A Young Adult Titanic Story Reviewed

A couple days ago I finished reading the young adult novel, A Matter of Time, by Michael J. Bowler. It’s an historical suspense novel that centres its story around the sinking of the Titanic.

MATTER TIME  coverHere’s how the publisher Outskirts Press describes the story: “The world’s greatest evil stalks the world’s greatest ship, and the only one who can stop him hasn’t been born yet.

Jamie Collins is a junior at Santa Clara University in 1986. He has friends, a professor who mentors him, and a promising future as a writer. Then the dreams begin – nightmarish memories that transport him back to a time and place fifty years before he was born: Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912.

When Jamie discovers a foreign cell in his blood that links him to the famous vessel, the two timelines begin to overlap and he realizes an unimaginable truth – something supernatural stalks the ill-fated ship, something that will kill him if he can’t stop it first. And the only way to stop it may be to prevent Titanic from sinking.
But even if he can figure out a way to do that, should he? What will be the effect on history if he succeeds? And what about the lady he wasn’t supposed to fall in love with? As her destiny becomes entwined with his, Jamie discovers the value of friendship, the power of love, the impact of evil, and the vagaries of Fate.”

It took me a little while to lose myself in this story. The novel started slowly but built up to some gripping scenes as the climax of the story neared. When I began reading, I wasn’t always convinced by the conversations between the college students. Some scenes didn’t feel authentic. But the interaction between the characters felt much more real later in the book, especially as Jamie encountered people from the past then returned to his own era.

The premise for the story, that time travel is possible, was developed in an interesting way and I was intrigued by how the author explains it and fits it into the novel. He also handled well the moral dilemmas the ability to travel through time created, which added depth to the story.

There was an interesting cast of diverse, entertaining characters and I had clear images of each of them from the author’s descriptions and the characters’ interaction with each other. Jamie, Maggie and Kate were portrayed particularly well and I was drawn into their predicament. I thought that the author dealt very well with Jamie and Kate’s relationship, in the past and the modern era, though I was disappointed that we did not see more of them together in the modern era.

I thought that the story might have explored too many of the characters’ life stories. This distracted from the central story and diluted some of its power. Although many of the characters played pivotal roles at various points in the plot, we did not need to know as much about them as the author revealed.

The author has obviously done considerable research into the events that unfolded on the Titanic in April 1912 and this is reflected in the vivid scenes he paints when Jamie finds himself aboard the ship.

Although I suspected as I read that I knew how the story would unfold, and I foresaw one of the twists to the plot, I still enjoyed the novel. The ending was a bit clichéd and I’m not sure it was the strongest way to wrap up the book but it didn’t really affect my enjoyment of the story.

Overall I enjoyed this novel. It was an entertaining tale with an interesting slant on a well-known event.

Readers can learn more about the author by visiting his website and blog, as well as his Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter pages.

About Michael J. Bowler: He is an award-winning author of Matter time author bowlernine novels––A Boy and His Dragon, A Matter of Time (Silver Medalist from Reader’s Favorite), and The Knight Cycle, comprised of five books: Children of the Knight (Gold Award Winner – 2013 Wishing Shelf Book Awards; Reader Views Honorable mention; Runner-Up Rainbow Awards; Honorable Mention – Southern California Book Festival), Running Through A Dark Place (Bronze Award Winner – 2014 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), There Is No Fear (Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), And The Children Shall Lead, Once Upon A Time In America, Spinner (Winner – Hollywood Book Festival; Honorable Mention – San Francisco Book Festival; Bronze Medal from Readers’ Favorite; Literary Classics Seal of Approval; Runner-Up – Southern California Book Festival; Honorable Mention – Halloween Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards), and Warrior Kids: A Tale of New Camelot (Honorable Mention in the London Book Festival and The New England Book Festival; Finalist – 2015 Wishing Shelf Book Awards.)

His horror screenplay, “Healer,” was a Semi-Finalist, and his urban fantasy script, “Like A Hero,” was a Finalist in the Shriekfest Film Festival and Screenplay Competition.

He grew up in San Rafael, California, and majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara University. He went on to earn a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University, a teaching credential in English from LMU, and another master’s in Special Education from Cal State University Dominguez Hills.

He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several ultra-low-budget horror films, including “Fatal Images,” “Club Dead,” and “Things II.”

He taught high school in Hawthorne, California for twenty-five years, both in general education and to students with learning disabilities, in subjects ranging from English and Strength Training to Algebra, Biology, and Yearbook.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to eight different boys with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a thirty-three volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles.
He has been honored as Probation Volunteer of the Year, YMCA Volunteer of the Year, California Big Brother of the Year, and 2000 National Big Brother of the Year. The “National” honor allowed him and three of his Little Brothers to visit the White House and meet the president in the Oval Office.

He has finished writing a novel based on his screenplay, “Like A Hero,” and another book aimed at the teen market. He hopes to find a publisher or an agent for both.

His goal as an author is for teens to experience empowerment and hope; to see themselves in his diverse characters; to read about kids who face real-life challenges; and to see how kids like them can remain decent people in an indecent world. The most prevalent theme in his writing and his work with youth is this: as both a society, and as individuals, we’re better off when we do what’s right, rather than what’s easy.

Posted in July 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Guess Where I’ve Been?

Have you noticed that I haven’t been around here much lately? Poland 1June and July have been busy months for me. I’ve been to Poland and visited Auschwitz and Birkenau concentration camps and done a few of other things besides. Then I settled down to revise a couple of stories I’ve been working on. One of them will be released a couple weeks from now.

Looking into Birkenau Concentration Camp

Looking into Birkenau Concentration Camp

In between my other activities, I also took time to chat with Pam Lecky on her blog, Victorian Treasures. If you’re interested, you’ll find the interview here.

Posted in July 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Glimpse Into ‘Semblance of Guilt’

Today I’m featuring an excerpt from a new amateur detective novel, Semblance of Guilt, by Claudia Reiss.

Here’s the publisher’s summary of the story:

Semblance Guilt coverEllen Davis’s husband left her for another woman. Post-divorce, she’s trying to reassert her independence and lands a job as a reporter for her local newspaper. One of her assignments is covering weekly items on the police blotter, which is how she gets to know Lieutenant Pete Sakura—a handsome, witty Japanese-American Ellen is drawn to immediately.

Another of Ellen’s assignments is interviewing for the paper’s “Around The Town” column, and in this capacity, she meets Graham and Sophia Clarke, newcomers to the community. He’s an administrator at Columbia; she’s his beautiful Greek wife. Ellen and Sophia become fast friends, so it comes as a great shock when Sophia ends up dead.

Sophia Clarke is found murdered, and to all appearances, Ellen is the last person to have seen her alive. When Ellen’s fingerprints are found on the murder weapon, she’s arrested, and evidence steadily mounts against her. Ellen takes matters into her own hands as her romantic feelings for Pete intensify. Closing this case could either save Ellen or lead to her destruction.

Two excerpts from the novel:

After navigating past the desks, she knocked on the door of the cubicle. No response. The second, more deliberate, rap was answered with an impatient “Come!”

Ellen entered the office and was somewhat taken aback by the sight of an attractive Asian man in shirt-sleeves awkwardly poised by the side of his desk, arms out, legs spread one behind the other, the front one slightly bent, the rear rigidly locked. He looked, she thought, as if he were trying to keep his balance on a skateboard. His attention was fixed on an open book sitting at the edge of his desk. “Give me a second,” he said testily, without taking his eyes off the book and at the same time adjusting the position of his front foot to a more pigeon-toed angle.

“I won’t ask what you’re doing,” Ellen said.

“Smart.” There was a sound of raised voices coming from the outer room. “The door!”

She closed it. “However, maybe you’d like to know what I’m doing?”

He ignored her question. “Damn, I’m not getting it.” He glanced up. “Do me a favor, take a look at number fifty and tell me what the hell is wrong here.”

Ellen approached the desk and peered down at the open book. A two-page spread of photographs showed a man in what looked like an usher’s uniform demonstrating a series of exercises. “Is this tai chi?”

“This is a pain in the ass. Could you look at the picture, tell me where I’m off, please?”

“‘Fair Lady works at Shuttles,’” she read aloud. She looked up from the page at him then back down again. “I see where you are. Figure fifty-A. It says: ‘Elbow bent, your right hand comes to your center line, fingers pinched together…’” She looked up. “For starters, your fingers aren’t pinched together.”

“Just hold the book up so I can see it from a better angle, okay?”

She held the book, show-and-tell style. He went through a variety of disconnected motions, clearly becoming more frustrated. “Shit.”

Ellen had formed a perception of the Japanese male as meditative, controlled, mysterious, soft-spoken, one who quietly went about transcending the material world while politely manipulating it. She had never realized she harbored this fully defined and fallacious stereotype until that moment, as she was looking at what appeared to be its antithesis. “If your phone rings, should I answer it?”

“Forget it.” He dropped the pose, took the book from her and put it back on the desk. “I’m all out of sync.”

“Now I’ll ask. What are you doing?”

“Getting my goddamn yin and yang together. My doctor tells me I have an ulcer and prescribes pills, but I don’t like pills. I’m taking up the eastern approach.”

“But isn’t tai chi Chinese?”

“Yeah, so?”

“‘Sakura’ sounds like a Japanese name.”

“Let me ask you a question. You ever eat chow mein?”

“Well, yes.”

“I rest my case.” He waved her toward the chair on the other side of the desk and dropped down into his own. “Sit.”

She remained on her feet. “I’m Ellen Davis. I was told you had the data for the Chronicle’s ‘Blotter’ column. I’m just here to collect it.”

He threw up a hand. “What’s the point of that column? All it does is stigmatize the poor saps who appear in it. There’s no investigation of circumstances, no disclaimers stating charges could be erroneous. Just a cold-blooded list of citations.”

“It’s supposed to serve as a deterrent,” she said without conviction. “Actually, I don’t particularly like the column myself, but I don’t make up the rules. I’m sorry I messed up your exercise routine. May I have the material, please?”

She became aware of herself as an unattached, uncompromised individual as she once was at Penn. She sensed the boundaries of her being as clearly as she felt the hem of her knit dress pull tightly against her legs with each step she took. It was as if she had never been married, had instead dressed for an interview and walked straight out of west Philadelphia into Morningside Heights.

***

Mid-block between 109 and 108 Streets, as she was passing a shoe store and scanning the view across the way, her attention was drawn to the bright blue awning of Charlie’s Snack Bar. At that moment the door to the restaurant opened, and a tall young woman with cropped red hair and wearing a tight black turtleneck sweater, clingy black pants and black cowboy boots, stepped out into the daylight. The girl stood aside to allow the man behind her to pass, and as he emerged completely into the sunlight, Ellen recognized Graham. She was about to hail him, when he took a step toward the redhead and Ellen realized he was with her. Unable to tear her focus from the scene or insinuate herself into it, she backed up into the shadow cast by the overhanging eave of the shoe store.

While Graham snapped down and adjusted the removable sun-visors of his eyeglasses, the young woman reached into the breast pocket of his blazer, drew out a pair of sunglasses he must have been holding for her, and put them on, in the process grazing her breasts against his left elbow. The act defined them as intimate friends, yet the distance springing up between them immediately afterward seemed devised to refute it. They stood apart talking to each other, their postures stiff and formal, their not touching as conspicuous as an open embrace.

Ellen watched them as her years at Penn were sucked into a black hole, and all she could remember was her husband Kevin dropping the bomb, telling her he was leaving her. Watching Graham and the redhead across the street was like catching the discovery scene she had missed, seeing it replayed for her benefit, like a burlesque in which she was both captive audience and object of scorn.

Almost at once she felt a connection with Sophia.

Sophia pulled her hands away and struck out at Ellen in one continuous movement, throwing herself off balance and stumbling sideways. She stared in horror at the gouge one of her nails had made on Ellen’s chest, and Ellen, stunned by the violence and not yet feeling the pain, gazed in disbelief at the drop of blood tracking toward the scalloped edge of her white satin bustier.

“Go—get out of here,” Sophia rasped. “I’m afraid what I might do to you. Get out, get out.”

The blood trickled onto the rim of smooth white fabric, forming a small, irregular stain. Ellen looked up at Sophia. The woman she thought she knew had become a trapped animal, her eyes wary-wild.

A sharp pain from the nick in her chest jolted her from her numbing inertia. She moved quickly from the room, feeling the tears coming, holding them back, postponing them as she ran silently down the hall. She descended the steps with blazing deliberation, her pace quick and even, her focus on reaching the door and disappearing into the sheltering night. She could feel her eyes, static-wide in bewildered alarm, betraying her attempt to appear in total control. Still, she focused straight ahead, concentrating on her goal, hearing Anna calling her name but moving through the sound, pacing herself to simulate haste without flight as she sliced through the clear zone of the foyer and pushed open the storm door. Midway across the porch she collided with an incoming guest, all pearls and black silk, the woman’s staccatoed “Shit!” like a gunshot in an open field of combat.

Picking up speed, she hurtled down the bluestone drive, anticipating the sound of the engine starting up even before she could spot her car.

Readers can learn more about the author and her novel by visiting her website, Facebook and Goodreads pages and Twitter. The ebook version of the novel is available at a reduced price (£1.49) on Amazon throughout July.

Semblance Guilt authorAbout Claudia Riess:  A Vassar graduate, she has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt Rinehart and Winston. On her first novel, Reclining Nude, Oliver Sacks, M.D. commented: “exquisite—and delicate.” Her second, art suspense Stolen Light earned: “complex and intriguing” —Kirkus Review.

Posted in July 2016 | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Reviewing The Lord of Ireland

In late 2012 I read the first novel in The Fifth Knight series and I’ve been hooked ever since. So I was delighted to receive a request to review The Lord of Ireland, the third book in the series, when it was released recently.

Lord of Ireland coverHere’s how the publisher, Thomas & Mercer, describes the novel: “England, 1185. John is a prince without prospect of a crown. As the youngest son of Henry II, he has long borne the hated nickname ‘Lackland’. When warring tribes and an ambitious Anglo-Norman lord threaten Henry’s reign in Ireland, John believes his time has finally come. Henry is dispatching him there with a mighty force to impose order.

Yet it is a thwarted young man who arrives on the troubled isle. John has not been granted its kingship—he is merely the Lord of Ireland, destined never to escape his father’s shadow. Unknown to John, Henry has also sent his right-hand man, Sir Benedict Palmer, to root out the traitors he fears are working to steal the land from him.

But Palmer is horrified when John disregards Henry’s orders and embarks on a campaign of bloodshed that could destroy the kingdom. Now Palmer has to battle the increasingly powerful Lord of Ireland. Power, in John’s hands, is a murderous force—and he is only just beginning to wield it.”

Like the previous novels, this book is a fast-paced historical thriller. It opens almost a decade after the second book, The Blood of the Fifth Knight, ended. The Palmers have settled on their own estate and are working hard to run it, glad to be free of the intrigues and dangers of Royal Court life that they have experienced in the past. Their children are almost grown and they have everything they want from life. So the summons Sir Benedict receives from King Henry II to accompany his son, Prince John, to Ireland on his campaign to quell the unrest there turns their lives on end. Built around Prince John’s first campaign in Ireland, a lesser-known chapter in his life, the plot is gripping and convincing. The author imagines details about people and events beyond the historical accounts to create scenes that are action-packed and fraught with political tensions and intrigues.

But the heart of the Fifth Knight books is the characters. The author is adept at portraying the emotional and physical humanity of characters from an age that held values and beliefs vastly different from modern society, making it easy for readers to empathise with them. Sir Benedict is still the honourable knight readers have come to know, now challenged by the physical limitations aging imposes. His wife, Theodosia, is still courageous and fiercely loyal to her husband and her family. I particularly enjoyed the author’s humorous portrayal of the historical figure, the royal clerk, Gerald of Wales as rather snivelling and cowardly. Some other memorable characters include arrogant and lustful Prince John, intelligent and cunning Hugh de Lacy and his proud, valiant Irish wife.

The author’s thorough knowledge of medieval life pulls everything together to vividly evoke for the reader the world in which the story is set. Although I’m not an avid fan of medieval fiction, EM Powell’s novels always draw me into the era. I thoroughly enjoyed this story and can recommend it to anyone who likes an exciting story, peopled by characters that seem to live and breathe.

For more information about the author and the series, visit E.M. Powell’s website and blog. Readers can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads. The novel is available on Amazon and other retailers.

EM PowellAbout E.M. Powell: E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers The Fifth Knight and The Blood of the Fifth Knight have been number-one Amazon bestsellers and on the Bild bestseller list in Germany.

Born into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State) and raised in the Republic of Ireland, she lives in north-west England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog.

She reviews fiction and non-fiction for the Historical Novel Society, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers’ The Big Thrill magazine.

Posted in June 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Season Turns, Time To Reflect

It’s the Solstice today – summer if you’re in the northern bathtubhemisphere, winter for those in the southern hemisphere. It’s more or less, half way through the year.

Did you start the year full of plans and dreams of what you would accomplish before 2017 arrives? Most of us begin each year ready to tackle it head on. We have so many things we will to do in the next twelve months. So, it might shock or dishearten us if we stop and look back at what we’ve achieved (or more likely haven’t achieved) so far.

On Writers Abroad I’ve been giving my fellow writers a Solstice Pep Talk about how to get back on track before the year flies past. While it’s aimed at my writer friends, the principles are the same no matter what you want to do this year. If you’d like to read the post, pop over to my post on Writers Abroad. It’s here.

Posted in June 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dying To Be Beautiful Mysteries

Today I’m featuring an excerpt from the first book in the Dying To Be Beautiful mystery series by M. Glenda Rosen. Throughout June, Glenda is offering the first two books in the series at a special reduced price.

About the series: Dying To Be Beautiful, is about the billion dollar world of beauty. The mystery series takes place in The Hamptons, where the murdered and suspected murderers are often arrogant and obnoxious with a sense of entitlement. Private Investigator Jenna Preston and her longtime friend, Detective Troy Johnson, work together to solve these murders and other crimes.

Excerpt from Book 1, Without A Head:

Chapter 1

The Murder

Saturday, 6:10 A.M.

9781483445304_COVER.inddAs a Private Investigator, Jenna Preston had been hired to help solve murders, insurance fraud, cheating spouses and more. This was a new one for her.

She received what could only be described as a hysterical call from Darcy Monroe, owner of a popular, upscale hair salon in The Hamptons.

A head without its body was rolling around in one of her shampoo basins.

Almost five-feet, five-inches tall, always looking taller in her two or three-inch heels, Jenna had long red hair, blue eyes and was often seen driving around the East End in a white jeep, and in recent years, with her Irish Setter sitting next to her.

As a well-respected private investigator in the area, she told the salon owner, “I’ll be right there, and don’t touch anything until the police arrive.”

Jenna knew they needed to secure the business as a crime scene and Coroner Doc Bishop and Head of Forensics Lara Stern had to be brought in as well.

“Troy, someone left a head, without the body, in a shampoo bowl at Darcy’s Salon. I’ll be there in about ten minutes.”

”Damn it, Jenna, I nearly spilled my coffee listening to this bizarre message. I’ll be there within the half hour. Meantime, I’ll ask Lara to get over there to check the crime scene for prints and other possible evidence and for Doc to arrange to bring the head to the morgue. We’ll want to look at it there, after he’s had a chance to determine how it was cut off and anything else he might find.”

Detective Johnson hung up.

He and Jenna had worked together and known each other for a long time. They clearly trusted each other. He knew she would follow police protocol at the crime scene.

Saturday, as always was an exceptionally busy day, “in season” at Darcy’s Salon, which is why she had gotten there so early. She always wanted the salon looking perfect, ready for stylists and clients, who this day had appointments beginning at 7 am.

Located off the main avenue of this posh resort at the East End of Long Island, less than ninety miles from Manhattan, the salon was known for catering to the rich and famous, as well as some of wanna-be customers, primping for weekend parties and fundraising events.

The salon was truly beautiful with warm color tones and soft matching leather client chairs facing gold (well, fake gold), trimmed mirrors. There was a reception area with the latest issues of fashion magazines from Paris and Rome, and a few of the more popular Hampton rags, like Dan’s Papers were spread out on a marble table, next to it a coffee machine offering gourmet flavored coffee and teas.

Most of the women who came to Darcy’s Salon had plenty of money, some from their own success, although others were arm candy for much older, wealthy men. Sometimes one of them would joke (maybe not) that they were “Dying To Be Beautiful” like some of the famous models and celebrities, many of who summered in the Hamptons.

9781483449159_COVER.indd“Jenna, you’ve seen how difficult and fussy they can be, and their egos—they’re constantly seeking confirmation of how beautiful they look. They want to come to a high-end salon, expecting to be treated like royalty. And believe me, we do.”

Darcy Monroe was only too glad to charge megabucks for her services since it included a whole lot of catering to their whims and demands. Beauty could indeed be expensive in The Hamptons. The chatter amongst the clients, the eight hair stylists, three manicurists and several assistants meant gossip was a basic ingredient of conversation. The story about the body without a head, and the head found in the salon, was sure to explode through The Hamptons. It certainly had all the elements of a soap opera.

“My god, Jenna, the gossip about this mess is going to be like a volcano spilling over this town.”

Readers can learn more about Glenda by visiting her website, as well as her Facebook and Goodreads pages and following her on Twitter.

The books are available on Amazon and other online retailers.

Dying Beautiful authorAbout M. Glenda Rosen: She  is the author of The Woman’s Business Therapist: Eliminate the MindBlocks and RoadBlocks to Success, and award-winning My Memoir Workbook. For over fifteen years, she helped numerous authors develop and market their books, and presented writing programs in New York, The Hamptons, New Mexico and Carmel, California, on “Encouraging and Supporting the Writer Within You!” She’s the founder and owner of a successful marketing and public relations agency for twenty-five years.

 

Posted in June 2016 | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Peering Into The Gilded Cage

Today Judy Alter is joining me to tell us a bit about her novel, The Gilded Cage.

Welcome Judy. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

Gilded Cage coverJA: Against the background of Chicago history in the last half of the 19th century, The Gilded Cage tells the story of Potter and Bertha (Cissy) Honoré Palmer. He was a prominent businessman and builder of the city, owner of the still-operating Palmer House Hotel; she was one of the first socialites to believe that wealth carried an obligation to philanthropy and to put her belief into actions beyond monetary donations. Her greatest accomplishment came as president of the Board of Lady Managers at the 1893 Columbian Exposition.

What prompted you to write about this historical era or event?

JA: As a young child growing up on Chicago’s South Side in the Hyde Park neighborhood, I wandered the land that once boasted the World’s Columbian Exposition. My mother took me out in rowboats around Wooded Island, and I learned to ice skate on the Midway, which still cuts a swath of green through the city for more than a mile west from the lakeshore. My friends and I made countless trips to the Museum of Science and Industry, the only exposition building that survives. Much later, I attended the University of Chicago, which sits almost on the exposition grounds. That part of the city was “my” Chicago. Then, somehow, I stumbled on the story of Cissy Palmer and was intrigued. I decided her story would make a good novel, and I simply combined the two interests—the city and the character.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

JA: I stuck pretty closely to historical fact—certainly the major events such as the Great Fire, the Haymarket Riot, the Columbian Exposition. But I took liberties with the stories of the individual characters, which I think is inevitable in historical fiction. There is for instance a romantic attraction which I’m quite sure never happened, and the villain or bad guy is wholly a product of my imagination. But I did a lot of research for this book and really tried to get the history correct. You might say the city is one of the characters in the book.

As many storytellers will say, characters can take over a book and dictate the course of the action. That’s what happened here, especially in the case of the forbidden attraction. I really tried, though, not to let the characters dabble with history.

What research did you do for this book?

JA: The Author’s Note contains a bibliographic essay detailing the works I consulted. But I also relied on my knowledge of the city and its history, my memory of my childhood there, and my own reaction to the setting—for instance my fascination with Lake Michigan when it’s at its wildest best.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

JA: Most of the major characters are historic, though not in their pure form. I did invent a couple—principally the bad guy—black sheep of a proper New England family. He thinks the world is against him and eventually blames his “bad luck” on Potter Palmer. His wife is also an invention, an Irish girl who works in a pub. They provide a contrast to the Palmers.

I suppose invented characters are a bit easier to write because you have free rein to give them characteristics and attitudes, whereas with real figures you feel a bit like you’re tampering with someone’s life.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

JA: The place was easy because it’s a place I know and remember well. All I had to do was recreate what I saw in my mind. As for people, I’ve never had a problem putting myself in someone’s head and seeing the world the way they do—or as I think they do. I’ve written several other books set in the late nineteenth century, so the era wasn’t a problem either. This novel is a bit unusual for me in that it’s in third person—I often tell the story from the first-person point of view which really makes me see and experience the world the way my character does.

But the characters, to repeat, in a sense told me what they saw and felt. They took over the story, telling me which way it would go. That makes the writing sound as easy as snapping your fingers, but that’s not the case. The book was written and rewritten, from several points of view, over a ten-year period.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

JA: I suspect that larger scope is due to our lingering belief that men shaped history. Women’s roles are gradually being recognized though. I prefer to write about women, always have. I’ve done several novels about women who played a major role in the American West during that time period—Libby Custer, Jessie Benton Frémont, a cowgirl modelled on Lucillle Mulhall, and Etta Place, the Sundance Kid’s girlfriend. It’s a trendy thing to say these days but I identify as female, so it’s easier for me to see things from a female point of view. Hardest assignment I ever had was to write a chapter from the viewpoint of an escaping male slave in the South.

Thanks for answering my questions, Judy.

For more information about Judy, visit her website. Readers can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Goodreads.

Gilded Cage authorAbout Judy Alter: She is the award winning author of fiction for adults and young adults. Other historical fiction includes Libbie, the story of Elizabeth Bacon (Mrs. George Armstrong) Custer; Jessie, the story of Jessie Benton Frémont and her explorer / miner / entrepreneur / soldier / politician husband; Cherokee Rose, a novel loosely based on the life of the first cowgirl roper to ride in Wild West shows; and Sundance, Butch and Me, the adventures of Etta Place and the Hole in the Wall Gang.

 

Posted in June 2016 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Canadian Tale: Promised To The Crown

Today I’m welcoming Aimie K. Runyan to talk about her Canadian tale (well, New France, if you want to be strictly accurate), Promised to the Crown.

Welcome Aimee. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

Promised to the Crown coverAKR: Promised to the Crown tells the story of three very different women who chose to accept Louis XIV’s offer to travel to his colony in Canada, then known as New France, in order to choose husbands from among the legion of bachelor settlers. The King needs women to help increase the population to hold the colony from the British menace and to tie the men to the land. France was in a time of relative prosperity, yet 770 brave women answered the call to go to the frozen north. Elisabeth, Rose, and Nicole face hardships and triumph in the new world, and the friendship they forge on their crossing sees them through it all.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

AKR: I am a sucker for little-known history, especially when it tells the story of women who have gone unappreciated for centuries. History has dismissed these King’s daughters, or filles du roi, as a footnote in history. The truth is that 2/3 of all French Canadians today can trace their lineage back to one or more of these remarkable women.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

AKR: I stuck to the details available—dates of crossings, legal precedents (no lawyers allowed! Strict regulations on bakers! All great plot fodder), diet, housing, and what experts can contrive about relationships and family hierarchies… all that made daily life come into vivid relief. The characters and their situations are mine. I took three characters and tried to show a broader picture of what life would have been like for these women and the options available to them in the new world. I didn’t want to tell just one woman’s story.

What research did you do for this book?

AKR: I lived in Canada for three months (not contiguous) on a research grant from the Quebec government when working on my thesis on female immigration to Canada. I knew I wanted to write this novel someday, so I hunted down a lot of extra research that wouldn’t fit into the paper—daily life type things—and socked them away until I had the chance to write my book. I visited monuments, museums, and churches. I wandered the streets of Old Quebec trying to memorize the ambiance. Not only did I find all the resources I needed, I fell in love with a new city!

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

AKR: There is only one historical figure in my book—Mother Marie de l’Incarnation who is present in one scene. Since my books aren’t really biographic, I prefer to create my own characters and throw the, in a historical context. It gives me more freedom to explore the story behind the history without worrying if Character X Y or Z would have been in the right place for a scene to happen. It was almost a necessity to work this way for Promised because so few personal records exist. I may deviate from that in the future, but for now that seems to be my wheelhouse.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

AKR: I had the chance to spend so much time in Canada breathing in the city, that it made the task much easier. I spent a lot of time visualizing the settings before I sat down to write a scene, and tried to convey that to the page. The people were harder. A modern reader would not have had much in common with a woman who lived 350 years ago. The 17th century woman would not have been just  a quaint version of the 21st century woman; she would have had a different outlook on virtually every aspect of life. Taking into consideration just one major difference in women’s lives is telling. Today’s new mother can almost be guaranteed of a safe delivery and a healthy child. The odds aren’t 100%, but they’re pretty darn good. A woman in the 17th century gave birth to a dozen children hoping two or three might live to reach adulthood. That reality alone would be enough to change a person’s whole frame of reference on life. I had to tap into aspects of these women’s personalities that made them relatable—education, experience, and ambition—just as a start.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

AKR: If ‘men’s history’ has an advantage, it’s that it was always ‘front page news’. It has been what the history books have put down as the official record. The truth, however, is that ‘women’s history’ is just as rich (or even more so) than the accepted truths we learned in school. Sadly, the contributions of women at many times in history has been largely ignored. Women created the framework of our societies along with their husbands, fathers, and brothers, even if their work wasn’t always lauded on center stage. Women took advantage of the backchannels to evoke change and to influence men in power. There is a treasure trove of women’s stories that are yearning to be told, that deserve to be told for the historian willing to dig past the ‘headline news’.

I remember learning about les filles du roi in history classes at school so I found your answers to my questions fascinating, Aimee. I love it when all the details of history come to life in a story I can sink into. Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions.

For more information about Aimie, please visit her website. Readers can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Goodreads.

PromisedCrown_Aimie K. RunyanAbout Aimie K. Runyan: A member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association, she has been an avid student of French and Francophone Studies for more than fifteen years. While working on her Master’s thesis on the brave women who helped found French Canada, she was fortunate enough to win a generous grant from the Quebec government to study onsite for three months, which enabled the detailed research necessary for her work. Aimie lives in Colorado with her husband and two children.

Posted in May 2016 | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Conversing With Camelot’s Queen’s Author

Today Nicole Evelina joins me to talk about Camelot’s Queen, the second book in her Arthurian legend trilogy. Welcome, Nicole.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

Camelot Queen coverNE: Camelot’s Queen is the second book of my Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view. This one focuses on the story we think we all know – Guinevere’s time as queen. (Her early life before King Arthur is told in Daughter of Destiny, the first book in the series.) All the familiar elements are there – the battles, the infamous affair, the Holy Grail – but they are told in a way that’s different from the medieval legends we’re familiar with. Guinevere is a battle queen who rules side-by-side with Arthur, rather than being in his shadow; her affair with Lancelot doesn’t happen simply out of lust – it’s actually Arthur’s fault; and the Grail is different than you’ve ever seen it. Plus, Morgan is a disrupting influence in a way I don’t think any other author has ever shown her. And I delve into the dark side of Arthurian legend surrounding Guinevere’s kidnapping which is something many authors have shied away from. No matter the situation, this is a Guinevere with agency, perfectly willing to rescue herself.

What prompted you to write about this historical event?

NE: I’ve loved the character of Guinevere my whole life; she was one of my childhood heroes. When I was in college, a friend gave me a copy of Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon as a gift. I read it and loved it (it changed my life in more ways than I can say), but I hated her portrayal of Guinevere as meek, Christian and agoraphobic. That led me to seek out other fictional books written about her and I came across Parke Godwin’s Beloved Exile, which covers her life after the fall of Camelot. That got me thinking that you don’t hear too much about what happened to Guinevere outside of her time with Arthur.

Around that time, Guinevere came into my head and said previous portrayals have done her wrong, and it was time for me to set the record straight. We made a deal that day that I would tell her whole life story, from before Arthur and encompassing the time after his death.

How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?

NE: It’s really hard to know what is fact when it comes to Arthurian legend. No one can prove that King Arthur existed, much less that his wife was really called Guinevere. Pretty much all we know is that someone led a battle (which we call the battle of Mount Badon) in which the Saxons suffered a sound defeat that kept them from attacking the post-Roman Britons for the next 50 years or so – but even the historians can’t agree when or where that battle took place. It is from that unknown historical leader and a mixture of Celtic myth that the Arthurian story evolved.

I did a lot of research on the Celts and post-Roman Britain (see next answer) to try to make the time period as realistic as I could. But I also couldn’t resist keeping some of the magic and mysticism of the medieval tales, so I used those elements in a shamanistic manner that is in keeping with what little we know of the Celtic/Druidic faith.

What research did you do for this book?

NE: I spent about 15 years studying everything I could get my hands on about Arthurian legend, Celtic and post-Roman Britain, the Druid faith (historical and neopagan versions) and related topics so that I was as well-versed in the subject as I could be. Most of it was books, but I also watched several documentaries. A full list of the sources I consulted can be found here: https://nicoleevelina.com/the-books/guineveres-tale/daughter-of-destiny-book-1/guinevere-trilogy/

I was fortunate to consult with two men who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley with her research, Jamie George and Arthurian scholar Geoffrey Ashe, both of whom were so wonderful to me. I met Jamie when he led an Arthurian Legend tour of England I took a few years ago and he introduced me to Geoffrey.

Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?

NE: Yes. I have a few historic figures such as King Vortigern, the Saxon leaders Alle and Octha, and the Pictish chief Caw in this book. I also have your standard mythological characters like Arthur, Guinevere, Lancelot, Merlin, Nimue, Viviane, Isolde, Morgan, etc. But I have characters I have totally made up, too, such as Sobian and Father Marius. They are all pretty much equal in my eyes as far as preference and difficulty are concerned. Because we don’t know much about the historical Dark Age/early Medieval figures, I’m not bound to tradition or fact like I would be with people from a later period and I have some creative leeway with them. Tradition plays a strong role in the mythological characters and I’ve chosen to keep a lot of the familiar elements, but I like to put my own twist on characters and events as well. That’s what makes my books a new contribution to the Arthurian tradition, not simply just a retelling.

In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?

NE: Traveling there helped a lot. It gives an authenticity like nothing else. Even when you are writing about the distant past, knowing that the hills, mountains and rivers that you see are still pretty much the same, even if everything else has changed, gives you a bit of feeling of what the place must have been like. Every location has its own energy and when you’ve been there, you can incorporate it into your stories.

The rest was incorporating what I learned through research and what I imagined. I think having a strong sense of place and an understanding of the culture are key. But too, you have to have well rounded characters who think as much as possible in the way of the time. That being said, the basics of human nature don’t change, so having characters people can relate to, not matter if they love them or hate them, goes a long way toward making the reader feel like they are part of the story.

There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters rather than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?

NE: This is exactly why I write historical fiction. I’m very much a first-person, female POV writer. My personal mission is “to rescue little-known women from being lost in the pages of history. While other writers may choose to write about the famous, I tell the stories of those who are in danger of being forgotten so that their memories may live on for at least another generation. I also tell the female point of view when it is the male who has gotten more attention in history (i.e. Guinevere to King Arthur).” I feel like women’s stories have been massively undervalued and certainly underreported, so I make it my job to do what I can to change that.

That’s not to say you won’t ever see me writing in the male POV, but when you do it will be in the context of a female-based story. For example, I plan to write the story of Isolde and Tristan from multiple first person POVs, including his, but the focus of the story will be on her.

Thank you for your insightful answers to my questions, Nicole. I share your enthusiasm for the stories of the women who are often sidelined in history books and wish you well with your trilogy.

Readers can learn more by visiting her website/blog and she can be found on Twitter as well as on Pinterest, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram and Tumblr.

About Nicole Evelina: She is a St. Louis historical fiction and Camelot Nicole Evelinaromantic comedy writer. Her debut novel, Daughter of Destiny, the first book of an Arthurian legend trilogy that tells Guinevere’s life story from her point of view, has been short-listed for the Chaucer Award in Early Historical Fiction. Camelot’s Queen is its sequel.

Later this year, she will release Been Searching for You (May 10), a romantic comedy that won the 2015 Romance Writers of America (RWA) Great Expectations and Golden Rose contests, and Madame Presidentess (July 25), a historical novel about Victoria Woodhull, America’s first female Presidential candidate, which has been short-listed for the Goethe Award in Late Historical Fiction.

She hopes to have the final book in Guinevere’s Tale available in late 2016 or early 2017.

Nicole is one of only six authors who completed a week-long writing intensive taught by #1 New York Times bestselling author Deborah Harkness. She has traveled to England twice to research the Guinevere’s Tale trilogy, where she consulted with internationally acclaimed author and historian Geoffrey Ashe, as well as Arthurian/Glastonbury expert Jaime George, the man who helped Marion Zimmer Bradley research The Mists of Avalon.

Nicole is a member of and book reviewer for the The Historical Novel Society, and Sirens (a group supporting female fantasy authors), as well as a member of the Historical Writers of America, Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Romance Writers of America, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Women Writing the West, Broad Universe (promoting women in fantasy, science fiction and horror), Alliance of Independent Authors and the Independent Book Publishers Association.

She spent 15 years researching Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain and the various peoples, cultures and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. Other historical interests include the Middle Ages and women who made their mark on history. She’s also a frequent visitor to Chicago, where Been Searching for You takes place.

Posted in May 2016 | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

The Storm Sister Enthralled Me

A couple weeks ago I read The Storm Sister by Lucinda Riley and I found it a gripping read. This is what the publisher says about the story:

The Storm Sister is the second of a unique seven book series based allegorically on the mythology of the famous star constellation.

Storm SisterGathered at their childhood home to mourn their father’s death, Ally D’Aplièse and her five adoptive sisters receive tantalizing clues to their distinct heritages. Ally soon finds herself in Norway where she begins to make sense of her elusive past in the second part of an epic new series by #1 internationally bestselling author Lucinda Riley.

Olympic hopeful Ally is in the midst of preparations for one of the world’s most challenging yacht races when news of her beloved father’s death shocks the accomplished sailor. Saying goodbye to the love of her life, a man her family knows nothing about, she rushes back to her family home, an enchanting chateau where she and her five sisters—each adopted as infants—were raised on the shores of Lake Geneva.

When new tragedy strikes on the high seas, pummeling Ally yet again with a terrible and unexpected loss, she turns her back on the water and instead follows her own North Star—an intriguing clue left by her father which leads her to Norway and the promise of unmasking her origins. Surrounded by the majestic beauty of an unfamiliar homeland, Ally begins to unpack the century-old story of a remarkable young woman named Anna Landvik, a talented singer with an astonishing link to composer Edvard Grieg and his celebrated musical accompaniment to Henrik Ibsen’s iconic play “Peer Gynt.”

Lucinda Riley’s captivating story brings together two resilient women—decades apart—weaving their stories into a moving examination of family, love, and identity.”

Storm Sister, the second book in a seven book series, is the first novel I’ve read by Lucinda Riley and I was wowed by it, so much so that when I finished reading it, I immediately read the first book in the Seven Sisters series. Since each book starts at the same moment in time, it doesn’t matter which order they are read in. After I finished the first two I was rather dismayed to find that I will have to wait several months until the third book is released.

I am really impressed by the author’s storytelling ability. She is equally confident and skilful handling the contemporary and historical storylines. As the book opens, she conjures the world of professional sailing and yacht racing so vividly that I was transported into this world and completely forgot that there was also an historical portion of the novel, set a century earlier still to come. But when the story slipped into the past, I became enthralled by life in a Norwegian mountain village as well as in the cultural centres of Europe.

The characters in the contemporary and historical threads of the story have been fleshed out into believable people with genuine desires and dreams. Passionate and poignant love stories in both threads add depth to the novel.

I loved the way the author wove fictional characters into historic events to mingle with famous historic figures, creating interesting possible twists to known history that excite the reader’s imagination. She uses these tweaks to history in order to weave a mystery into this novel and also a second question into the series. Both puzzles intrigued me and got me thinking. By the end of the novel, the question behind the mystery regarding Ally’s heritage had been answered, but the ones regarding what connection her adoptive father had to her birth family and where he came from had not. The story reached a satisfying conclusion yet the mystery which remains has been awakened my curiosity and I will have to read the rest of the series to unravel it. Seven books is a big commitment but, if each of them spins tales that are as engrossing as the two novels I’ve just read, I won’t mind one bit. I can heartily recommend Storm Sister to readers who enjoy a good story, whether contemporary or historical is their first preference.

Lucinda RileyAbout Lucinda Riley: She was born in Ireland and wrote her first book aged 24. Her novel ‘Hothouse Flower’ (also called ‘The Orchid House’) was selected for the UK’s Richard and Judy Bookclub in 2011 and went on to sell 2 million copies worldwide. She is a multiple New York Times bestselling author and has topped the bestseller charts in four European countries.

In response to demand from her readers, she has recently re-written two books from her early writing career when published under her maiden name Lucinda Edmonds – the books are now being published as ‘The Italian Girl’ and ‘The Angel Tree’.

Lucinda’s books are translated into 28 languages and published in 38 countries. She lives with her husband and four children on the North Norfolk coast in England and in the South of France.

For more information visit her website. Readers can connect with the author on FacebookTwitterYouTubeInstagram, and Goodreads.

 

Posted in April 2016 | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment