Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Welcome to Writers’ Wednesday, where each week I spotlight a writing tip from authors, both those published and those on the journey to publication. Today, I’m happy to feature good friend V. L. Gregory (Virginia Pohlenz) who writes immaculately researched young adult books about the West. She also writes Western poetry.

Virginia spent three years as Book Talk Representative for the Gateway Region of Scholastic and uses that experience to inform her ‘written’ storytelling. An avid fan of Dr. Suess she says, “My greatest writing thrill was winning Random House’s “Ham It Up” Contest. The $100 gift certificate and $50 Seuss library were worth the effort. However, my pride and joy is the original Green Eggs and Ham serigraph that I won from the estate of Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss).”

Your first book, as well as your WIP, is set in the 1800s American West. What draws you to this era? Overall, I love the era because it exploded with technological advances that changed the face of what America was. Cattle trails, railroads, and steamboats were expanding at a pace comparable to our electronic boom—only with more excitement. Fashions, music, art, and a host of other living habits were changing with every flood of new immigrants—it was a colorful mixture of new ideas and trends.

Women were emerging from docile “ownership” by men into an independent realm of their own. Conflict abounded, and—let’s face it—conflict causes dangers that stir the imagination. As authors, we aware of the need for conflict to “hook” our readers. I think I’m a “tad” on the sassy side. I relate to the struggles of a country AND women who find themselves in the throes of difficult growing pains.

My first book Saddlesores and Prairie Biscuits, currently out on submission, is about a young girl whose family is dead from cholera and who faces an uncertain future. She disguises herself as a boy and sets out on a cattle drive, hoping to find her long lost aunt. Along the way the observations she records reveal a surprising picture of the real ‘Old West.’

She finds the Western Trail from Mesquite Mesa, Texas, to Nebraska is besieged by adversities: river crossings, Nor'easters, prairie fires, and incredible loneliness. But in her struggle to survive, she discovers strength and courage she never dreamed she possessed.

What’s your next project? My WIP is Pistol Packin' Pencil Pushers. Here’s the blurb: Whispers and clandestine meetings in the wee morning hours take place without the conspirators realizing how close they are to Rebecca's sleeping niche aboard the paddle wheeler heading upstream. The "accidental" drowning of the Montana Territorial Governor seems suspiciously connected to these middle-of-the-night gatherings, but as long as no one knows she’s overheard, Rebecca is safe.

Then unexplained accidents begin to occur, and she fears she’s been discovered. Is she destined to "fall" overboard and add to the secrets that travel the churning currents of the Big Muddy?

Travis, a gifted artist, makes strikingly accurate renderings of the men from her descriptions. Now has their alliance put his life in jeopardy? Indian raids, shallow crossings, and over-heated boilers give ample opportunity for even more accidents during the three month journey, and Rebecca begins to doubt that she will ever arrive in Fort Benton.

I’m also working on a collection of Western poems. I want to complete about 12-14 diverse poetry styles (including one ballad) that are all Western thematic.

What one tip would you offer writers?

Any advice that I’d give would be preaching to the choir. To myself I’d say “Keep focused and minimize distractions.”

No kidding. I need to hang that on my wall. Thanks, again, for joining us today Virginia.

Thank you for inviting me. I was delighted to be here. I hope readers will drop by my website: I’d especially appreciate comments and suggestions on my blog. Email me at or I also check my Facebook regularly—“friend me.”

Monday, March 28, 2011

Richard I’s Death and Three Burials

This month we’ve been looking at major events that fell in March during the life of England’s Richard I (aka Coeur de Lion or Lionheart). Today we’ll look at his death--and three burials. Yes, three.

Ancient Greeks often wrote of hubris, a fatal flaw that contributed to the downfall of a powerful individual. Usually that fatal flaw was pride. Oedipus had it--excessive, overweening pride that led him to believe he could thwart The Gods. He found differently. Richard oozed pride and power which he combined with arrogance. That pride and arrogance might have contributed to the events of his death.

The facts: Richard and his army were in the midst of a siege at Chalus-Chabrol Castle, on break from the real war with Phillip of Spain due to an Easter truce. It was a mild evening that Friday, March 26, when he “made the rounds” outside the castle. Fighting, if any took place that day, had ceased, and he wore only a helmet for armor and carried a small triangular shield. A man on the battlement shot a crossbow at him. The king took the bolt high in the shoulder and died 12 days later.

The myth: Sources at the time give varied details with the facts. One said a treasure had been uncovered near Chalus, and Richard set out to claim it. When he was refused, he ordered a siege. Another writer indicates Richard was conducting military campaigns against other castles, as well (no mention of treasure was made in that account) and on his deathbed, order another castle be targeted.

One source (Coggeshall) says a lone crossbowman with just a frying pan as shield braved the wall to shoot at the king, and Richard stopped to applaud the man’s determination. Another source (Itier) said the shot came from one of only two knights left at the besieged castle. Whoever made the shot, Richard failed to take cover behind his shield in time, and the bolt struck him in the left shoulder. He refused to make a fuss, taking his time to return to the royal tent and send for assistance.

It seemed a minor injury, certainly not as serious as some he’d encountered. But the surgeon botched the job of cutting out the crossbow bolt, and the wound (coupled with the hack-job of treatment) developed gangrene. When his death became inevitable, Richard’s mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, was summoned.

Sources agree that once he realized he was dying, Richard behaved with rather loose morals. But he soon repented and confessed and received last rites. At one point, the bowman was summoned to the king’s side, and Richard pardoned him.

And in a major concession, Richard named his brother, John, as his successor. He had earlier said his late brother Geoffrey’s son, Arthur, should succeed him. Arthur was but 16 at this time and after Richard’s death formed an unsuccessful alliance with King Phillip of France to take the English crown.

On April 6 or 7 (depending on source), Richard died. But his story was far from over. Nothing like a simple funeral for the Coeur de Lion. He had three. According to Gillingham, the king’s "brains and entrails were buried…at Charroux” abbey. His heart was buried at Rouen.

On April 11, Palm Sunday, the rest of his body, along with the full regalia he wore at crowing just ten years earlier, was interred at Fontrevauld. He lies at his father’s feet.

We might be touched at the king’s forgiveness of the man who shot him. (I’ll give you a moment to feel happy for the poor fellow.) In spite of the pardon, one reports says, after Richard’d death his top mercenary commander and friend, Mercadier, ordered the bowman flayed alive.

Ironic that one of the most famous of England’s kings isn’t buried in England. Spent only six months of his reign there. And never learned to speak the language.

Information adapted from John Gillingham’s, Richard I, New Haven, CT.: Yale University Press, 1999.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Writers' Wednesday

Welcome to Writers’ Wednesday. Each week, I hope to spotlight a writing tip from authors, both those published and those on the journey to publication. To launch the series, I’m happy to feature Elke Feuer, a friend I met at RWA Nationals in Orlando last year.

Thanks for taking time out of your schedule to talk with us today, Elke.

It’s a pleasure to be here, Barb.

Your current manuscript is set in Chicago. Would you please tell us a little about the work and what draws you to this genre?

My current manuscript is called For the Love of Jazz. I love mysteries, and jazz music. Combine that with a lot of bubble baths and wine, and the story developed from there. Here is a little taste:

To launch her restoration architecture company, Josie Fagan must convince Patrick Pullman she’s the only one who can restore his unique 1940s bungalow. She gets more than she bargains for when a condition of the contract is that she stay at the house with him, and what Patrick Pullman wants, Patrick Pullman gets…

She feels an immediate connection not only to Patrick and his house, but to the previous tenants. Patrick’s uncle and his lover, Lola, who disappeared fifty years before, are still present. Is the attraction between Patrick and Josie real, are Lola and William still acting out their unfinished lives or is the house just haunted? Is Lola really Josie’s missing aunt?

Patrick Pullman doesn't believe in ghosts or that his house is haunted, but when he starts having visions of Lola; maybe Josie isn't crazy after all. Will they find out the truth before she disappears too?

It sounds great, Elke--and eerie. What’s your next project?

The main setting is in the Cayman Islands, where I’m from, so I’m very excited about it! It’s about the daughter of a serial killer who tries to redeem the sins of her mother by becoming a forensic officer. She returns to Cayman, tired of the talking dead bodies she couldn’t silence and running from a love she can’t possess.

On the twentieth anniversary of her mother’s capture, someone is murdered in the same manner as her mother’s victims. She is forced to work with the man she ran from and face the terrifying truth she’s been hiding for twenty years.

Wow. I love the concept. Best of luck with it.

What one tip would you offer writers?

Write, no matter what. You can’t reach your goals or dreams without the work. You can achieve good writing habits by finding one that works for you and sticking to it.

So true. Thanks, again, Elke, for joining us today.

Thanks for having me, Barb.

For more information on Elke Feuer visit her blog:

Monday, March 21, 2011

Richard on Trial

This month I'm looking at several pivotal events in Richard I's later life, events that coincidentally happened in March and April.

While many of Richard I’s contemporaries glorified him for his military prowess and his power, Richard’s enemies were as numerous—and just as powerful. Phillip of France was a bitter foe, even though the two managed a semi-truce while on Crusade. Phillip returned from Outremer first and, many historians say, lost little time in vilifying Richard. Leopold, Duke of Austria, as well as Henry VI, Holy Roman Emperor, felt they had multiple reasons to consider him an enemy.

On the way home from Crusade, Richard’s army was besieged with problems, including a shipwreck which left the king more or less stranded in hostile territory. Trying to evade capture (and that’s an interesting story for another time) he set out with a handful of attendants. Various sources relate different details, but the essential fact remains: Richard was captured by the duke’s officers (on Dec. 20 or 21, depending on source) very close to Vienna.

While Leopold and Henry VI bargained over custody of the king, in England Justiciar Hubert Walter convened a Great Council. From it two abbots were sent to ascertain whether or not Richard actually lived. His brother, John, argued he was dead and set about consolidating power.

On March 19, 1193, the two abbots discovered Richard in Germany, enroute with Leopold’s men to be handed over to Henry VI. At Speyer on March 21, Richard faced trial at which time the Emperor made demands--which Richard refused. On March 22, Richard was formally accused of acts ranging from breaking treaties to conspiring to murder to “betraying the Holy Land” (Gillingham 237). Reports say Richard so impressed everyone with his oratory in denying the accusations that Henry VI dropped the charges—but still demanded a king’s ransom.

On March 25, Richard at last agreed to pay 100,000 marks, as well as to provide ships and knights for the Emperor’s use for a 12-month. (That ransom was increased three months later.)

Richard became Henry’s hostage until the money was paid but lived, sources of the time report, in a good deal of luxury, with freedom to have attendants, receive guests and direct much of the business of ruling.

Meanwhile, the crunch was on at home to raise the ransom. His mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine, spearheaded the effort while Brother John did all in his power to thwart it. (Unfortunately for those of us who love the myth and the movies, Robin Hood did not play a part.)

Not until a year later (in March) did Richard set foot in England--for a few weeks of the only six months he spent in the country during his lifetime.

(Gillingham, John. Richard I, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1999.)

Monday, March 14, 2011

March a Key Month for Richard the Lionheart

Although Richard the Lionheart has never 'personally' appeared in any of my books, the events surrounding his life and reign have provided background--and often motivation--for my characters. I've spent a good deal of time researching the king, and found an overwhelming amount of factual information that challenges any fictional plot one can imagine.

Often research turns up connections that seem unusual, coincidental, ironic. One such series of coincidences can be found in some of the dates important later in Richard I's life. Filed under the 'fact-stranger-than-fiction' is the odd significance of the months of March and April.

"Look to yourself; the devil is loose." That sentence could be a hook from a modern paranormal novel. In fact, it's a message sent by France's King Phillip for Lord John of England, warning John that his brother, Richard, had reached agreement with some of his captors.

Why should John be warned? He and Phiullip had joined forces in an attempt to usurp Richard's power after the Lionheart was captured returning home from Crusade in 1192. Poor John...Richard's youngest brother devoutly wished to be king, and he'd done everything he could to undermine Richard's control in England while Richard was on Crusade. His efforts increased when Richard subsequently held captive by Austria's Duke Leopold and, later, Holy Roman Emperor Henry VI in Germany.

In spite of John's efforts, the huge ransom (150,000 marks) was raised and delivered. Actually, 100,000 marks was delivered with 50,000 owing. To ensure the rest of the money was forthcoming, several hostages remained behind with the captors. (Most were released not long after.)

On Feb. 4, 1194, Richard was released from captivity in Germany and began what seemed to be a leisurely trek home. He didn't actually arrive in England until March 13. He landed at Sandwick to face immediate conflict. John had fled England and loyal troops to ensured surrender of all of John's castles. All but two--Tickhil and Nottingham. As soon as the garrison at Tickhill saw proof the king had returned it surrendered. The castle at Nottingham held out however, and Richard, himself, appeared.

According to Richard scholar, John Gillingham, Lionheart reached the town on March 25, triggering a triumphant (if cruel) demonstration of his power. He established headquarters there and later held a four-day council with his primary advisors. At that meeting it was decided that he would undrgo a 'crown-wearing,' a symbolic second coronation. The ceremoney was set for April 17 at Westminster.

Auspicious dates marking new beginnings for Richard. Yet they ironically reflected his 'ending.'

Five years and a day later on March 26, 1199, he suffered an arrow wound that would lead to his death eleven days later. He was buried on Palm Sunday, April 11.

But his death and burial are another story, stranger than fiction.