, my fictional characters are smuggling Susanna back to Bologna for safekeeping. Alfonso soon arrives back in Italy, imprisoned by the Pope. Even Catherine de Medici makes an appeal on his behalf. Eventually, he is turned over to Cardinal Paleotti, who keeps him comfortably imprisoned in Bologna.

How can I resist this story?

I can hardly wait to share a bit of the story between Alfonso and Susanna, and how their shared trials bring them into a deeper love with each other. Watch for La Dotta, my second Journeyman novel, early next year.  I’ll be working diligently on it this weekend.


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E is for Embroidery

I miss the SCA.

I’ve spent decades on the periphery of the Society for Creative Anachronism, perhaps the world’s largest collection of nerds who love the Middle Ages. And now that I can finally afford to participate, I found a new hobby.

I write books.

But crap, I want to do both!

So here is my small commitment. I’m going to start doing some embroidery. Not a huge project, just something I can work on while sitting in a chair.

Blackwork PaintingThen I’m going to take that project to an event. Maybe a meeting. I’ll bring it with me and sew. It’ll be like a hand prop.

Maybe someone will say, “Ooh, that’s a nice piece of blackwork you’re doing there.” I’ll thank them and maybe say a few words about it.

“I’m doing blackwork because I’m researching sixteenth century Italy for a novel, and I’d like to try some of the things they did then.”

I would show a picture, perhaps. “Here is blackwork embroidery on a sleeve.”

“Here is the pattern I’m trying. It’s a bit like counted cross stitch.”

Blackwork Pattern

“Not much blackwork survives,” I’ll add, “because the black silk deteriorated over the years. But isn’t it lovely?”

I won’t count on being able to say all that, though. I will probably just do my embroidery quietly.

The point is to just be there. I just want to be there.



Filed under Chatting with the Readers, SCA & Reenactment

D is for Drabble

Sounds like what I do to my shirts when I try to eat crab legs with drawn butter.

No, it’s actually a writing thing. A drabble is a microfiction story of 100 words. It tests a writer’s sense of brevity and ability to use words that bring the biggest impact.

Considering I’ve just written a 132,000 word novel, I have apparently lost that ability.

However, I’m in a Facebook group called 10 Minute Novelists, and they have recently started doing a weekly drabble challenge. Katharine Grubb, our fearless leader, provides three random words (drawn from her kids’ Apples to Apples game), and we develop a drabble.

Unable to pass up a challenge, I make it even harder for myself. My drabbles have to be historical fiction.

So far, I’ve only done a couple, but now that I’ve handed off my novel (Lord have mercy), I think I’ll keep trying this. It really does build the important skill of making every single word count.

You want me to do that, trust me.

So, for your drabbling pleasure, allow me to share a couple that I have written. I’ll move these over to its own page on my website when I have a bit more of a collection. Your challenge is to try and guess what the topic is for these drabbles. Yes, they are based on historical events. Let me know if I did a good job providing clues in the story.

The Crown

The storms of three springs cleansed anew these fields once baptized in the blood of men and horses. Today, the fields are a maiden’s shortcut home after charming the mother goats of their milk. A gilded glint gives the maiden pause. Kneeling, digging, she unearths a broken filigreed crown.

Should she give it to the leaders, to have this royal remnant interred with its rightful king, secretly buried in Leicester village? Or worse, given to the Welsh usurper as a trophy?

No. Kings, dead nor living, need no artifacts that could feed her family for many stormy springs to come.

Forty-Six Seconds

The newsboy emerged from his hiding place behind the tavern, tripping over the bumpy cobblestones that made up the dark alleys of San Francisco. He took off his cap and dusted himself off, particles of concrete and fallen buildings floating and covering his knickers and jacket. Peering through the destruction, he could make out the Pacific Ocean, like a streak of blue sky on a stormy day, at the bottom of the hill. He clutched some newspapers under his arm, which he had used to protect his head. It was, and would remain, the longest forty-six seconds of his life.

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C is for Complete

As in… when the heck is this <@&* thing really complete already?

I still don’t know.

I’ve been saying Shadow of the Portico is “done” for so long now, I have rendered the word meaningless.

Sixty-three years ago, when I wrote the scene in which my artist character must decide if her painting is done or not, I didn’t understand her dilemma nearly as well as I do now.

(I exaggerate the timeline there, but only slightly.)

Emilia realized that once her self-portrait was done, it no longer belonged to her. It belonged to the world. Or in her case, it belonged to her betrothed, a man whom she hadn’t met, and didn’t really care to meet.

But why wouldn’t I want to finish my book? Why do I still see little things to change here and there? Why do I edit edit edit until I want to fling it across the room?

I can guess the reasons. Perfectionism. Fear.

Here’s the bottom line, though. I am blessed with having my friend, Olivia Folmar Ard, herself a very talented writer, edit my book. And she is sick of me crying about it.

“Just give it to me already,” she says, and I feel tremendous relief.

I also wish she didn’t live several states away so I can perch myself on her shoulder like Snoopy having a vulture moment.

No, stop. It’s done, Becca. Complete. Fin. I promise.

Of course, I can say that because I’ll have one more round of edits to go after my editor and beta readers look at it.

(Speaking of which, I need to start buying chocolates and wine for those readers so they say nice things to me…)

After THAT, it will be COMPLETE. And I’ll hit the Publish button and it will belong to you, Dear Reader.

Maybe I’ll get you chocolate, too.

We’ll just rename this whole post C is for Chocolate, because, honestly, that whole “Complete” thing is scary as #&@^.




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B is for Bologna

In my “A is for…” post, I hit so many possibilities for this “B is for…” post. Blogging, bouncing baby books, blank walls. But my heart is telling me to write a love story about Bologna.

I am in love with Bologna.

If you’re thinking about the lunch meat, you clearly have never met me, nor read any of my blogs, or even looked at the picture at the top of the page.

(However, you may be acquainted with my younger son, who loves a good bologna sandwich or three.)

I mean the Italian city! I love the city.

Perhaps it was because I began researching Bologna as the setting of my novel with no hope of ever going there. For two solid years, I ran through the streets using Google Maps, trying to get a feel for things. I wrote semi-blind, doing as much serious research as I could, pouring over paintings, books, maps, memoirs, whatever I could.

By the time I got there, I knew it like the back of my hand. And the reality of it was so much more extraordinary than the computer version.

Perhaps it was because I’ve never been to Europe and have been obsessed with it most of my life. So my inaugural trip there already had a soft place prepared in my heart.

When I say I love it, it feels like an understatement. Put it to you this way. While there, my sons and I also visited Venice and Florence. They were both amazing, almost overwhelming in their beauty, their history, their culture. And yet, I couldn’t wait to get back to Bologna, because it felt like home.

One of the places we visited was the Sanctuary of Corpus Domini, the Poor Clare convent that was home for my character Emilia at the beginning of her story. I walked around the place, reverently, silently, knowing I was ACTUALLY THERE, where Emilia lived.

Okay, Emilia wasn’t real, but the place was.

So, while I stood with my mouth hanging open, a man who had been sitting in the pews came up and started talking with me. His English was so-so, my Italian even worse, but we were still able to share our mutual love of the place. He walked us around, told us about the paintings, the artifacts, the tomb of Laura Bassi, one of Bologna’s first woman professors, the severe damage the building took during World War II and the ongoing efforts to restore it.

The man was so generous with his time and knowledge, and I was so awestruck with the place, I didn’t even think to ask him his name or who he was.

On Christmas day, we decided to hear Mass at the Sanctuary. I was so excited, not only about listening to the nuns sing the mass, but because the mass was printed out for us and I could follow it even with my weak Italian, maybe improve my language skills in the process.

And guess what. As the procession came in, there was my tour guide–the priest of the Sanctuary. Of course! He was wearing a coat in the cold building when I met him, so I don’t know if he was wearing a collar. (I don’t think he was.) But I felt silly that I didn’t guess who he was. And even though we were unable to understand most of his homily, my boys and I left feeling blessed and very impressed with how Christ shone through this kind man.

A week later, we came home from our trip. I spent the last couple days there crying over the prospect of leaving, and I’m getting weepy thinking about it even now.

So the question was, did going there in person make a difference in my book? Honestly, very little! I guess I did a good job with the research, as far as the objective presentation of Bologna goes.

But did it change my heart? My God, yes. And I suspect that love will come through more in my second novel, which is underway now.

The two weeks in Bologna changed me in a way I can’t fathom. Words fail me. It was like falling in love. Even when it’s over, you’re not the same. I hope in my heart that love affair with Bologna isn’t over, and I’ll see it again. But in the meantime…

I have laid out another story in the Journeymen series that is about this love. It’s called The Fortnight, and while it has some characters from the other novels, it is a standalone story. It is about an American woman and an Italian priest, and the friendship and affection they share for each other, and how it affects them both long after their two weeks together is over.

At least my character, Windy, has the good sense to find out the name of the priest she meets–Pietro.

No, this story isn’t anything like what happened in Bologna, and I hope readers don’t misunderstand my intent. It’s just that I hope personifying those days when I made Bologna my home will be the best way for me to share with you how much they meant to me.


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A is for April Attempts and Aspirations

…and apparently, alliterations.

I promise I’ll stop doing that now.

So here we are! April! And here I am. I just can’t pass up a challenge.

Write a book? Sure! Do a blog? Uh, okay, but I don’t really have anything to–

I know, shut up and write. Having nothing to say is no excuse.

Hey, it’s April! And out there in the great expanse of the blogosphere, online diarists everywhere are in the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I participated last year and wrote a good chunk of the alphabet. I was pleased with my effort, incomplete as it was, and happy to have information about my books on my website.Blank Wall

This year feels different. I’m kind of staring at a big, white wall. Literally.

The place where I write is empty. Maybe I need some inspiration, color, ideas.

My book is done, but for a few housekeeping details, and ready to send off to my editor. She stands ready with a machete, feel like I’m bleeding already. (Go back and read that last bit out loud. I could be a rapper. I ain’t trippin’.)

It’s a strange feeling. I thought it would be more like childbirth–a lot of huffing and puffing and pain, and then a bouncing baby boy in my arms. I did that twice, so I thought I knew how that went.

The book in my hands is no baby. It isn’t nearly as joyous. I feel very alone. (No, I’m not writing the A is for Alone post, tempting as that may be.)

It feels like an end, not a beginning.

So, maybe what I need is a beginning. I think this will be my theme this year, new beginnings, new inspirations, new pictures on the wall.

Yeah, normal people do this in January, but I was still dazed after my life-altering trip to Europe. Besides, normal? Bah… April it is!

And how about you? Do you have a blog I can visit? Have you thought about starting one? I’d love to encourage you. Let me know in the comments, or just say hi. I’m glad you stopped by.

See you on Monday with “B is for…” Um…

Yeah, I’m sure I’ll have a B by Monday! Can’t pass up a challenge!


Filed under #AtoZChallenge, Chatting with the Readers