Queen Elizabeth (b. 1533 – d. 1603) used about 3,000 straight pins a month, probably more than most, but still an impressive amount. Pins have been used for about 4,000 years, appearing around the emergence of the bronze age. You probably didn’t know this because men were our story tellers of early history, and they found battles more exciting than pins.


Yet, the lowly pin made all the difference.  The pin kept things in place and provided a showy way for the noble class, the gentry, the gentlemen to be 672px-Kaspar_Schoppe_-_Portrait_von_Rubensdistinguished from their servants.  Men and women dressed in pieces of clothing–many different interchangeable parts.  They could change sleeves, stomachers, collars, bodices, and other items for a different appearance for  different occasions.

Pins held these pieces of clothing together. Men’s clothing might use rows of buttons, but also pins you can’t see. Even children’s fine clothes required pinning.  The earliest known pins were formed from bone, with needles coming into being about the same time. However, Queen Elizabeth I would have used pins made of bronze, brass, or iron. Iron remained sharp longer, but like bronze would tarnish.  Pins came in long, medium, and delicate sizes. Delicate ones were used to attach lace and silk, like this gentleman’s cuffs and collar.

If you look closely at the photo of the woman you can see where pins undoubtedly were used. She has pearls in her hair, a collar that stands up more stiffly than from just being starched, her over dress contains many parts and decorations. We can see two roses at the neck line, a cape with a halo-like collar with pearls pinned to its edges around her Elizabethan collar that goes up and behind her hair, a bodice with several parts ending in a low pointed stomacher, drapes of pearls attached to her sleeves and around her cuffs and wrists, and the elegant fabric of her skirt pinned up in flounces around her hips. We can’t even begin to see her underpinnings.

This photo of a noble lady can be dated around the reign of Queen Elizabeth because of her Elizabethan collar and her manner of dress. She has most likely employed hundreds of pins to dress in this attire.  The importance these pins held for the noble can’t be denied, but even the kitchen maid and the peasant women required a few pins. They had to hold their caps in place–as well as their pinafores.


Upon discovering the importance of pins from the earliest of times until the late 1800s, I wondered how would an active person keep from yelping with pain. Then I delved deeper into the clothing of the 16th and 17th century and understood. These men and women, or their servants, knew how to pin correctly. Also everyone dressed in many layers of clothing, protecting them from the prickly points of pins. Besides, those who wore the most pins would have had the most staff to do their tasks. Sudden or laborious movements would rarely be necessary.

It’s been years since I’ve purchased a packet of pins.  A month ago I bought my husband a shirt and once at home I removed four short pins that had kept the shirt looking neatly folded.  Can you remember the last time you bought or encountered a new pin?

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What Walking Tells About You.

The walking gait of your ancestors frequently indicated their vocation or place in society. A townsman might demonstrate a quickness of step and there’s the gentleman’s swagger. Yet the sheepherder needs a lithe or nimble stride compared to the flatfooted march of the plowman.

The plowman, working acres of rows upon closely lined rows of soil, developed a walk that amused city dwellers. Yet those who imitated the plowman’s tireless stride could walk for miles and miles and hours and hours across the countryside.

With the body leaning slightly forward at the hips, the plowman would “fall” into his forward moving step, landing his feet flat on the soil.

Keeping a stead pace, he could easily cover a mile in fifteen minutes, or four miles in an hour, or forty miles in ten hours. In the centuries prior to convenient transportation, people with no horses often walked twenty to forty miles a day. The plowman’s walk, though laughable by the gentry and others, provided reliable movement between farms, villages, and cities.

You still have ingrained habits arising from your social ancestral heritage. For example, children by at least the 15th and 16th centuries knew to avoid their parents’ scorn by not picking their noses, squinting, or putting their fingers in their mouths. At mealtime they learned quickly to only rest their forearms not their elbows on the table. Maybe your walking gait says something about your ancestors. How far and how long can you walk in one day?

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Would you sail on this ship across the ocean? This replica of the Dove sailed the Atlantic Ocean in 1634, accompanying a larger ship, the Ark. Used as a supply ship and a scouting vessel in more shallow waters, the Dove carried no passengers.

The Dove, replica, docked at Historic St. Mary’s City (personal photo)

The little Dove followed along with its larger ship the Arc, which carried about 140 passengers. These were the first adventurers to settle in Maryland. A fascinating story for another time tells about the Dove being lost in a storm off the coast of England, during this passage. Astounding as it seems, the Dove rejoined with the Ark a few months later in Barbados.

Maryland became the forth successful colony after Jamestown, Plymouth, and Boston. Lord Baltimore I, George Calvert, prior to his death procured Maryland from Virginia by a grant from King James I. Calvert envisioned Maryland as a unique experiment for religious tolerance and economic opportunity.

My newest novel, a work in progress, starts in England with the story of Lady Margaret Brent, who sails for Maryland with a sister and two brothers in the year 1638. Her actions changed not only lives but history, and her strength became a model for future women.

The American Bar Association gives an award in Margaret Brent’s name to deserving women attorneys each year.

Here’s a photo of a little bit of my research resources. Researching has taken me to some strange places, and I’ve discover unbelievable things. Most won’t make it into my book, but I’ll write about a few here in the coming weeks.

Would you have been adventuresome enough to leave your family and all that was familiar to you to sail across the sea to a strange and wild land?

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SouthWest Writers Interview #2

Way back in the early 1990s I joined Southwest Writers Workshop (now SouthWest Writers). This writers’ group welcomes all writers and authors with conferences, contests, classes on the craft, and open-armed friendship. If you hear someone in NM say they want to write a poem or book, you can bet another person will tell them to join SWW.

Several. years ago WW Kathy Wagoner interviewed me about my first book, The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur/ Today Kathy posted her interview with me about my latest book, The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut. 

You may read it online at SWW here or read it below.

Author Update: Charlene Bell Dietz

Before retirement, Charlene Bell Dietz never planned to be an author. But with so many stories to tell, after a long-term career in education and decades of volunteering, she devoted herself to learning the art of storytelling. She published the first novel in her flapper/scientist series in 2016 and the second in 2017. The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut (2019) is her newest installment. You’ll find Charlene on her website at and on Facebook. Read more about her writing in her 2017 SWW interview.

What do you want readers to know about the story you tell in The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut?
Sometimes we all have an inspirational moment of not knowing what we know. The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut takes readers on a dream vacation to the Caribbean with a bio-medical scientist and her rather neglected husband. Beth, an obsessive and inquisitive scientist stirs up an angry nest of islanders. She’s unnerved when she discovers some of her fervently protected truths may not be truths at all. Beth, up until now, has always defended the hard-cold evidence of science. Similarly when things are not as they seem, the impossibility of it all baffles her—such as poisonous fish that appreciate music, an old woman whose cups of tea change everything, and then there’s the business of objects and people reappearing in unexpected places. Beth, perplexed by the nut, struggles to merge her scholarly beliefs with these strange new events in her life.

What unique challenges did this work pose for you?
This story became a blending of four cultures: islander, voodoo, Rastafarian, and tourist. When each of these groups appeared and interacted with each other, I didn’t want to write my characters with stereotypical behaviors. I strived to unveil the unique humanism within each.

Tell us how the book came together.
My first two books (The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur and The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker), both stand-alones, had a central unanswered question concerning the main characters. I knew when I wrote the first book that this new book would need to be created. Essentially, while writing the others, I was thinking, plotting, and researching this third story. I guess you could say it’s been in my writer’s mind since the very beginning.

When I finally sat at the computer in July 2017 and started writing seriously on The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut, I was in the final stages of writing book two. It’s strange how this happens, but I never seem to only write one story at a time. However, before my books go to a professional editor or publisher, I have a critique group as well as a select handful of wonderful beta readers look them over. They are ruthless and don’t hesitate to send me running back to my computer. I’m forever grateful for their sharp eyes and high intelligence. With their help, the book was published in November 2019.

What was your favorite part of putting this project together?
There’s no counting the number of times and different ways I’ve experienced the magic of the Caribbean. Unfortunately, in September 2017 two category five hurricanes (two weeks apart), Irma and Maria, devastated many of the islands and some of the places in this story. When I started writing the book, the Internet showed Mad Dog Saloon on Virgin Gorda had been totally destroyed, and Little Dix Bay was pretty much wiped out. The charming Hotel 1829 on St. Thomas suffered severe damage.

With a heavy heart, I kept writing and checking the Internet. I started following blogs about people who may have been hurt or missing. Next, the lovely Hotel 1829 lost all its charm when someone turned it into a storage facility. I finally finished The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut and again, with heavy heart, checked the island news one last time. Someone had rebuilt Mad Dog and reopened it for business. A company had purchased Hotel 1829, and it’s now being restored. Reservations and rooms are being booked at the newly renovated Little Dix Bay. In some private, tiny magical way in my mind, my story helped participate in the rebirth of these wonderful places.

The titles for all your novels are intriguing. How did you choose the title for this latest book?
Ah, the titles! Conundrum comes to mind. It all started with the unending search for the title of my first book. This novel took forever to write, and in the final hour it still didn’t have an appropriate title. A solid title should tell the reader what to expect from the story without giving away the plot. The title possibilities left me totally flummoxed because this book had two story lines. One night, I sat next to the husband of a good friend at an awards banquet. He leaned over and said, “So, I understand your book is about a flapper and a scientist.” And—BAM!—there it was. I answered, “Yes, and a saboteur!” Not only did I have the title for this first book, I now had a format for the other two in the series: The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker and The Scientist, the Psychic, and the Nut. Right up front the reader knows the strange array of characters who populate the story as well as a hint about the plot. (I liked the word play for nut—it could refer to a person or to part of the plot.)

When did you know the story/characters were strong enough for a series?
Way back in 2005, I sent my draft of book one (under its first title Behind Smoke and Mirrors) to a New York editor. He came back with high praise for my characters and voice. However, he informed me I had three books in one. He told me the book would never be published in its current form and sent me back to my computer to do a complete rewrite. He also told me I hadn’t a clue about plotting. Plotting? Well, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. He offered to help me learn, but warned that writing novels or any book has to be out of pure love, not out of expectations to be published. He insisted all my characters, even secondary ones, needed to learn and grow throughout their journeys.

Right from the first, I knew my material would have the strength to become three books. This was validated when I learned both The Flapper, the Scientist, and the Saboteur and The Flapper, the Impostor, and the Stalker had received Kirkus Starred Reviews and were named to Kirkus Reviews’ Best Books of 2018.

Besides novels, you also write short stories. What is it about the short story form that draws you to it?
Writing short stories helps me focus. Whenever I puzzle over some plot point or some confusing concept that needs to be developed, or I just need time to think, I write a short story. Some of my award-winning short stories took me only a few hours to write—but days to polish. These short stories never have anything to do with my other works-in-progress.

Now that I’m forced to think about it, I believe it’s the control of the short story that attracts me. Every single word must be necessary. If it doesn’t drive the story forward, it needs to be cut. Still, you have all the elements of a novel to work with except for numerous characters, subplots, and multiple settings. Usually it doesn’t take long to develop the story, so there’s the reward of quick closure on the task. I have so many ideas, incidences, and exciting experiences dancing around in my head, it’s a relief to organize them, fictionalize them, and then corral them into something readable.

Which do you prefer: the creating, editing or researching aspect of a writing project?
Creating can be energizing as well as exhausting. It uses parts of the brain that require divergent thinking that must be presented in an intelligent, readable form. My books require abundant research, which I really enjoy. Except there’s always underlying fears with research: “Do I have it right? Have I left something important out?” Editing has many hats: looking for typos, misspellings, faulty word usage, grammar and punctuation, or plot holes. I detest this type of editing. I’m terrible at it and can’t spell worth a plastic banana.

However, I absolutely get lost in revisions. Revising is the whipped cream on top of it all. Thoughtful, mindful, careful revisions can make or break a good story. They help a plot flow more logically with a simple tweak such as moving a sentence or paragraph around. Reading the words out loud helps discover if the sentences are smooth and have an engaging cadence with the right tone. If the out-loud reading reveals rough passages, then rewording or finding a more powerful or correct word can make all the difference. Out-loud reading also lets the author actually hear the various characters speak. The last thing a book needs is all the characters sounding the same. Distinct voices can make the emotional parts of the story soar. If an author loves revision, the reader will love the book.

Tell us about your writing process or your writing routine.
I have no daily ritual. When I am inspired with an idea, I check to make sure it can actually be a good book. I do this by drafting a beginning (which always changes as I get into the story), and I draft the ending in my mind (because I want to know where I’m going but understand at this point the trappings of the ending will change). Then I do some research, if needed. When I’m satisfied, I start by jotting down several plot markers between the beginning and the end. If it’s a murder mystery, I can guarantee that the person I select to be the killer, won’t be.

And I think, research, and think some more. Long walks and driving helps this process. When the voices start talking to me, when I can actually hear the characters get emotional and discuss their conflicts and desires, I start to write. Halfway through each book, the characters wake me up in the middle of the night, screaming at me that I’ve got the wrong assassin. It happens every time. Unfortunately, they leave me to figure out who really dunnit.

What writing projects are you working on now?
My current project, a historical biographical novel, takes me away from the flapper-scientist series. Margaret Brent, one of thirteen children, was born in England in 1601 to an aristocratic Catholic family. She became a powerful-driving force to insure the security of Maryland. Today the American Bar Association still recognizes her accomplishments through a yearly Margaret Brent Award given to talented women attorneys who mentor other women. Little is known about her early life in England, and she left no diary or letters. As a spinster in 1638, she and a sister and two brothers sailed to the coast of Maryland to become part of the first 400 Englanders to settle there. Others share my questions about her: What motivated her to make the dangerous voyage across the ocean in a time when Catholics were prohibited to do so, probably on penalty of death? Why did she never marry? How did she gain the skills to present case after case (over 100 documented) to the Provincial Court and the General Assembly? Her aptitude to discuss political and legal matters reached the degree that Leonard Calvert, the Governor of Maryland, on his deathbed appointed her as his executrix.

Anything else you’d like readers to know?
If you’ve read a book you enjoy and want to show gratitude for the author’s work, there is no better way than to leave a book review. Authors love their readers, especially readers who let the world know how much they enjoy our stories.

KLWagoner150_2KL Wagoner (writing as Cate Macabe) is the author of This New Mountain: a memoir of AJ Jackson, private investigator, repossessor, and grandmother. Kathy posts to a speculative fiction blog at and writes about memoir at



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Three Wishes

My first wish: A room full of books on shelves from floor to ceiling all around the room.

My second wish: (Fifteen years later) A way to clean the dust from thousands of books.

My third wish: (In fifteen years) I would like to have two dozen elves to take over my affordable way to clean these freaken books!

I’ve discovered through researching, the best way to clean your library requires a good hand vacuum cleaner, microfiber (magnetic) dust cloths, a clean paint brush, mask, gloves, and lots of time. I didn’t want to just redeposit the dust so after vacuuming, I took stacks of books outside on our deck. Here’s what you do next: Using the microfiber cloth wipe the outer pages and cover of the book. Take a clean paint brush and brush the pages of the closed book several times. Then flip the pages of each book. A slight breeze really helps. Before replacing the books be sure the shelves are clean and dry.

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Peter Gelfan taught me to be passionate about creating strong scenes, and this passion has paid off in the form of two books and two Kirkus starred reviews. I read, read lots, but weak scenes kill books for me. Unfortunately, I’ve acquired stacks of dead books. Building strong, engaging scenes is one of the most neglected items in our author’s toolbox.

Many of my dead books ended in the discard heap because the author rushed to tell me everything. If readers can guess what you’re going to write next why should you bother? As a reader, I want to join the experience you’ve created between your book covers. Help me be a part of your story by filling me with curiosity.

How does an author keep the reader engaged? Action, Dialogue, interior monologue, and descriptions make up the bones of scenes, but the spirit behind these bones comes from the subtext. Subtext doesn’t tell us what’s really going on, but instead tells us what really isn’t going on. Subtext makes us, as readers, curious and fills our minds with questions. Brian Andrews, in his blog on Career Authors talks about the use of subtext in dialogue, setting, and internal monologue. He shows how the identical words can be either ho-hum or perplexing and intriguing.

“I can’t live without you,” Richard said, pulling Wendy into his arms, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Wendy said, melding into his embrace . . .


“I can’t live without you,” Richard said, pulling Wendy into his arms, “I love you.”

“I love you too,” Wendy said, her gaze going to the middle distance as she let him hug her. (Brian Andrews)

These last couple of days I’ve been researching and preparing a presentation on creating powerful scenes for a writers’ conference. The Southwest Writers & Society of Military Writers’ upcoming conference doesn’t happen for several more weeks; however, during these last weeks of August and the first weeks of September big family events are piling high. So for me, no procrastination allowed. I’m working hard to not roll my eyes (subtext) when I tell someone, “Sure, I’m tickled to help you out . . .”

Check out the links connected to Peter Gelfan and Brian Andrews. When did you last employ your own subtext during a conversation? We could make a game of this, don’t you think?

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