Tag Archives: romance

Romance and the Language of Flowers



I found this copy of the POETRY OF FLOWERS (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell & Co.) in an antique flea market.  The inscription on the flyleaf reads in part, “Miss Carrie Lawrence, May 18th 1891.”

People who lived in the nineteenth century assigned meaning to each flower.  Choosing flowers for a bouquet was a delicate matter because you wanted to send the right message.

For example, if you wanted to say “Let the bonds of marriage unite us,” you would choose the following flowers for your bouquet: blue convolvulus (bonds), ivy (marriage), and a few whole straws (unite us).



If you saw the movie KATE AND LEOPOLD, starring Hugh Jackman and Meg Ryan, you might recall the scene in which “Leopold” shows “Kate’s” brother how to choose a bouquet for his girlfriend.  Sad to say, the language of flowers has faded with time.  I would like to see the POETRY OF FLOWERS in print again as a runaway best seller. 

Winter at Warwick House

macariaAJEThe second semester of Effie’s junior year at George Mason began with a mixture of snow and ice, and classes were cancelled.  Cooped up in the house with nothing to do, she moseyed into the library with Macaria in hand, found a seat by the window, and gazed at the wintry setting below, taking note of the massive oaks glazed in glittering ice, which reminded her of ice palaces.

Slipping into a nostalgic mood, she proceeded to read the book, published during the Civil War as a Southern  propaganda piece disguised as a romance.  But Effie was more interested in the protagonists’ relationship than in the subtleties bolstering the Rebel  cause.  If only real life could rival romantic fiction!  Was God fashioning a lifelong companion for her as dashing as Russell Aubrey?

She sighed blissfully as she read the following passage:

“Irene, oblige me in what may seem a trifle; unfasten your hair and let it fall around you, as I have seen it once or twice in your life.”  She took out her comb, untied the ribbons, and, passing her fingers through the bands, shook them down.  He passed his hands caressingly over the glossy waves.

Impulsively, Effie removed the combs binding her own hair, and vigorously shook her head, casting untamed curls in every direction.  Then, with an elbow propped on the windowsill and her chin resting in the palm of her hand, she gazed dreamily upon the day’s spectacular finale.  As the sun dipped low in the Western sky, its blazing splendor filled the room, painting the alabaster walls with shades of crimson, plum, and gilded pink.

Effie stood up and maneuvered the chair to make the most of the remaining daylight then sat down and resumed reading aloud, vaguely conscious of footsteps in the hallway.

She was endeavoring to memorize a paragraph when, all at once, the door swung open hitting the wall with a loud band.  Effie leapt from the chair, sending the book to the floor, and stooping to retrieve it, found herself bowed low before Rev. Baldwin.

“Give me your hand!”

005956-R1-23-24He pulled her up until her eyes were on a level with his tie, and she could tell by the rigidity of his posture that he was fuming.  And yet, braving a look at his face, she gulped to discover a pair of dark dejected eyes shyly entreating her own.  They peered beneath a veil of ebony lashes, gently disclaiming the hard mouth and adamant chin.  Stifling a sigh, Effie dropped her eyes and wondered how anyone could appear so cruel, vulnerable, and incredibly handsome all at the same time.  She ventured another glance, but this time his languishing look shifted into something more ominous.

He reached into his pocket, withdrew an envelope, and bitingly announced:  “This letter pertains to you.”

She stretched out her hand to receive it, but he held it out of her reach.

*The above is an excerpt from THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, pages 158-159.

PapasLetterToEffieB.W. Wright wrote this letter–dated November 8, 1924–to the real Effie Belle Butler, my grandmother.  I named the fictional “Effie” after her.

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 in Films: Then and Now

English: Studio publicity portrait for film Sa...

English: Studio publicity portrait for film Sabrina with William Holden and Audrey Hepburn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hugh 6

Hugh 6 (Photo credit: Cool Guyz)

Hugh 4

Hugh 4 (Photo credit: Cool Guyz)


Poster_-_Gone_With_the_Wind_01 (Photo credit: Jim Surkamp)

English: Screenshot from the original 1958 the...

English: Screenshot from the original 1958 theatrical trailer for the film Vertigo Frame taken from MPEG4. Note: This version of the original 1958 theatrical trailer is of significantly lower quality than the 1996 restoration theatrical trailer. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Legend of Zorro

The Merry Widow (1925 film)

The Merry Widow (1925 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jane Eyre: Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender

Jane Eyre: Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender (Photo credit: Lyon & Pan)

English: Rudolph Valentino in "The Sheik&...

English: Rudolph Valentino in “The Sheik” (www.silentgents.com) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres in ...

English: Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres in “The Sheik.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

How do you define romance?  It’s not raw, in-your-face sexuality.  It’s more subtle than that.  The pictures say it all.

Vintage Inspiration

Eastlake ClockThis antiquarian Eastlake clock belonged to my great-grandfather.  He and my great-grandmother were first cousins–double first cousins (whatever that means).  The clock sits on the mantle over the fireplace in my living room.  It inspired my unpublished story, which I named “The Eastlake Clock.”  How original is that?!

Charles Locke Eastlake, an English architect/writer, invented the Eastlake style of furniture, which dates to 1880. The popularity of Eastlake furniture quickly spread to America.  You can spot these fabulous antiques in any antique shop by looking for furniture with “Eastlake lines.”  I’ve found sofas, chairs, tables, beds, dressers, and washstands in this style.

EastlakeSofaCan you find the Eastlake lines on this sofa?


While writing  THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I deliberately inserted some of my favorite antiques into the setting.  Most of the novel takes place in Northern Virginia. The Moore House in the City of Fairfax, VA inspired the fictional Warwick House.  Antiques abound in the antebellum Warwick House.  These include Eastlake furniture, a pincushion doll, and a salt cellar.

My display case above contains many salt cellars and two pincushion dolls. (Pincushion dolls that no longer have a skirt or a pincushion beneath the skirt are called “half dolls.”)

I have a large collection of salt cellars.  Most salt cellars are made of clear glass.  Others are made of tinted glass, ceramic, silver, or pewter.  Most date to the 1800s.  The larger ones are called “master salts,”  the smaller ones “individual salts.”  Other names for salt cellars are “salt dips” or simply “salts.”  These were in vogue hundreds of years before salt shakers existed.

Have you heard the phrase, “seated below the salt?”  It was NOT an honor to be seated below the salt.  Quite the reverse.

At least one salt cellar turns up in every piece of fiction I write.  It has become my “signature.”

Cinematic Inspiration

Ruth Louise Harriet took this photo for MGM (Photoplay magazine listed on back of photo.)

Ruth Harriet Louise, MGM photographer, took this photo of John Gilbert.  (“Photoplay Magazine” is stamped on back of the photo)

Is it any wonder that I made the protagonist in THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER: A Modern Gothic Romance a John Gilbert look-alike?  To learn more about John Gilbert and his films check out my other blog, John Gilbert, ST ELMO, and Me.

Inspiration for Short Stories


Genealogy is one of my passions.  I took this photo while exploring a creepy, neglected cemetery tracing my ancestry.  The cemetery was in the woods next to a cow pasture.  Wearing shorts, a summer top, and sandals, I emerged an hour later with 10 ticks on my skin.  I had been looking for my great-great-grandparents graves, and despite many obstacles (including poisonous plants), found them.

Their names, laced with lichen, were nearly erased by time, but I was able to make out enough letters to identify the headstones of Edna Ann Neighbors Cardwell and Thomas Dixon Cardwell, who had died a few days apart in the 1800s.

Prior to this excursion, I had been working on a short story called “The Eastlake Clock” and needed inspiration to move forward.  The photo of the cemetery, which I inserted into the text, advanced the plot.