Deer Abbey and Hats

Here is the cover of the hardcover version of The Chronicles of Deer Abbey. I love the vivid colors of it. We are going to get a couple of copies to look at and approve and then the book will go on sale from Amazon in a couple of weeks. This is very exciting!


We had a lovely Easter. Good friends, good food (too much food, of course), and a movie. We watched “Moana,” which was even better than I thought it might be. Then I got out my hats and Ann, Becky, and Tanya tried them on. I had made an agreement with Ellen that every time I brought home a new hat, an old one had to depart.  [Ellen, the webmistress, would like to note at this point that she has something like fifty hats. Monica is not a crazy cat lady, she’s a crazy hat lady.] My new spring hat was a success on Easter Sunday, so I had to decide which of my other hats I could part with.

Tanya and Becky are coming with us to Magna cum Murder in Indianapolis this fall and Tanya wanted to wear a hat in honor of the occasion.  So I told her she could  have her pick.  I have a rather beautiful purple felt hat with a bunch of curly feathers and ribbon on one side that looked really good on her, and she chose that. I was a little sad to see it go, but I know Tanya will take good care of it and will love it as I have. Then Becky tried on my “Mardi Gras Parade” hat, a silver lamé number that is towering twirls and a big medallion, flat on the back and with a little brim in front. Or, if you like, flat on the front and with a little brim in back, you can wear it either way. It looked amazing on her, and I have agreed to loan it to her for Magna. I’m not sure which hat (or hats) I’ll bring.

The event is a mystery convention and takes place at the Columbia Club, a historic and very upscale place in the center of the city with old-fashioned rules such as gentlemen must wear a suit or blazer and tie in the formal dining room. The sort of place you almost expect to see Christie, Sayers, Marsh and Allingham at a table having tea and talking about poisons. Ann fell in love with a strange hand-crafted hat in autumn colored fabric I might loan to her some time, but not to Magna, as she’s too insecure to travel.

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Deer Abbey

I wasn’t going to buy one, honest! I already have many, many hats. Yes, I know: Easter bonnet. Very traditional. But though I made an appointment with Angie Sandifer in Saint Paul when she surprised me with an email (I thought she’d gone out of business), I made up my mind: no new hat. But I went over to her studio loft in the big old warehouse on the east side of the city on Saturday afternoon, and went into the big room full of light and hats and managed to like several of her offerings, including one spectacular black and white one with a long, long feather, without so much as asking the price of any of them. Then she showed me a new technique she’d been working on: taking a piece of thin fabric and somehow working it onto a hat so smoothly it looked painted on. Okay, that was nice. But still no sale. Then she showed me a picture of a hat covered with pink and wine and yellow flowered fabric she’d taken to an exhibit and all my resolve dissolved. Oh, my, it was lovely! But, she said, the hat was sold at the exhibit, and she didn’t have another. I don’t know if I was more relieved than disappointed or vice versa.  “However,” she said, “I have another piece of fabric, I can make one for you.” So this coming Saturday evening I’m going back to Saint Paul with a big empty hat box to bring home yet another hat. Here’s the picture she showed me.


The weather has been all over the place lately. Last week we had two or three days of temps in the upper seventies, and it felt like June. Yesterday evening a chilly rain started to fall, and this morning everything is covered with a thin layer of sticky snow, even the tiniest budding twig, startling to the eye and very beautiful.

I’ve been doing a final edit on the manuscript of a book put together from four “chapbooks” I wrote back in the 1980s as a study for a character I’d invented. She is Margaret of Shaftesbury, Abbess, and she lived from 1400 to 1485, mostly in a small nunnery in the foothills of the Cotswolds called the Abbey of the White Stag (Abatia Cervi Albi, after the vision of St. Eustace). AKA Deer Abbey. Its Mass Priest is “a small brown fellow with kind, anxious eyes, who means well” named Father Hugh of Paddington. I wrote about one a year, and now Ellen and I have drawn the chapbooks together to make a novel of a little over two hundred pages, if you include the endnotes. The chapbooks were thoroughly researched but lightly written, self-published, and earned me a Laurel in the Society for Creative Anachronism. I’ve always been very fond of the story that they tell, but didn’t really notice until now, editing them as one piece of writing, how my writing improved as they went along. The last one is really rather fine. We’re going to e-publish them as The Chronicles of Deer Abbey, endnotes and all. Look for The Chronicles on Amazon in the next couple of weeks.

I’m wearing the hat to a glorious Easter morning service at St. George’s, then we’re giving a dinner for some friends. The menu is very traditional: Spiral-sliced ham, Aunt Velva’s Bean Salad, mashed potatoes, candied yams, steamed asparagus, deviled eggs. My friends are bringing pies. I hope your holiday is pleasant, too.

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Dropping a Clanger

My work on Tying the Knot has stopped. I have struggled with it, quarreled with it, gotten angry about it, and finally accepted that it is dead in the water. Whether that is permanent I don’t know; I do know that I’m not going to continue the battle. I am going to wait until it resurrects, or I die, and meanwhile stop letting it aggravate me.  I am also currently out of ideas for another mystery.  I hope that my fellow authors will permit me to continue making contributions to this blog, because I’m enjoying that part.

I have two very different books I’ve enjoyed reading recently and so offer them here with happy recommendations.

The first is Tugboat Annie, by Norman Reilly Raine. It’s a collection of eighteen short stories selected from seventy-four published in the Saturday Evening Post beginning in 1931. Two extremely popular movies starring Marie Dressler were made from these stories. Mr. Raine had a delightful and brilliant way with words and an encyclopedic knowledge of shipping and the coastal environment of Puget Sound. My copy of this collection was published in 1977 and bought online. The stories are fun and funny, and Mr. Raine’s writing is an education in wordsmithing.

The second is The Magnolia Story, by Chip and Joanna Gaines, with Mark Dagostino. If you’re a fan of the reality television series “Fixer Upper” on HGTV, you’ll like this book. There is something irresistible about Chip and Jo-Jo, her cool and steady attitude and clever designs and his wild and hilarious hands-on labor to make her ideas a reality. But the book discloses a far deeper lifestyle and background.  They are a hard-working couple who love their home town of Waco, Texas.  What’s great about the book is that it sounds just like them.

There was a story in Monday’s Washington Post about pies, specifically the history and lore of English pies. I love etymology, the study of words, and this article is a fascinating look at how meat pies and fruit pies evolved and influenced English culture and language. Very entertaining! Try it here:

English Pies

Sample: “Take, for example, the Bedfordshire Clanger: a British classic which cleverly combines main course and dessert, with savoury ingredients like pork at one end and sweet ingredients like pear at the other. The name comes from a local slang word, ‘clang’, which means to eat voraciously. However, cramming two courses into a pie makes a clanger rather unwieldy – and all too easy to drop, inspiring the English phrase ‘dropping a clanger’ for a careless mistake.” I’d come across that phrase many a time in English novels without the slightest notion of where it came from.

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A Deadly Flower

Monkshood! A healing flower that is also poisonous. Gail Frazer and I used it in one of our Dame Frevisse medieval mysteries years ago. And it’s still around, of course. In fact, it very recently killed a woman in California and made a man extremely ill when they ingested it in a tea bought from a Chinese herbalist.

I’m beginning to think Tying the Knot is dead. I just can’t write it. I know the writing spark is still there; I’ve started to talk to a woman who served as a police chaplain and who tells inspiring, sometimes hair-raising, stories about her experiences. She could write a book – and I believe I could serve as her ghost.

Last night I was lying in bed with the cat Java draped across my upper legs and tummy and I was lazily tickling her under her chin. She suddenly turned a forepaw over and very gently grasped my finger with pad and claw to still my hand. She held onto the finger for about a minute then put her head on my hand and we both went to sleep.

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It’s Only Money

The coin show was fun. There were some beautiful and valuable coins bought and sold there, including gold ones. Over seven hundred people came just on Saturday. I thought hard about buying the Queen Victoria silver crown coin, but just couldn’t bring myself to spend that much for it. Instead I bought a Victoria half crown – and then a King Edward VII and a King George VI, both crowns, all three for less than half what the Victoria crown would have cost. Mr. Davisson showed me a Queen Victoria pattern crown (a design for a coin that was never minted), a magnificent and very finely detailed piece that really belongs in a museum. Only four thousand dollars!

Quite a few people saw and commented favorably on my display of “1,000 Years of English Money.” A member of Northwest Coin Club wants me to refine it some more and enter it in our State Fair. I’ll think about it – but probably won’t. Each coin in my display is firmly fastened down inside two frames, but what if someone just picks up a frame and walks away with it? Thirty-plus years of patient searching and buying, gone.

On the other hand, what would a thief do with it? These aren’t American dimes and quarters they could spend in a vending machine – which is what happens to many collections a burglar takes, which is why an amazingly valuable coin will turn up in someone’s pocket change. Which is why collectors routinely examine their pocket change.

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Love of Money

This Friday and Saturday I will be at the “Money Show,” put on by the Northwest Coin Club, of which I am a proud member. Coins and paper money of every era and nation will be bought, sold and traded. I am putting together a display called “1000 Years of English Money.” It’s a series of authentic silver coins dating from Cnut (King from 1016) to Elizabeth II (the current Queen), one for each reign – except Henry VII. It was during his reign that English coins went from a full-face portrait to a profile, so I have one of each. I have most of the older coins; I’m looking to fill large gaps in the series after Oliver Cromwell. None of my coins are for sale. The show is at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, MN, and continues through Sunday. Admission is free, so is parking. Over 100 dealers will be there.

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Previously Owned by a Gay Man

My injured sister-in-law is talking about selling her big house and moving into a senior condo or co-op.  Most of these places allow two small dogs, or two cats, or a cat and a dog. Not three animals. Since she has two little dogs she is very fond of and a pretty Bombay cat she put into our temporary care, she has a dilemma. And since the Bombay has already wormed her way into our hearts and household, it’s very easy to see the direction this is going to take. It appears that even after we swore off cats when Snaps had to be put down, we are likely the permanent new owners of a Bombay cat named Java. We have learned that Java is about six years old, and came to my sister-in-law’s house as a kitten. Animals have surprisingly long memories and I wonder if Java misses Steve and Margaret.  Steve is beyond recall, but as soon as sister-in-law is able to get out and about, I want to invite her to come visit Java – or would that be cruel? Meanwhile, I went grocery shopping yesterday and went to an upscale pet food store to get a fresh pack of the kind of kitty litter she’s used to – and so long as I was there I took a chance and bought one of those laser lights most cats love to chase. And boy, does she!  This morning I picked it up off my desk and she recognized the sound of the keychain attached to it and is currently sitting behind my chair crying for me to turn it on for her.  Excuse me a minute. . . .

My cough is almost gone – hurrah! A doctor at my clinic said my lungs are clear and prescribed an inhaler and some peculiar little golden capsules to knock down the cough. And sure enough over the weekend it went from major annoyance to small nuisance to hardly coughing at all. So I’m off later this morning for a Remicade infusion to knock my immune system back a couple of notches, the one treatment guaranteed to keep my psoriatic arthritis at bay. Life is good again.

I have not been blogging much about my writing because I haven’t been doing much writing. I leaned hard on myself on Sunday, went to a web site Previously Owned By A Gay Man to look at furniture and furnish Godwin and Rafael’s condo. I found some rather peculiar things and decided Rafael, who was born and raised in Barcelona, had been keeping furniture in storage until last year. His taste is either exquisite or abominable (avant-garde European with Asian accents), not sure which, but I’ve invited Betsy and Connor to an impromptu New Year’s Eve party at the boys’ place to have their eyes startled – and so a blockage that’s been going on for weeks has finally broken apart. I ought not to be surprised at how describing a setting will move a plot forward for me. But I am. A problem is going to be describing the couch and occasional chair. Well, not the couch so much, it’s a backless slab tilted just a little upward at either end. But that chair –  Indonesian rattan and mahogany with brass fittings. A beautiful thing. If I were rich, I’d buy it, though it would clash magnificently with our current furniture. Describing it is going to be difficult fun.  Take a look:

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