Q&A With Author Martha Keyes


img_4797Goodwill for the Gentleman is one of the warmest stories I’ve read this year. If you want to know why, check out my review here. It is an amazing joy to have contacted the author, Martha Keyes, with questions about this charming Christmas story that had me believing in happy endings again.

I believe that speaking with the author and seeing their view of the world adds depth to a story, and the answers to these questions certainly did that. If you have not yet started the Belles of Christmas collection, I highly suggest you do so; each of these tales will leave you with a light heart and a great deal of hope.

Be sure to check out Martha’s new novel, Cecilia, which was released this weekend. I can’t wait to get lost in it!

Without further ado, here are the questions!


1. What was the inspiration for Goodwill for the Gentleman?

A few factors played into this, actually. Because the book is part of a multi-author series, we had to decide a few ground rules at the beginning. One of those was the year the story was taking place. The year we chose (1813) was a very, very cold winter in England. They had very intense winter weather, and I thought about that quite a bit as I tried to decide on a story. Interestingly, I decided upon a title before anything else. I had been brainstorming things we associate with Christmas—words, phrases, smells, etc.—and I came upon the word “goodwill” and the phrase “good will toward men/man” from a couple of well known Christmas songs. I thought that was an interesting concept if I just changed it to “goodwill for the gentleman.” And from that, the beginnings of the story were born!

IMG_9452.12. Is there a message you want readers to learn from it?

I really wanted readers (and myself) to think about the way we view the people around us. We are always operating with limited information as we make judgments and assumptions about others, just as Emma is in the book. She has taken the behavior of Hugh in jilting her sister and kind of assumed the worst of him. As she comes to know him, she realizes that there is so much more to him than the one thing she has judged him on and that even that action wasn’t as selfish as it appeared. I am a religious person, and I find that Christmas is a wonderful time of year for us to reevaluate any grudges we are holding and try to do for others what Christ does for each of us—believe in us and the believe the best of us. I hope that those things come through a bit in the story.

3. Do you have a nice Christmas memory or tradition you would like to share?

I grew up in a family that focused heavily on music, and one of our Christmas Eve traditions is for each of us to choose our favorite Christmas song or hymn to sing together while my mom plays the piano. There are eight kids in my family (plus a number of spouses), so it actually takes quite awhile to do this, but I think it brings a special spirit that only music can. Over the past five or so years, we have shifted things a bit to where we don Santa hats and go caroling to a few of our neighbors who are home-bound or elderly, bringing along a bag of caramels to gift them. I live in Utah, and we often have snowy Christmases, so we are all ready to cozy up when we get back from doing this. I love bringing a bit of Christmas cheer to people who might otherwise spend Christmas Eve alone.

Broken Hearts & Happy Endings: The Earl’s Mistletoe Match


The Earl’s Mistletoe Match by Ashtyn Newbold is the third book in the Belles of Christmas collection. However, it seemed to me the most powerful.

It must have been the characters; their attitudes and motives are very real. They are not perfect, and they know it. They make decisions they regret. They struggle.

It starts out with romantic drama. Olivia, a spinster, pretends to be her cousin Esther at a masquerade, when she suspects an earl plans to court her.

Olivia does this out of mistrust for the earl, Andrew. She has been hurt in the past by men of rank; being in charge of her cousin now, she does not want Esther to endure the same.

Olivia does not count on the earl falling for her, instead.

Their conversation at the ball was short and did not end well. However, it was long enough for Andrew to fall in love with the lady behind the mask, the one he believes to be Esther.

When Andrew goes to Esther’s house to apologize for his behavior at the ball, he is no fool. The Esther he meets sounds and acts nothing like she did while hidden behind the mask.

It’s not long before he spots Olivia and realizes there was a switch. What he cannot figure out is why. How come Olivia mistrusts him so?

High expectations from families and a fear of disappointing are the driving forces for these characters. How I love it when, in a story, expectations are tossed out the window and love wins, as it should.

The Earl’s Mistletoe Match is a quick read that will lift your spirits. I promise there is a happy ending; we can all certainly use more of those.

Goodwill for the Gentleman: Emma & the Beast


The second novel in the Belles of Christmas collection, Goodwill for the Gentleman by Martha Keyes was a delight. It tugged at my heart in all the right ways; it was a balance of sadness and romance that kept me hooked.

I love to read about tormented characters, and this book had just that. Lieutenant Hugh has returned home from war to a house where his family has thought him dead, because he has not written to them in a long time.

Why did he stay away for so long that they thought him dead? The answer is simple: matters of the heart. Love can make us do things that we regret; thankfully, in fiction, there are happy endings.

He left for the war after refusing to marry a woman he did not feel he loved enough. The decision to set her free, though well meaning, made him the beast in the eyes of society—including in the eyes of the woman he truly loves, Emma Caldwell.

To complicate matters, Emma is the sister of the young lady he turned down. Can love get more complicated? Well…yes.

When at last Hugh returns home, he finds that none other than Emma has come over to visit, and she is not pleased to see him. Can it get more complicated? Yes—because a snowstorm kicks in, making the roads unmanageable and trapping them under the same roof for Christmas.

Not wanting to spoil the family reunion, Emma suggests a truce: they will pretend to get along for the benefit of his mother, who is happy for the first time since he left. How long will their truce last? How long before they are no longer pretending to be kind to each other, but gentle words come from the heart?

I waited impatiently for Emma’s heart to melt; I felt Hugh’s pain when he sensed no one needed him. By the end of the book, I was an emotional wreck, but it was worth it.

This collection of Christmas themed stories has not been a disappointment; I cannot wait for the third, which I will start tomorrow. What a warm, cozy way to settle into the holiday spirit!

Unmasking Lady Caroline & Building the Christmas Spirit


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Hoping to feel the Christmas spirit early this year while easing into my genre, I’ve been looking for Christmas-themed regency books. Imagine my delight when I found a collection exists of Christmas stories which bring to mind the smell of pinecones and the splendor of Downton Abbey! It’s called Belles of Christmas, and I have to say the covers alone are beautiful.

Of the five novels, three have been released, and two remain for pre-order. The three available are Unmasking Lady Caroline, Goodwill for the Gentlemen and The Earl’s Mistletoe Match. To find the books, click here!

Naturally, I began the series with Unmasking Lady Caroline. I could not put it down. Lady Caroline is a spinster; her mother seems convinced there is no hope left for her. I felt sad for Caroline. Though she played a silly game that could have cost her her happiness, I cannot judge.

When, at a masquerade, she spots a friend she’s always had feelings for, she keeps on her mask and does not tell him her name. Instead, she keeps her secret and adopts the alias of Miss Tree. Drawn to her and frustrated, her friend, Peter, is determined to find Miss Tree and win her heart.

He does not realize for a long time that Miss Tree is his friend, Lady Caroline, with whom he played as a child. He hasn’t seen Caroline in ten years, having spent that time traveling to escape a scandal; now that he’s returned and she’s grown into a woman, everything about her has changed, including his feelings for her.

It amused me that he became so taken by the anonymous Miss Tree while obviously harboring feelings for Caroline, but we all know that the heart does strange things. There’s a happy ending in this book: he finds his Miss Tree, but not without a roller coaster of trouble and emotion.

What struck me about this story is the personal growth of Lady Caroline. She’s been told for so long that she’s not needed that she’s grown to believe it. I think that’s why she chose to hide as Miss Tree, why she held on to that alias until circumstance pulled it away.

She never thought someone could fall in love with her; for Christmas, she was proven wrong.

A clean and short read, I finished Unmasking Lady Caroline in a day. It’s a page turner. The minor characters are endearing, and the description is so well done that I could smell snow and feel the trees when they went into the forest.

Lovers of historical fiction must give this charming novel a try. Meanwhile, I’m eager to get to the second book in the collection, Goodwill to the Gentlemen.

The Novel-In-Progress: Twins & Swans


Along with hundreds of writers all over the world, I began a new novel earlier this month.

When I chose to write a high fantasy this November, I expected it to be difficult. Self-doubt crept up; I almost chose to work on a series I’m already writing, because the setting would be familiar. High fantasy seemed a daunting challenge; I feared I hadn’t read enough of it to write my own.

Ten days later, I had written the fifty thousands words; the story breathed itself to life. I feel like the characters dictated their journeys, for they use their own voices. Every time I sit down for a writing session, I feel that I’m living a second life.

This month I remembered how it feels to write a new book, exploring new territory. Being a pantser most of the time, I wander without a map. 50k spilled out in ten days because my writing muscle had been neglected for too long.

Since January, I have been editing a book to publish next year; how refreshing it is to be in an unfamiliar world, where I can get lost and make up my own rules.

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Things turned interesting when I decided to share snippets of my story on Instagram. I did it because I wanted to try something different; everyone clings to quotes about writing by dead authors, such as that about moonlight on broken glass.

Since it is my Instagram, I thought it would make the scene more personal if the words shared were mine. I wasn’t expecting so many people to enjoy the snippets; I’ve had offers to beta read when the project is done. Knowing that people look forward to the novel as I write it–oh, it keeps me motivated!

The working title for this novel is The Swan, but it is liable to change by the time the book is done.

Having reached the word count goal, I’ve decided to keep writing. I won’t rush it, though. I want to reach a satisfactory ending, since I don’t plan to make it a series; it’s going to be a stand-alone novel, a very long one. When it is on paper, whether traditional or self-published, the weight of those words will bring me joy.

This might be my one great work, or the beginning of many; I only know that the writing process has been a source of joy. It has helped me cope with dark moments as we enter a season plagued by grief.

When I read my draft, I can hardly believe that I wrote it. It’s brilliant, compared to my first books. One day, I hope you will be able to meet the Princesses Tressa and Roisin; they have become two very different sides of me.

Wild Strawberries: Angela Thirkell’s Warped Downton Abbey


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Happy Halloween!

On the most magical day of the year, I’m sure many of you are bracing yourselves for the winter, preparing to write novels, or simply enjoying your pumpkin spice while wearing oversized hoodies (I am).

With a new novel to plan myself, I’m staying in today, but that doesn’t mean I’ll ignore the occasion; every Halloween I read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, a tradition I created five years ago. It helps get me into the mood.

I won’t dwell on the spooky in this blog post. I’ve just finished a delightful novel called Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell. I can’t believe I haven’t heard of her before. I got it as an eBook this summer before my trip to Europe, but did not get to it until yesterday. I was not disappointed; short, sweet, and humorous, it had a springtime vibe that made me forget the chill outside.

I’ve never before read a book that made me laugh out loud. Certain scenes had me in tears. Poking fun at aristocrats with their dignified houses, Thirkell has a writing style that leaves you wanting more. She crafts characters you cannot hate, even if they behave in ridiculous ways. It made me think of Downton Abbey, especially scenes where the butler participates, except this butler is more keen to cause a fuss than Mr Carson would be.

I thought I was good at crafting characters; now I envy Thirkell, with her ease for giving each protagonist their color. There is the quirky Lady Emily Leslie, sixteen-year-old Martin who is spoiled and seems to know it, Lady Emily’s daughter, Agnes, who pulls off the “simple-minded” character–I felt like the characters had already existed, and Thirkell was commenting on the things they did, almost in a bored fashion.

After I finished Wild Strawberries, Goodreads told me it is the second book in a series; this means I will need to find the first one. I don’t know where Angela Thirkell has been all my life, but like Rosamunde Pilcher, she is a new voice that I’m glad to have found. They have different tones: Thirkell is humorous, Pilcher seemed rather melancholic, but both told tales that engrossed me.

If you like Downton Abbey, read Wild Strawberries. When I read the other books in the series, I’ll report on those as well.

Enjoy your Halloween, and I hope you get lots of candy!

Discovering The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley



This week, I am reading The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley. It is another book I found at the thrift store, and I found to my delight that the writing is bold as the woman’s red hair on the cover.

Kearsley paints pictures so perfectly in my imagination that I am disconcerted when I need to put the book down.

Writing this blog post feels like a premature book review, but I need to talk about how I feel. I am fond of stories such as this, where the main character is an author; it’s fun to recognize problems in the writing process, storytelling quirks, and the determination of a writer to tell a tale.

It’s a book where the characters speak to their author. I wonder if my own characters speak to me as loudly and I do not hear. I find that, especially in the winter, it’s difficult to keep my mind clear enough to listen, in particular when I lack motivation. It must be something that comes with practice.

It breaks my heart when I find half-finished books at thrift stores. Whoever owned this copy of The Winter Sea before me read half of it and then gave up. I can tell because there’s a clean fold in the middle; the pages in the second half look fresh from a bookstore, while the first have dog-eared corners.

I’m glad to give it the love it didn’t receive from its first owner, using pencil to underline sentences I find lovely (something I would only do with a used book; I could not bear to write in a brand new novel). Some of those phrases wind up as quotes on my Instagram, because works of art should be admired, even if only a sentence out of five hundred pages.

Persistent as a cold winter breeze, the story soaks through me. It’s creeping into my list of favorite books. In it, historical fiction and romance balance like in ballet. The last time I felt this way about a book was for Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, another thrift store find that someone had abandoned half-finished.

Perhaps I’m noticing a pattern. Let the half-finished books come to me: I seem to fall in love every time.

The Empty House & Discovering Rosamunde Pilcher


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Thrift stores are exciting; one never knows what they will find. I’ve brought home things such as a teacup from Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation to a stuffed kangaroo. The clothes at thrift stores, at least in my experience, tend to be cozier; I’ve found my favorite sweaters there.

But what I find most enchanting about thrift shops are their books.

In thrift shops we find hardcover copies, most of them characterised by age and use. I have found poetry books in which passages were marked by the previous owner, little notes in the margins; it is a lovely sense of not reading alone. Also, thrift stores let us find novels that aren’t well-known; we rediscover the bestsellers of yesteryear.

I have felt tempted to weep at the books that exist but I will not have time to read. I am glad, though, that I discovered Rosamunde Pilcher in time to revel in her heartwarming stories. I will read as many of her books as I can; perhaps some brilliance will rub off on me. They have the feel of a warm cup of tea on an autumn afternoon.

The first book of Pilcher’s that I read was The Empty House. A powerful, clean romance, it gave me hope to follow Virginia’s journey as, after a tragedy, she found her own identity. She built herself from scratch, took back what was hers (including her children), and chose at last to live the life she’d dreamed of. She discovered what love is, and what it is not.

If you want a story that will make you feel good, The Empty House is a short read, and you will remember it. Not all books need to be long in order to make an impact.

It’s a lesson I learned this year: often the best stories are the ones that can be finished in a day. However, it will not be an ordinary day. If a story is good, if it has the author’s heart in it, the reader will never forget the day the book was read.

The Written World by Martin Puchner


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On the surface, The Written World looks to be a history book on the topic of literature. I discovered it was something deeper, far more delightful.

Author Martin Puchner has a love for books much like my own; this book is his journey to find the soul of literature, the source of her power, the reason she can change the world. Its reflective nature made it more powerful than a history book. Because the author included himself as the explorer, the journey feels romantic.

I have always had similar reverence for the power of reading. There is more to any book than symbols on a page; the classics, for example, have become immortal for a reason. Something about them reached into the soul of society; something about them survived, while other manuscripts vanished into history, only a few to be discovered later.

From this memoir, I gathered something I already knew: give someone the gift of literacy and they will never be helpless. Teach a child to read and you never know what they will achieve. They will discover topics that fascinate them; they’ll find their vocation, and perhaps go on to win Nobel prizes.

Of course, it suffices that they read. The power is, in the end, to read.

Once upon a time, books were expensive to own. Only the wealthy could afford to build a library. Books are more accessible now, but do people recognize their value? It is not the same to download a file off of the Internet. Books were expensive back then because of their power; let us not lose sight of that power now that they can be obtained for free.

The prices of books have changed; their value remains the same. A book can still turn the world upside-down. It was worth reading a book about books to put this into perspective. It was worth reading The Written World so that I could understand my place as a writer. It opened my eyes to the great power I have: I can read, and in doing so, I can change my world.

The Charles Dickens Museum


I have a confession to make: I almost did not leave England. I can’t tell you what I would have done should I have stayed, being utterly unprepared for a move to a different country. Still, I cried on the night before we were to fly out. It had been lovely to walk the streets, take buses, and admire old buildings. I knew I was going to miss them, and I already do.

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I can’t say that, during this trip, I found the London I read of in books. I didn’t expect to, either. A lot of time has passed between now and the England of Charles Dickens. Buildings have been torn down or made into shops; skyscrapers have been built that he would likely have thought hideous.

Yet beneath all this change, this modernisation, something felt familiar.

I might have been a tourist with only distant relations to England (ancestors from Derbyshire) and I might not have known where anything was. Still, there was something about the air as I walked. In my heart I couldn’t help but think, Ah, this is familiar. I am where I ought to be.

What is this magic that made me feel as if I had been there before? I can only think it is the power of story. The novels I read paint a different place than that which I saw, but those words captured the soul of that city like a sponge. When you tell a story about a person, you’re speaking of the person, whether they change or not. The same is true for cities.

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I almost did not leave London. The only thought that got me into the plane out was the knowledge that I hadn’t the money to start over. I also did not want to make a rash decision blinded by the charm of tourism. However, I have every intention of going back, and perhaps the second time I will stay.

I was in love with England from the moment I stepped onto her soil.

Ten days in England was not enough to see all I wanted to, but it was possible to cover the basics. Buckingham Palace, the National Gallery, the Tower of London–it was all lovely. Having said that, my favorite place was the Charles Dickens museum.

You might call my love for his work an obsession. He had a grip with the English language that I cannot find with other authors; if you know of someone else whose work I might enjoy that much, I am open to suggestions.

We visited the Charles Dickens museum on our last day, with four hours to go before a rush to the airport. We rose earlier that morning and my mother asked me, “Do you want to see the Charles Dickens house?”

I had resigned myself to putting off my visit for the next trip; it was a sweet, unexpected surprise when she woke me to such an invitation. I dressed in a heartbeat and we called a taxi.

I felt chills as we wandered the museum, which is actually his house. It is encouraging as a writer to know that one of the greatest authors of all time had a desk to work at, a piano to play; he needed a bed to sleep on, and he had a library. His talent was great, but he was  human like me. I can be a successful author while being myself.

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A family photo with Dickens’ silhouette next to me–how charming!

There came a moment when I was alone in his library, and I told him, “Thank you for the stories.” Maybe he heard me; if not, at least I tried.

I think some of his inspiration rubbed off on me, because now that I am home I feel like writing again. I feel like publishing another book. I want to go back to being a writer.

Until the day comes when I can return to England, I will read more about her. There is so much to know. I will learn her literature and poetry, I will explore my roots, I will improve as a writer.

This trip to Europe has done wonders for me. I doubt I will have my house made into a museum like Dickens’, but I will at least have a reader or two. I will at least write again.

Walking the Unpaved Road


I know few people can travel for the sake of creativity. It isn’t the only way to overcome Writer’s Block, but it does work. I am blessed to have been able to visit lovely places and have new experiences.

It’s true that adventure, exploring the world, will do your creativity a wealth of good. Here in England, I have been brave enough to start a new novel.

There are many firsts in this novel. To start with, it’s inspired by what I see: old buildings, rides in the train, rainy weather. The first scene takes place in a train, albeit an older version. Secondly, I am not planning to make it a series. I don’t care about the length of the piece; what I want is a good story from beginning to end.

Leave your comfort zone and drink in what you see. I promise that eventually you will feel a new story growing in you, a flower pushing through hard dirt. It might take years for the seedling to see light, but if you’re patient enough, it’ll be something you love—something you want to write.

My favorite quote has always been by Vincent Van Gogh—

Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.

I am fascinated by Van Gogh and his very sad story. I did not expect I’d be able to see some of his work in person.

Today we visited the National Gallery in London; I saw wonderful works, including his famous paintings of the chair and the sunflowers. I obtained a copy of his letters. I want to know how he saw the world, and connect with him a bit.

Museums give me chills. It’s a shame we went too late and were not able to see all the paintings, but I am happy with what I ran into. It’s possible we might return before we leave England, but if not, I have art books at home.

Reading about art isn’t the same; books are still magical.

I am not the same person I was when I left home. When a dream comes true, something in you feels brighter. You are like the flower pushing through the dirt, except the flower has bloomed. Eventually it’ll wilt and drop seeds for new flowers, new dreams. I have grown and I know it.

If you can travel, do.

A Dramatic Trip to London


This morning we were late to Charles de Gaulle airport. Not only that, but a couple of our carry-on bags were overweight, and we had to check them. Someone sent us to the wrong gate, on the other side of the terminal.

By the time we crossed the terminal, everyone else had boarded the plane to Heathrow airport. They were calling our names on the speaker, waiting for us to show up and board. We stumbled into the plane red-faced, trembling and thirsty.

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As we chugged cup after cup of cold water, the plane took off. What I had been told was an hour long flight from France to England felt like fifteen minutes. Perhaps it was exhaustion distorting my sense of time. It didn’t feel like very long at all.

I woke up when the plane began to descend. Once I realized where I was going, I teared up. As a child, I had dreamed of visiting England. My idea of it is probably different from the reality; this is fine, it means I will learn how it is.

I’ve been around the city today on buses, grocery shopping with a friend. I have enjoyed what I’ve seen. I recognized some street names from books I have read, which plunged me into disbelief.

Have the pages swallowed me up? Will I encounter characters I love up the street? Have I gone back in time?

Of course, I haven’t gone back in time. I see the traffic, hear the trains, see people on their cell phones and the flashing lights–no, I haven’t gone back in time. But I’m as close as I will be, and I will cherish the week spent here.

Perhaps I should have taken a nap instead of going to the supermarket; I’m nodding off. It’s just that I want to experience it all. I want to write a novel, and for that, I need to see.

But I’m nodding off, and I suppose a nap is in order. Later, we might visit a pub.