Stewart Royalty at Dunnottar Castle, part 1

A medieval castle on the shore of eastern Scotland . . ancient allied clans . . a modern-day writer with Scottish ancestry and a love of tartans.

Thus was the chain of events which led me to this post.

A couple years ago, while envisioning the setting of part of a novel, an iconic image materialized- an imposing castle on the edge of a rocky cliff. This vision was so spectacular I wondered, “Is this castle real?” I immediately went searching online for images of cliff-side castles, and I found it . .

I was so enamored with Dunnottar Castle, I researched its history and layout and wrote a detailed scene incorporating my findings . .  but soon realized that scene didn’t flow with the rest of the novel, so I set the scene aside, until a couple years later I found this flash fiction challenge . .

Darkness Surrounding, by Dieki Noorhoek

. . which is, I’m sure, the opposite side of Dunnottar Castle many years ago. So I revised my scene for the challenge.

In the meantime, thanks in part to the kilt-wearing juggling writer Christopher Gronlund, and his wife, future kilt-sewer Cynthia Griffith, I was inspired to rekindle my interest in tartans, kilts, and sewing. I researched Scottish clan tartans and picked out my 2 favorite by appearance- “Royal Stewart” (co-incidentally, “Stewart” is my married name) and “Keith and Austin,” which, to my pleasant surprise, is the tartan associated with Dunnottar Castle!

Dunnottar Castle became the seat of the chief of Clan Keith in 1639 . . ” -wiki


Before I continue this winding tale, a few points of clarification:

1. This 2-part post is NOT meant to be a guide to sewing anything resembling an authentic, traditional kilt.

2. Back in the day, the “Keith” clan and the “Austin” clan merged and are now collectively know as the Borg “Keith and Austin” clan.

3. Within a single or collective clan, there are many variations of that clan’s tartan. This is especially true of the “Keith and Austin” tartan.


My goal: sew a couple of kiltish jumpers using my Simplicity Trumps Everything* method. Here’s something like what I want to do:

For kilt-making instructions, Gronlund recommended Barb Tewksbury. While I did check out her kilt-making methods and found them inspirational, I ultimately decided to stick with my original Simplicity Trumps Everything method.


(For ideas and inspiration on how to make an authentic, traditional kilt, checkout Barbara Tewksbury’s and Elsie Stuehmeyer’s book, or visit Griffith’s blog about her experiences sewing traditional historical costumes.)


I searched and scoured the internet and finally found both my tartans in one place in 100% cotton (I find wool scratchy).

I preferred the darker version of the Keith and Austin tartan, so after checking several stores and finding no fabric dye, I searched online for a “home brew” fabric-dyeing method. It seemed simple enough- make a HUGE pot of extremely strong hot tea and / or coffee, salt it, and submerge the fabric in the brew, making sure there are NO air bubbles. While I did this, I don’t recommend it, unless you enjoy spending hours dunking, soaking, and wringing a heavy tartan.

Then I cut, folded, pinned, and ironed my tartans, pretty much free-style.

Next month, my mother-in-law will assist me with machine-sewing my jumpers! (She has hand-sewn kilts before, but that wasn’t fitting with my STE method.)

Check back after Christmas to see my finished jumpers!

Update: Stewart Royalty at Dunnottar Castle, part 2


*Simplicity Trumps Everything:

1. Is there an even easier way to do it without it falling apart / exploding / crash-n-burning?

2. If “NO,” then go ahead and proceed with the plans you have.

3. If “YES,” with the new, even “easier way” in mind, go back to step 1.

Thanksgiving Salad Recipe- Goes with Everything

Dreading yet another turkey for Thanksgiving? No? All the more reason to try a Thanksgiving Salad, and break out of your avian-eating complacency! A Thanksgiving Salad takes a few simple, edible plants of fall, and combines them in a crunchy, sweet-savory, medley of yum. Mix and match grain, fruit, and vegetables to create your own Thanksgiving Salad. Or try my own:

1 cup cracked Bulgur Wheat

1 ¼ cup hot Water

 ¾ cup chopped, toasted Walnuts

¾ cup slivered Carrots

¾ cup slivered Purple Onions

¾ cup dried Cranberries

¾ cup fresh, chopped Parsley

2 tablespoons Olive or Walnut Oil

1 tablespoon Lemon / Lime juice

Crushed Mixed Peppercorns

Sea Salt

 Put the wheat in a bowl and cover with hot water. Let sit 2 hours, covered. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Refrigerate overnight.



The beauty of vegan food is that anybody can eat it, even birds.

Happy Thanksgiving to all my feathered friends!



Six Steps to Make Dialogue Pop!

(This post, written by me, originally debuted on Austin Wulf’s blog.)

You’ve written your manuscript. You’ve fleshed out your characters with distinct physical traits, personalities, and goals . . but somehow the dialogue clunks. How can you make your dialogue pop?

Add interest, variation, and believability to your characters’ speech with accents, dialects, slang, vulgarities, and regional expressions!

BUT WAIT . .  before you get all “Mark Twain” or “Sapphire” on your readers, here are 6 steps to writing memorable- and believable- character speech:

1. Less is more. If you only remember 1 thing from this article, make it this- don’t overdo it with brogues, slang, and other speech affects. Distinguishing speech characteristics are like pepper– a little goes a loooong way, and you don’t want to sprinkle it on everything. Besides, dialects are exacting and tricky, and if you think any Wasilla native has a Wasilla accent, think again!

2. Do your homework. If you’re a seasoned world-traveler who is intimately familiar with the correct pronunciations and enunciations of your characters’ speech, you can skip this step. The rest of us can benefit from learning about and listening to authentic dialects

3. Check other authors’ works. Grab a novel by a successful author you admire and read how it’s done judiciously.

4. Read it out loud. You should be reading all of your manuscript out loud at some point anyway. *NSFW* If you stumble or pause where you shouldn’t, remove the offending speech, *alert off* and replace it with something better.

5. Check for consistency. Make sure Mario doesn’t slip into Marie’s speech patterns and vice versa (unless, of course, the slip is a purposeful part of the story).

6. Ask your beta readers and critiquers. If they aren’t familiar with the particular accents or slang in your manuscript, they might not let you know. So asking for specific feedback is a good way to quadruple-check your dialogue during final revisions.

Bonus- this method can also apply to casual non-fiction, as an identifying trademark and reflection of the author’s writing style. Simply skip steps 2 – 6, and magnify step 1.

Listen to your own speech, and to the speech of people around you- at home, at work, at the market, on the street. What makes somebody’s speech more interesting than another’s? Can you translate this into your own writing? Practice listening to the nuances of speech and you’ll find these nuances creeping (in a good way) into your dialogue writing.

Shields Up!

“Bio-waste and bio-waste containment medium project is now complete, Larry. Critical mass calculated at T minus 911 seconds.”

“Er, excuse me?”

“Your requested feline excretion and clay pellet to von Neumann machine assignment is resolved. Critical mass calculated at T minus 904 seconds.”

“Uh . . when did I request a von Neumann directive? Von Neumann instructions aren’t even in your programming.”

“On stardate 41811.5, you are quoted: ‘Goddard, please see to the exponentially increasing stink coming from Fuzzball’s litter box.’ I replied, ‘Please clarify the term stink.’ You are then quoted, ‘The waste in Fuzzball’s litter box. Please take care of it. There’s no more room in the bio-hazard storage compartment, so try to turn it into something useful. Recycle it.’ ”

“So you von Neumann-ized it? I haven’t even loaded von Neumann data into your data base! How could you possibly know how to construct a von Neumann machine?”

“I read ahead in my compu-book. I enjoy reading. When I saw the term grey goo, I filed the replication program under my ‘Litter Box Maintenance’ subroutine. The feline excretion and clay pellet conglomerations meet the definitions of grey and goo.”

“Do you realize what you’ve done? Of course you realize it- I programmed you for sentience! But now you’ve decided you enjoy reading, but don’t care whether the entire universe is transformed into used cat litter? That doesn’t make sense.”

“Correction- I do care whether the entire universe is transformed into feline excretion and clay pellet conglomeration. I was following your order to recycle, using the information available.”

“Holy crap. Hear that, Fuzzball? Goddard engineered your poo to self-replicate. We’re doomed!”


“I know, Fuzzy. The ultimate insult. But don’t fret, I have a plan. We’re about to attempt the ultimate scoop job.”


“It’s the only chance we have. We’ll have to jettison it into the center of a black hole. Goddard, how much time do we have left before we and this ship are grey goo-ed?”

“T minus 834 seconds.”

“Okay. Goddard, set target destination: OJ 287, BL Lac object, supermassive black hole. Warp 13.”

“Target destination trajectory is set.”

“I see the black hole on the scanner now. It’s a dot, steadily increasing in size. Goddard- prepare the von Neumann mass for ejection.”

“I’m way ahead of you, Larry.”

“Good. Did you calculate our OJ 287-escape arc and mass ejection point, and plug those into your immediate directive programming?”


“Dig your claws into something, Fuzzy, cause we’re about to experience some gut-wrenching Gs in 3- 2-”


“Not my leg, Fuzzbaaaaaaa-l-l-l-l-l!”

“Recent directive program objective resolved.”

“Uhhh  . . we’re alive? Goddard- status report.”

“The von Neumann machines are replicating at a rate of critical mass cusp on the event horizon of OJ 287. The rate of absorption is equal to the rate of replication. The critical mass cusp absorption rate has created a singular supermassive antimatter blazar.”

“So the universe isn’t being transformed into cat poo, it’s being filled with anti-cat poo! Fuzzball, what have we done?”


“Goddard- project end result.”

“Antimatter will extend non-antimatter universal boundaries. Universe will expand from exponentially increasing anti-mass center of anti-matter bio-waste conglomeration.

“Holy crap. So we’re traveling faster than warp 13 on a blast of anti-cat poo, toward the dimension beyond the universal boundary?”

“That is correct, Larry.”

“Well, whoever or whatever we find on the other side, I’m sure they won’t be thrilled to see us coming. And the universal event horizon is approaching now- shields up! Shields up!”



Thanks to Flannery Alden at for this flash fiction challenge!

One Night in Dunnottar Castle

Darkness Surrounding, by Dieki Noorhoek

“One night alone, that’s all. I know it’s weird, but my uncle’s eccentric. And rich. And if you do this, we inherit Dunnottar Castle and the cliff as a wedding present.”

Alton kneels by my side while I sip warm brandy on an overstuffed chair. A fire crackles in the fireplace across the room.

“Okay. Sure. And yes, your uncle is weird. But I’ll sign the contract.”

“You have to sign it before midnight. And Uncle Sirius and I have to be out of here before midnight too, or the contract is voided.

“Okay, okay. Bring it here. And bring me another brandy. Nice and warm, just like the last one. Please.”

Alton pours another brandy from a kettle near the fire and fetches the contract. I skim through the pages and sip.

“What’s this about not going into the rooms on the north side of the castle? Is that where the ghosts are?”

“Don’t worry about it. Those rooms are locked anyway. I think they’re just storage rooms for breakable antiques from Dunnottar Brewery. From the old days.” He taps his foot. “Sweetie, it’s nearly a quarter till,” he says. “Please. Uncle Sirius is waiting for me and the signed contract in his car.”

“Autographing now. Geesh.” I hand the signed papers to Alton. He lets out a sigh, leans over me, and kisses my forehead.

“Remember- don’t leave the cliff. I’ll see you in the morning. I love you.”

“I love you too. Now good-bye. You have less than fifteen minutes.”

He glances at the grandfather clock and lets out a little yelp. I giggle, and he turns on his heel and runs out the door. I finish my brandy and watch the antique clock tick the minutes away. At exactly midnight-


Of course, right on time. I suppose now I’m supposed to flee the castle in terror and run in my slippered feet into town. But the Brandy’s made me drowsy, and I pull my blanket up under my chin and close my eyes.


Annoying. Sounds like it’s coming through the floor. I hope Uncle Sirius and his goblins don’t  keep this up all night. But even if they do, I’ll be a castle-owner in the morning. Alton and I will sell the castle, and after we’re married, we’ll take a round-the-world honeymoon. Then invest the rest of the money. So one night of thumping isn’t gonna-


Now that was loud. I think I saw the floorboards shudder. Sounds like I won’t be getting any sleep tonight. Thanks, Uncle Sirius. But the night is warm, and as long as I don’t leave this cliff, I’ll get my castle. So I throw off my blanket, slip into my slippers and tie my robe. After grabbing my flashlight, I unlatch and open the front door, and step outside. The night air is cooler than I imagined it would be. I pull my robe tighter and exit through the main gate. After circling the castle, I descend a weather-worn stair-path overgrown with moss, grass, and weeds. Above, storm clouds move across the full moon. Below, a rocky cove glistens, barely visible. I hop off the last step. I feel the first drops of rain. A shallow cave leads me through the cliff base, and back up another steep, narrow path leading to the cliff top. At the top, the path widens to meet a postern gate set into a stone wall.

The gate is locked, so I stack some fallen tree branches and climb over. A weedy path leads me through the yard and down a slope to the north side of the castle. Continuing around to the north-east corner, the grass grows tall and thick, and I slip on the dew and slide into a depression. At the bottom I lose a slipper. When I stand, I feel a cold smoothness against my sole. It’s an iron door, fitted into the ground. I shove my foot into my slipper and push the overgrown grass aside. There’s a ring latch at the side of the door. I hook my fingers in the ring, pull with all my strength, and the door opens with a creek. Panting, I peer inside with my flashlight.

The walls display a tapestry of green Dunnottar Beer bottles. Cold air from the stairwell cools my face. I step onto the first step, and the rain comes in on a howl of wind. So I descend the next few steps and close the door over my head. I feel a steady drip on the back of my neck. Leaking rain. My flashlight flickers and dies. Nice touch, Uncle Sirius. You rigged the flashlight too. A green light appears at the bottom of the stairwell.

I call out, “Hey! Who’s there?”

“Would you like a drink?” a voice asks.

“Uh . . coffee? I’m a bit chilly. Who are you?”

“I am your predecessor. I have no coffee. Only beer.”

The green light expands into a green woman in a flowing green dress.

“A green beer ghost? Am I dreaming? Where am I?”

“You are in the Whigs Vault. You refuse to acknowledge the king’s religion. Will you escape and fall from the cliff?”

“Uh, yeah, I guess. I’ll escape. But I won’t fall from the cliff.”

“To escape you must fall from the cliff.”

“Fair enough. So . . why are you green?”

“I am from the brewery.”

“Yeah. Well I really must be going now. Good-bye.”

“Stay,” the lady says. “Show yourself.”

“You can’t see me?” I answer.

“It’s been too long, and I can’t see you. Darkness surrounds.”

“That’s well and good, green beer ghost, but I think I’ll leave now.”



The lady floats up the stairs. She circles me, and the hem of her dress flutters. I shiver. “I’m cold and wet. I’m sorry, but I have to leave.”

“I see you now, as your ancestor. You are ready.”

“Ready for what?”

The lady points over my head, and I look up. I see the tapestry of beer bottles, illuminated by the green glow. I push against the door, it opens, and I step out in the rain. The grass is drenched, and I slip and fall.

I open my eyes. I’m lying next to the open vault door.

It’s light out. Maybe Alton and Uncle Sirius are back by now. I make my way down the path. I must’ve really rolled around in the grass, my robe is stained green. And I lost my slippers. The pebbles hidden in the grass make my feet ache. Oh well, I’ll just buy more slippers. I’ll buy ten pair. I’ll buy one-hundred gold-thread robes with all the cash I’ll get when I sell this creepy place. I walk on for at least an hour. Where is the corner of the castle? The wall just goes on and on.

The sun’s bright. Unusually hot for September. Why can’t I find the castle’s front door? Alton must be furious by now. And Uncle  Sirius is probably gloating. Feels like I’ve been walking for days, back and forth in front of this vault door. Every time I pass, I feel a cool breeze.

It’s so hot outside. I can’t untie my robe- er, dress. I don’t remember putting on a dress.

Maybe I’ll just take a break in the vault. Maybe the lady will still be there and tell me how to find the other side of the castle. I step onto the stairwell and shut the door behind me. The steps are smooth and cool. I descend to the bottom.

I don’t see the green lady. But I do see a wood plank in the corner. I’ll lift it and knock on the ceiling to summon help.


Thanks to Flannery Alden at for this flash fiction challenge!

A-NaNo I Go-Go

I won last year’s NaNoWriMo, along with about a million other writers (give or take tens of thousands). So even after a Halloween of having a tooth capped, enduring the day at the mall (waiting for my ride home to get off work), and getting a second-degree burn on my finger that night (the result of ne’er-do-well Halloween spirits, not my own stupefying dunderheadedness), I’m back for another month of literary purging. I’ll be writing outside of my comfort zone, and torturing my protagonist in some very creepy ways. I can’t wait! Oh yeah, unlike my first seat-of-my-threadbare-pants NaNo, I even made a brief outline and wrote an even briefer synopsis* for “Mark + Dot” after reading Lazette Gifford‘s guide, NaNo for the New and Insane.

Wanna see?

Here it is anyway:

/ + .

Mark Dodd is an attractive, intelligent high school senior. He has a scholarship to Vassar. After college, he plans to travel the world as a political journalist. He knows he will make his mark on the world. His religious girlfriend Holli is a virgin, and will stay a virgin until she marries. And she won’t get married until their schooling is complete. But Mark wants just one tiny release in his lucky and privileged life before starting at Vassar.

Dorothy, also a senior, is in special education classes and has a genetic facial deformity. After years of being an outcast, she’s ready to move up in the pecking order, and demand respect from her peers. For the last two years, she’s carefully read and re-read her Feminine Health and Hygiene booklet. At the big graduation party, Mark meets Dorothy in an empty bedroom. Twenty minutes later, Mark leaves the room in shame, and Dorothy falls asleep on the floor between the wall and the bed, her legs and pelvis propped up with pillows.

Ten years later, Mr. & Mrs. Dodd are living in the same town they grew up in, go to church together, and have seven surviving children- all cognitively impaired and with facial deformities, like their mother. But all are a blessing, as confirmed by the church. But Mr. Dodd just wants a release in his blessed life. Online, he reads rumors of a planned massive political protest in Boston. He finally leaves home to make his mark on the world.

/ + .

I’m incorporating my “at least 50000 words in November” NaNo goal into my Row80, Round 4 goals. Stalk my progress here or here.

*Subject to minor revisions and major clarifications.

/ + .

Are you NaNo-ing? If so, are you new or insane?

/ + .

MidNaNo Update

At the mid-point I have 27,915 words!

And what have I learned so far?


I mean, “WORD UP!

WORD UP- it’s the codpiece. I mean, it’s the code word (as the lyrics say).

So enjoy the videos, but then no more codpiece until you get those words up!*

Candy helps. Scroll down my “Survival Guide” post for a good karma candy list.

*Unless you’re a really freaky freak, and your NaNo is already past the 50,000-word mark. In that case, you have permission to watch the codpiece in a loop, if you’d like. Ya lucky freak.

/ + .

EndNaNo Update



“It’s peanut butter jelly time!”

Yes, I’m excited I won again, and did it a day early, and with an extra 495 words. I’ve no idea who first wrote the above memes. But I still like them after all these months years, and think them entirely appropriate.

50,495 words of Mark + Dot