Saturday, July 5, 2014

Afternoon Tea by Margot Justes


I’m a big fan of afternoon tea, it is relaxing, delicate and just plain fun. My first introduction to afternoon tea was in South Africa, many years ago and I have been a fan ever since.

I have three favorite spots in Chicago.

The Russian Tea Time restaurant, it is small, their particular Russian tea is aromatic, strong with a hint of fruit.  My favorite used to be Russian Caravan, a blend of Chinese teas, but it has now become so smoky that you can literally smell smoke while brewing the tea. It has ceased to be my favorite. The place is small and intimate but serves a delightful high tea, and the Russian food is good too. I’ve gone there for tea, lunch and dinner, and have never been disappointed.

The Drake Hotel is my choice for good old fashioned old age ambiance. Service is excellent and friendly. The food is standard but well prepared and beautifully served.

The best food can be found at the Peninsula Hotel. The hotel is elegant, modern, the food exceptional but service can often be inattentive.  The scones are always served fresh, and warm and the lemon curd is divine. I happen to love lemon curd.

What I thought would be a wonderful treat turned out to be a very expensive and great disappointment. The afternoon tea at the Plaza Hotel in New York fell far short of expectation. The recommended bold tea was anything but, served in a pouch, it was weak and pretty much lacking in flavor. The bread of the finger sandwiches had been cut and allowed to sit, because when served it had that cut and dried prepared hours ago feel to them.

The best part was the volcanic scone eruption.  I picked up my scone and tried to gently pull it apart, a scone will easily divide in half if not desiccated with age. This cone erupted, crumbled and tiny specs scattered everywhere. Rather like a crumbly volcanic fall-out.

Service was non-existent, when I finally was able to get the waiter to ask him for more hot water, to add to the bland and tasteless tea, I told him this was literally the crumbiest scone I've ever had,  his reply was, "believe it or not, it is very fresh." My reply, "Seriously?" He never even asked if I wanted another scone.  The price of that delight was $50.00 plus tip. Visit the hotel, the building is gorgeous, but for tea head to the Waldorf Astoria, I’ve been told their afternoon tea is terrific.

Waldorf Astoria is on my bucket list the next time I’m in New York, and as it so happens, the 2015 RWA conference is being held in New York City.

My most memorable afternoon tea was in Bath, England at the Pump Room. The service, tea, historic building and waiters dressed in period garb made it an absolutely amazing experience.  The scones were perfection as was the lemon curd; creamy, tart and not overly sweet. I’ve been known to eat lemon curd with just a teaspoon, just like Nutella, that delicious cocoa and hazelnut concoction.  

My dream is to have a book signing in Bath, and revisit all my favorite spots.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com




Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mysteries of Leonardo da Vinci


 I posted this blog three years ago. I looked for anything ‘Leonardo’ once I began writing Blood Art. To this day his life, artistry and sheer magic continues to capture our imagination. I’m working on a sequel, and this blog brought back happy memories of my first attempt at a paranormal tale, and the mystique of the great master.

A potential Leonardo da Vinci sketch had been unearthed, more precisely an art historian thought that it was "absolutely Leonardesque" but that it was probably drawn by one of da Vinci's students.

An exam showed that the sketch was done closer to 1473-yes they could narrow it down to the year-amazing isn't it-what science can do? At any rate, Leonardo da Vinci did not have any apprentices or students until the late 1470's. That leaves the work as that of the master himself, or does it?

The mystery continues, the historian is convinced that he has the first portrait drawing  the master did.

Now, the fun begins, the research, the absolute proof-that yes-the sketch was done by Leonardo da Vinci. That would be lovely, but it is a long road to the absolute.

The paper is tested to check the properties and identify them as belonging to the era, they will test the chalk and pencil for the same reason. They were able to tell that both hands were used in that particular sketch, and it is known that da Vinci was reputed to be left-handed, but at the early start of his career he used both hands.

Would you believe that a reconstructed da Vinci fingerprint exists? It does. Another step that brings us closer to the ongoing search for knowledge about the great master.

Paper was expensive during the era and often re-used, and they found another drawing of an animal underneath the new sketch.  Leonardo was known to draw animal figures, and the style matched.

Much is known about da Vinci, much can be found using modern day science techniques to give us a rare glimpse into the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci.

There are art detectives who attempt to solve the mysteries of newly found masterpieces like the first portrait sketch attributed to da Vinci.

There is enough proof that the piece is probably the master's, but the final absolute is still a work in progress.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com




Saturday, June 14, 2014

Amazon Only by Margot Justes



My books were out on Amazon, KOBO, Barnes & Noble, and all the other available venues. It was easy since my formatter did everything for me, but last week I switched to Amazon only.

I started paying attention to the e-mails I received from the other companies, advertising books for sale, and I noticed it was the same everywhere, all the bestsellers were being promoted, not a midlist author among them.

It was the same everywhere except on Amazon. I saw my books being advertised along with others. That is a brilliant and savvy move on Amazon’s part, because among those lesser names could be the next huge bestseller. Why is it that only Amazon recognizes that possibility? Where are the others? Why is Amazon the only one giving midlist authors a chance to build their readership?

I fully recognize that bestsellers make money, they sell large numbers of books, and this is a business, and as such must turn a profit to survive. But surely there is room for a different voice, a new breath, those writers that aren’t main stream but have something to say that may not be quite middle of the road, but may succeed beyond expectations. Surely that is how a business grows, and markets expand.

Amazon recognizes the value of smart advertising, and in reality it costs them little to add a few new writers to their ad campaigns. Why can’t the others do the same?

They made the decision for me, I have more to gain when I give Amazon my exclusive rights. Amazon offers KDP Select, Paid Library Lending, discounted or free promotion days; it’s up to me to decide how to market my books. I have plenty of opportunities to promote within Amazon, and with their resources I’m better off.

The issues about market and pricing control are complex, and many claim Amazon wants to control the market, currently the battle with Hachette is an example. In reality what company wouldn’t want to be in Amazon’s shoes?

From my perspective, as a small midlist author, I’ll stay with Amazon only, for growth and potential new readership, at least they give me a chance.

Cheers
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within
www.mjustes.com

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Island of Delos by Margot Justes














This is one of the islands I’ll be visiting with my granddaughter this summer. I printed the excursions, and asked her to choose what she would like to see, and she picked Delos. I told her it is an island of ruins, and her reply was ‘I like ruins’-so we’re going to Delos. The tour is about four hours, and the 
rest of the time we’ll have to wander around Mykonos. I’m curious to see what her reaction will be.

Included are a few pictures of Delos, the stark solitary and almost eerie island, and the lively enchanting Mykonos.

About a thirty minute ferry ride from Mykonos, Greece is the island of Delos. And what an island it is. 

Uninhabited, that is not exactly true-there are approximately 25 people living there, but they are either archeologists or security personnel. Everyone else stops for a few hours and heads back to Mykonos.

The island is bare, there are no snack shops, no hotels, no restaurants, and the wind can whip up in a quick frenzy,  it is in fact quite desolate.  There is a museum where you can buy books and other Delos souvenirs, but that is the extent of the touristy trade.

What makes this island unique are the ruins. Amazing ruins. The whole island is a ruin. It is an immense site and one not easily forgotten.

Delos is said to be the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Archeological traces indicate the island was inhabited as early as 3000 B.C. Some of the ruins are so well preserved that you can actually imagine what the structures looked like and how they were utilized.

From the Doric Temple of Isis to the Archaic Lions, and the mosaic floors the sites are truly inspiring.

Off the beaten path, I observed an archeologist crouched on a low portable chair, a pad and pencil in hand as he meticulously measured something on the ground and then put it on paper. I snuck up on him and watched as he quietly continued his research. Time stood still and the serenity on the island was disturbed only by the fierce wind.

If you ever find yourself in Mykonos, do take the time to visit Delos. I promise, you will not be disappointed, you will in fact be enthralled.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Cruise from Rome by Margot Justes











Rome has one of the biggest cruise ports in Europe, and that suits me quite well. It is one of those ancient cities that will take more than one visit to see, and many of the cruises start in Rome. I try to stay for two or three days before boarding the ship. You don’t want to arrive on the same day, especially if it’s an overseas destination, that is much too risky, and Rome is always well worth the extra time. There are many hotels that fit all budgets.

Even if you spend a whole day in the Vatican alone, it is not enough, and would also prove quite exhausting, if nothing else the huge crowds would do you in. They say about twenty five to thirty thousand people visit the Vatican daily. The best I can do is five or six hours at a time.

The treasures housed within that community are unbelievable, it is a Mecca for art lovers. Michelangelo and the Pieta and the Sistine Chapel are sites that once seen will never be forgotten, and must be seen again if at all possible.  The Chapel, a rectangular room in the basement is all Michelangelo, it is bare of furnishings. It is a place to pay homage to a magnificent artist and his immeasurable artistry. It will leave you breathless.

I have done independent tours to the big sites, but now I book a tour to the Vatican and the other special sites because of all the tourists, it is easier and faster to get in. You don’t wait in the long lines, and at my age it is well worth it.

For this upcoming trip I booked two tours through Viator; Vatican Walking Tour- this tour includes the Sistene Chapel, Raphael’s Rooms and of course St. Peter’s; after the tour I can wonder around on my own. The other tour I booked through them is the Ancient Rome and Colosseum Walking Tour.

I’m going with my grandchildren, and it’s their first visit to Europe-I wanted to make sure they would get a decent historical introduction to this magnificent city.

If the stop is part of the cruise, I book through the cruise line, for one excellent reason, if there is a delay, they will wait for you. It has happened where the bus was delayed for about an hour. There was a general announcement about the delay, and we departed once the bus returned to port. That is not the case if you book through an outside agency. For me, it is not worth the extra stress to make sure I’ll be back on time, especially true if the visiting site is a bit of a distance from the port....but I digress.

Ancient Rome offers the Forum, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, these are all places that must be seen, the age and history will astound, and that is just the beginning. There is also the lively Rome, the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, so tourist packed that you have to wait, and weave your way to get up close and personal. The outdoor restaurants, the entertainment at said places, where you’ll get a troubadour serenading you, and it’s best to have some change ready for a tip. Rome is a walking city, and, comfortable shoes are a must, although I have seen a few Italian women wear heels; how they managed is beyond me. 

Then of course there are the espresso stops, I prefer to linger, the Italians prefer to stand and gulp theirs. It is less expensive to stand and drink your coffee, if you sit down there is a charge for that privilege. However by the time I need a coffee break, I also need a sit-down break to recharge.

I try and avoid the height of the tourist season, it is far more expensive, and overcrowded and prefer to go early Spring or late Fall. Sometimes that is not always possible, as in this trip the timing depended upon the kiddies and their activities. 

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
A Fire Within
Blood Art
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com


Friday, May 16, 2014

Everyday Life by Margot Justes







Life seems mundane. You get up, brush your teeth, make coffee, drink coffee (a few cups to get started) and generally get ready for work. After work, you run errands, make dinner, if you have kiddies take care of their needs and the day is over. You go to bed, get up, and start all over again. It's hard work.

What does one do to relieve stress, and provide a form of necessary escape, albeit it for a brief span of time? I read and write, that is my escape.

I've raised my kiddies, delight in my grandchildren, and my work is now writing full time, but after I'm done with work, time is essentially my own.  I write romance stories, that is my love, escape, and obsession if you will.

Writing allows me to escape the everyday sameness. I can kill off characters I don't like. I can fall in love with the perfect hero; he's my creation, therefore he's perfect for me.

I feel a sense of accomplishment when I've finished a story. A sense of apprehension when I start, and a sense of terror when mid-stream, there is nowhere to go and the voices are silent, and finally a sense of dread that I'm on the wrong track.  I write-by the seat of my pants-I think-that is the correct cliché. I get an idea and run with it and see where it takes me.

That to me is the perfect adventure-I don't know where my characters will wind up. It's a surprise. I like that, and it works for me.

I don't quite get the same sense of nirvana when I read, but it's a very, very close second. I escape to another world, and sometimes another period in time, and I look forward to the happy ending.

I'm reasonably well read, but at this stage in my life I look to romance, mystery and humor for my escape; it is the perfect get away. There is a reason romance writing is a multi-billion dollar industry. I'm not alone.

Along with writing and reading, travel is very close to my heart. It enriches the soul, and as Mark Twain put it so succinctly. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow mindedness...”

I have included a few pictures from Bath, England, one of my favorite places, and because A Hotel in Bath is a finalist for the RONE award. Shameless self promotion, but Bath really is magnificent.


Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
www.mjustes.com


Saturday, May 3, 2014

Travel Tips by Margot Justes





The pictures are from Le Cinque Terre-my favorite villages in Italy.

Travel can be exhausting, and I hear from many people how tired they are of packing and planning, and then there is the actual travel itself. I try to simplify my travel as much as I can.

I love the planning part, that is not a problem for me. There is a tremendous amount of information available on the internet. Yes, it does take time, but for me that is part of the fun of travel. The only part I dislike is the going to the airport and getting on the plane. It is no longer enjoyable.

For the upcoming trip to Rome and the Mediterranean cruise, I booked the cruise last year. It is easier to budget, if you can plan in stages. I check the prices weekly, and if there is a lower rate for my cabin category, I call the cruise line and ask for the lower price; it depends on availability and if indeed the price is lower for the cabin category.

An upgrade can be requested up until departure, however there are no guarantees. I’ve had reductions in price, but have yet to receive a ‘free’ upgrade. So far I have only cruised Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, they are sister companies. This one is a Celebrity cruise.

If travelling to Europe, I always spend at least two days in the port city. I look for hotels, and check to see if description meets my criteria-central in town, and easy walking distance to a few sites. I love to walk, and European cities tend to be walking cities. Generally I book through the hotel, there is a better chance of an upgrade. In some cases, places like Expedia might have a special price; it is best to check a few site on line, do your research.

I always request breakfast with room. This way I don’t spend time looking for a place to eat in the morning. It is easier and more expedient for me, and they tend to be a delight. A leisurely breakfast, usually accompanied by a terrific coffee is a wonderful beginning to a full day.

The next thing I do is book the flight, usually a couple of months before the trip. There is not much wiggle room. I watch the prices on a couple of airlines, and when they seem low enough I book them. I don’t gamble, but when booking a flight I consider it a crap shoot. They go up down minute by minute.

There are a few ways to save, your earned miles, or points through a credit card.
I have a credit card that gives me points on travel in general.  I don’t track my miles at all, because it is a hassle to book a flight using miles; at least for me.

I usually look for the most direct route if at all possible; the fewer transfers the better, the less chance your luggage will ultimately wind up in a different city.

I always check the various sites advertising lower rates, but they all quote similar prices to the actual airlines. Most airlines won’t give you miles if you book through a second party. The same applies to hotels.

Whenever possible, I like to arrange my airport transfer ahead of time. Rome is the perfect example. I’ve used RomeCab before. I just send an e-mail with the flight information, hotel information, and pick up time from hotel to port. They’re reliable, and I know they’ll show up at the airport with my name on a placard. It’s easy, and I don’t have to wait in a long line for a taxi. The price is about the same as a cab ride. There is no pre-payment involved, just a cash payment upon arrival in hotel, and I know up front what the price will be.

I’m all set for the trip, all I have to do is pack. I usually start a couple of weeks before the trip. I pack light, and set everything I think I’ll need on my office couch. By the time I’m ready for a suitcase, the pile is smaller, and ready to go in.

On a happy note, A Hotel in Bath is a finalist for a RONE award.



Cheers,
Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Fire Within
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com