Posts Tagged ‘Cotillion Christmas Traditions’

Thankful to be in the poorhouse

Friday, November 29th, 2013

The holiday season is full of reminders to take time to give thanks for the many blessings we have. We usually feel too rushed to take that time, however. That’s why it’s appropriate that the tradition that became the focus of the final release in the Cotillion Christmas Traditions series is giving to those in need, or in old fashioned terms, giving alms.

St. Bartholomew's Almshouse

St. Bartholomew’s Almshouse

When we give to others, we remember that there are so many things like food, heat, shelter, and clothing that most of us take for granted but that others struggle each day to find.

I’m glad that my story, Sense of the Season, was released on Thanksgiving Day. Not only am I am thankful that I have the time to write and the editorial team to bring my story to publication, but I am also thankful that I had the chance to visit the locations in England where the story is set. And I’m thankful to have so many of the things that my characters are lacking.Kate Dolan's Regency romance story Sense of the Season

Much of the story takes place in an almshouse on the southeast coast of Kent. In fact, it was the house, a medieval ragstone building that was used to house the poor up until the middle of the 20th Century, that inspired the story in the first place. I was looking for a place to stay in that area on the first night of a trip we took last summer. I found the St. Bartholomew’s almshouse, now converted to a wonderful bed and breakfast named Centuries. (Click on the picture above to learn more about this fascinating place.) The owners love history as much (or more) than I do, so it seemed like the perfect setting for a story. I decided my hero would be a down-on-his-luck former soldier turned gambler who ended up there after a night of heavy drinking. And of course he’d have to see the heroine right away, so she had to run the place. And she could be a sweet, caring, nurturing soul, but instead I made her a bully. Specifically, she’s the bully who humiliated the hero years ago when they were neighbors.

Kate Dolan's story Sense of the Season is printed in Cotillion Christmas CelebrationsThe years between their adolescent misadventures and their current meeting have been kind to either of my characters. Neither of them have a close relationship with any family or even much in the way of a true friend. It wasn’t until I was going through my second round of edits until I realized that I’d created two very lonely people who really do help “save” each other. That’s the essence of a romance story, and though I’ve written quite a number over of the last ten years, this is perhaps the first one that really hits that emotional mark. At least in my opinion.

I didn’t set out to do that. I set out to make a place come alive by imagining something that might have happened there. In the Regency period, just as today, one of the traditions of the Christmas season was the giving of gifts to the poor and to those in your service.  It is less personal these days. We drop off toys in a box at the firehouse, bring canned goods to a collection site or write a check to a shelter. It’s still a great reminder that we have much that others lack, but it’s not the same as actually delivering the food to a hungry family.

Godinton, home the Toke family at the time the story is set. Some teal members of the family make a brief appearance in Sense of the Season

Godinton, home the Toke family at the time the story is set. The hero is a fictitious member of this real family, and some members of the family were used as characters in Sense of the Season

My heroine takes advantage of the obligations of the season to canvass the neighborhood for money for food and coal. The one place she does not intend to visit is the hero’s family home. But of course, he’s sure that it’s the best place for her to go, even though he himself is regarded as a blackguard there. When he tricks the heroine into arriving at the family estate (also a real place I visited over the summer, Godinton House), he not only gets her and her father thrown out, but himself as well. Not a very Merry Christmas.

He’s sure he can win the money they need. She’s sure he needs to get as far away from her as possible. And yet, it’s a romance, so somehow they end up together. How? You’ll have to read it to find out. Let’s just say I’m grateful to have the supportive family and friends that these two lack. Not to mention indoor plumbing and central heat, but that’s a whole different story.

In any case, I hope this season everyone can take the time to give thanks for the blessings in their lives and to give to those who lack, whether it be money, food, or companionship.

And I’m thankful you’ve read my post!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Now bring us some figgy pudding

Friday, November 15th, 2013

The Christmas tradition I’m featuring this week is the Christmas pudding, which figures in the newest release in the Cotillion Christmas Traditions series, Helena’s Christmas Beau. I mentioned to my husband that I had incidents with flaming Christmas puddings in my last two Christmas stories, and suddenly he started demanding that I “bring him some figgy pudding.”Christmas pudding

And I married this guy? What the heck is figgy pudding anyway?

For those of us raised to think of pudding as a little cup of Jello® blandness with the texture of baby food, a traditional English Christmas pudding is a completely foreign concept. Just forget “pudding” and think “fruitcake.” But it’s not the dried up prepackaged cake that gets re-gifted for decades. This would be a rich cake full of dried fruit and brandy or other spirits. Ugly as sin, but delicious.

And potentially dangerous. That’s because the traditional way to serve a Christmas pudding (or figgy pudding or plum pudding or whatever you want to call it) is on fire, with a sprig of holly on top.

There are traditions surrounding the making of the pudding, too. The dish was put together on “Stir-up Sunday,” which was traditionally the Sunday before Lent begins, so more than a month before Christmas. Everyone in the household was supposed to take a turn stirring the batter and to make a wish. Sometimes coins would be added, and whoever found them in his or her serving would have good luck for the year, or at least be a few coins richer. After batter was ready, it was poured into a bag and boiled for hours. Then the pudding would be taken out and hung to age for five weeks until the holidays began. The mixture kept so well, in fact, that leftovers could be saved until Easter or even the next Christmas. Maybe that’s where we get the tradition of re-gifting fruitcake.

Helena's Christmas Beau

In this week’s Cotillion Christmas Traditions release, Helena’s Christmas Beau by Aileen Fish, the heroine throws herself heart and soul into Christmas preparations like Stir-up Sunday, but the hero is, well, an anachronistic Scrooge:

Here’s the description:

Facing her second Christmas since the loss of her fiancé, Helena relies on her favorite traditions to bring back the joy of the season. Yet from stir-up day to bringing in the greenery on Christmas Eve, her cousin’s brother-in-law, Duncan, is underfoot, questioning her every action.

As Duncan plays along with the outdated rites, he realizes how much he’s missed Helena’s laughter. When he hears she plans to re-enter the Marriage Mart next spring, he is struck with jealousy. Is he falling in love, or simply under the spell of the holiday season?Aileen Fish

And here’s a little more from the author, Aileen Fish:

What inspired you to start writing? I was always writing when I was a child, and by eight or nine I had announced I wanted to do it when I grew up. When I was twelve, I heard S.E. Hinton wrote The Outsiders at the age of seventeen, so I started my first novel. I think I got three chapters in. It took a lot of spurts of starting and stopping before I submitted my first novel anywhere, and finally came down to seeing everyone else succeed to make me push hard enough to sell my first novella.

What advice would you give to writers just starting out? Don’t be afraid to change critique groups until you find a group you can work with. Feedback is necessary to improving your writing, but don’t let them change your voice! Write, rewrite, polish then submit.

What comes first: the plot or the characters? Each story is different. Sometimes I come up with a plot idea or a trope, then think about who would work best in this setting. My main focus at the start is the conflict. What will make it difficult for them to get together at the end? That line of thought finalizes the plot and characterization.

Thanks for reading about me and my story!


Helena’s Christmas Beau will be part of the print anthology, Cotillion Christmas Celebrations, due out December 17, along with my story, Sense of the Season, Twelfth Night Tale by Susana Ellis and last week’s release, Snug in a Snowstorm by Cynthia Moore.

Two more weeks of Christmas traditions to explore!,


Snowstorms served a purpose

Friday, November 8th, 2013

With forecasts for possible heavy snow coming soon, this seems like the perfect time for the release of a story called Snug in a Snowstorm. It’s the next in the series of Cotillion Traditional Regency Christmas series and the publisher scheduled the release far ahead of the weather forecast, but it is a fortunate coincidence for the author of this Traditional Christmas Regency Romance,  Cynthia Moore.

I thought I’d take the opportunity to look at snowstorms, or at least how humans handled them back in the days before salt trucks and snowblowers.snow roller

Ancient ancestors of the Regency Britons were the first to use shovels, according to some archaeological evidence. The Neolithic and Early Bronze Age Brits used the shoulder blades of cattle as shovels.

But did they move snow with them, or did they, like about half the people where I live in Maryland, just wait for it to melt?

In fact, in places like Maryland, snow was at one time welcomed because it improved transportation. With a layer of snow, people could travel by horse-drawn sleighs. If the ground wasn’t frozen, though, it was probably impassable due to mud, because the roads were in such poor condition.  According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, when cities in the U.S. first tried to address the problem of excess snow, the initial solution was not to clear it but just to level it. One way to do that was to hire someone with a team of horses to roll over it to provide a smooth surface for sleigh runners. Horse drawn plows existed too, but it seems that the primary method of dealing with snow well into the 20th Century was to hire crews to shovel it out by hand.

I was unable to find anything about the history of snow removal in Britain, where the Cotillion stories take place, possibly because the British Isles don’t get nearly as much snow as the northern U.S. or because the Brits don’t waste as much time blogging about arcane topics like the history of snow removal.Snug in a Snowstorm

Author Cynthia Moore

Author Cynthia Moore

In any case, in Snug in a Snowstorm, the hero and heroine have Mother Nature to thank for creating a mess that could not be quickly eradicated because it forces them to have to deal with each other. And that’ a make or break situation for any relationship. Since the title is “Snug in a Snowstorm” and not “Sulking in a Snowstorm,” or “Slaughter in a Snowstorm,” I think it’s safe to assume that they find their happily ever after.

Here’s more about the story and the author:

Snug in a Snowstorm

Lady Isabella Porter and Lord Gerard Malden have known each other since they were children. Isabella thinks of Gerard as someone who teased her unmercifully and made her feel inadequate as a young girl. This is a very unfortunate state of affairs for Gerard because he has loved Isabella for many years.

A sudden, fierce snowstorm and misplaced notes informing both of a change of plan mean Isabella and Gerard are forced to spend the Christmas holidays together in very unusual circumstances. Gerard realizes he must use the time he has been given with Isabella to change the opinions she formed as a girl so she may look upon him with favor and, if he is fortunate, lasting affection.

Cynthia Moore says:

I’m a native Southern Californian. When I was very young, I discovered my local library and the exciting potential of escaping the real world inside the pages of a good book. As a teenager, I became a huge fan of British literature. After reading most of the Victorian classics, I came upon Regency period novels in 1987. It was love at first read. Since my chance introduction to this wonderful era in time, I have read over three thousand fiction novels and own a large collection of research books on the period.

Please check out her new story and all the stories in the Cotillion Christmas Traditions Collection.  And when snow hits this season, try to aim for “snug,” rather than the other two options listed above.



More information on the history of snow removal can be found at Many thanks to    for his fabulous pictures of snow removal in the “old days.” See

Regency Christmas Traditions Part IV: the Ball

Monday, November 4th, 2013

Cinderella wasn’t the only one who looked forward to a ball as a way to escape humdrum everyday existence.Kate Dolan writes about Regency masked balls During the Regency period, and really up until about 100 years ago, a ball provided the best opportunity to size up and meet members of the opposite sex. You could learn a lot about a potential partner after watching a few lively dances. Did he get out breath easily? Did she have anything interesting to say or did she just giggle a lot? Was the shapely figure real, or was there much readjusting of undergarments to put things back into place (and this could be a question for either sex, since men wore corsets and calf pads under their stockings) Dances at this point were choreographed partner routines similar to an American square dance. You had to pay attention and be in the right place at the right time doing the right step or you’d cause a collision. So you’d probably be able to judge your potential partner’s sense of humor or tendency to anger, too, because if he or she didn’t cause a problem during a dance, very likely someone else would, sooner or later.

A masked ball (masquerade or masque) gave dancers special license to speak to each other in a way they would not dare otherwise. A mask alone was not usually enough to hide identity, so a costume was needed as well. Often this was a simple “domino,” just a dark loose cloak, sometimes with a hood. Masquerades reached the height of popularity in the 18th Century and by the Regency period (and even by the time Frances Burney was writing near the end of the 18th Century), the masked balls had started to develop an unsavory reputation. This was not helped by the fact the annual Cyprian’s Ball (hosted by courtesans) was a masked event.

Since there was so much emphasis on entertainment during the Christmas season in the Regency period, balls were frequent and festive. A Christmas ball is the starting point of the heroine’s dilemma in the next Cotillion Traditional Regency Christmas story, Lydia’s Christmas Charade by Saralee Etter. Her engagement is just about to be announced at a Christmas ball when she learns that her intended husband is in love with someone else. Lydia's Christmas Charade

So what does the poor girl do? You’ll have to read it to find out! This is the fourth book in this year’s series of Regency Christmas stories and the final one to be released in the first print anthology, Cotillion Christmas Traditions. There are four more stories coming this month, and more Christmas traditions to explore.

You can learn more about Saralee’s story by clicking on the cover. Or visit her website or check out her new blog,

Saralee Etter

Saralee Etter

Q. Tell us a little about yourself, Saralee:

A. I love to read, and always knew that writing was the only career for me. What could be better than to think up stories all day long? I day-dreamed constantly, so it seemed ideal.

Sadly, however, I couldn’t see a way to make a living writing the romantic and exciting stories that filled my head. Instead, I wrote other things: Newspaper articles, public relations releases, legal briefs.

Now I’m beginning to share the stories that I’ve been dreaming about for so long. They’re mostly light-hearted and fun.  I’m an armchair time-traveler, so writing stories set during the English Regency period is the perfect way to enjoy history, romance, and delightful adventures all at once.

Q. All that couldn’t have happened overnight. How long did it take you to get published?

A. About 5 years from the time I began writing my first novel. As I mentioned above, I’d been writing newspaper articles and other non-fiction material, but that kind of writing is very different to writing a novel! I had to learn a whole new skill-set.

My first novelistic attempt was a sprawling historical romance/comedy/adventure/spy/mystery/thriller I called “Death in a Powdered Wig.” The entire 128,000-word epic now lives in a three-ring binder on a shelf in the basement – where it will stay.

I wrote one other complete novel before Cerridwen Press (now Blush) published my traditional Regency romance, A Limited Engagement, in 2007. When you read Lydia’s Christmas Charade, you will meet Anthony Moore, one of the characters from that book. I liked young Anthony so much that I really wanted to tell his story, too.

Q. I’d like to know more about what lurks in the powdered wig! But beyond writing, what hobbies do you enjoy?

A. I’m an avid reader, always with my nose in a book. I prefer to feel the weight of a book in my hand, but I also read a lot on my computer or phone (no ebook reader yet, but hope to get one soon). I enjoy making things with my hands – sewing, making beaded jewelry, and crocheting. I’m learning to knit.

Cooking is another fun activity.  I love looking at recipes! There’s something so wonderful about beautiful food in lovely settings. Luckily, I live right near a family-owned you-pick vegetable farm as well as a large orchard, so I’ve got access to plenty of delicious fruits and vegetables.

Thank you Saralee for sharing a little bit about yourself with us. Lydia’s Christmas Charade promises to be an engaging read! You can catch up with Saralee on Facebook: or on Twitter:




A Festive Persuasion

Friday, October 25th, 2013

The word “festive” equals “party” in my world, and parties provide the perfect excuse to try new drinks with no persuasion needed. So for my blog about the release of the next book in the Cotillion Christmas Traditions Regency romance series—this one titled Festive Persuasion—I decided to look at some drinks from the 18th and 19th Century period that are pretty uncommon these days. And I’m not talking small beer, either. These are pretty high on the alcoholic content scale.Kate Dolan explores the history of Champagne

When Monty Python’s knights were sent to fetch “a shrubbery,” they might have done better to bring back a shrub instead. Shrub is made with citrus fruit and spirits, often a mixture of brandy and white wine. Martha Washington’s family recipe calls for equal parts brandy, white wine and water, with sliced lemons and sugar. The mixture is to sit for three days and then the lemons are crushed into it and then the seeds, peel and pulp are strained out.  In some versions, vinegar is used in place of the citrus, and herbs of all types can be added. It sounds odd, but the versions I’ve tasted have been pretty good.

If you think shrub sounds a bit odd, it’s nothing compared to our next drink, a syllabub. This was probably out of fashion by the Regency period, but certainly some members of the older generation would have fond memories of it. It’s a sort of whipped cream and wine mixture, sometimes also made with eggs. One recipe (which is actually in the confectionary section of recipes for housekeepers) calls for a lump of sugar rolled in lemon peel and dumped in a pint a milk. More sugar is added, then lemon juice and then brandy or Madeira (a fortified red wine). This mixture is whipped until frothy, and then spooned on top of a glass of red wine. Other recipes adds  flavored liqueur or spices to the cream. It sounds a bit like eggnog, but mixed with red wine. (For more on eggnog, check here.) There are even stories of bowls of syllabub taken out to the barn to get a squirt of fresh milk just before serving.

All types of wines were popular, too, including champagne (see here for more on my favorite drink), and for the lesser sort, homemade wines composed of everything from gillyflowers to turnips (see my post here for more on wines and wine doctoring). And of course there were even more types of punches than wines. The difference is that the punches might well be mixed by the host himself in front of his guests, whereas the lowly housekeeper would be working in obscurity to make her rhubarb wine. (More about punch will be forthcoming in a future post.)

Now that I’ve give you some ideas, choose your poison, find a good book, and settle in for an adventure.

Festive PersuasionToday we’re celebrating the release of Festive Persuasion by Charlene Roberts, which is the third story in the Christmas Traditions collection. In this tale, the hero’s connection to a murder forces him to give up any hope of a match with the heroine. She, meanwhile, has to use all means at her disposal to persuade him that her feelings for him have not changed. (Okay, this is a traditional Regency romance, so she doesn’t use all the means at her disposal, just the ones that don’t require her to remove clothing)

Click on the cover to learn more about the story, or visit the author’s website at

And get those drinks ready. It’s a party party weekend!

The Regency equivalent to watching “A Christmas Story” over and over…

Thursday, October 17th, 2013

Charades is a game I often dread playing with my family (both my daughter and my step-daughter have a maddening propensity to act out the same title over and over–or worse yet, make the rest of us act it out). But in an era before TV and movies, I probably would have resigned myself to acting out things at home on a regular basis. The game was apparently much more challenging back during the Regency era, at least in Jane Austen’s household. Her family played a version which involved writing out three riddles and acting out the answers. Each answer was a single syllable which, when put together, made a word which made it all fit together. Too much work for me!

Back in the day, the game of charades was popular at Christmas (Thanks to Linore Rose Burkard’s Regency House Christmas for sharing the Austen family version) and it’s one of the traditions included in the second release of the Cotillion Christmas Traditions series, “A Christmas Caroline,” by Vivien Jackson and Christa Paige.

On their own, they write paranormal and sci-fi and fantasy and suspense (with lots of hot cops). Together, they write in a different world entirely – it’s all about the cravats and Hessians. Polished, of course. Their story “A Christmas Caroline” comes out today. A Christmas Caroline

Here’s the blurb:

Lady Caroline Selwyn’s world centers on her father, so when she receives dire news of his health—two days before Christmas, no less—her first thought is to weep. Her second is to make this Christmastide the best he’s ever known. To that end, she rummages in memory for festive traditions, plans charades, purchases bean cakes…and acquires an affianced husband. Oh, not a real one—what she does is convince Papa’s physician to pretend an engagement, for just a few weeks.

Doctor Samuel Avery can hardly credit his complicity in this madcap deception. Whatever was he thinking? But it does seem to improve the comfort of the earl, and his own sisters are in alt at the idea of his impending nuptials. And he has admired Caroline for so long the role of her betrothed is easy to play. In fact, the scheme seems in every way perfect. Except that it is not true.

Click on the cover to learn more. And here’s the full schedule of releases for the Christmas Traditions stories. Because there are so many stories in the collection this year, they will be released as two separate print anthologies.

10/10/13: Twelve Days of Christmas, Barbara Miller

10/17/13: A Christmas Caroline, Christa Paige and Vivien Jackson

10/24/13: Festive Persuasion, Charlene Roberts

10/31/13: Lydia’s Christmas Charade, Saralee Etter

11/7/13: Snug in a Snowstorm, Cynthia Moore

11/14/13: Helena’s Christmas Beau, Aileen Fish

11/21/13: A Twelfth Night Tale, Susana Ellis

11/28/13: Sense of the Season, Kate Dolan

I’d like to think they’re saving the best for last, but as I said last week, I’m pretty sure I was the last one to turn in my manuscript! The first four books will appear in print as Cotillion Christmas Traditions and the second four, including “Sense of the Season,” will be part of the Cotillion Christmas Celebrations anthology.


Ready to think about Christmas yet?

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

I love Halloween, but I love Christmas even more.  While I was a little distressed to find Christmas merchandise out in the stores in August, it doesn’t bother me as much now that the weather is turning cooler and it seems to get darker at a depressingly early hour each day. So if you’re in the mood for a little Christmas–the fun aspects, not the work–I hope you will celebrate with me as we count down the Cotillion Christmas Traditions releases for 2013. Each week, EC Cotillion will release a new Regency short story centering on a Christmas tradition. These stories are traditional both in the sense of the holiday and in the style of writing. The characters will behave like they would in a Jane Austen novel rather than an episode of Regency House Party or Real Housewives of Brighton.TwelveDays of Christmas cover

The first release in this year’s Cotillion collection is “Twelve Days of Christmas” by Barbara Miller, a story about a couple trying to remember Christmas traditions while they deal with runaway brothers.

Here are soBarbara Millerme excerpts from an interview with Barb:

What comes first: plot or characters?

One character comes first and that hero or heroine has to invent their counterpart. I thought up Tamara first and she helped me create the perfect hero for her. She discovers Ash to be flawed but with self-doubt more than anything. It’s not her job to save him but he decides it’s his responsibility to save himself in order to be worthy of her. The plot must serve the characters and their relationship, not the reverse. Plot is easy to fix, but if you make a misstep with character creation you have to start over.

What is your writing method?

I write via a bizarre and scary method I call active outlining. I write all the dialogue first with the connective tissue being bits of synopsis place holding the plot together. Once I get to the end of the patchwork of conversation, it know how it will end and I construct the action or plot. Then I fill in introspection and tagging. Finally I do description and transitions. It’s quick and crazy, but I have to be careful not to turn in too early a draft. Six iterations gets the book close to finished, but I still have places where the editor wants more introspection.

What author has most influenced your writing?

Georgette Heyer was by biggest influence. I was amazed that she could get humor into even the gravest situation. My goal is to get humor into every book. It’s such a part of life it needs to be present in every story.


 The Twelve Days of Christmas:

Tamara Gifford gets herself invited to Oakley Hall for Christmas to rescue her brother from the reportedly depraved Lord Oakley. When she arrives she discovers that Ashford Steel is a former soldier trying to adjust to governing an estate. He is happy to have his mother and Tamara for company since his brother is supposed to be spending the holiday at Tamara’s house in London.

Though they are both angry at the deception of their brothers they enjoy banding together to find them while Ashford tries to remember the tradition of what Lord Oakley is supposed to do on the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Tamara gives him sound advice about how to go forward with his life rather than looking back. In return he helps her to see that she must make a life for herself and let her brother go. After they locate the young men and rescue them, Tamara agrees to marry Ashford, but what her brother wants to do with the rest of his life could tear apart their hard won love.

[Learn more about the story at]

Barbara Miller teaches in the Writing Popular Fiction graduate program at Seton Hill University and is Reference Librarian at Mount Pleasant, PA Public Library. She has published historical romances, mysteries, and young adult books and has had two plays performed. You may email or visit


And so begins my countdown to the Christmas season. There are eight stories in the Cotillion Christmas anthology this year, so it’s an eight-week countdown. And my story, “Sense of the Season,” is the last one (guess who was the last one to turn in her submission?) So get ready to curl up with a cup of hot spiced cider (I like mine with dark rum) and spend some time with seasonal traditions.