Archive for June, 2022

Beauty & the Alchemist

Lucky me, to have a guest poster today!

by Elle Hartford

Elle adores cozy mysteries, fairy tales, and above all, learning new things. As a historian and educator, she believes in the value of stories as a mirror for complicated realities. She currently lives in New Jersey with a grumpy tortoise and a three-legged cat.

Secrets and Treasures For All: What is Alchemy, Really?

From Harry Potter to The Da Vinci Code, alchemical symbols and inventions play a dramatic role in storytelling. I myself write about all the time in my new mystery series! But what is alchemy?

The way I think of it, alchemy is a field where history, science, and magic come together. To put it simply . . .

  1. It isn’t New Age. The alchemy I’m talking about is what I call “old school” alchemy. Up until the 1400s or so, it was considered a real science. Kings had royal alchemists, and noble sons went into the profession (often looking for ways to expand their family fortune, but we’ll set that aside for now).
  2. It’s more famous than you might think! Today, some people we remember as important early scientists actually considered themselves alchemists. One example of this is Sir Isaac Newton, who dabbled in alchemy all his life, though he generally kept this hidden because by his time (the 1600s) alchemy was considered questionable.
  3. It was about the Elixir of Life–for some. Since we’re speaking of famous alchemists, you might be thinking of Albus Dumbledore and his friend Nicolas Flamel . . . who was, in fact, based on a real person. The Philosopher’s Stone was a sort of “unicorn” in alchemical research: everybody wanted one, and there were lots of theories about how to make one. It was rumored that the Stone could do all kinds of things, including grant everlasting life, cure colds, create gems, and–of course–turn anything into gold.
  4. It was about gold, too. What’s up with that? Well, for a lot of people–including many kings–more gold meant more money, just like you’d expect. But for serious alchemists, it wasn’t about money at all. One of the fundamental tenets of alchemy is that everything in the world can be perfected. And, as ancient alchemists saw it, raw materials like lead or copper were just really imperfect versions of gold, which was the pinnacle of all metals. So in striving to create a stone that could make gold, what alchemists were really trying to do was create a process by which the physical world could be transformed into its “best self,” so to speak.
  5. It was also about mercury! Honestly, to some alchemists, the element mercury was even better than gold. This is because ancient alchemy was science and world view and religion all rolled into one big philosophy. The four lements–water, fire, air, and earth–which today we think of as mystical were facts of life to the alchemists, and mercury embodied all four. Yes, I’m talking about the stuff that drove hatters mad and that used to be in every thermometer. Have you ever seen it? It’s also called quicksilver because, while it is technically a metal, it is liquid at room temperature. It’s gleaming, silver, and uncanny to watch as it moves around. Some alchemists thought it held the secret to life itself.
  6. It was a field of research. So, what did alchemists actually do? Well, some of them were charlatans, and they spent a lot of time running confidence schemes and escaping from the law. 🙂 But “scholarly” alchemists spent months on end in their laboratories. Alchemical equipment often included things like kilns, beakers, mortars and pestles, and all kinds of glass containers. Picture the quintessential “mad scientist” set up with a complicated array of pipes and burners and bubbling liquids, and you’re on the money.
  7. It gave us a lot! Of course, alchemy has given us endless fodder for crazy stories and secret society theories–especially because alchemists tended to write about their science using religious metaphors and complicated symbolism. Because hey, not everyone can be trusted with the secrets of making gold, right? And not everyone can know that we actually can’t make gold . . . oops. It’s true, alchemy never did give us an Elixir of Life or a Philosopher’s Stone. However, it did give us chemistry, and the beginnings of biology and physics as well.

And why, you may wonder, have I done all this research? For one thing, I find it simply fascinating. But it’s also the basis for my cozy mystery sleuth, an “old-school” alchemist named Red. Because who better to help solve mysteries than someone who has tons of random scientific equipment, extensive botanical knowledge, and a dedication to careful observations of fact?

You can read stories about Red and her friends on my website, You can also find my blog there, where I share lots of “fun facts” from my research every Friday! And if you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get a free ebook–The Carousel Capers–which serves as a prequel to my first mystery novel, Beauty and the Alchemist, coming out in August. I can’t wait!


I’ve been a little obsessed this year, the 50th anniversary of the first Godfather film. (Can you be a little obsessed? Or doesn’t obsessed already mean a lot?)

This article appeared in the New York Times during March 2022, 50 years from the month of release.

Which quote is your favorite? One of these 7 or ?

My favorite might be the single word “No” — Michael whispers to Kay in the last scene, when she asks him, “Is it true?”

If you don’t know what she’s asking about, it’s time you watched the movie! Then we can chat!

The Three Marias

Doesn’t the title grab you?

It belongs to a special guest today, writer DONNA DARLING, who has agreed to share with us the first chapter of her book. I’m pleased to give you this preview as Donna makes the final edits to her manuscript.

The Three Marias

By Donna Darling

Chapter One

In the steep hills above the coastal town of Ponce was Adjuntas, a place touched by heaven and cursed by hell. We lived there, where coffee and sugar plantations dotted the lush, green Puerto Rican mountainside populated by many Corsicans, including my father, Guillermo Paoli.

Papa steered off the main road and turned up the narrow, one-lane road toward our hacienda. It was a sprawling, two-story house on our own coffee plantation. I was very proud of our strong, wooden house because Papa built it himself with help from local laborers. Some of the surrounding haciendas were made of brick, but our rustic house sat majestically in the tall trees as if it sprouted from the earth.

Banana and coconut trees grew plentiful where we got much more rain than in the flatlands, and the climate was cooler in the mountains which we thought made it the perfect place to live. The many rivers and streams flowed all the way to the Caribbean Sea. It was a lush, tropical dream life, but the roads were treacherous. There was no way to see a cart coming toward you on the twisting, narrow road. Papa pulled the whistle from around his neck and clenched it between his teeth. He whistled at every turn, so that any rider coming down the hill would be alerted to our wagon coming up. The downhill riders leaned into the grade and rode fast and wild, without fear, taking blind turns and skirting the edge of the road, flirting with danger. If they slipped off the edge, a fall down a steep ravine would mean certain death. Their only weapon was the whistle clenched between their teeth which they blew in an alert while they rode a donkey, pony or horse with frightful intensity. Riding uphill was a much more relaxed experience. My brother, Victor rode beside Papa and leaned with the turns. Victor was a serious man. Not to be crossed, but fiercely loyal to family.

My brother Ursulo, who we called Lolo picked up his four-string guitar and somehow managed to strum along despite the bumpy ride, while we clapped and sang a hollow tune. “That’s a song about heartbreak,” Papa complained. “Play The Blue, Blue Sea.” He always had a cheerful disposition and was the one to lift our spirits. “Fina, sing for us,” he said.

My given name was Maria Josefina, but they called me Fina. Mama had the most beautiful voice in our family. Some of us kids liked to think we got her voice. Since she was at home, I led us in chorus, “Will you meet me at the blue, blue sea?” I sang.

Lolo was my playful brother, always ready with a joke. He took after Papa. I hoped he would meet a girl who would be kind to him. He was sensitive, and a strong woman like Mama might be too hard on him. He was born with a withered leg and Mama said it made him stronger. He was small and crawled on his belly as a baby, using his arms to pull his body. He got so strong, he pulled himself up on everything. When we were younger, he couldn’t run and keep up, but he could climb most any tree like a monkey. We always called for Lolo to get the highest fruit. He built a lookout, high up in a banana tree, where he perched for hours watching over everyone’s comings and goings on the property. He was our little spy.

Lolo made the ride home enjoyable by playing his guitar. We all sang along and my eleven-year-old sister, Maria Celia laughed at the silly lyrics. Even my oldest brother, Victor’s mood was light and he sang along too.

“Where’s Leo?” Celia said.

Our family dog was always at the edge of our property when we arrived home. He sat at the bottom of the road to our house. Papa trained him to never leave the property, and he wouldn’t put one paw over the line.

“Mama’s home. He must be on the porch,” Victor said.

Papa stopped the wagon in front of the house. “I’ll get out here,” he said and hopped out. “You pull around back and unload the supplies. I’ll be out in a minute to help with the horses.”  Papa’s long legs took the porch steps with one stride. Victor brought the wagon around back to the kitchen door where we began to unload supplies.

“Hijo de puta!” Papa’s voice boomed like thunder and echoed in the trees.

            My brothers and I turned to see Papa storm out of the house and sprint to the barn. “I’ve never heard Papa swear in my life,” I said.

            “Mama must’ve been very angry,” Celia said.

            Victor set down the flour sack and ran to the barn. Papa erupted from the barn on horseback and raced down the hill, blasting his whistle.

            “Where’s Papa off to in such a hurry?” Celia asked. My little sister reported everyone’s business in our family. “There goes Victor,” Celia sighed.

            Victor disappeared on horseback down the hill in a cloud of dust.

            “Now we only have Lolo to help us unload the wagon,” Celia complained.

            I gave Lolo a look of concern. Panic grew within me.

~*~*~ *~*~*

Donna Darling writes short stories, and novels for readers of all ages. Her debut novel, an historical fiction titled The Three Marias is inspired by her Puerto Rican roots.
When not writing she enjoys sketching her characters, or drawing a scene from her story.
She is a member of the California Writers Club, and belongs to a writer’s group of published authors who meet weekly.
Donna lives in Northern California with her family. She enjoys traveling and weaving stories with history.

HOLLYWOOD minus one

HOLLYWOOD finished, except there is a missing piece! It may turn up in the vacuum cleaner or in a sock from the dryer.

Can you locate the spot of the missing piece? Whose image?


You might have to twist your neck to see this — the rotating tool is not working.

This is my time-sink this week, a great 2-sided puzzle with actresses on one side and actors on the other.

I promise a straight up photo when I have a few more faces completed. Right now probably Sammy Davis Jr. is the only identifiable one, upper left, to be bottom left when the view is upright.

How many ways can you avoid working on a WW2 novel? This is one of them.

Help! Someone give me a deadline!