The Mourning Coffee

Podcast Episode 9: When Albert Met Victoria


Albert and Victoria are renowned as one of the greatest royal love matches in history.  But was it really love at first sight?  And was their relationship—despite the nine children the couple produced—always one of great harmony and joy?  This podcast examines the 21-year marriage of the queen and her prince consort.

Podcast Episode 8: Victoria, Princess Royal


Queen Victoria and her husband had 9 children.  The eldest was named Victoria, known as Vicky.  Vicky’s marriage at age 17 to Prince Frederick William of Prussia would be the start of Queen Victoria’s diplomacy-through-marriage strategy that would make her known as the Grandmother of Europe.  The similarities between mother and daughter were striking—starting with Vicky’s own love match in marriage and concluding with a family of 8 children—although Vicky did not enjoy as long a life as her mother.  This podcast examines Vicky’s interesting, but mostly tragic, life.

Podcast Episode 7: Magnificent Seven Cemeteries


By the early 19th century, London’s churchyards were filled to overflowing with coffins—some buried up to six deep.  Something had to be done, thus was the idea of a “garden cemetery” born.  In 1832, Parliament passed a bill that would establish several private cemeteries outside the existing London city limits.  By 1841, there were seven of these purpose-built cemeteries to alleviate the overcrowding of churchyards.  This episode will discuss the design and quirks of each cemetery.

From Keyboard to Editor

correctingIn a previous blog post, I discussed how I come up with book ideas and form them into a coherent plot. Once the writing of a book is done, I am still some distance from getting it turned in to my publisher.

As with book plotting, I work with a small group, which I call my Beta Review Team. The team is comprised of family members, much like my plotting team is: my husband, my brother, and a sister-in-law.

Each member of the Beta Review Team has what I consider a “specialty” with my manuscript. My brother goes through it a very high level for picking out plot and character inconsistencies. Fortunately, he usually has solutions to go along with what he perceives as problems!

My husband goes a little deeper on plot, and is much more attuned to timeline inconsistencies. He, too, usually has suggestions for fixes.

My sister-in-law is my line editor. She pores over every single page and fixes my awkward grammar. Her work is so meticulous that by the time I am done making her changes, I’ve typically added another 2,000 words to my manuscript!

They say you should never hire with friends or relatives, but my family comes around me to form a team that is tough to beat. My editors typically comment on how “clean” my manuscripts are when they are delivered, and that is all due to my loved ones who make sure I stay out of editorial trouble!

Podcast Episode 6: Punch Magazine


Punch Magazine, which ran from 1841-2002, was a British humor and satire magazine.  Known for its wit and irreverence in its coverage of both politics and cultural trends, the magazine introduced the term “cartoon” to refer to comic drawings in 1843.  It became an institution in the Victorian era, and today’s podcast explores the long and fascinating history of this publication.

Podcast Episode 5: Queen Victoria’s Coronation


In this episode, we explore the magnificent pomp and circumstance surrounding the ascension of the second-longest reigning monarch of Great Britain, Queen Victoria. By the time she assumed the throne at the tender age of 18, she had overcome a stifling and lonely childhood, and was ready to wear the specially-made crown worth around $85M in today’s dollars.

Join us as we discuss the eye-popping State Coach, the masses of honored guests, and the meaning behind the various implements the queen was given during the ceremony.

Take Violet on Vacation


I know you’re a reader and that often means you’re reading anywhere, whenever your time permits. (I do this, too.) I want to see where you take Violet Harper on vacation over the coming months. So, I’m asking a teeny favor, share your photos with me.

Show me where you can be found reading one of the Lady of Ashes books. Extra points for reading in unique locations. I’m interested where Violet will turn up. Could it be the beach, the park, the doctor’s office waiting room, the museum, or a concert? Or perhaps Violet will be in front of your state or city’s welcome sign or in town square? I truly want to see where Violet will travel and the more unique the locations the better. (Plus, it gives me a glimpse into seeing some great locations across the states…or internationally – who knows where Violet will travel.)

Don’t worry if you don’t have a fancy vacation planned just take out your camera or phone and snap a photo of one of the Lady of Ashes books – your pick, a physical book or on your eReader – and send it to us.

My assistant will be collecting the photos and adding them to a dedicated photo album on Facebook. The photos will be added within days after they are submitted so begin NOW.

At the end of August, I will choose my favorites. Who knows? I may even surprise my top pick(s) with a hand-selected gift from me. We’ll see how many photos are submitted. (Psst – please do take at least one photo, if not more, and send them to my assistant to keep her busy.)

Here’s what to include with your photo:

  1. Your name
  2. Where the photo was taken. (Tell us either city/state or if in front of a specific place then share that. Such as “at Gettysburg National Battlefield.”)
  3. Which Lady of Ashes book title you’re sharing in the photo.

That’s it. Super simple and easy to do.




If you’ve bought some Lady of Ashes products from our store and want to add a photo of your Violet swag, send it along. We’ll add those types of photos to the album as well.

Flat Stanley is often found in unusual places but Violet can be, too, right? Some may wonder “Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?” but I am wondering where a Lady of Ashes book will be seen next? Thanks in advance for playing along. I can’t wait to see all of your photos. Keep watching my Facebook page. And do invite your friends to join in this vacation fun. The more the merrier.

Podcast Episode 4: Joseph Lister, the Father of Antiseptic Surgery


Welcome to the 4th episode of The Queen is Not Amused, where we examine the life of a truly wonderful Victorian, Joseph Lister. A British surgeon known as the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, Lister was single-handedly responsible for reducing surgical deaths by 80%. Inspired by Louis Pasteur and aided by his devoted wife, Agnes, Lister revolutionized the manner in which surgery was conducted. His life was a fascinating one, since his ideas about disinfecting equipment were initially met with scorn and mockery, yet he overcame all objections because he knew he was right.

In this podcast, I will also answer the most important question of all: Was Listerine really named for Joseph Lister?

Podcast Episode 3: Madame Tussaud and her Chamber of Horrors


Welcome to the 3rd episode of The Queen is Not Amused. In this episode, we briefly explore the life of Marie Grosholtz, who would one day become the famous Madame Tussaud.

Born fatherless, Marie’s story might have ended up a brief tale of poverty and death. Instead, she was able to sail the tumultuous tide of revolution in France and eventually end up one of the most famous—and successful—businesswomen in the world.

The Plot Thickens

post-itsI am frequently asked, “How do you come up with the ideas for your books?”

The short answer is, “I work with a great team.”

But here’s the longer answer:

I always start with some germ of an idea. For the LADY OF ASHES books, I might decide the book will dwell on some aspect of Victorian mourning or undertaking. For the FLORENCE NIGHTINGALE MYSTERIES, I am looking for significant events in Florence’s life. Then I search history for some other event (and sometimes I like really obscure events!) that I can marry to the idea germ.

Next, I make what I call the “read ahead packet.” This includes the germinating idea, plus information on what was going on historically at the time of the proposed book. I frequently throw in the bios of some real people I might like to weave in if I can.

I send the read ahead packet to my husband, my brother, and one of my brothers-in-law to review. Then we schedule a plotting session. This involves those giant post-it notes you can put on the wall, and a bunch of markers.

We start the session with me asking a provocative question. For example, for the session prior to the novel STOLEN REMAINS, I asked, “Why would someone steal a dead body from a coffin?” For THE MOURNING BELLS, I asked, “Why would a dead body spring alive out of a coffin?”

Then we spend an evening around my dining room table, with me making notes on the wall sheets while we all discuss and argue over points. My brother is affectionately known as “The Red Baron” for his ability to shoot holes in another person’s seemingly brilliant plot idea. The only ground rule is that I have final say over the plot.

With that done, I take what is hopefully a loosely-constructed plot (and sometimes the plot is complicated enough that it requires a second plotting session), and I create what I call my Scene Distillation. This is where I sit down and move Violet or Florence through the story, scene by scene. I do this in a program called Scrivener, and it enables me to put each scene on the digital equivalent of an index card. So, I jot down one scene per “card,” and can rearrange them in a click-n-drop fashion. When I have around 70 scenes, I know I have between 90,000-100,000 words, and I begin writing.

There you have it. Four or five months later a book is produced, and then it goes through my internal review process. More on that in my next blog post!

Interested in Scrivener?