This week I was lucky enough to find a link to a wonderful, moving archive of Romani oral history. The Roma Support Group in London has launched a traveling exhibition of recent narratives, many of them available on YouTube, and via this link

If you are passionate about justice in school, jobs and housing, I encourage you to watch one of these touching testimonies, many of them narrated by young adults.


Scholar-artists of indiginous background showcase their work at the Yale School of Architecture. It is long overdue that Native American women show their work in the field of design. I include two Native American women in my upcoming novel, so I was particularly glad to come upon this article celebrating Native women in the field of architecture. See the full story here.

American Roma and The Justice System

Why are the Roma under special scrutiny in America? Why are they so often taken for criminals? Centuries of outrage — slavery, expulsion, genocide, hate crime —  have forced Romani people to conduct work and make homes that are often hidden from mainstream communities. Desguised sometimes with bright Americana, Old Glory, white picket fences, and at other times, protected behind yards of old tires, the Roma hold tight to what is theirs — their income, their valuables, their children. Sometimes their guarded nature keeps Romani chidren home from school, and Roma historically avoid American employers. This self-segregation can appear to the unimformed eye as dissembling or lying. But avoidance of majority culture is not a crime. Just as it is not a crime to live in a monastery if one is a monk. When centuries of family have been forced into dangerous housing, endured assault at school, or the torching of their home, there is little choice but to make a profession by onesself and among ones’ family members. The professions most ofen associated with the Roma include metal smithing, car repair, horse trading, music, dance, carnival arts, and fortune telling.

However, in the twenty-first century, paths to professionalism have broadened. So, today, Romani men and women participate in the same professions and industry that we all do: law, fine arts, medicine, business, engineering, politics, activism, film and theater, etc.

There was a time, however, when the Roma were still new to the United States. And like many of our immigrant forebears, they kept their valuables near them, their loved ones close, and their money zipped into the mattress.  These old-world habits became pretext for a Washington police force to raid the home of Jimmy Marks in the late 1980s, where deputies seized heirlooms, cash, even earrings off the Marks’ young children. To this day, units of “bunco” officers train to search and raid Romani homes and buisniesses in pursuit of fraud, which can result in trauma for entire families.

February Newsletter, 2019


Fantasy February 

I will partake in two blog tours beginning February 4. The first one, which lasts from February 4 to the 15th, includes The Peddler of Wisdom e-book giveaways, a drawing for four apothecary soaps (yes, magic soap!), and background on my new release, The Peddler of Wisdom.  I will reveal some of my best sources during this blog tour, including sites to consider for your own historical research, if you nerd out on vintage books like I do. 

The blog tour dates/sites are all at this link:

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And in case you weren’t yet sure, . . . 

A 28-author blog tour by that name begins February 1st and continues til the end of the month on numerous author pages that I link to below. My day to blog is the 16th February, when I write, give away prizes, and take questions about historic world building within the fantasy genre. Tune into my blog at this url: and I’ll list all the other authors as well.

Among the friends I’ve made via the fantasy groups I belong to, I recently met another mermaid author. Here is one whose boxed set has just gone on sale. In this collection, readers receive eleven entire volumes for just $3.99, all of them written on the theme of magic under the sea.

Kingdom of Salt and Sirens: A Limited Edition of Little Mermaid Retellings (Kingdom of Fairytales Book 2) by [Armitage, J.A., Castro, R, Crest, Mira, Ellision, Jennifer, Greenwood, Laura, Kol, Scarlett, Korn, Tracy, Landis, Nikki, Pyne, K.M, Stevens, Jacque, Stryker, Anne]

This set by eleven authors revisits Hans Christian Anderson’s Little Mermaid tale in surprising and fabulous ways: Beneath the turbulent seas, beyond the smoky depths, lies a Kingdom that exists in your wildest imagination. A world where mermaids swim, sirens sing and shipwrecks hide mysterious creatures. Make waves with 11 magical retellings of The Little Mermaid, a world filled with adventure, love and magic!

Tales of Renaissance Runaways

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This month’s historical anecdote comes from Renaissance Scotland during the same period that I set The Peddler of Wisdom. I discovered on a very fine folklore site, a story of a runaway bride who was very nearly killed by her husband in the fifteenth century — a fate not entirely unlawful when a lady failed to please her mate. My own story ends bitterly for a similar fleeing woman, Zahara, a prisoner of war from The Holy Land. The Scottish version of this tale shows the runaway lady finding refuge with the neighbors. Here is the beginning of the fable with the full story linked back to

The 11th chief of the Duart Macleans, Lachlan Cattanach (c.1465-1523) took a vicious dislike to his second wife, Katherine, reputedly because she had failed to give birth to an heir.  One story says that Katherine tried to poison her husband.  Lachlan took her to a small tidal island, now known as Lady’s Rock, in the Sound of Mull, and left her to drown.  Next morning, he reported her death to her brother, the Earl of Argyll.

November, 2018 — All Souls Day:

Now that we’ve eaten so many Nerds that your teeth ache, what we need to do is sit back and contemplate . . . death. What else? It’s All Souls Day. And it’s cold out, so why not? And you’re asking yourself — what is All Souls Day? How should I commemorate the dead? Well, you can do as I did and look up creepy art! I love funerary art. It’s dark, dramatic, full of lamentation, weeping, hair-pulling and  . . . dancing. Yeah, you read that right. But who dances at times of death, you ask? Well, the dead! How do we know this crazy fact — because folks left pictures. I have been to numerous sites of Renaissance All Souls Day art and come up with some doozies. On the authoritative website I got a countdown of the world’s (!) most popular death art. Who knew there was such a poll?


The first most popular illustration was a run-of-the-mill illuminated manuscript page (yawn), and the second was a grainy Grim Reaper. So I am providing the THIRD most popular image (my fave!) rated by the experts at talkdeath. You ready: Here it is . . .




This is the Dance Macabre by Bernt Notke, 1633. That really IS his name. I would like to say that the lines of text underneath are song lyrics, but it’s more likely a bunch of Latin for folks to contemplate so as not to be distracted by irreverent blog posts. But allow me to divert you — see how the skeletons are the only dancers? Those mortals dance like twits, and the way they’re avoiding eye contact with their partners . . .  sooooo uncomfortable. It was obviously more fun in 1633 to be dead. 

All dances aside, what is up with All Souls Day? For us writers with creepy leanings, who enjoy ourselves a good Telltale Heart and Northanger Abbey, I have for you a short horror tale exclusive, just for newsletter readers. The story is titled The Shadow Punishment. It’s a feature by my new friend, author/historian Justin Newland and it deals with the macabre justice system during the era of the above illustration. Follow this link to the tale:


Justin and I met during a historian’s forum on the theme of Tarot cards. I am a beginner in the history of Tarot, having collected some descriptions of card decks and their use in Renaissance Europe. But he is a real expert, with publications on the card game’s derivation from the taro bird, a Chinese agent of prophecy. Justin writes about these mysteries in his recent book, The Old Dragon’s Head. I also include a thumbnail of his second novel, The Genesis of Osiris. 


 My own work currently involves final manuscript edits, finishing a cover, working on a blog tour, and urging YOU to consider being a PRE-PUBLICATION READER — Yes, anyone? Free book? Yes? Authors need reviews desperately, especially those of us who publish independently. We cannot advance without them. We are turned away from conferences and aren’t considered for promotions or competitions if we don’t meet review minimums. Would you consider being a pre-publication reader? The book. . . have I mentioned . . . is titled The Peddler of Wisdom. It will finish at about 475 pages. My pre-release e-novel will be ready early December. If you’d be willing to consider leaving an honest review, I’d be delighted to send you an e-copy. Just email me back and we’ll set everything in place.

Titles by Laura

Laerka: Young Adult Version by [Matthias Bendoly, Laura] 

available at this link: 

The Estate

The Estate, available at this link:

Hall of Heroes

Hall of Heroes: A Fellowship of Fantasy Anthology by [Burke, H. L., VanArendonk Baugh, Laura, Zaplendam, Page, Ippolito, Janeen, Dearen, Tamie, Fugett, Deanna, Ashwood, Sarah, Luke, Frank B., Daigle, Arthur, Silverberry, A. R., E. Kaiser Writes, A. J. Bakke, Dianne Astle, RJ Conte, D. W. Frauenfelder, Laura Matthias Bendoly, J. Philip Horne, Julie C. Gilbert, Karin Di Havin, Lea Doué, Katy Huth Jones, David Millican, Jessica L. Elliott ]

Hall of Heroes available at the link:


May, 2018

I just returned from the unusual (for me) luxury of a couples’ vacation. Me and Elliot away without kids for four whole days and nights. We originally planned on Cuba. But after reading of the trouble tourists have with Cuba-US phone contact, changing money, and supplemental health insurance, there seemed another good option — Panama. So that’s where we spent half of last week. Specifically, Panama City and environs.

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Now that I’ve spent a little time in the avenues of the old town (Casco Viejo) and in the jungle of the Gamboa region, I have a renewed interest in things Latin American. The food in Panama was great. Really tasty. Especially the coffee, empanadas, local fish, and an amazing mango mousse and served to us on the top floor of a satellite station tuned eco-lodge. The lodge was starting point for a vigorous jungle hike to see the wonders of the Panamanian canopy, including howler monkeys, mot mot birds, three toed sloths, and blue morpho butterflies. We spent two and a half hours craning our necks upward — painful but very much worth it. Jungle humidity is the kind I’ve only experienced at a day spa, so my skin must be superb.

At home, now, I feel I must pick up a stack of Central American authors, the culture in Panama being so inspiring. Thanks to the recommendations of two former book club friends, I am already aware of Julia Alvarez and Junot Diaz. If you haven’t read their work, do so! The family dysfunction and drama of living under dictatorship was completely absorbing in both volumes. On my list, now, is the latest Isabelle Allende (City of Beasts) and Esmeralda Santiago’s Almost a Woman. A good list of titles to start you on your way with Latin American writing is at this link (Huffington Post)     

In my own work, I continue fine tuning scenes with protagonist Irene and her fellow-physician, Baron Durande. While re-ordering the first six chapters, I’ve also been looking at places in France where natural dyes were in routine use. I’ve located one center for textiles, in the Luberon, where a manufacture of “Indiennes” took place. Indiennes are the hand-sewn floral fabrics worn by Provencales during festival time.


Also called Chafarcani, these textiles were originally imported to France from Syria. But an interdiction levied by Cardinal Richelieu made the popular fabric impossible to come by during much of the 17th century. Local printers, particularly playing card printers, took up the challenge of preparing the designs in Provence. Their own local version of Chafarcani began. Though eventually, trade re-opened with the Orient (and moved to Pondicherry, India), Provencals have had their hands in the production of floral textiles ever since.

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One of the most regular colors in use on the skirt or dress of a Provencal lady is an earthy red. Several sources were available for this color — a chalk from the local mountains, cinnebar (though the mineral was frankly poisonous), and madder root, which grows world-wide and produces a rich red colorant. Here is a sample:

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The Luberon is home to a one-of-a-kind fabric dying garden. On the terraces of the grand villa, Maison Aubert – La Calade, 250 plants grow, all for application in the textile trade. Historians at the site maintain Provence’s participation in natural dye techniques by teaching new generations of growers and dyers in the methods of the first Marseilles fabric printers. Their link follows the photo:

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Lastly, I wanted to highlight a recent interview that came to my attention through an on-line author’s group. In the interview, historian Katherine Ashe describes her thirty-five years of research for The Fairy Garden, a sixteenth-century family saga.

The author discusses a writer’s frequent problem of uncovering oppositional sources during historical research. I have had this difficulty, myself, doing Renaissance and Medieval research. Contradictory evidence seems almost certain when you go to original records, in which letter-writers, journal-keepers, and public record documentarists weren’t always held to the strictest account. This makes a modern writer truly conflicted: do we tell the story how the parson said it, or the jailer, or the scivener? Contemporary folks kept records in so many different ways. Such a conundrum makes the purity of “original material” slightly muddy.

In the village where I set my story I have no original source document, at all. As I have not been awarded a publisher’s advance, I cannot travel to France to look up church documents from 1630, which might have named examples of peasant property, types of crops grown, the type of tools kept by the blacksmith and the mason. The village where I set my tale, St. Dalmas Le Selvage, does exist. But it is so tiny it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page (at least, not on 5/8/2018, anyway.) This may well change. On 5/8/2028 I may find that an entire encyclopedia comes out on St. Dalmas, with completely contradictory stories to those I’ve put in my book. I happens with fiction. It will go on happening.

But I hope the absence of original source material doesn’t disqualify my book from a place on the historic fiction shelf. I have searched in all the French museums I can find for costume history, culinary descriptions, war histories, medical breakthroughs, and I think I have a fair representation of what was available in the borderland between France and Italy at that time. It’s hard to know when you have “enough” to shore up your story. But at 450 pages, I know I can’t do a lot more!

Until next time!

Welcome 2018, January Newsletter

My latest newsletter issue is out, and for those who don’t subscribe via email, here is a direct link to my latest:

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News from Laura’s desk — January installment

I am enclosing an extra article below

The origins of French wine 

one of several areas I’ve been researching in preparation for my historical novel.

The town of Montpelier, an alpine city known for its Medieval university, is one of several French towns to have undergone archaeological search for early wine making. Archaeologists had already unearthed a collection of Roman amphorae in Montpelier, these thought to have contained imported wine from the Gauls’ Etruscan neighbors. But closer examination of the residue inside these clay vessels indicates that some of the wine found in ancient French sites was local. Celtic societies, who lived in France during the centuries prior to Roman invasion, were handy with the wine press, themselves. University of Chicago researchers found wine cups, residue from crushed grapes, and a limestone press in Montpelier which appears to have been in use as early as 400 BC. This confirms the notion that the French have been wine cultivators from the earliest of times as well as the collectors of foreign varieties.

To keep the Romans in their cups, wine making continued after their conquest of Gaul, with monasteries being the largest contributors to wine culture. Hundreds of religious buildings still operate in the wine industry and lend their names, like Dom Perignon, to their most famous appellation.

Read more about ancient wine origins in France at this article:

My upcoming novel takes place in the southeast, where rose tends to be most popular. Indeed, the oldest wine city in France is Massalia, (AKA Marseilles), where Phocaean traders imported the first known bottles for the enjoyment of the Celts. This pink wine has remained the leader in the region since the 6th century BC.

I have never liked pink wine, myself. Except maybe if it was a wine cooler when I was twenty. But even then I preferred white. Fast forward twenty five years — Brad and Angelina make pink wine! Who knew. And it’s popular. Or it was when I read Vanity Fair’s article on the recent rose trend.  Both Hollywood and Instagram have brought it back. Check #roséallday out for examples. . . . I may have to redress my prejudice and sample a few bottles, since Angelina likes a glass of pink ….

My own characters, peasants, all, — would they have drunk pink wine? In 1600? I’m guessing they’d have been for the red or a reliable beer. Just a hunch. But I have no real way to tell. Beer was the staple of Germanic people, and my area of Provence is very near Austria. But it is also mere steps from Italy, so . . .

Here is a handy wine map of Provence — should you plan to go or if you’d like to sample Marseilles’ roses or any of the other blends from the sunny Sud. Drink ’em cold in the summer, drink ’em bubbly all year!

Provence Wine Region Map