Archive for the ‘Midnight Manzanilla (Pink XI)’ Category

Pinkorama #1: “The Peep of Belliston Hall,” or, “Those aren’t daisies.”

Monday, April 9th, 2018

I am delighted to present the 2018 Pinkoramae!

The first of this year’s amazing Peep creations comes from Carrie and Laura.

Without further ado, I present to you, “The Peep of Belliston Hall,” or, “Those aren’t daisies,” taken from Pink XI, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla.

At a ball at the home of the Duke of Belliston’s uncle, rumors swirl around the reclusive duke….

Carrie the ball is in full swing

Lucien’s Aunt Winifred and Uncle Henry receive their guests. Lucien’s sister is dressed modestly, as befits a debutante, while Aunt Winifred is matronly in purple.

Carrie Uncle Henry and Aunt Winifred

As is traditional, the Vaughns snub everyone. Note Mary’s fashion-forward lace. Also, her pearls would be larger than everyone else’s. Lord Vaughn, of course, wears his customary black and silver.

Carrie the Vaugns snub everyone

But who would pay any attention to the Vaughns when the Peep of Belliston Hall emerges from his lair? After all, a duke does trump an earl, much as Lord Vaughn might prefer otherwise. And all the more so when rumor has it that the duke is a vampire….

Carrie the peep of belliston emerges

Sally Fitzhugh and the Duke find themselves in tete a tete as another dance begins (i.e. Sally feels the need to get back at the duke for having a better closing line during their last tete a tete):

Carrie another tete-a-tete

Quadrille, anyone?

Carrie another dance begins

When Sally discovers that Lucien has been invited to a secret assignation on the balcony, she can’t resist joining him there. But what awaits them is even more alarming than Lucy Ponsonby’s dress– a woman, dead, with fang marks on her throat.

Carrie midnight on the balcony

Flowers have been strewn around her– but they aren’t daisies. They’re the blooms of the manzanilla. A message? Or just what the florist had available?

Carrie those arent daisies 2

Of course, we all know what the members of the ton will think when they come upon the scene…. Has the Peep of Belliston Hall struck again?

Carrie 20180310_204257_Film1_2

So many thanks to Carrie and Laura for this tour de peep!

For your amusement, here’s a snippet from the relevant scene, from Chapters 6 and 7 of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla.

“Hello?” said Lucien tentatively.

The woman appeared to have fallen asleep. She lay on the hard marble bench as though it were upholstered in the softest of velvet, her diaphanous white skirts falling gracefully around her legs. Her head had fallen back a little against the scrolled arm of the bench, her long, black curls partly obscuring her face.

In her lightly clasped hands rested a straggling bouquet of pale flowers.

Like a funeral wreath.

The full moon lent an uncanny clarity to the scene. Or maybe that was some long-buried, atavistic reaction, sharpening his senses, making every detail stand out with unnatural sharpness. Lucien took a step forward, his own footfall echoing in his ears.

The fabric of the woman’s dress was pathetically thin for the weather, the neckline cut low, but the woman betrayed no signs of cold. She lay entirely still, as still as the empty fountains and deserted paths of the garden. Her eyes were closed, her lips ever so slightly parted.

Lucien didn’t need to hold a mirror to those lips to know that there was no breath between them, but he held out a hand all the same. Just because.

“What is it?” There was a series of light footfalls on the flagstones. Miss Fitzhugh came to a stop behind him, her shadow touching the other woman’s tousled skirts. “Why are you….”

She broke off, her eyes widening, her mouth rounding into a silent “oh”.

In the silence, Lucien could hear the rustle of fabric as Miss Fitzhugh’s chest rose and fell, and the small, damp noise as she swallowed. Hard. “Is that…. Are those….”

“Yes,” said Lucien.

In the hollow between the lace ruffle of her dress and the dark fall of her hair, the woman’s skin was a clear, pale white.
Aside from the two red marks by the side of her throat.

“Is she—” Sally’s throat felt tight.

She stared at the woman on the marble bench, her flowing draperies arranged so carefully around her. So peaceful. So still.

The duke drew his hand back. Sally watched as he rubbed the palm against his waistcoat. “Yes.”

“Oh.” For once in her life, Sally didn’t know what to say. All she could do was stare and stare.

Dead. She had never seen a dead person before. Well, unless one counted great aunt Adelaide and one hardly did, because she had been properly in a coffin and not just lying there on a slab of marble like a princess out of a story book waiting to be awakened by true love’s kiss. Only nothing was going to wake this woman. That chest would never rise and fall, those eyes would never open. She would never wiggle herself upright on that marble bench and shake out those long, skirts.

Sally found her eye caught by those flowing folds of fabric, by the long, dark stripes and blotches that made an eccentric pattern down the sides and along the hem. She caught herself staring at it, trying to make sense of it. Anything but look at that cold, still face. And those two, red marks on her neck. It was an odd sort of pattern, with no symmetry or order to it.

Only it wasn’t a pattern at all. That was blood. Lots of blood. Long ribbons of blood, staining the woman’s dress and marking her shoes, twisting down her sides and caking her hem.

There was bile at the back of Sally’s throat and a ringing in her ears; her hands felt cold and damp, but she couldn’t look away. All she could see was those long ribbons of blood, twisting and twining towards her….

The duke caught Sally around the shoulders. “Where’s that vinaigrette?” he said roughly.

Sally wiggled in his grasp. “I’m not swooning.” She wasn’t really. The world had just gone a bit hazy for a moment. “I just—tripped on my own hem.”

The duke looked skeptical, but he removed his arm all the same. Sally rather wished he hadn’t. Without the warmth of his body, the night air crawled along her bare arms like a cold, dead hand.

Like the hand of the woman, dangling by her side, the fingers small, smaller than Sally’s, fine-boned and white.

“I had never—” Sally caught herself, saying wonderingly. “She looks asleep.” Asleep and peaceful.

But for the blood staining her skirt.

Sally swallowed, hard.

“I should get you inside,” said the duke.

Sally drew herself up. “No. No. I’m quite all right. Really.”

She wasn’t going to swoon, not in front of the duke. She could feel her nails making sharp half-circles in her palms and forced herself to relax her hands, finger by finger.

Didn’t she pride herself on her cool head in a crisis? Of course, in the past, her crises had been limited to propping up falling scenery in amateur theatricals and coolly talking her way out of French exercises. For all that she thought herself a woman of the world, she had really lived a rather sheltered existence.

Someone had placed flowers in the woman’s hands. It wasn’t an elegant bouquet. The stems were uneven, bound untidily in a trailing yellow ribbon. The flowers themselves were simple white flowers with a yellow dot in the center.

“Daisies,” said Sally. “She’s holding daisies.”

There was something poignantly sad about those simple flowers in the woman’s still, white hand. They were meant to be plucked in sun-washed summer meadows and twisted into chains. They didn’t belong here in the chill autumn night any more than the woman, with her inappropriately light dress, belonged here, cold and dead on a marble bench.

The duke’s voice seemed to come from a long way away. “Those aren’t daisies.”

Stayed tuned for Pinkorama #2, coming your way tomorrow!


Monday, October 26th, 2015

With Halloween on the horizon, what more appropriate for this Monday’s give away than my one and only Halloween book, The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla?

Manzanilla Halloween

It’s 1807 and a vampire craze has swept the ton thanks to a novel called The Convent of Orsino— by a Lady. (But who are we kidding? We know it’s by Miss Gwen.)

When a woman is found dead with “fang marks” on her neck, suspicion turns to the reclusive Duke of Belliston. But Sally Fitzhugh knows better, and she’s determined to prove it. Whatever it takes.

Manzanilla Halloween 2

So, for a copy of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, here’s your question:

What’s your favorite spooky Halloween read?

Three winners will be chosen at random to receive a copy of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla. Winners will be announced on Wednesday.

Happy reading and happy Halloween!

LW5 (1)

Pinkorama #3– and a recipe!

Thursday, April 9th, 2015

For our third Pinkorama, Christine brings you… the Vampeep.

As Christine puts it: What if Lucien really was a vampire and Sally stumbled upon his lair aka pound cake coffin?

Check out the shock and surprise on Sally’s face! (All drawn with toothpicks and food coloring. Pretty impressive, no?)


As an extra special bonus– and because Christine is beyond fabulous– she’s shared the recipe for Lucien’s coffin, er, pound cake.

Over to Christine for what she swears is her final Pink-related recipe…. (Say it’s not so!)

The pound cake recipe is taken from Sally’s Baking Addiction, but it’s not on her blog. It’s an exclusive that was published in People magazine, but she posted a photo of the magazine page and it’s slightly blurry but legible enough. The recipe also includes steps to make a glaze, but I skipped that part. What’s below is just the cake recipe.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 (I think) tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp orange juice
2 tbsp orange zest
1/2 milk, room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease loaf pan.
2. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking powder in a bowl and set aside.
3. Cream together butter and sugar in a mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy.
4. Beat eggs and vanilla into creamed mixture until combined.
5. Beat in orange juice and orange zest.
6. Slowly add flour mixture, alternating with milk, until combined.
7. Bake for 40-45 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.

I keep saying “this is my last recipe,” but I feel like I’m going to keep coming up with excuses to do more…

Yes! Yes! More excuses! Especially if excuses mean baked goods.

So many thanks to Christine for this beautiful– and tasty– Pink alternative history!

Pinkorama #2: Love at First Peep

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

A moonlit garden, an inquisitive debutante, a duke who might be a vampire…. It doesn’t get much more peepmospheric than this.

Today, from Nikki, we bring you… “Love at First Peep”, Lucien and Sally’s very first meeting at the opening of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla.

Here’s the description from Nikki: A glimpse into when our peep and peepoine meet for the first time in a dark garden, beneath a peeping willow under the watchful eye of a peeping satyr.

Like all lovers, Lucien and Sally had to overcome some obstacles. The box reserved for their Pinkorama was usurped by a furry interloper. (No, not a stoat.)

Nikki 1 Resized

But can you really imagine Sally allowing her scene to be stopped? Even more glamorous than before, here is Nikki’s rendition of Lucien and Sally’s initial meeting:

Nikki 3

Check out Sally’s gold-spangled ballgown and her snazzy hairstyle:

Nikki 4

And the Vampeep himself, with his flickering candle and blood red cravat pin:

Nikki 6

And for the full effect, here’s the whole scene, with book and flower accents (delightfully eerie, no?):

Nikki 2

I had never imagined that Sally and Lucien could be so convincing in colored sugar! (Although, really, Sally and Peep do kind of go together like Turnip and raspberry jam; one gets the impression that to be Sally is to be on a permanent sugar high. But I digress.)

So many thanks to Nikki for bringing us this wonderfully atmospheric scene! I love the finishing touch of flower and book and all that dark, mysterious veiling…. The perfect setting for The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla!


Friday, October 31st, 2014

And the winner of the copy of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is…

… Joan! (Of Comment #71.)

Congratulations, Joan! If you let me know where to send it, I’ll pop your book in the mail to you.

Happy Halloween, all!

Oh, and just for fun, if you’re not a Facebook person, check out these adorable Halloween cards that Sharlene made for me to celebrate The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla!

Manzanilla Halloween

Manzanilla Halloween 2

Pink Carnation Cookery: Vampire Cookies

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

This month, in honor of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla and its mysterious hero, Christine brings us… vampire cookies!

I love sugar cookies (and Halloween), so I am very excited to make these.

One other genius bit about this recipe? These cookies contain jam. Raspberry jam.

What more appropriate ingredient could there be for a cookie connected to a member of the Fitzhugh family?

And now… over to Christine!

I’m usually not a huge fan of vampires. In fact, this vampire craze drives me insane. There are a few exceptions, notably Deanna Raybourn’s “The Dead Travel Fast” and Deborah Harkness’ “A Discovery of Witches.” The latest addition to my short list of “vampires” I love? The Duke of Belliston. Is he? Isn’t he? What is going on with that charming, secretive man? In honor of the Duke, and Halloween, Pink Kitchen brings you vampire cookies (brought to you by!

Note of warning: this recipe requires you to refrigerate the dough for at least an hour, so best not to promise the kids they can help make Halloween cookies only to realize a few steps in that your plan has fallen through. Then you’ll have no cookies and upset children. I made and refrigerated the dough first, then told the child he could help with the cookies.

3/4 cup butter softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup red jam (strawberry, raspberry, etc.)

1. Cream together sugar and butter. (I typically cut back on the butter called for in recipes. I used 1/2 cup and it was fine.)
2. Beat in egg and extracts to the mixture. (Also realized once I opened the lid that the bottle of vanilla extract was completely empty, so I just added more almond.)
3. Add flour and salt and mix everything together until ingredients are just combined.
4. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
5. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
6. Take out half the dough and roll out on lightly floured surface to about an 1/8 inch. (The comments on the recipe say to only take out as much dough as you need at a time because the dough should be as cold as possible.)
7. Use a cookie cutter (or small glass) to cut 2 inch rounds.
8. Put half the rounds on a cookie sheet then put a teaspoon (or less) of jam in the middle of each round.
9. Cover each with a second round then press down on the edges gently to form the cookies.
10. Use a toothpick to poke two small holes into each cookie, like vampire bites.
11. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are set.
12. Cool for 5 minutes before transferring to a rack.
13. Optional: dip a toothpick into jam and re-insert into the “bites” to emphasize them, and create a “blood” trail with some of the leftover jam.

Cookies are best the day they’re made (according to the recipe). There’s a sweet spot between when the dough is too hard and when it becomes too soft, so you’ll have to work quickly. The recipe made 25 rounds for me, so I made 24 vampire jam cookies and 1 jam taco cookie. I’m really bad at estimating measurements, but I’m pretty sure I used a lot less than a teaspoon of jam per cookie. I just used whatever looked like a good amount in the middle that wouldn’t ooze out too badly from the sides. I made the “blood” trail on just a few of them to see what they would look like.

photo (42)

Verdict? Good. Really good. Like shockingly way better than expected. Enjoy!

Thank you so much for these, Christine! (And I’m very relieved I’m not the only one who always winds up putting in way less filling than the recipe calls for.)

Do you think we could get Miles to abandon his ginger biscuits for a day and try these instead?

One thing I do know: Turnip is a fan. You had him at raspberry jam….

(Or you would have if Parsnip hadn’t gotten to the cookies first and eaten all the jam out. But I digress.)

Happy almost Halloween, all!

Teaser Tuesday: putting the Halloween in the Halloween book.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014

Although I call The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla my Halloween book, I do so with some reservations.

True, it’s set in October, in that season of mist and shrinking daylight hours, of changing leaves and that sudden, sharp chill in the air. And part of the book, the part that’s set in Cambridge (the American one) in 2004, really does deal with Halloween. My modern heroine, Eloise, is having her English boyfriend Colin to visit in her tiny studio apartment in Harvard Square, just in time for the annual grad student Halloween masquerade bash. There’s even a plastic pumpkin filled with those pot-bellied candy corn pumpkins and mini-Twix with bats on the wrappers.

manzanillaBut there’s a caveat: in England in 1806, where the bulk of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla takes place, there is no Halloween, or, at least, not Halloween as we know it.

I did a bit of scrounging around, to see what rituals and practices my characters might have been familiar with, and here’s what I discovered:

The tradition of the evening of October 31st as a night on which ghosts walk goes back a very long time. One version has it that Halloween originated in the Celtic festival of Samhain, a time when the dead wandered among the living, and was later transformed by Pope Gregory IV into a Christian holiday, Hallowmas, in the 9th century. The name “Halloween”, or “Hallowe’en”, comes from the festival of Hallowmas: All Hallows Eve, All Hallows (or All Saints) Day, and All Souls Day, in which the dead are remembered.

The modern holiday of Halloween, with its costumes, jack-o’lanterns, and trick or treating, is generally held to be a mid-nineteenth century Irish export to America. “Mumming and guising” were popular in the Celtic fringe (Ireland, Scotland, and Wales), but they don’t seem to have taken much of a hold in England.

There was a form of trick or treating: going door to door collecting “soul cakes” to pray for those in purgatory. Bonfires were lit, to guide the souls to heaven or to scare them away from the living, depending upon whom you ask.

The Reformation appears to have put paid to many of these practices in England. In the seventeenth century, the introduction of Guy Fawkes Day—a commemoration of the 1605 plot to blow up King and Parliament—meant that the bonfires moved over a few days, to November 5th. Elements of the older holiday remained in rural communities in England, with bonfires, carved turnip lanterns, bobbing for apples and other traditions which varied by locale, but the gentry did not observe these rituals.

The bottom line? Halloween, as we understand it, would have been unknown to Miss Sally Fitzhugh or the Duke of Belliston, although they might have been aware of the superstitions attached to the night as practiced by the tenants on their estates.

I wasn’t able to use Halloween in the historical part of my narrative, but I did have October itself as an asset– that season of leaves fallings, light dying, mists rising. My historical characters might not have Halloween, but they had the atmosphere of Halloween.

Minus the candy pumpkins, of course.

What’s your favorite part of Halloween?

A Halloween Give Away!

Monday, October 27th, 2014

With Halloween coming up this Friday, it felt only appropriate to have a give away of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, my very first Halloween book.

LW5 (1)

In fact, it’s going to be Halloween week here on the website!

On Tuesday, we’ll have some fun facts about Halloween (or the lack of it) in the early nineteenth century.

On Wednesday, I’ll be reviving my favorite archived post about Halloween costumes.

On Thursday, we have another wonderful Pink Carnation Cookery installment from Christine. In honor of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla: vampire cookies!

And on Friday, I’ll announce our winner!

Now, back to our contest! For the chance to win a copy of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, here’s your question:

What’s your favorite Halloween reading?

One person will be chosen at random to receive a copy of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla. The winner will be announced on Halloween….

Teaser Tuesday: How autobiographical is Eloise?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

Recently, I’ve received a number of messages asking whether (and some assuming that) the Eloise portion of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla is autobiographical.

Here’s the short answer: it’s not.

There are certainly elements of my world woven into Eloise’s story. The descriptions of Cambridge in 2004 are as true as my memory can make them. Just as I loaned Eloise my basement flat in London, I also made her free of my studio apartment in Cambridge, in a building that no longer exists as it was then: 1306 Massachusetts Avenue. The year after I left (2006/7), the building was completely renovated, doing away with my old apartment, the mustard-colored hallways with their rust-red trim, and, sadly, the Toscanini’s on the ground floor.

Likewise, Campo de Fiori, where Megan and Eloise have their pre-class lunch of potato pizza, was a real place. Like 1306 Mass Ave, Campo de Fiori is long gone, but those plastic tables once took up a corner of the Holyoke Center, and, like Eloise and Megan, my friend Jenny and I used to meet there for sustenance before marching off to tackle Western Civ sections.

They say to write what you know. At one point, I knew the History department, Hist and Lit, and Dudley House (the grad student social center) rather well. All of them are as true to their 2004 selves as I could describe them, from the faculty sky-boxes in Robinson Hall to that annual Halloween party.

And now we start moving into fiction….

Once we get past the physical descriptions of Eloise’s world, we’re purely in the realm of make-believe. Eloise and I are very different people. We didn’t even study the same thing: in my academic life, I was an early modernist, focusing on the 16th and 17th centuries.

Unlike Eloise, I had an ulterior motive in going to grad school. My goal was always, in the end, to use my education to write perfectly accurate historical fiction, preferably a great big doorstop novel set in Scotland in the 16th century. Of course, along the way, I discovered there’s no such thing as undisputed historical accuracy, and, ten years after my first book, I have yet to write anything set in either the sixteenth century or Scotland, but…. Details, details.

So (not to give too much away for those who haven’t read it yet), for everyone who has asked me if the conversation Eloise has with her adviser in Midnight Manzanilla is drawn from the life… it’s not. Not even close. I will say that, unlike Eloise’s, my adviser was extremely supportive and made clear that I was still a member of the history department, always welcome to return, when I announced that I was making the switch to law school.

(If you haven’t read the book yet, don’t worry. Eloise doesn’t go to law school.)

For those who are curious as to why I decided to leave grad school, I discuss it a bit in a book that just came out last week: Rebecca Peabody’s The Unruly PhD: Doubts, Detours, Departures, and Other Success Stories.

I tend to discuss it rather more frankly after a few drinks, but, even in that version, it’s nothing like Eloise’s story.

It’s called fiction for a reason….

Teaser Tuesday: What’s in a Flower?

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

(Note: this was originally programmed to run on July 8. But I hit “save draft” instead of “publish”. So you’re belatedly getting this post now, with apologies from your technology-phobic author.)

I have a floral confession to make. There are not one but two plants called the manzanilla. One is deadly. You may also know it as manchineel or manzanilla de la muerte.

The other is… chamomile.

Guess which one plays the larger role in The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla?

Both flowers make an appearance in the book. When the “vampire” artistically strews his victim with flowers, those are manzanilla/chamomile. Later, when bits of the manzanilla plant are left as a threat for Sally and Lucien, that’s manzanilla de la muerte, which is toxic enough that to touch it can leave welts.

Unfortunately for the NAL art department, the manzanilla flower isn’t particularly photogenic. The flowers are little greenish things that don’t show to good advantage on a book cover. So the flower on the cover of Midnight Manzanilla? Is the other manzanilla, the chamomile flower.


I might have been tempted to mention that when I saw the cover, but for one thing: chamomile flowers look a lot like daisies. And daisies are the flower that, for some reason or other, I associate with Sally. If Sally were a spy, she would undoubtedly be the Daisy.