Category Archives: romance

Oxford, England

Magdalen College

From her vantage point in the tower of Magdalen College, Effie had a birds-eye view of the City of Oxford, which reminded her of a medieval town cast in gold.  Against the backdrop of an ancient city wall, colleges crowned with spires and domes dominated the landscape.  Some dated to the thirteenth century.  Constructed of honey-colored stone, the buildings glowed like amber in the noonday sun. 


Unobserved, she gazed down upon the students, tourists, and natives who strolled along the narrow streets, crossed campuses, and passed under the Bridge of Sighs.  Oxford was a blend of old and new–a place where past and present met and found each other compatible. 



If you’ve been following my blog, you may already know that I am a huge fan of  Augusta Evans Wilson and her book ST. ELMO.  Both inspired my novel THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

Filmmaker Robert Clem pays tribute to Augusta Evans Wilson and ST. ELMO in his film THE PASSION OF MISS AUGUSTA.  The film premiered September 12, 2013, in Mobile, Alabama.  I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m looking forward to viewing the DVD.  (I’m listed as one of the co-producers in the credits.)

“The Passion of Miss Augusta” is part drama, part documentary.  The film begins as a silent film version of ST. ELMO then fast-forwards to the 1950s with the main characters in modern dress.  As you watch the trailer (above) notice the differences between the silent and modern-day versions.

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909), America...

Augusta Jane Evans Wilson (1835-1909), American novelist (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Who is Effie Belle Butler?

The first time I read ST ELMO, I wasn’t very impressed. I was a flighty 16-year-old, and my knowledge of literature was limited to the required reading list in my English class.  I was familiar with ST. ELMO only because it was my grandmother’s favorite novel. She kept it in her bookcase near the front door. One day I decided to borrow it.  My grandmother did not tell me when to bring it back but made it clear that I should not keep it too long.  I recall that she was relieved when I returned it.

Fast forward 29 years. My daughter was 16 and looking for something to read during the summer and asked for ideas.  I saw this as an opportunity to introduce her to literature.  She read everything I suggested:  JANE EYRE, RAMONA, TESS OF THE D’URBERVILLES and similar novels.  When I could think of nothing else, I recommended my grandmother’s copy of ST. ELMO, which was handed down to me years after Grandmother’s death.

Much to my surprise, my daughter gushed that ST ELMO was the best book she had ever read.  Her enthusiasm prompted me to read it again.  Once I picked it up, I could not put it down. Without a doubt, it was the best novel I had ever read too.  I liked it so much that I read it repeatedly–nine times, in fact.  (My grandmother read it fifteen times.)

Written by Augusta Evans Wilson in 1866, ST. ELMO was almost as popular as BEN HUR and UNCLE TOM’S CABIN.  Towns, dogs, and cigars were named after the book and its Byronic protagonist.  Margaret Mitchell used “St. Elmo” as the model for “Rhett Butler” in GONE WITH THE WIND.

ST. ELMO was Augusta Evans Wilson‘s third novel.  She wrote nine and I read them all.  I also read her biography by William Fidler and learned that ST ELMO was made into a silent film in 1923, starring John Gilbert. Thus, the main character in my first novel, THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, is a John Gilbert look-alike.  I named the female protagonist after my paternal grandmother, Effie Belle Butler (1885-1965).  After all, my grandmother ignited my interest in ST. ELMO, which inspired me to become a writer, and I wanted to immortalize her.

The real Effie Belle Butler was just as obsessed with ST ELMO as my fictional “Effie Belle Butler,” but the comparison doesn’t end there.  The real Effie Belle had chestnut hair and sapphire eyes.  So does the fictional one.  The real-life Effie Belle had a best friend named Clara Banton.  So does the fictional one.

Actually, the best friend angle was a coincidence.  I borrowed the name “Clara” from a character in AT THE MERCY OF TIBERIUS (another book by Augusta Evans Wilson) and chose the surname “Banton” because it was in my genealogy.   But I had no idea that my grandmother’s best-friend and first cousin was Clara Banton until I saw the photo below with their names written on the back.

EffieandClaraEffie Belle Butler (left) and Clara Banton (right):  friends in real life as well as in fiction

Writing: The God Factor

I felt driven to write THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, a romance that reflects a Biblical view of love and marriage.   When I started writing the novel, I didn’t have an outline, but I knew how the story would end.  Sometimes I would get a snippet of conversation in my head and run with it, but now and then I would get “stuck.”  During those times, the hand of Providence seemed to intervene.

Most of the novel takes place in an antebellum home with a second story ballroom.  My husband remarked, “There’s no such thing as a second-story ballroom.”  If he was correct, I would have to rewrite pivotal scenes.  A few days later, I was sitting in a cafe when I overheard some women talking about a home in historic Williamsburg with a ballroom on the upper level. I interrupted them to confirm what I heard them say.  Next, Garrison Keillor mentioned a home with a third-story ballroom on his radio program, Prairie Home Companion.  I sighed with relief.  My second-story ballroom could stay in the story.

Chapter 8 takes place at a concert at the Kennedy Center.  During intermission, “Effie” and “Rev. Baldwin” step out on the balcony. I wanted to write the balcony scene, but I needed more information. I wanted to describe the panoramic view from the balcony.  As I was penning THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I was also happened to be writing a real estate column for THE CONNECTION, a local paper in Northern Virginia.  As a realtor took me through the home I was going to feature, she mentioned–out of the blue–that she and her husband had just been to the Kennedy Center.  I said, “What can you see when you look over the balcony.”  She replied, “Watergate, Key Bridge, the Lincoln Memorial, and Teddy Roosevelt Island.”  I went home and finished Chapter 8.

ConfederateUniformsetcChapter 17 is the centerpiece of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.  It features a Confederate ball for reenactors and their dates.  I wondered how I could write about a Confederate ball when I had never been to one.  Again my real estate column came into play.  As I walked through the house I was going to write about, I stumbled upon a framed photo of a man in a Confederate uniform and a woman dressed in an antebellum gown.  I spoke with the man who told me that the next Confederate ball was two weeks away.  He gave me a phone number.  I made reservations, bought a ball gown, and went to the ball.  With the event fresh in my mind, I was ready to write Chapter 17.

So, if you think that God has “commissioned” you to do something, pray and depend on Him to provide whatever you need to finish the project.

CITY OF FAIRFAX: A “Novel” Setting

Library of Congress description: "Col. , ...

Library of Congress description: “Col. , C.S.A.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How important is the setting?  As a writer, I like to “live” the novel as I write it.  So the setting is very important to me.  I’m inspired by places I’ve been.  Most of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER is set in the City of Fairfax.  I began writing the novel when I was living in Northern Virginia and writing for THE CONNECTION, a local newspaper.  I had a “Then and Now” column and later a real estate column.  The historical column required a lot of research, so I spent many an hour in the Virginia Room in the old library in the City of Fairfax.

So it’s not a coincidence that my character “Effie Belle Butler” writes historical articles for a local newspaper.  Neither is it coincidental that “Effie” lives in the City of Fairfax, a place that I love.

My first published article for THE CONNECTION was “Mosby’s Midnight Raid,” so I mention Colonel John Singleton Mosby’s raid on Fairfax more than once in the book and named the fictional cat (as well as my own cat) after the colonel.

My favorite restaurant in the City of Fairfax was the Black-Eyed Pea (now a pub).  When I ate at the Black-Eyed Pea, I would sit near a window that gave me a view of the Moore House.  Chapter 22 of my book opens with “Effie” choosing a table at the Black-Eyed Pea “with a view of the Moore House, an antebellum home that reminded her of the parsonage.”  Indeed, the Moore House inspired the fictional parsonage where “Effie” lives with her guardian, “Rev. Baldwin,” and his step-mother.

The Moore House

The Moore House

The Moore House

The Moore House

The interior of the “parsonage” is a conglomeration of interiors I saw while writing the real estate column for THE CONNECTION.  I wrote elaborate descriptions of houses that were for sale in various Fairfax County hamlets, including Burke, Springfield, Herndon, Franconia, Centerville, Fairfax Station, Clifton, and–of course–the City of Fairfax.   Like the Moore House, the “parsonage” is near the old Fairfax Court House.

“Providence United Methodist” is located next to the fictional parsonage.  (The interior of “Providence” was inspired by the interior of Berryman Methodist in Richmond, a church my dad pastored.)  When I was writing the book, I was member of Westwood Baptist in Springfield, but I often went to Truro Episcopal (now Anglican) in the City of Fairfax.  Sometimes I would go to Sunday school in Springfield and then make a beeline for the late service at Truro.  Part of Truro’s allure was the nearby Gunnell House where Colonel Mosby captured Union Brigadeer General Stoughton.  And here’s where the Moore House ties in.  The raiders went to the Moore House by mistake first, thinking Stoughton was there.

The Gunnell House

The Gunnell House


This plague is on the grounds of Truro Episcopal Church.

This plague is on the grounds of Truro Anglican Church.

Fairfax Court House

Fairfax Court House

Fairfax Court House, Virginia, with Union sold...

Fairfax Court House, Virginia, with Union soldiers in front and on the roof, June 1863. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The City of Fairfax and its proximity to nearby battlefields, Manassas and Spotsylvania, makes a perfect setting for a contemporary romance that is partly a hats-off to Civil War history.  “Effie” tours the above battlefields and attends a Confederate Ball for re-enactors.   So did I.  She hikes to waterfalls off the Skyline Drive.  So did I.  Like I said, I not only wrote the novel, I lived it.

For more details, click on the book below.


What Is a “Modern Gothic Romance?”

Bathsheba Goes to King David

Bathsheba Goes to King David (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What is a modern Gothic romance?  Good question.  When I finished writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I wondered how to describe it.  To me, it was a romantic comedy-drama with a Christian “true-love-waits” theme.  I didn’t want to call it a Christian romance because I wanted to reach a broader audience.

Years ago, when I started writing the story, I sent a few chapters to a Christian publisher.  The publisher responded with a set of guidelines that went something like this:  “no short skirts, no bad (immoral) preachers, no alcohol, no dancing,” and so forth.  Well, I thought, even the Bible can’t meet that criteria!  In fact, the Bible is far more graphic than my book.  Consider the “Song of Solomon,” Lot and his daughters, or the graphic description of Hebrew women lusting after Assyrian men (a metaphor for idolatry).  Think of King David (the peeping Tom) standing on the rooftop eying Bathsheba in the buff, not to mention impregnating her, and planning her husband’s demise.  Compare this to my book, which is somewhere in between ANNE OF GREEN GABLES and SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE.  .

When I finished writing the novel, I had a new dilemma.  I wanted to write a query letter to a publisher to interest him or her in publishing the book. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Well, it’s not simple if you don’t know the book’s genre.  I needed help; so I asked a teacher who taught high school literature to read the book and categorize it.

“It’s a modern Gothic romance,” she replied.  No doubt the look on my face told her that I was clueless.  She listed the elements in a modern Gothic romance and summed it up with one word, REBECCA.  I don’t recall reading Daphne du Maurier‘s book, but I saw the film adaptation several times and loved it.

Despite its tongue-in-cheek humor, THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, resembles REBECCA in several ways: a big mansion; a brooding, Byronic figure with lots of money and something to hide; and a room that is off-limits.  I don’t think of my novel as “scary,” but a friend, who had a copy, told me that she read it during the daytime because she was too frightened to read it at night.  So, the subtitle “A Modern Gothic Romance” fits.

My book resembles another “genre” that was popular in the early 1960s.  These paperbacks were lovingly–and laughingly–referred to as “young women running away from big houses.”  If you’re old enough to remember these–and liked them, you can’t go wrong with THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

For more information or to buy THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER click here.

How To Write a Novel: Part II (Characters)

Vintage Romance Novels

Vintage Romance Novels (Photo credit: Stewf)

Maybe I should have titled this post “How to Write a Romance” because I don’t know beans about other genres.  Regardless, every novel must have characters.  If you’re writing a romance, you must have at least two main characters that ignite when they’re together.

1) The fuel that ignites romance is a combination of passion and conflict.  You’ll have more combustion if the characters dislike each other in the beginning.  The romantic tension is even greater when the characters don’t know they’re attracted to one other until that “aha” moment arrives.  If you’re seen the movie EMMA, CLUELESS, or PRIDE AND PREJUDICE,  you know what I’m talking about.

2) No romance is complete without rivals. They stumble upon the stage of your imagination to  provoke your protagonists to jealousy. They must be alluring enough to pose a genuine threat.  He or she must be good-looking, intelligent, talented, well-educated, wealthy, above reproach, or all of the above.  Jealousy is essential to make a man (or woman) aware of the feelings that he (or she) has for the person that the author has chosen for “the prince in the tower” or “the damsel in distress” to fall in love with.

3) One rival per protagonist is not enough.  You need two or three at the most.  Like it or not, romance is a soap opera, and additional rivals thicken the plot.

4) How realistic should your characters be?  Personally, I like characters that are larger than life, and that’s why I read Victorian romances.    Let’s face it.  In real life, would “Mr. Darcy” fall head-over-heels for a woman beneath his station?  Probably not.  Gentry marries gentry.  But in fairy tales,  the handsome prince falls for the dirt-poor, beautiful orphan who resists his advances until the last-minute when she finally reveals her true feelings.  So why does she resist him in the first place?

The prince must have at least one detestable trait.  Perhaps he is rude, has a temper, or is a womanizer.  Such a flaw would cause any woman (at least a fictional one) to have second thoughts.

Nowadays, the damsel must be a scholar and/or have a career (preferably a career in the arts that doesn’t pay much–such as writing).  The prince should have money to burn, but now I’m showing my bias.

Stubbornness is a desirable trait in either protagonist.  It postpones the inevitable happy ending.

5) Minor characters are important.  My favorite characters in “Brideshead Revisited” are the minor ones.  They are funny and colorful.   A minor character can advance the plot by interrupting a tender moment, starting a rumor with no substance, or helping a doubting Thomas renew his faith.  The possibilities are endless.

For more information about my novel THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER click here.

How to Write a Novel: Part I

It’s kind of funny for a first-time novelist to tell somebody else how to write a novel, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned.  Writing a novel is nothing short of an adventure, but first you must have a burning desire to write; otherwise, you may give up before the baby is birthed.

Museum of Fine arts, Springfield, Mass

Museum of Fine arts, Springfield, Mass (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I say “baby” (or first car?) because your novel is like your baby.  In your eyes, it’s drop-dead gorgeous; but in the eyes of another, it might be downright ugly.  So when you start, be careful about sharing what you’ve written with others.  Writing a novel is a process that can improve with each revision.  Shop around for a critique group or go it alone.  Critique groups can be helpful or harmful, depending upon the group.  Consider constructive criticism, but toss non-constructive criticism into the garbage where it belongs. In the long run, you must be happy with the finished product.  After all, it’s YOUR baby (or your first car).

Here are some tips I’ve picked up from reading about writing–and from trial and error:

1) What do you like to read?  Romance, mystery, detective stories, general fiction?  More than likely, you’ll want to write a book in the genre you prefer.

2) Who is your favorite author?  Examine his/her style of writing, and maybe you’ll find your own “voice.”

3) Which do you like better: character-driven novels or plot-driven novels?  In a plot-driven novel, you want to hurry up and find out who-dun-it.  In a character-driven novel, you’re sorry to see the story end.  Romances tend to be character driven; mysteries plot driven.  Either way, you must have a solid plot with interesting characters.

4) Just as your finger print is unique, your writing style and methodology are different from others.  Some flesh out the entire novel in their minds before they begin writing. This type may begin with a chapter outline before penning Chapter One.  Someone else may choose to write the last chapter first.  I created my chapter outline after I finished the book.

Novel in progress

Novel in progress (Photo credit: MarkPritchard)

I started somewhere in the middle and finished the first chapter last.  The plot developed as I wrote.  The characters took over and determined what would happen next.   The only thing you have to know when you start writing a novel is how it will end, so that the plot moves in that direction.

5) Write what you know about.  Take into consideration your childhood; where you grew  up; where you have lived; your family; your favorite subjects, hobbies, and interests; what you like and what you don’t like.

I love romance.  My favorite writer is Augusta Evans Wilson.  My favorite romance is ST. ELMO.  My favorite actor is John Gilbert, who starred in the film adaptation of ST. ELMO.  I love history, especially when it involves Virginia and the Civil War.  I’m a Methodist preacher daughter.  When I began writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I was living in Fairfax County and writing historical articles for THE CONNECTION, a local newspaper; so the City of Fairfax became the primary setting for the novel.   I enjoy traveling.  My trip to England inspired several chapters of the book.  Boating and hiking are two of my favorite my hobbies.  I worked all of this and more into the story.

For more information about THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER or to buy it, click here.


Romance, Reality, and “The Prince in the Tower”

In the 1950s,  “Cinderella,” “Sleeping Beauty,” and “Snow White” were fairy tales that girls took seriously.  I know because I was one of them.  In Disneyland, the beautiful orphaned maiden needed someone to rescue her from a witch or an evil stepmother.  That “someone” was always an incredibly handsome prince who saved the damsel in distress just in time.  The “prince in the tower” became a metaphor for chivalry–not to mention, inexhaustible wealth, and power.  Most important of all, he was capable of loving only one woman:  the poor, hapless, helpless (but beautiful) damsel.

By the late 1960s and early 70s, a lot of disillusioned women sidestepped the fantasy for something more reliable than a man–a career.  But even a career with its ups and downs caused some to take a second look at their biological clocks and head to the nearest fertility clinic, Justice of the Peace, or both.   Meanwhile, “the prince in the tower” was consigned to the dungeon.  The notion that marriage was the beginning of “they lived happily ever after” was passe. Love stories became less romantic and more earthy, leaving nothing to the imagination.

Fast-forward to June 2013. Today’s brides-to-be have their pick of wedding dresses.  They can find racks of full-length wedding gowns at any thrift store, consignment shop, or yard sale for just a fraction of their original cost.  (No doubt, each secondhand dress conceals a cautionary tale.)

Just the same, the fairy tales of yesteryear are making a resurgence.   Google “Cinderella,” “Snow White,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “the Little Mermaid,” and “Pocahontas,” and you will find a harem of tiny princesses  waiting for Mom or Gram to purchase for the little girls in their lives.   Somehow the need to perpetuate the “prince in the tower” fantasy by passing it on to the next generation always prevails.

Why do we do this?   Is it Hollywood, hormones, or nature’s sleight of hand to ensure that we continue to procreate?

The myth doesn’t begin and end with little girls.  Even women (including those jaded with cynicism) are watching fairy tales with a contemporary twist such as  “Once Upon a Time,” and “The Twilight Saga.”

As for me, I’m waiting for the real Knight on the white horse.  He’s perfect and He’s coming with the hosts of Heaven to claim His Bride.  In the meantime, I don’t need fairy tales, which are often very “Grimm,” despite Disney’s airbrushed versions.  But I still believe in romance, and that’s why I wrote THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

Make the Most of Your OCD: Write a Novel

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is characterized by fixations and repetitive behavior.  I used to check the stove at least five times a night to make sure that it was off.  I’d also check and recheck the front door to make sure that it was locked.  This meant that half-way down the road, I’d feel a compulsion to go back home and rattle the door knob, just in case I’d forgotten to lock up.  Inevitably, the stove was off, and the door was locked.  Did that satisfy my compulsive behavior?  No.  My anxiety persisted until I completed these daily rituals.

The repetitions were disruptive and time-consuming.  Finally, I found a healthy way to channel OCD into a worthwhile project.  I had always wanted to write a novel . . . .

My grandmother’s favorite novel was ST. ELMO, by Augusta J. Evans Wilson.  The book was handed down to me and became my favorite novel also.  I read it seven times and liked it so much that one copy wouldn’t do.StElmoPhotosMy obsession with ST. ELMO led to an interest in the author, Augusta Evans Wilson.  I began collecting photos of her as well as the houses she lived in or visited.  


I even made a pilgrimage to Mobile, Alabama, where Augusta spent most of her life, and to Columbus, Georgia, where Augusta was born and finished writing ST. ELMO.  Once I came within six feet of her.

AEWsgraveSt.ElmoHouseSign 001


PrinceFrontAndBackSo, have I recovered from OCD?  Yes–or I’m in remission.  Either way, it beats writer’s block.