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In Which I Share A Solstice Recipe!

Dear Reader,

There are a lot of fascinating Christmas Traditions associated with the West Country of England, which is the region I write about in Midnight in Your Arms. As tonight is the Winter Solstice, I thought I would research traditions that are particularly pagan in their origins and share one with you. I thought it might get us all in the mood to make my recipe inspired by my character Tess, who is an old Dartmoor hedgwitch as well as a medium and a scullery maid. She is a very busy lady indeed!

Try to imagine with me a traditional Dartmoor Christmas rite known as Burning the Ash Faggot, which is a bundle of sticks bound together for the purposes of burning things like witches and also to celebrate the Solstice Season when executing heathens was out of vogue. The traditional wood used to construct the Midwinter faggot on Dartmoor was from the ash tree, and preferably all from the same tree rather than a bunch of different trees, because it made the magic that much more powerful. The Christianized reason for the use of ash over another type of tree is that it was supposedly the wood with which Mary lit the fire in order to wash Jesus. The Romany believed that Jesus was born in a field and was kept warm by the heat of an ash fire. The tradition of the ash faggot is said to date back to Saxon times, brought over by the invading Scandinavians who believe that the ash tree is the sacred, World Tree of Norse legend.

In England, the custom was to bind a bundle of ash sticks with nine green lengths of ash bands or ‘beams’. On Christmas Eve, the bundle of wood was put on a fire lit with the remnants of the previous year’s faggot. The householders would gather around the hearth and watch it burn. Any unmarried ladies would each chose one of the green bands, and it was believed that the woman who selected the first band to burst into flames and break would be the next to be married—rather like catching the bridal bouquet! With each breaking of a band, a quart of some festive beverage like cider was passed around and a toast made. It was believed that any household that did not burn the ashen faggot would be in for a year’s worth of bad luck.

I like to imagine the scrawny, secretly-pagan kitchen skivvy Tess fom my novel Midnight In Your Arms sneaking out after all the household was abed on a snowy, atmospheric Dartmoor Christmas Eve, and reveling with fellow villagers round the ash bundle, always knowing with her prescient eye which would be the first band to break, but never shouting it out, lest she should actually have to be married to one of the rawboned young farmhands. I like to think she was holding out for something a little more special than the fate decreed by the physics of combustion. Maybe I’ll have to write Tess’s love story one of these days.

When coming up with the recipe that best represents Tess, I thought I would go with something a little spicy and full of succulent fruit. Something a bit Elizabethan in flavor that might not seem decadent to us, with all of our tropical fruit and imported luxuries, but would have been a lovely, festive treat even for the posh inhabitants of Stonecross Hall for whom spices like cloves, mace, and cinnamon were readily available, and fruit like apples and pears were grown on their own estate, the currants scavenged by clever, chilblained fingers from village hedgerows.

This recipe is nothing fancy, but it tastes like it is! And actually, as I am a North American, I will be using cranberries instead of the currants I imagine Tess would have used. But adaption is the spice of life! Use whatever makes sense to you regionally, as Tess would have done. The decadence is in the liberal spicing. Working in a grand house like Stonecross Hall at Christmas must have been a mouthwatering experience. Just imagine all the pies, cakes, and puddings lined up in the larder, row upon row! My belly is rumbling just thinking about it. Oh, how I long to creep down the back stairs to a Victorian kitchen to raid the pantry on a distant Christmas Eve in 1866…I suppose I will have to make do with my own modern but very charming and kitschy kitchen, as long as some of this delicious dessert is left over! Santa had better leave me some!

Something I learned while researching this post is that fruit crumbles are a fairly recent culinary invention (late Victorian), but they were certainly a staple by the 1920s, so I feel I am vindicated in making this recipe in relation to my time travelling novel, part of which takes place in 1926. The first recipe for Apple Crisp appeared in Everybody’s Cook Book: A Comprehensive Manual of Home Cookery by Isabel Ely Lord—an American cookbook, but I have it on good authority that it is a popular dish across the pond as well! And dishes were often traditional long before they appeared as a recipe in print.

I think Tess would have helped make something very much like this…

Tess’s Secret Spiced Solstice Apple Pear Crumble

Ingredients:

Fruit Filling

5 large ripe red pears

5 medium Granny Smith apples

1 ½ cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (or currants, which is what I imagine Victorian or Edwardian English folk would use)

[Total fruit equals about 13.5 cups. This recipe is a large one, suitable for a dinner party. It can easily be cut in half to suit a smaller gathering or a family of 2-4]

¼ cup flour (I used organic spelt flour, but plain white or brown is what Tess would use!)

½ cup sugar (I used raw, organic sugar—I am sure Tess would use regular granulated or you could use brown for an even richer caramelized flavour)

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp ground ginger

½ tsp nutmeg

½ tsp ground cloves

½ tsp mace

1 tsp sea salt

Crumble Topping

1 cup flour (Again, I used organic spelt)

2 cups rolled oats

1 cup butter (I used Earth Balance Vegan buttery Spread)

1 cup quick oats (introduced by Quaker in the 1920s!)

¾ cup sugar (Again, I used raw organic sugar)

1 ½ tsp baking powder

Method:

1)     Quarter and slice apples and pears into 1/8 of an inch segments, leaving the skin on if you like, to reduce waste and add a festive flair with the pretty green and red rinds. That’s what I did, and it looks really nice!

2)     Put the sliced fruit into the baking dish you’re planning to use, and add the cranberries or currants.

3)     Combine the flour, sugar, salt and spices and then add the mixture to the fruit in the baking dish and toss it together with a spoon until the fruit is completely coated. Press the fruit down evenly into the pan and set aside to let the juices seep into the dry ingredients and start to thicken while you make the crumble topping.

4)     Make sure your oven rack is in the middle slot and set the oven to preheat to 350 degrees.

5)     Start the butter melting on medium heat in a small saucepan as you prepare the dry ingredients.

6)     Combine the flour, both kinds of oats, sugar, and baking powder in a mixing bowl.

7)     When the butter is completely melted, pour it over the dry ingredients and stir vigorously (I like to use a whisk!) until the rolled oat mixture is completely saturated with butter and sticky.

8)     Spread the crumble mixture evenly over the pan of fruit and press it down gently.

9)     Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. The topping should be beautifully golden and crisp and the caramelized liquid should be starting to rise up, bubbling and sticky, at the edges of the pan.

10)     Serve warm with ice cream or whipped cream to your guests, and be sure to save some for Santa with a nice cold glass of eggnog on the side!

Merry Yuletide, Dear Readers! I hope your holiday season is a festive and joyful one, filled with loved ones, laughter, and of course, FOOD! Not to mention a really good book or two to read by the fire.

As an extra Yuletide treat, leave a comment on this post with your contact info and I will randomly pick one reader to receive a paperback copy of Midnight In Your Arms as a special Christmas gift from me to you.

Love, Morgan.

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In Which There are 7 Days Left Til Halloween!

Dear Reader,

Guess what, ghouls and ghosties? The One Week Halloween Countdown has begun! In only seven days, the veils between the world of the living and the land of the dead will have grown so thin that everyone will have to dress up in costumes to fool the roaming spirits into thinking the rest of us are one of them! And so strangers will give us all candy, of course! After all, inappropriately sexy costumes and mass amounts of sugar are what the Halloween season is all about. And T.Ping your neighbour’s house. We can’t forget that.

Last night, Mr. Kelly and I bought our pumpkins for carving Jack O’Lanterns, and as usual, we were quite the grocery aisle spectacle. Maybe it had something to do with the way we piled pumpkins so precariously in our pushcart that we looked in serious danger of causing a Halloween-related mishap in the baking supply aisle—I don’t know! But people sure were staring, commenting, and laughing! We didn’t mind, though. Anything we can do to entertain bored, late-night shoppers is our pleasure. And hopefully  the sight of two bespectacled redheads pushing a cart full of pumpkins made our fellow shoppers really feel the spirit of the Great Pumpkin, and will be inspired to start their own Jack O’Lantern factory in their kitchens this weekend.

Exhibit A: The Cartload of Pumpkins Mr. Kelly and I Will be Carving This Weekend!

What have you got planned to celebrate this spooktacular season? Are you going to any parties, planning any shenanigans? Are you going to visit haunted corn mazes, eat too many caramel apples, and watch scary movies until you won’t be able to sleep?

As for Mr. Kelly and I, we’ve already been watching our fair share of scary movies. We like to watch them all year round, but at this special time of year, we concentrate on: A) Beloved classics, B) Movies we’ve always meant to see but never have, and C) Horror flicks that came out over the past year so that they will have particular 2012 Halloween context. Tonight, we’re planning on watching the second episode of the new season of American Horror while we cuddle on the sofa and drink hot chocolate to the dulcet sounds of people screaming bloody murder and gallons of fake blood splashing the screen.

And you thought Halloween wasn’t romantic.

Leave me a comment and let me know what you have planned for this week leading up to Halloween. Stay tuned for more All Hallows themed posts, including pictures of our Jack O’Lanterns, secret recipes I will share only with you, Canadian superstitions about things arcane and spooky, and lots more!

Love, Morgan.

In Which I Make a Few Announcements

Pre-order Midnight In Your Arms in Paperback!

Dear Reader–

I’m excited to announce that for those of you who have no plans to jump on the digital bandwagon just yet, the paperback edition of Midnight In Your arms will follow the digital release by less than a month! That’s right–MIYA will come out in print on November 27th 2012, hot on the heels of the initial e-book release date of October 30th, so there are two exciting months in a row for me! It’s kind of nice, splitting it up like that–it gives me to things to which I can look forward!

That means that I will to do some giveaways in both digital and print formats, along with a few other seasonal/themed goodies, so watch out for that on Twitter, Facebook, my HarperCollins Microsite, Goodreads, and right here on the official website! What else will I be giving away? Good question! I was thinking I would give away some little luxuries that, for me, always make the dreary stretch of time between Halloween and Christmas just a little more glamourous and luxuriant. I want to give my fans some little gifts that make them feel pampered–like gourmet tea in seasonal flavours, themed nail polish sets, decadent chocolate made right here in the Purdy’s factory. Little things that go hand in hand with romance! What do you think?

In other news, it’s time to submit this year’s crop of novels and novellas to the RWA Rita and Golden Heart Awards. Will you be submitting? I know I will–this is my very first time, and I’m a little nervous! I wish all of you the very best with your submissions, and I hope you win! You deserve it.

Love,

Morgan

In Which I Use Social Media To Ponder Social Media

Dear Reader,

Writers have to do a lot of work when it comes to their books that have absolutely nothing to do with the writing process itself. Before I sold Midnight In Your Arms back in June, I had heard from a lot of other writers that they spend more time NOT writing than they do actually writing. I didn’t want to believe them, but now I know it’s true! The modern novelist as so much more on her plate than the paltry writing of novels. She must keep up with social media, including tweeting interesting tidbits to whichever of her followers might actually be viewing the twitter feed at the exact right moment to see it before it is swept away on the tide of tweet, never to be seen again. She must make sure to keep track of what’s happening on Facebook, including finding new and interesting things to post for her fans and friends. She must also pin all of the things she finds inspiring on Pinterest, and if she has a Tumblr account as well as a regular blog on her official site, she must decide what to post where, and when! Not to mention the very important task of supporting other readers and writers through Goodreads, writing reviews and rating books she has read, when she finds time to actually read a book after all of the social responsibilities and the writing and editing of her own books is finished. There is a lot of work to be done that has nothing, and yet everything, to do with her novel.

Personally, I am just learning to do all of this. It takes time to find a rhythm, a groove in which the individual writer is comfortable. At the moment, I’m trying EVERYTHING out, to see what I like best, and what works for me and my readers. At this point, of course, as I am a debut writer, I don’t really have very many fans, so I can experiment with various outlets without feeling any pressure to perform perfectly right off the bat. And all of the people I have met so far, and who have been so gracious as to support an unknown writer in the earliest stage of her career, remind me that no one is pointing a finger, or rolling their eyes, or judging me for failing to do all the things I need to do perfectly, on schedule, and without a single hiccup. I’m doing all of this for my future readers, of which I hope there will be many, and with whom I can feel like I am truly friends. I want us all to be comfortable together. I want to be reachable, accessible, approachable. I want you all to feel like we’re having a cosy cup of tea and a chat every time you click on a link that leads you to one of my homes on the Internet. That’s the wonderful thing about all of this terrifying technology. What it really does is bring people together, one click at a time. It tears down all the old, insurmountable walls and fills in the treacherous moats that used to separate a writer and a reader—and builds a bridge instead.

Thank you for being here with me, Dear Reader—whether there are only two of you, or there are several thousand. Each one of you is precious to me, not a commodity, not a number or a stat. I truly appreciate and honour the wonder that is you, that is the two of us here, together, communicating across who knows what distance. We live in a wonderful age. Let’s make of it all we can, together.

Love, Morgan.

In Which I Reveal The Shiny New Cover of Midnight In Your Arms!

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Isn’t it BEAUTIFUL, Dear Reader? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it! The Avon design team has really outdone themselves this time. It has all of the elegance and glamour of the Jazz Era itself, with the bare-kneed heroine in her little red dress and sleek pumps, that rope of pearls beckoning the hero to grab hold and pull her closer…

I love these new covers that show the heroine alone. It seems so much more intimate, somehow—like the reader is in the hero’s mind, looking at the object of his desire! It makes one feel as though the book is all about the lady, and as most romance readers are women, I think it’s a good feeling to have when reaching for a new romance novel.

I also really love the black background, as if the whole world has fallen away, and only this one special woman remains—the only bright and bold thing in the universe! That’s what love is like, isn’t it? One’s lover is the sole pulse-point in all of creation.

When I look at this cover, I see my heroine Laura Dearborn exactly the I way I imagined her—sexy, feminine—a little bit rakish, a whole lot daring! A brazen femme in a short dress. The perfect embodiment of my beloved Jazz Age.

If I didn’t write it, I would want to read Midnight In Your Arms for the cover alone! Good job, Avon. I’m so happy my book has found a home with you, in such illustrious company.

Love, Morgan.

In Which I Put The Final Touches on Midnight In Your Arms

Dear Reader,Image

The past month and a bit since I sold my book to Avon has been a bit of a whirlwind of activity! I ended up more than doubling the length of Midnight In Your Arms, from just over 20,000 words to nearly 55,000—and I feel the story is much stronger and more substantial now. It’s been given the breathing space and room it needs to spread out into the story it was meant to be! That is always a good feeling for an author. No one wants to feel as though their story has been stunted, compacted into too small a space to really bloom.

I sent the final few changes to my wonderful editor at Avon, Chelsey Emmelhainz—and let me just take a moment to tell you how fantastic it has been working with her! She really gets what I am trying to do with my story, the mood and feel of it, as well as the style of my writing. She makes everything better without making me feel like I’m losing anything—a delicate balance. She is such an intuitive reader, which is the most important thing, I think, for an editor—because she must put herself in the place of (hopefully!) thousands of readers, and see the story through their eyes. That isn’t easy, but she does it with aplomb. I felt really comfortable with her, and the changes she made, from small to significant, have made Midnight In Your Arms into a story of which I feel very proud. It was a skeleton of a story only a few short weeks ago, and now it is fully fleshed out and dancing the Charleston! Whoot!

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been just over seven weeks since I wrote the first draft, sent it in, and got the call from Avon! I wish all projects ran this smoothly, with such satisfying results. I can hardly wait for October to come! Midnight In Your Arms comes out on the 30th, just in time for my favourite day of the year—Halloween! Maybe I will dress up as my heroine, Laura Dearborn, the vampish 1920s medium who reaches across space and time to steal the heart of Crimean War veteran Alaric Storm III.

Now, Chelsey has advised me to celebrate with ice cream, even though it’s only 8 AM my time—and get on with the next story! I think I will do just that. I’ve been dreaming of a new hero and heroine who are clamouring to have their story told. Now that I’ve put the finishing touches on M.I.Y.A, I feel fully justified in indulging—both in ice cream for breakfast, and a brand new love story that makes the past as real as the present.

Love, Morgan.

In Which I Get The Call

Dear Reader,

It happened. It finally happened. I recently sold my first romance novella to Avon Impulse. It’s called Midnight In Your Arms, and will be coming out in time to chill your bones for Halloween 2012!

When I say that it’s my first romance novella, it really is true—I’ve never written a romance novella before. I’ve written two and a half romance novels, however. But that’s another story. Before Avon Impulse started putting out stand-alone novellas, and Harlequin did the same with their Briefs and Bites series, I wouldn’t have known what to do with a romance novella  had I written one. For some reason, even though there are now places for them to go, I still didn’t write one until just under three weeks ago. Let me tell you, I’m sure glad I did! It’s been like an instant gratification party around here ever since. I wrote the story over the space of about 30 hours on May 29th-30th. I sent it in on May 30th about an hour before midnight, using the electronic submission process Avon has now—and a week later, I woke up to an email from Chelsey Emmelhainz at Harper Collins asking me to please call her because she loves my novella and wants to make an offer on it! Her exact words? “I loved it and would like to make an offer on it!” A dozen little words that were music to my ears! Or rather, beautiful paintings for my eyes, since I was reading them :^}

As soon as I swallowed my heart several dozen times, I did just that—and we had a lovely conversation, in which we discussed releasing the novella as a stand-alone book, when I had thought it would be part of a collection, because I had written it in response to a call for submissions for a themed anthology. But Avon liked it enough to release it on its own! So it was even more exciting than I thought—because now I get my own cover, with my own name on it, and all of that lovely, self-important stuff that writers dream about.

I called my husband right away, and told him, and he was so excited! It’s wonderful to have support at home, and I’m really lucky. When he got home from work that night, he brought take-out from our favourite restaurant that is now very far away ever since we moved out of the city, so it was a special treat indeed. I love having someone to share all the special moments with—and isn’t that what writing romance is all about? Bringing two people together who weren’t quite complete living apart. Giving them each someone to love them and support them, cherishing their dreams as if they are their own. That’s what I want to do with each pair of lovers in every book I write. That’s what I want to do with Midnight In Your Arms, which, no matter what happens in my career, will always be my First—and as we all know, your First matters!

And now I will go, because I am elbows deep in edits, trying to make a stable time loop make sense.

You’ll understand when you read it.

Love, Morgan.