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Get writing, networking, and everyday tips from the Masters - Debra St. John, June Sproat, Terri Stone, Morgan Mandel, DL Larson, Rob Walker, Margot Justes, Austin S. Camacho, Tony Burton.
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1. Setting the Story by Margot Justes









I write romantic mysteries for a niche market, my stories deal with art, travel, a bit of mayhem and romance. I might preface that with-I love art and I love to travel-and have been fortunate to be able to do so. The old adage write what you know and love is true.  

When I started writing, I knew my novel would be set in Paris. In my youth, I lived there for a year, and have since gone back a few times. It stood to reason that my first romance should be set there.

New architectural structures reflect a modern appeal, but the old is appreciated and treasured. The Louvre now has Pei’s Pyramid at the entrance, a few buildings have been added, but the age old charm, the cobblestones, the meandering streets, the essence and soul are still very much there.

The first time I visited Bath, England, I told myself I must come back, and I did. My second book is set there. My third hotel book, my current WIP is set in magical and mysterious Venice. All three cities are mystical and romantic places. Venice has captured my heart perhaps as no other city-there is a constant pull to go back and see what I have missed.

My heroine is an artist, and through her eyes, I introduce my readers to my favorite artists, allow her to live in exciting places, give her mysteries to solve, and someone to love. The best of all worlds.

For me it is essential to visit the place I write about, get a sense of the culture, the everyday, mundane activities that make up our lives. The magical moment of sitting in a cafe, sipping an espresso, and watching people go by. An image is created that will allow a glimpse of that perfect intimate moment.  A sculpture in a garden described so well that the reader can almost reach out and touch a sinew, that is the wonder of the written word.

Rodin has always set my pulse racing, his work is strong, exuberant, poignant to the point of agony, and sometimes even mischievous. I tried to bring that sense of joy and discovery to my hero in A Hotel in Paris, and hopefully to my readers. I find solace in art, for me it’s therapeutic. You don’t have to be an art scholar to enjoy it, it’s everywhere we turn, it surrounds us, all we have to do is take note.

Imagine tea at the Pump Room in Bath, and that first sip of the heavily scented Earl Grey tea, you take a deep whiff to savor the smell of the bergamot oil, take a bite of that a fresh scone still warm, loaded with clotted cream and strawberry preserves-except that I skip the cream and go directly for the jam, lots of jam. Those are all real memories that will enrich a story.

Visit a restaurant that has been in business since the early 1600s, in Bath and watch out as you step down on the crooked stairs and touch the warped wall, coated with gobs of thick paint as you continue your descent that doesn’t seem to end, and then you gingerly sit down in a rickety old chair and hope you won’t be sitting on the ancient brick floor instead.   

Stand on top of the Rialto Bridge in Venice, look down at the Grand Canal, and the mesmerizing traffic below, boats gliding on water expertly and avoid contact. Sip an espresso in a cafe and listen to a gondolier serenade you from afar.

From the Rodin Museum in Paris, to the Pump Room in Bath, to the dark and narrow canals in Venice, where the water mysteriously shimmers in the moonlit night. It’s all there. Familiarity with a location makes it easier to write about the experience, it makes it come alive.

Even though I write contemporary romance mysteries, I love history and art, and that is what I write about. It goes back to the beginning, write what you know and love. 

Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art
Hearts & Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com

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2. Blood Art and Blatant Self Promotion by Margot Justes


I thought I’d share the first chapter of Blood Art with you.
I loved writing it, and hope you will enjoy reading it.

                                                   Chapter 1

Florence, Italy 1503
“I am a vampire, Leonardo.”
“I am well aware of that fact Nikolai, but you have the soul of an artist.”
“I repeat. I am a vampire. And make no mistake—I have no soul.”
As a course for survival, Nikolai lost his soul centuries ago, but there was no reason in belaboring the point. Leonardo da Vinci was entitled to his belief.
Nikolai stood in the middle of the cavernous room and looked around him. Flickering candles cast shadows on the walls. A massive wooden desk was shoved against bare brick, one end piled with old rags coated in deep and rich colors. Leonardo's palette lay on the floor recklessly abandoned, and paint splashes had spilled onto the wooden floor, filling the wide cracks between the boards. A stale oil smell permeated the room; used candles were everywhere, surrounded by mounds of spent wax. A few books were stacked up on the floor against another wall, one on top of the other. An old wooden chair pushed against a corner, stained with crimson paint; the cushion looked like a splash of blood. A tapestry covered the wall where a makeshift straw bed lay on the floor.
“I repeat. You, my dear friend, have the soul of an artist. Vampire or not.”
“I collect art, hence our deep and abiding friendship—all due to your masterful accomplishments. I have no other such talents. At least, other than being eternal, ageless, and have an uncanny ability to amass a fortune at every opportunity. Typical vampire standards; anything I want, when I want, and how I want. Staying alive for eons does allow one to become complacent. Despite the danger, eternal existence does permit certain pleasures. And for me, the building of a sizable art collection is most gratifying, and a venture which I intend to continue through the ages.” The brusque, low voice was mesmerizing in its intensity, and hid any emotion, any visible trace of anguish. He simply stated these facts as if they were nothing, and common.
Nikolai Volkov watched as Leonardo picked up burned out candles and stray brushes he had left everywhere.
“Nikolai, you support artists that are being ignored, ridiculed. You redeem us. You recognize ageless talent. I am egotistical enough to say that in the coming centuries I will survive through my art.”
“Of that I have no doubt. Again, that is why I collect your paintings; your drawings alone are incomparable. I know you will survive. And you will increase my wealth substantially.” Nikolai turned and looked at the various paintings leaning against one of the stone walls. In the corner canvases were stacked in no particular order, and next to them wooden planks.
Leonardo's studio was plain, utilitarian, and filled with finished and unfinished works of art, all of which Nikolai coveted and wanted to own. Possess.
“Yes, I am sure I will survive, but only through my art. You have and will continue to survive through other means. Ones I do not wish to think about.”
“I have paid dearly for my survival.” Nikolai touched his cheek, feeling the ridge of the deep scar on his face. That attack had been particularly brutal. The cut went all the way to the bone, and not allowed to heal. Lucrezia Borgia told him it would mar his stunning beauty and further bind him to her, both physically and emotionally. She was wrong on both counts. He considered the scar his badge of courage and tenacity.
His surreal beauty, as she had once described it, now marred by that one scar. A reminder of torture. A memory not to be forgotten. Vampires do not scar, yet that one single scar on his body remained, as if an omen of things yet to come. Centuries of memories all held within that singular ridged cut on his face that slashed down to his very soul. The one he claimed not to have.
He was tall, over six-foot-three, with hair black as night. His eyes were as blue as sapphires and frigid as the Arctic ice. Nikolai was built hard, like Michelangelo's David, and just as cold.
The lethal combination fostered first and foremost fear from man and demon alike. And admiration, from women. All women. He never lacked for company. Yet, they all left him unsatisfied, and yearning for something he didn’t understand.
“Leonardo, will you paint a portrait for me?” Nikolai spoke quietly, staring at a painting stacked against a wall, his back to Leonardo.
“You?”
“No. Not me.” Nikolai replied, his bleak smile was more of a grimace that did not reach his eyes. “This will be from memory. My memory.”
“Does she mean something to you? I assume you are speaking of a woman.”
“Yes, I was. And yes, she meant something to me.” He ran his finger along the jagged scar.
“Ah, I see. I gather she was not a pleasant memory.”
“You gather correctly.”
“I will do it for you. Tell me everything you know about her. Every single memory. Every movement. Everything you remember. Give me a perfect description of the mysterious woman. It will be my gift to you.”
“I do not wish to keep the painting.” Nikolai visibly shuddered at the thought. “You may do with it what you will. Burn it in hell for all I care.” His reply was savage.
“I see.” Leonardo replied thoughtfully, rubbing his chin. “Why do you want me to paint it?”
“To exorcise a demon. One among many.”
“Do you wish to discuss it, my friend?”
“No. Just paint the damn thing. You will be well paid.”
“No,” Leonardo replied vehemently, shaking his hand in the air. “There will be no money changing hands. I will paint it. I will not burn it; I will sell it. I do have a payment to demand of you. Once I am done, I expect to hear why I painted it. That is my demand. Do you agree?”
“Yes, damn you. I will agree to your terms. Your absurd demand.”
“Why absurd? She obviously damaged you. I would have to be an idiot not to recognize the symptoms. And I am not an idiot.”
“Yes, I am fully aware that you are not an idiot. You should be terrified of me. Yet you are not. You reason things out. You think. A vampire, even in your century, should horrify you. Yet, I do not.”
“You terrify me, all right. Your power. Your strength. Your ability to kill without thought. Your survival through the centuries. Your knowledge of the past. Yes, you alarm me, my friend.”
“Alarm…that is a milksop statement. Leonardo, look at your own drawings. You see what is to come. What does that say about you? Your work foreshadows the future. It is there, in your drawings.” Nikolai pointed to a canvas leaning against a wall. “You are more than an artist; our long discussions have proven that. You are a genius. A man of re-birth. You, here and now, could be considered demonic. That is how some would interpret your work.”
“I will ignore that. It is safer not to discuss people and their survival methods—it might be misunderstood. Fortunately for me, my work is not well understood. Most everyone sees a painting or a drawing, nothing more. Perhaps they even think I am mad. A simple man cannot interpret what I imagine simply by looking at my work. That is indeed very good for me.” Leonardo sighed. “Now, let us get back to your description of the woman.”
“Have I touched a sensitive spot?” The vampire asked, sarcasm dripped from every word.
“Yes.” Leonardo hissed between his teeth. “Now, give me the damn description.”
“Paint her as you would a beloved portrait. Make her mysterious. Enigmatic. Serene. Perfectly poised to attract attention. Paint her as the central and pivotal person in the scene. In fact blur everything else. Nothing should matter much save her face and hands. Long, beautiful fingers, elegant hands with perfect skin, relaxed. Incapable of hard work. Make her look innocent. Wistful.” Nikolai stopped speaking, and again touched his face along the line of the scar.
“Make the damn demon, the savage beast…saintly. That will be the joke for centuries to come. Paint it dark, yet give her light. A shimmer, so that she almost glows. Make her irresistible. Give her eyes that damn the soul. Eyes that see beyond the present. Is that enough for you?” Nikolai demanded.
“Yes. Do I have leave to choose the color of her hair and eyes?” Leonardo asked quietly, captivated by Nikolai’s mesmerizing voice and the tortured memories he was reliving.
“I do not care what color you choose. Dark is what I desire.”
“It shall be done. You want her to look enigmatic, a mystery through the ages. How is that for conceit? She will survive centuries, whereas I will die.”
“You, my friend, will be reborn every time someone looks at your work. But you already know that. Your art will speak for you for eternity.”
“Let us continue as we have in the past, Nikolai.” Leonardo preferred to ignore rather than acknowledge the reality of his existence. “Your life is eternal. You do not age. Let us leave it at that. Be careful not be recognized, it might endanger you.”
“I am four hundred years old. Through the centuries of battles, corruption, and betrayal, no one pays any attention to whether or not I age. Everyone is consumed with their own survival. I expect that in the future, I shall need to take better care.”
“Take better care, but live. Even if you cannot be killed, live as you have done in the past.” Leonardo spoke softly, as if afraid of being overheard.
“I aim to live better, and I can be killed; one just has to know how. I certainly do not discuss that aspect of my survival. I am alone, removed from my clan. Solitary, my lair and art my only comfort. It has been this way for centuries and, make no mistake, Leonardo—it is a lonely existence. You, my friend are a true master and you bring me a great deal of pleasure. Someday your work will be priceless. Look at your drawings. See the things I see in your work. You behold the future in front of you.”
 “Indeed.” Leonardo dismissed Nikolai's predictions with a wave of his hand. “I may need you again, after I begin the portrait, of course.” Leonardo spoke absentmindedly, stretching his fingers, already thinking about the unusual commission.
“Of course, I am always available to you. How will you explain the mystery woman?” Nikolai's curiosity got the better of him.
“I will not. There will be rumors. A model. A mistress. A wife. A requested portrait by a well to do merchant.  I myself will perpetuate said rumors,” Leonardo replied, a wide smile lining his face.
“Brilliant, Leonardo. As I have said, your work will be priceless.”
“Do you wish to change your mind and purchase the portrait?”
“No.” Nikolai shuddered, turned, and slammed the massive door behind him. He took a deep breath, a normal human reaction one he'd used so frequently that he no longer even thought about it. He walked outside and realized that had his heart been beating, it would have stopped at the mere suggestion that he keep the portrait of his tormentor and captor. Damn the Borgias. All of them.
Nikolai walked to his lair and thought about his life, lost in memories of long ago. He heard a rustle of leaves, a shrill scream, and then silence. His speed was as fast as the wind, and as quiet as death. He reached a man kneeling over the body of a woman. She lay on the ground, unconscious, her face bloody and leg twisted unnaturally, her arms outstretched. The man reached to lift her torn skirt. Nikolai lost all veneer of civility, his fury reflected in his blood-red eyes and extended fangs. He showed no mercy.
He grabbed the man, then effortlessly lifted him off the ground and threw him against a tree. He heard a crunch but didn't bother to look back. He reached down and tenderly touched the bruise on the woman's face, her split lip where the man had obviously hit her with his fist. Nikolai's touch healed her. He straightened the leg and massaged it. She would have a few bruises, but nothing that would last more than a few days. He lifted her in his arms and carried her back to Leonardo's.
Leonardo would help the less fortunate, the few strays Nikolai occasionally brought him. He always did.
On his way home, hunger struck. His fangs lengthened, but he would not feed from the vermin he'd destroyed. He'd lure someone else.
Nikolai once again pondered his existence. He'd just destroyed a life and felt no remorse. He knew that if he had not interfered, the woman would have been raped and most likely killed. He felt nothing for the life he so easily extinguished. The bastard deserved it.
Alone, Nikolai had few friends, and he chose not to search for any members of his clan, or any other vampires. He'd had his suspicions about several people he knew, but preferred not to bring any attention to his own existence.
His path to emotional survival and redemption forbid getting involved in battles not of his own choosing. He searched for his salvation and ultimately some meaning to his eternal existence. His senseless killing sprees subsided long ago. Finished. Now he only killed when necessary. To end evil, be it human or otherwise.
Nikolai thought about his captor and tormentor, and as always waited for her to come after him. Addicted to his blood, Lucrezia would move heaven and earth to get him back. She could do nothing else; the addiction was like a disease. He promised himself next time that she would not survive. He learned a great deal through the centuries, including how to outlast and outwait a demon. Patience. He had a great deal of patience for certain things. Eternity will teach you that, if nothing else.
Long ago, Nikolai escaped from his torments. He emerged into putrid air contaminated with lost souls, but he was free. Alone. No longer a captive to be tortured against his will. No longer raped. No longer beaten. No longer slashed and starved. She taught him to kill without thought, whether for revenge or retribution. He did not care; he had killed to gain physical and mental freedom.
The paintings and sculptures he'd gleaned while still a captive brought him salvation. Those pieces he took from her as payment for his suffering. She paid a heavy price for the abuse she gave, and in his mind, she would forever be a living nightmare. Her name was indelible in his memory: Lucrezia Borgia.
He'd called her the demon queen of torment, for indeed she knew how to inflict the utmost pain. The rack became a pleasure in comparison to what else he'd suffered. His limbs were stretched and pulled, his life's blood spilled, and still that wasn't enough for her. She'd turned him to keep him forever young, make him hers to use  as she pleased. Lucrezia became addicted to him, and that was her folly. His doom. Her ultimate mistake.
Once freed from her rule, and on through the ages, he saw redemption in art and the painters and sculptors who made a difference in the art world. The geniuses of the centuries, like Leonardo da Vinci, one among so few.
Nikolai's speed increased. He was eager to reach his home atop a hill, his fortress built with massive stones and rocks that allowed for defense, along with an underground chamber where he could rest in peace, unencumbered by anyone or anything. The fortress was designed so that any room could be kept pitch black—the windows tiny, the glass that was there was thick and crinkly. The curtains were made from heavy brocade that blocked all sunlight and the world outside.
Priceless tapestries hung on the walls, for warmth that he didn't need, and the pleasure that he craved. The absolute joy of holding a canvas, or feeling the texture of a magnificent tapestry, was his salvation in life, offering comfort and contemplation.
Nikolai longed for peace and searched for the one woman who would matter, who would end the unbearable loneliness. In the meantime, he did what he could to make life better for others. He tried to hide the arrogance, the strength, and all the other characteristics, everything that comes with being a vampire. Not ashamed of who and what he was, but age has taught him the old adage that discretion was indeed the better part of valor.
Through the centuries, he added to his already enormous art collection, and added to his own power as a demon.
The instinct of the vampire to survive was always present and a huge part of his survival, but he adapted to humanity. His chosen style of solitude served him well. Over time, he learned not to kill to feed, but allow his victims to survive without ill effects, and without memories of his presence. He no longer destroyed unless threatened, but then he had no mercy, his brutality hidden beneath the veneer of sophistication and age-old wisdom. But the brutality existed when needed.
His countless properties were managed by people he trusted and of whom he took great care. His people were loyal to him beyond question, and from one generation to the next, they stayed and worked with him, providing a sense of family and belonging. A ruthless businessman, he was fair and honest in his dealings with others. Betrayal was not in his vocabulary. No one crossed him; the sheer power that emanated from his presence, his cold, frigid eyes that appeared to look through to the deepest and darkest secrets of an adversary, instilled fear in anyone that he came in contact with.
Through the lonely centuries he'd had a foreshadowing of a looming battle, one he'd personally have to fight.
The when, how, and where wasn't clear as yet, but he knew it was coming.


Cheers,
Margot  Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art
Hearts and Daggers
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks
www.mjustes.com 
http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Art-Margot-Justes-ebook/dp/B00FWA8YMO


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3. Florence, Italy by Margot Justes









Our first stop was in Livorno, Italy, the port city in Tuscany that took me to Florence. It was love at first sight. Even on a cold and rainy day, it was one of the most astounding cities I have ever seen. Florence is said to be the birth place of the Renaissance, and to celebrate our first stop was the Accademia Museum to visit Michelangelo’s David.

To say it is magnificent would be an understatement. It is powerful, the hands are large beyond even the size of the 14 foot sculpture that weighs in at about 6 tons. It radiates power, it was meant to do so; those hands will ultimately destroy Goliath. They are bigger than perceived reality.

The piece is an astounding work of artistry. There is a reason Michelangelo dissected cadavers and spent many hours in the Carrere Marble quarries watching the men work. It’s all there in David’s body, every nuance, every muscle, every vein is defined to perfection.

The face is that of someone older than the young teen David, emanating age and wisdom beyond the teen years, and of course the sheer male beauty. The face appears to be that of a Greek god, the look is wistful. It is pure perfection, right down to the veins in the powerful hand that holds the rock. The one holding the sling is relaxed, since little effort will be needed. The white Carrere marble seems to add strength and purity to the piece.

The day was packed with museum visits, the Church of Santa Croce (Church of the Holy Cross) and the old medieval bridge Ponte Vecchia crossing the Amo River.  The narrow streets were filled with shops selling anything from cheeses and salamis to leather goods and gold.

Lunch at Piazza della Signorina,  at Il Bargello was a welcome respite for a bit of warmth and away from the continuous rain, the pasta delicious, and the large bottle of Chianti didn’t hurt either. The creamy hazelnut gelato and espresso complimented the end of the meal. The Piazza also has a copy of David.

The rain continued throughout the day and somehow made the city more captivating and magical; the gloomy sky cast murky shadows on the striking and famed multi colored marble buildings as they glistened in the mist. Odd to say, but it was a joyful experience, the place is magical. Florence, once seen is never to be forgotten.

Florence deserves a few days not a few hours, and I have plans to be back and see the rest of this glorious place. In the meantime, I’m happy I was able to see just a little bit.

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

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4. Favorite Holiday Recipes by Margot Justes


In many of my baking recipes you will detect an underlying theme-rum-the wonderful aroma of rum adds a festive touch to the baking process, and Myers’s is an excellent dark rum.

Fudge
½ cup of butter (1 stick)
1 large can of evaporated milk
2 oz bitter chocolate (I only use Ghirardelli chocolate)
12 oz semi sweet or dark chocolate chips (I use dark chocolate 70% or higher)
2 lbs sugar (4 ½ cups)
12 oz dark chocolate
½ lb marshmallows
1 ½ tbsp Vanilla
1 cup of chopped walnuts (I use 2 cups)
1 cup of raisins (I soak mine in dark rum overnight, and mix the rum and the raisins.

Combine butter, canned milk and sugar, stir over medium heat until sugar is dissolved, cook to a boil, about 5 minutes.

Turn off heat and add marshmallows, stir until melted, add the 3 types of chocolate, one at a time, stir until each is dissolved. Add vanilla and nuts, raisins with rum and stir.

Line a cookie sheet with saran wrap, extending the edges; pour the fudge into the cookie pan, spread evenly with knife or spatula.

Let dry for 2 days. Invert the fudge unto your counter, remove saran wrap and let dry for another 2 days. Cut into squares and serve.

This recipe makes quite a bit of fudge, I cut it all up and store in a sealed plastic bag, or tin. My family loves the fudge; usually it doesn’t last very long. Makes a great gift too.
Banana-Nut-Rum Bread
½ cup cooking oil
1 cup sugar
2 eggs-beaten
4 or 5 ripe bananas-mashed
2 cups Flour (I use whole wheat)
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup chopped nuts
1 cup of chocolate chips
1 cup of raisins (I soak mine in rum overnight)

Beat oil and sugar together. Add the beaten eggs and banana pulp and beat well. Add the dry ingredients, milk and vanilla. Mix well and stir in nuts, raisins with rum, and chocolate chips. Pour into greased and floured loaf pan (9 x 5 x 3) I use lasagna pan, cooks more evenly.

Bake in preheated oven at 350 F for about an hour. Cool well before cutting.

Rum Balls
2 1/2 cups Vanilla Wafers
5 1/2 cups ground walnuts
1 cup of honey
1 cup of rum
1 cup or as needed confectioner’s sugar
Mix all ingredients, form into small balls and roll in sugar. I usually let them sit on foil paper for a day or so and then arrange on platter. You may need to sprinkle them with additional powdered sugar.

Poppy Seed Cake
This one takes time, but if you like poppy seeds, you’ll love this coffee cake.
1 cup of milk
1 package of active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 cup of butter (2 sticks)
1/3 cup of sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
4 1/4 cups of flour
2 tsp vanilla

Scald milk, cool to a warm temp, add yeast and 1 tsp sugar; stir to dissolve yeast. Let stand for about 10 minutes. Yeast should puff up in the milk.
Cream butter, add 1/2 cup of sugar, beat in eggs and salt. Add flour alternating with yeast mixture. Knead on floured surface. Place in greased bowl and cover. Let rise until doubled.
Cut dough in half and roll it out the length of your cookie sheet, spread the poppy seed filling and form into a log, sealing the ends. Put on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.  The two rolls should fit on cookie sheet. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Poppy Seed Filling (double the recipe for the two cakes)
1 can of poppy seed filling (I use Solo)
Rind of 1 lemon
3/4 cup of chopped walnuts
11/2 tsp vanilla
3/4 raisins
Mix all ingredients and spread on rolled out dough.
1 egg slightly beaten and 1 tsp of water; mix egg and water and brush on cakes.
Let the cakes rise for a couple of hours, brush again with egg mixture, and then put in pre-heated oven at 350F and bake for an hour. Cool and enjoy.

Hot Chocolate
This is my version, with extra dark chocolate.
1 8 oz glass of milk, I use skim. (I conserve calories wherever I can...she wrote laughingly)
1 Tablespoon dark unsweetened Ghirardelli cocoa (I like the unsweetened cocoa, the flavor is much stronger)
4 squares Ghirardelli 72% dark or 2 tablespoons Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips
(optional)

Heat milk and cocoa, make sure cocoa and milk are well blended, use a small wisk if necessary. When the milk is hot take 4 squares or 2 tablespoons of Ghirardelli dark chocolate chips (to taste) put it in and mix until completely melted. You can sprinkle a bit of shaved chocolate on top. Sweeten to taste, or add a few small marshmallows on top.  

You can of course use sugar or sweetened cocoa, but it's the good cocoa and dark chocolate that gives it the added richness. It is a delicious treat, and easy to make. 

I love hot cocoa, and use the Bialetti machine to speed the process up a little. It heats up and froths the milk at the same time. I even use it to froth a large quantity of milk for cappuccinos, and lattes.

These are among my favorite recipes during the holiday season that starts with Halloween and ends with the New Year.

I wish you much joy and peace.

Cheers,
Margot  Justes

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

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5. Return to Rome by Margot Justes









It was a packed one day in Rome and my first transatlantic cruise,  time just didn’t allow for more. On this cruise we would stop in  Livorno, Italy-Cartagena  and 3 of the 7 Canary Islands in Spain, and Agadir, Morocco in Africa,  the final destination was Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

For the longest time I wanted to see the Borghese Galleries in Rome. Usually you have to book months in advance, but I was lucky. I walked through the beautiful gardens up to the Villa Borghese, and was told they were sold out. I must have really looked dejected, and the woman took pity on me and sent me downstairs to the ticket counter.  She told me sometimes they have returned tickets.

I did as I was told, and they had a couple of extra tickets if I was willing to wait three hours. Waiting was not a problem, first and foremost, the gardens are positively stunning and vast, there is a museum shop on the lower floor, along with a cafeteria that offered excellent coffee, and delicious paninis, I chose ham and cheese and it was yummy. 

The Borghese family arrived in Rome in the late 16th century, and the villa dates back to the early 17th Century.  There are two floors and twenty rooms filled to capacity, the collections is vast, it is one of those places that is so packed you don’t know where to look first, and it is overwhelming. I prefer galleries that aren’t quite so crowded. You will find works of Bernini, Correggio, Raphael, Rubens, Titian and Caravaggio to name just a few masterpieces exhibited.

The amazing collection is not to be missed, the self guided tours lasts 2 hours, and there is an audio option. The tours are staggered, and they only allow 350 visitors per tour; time and number of people are strictly controlled.

I came away inspired by the works of Bernini-he of the fountains of Rome fame-along with the magical fountains, he was a magnificent sculptor. The collection is massive and in reality for me, the two hours were enough.  There is just so much crammed into the available space, and the collection is so massive that I was on overload. I walked back to the hotel in the rain, and that wet breath of fresh air felt good.

I did make the most with my time in Rome. I walked through the Borghese Gardens and Galleries, I saw the finished renovation of the Bernini Fountain below the Spanish Steps, and had a delicious dinner-homemade pasta cooked al dente with porcini mushrooms and Parmesan Reggiano. It was a packed day and by the end I was exhausted, and slept like the proverbial baby.

The next morning the hotel provided a scrumptious buffet breakfast filled with various breads, sweet rolls, cakes, cheeses, hams, eggs and all the espressos and cappuccinos I could drink. My kind of breakfast.

There was an unexpected adventure I hadn’t anticipated. The driver picked me up from the hotel and off I went to the Civitavecchia Terminal, the Port of Rome. The driver stopped at the security gate at the terminal and had a lengthy conversation. I should have known something was wrong; the discussion at the security gate and the fact that I couldn’t see the ship should have given me a clue that not all was well. I didn’t even think twice about the rough waters lapping against the wall as we neared the port. I thought maybe we’ll have to be tendered because the ship was docked elsewhere.

The ship was indeed docked elsewhere, in a different location, and in fact in a totally different port in another city altogether. As the driver informed me-the seas were too rough and Civitavecchia is very rocky; the ships already there couldn’t get out, and new arrivals couldn’t get in. My ship was stuck in Naples.

There were buses lined up along the terminal, the passengers and the luggage were loaded on said buses and off we went on a three hour ride to Naples to board our ship.  Celebrity Cruises handled it really well, they provided water and snacks-heaven forbid you should be on a cruise and not have food.

Once we arrived in Naples, the check-in was relatively painless, and we were on our way, the first stop the next day was Livorno, Italy-the port for Pisa and Florence. I had high hopes of finally seeing Michelangelo’s David.


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


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6. Fresh Market by Margot Justes









A glorious Saturday morning, the temperature was mid 60’s, the sun was shining brightly, and I was finally able to visit the Fresh Market on King St. in Alexandria. An event that is held every Saturday, and is well worth a visit.

From the fall necessities like pumpkins and squashes, to vegetables and fruit. There were fresh breads, scones, jams and all the things you’d expect from the market, along with jewelry, local pottery, an author selling an illustrated children’s book, and artists.

One such artist, Len "Leonardo" Garon (www.LenGaron.com) even graciously consented to be photographed with his work. A versatile painter his work includes landscapes, monuments and dogs, among other scenes. The award winning artist displays his work right in the market, but his work is in the art collection of the White House, as well as other galleries. He is well established and I love the fact that he participates in the local weekly event.

It is a delight to walk through the market, and I hope to go every Saturday if possible. There is a coffee stand, and a few steps away, fresh scones and rolls are available for a quick al- fresco snack. Further down the way, a local bakery was selling artisan breads that would make your mouth water. The best part, it is walking distance from the apartment.

I continued on to the waterfront, and heard the Umbrellas of Cherbourg being played. I tipped the musician, we chatted briefly, I told him I haven’t heard that melody in years and it brought back many memories for me. I walked away, and heard Under Paris Skies, of course I stayed and listened. It was indeed a perfect morning. I came back to the apartment and started writing.

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

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7. LIVE THE EXCITEMENT OF LOVE, WAR, AND MADNESS

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8. LIVE THE EXCITEMENT OF LOVE, WAR, AND MADNESS

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9.


Fall by Margot Justes






The summer disappeared, and now it’s practically the middle of October, and I wonder where the time went. Then I realize, I put a house on the market, sold the house, packed, moved to another state and  spent three weeks in Europe in July-that is where my summer went.

Now fall is upon us, the leaves are slowly changing color, it’s cooler, rainy,  a bit foggy in places, and actually it’s my favorite time of the year because for me it is also the beginning of the holiday season.

Friends are coming to visit for a few days next week, and then we’ll drive to Myrtle Beach. I’ll be back in time to get ready for a trip to Rome and my first transatlantic cruise; the cruise starts in Rome and ends in Fort Lauderdale. I’m still celebrating my retirement last year.

There are unique stops on this cruise, I’ll visit Livorno, Italy, the port for Florence, Italy and it will be my first visit to Florence-to say I’m looking forward to it would be an understatement. The stops also include Cartagena, Spain, Agadir, Morocco, and the Canary Islands. Then seven days at sea, where I hope to make a real dent in A Hotel in Venice. I would love to finish the manuscript by the end of this year.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors in Virginia, and how the holidays are celebrated here. I’ve been told that Williamsburg is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it’s only a two hour drive. I’m amazed how much there is to see in this part of the country, and it is all relatively close.  

This morning I finally took a look at the pictures from the July trip, and will share some with you. I plan on writing a few blogs about the places I visited. The one that stood out by far is Malta-I want to go back and spend some time there, a week or two would be perfect.



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

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10. Fall by Margot Justes









The summer disappeared, and now it’s practically the middle of October, and I wonder where the time went. Then I realize, I put a house on the market, sold the house, packed, moved to another state and  spent three weeks in Europe in July-that is where my summer went.

Now fall is upon us, the leaves are slowly changing color, it’s cooler, rainy,  a bit foggy in places, and actually it’s my favorite time of the year because for me it is also the beginning of the holiday season.

Friends are coming to visit for a few days next week, and then we’ll drive to Myrtle Beach. I’ll be back in time to get ready for a trip to Rome and my first transatlantic cruise; the cruise starts in Rome and ends in Fort Lauderdale. I’m still celebrating my retirement last year.

There are unique stops on this cruise, I’ll visit Livorno, Italy, the port for Florence, Italy and it will be my first visit to Florence-to say I’m looking forward to it would be an understatement. The stops also include Cartagena, Spain, Agadir, Morocco, and the Canary Islands. Then seven days at sea, where I hope to make a real dent in A Hotel in Venice. I would love to finish the manuscript by the end of this year.

In the meantime I’m looking forward to seeing the fall colors in Virginia, and how the holidays are celebrated here. I’ve been told that Williamsburg is beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it’s only a two hour drive. I’m amazed how much there is to see in this part of the country, and it is all relatively close.  

This morning I finally took a look at the pictures from the July trip, and will share some with you. I plan on writing a few blogs about the places I visited. The one that stood out by far is Malta-I want to go back and spend some time there, a week or two would be perfect.



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

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11. Alexandria by Margot Justes











I have not been consistent with my blogs-nothing new there-having settled in Alexandria, I love playing tourist-the history here is simply amazing, and there is much to see everywhere you turn, and as a result I have not focused on my writing. Recently I have had readers actually ask when A Hotel in Venice will be out, and that was my impetus to get back to work and plan my days. I’m a writer I actually need to write.

Until I find a place to live, whether a condo or a boat, I have settled in a one bedroom apartment, talk about downsizing-I had to think twice about buying toilet paper at Costco because there is so little storage in the apartment. What I do have is a big walk-in closet, and guess where the toilet paper went. I call it my little ‘black hole’ everything goes in there.

I absolutely love it. Alexandria is at once urban and suburban. Filled with history, a quaint and charming old town packed with restaurants, boutiques, antique shops,  historical buildings and tourists, a gorgeous water front, easy access to DC, just hop on the Metro and you’re there in 15 minutes, or take a water taxi and 20 minutes later you’re at the National Harbor, MD. The Alexandria Harbor also boasts a converted torpedo factory that now houses about 24 artists, their studios/galleries are open to the public free of charge. It is heavenly.

I thought I’d miss the suburban life, I spent many years raising my daughters in the ‘burbs’- now I find the vitality of urban life, the sound of cars and sirens, the Metro going by, construction- all exhilarating and life affirming. There is soul pulsing in this city.

The National Science Foundation is building its headquarters here, along with NSF, new condos and apartment buildings are rising fast to accommodate the influx of new blood.

In the meantime this last week progress has been made in my writing, and I’m actively looking for a place to live on a more permanent basis. That being said, I have a trip planned to Annapolis on Tuesday. I have read that it is quite a beautiful place to visit, and only about 45 minutes from here.

I’ll post a few pictures from the area, and you can see for yourself what a wondrous place it is.

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

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12. Settling In Temporarily by Margot Justes








The trip to Virginia was uneventful, just the way I like it. There was no rush, and it actually felt good to be in the car and do absolutely nothing but sit and relax. I did not drive, and once we left Illinois and Indiana the scenery greatly improved.

I found I like Virginia, at least what I’ve seen so far-that is to say-not much. Norfolk is delightful and packs one of the most wonderful museum I’ve visited. The Chrysler Museum of Art houses an extensive collection of American art, pre and post paintings from the war of independence, as well as a large collection of civil war pieces. Most artists were new to me, and it was a wonderful journey of discovery.

The most amazing collection is the L. C. Tiffany-a full gallery dedicated to Tiffany, as well as an amazing glass collection on the first floor. It was heavenly. I didn’t take any pictures inside-too engrossed in the exhibits, I didn’t even bother to ask if pictures were allowed in the galleries.

I stayed until closing, they were setting up for a wedding and I took one picture of the prep work, one of the assistants said they were booked for weddings and other social events for the balance of the year. A perfect place to hold an event.

Across the street there is also a small glass blowing facility, with visiting artists creating their magic-that is what I call glass blowing; it seemingly looks easy but it is not. I’m a huge fan of blown glass. There is a reason I set my third hotel book in Venice, and the intrigue in Murano-both share a long history of blowing glass, and for the most part the results are exquisite.

I also took a boat ride to tour the Norfolk Naval Base, reputed to be the largest in the world. The site was awe inspiring and seemingly never ending. The Nauticus, a naval museum and the permanent home for the battleship SS Wisconsin is not to be missed.

The ship is huge and many places below deck I found rather uncomfortable, massive machines, pipes and other accoutrement that are fully exposed tend to scare me. I’m rather skittish when surrounded by such equipment. The living quarters for the officers were somewhat livable, for the enlisted man not so much, but then it was not a luxury cruise, but a life risking endeavor.

The waterfront in Norfolk is delightful, and packed with tourists and locals alike. The restaurants offer excellent food, and the bars attached to said restaurants are loud and lively.

The best lunch I had was at A. W. Shucks, an old fashioned diner off the beaten tourist path. They had the best crab cake sandwich I have ever tasted. There is a fast food place at the National Harbor in Maryland that matched it, but I’ll save that for another blog.

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


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13. Moving by Margot Justes



I thought I’d mention a few things about my move. Let me state up front, it is hard work, and seems never ending.

How on earth could I possibly have accumulated so much stuff.  It’s like Pandora’s Box, or Mary Poppins’ bag; the stuff just keeps appearing like a magic trick-seemingly out of nowhere. Boxes and boxes, covered in dust have been stored and never looked at for twenty eight years. No wonder people think twice about moving-it’s all the stuff we accumulate over the years that we can’t do without but never use.

Once the process is started, it has a deep cleansing effect-there will be fewer things to worry about, keep clean, fewer things to clutter my life.  

I’m keeping things that are significant to my family, the art pieces I have collected over decades, and frankly miss seeing because they are all packed; I have grown attached to them.

Boxes and bags have been donated to Goodwill, and sad to say many books went the same way...and still more to come.

The books were the hardest to part with, but I’m downsizing-a lot- and there won’t be much room to spread out. I went through all the books, some I have read decades ago, some were in French and I’d have a hard time reading them in English now, much less in French. Some were really old friends, well worn and loved-those I kept. It’s hard to say goodbye.

The one thing I soon realized is that you can’t save too many things to do for tomorrow, because all too soon you run out of time. It’s Thursday, and the PODS people will be here Saturday to load the them. There is still so much to do.

Using PODS seemed the most effective way to move, because the goods need to be stored until I find a permanent place to live. No packing, unpacking-the filled PODS will simply be stored until ready to ship. Rather efficient, and there is less chance of things being lost. It’s also less expensive going the POD route, at least in this instance.

Two PODS had been ordered, and when the order was placed, the company just asked how big the driveway was, and everything seemed sorted out. The end of this adventure was near. Not so fast...there is always a wrinkle-the best laid plans...

One POD arrived this morning, and the delivery man said he can’t put two PODS on the driveway-there is not enough room. The second POD was on the way, and there was no place to put it. Immediate panic ensued.

Neighbor and excellent friend came to the rescue, one phone call  and he agreed that one POD could be set on his driveway. The company was called and told where to set the POD. The wait was on for the second one. All was good.

POD arrived a few hours later, and the driver informed me that he needed a signed authorization from the owner before he could set the POD down. There is a slight glitch in this newest plan, friend is at work and could not be reached. It seemed like a comedy of errors minus the comedy.

After a bit of discussion, there is now a POD in each driveway. I’m ready for the next step, finish the never ending packing and wait for everything to be stored.

It is a rather exciting process, new adventures await me, but I’m also saying au revoir (loosely translated-see you later) so much better than saying goodbye.

I certainly am keeping in touch with them, and plan on visiting, and there will always be a spare bedroom wherever I wind up.

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

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14. Lifestyle Change by Margot Justes



I have lived in the Midwest for the better part of my adult life, and now it’s time for a major change. 

A rather quick decision to move out of Illinois, and an even quicker sale of the house, forced me quickly to think about my future. What do I want to do? Travel was the immediate answer, but a small pied-a-terre is needed, somewhere permanent to hang your hat, as it were...

The answer was a relatively easy one. A small condo would do the trick, but then an another idea surfaced, one that would truly alter my lifestyle. Motor yacht living.

We lived in a trailer in South Africa for three months until our housing was ready. It was an experience I’d never care to repeat. Never.

I still would not consider trailer housing, but living in a tiny, compact space has a great deal of appeal. I’ve been assured, it is by no means trailer living, the water views are fantastic, and the community is rather a chummy one. Surrounded by water, and with fewer responsibilities, it would also be an ideal place for me to write.  

Adapting to new situations is nothing new for me, and as of September 1st, I’ll be living in a one bedroom apartment until a decision is made where exactly I’m going to wind up. Many people consider that unsettling,  I find it exciting. A new journey awaits.

The only sad part is that I’ll be leaving lifelong friends, more family than friends, but there is a flip side, there will always be a spare bedroom, and new and exciting places for them to visit.  I’ll visit as well.

Over the years we all accumulate ‘stuff’; at this stage of my life, the stuff is far less important. Garage sales are a wonderful way to meet people, and at the same time get rid of your stuff.  I’ve never done a garage sale before, but since the decision to move, I have a few under my belt, and they are a hoot. Whatever doesn’t sell will be packed and given to Goodwill. The important pieces will be stored, and the rest is going to new homes.

There are a few things that will be passed on to my daughters, and of course, space will have to be found for my art; pieces I have collected over many, many years, and cannot part with.  The walls are now bare in the house, and I truly miss my old friends.

I’m looking forward to new adventures.

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

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15. Murano Glass by Margot Justes












A vacation always inspires me to write, whether it is in my current WIP, or a travel article, it doesn’t really matter, the inspiration is there. This time I visited some of my favorite places in Europe, chief among them was a stay in Venice...and what a visit it was.

The concierge at the hotel was able to arrange a private visit to a Murano furnace, the Schiavon Art Team. I have seen a working furnace before that was geared toward the tourists straight off the boat or the ferry, as it were, and I have stopped in many Murano and Venetian  glass stores.  For the most part the pieces are pretty similar in the shops, but this furnace had some spectacular pieces of art. I also happen to love glass, and Murano is famous worldwide for their glass.

I was totally unprepared for the sheer beauty and originality of the work, contemporary glass art work that came to life when properly lit.  I loved every piece I saw, they were not the common pieces sold everywhere you turned, but unique pieces with astounding colors and textures.  Terrific variation of African baskets with dark reds, black and tan deep opaque colors that if not touched would pass for a woven basket. The work is sublime.

Not only was I able to watch a master glass blower at work, I was also allowed to take all the pictures I wanted. Starting with the furnaces, the annealing area, polishing room and the galleries. Truly a memorable experience.

Most were custom pieces ordered by individual clients and businesses, but there were many pieces for sale in the gallery upstairs, as well as a gallery down the street from the furnace that is open to the public.

It was a unique experience for me, because A Hotel in Venice is partially set in Murano and deals with the intrigues of blowing glass, age old secret formulas and lack of new talent. It takes many years to become a master blower, and it is incredibly hard work. Try blowing through a tube and shape a piece of molten glass. If it’s your first try, your face will turn beet red-the effort is tremendous-but the master blower makes it look effortless. 

The visit was a most memorable and inspirational experience, one I will always cherish. 

As a side note, Blood Art will be free this weekend on Amazon. I want to introduce my favorite vampire Nikolai Volkov.  http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Art-Margot-Justes-ebook/dp/B00FWA8YMO

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

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16. 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 without with just a teaspoon, just like Nutella, the 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




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17. 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




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18. 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

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19. Red Apple and Polish Food by Margot Justes









Once in a while I crave a bit of stick to your ribs and everywhere else type of home cooked goodness. Polish food, specifically the Red Apple restaurant in Chicago delivers the perfect meal. They are located on 6474 N. Milwaukee Ave, in Chicago. 773/588-5781. It’s a bit of old home for me, one of those places that bring back many memories.

As with most Polish restaurants, it is a buffet filled with potato pancakes, pierogi, sauerkraut, sausage, tongue, tripe, chicken, ham, roast beef, you name it, the buffet has it. Even a few things you won’t name unless you have an Eastern European background, things like tripe, tongue and gizzard stew-all delicious and worth a try.

I go there for the pierogi, sort of like an Italian ravioli, often filled with potatoes, (my favorite) meat, cheese, sauerkraut, plums, really any filling you prefer. The potato pancakes and tongue are my favorite dishes too, of course there is the schnitzel, sort of a elongated moist hamburger perfectly seasoned, along with the mushroom gravy that goes well with everything. The bigos, or hunter stew made with meat and sauerkraut is delicious too.

There is a salad bar with the usual selection, along with shredded beets and herring in vinegar sauce, cucumbers in sour cream, and many other choices. The sweets are wonderful too, from kolaczki to cheese cakes, to assorted cakes, and fruit. 

I imagine there are babcias (grannies) in the kitchen cooking the food, it does taste homemade, and really yummy. The atmosphere is bright and cheerful, and I could hear Polish spoken at a few tables. Like I said, many happy memories.

If you haven’t tried Polish food, this would be a perfect place to sample the cuisine, it’s basic, hearty and just plain good food.

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


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20. Katic Breads by Margot Justes








This morning was one of those wonderful surprising moments. I went with next door neighbors and friends to a train station for a croissant and coffee.

The Palatine train station utilizes the space well, every second Saturday of the month they allow vendors to sell their wares. One such vendor is the Katic Breads Bakery, situated right next door to Starbucks, and they couldn’t be better positioned.  

They open at eight, we got there ten minutes before eight, and they were already busy. The plain croissants are superb, brought back memories of Paris for me, but they were sold out. I got an almond croissant instead, then went next door to Starbucks for my coffee. It was a delicious continental breakfast. A slice of heaven.

The croissant was flaky and moist, and you could actually taste the almond filling. I loved the idea of sitting in a train station enjoying a decent cup of coffee and savoring a delicious croissant.

The vendors are there every second Saturday of the month through May. In June they’ll be in my neck of the woods, at the Northbrook Farmers Market. I plan to be there for coffee and a croissant, and I’ll go back to Palatine in May.

I bought a baguette, a Kalamata Olive bread, and a whole wheat sourdough. I’ve tasted their breads before, and everyone was a success. I happen to love good bread, and as you can see will go out of my way to find it.

There isn’t a bakery you can visit, they travel to farmers markets, but contact information is 605 Plum St. Aurora, IL 60506 www.katicbreads.com. The website is worth a visit because they post their schedule, and you’ll get an idea of the passion the baker holds for a good product, and it clearly is reflected in the taste of the breads, and the brisk sales I saw today.

I loved my Saturday morning. Hope yours was wonderful too.

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

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21. Paris by Margot Justes












Periodically, and lately rather frequently, I get a hankering to go back to Paris. I spent a year in that incredible city, and have gone back a few time, but it always beckons me back. The city is my first love, it was a time of my youth and extreme freedom. It was the stuff of dreams.

I write about art, travel and romance. My novel A Hotel in Paris is set in the most romantic city in the world, and since summer and the travel season is almost upon us, I would like to offer a few tips to the city of light and romance that may be a bit off the beaten path.

By all means go to all must see places, and there are so many, but save some time for the other-must see places-go to the intimate and magnificent Rodin museum, it was his home, and his presence can still be felt in every piece exhibited, inside and in his gardens.

It is by far my most favorite museum that I have ever visited.  His work is passionate, ardent, and profound. Every muscle strained, every sinew defined. Agony, joy, and in the case of the Balzac work, arrogance masterfully portrayed.  Walk through the gardens, stop in the café in the garden and savor your brew in quiet contemplation.  

Don’t neglect a stroll in the contemplative Luxembourg Gardens, find the Medici Fountain and the reflective pool, sit down on a bench and ponder…

For a taste of local wonder, lose yourself in the back streets of the left bank, start with Rue De La Huchette off Blvd St. Michel, pick a narrow cobble stoned street and start walking-do wear comfortable shoes. Aromas from many ethnic restaurants beckon you in, you can explore one narrow street after another.

For a romantic stroll do take the time to walk along the Seine, right alongside and back of Notre Dame, and the books stalls. Do so in the early morning, before the crowds and the stalls open, just when the city starts to wake, stop in a café and enjoy a respite. It is so quiet and peaceful and so incredibly romantic. It is equally enchanting late in the evening as the bookstalls start to close; a pervasive hush comes with dusk.   

You will see a different Paris, an enchanting Paris; different from the hassle of the tour buses and the rush to get from one point to another without ever savoring the essence of the city. Take the time, and savor the city of lights.  Don’t be afraid to get lost, carry a map with you. Paris is a walking city filled with treasures, and you will always find your way back to the next monument.

I had to share with you my favorite work of art at the Louvre-the Winged Victory. 

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



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22. 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


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23. 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


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24. 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. 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 area must, although I have seen a few Italian women wear heel; how they managed is beyond me. Just walking the old streets is a delight.

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


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25. 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

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