Stretch the reader’s credulity, his sense of logic, to the upmost—it is quite elastic—but don’t break it. In this way, you will write something new, surprising and entertaining to both yourself and the reader.

-Patricia Highsmith

If you’ve read Highsmith’s, The Talented Mr. Ripley, or, Strangers on the Train, by Dan Mallory, you’ll understand exactly what Patricia Highsmith means. In these two stories our imagination gets pushed into and beyond what we would normally accept as feasible. Dan Mallory, who was a senior book editor at William Marrow publishers, now turned author, evidently has taken Highsmith’s words as his mantra, bringing him a two-book, two-million-dollar deal in 2019.

Mallory published his novel, The Woman in the Window, under the pseudonym A.J. Finn. This author uses some of the same traits as the fictional Mr.Tom Ripley, the protagonist of The Talented Mr. Ripley, who is the ultimate impostor.

The Passive Voice, a blog written by a lawyer about his thoughts on authors, self-publishing, and traditional publishing talks about Mallory in his blog: A Suspense Novelist’s Trail of Deception.

According to The Passive Voice, Mallory, among other fictional activities, has falsely claimed teaching at and receiving a doctorate degree from Oxford. As a graduate student at Oxford, Mallory concentrated his thesis on Highsmith’s fiction, The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Mr. Ripley, unsettling as it may be, became an embezzler as well as a shrewd multiple murderer. What’s worrisome is that most who encountered the fictional Ripley found him to be charming and brilliant; not realizing he also was a most clever impostor.

It seems where ever Mallory goes, if he wants something, and it serves his purpose, he’ll leave a trail of deception, often including sympathetic stories about death and diseases. However, most who encounter Mallory describes him as charming and brilliant.

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Part 3: THOSE SNEAKY RESEARCH ASSUMPTIONS: Who wrote the 1635 version of “A Relation of Maryland”?

Imagine this: It’s England, the year, 1635. You’ve angered some notable Protestants along with the king’s men.You need to leave because you’re Catholic, and now they’re searching for you. A friend whispers in your ear for you to hurry down to Drury Lane and to talk to a man name Peasley.

You waste no time in doing so, and once at Peasley’s shop, he hands you a small booklet and says the second Lord Baltimore will have someone contact you with the name of a port, a ship, and a date.

In the meantime, you dampen your impatience by reading the booklet. Inside its pages you learn about the land, the weather, the best crops to grow, the indigenous people, and among other information a map, with a long list of necessary items one must take to survive.

Locked Door photo by C.B. Dietz

Father Andrew White, a prolific writer, wrote A Brief Relation of the Voyage into Maryland, which chronicled the harrowing journey across the ocean when Englishmen first landed to settle pre-colonial Maryland. His document focused on the soil, the climate, and the general nature of the country in 1634. Cecil Calvert, the second Lord Baltimore, became so enthralled with this accounting, he saw its value as a promotional pamphlet for populating his new territorial grant. Of course it would need some tweaking, like removing accounts of the terrifying sail across the ocean. In 1634, he published A Relation of the Successful beginnings of the Lord Baltimore’s Plantation. In 1635 a revised version, with maps and list of necessary items for settlers became the new promotional item with the name A Relation of Maryland.

Father Andrew White did not write this version, but according to Peasley, the gentleman who dispensed this pamphlet for the second Lord Baltimore, the authors were Jerome Hawley and John Lewger. I have no doubt that Jerome Hawley took part in this endeavor, but Lewger could only have taken the role of editor as he had never traveled to Maryland prior to 1637. I’m more inclined to believe Captain Thomas Cornwallis had a hand in helping Jerome Hawley.

Krugler, in English & Cathloic: The Lords Baltimore in the Seventeenth Century, says Peasley names Hawley and Lewger as the authors. Peasley, as a close associate of Cecil Calvert and being in touch with the gossip surrounding the Royals, would know both of these men well. Hawley was once the superintendent of the queen’s banquets after some nasty business in 1615 where he had some connection with the Countess of Somerset with some sort of dealing concerning the poisoning of Sir Thomas Overbury. Peasley would be well acquainted with John Lewger because Lewger and Cecil were fast friends.

Think about how verbal information gets passed along. When asked a question, people usually reach for the easiest memory available. They may have to embellish what they don’t remember for it to make sense, or they might even lie if they haven’t a clue and don’t want to be thought stupid. Hawley and Lewger’s names would come quickly to Peasley’s tongue when asked who wrote this pamphlet. He probably was not acquainted with Thomas Cornwallis.

Thomas Cornwallis and Jerome Hawley were the right hand men of Leonard Calvert, brother of Cecil Calvert and the governor of Maryland. The three of them sailed together on the Ark and formed the governing body of Maryland with Leonard the governor and the other two his closest council. These two men worked side by side to thwart Indian raids, help create the initial laws of the land, and assisted the governor in quelling disputes between Protestants and Catholics. No one knew Maryland as well as these two men. When Cornwallis had to sail to England to settle a personal conflict, Hawley, as his defense and closest friend, accompanied him.

So in 1635, both of these good friends and settlers of Maryland were in England for the next two years, according to Bernard Steiner, Beginnings of Maryland. If Hawley helped revise and author A Relation of Maryland, it seems inconceivable to think Cornwallis didn’t lend his quill and thoughts to this document also. I’m sure Lewger, with all his schooling, made the perfect editor.

Strong assumptions, difficult as they are to ignore, can’t be used as factual unless there’s some compelling source. However, once something is sourced, and the source seems reliable, then it is perpetually cited as truth by others. Researching for the truth can make one a bit crazy.

Have you ever fallen into a gnarly research pit?


Krugler, John D. English & Catholic: The Lords Baltimore in the Seventeenth Century. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2004.

Steiner, Bernard Christian. Beginning of Maryland, 1631-1639. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, August-September-October, 1903.

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PART 2: WHEN FACTS AREN’T FACTS Historical Writing Pitfalls and What to Do

As a child, I saw Frog legs listed on the menu. Horrified, I could only imagine the little frog’s pain from having the legs torn off. Mother comforted me by saying, “They grow back.”

Truly? No way. But to this day I’ve never looked this up. I want to believe in that “truth”. Isn’t that what we all want, to believe in our truths?

Many say the truth is out there. Hmmm? Here’s a challenge for you. I needed a birth date for a character in my latest book The Spinster, the Rebel, and the Governor: Margaret Brent: Pre-Colonial Maryland 1638-1648. Go on, just Google Giles Brent and find his date of birth. Be careful you don’t get his grandfather or his son. This Giles immigrated to the New World in 1638.

Maryland State Archives, First Families of Maryland, Royal Ancestry Vol. I, and Wickipedea list Giles Brent’s date of birth as 1600 or at best, 1600-ca (the ca means around-approximately).

Several genealogy websites list him as being born in 1600, 1604, or 1606. Yet, Timothy Riordan, a foremost historian/author of Maryland for that time period list Giles Brent’s birth date as 1607-ca.

I’m curious to know where Riordan found his date. Still, I can’t help wonder if others found the 1600 date on Wikipedia or someone’s genealogy site and without further question, used that date as their data of truth? This promotes the continuation of errors, if the 1600 date is in fact an error.

What to do about this? Check out as many different resources as possible.

Why does this all matter? Maybe it doesn’t, but for my book, I needed historical accuracy along with a compelling story line. When I looked closely at the Brent family, history shows thirteen children, with Fulke being the eldest, born in 1595 and Margaret in 1601. Genealogist who deal with unknown birth dates usually space the births out logical, with a nine month gestation and probably a year or two of breast feeding. According to this logic, Margaret probably was the second child. It makes sense that Giles was born sometime after 1601.

When researching, be warned, facts you trust may not be the true facts. In PART 3, I’ll tell of a curious, but important (and probably secret) document that helped the second Lord Baltimore convince adventurers to sail the ocean and settle pre-colonial Maryland. However, I believe the authors listed as having written this little book are not the true authors who wrote the book.

What have you considered to be a truth, then later found out wasn’t?

References:–161.html Richardson, Douglas. Royal Ancestry. ed. Everingham, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2013 Vol. I pp 519-521. Vol. II pp 64-64. Vol. III pp118-119 Riordan, Timothy.Plundering-Time-Maryland-English-1645-1646

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WHEN FACTS AREN’T FACTS AND ASSUMPTIONS ARE FAULTY Historical Writing Pitfalls and What to Do: Part I


I write historical stories and constantly worry I’ve overlooked something. Most likely, I have. Anachronistic traps hide everywhere. I hadn’t realized pre-colonial Maryland indentured servants went barefooted because shoes costs too much, or Governor Calvert didn’t call his courts to session with a gavel because gavels used in meetings didn’t happen until the 1800s. Most of us take for granted common items and actions and assume they’ve always been around.

Replica of the Dove, a pinnace, in Maryland 1634


Only our own diligence, and asking other eyes to search our writing, will prevent us from inserting out of time or place items into our writing.


Another, somewhat larger, historical-writing issue comes from a lack of primary source materials.While writing my newest book, The Spinster, the Rebel, and the Governor: Margaret Brent, Pre-Colonial Maryland 1638-1648, a suspenseful historical biography, I faced unending research challenges. Margaret Brent, the protagonist, left no letters, diaries, journals, or primary source information except her 124 documented cases she tried in the courts of pre-colonial Maryland. Thankfully, Dr. Lois Carr organized and recorded this information now stored in the Maryland State Archives. Yet, her study of Margaret Brent caused her to make a list of items left to question. These unanswered problems stuck in my mind, further motivating me to write this book.


My research happened in three different levels. I did an overview of the historical characters, social events, and places. Still much more needed to be uncovered, so I started my story and honed in on specific research topics for each chapter. Not satisfied, I started back at the beginning of all my researching (groan) and examined everything for a deeper leveling of meaning. With little primary source material, I studied the political-social time, the environment, and any information I could find about Margaret Brent’s neighbors, along with the prominent men around her. Remember, men ruled and their deeds ended up in the records. Spending those diligent hours revisiting and enhancing what I’d already studied brought me many rewarding “Aha!” moments.

Even without primary source information from my protagonist, pre-colonial life with individual accomplishments and difficulties became clear. This knowledge pointed to many probable deep-emotional conflicts. Dr. Lois Carr’s questions now have some logical answers.

Join me when I discuss FACTS THAT AREN’T in Part II.


-Facts that aren’t

-Snap Assumptions – Logical Assumptions

-Perpetuating erroneous information

What are some research stumbling blocks you’ve found, and did you climb over them?

Scheme Stalkers site

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A rare unopened example of a locked letter, with red crayon marking the postage cost (Credit: Unlocking History Research Group)
A rare unopened example of a locked letter, with red crayon marking the postage cost.
(Credit: Unlocking History Research Group)

Richard Fisher (16 June 2021) posted a terrific article giving insight as to how a postal-free delivery system in the 1200-1850s kept correspondence from prying eyes. This task required ingenuity and adept eye-hand coordination.

In my newest book (working title: The Spinster, the Rebel, and the Governor) about pre-colonial Maryland (1638-1648), the Brent family receives packets of correspondence from home, but the father keeps his correspondence from snoopy eyes by sealing his folded letters with wax and stamped with his seal.

If you try any of these, please come back to this page and let me know. How fun!

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What You Don’t Say Tells Another Story: The Power of Subtext in Writing

Facial expression, misdirection, avoidance, double meaning, body language, and quips, are some of the ways to use subtext. How fun for your readers when you let them take part in writing your story. Think about it. If you haven’t spelled everything out for them in black and white dialogue, then they get to guess, and that has its own reward. If your readers predict what really going on, they pat themselves on the back. “Good job!” If they’re wrong, then they get the excitement of surprise.

“Where are you going?” asked her husband.

“To the bar to get drunk.” Lila slammed the door.


“Where are you going?” asked her husband.

Lila gave him a smirk as she slammed the door.

Now which conversation engages you more? Which one brings you in close and makes you imagine? See how subtext works?

Here’s another example from my current historical biography set in England in 1638. Not only do the readers experience the subtext of this unspoken conversation, but the protagonist, Margaret, also wonders what’s going on behind her brothers’ unspoken words. She’s not about to ask, but will just leave instead.

The brothers glanced at each other, telling Margaret she must have been a topic of some unpleasant discussion.

“May I have my book? I shall leave now.”

We’ve all experienced unspoken conversations. How many times do parents engaged in coded conversations to keep something private from their children?

Don’t overlook the use of humor. In my last book, The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut the protagonist and her husband, on vacation, had just left the hotel and were about to board a ferry to go to stay on another island. Her husband, a worrisome guy, asks if she had checked the bathroom.

She could had said, “Yes.” or “I thought you did.” or “Dammit, quit worrying.” This is what’s called on-the-nose dialogue. Instead, she says, “I left all our toiletries along with my nightie for the maid.”

Subtext in writing brings your readers up close and into the minds of your characters, giving readers an opportunity to stretch the imagination. Finding ways to not put everything in your readers’ face helps them become more engaged and adds power to your writing.

What ways do you find to incorporate subtext into your writing?

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