A Minor Deception

Today I’d like to welcome Nupur Tustin to Ascroft, eh? She’s visiting me today to chat about her novel, A Minor Deception. Welcome, Nupur. Let’s get started, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

minor-deception-coverNT: In some respects, A Minor Deception, is about Haydn’s search for his principal violinist, a dangerous man, who disappears barely weeks before the Empress Maria Theresa’s visit, and must be found. The consequences of not finding him would be disastrous; and not just for Haydn.

The central plot was inspired by events that took place some sixty years before Haydn’s birth; events that are rooted in Hungary’s troubled relations with the Habsburgs.

But in another respect, A Minor Deception is an entertaining, diverting mystery. And even though Haydn spends a lot of his time hunting down clues to his violinist’s whereabouts, the reader is given a sense of what it was like for a composer to work in an eighteenth-century secular court.

A strong downstairs dynamic, with palace maids Rosalie and Greta joining in to help Haydn solve the crime, gives readers a sense of the complexity of eighteenth-century society and the possibility of social mobility.

What prompted you to write about this historical era?

NT: I already knew about Austria’s troubled relations with Hungary, and as I began plotting, events naturally escalated so that a musical problem modulated into a political one. Having grown up in India, I’m very familiar with colonial politics—for as many people as there may be in favor of taking a courageous stand, there are far more who benefit from the status quo, and who vehemently oppose it.

Although, life under Maria Theresa and her sons was largely peaceful, I thought it not implausible that anti-Habsburg resentment might continue to simmer under the surface. After all, the worst uprisings had taken place when Maria Theresa’s grandfather, Leopold, was Holy Roman Emperor and, of course, ruler of the Habsburg lands. And that had been about a hundred years before my story takes place, if that.

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

NT: This is a question that every writer of historical fiction has to wrestle with. As a reader and a history buff, I find I need works of historical fiction to stimulate my imagination and intrigue me enough to go searching for the truth.

For instance, one of Anne Perry’s mysteries is based on Jack the Ripper. The theory she posits is psychologically the most compelling, but in factual terms, one that’s not tenable at all. The Immortal Beloved, a gripping movie about Beethoven, posits a theory as to who this mysterious woman might be. It isn’t accurate, but fits the story much better than the more plausible theories would have done. In each case, I was motivated to find out more. And that’s the primary function of historical fiction—to get the reader interested in history.

In my case, the “event” in question was one that didn’t take place when I say it had—in the 1760s. But it could have. Haydn himself probably wouldn’t have had time to play detective. He had so many administrative duties as a Kapellmeister—Director of Music—he later marveled he’d been as prolific as he was. But Haydn’s character—his sense of duty, his loyalty to his employer and the Empire, his willingness to lend a hand to whoever needed it—makes his intervention plausible.

What research did you do for this book?

NT: I naturally read extensively on Haydn’s life. I even read an autobiography written by his friend, Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf, a virtuoso violinist and musician, largely forgotten now. I found Leopold Mozart’s letters very informative when it came to customs and details about travel. It goes without saying that I read about Haydn’s music, I delved deeper into music theory. I even began composing!

For the political elements in the plot, I read several books about the Habsburgs and about Maria Theresa and a history of Hungary. I also read about the Esterházys, the family that employed Haydn, and their estates.

To bring the place to life, I looked into temperature, fauna and flora for the Pannonian Basin where Eisenstadt is. I bought a map—in German—of the region as well as travel guides to both Austria and Hungary. I took as many virtual tours as I could of the Esterházy Palaces, read German accounts and compared them with their poorly translated English counterparts to get a sense of what they were saying. I learnt German as a college student, but I’ve forgotten most of it now although I still remember the grammar.

I traced travel paths using Google Maps and the physical map I’d bought of the region so that I’d be able to provide an accurate sense of place.

I found a forum for Austrian expats whose families were from the Eisenstadt region, and that gave me useful insights into cost of living at the time as well as such things as the structure of farmhouses.

And finally, since I was writing a mystery, I did extensive research on forensics, the history of medicine, medicine and law in Germany, and the police system in Austria.

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

NT: The novel uses both, and I think each has its challenges. There’s enough research on Haydn for me to have an idea of his personality. It was harder to envision other characters, his employer, for instance, or the Estates Director, Peter Ludwig von Rahier. The problem with using one’s imagination is that one could so easily get it wrong, by which I mean the information needed for getting it right might later be discovered to be embarrassingly easy to find.

Fictitious characters, on the other hand, need to have not only a personality, but a compelling backstory, and you not only have to provide the latter, but remember all the details so you can be consistent.

Which do you prefer to write and why?

NT: I enjoy writing both. One of my favorite characters, besides Haydn, is Rosalie, a figment of my imagination. When I’m writing a historical character, although in a sense the character is ready-made, I have to be careful to be accurate, and make sure I’ve exhausted all research possibilities before I decide to take recourse to my imagination.

I have free rein with my fictitious characters—within the realm of plausibility, of course—but there’s a lot more to make up. Are their parents still alive? How many siblings do they have? Were there any significant experiences in their past that may have influenced their current behaviors and beliefs?

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?

NT: Bringing people to life isn’t very difficult. Documents from the period give you a sense of people’s attitudes. Anecdotes from Haydn’s earliest biographers, A.C. Dies and G.A. Griesinger, give one both a sense of Haydn’s personality as well as a sense of the time period, manners, and customs. Dittersdorf’s autobiography and Leopold Mozart’s letters provided a contemporary account of the time as well.

One of the things I’ve come to realize is that people across time and culture are largely the same. Underneath the superficial trappings of clothing and manners and customs, are the same desires and needs.

As far as bringing Eisenstadt to life was concerned, I had to rely largely on books, contemporary accounts, and my maps. Would traveling to the place, had I been able to afford it, have helped? Perhaps. But one must remember that places change.

Eisenstadt in the twenty-first century is the bustling, vibrant capital of the Austrian province of Burgenland. In Haydn’s day, it was a small, insignificant town on the Hungarian side of the River Leitha. It wasn’t considered important enough to be on the postal route. Street names have changed, the moat surrounding the palace has been filled in, and the Jewish Quarter separated from the rest of the town is now part of it.

So, the Eisenstadt of the eighteenth-century doesn’t exist anymore, and had to be reconstructed.

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?

NT: A Minor Deception alternates between Haydn’s view point and Rosalie’s, and although Rosalie is a sub-plot character, she’s still important to the story. So, I’m not sure I have a preference. Writing men can be easier when you’re the kind of woman who takes no interest in fashion and womanly things.

On the other hand, it can be quite liberating to write about your own sex. I don’t have to think about how Rosalie would respond in an emotional moment or about physical behaviors and gestures she might use to comfort a friend.

When it comes to Haydn and his younger brother, Johann, I do need to ask my husband if certain gestures would be appropriately masculine.

At the end of the day, I think any writer needs to be comfortable writing both.

Thanks for giving us an insight into A Minor Deception, Nupur.

Readers can learn more about Nupur by visiting the official Haydn Mystery website for details on the Haydn series and monthly blog posts on the great composer. They can also connect with her on her Facebook and Goodreads pages.

A Minor Deception is available on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iTunes | Kobo

minor-deception-authorAbout Nupur Tustin: A former journalist, Nupur relies upon a Ph.D. in Communication and an M.A. in English to orchestrate fictional mayhem. The Haydn mysteries are a result of her life-long passion for classical music and its history. Childhood piano lessons and a 1903 Weber Upright share equal blame for her original compositions, available on ntustin.musicaneo.com.

Her writing includes work for Reuters and CNBC, short stories and freelance articles, and research published in peer-reviewed academic journals. She lives in Southern California with her husband, three rambunctious children, and a pit bull.

Posted in Uncategorized, January 2017 | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Before The Darkness by Annette Creswell

Today I’m hosting a stop on Australian author, Annette Creswell’s blog tour.

Book Tour ~ Before The Darkness #HistFic #BGSHF @annettecreswell

Before The Darkness by Annette Creswell

before-the-darkness-imageIn pre-World War Two London, Penny works as a maternity nurse at the Royal Women’s Hospital. Happy in her work and with two really good friends and several doctor suitors, little does she realise how her life will be changed by a chance lunch-time encounter. Who is the ruggedly handsome man who helps her? And how will their lives entwine as the war clouds gather?

Listen to an extract from the book:

Read by Emma Calin

Links to purchase the book:

Amazon US

Amazon UK




About the author: Annette Creswell is the author of Before The Darkness, published 2015. She loves to hear from readers and can be found on Facebook and Twitter.


Posted in Archives, January 2017 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Is Timeless

Christmas is timeless. No, that’s not a profound statement by me. It was my husband wreathmoaning as I removed the clock from the wall in the livingroom and replaced it with a large wreath when I was putting up the Christmas decorations a couple weeks ago. The clock has relocated to the kitchen for the rest of December and early January (or whenever I manage to put the decorations away), and my husband, who doesn’t wear a watch, is frustrated that he never knows what time it is now.

He does have a point though: Christmas is timeless. Although traditions do change and evolve gradually, they remain relatively the same generation after generation and the continuity of the trappings and traditions through the years is something that many of us appreciate.

For me, when the word Christmas is mentioned, the first associations that my mind makes are with light, colour and warmth. All three are tied up with Christmas for me.

fireplaceWhen I think of Christmas, in my head I see black evenings illuminated by light: candle flames, flickering fires, a string of coloured lights winking on the Christmas tree in an ever-changing pattern and sparkling mini-beacons secured to the window frames. Then there’s the more subtle pin pricks of natural light twinkling in the sky above me when I step outside into our farmyard and, on the rare occasions when it snows, the sharp glint of shimmery lights flashing across the snow’s surface.

There’s also colour everywhere: the blue, green and red miniature beacons dancing on the Christmas tree; shiny ornaments in gold and silver hues; blue and gold glittering tinsel; striped candy canes and knitted stockings in various colour combinations; a vibrant red and green wreath on the door and outside red berries adorning the holly.

Christmas fireAnd there’s warmth: physical and emotional. I love the heat from a fire in the hearth, a steaming mug of mulled wine, cider or hot chocolate in my hands, the happiness a hug from someone I love generates and the joy of spending time with people I care about.

I enjoy quietly savouring these simple pleasures the season brings, the same ones that I enjoy year after year.

I think many of us find comfort and enjoyment in the familiar traditions of the season rsz_christmas_cure_6x9_ebookand this makes Christmas timeless for us. Last year in a Christmas blog post, I mentioned that the song “White Christmas” first became hugely popular in 1942. This was mainly because it resonated with servicemen and women around the world who were longing for home. It stirred their memories of Christmases past and this comforted them. This snippet of information about how the now well-known song rose in popularity intrigued me so much that I decided that I had to use the song in one of my future stories. The idea floated around in my mind for several months as a story gradually took shape. I wrote The Christmas Cure, a Short Read in The Yankee Years series, this autumn and “White Christmas” is at the centre of the story.

Christmas is nearly here so it’s time to pull a chair up to the fire and savour the traditions that you love. Family, friends and readers, where ever you are around the world, may I wish you a holiday season filled with all that warms, lights and colours your life this Christmas season. Merry Christmas!





Posted in December 2016, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fostering The Christmas Cure

When I was doing some research to write a Christmas blog post last year, I learned that the popular Christmas song, “White Christmas” first hit the American music charts in the autumn of 1942. It had been released in time for Christmas the previous year but only began to be noticed by listeners as Christmas 1942 drew around. Not surprisingly, it was especially popular with U.S. servicemen and women posted overseas who were longing for home. The Armed Forces Network was flooded with requests to play it.

The image of all the lonely servicemen and women stationed far from home, who remembered where they came from and those they had left behind when they heard “White Christmas”, caught my imagination and I knew that I had to work the song into a future story for The Yankee Years series.

I released a couple new stories in the series this year, as well as working on revisions for a novel that will soon be part of the series too. While I worked on these stories, I let my subconscious mull over the idea of a wartime Christmas story that would feature the song, “White Christmas”. Ideas gradually popped into my head and the story began to take shape. By the end of the summer, I had the outline figured out and started to write the story. The result is The Christmas Cure.  It’s a Short Read that will take 90 minutes, or maybe a bit more, to read.

Here’s the gist of the story:

rsz_christmas_cure_6x9_ebookDuring the Second World War, one song familiar to American servicemen and women around the world conjured warm, comforting memories like no other. But, for some “White Christmas” unbearably deepened their longing for home.

December 1942: Lieutenant Marjorie Baxter is an intelligent, competent U.S. army nurse newly posted to the 160th Station Hospital at Necarne Castle, Irvinestown, Northern Ireland. Preparing to spend her first ever Christmas away from home, she appears aloof as she struggles to hide her homesickness. And everywhere she goes, she hears “White Christmas”.

Reverend Herbert Lindsay, the widowed rector of a nearby village church and a keen herbalist, is rebuilding his life after his beloved wife’s unexpected death two years ago. Exempt from military service after a childhood accident left him blind in one eye, he is dedicated to serving his parishioners as well as the Allied military personnel he encounters in his community.

The pair cross paths when Reverend Lindsay brings a civilian woman, injured by a U.S. army vehicle, to the U.S. military hospital. Although they intrigue each other, the nurse’s determined reserve stymies the minister’s friendly overtures.

As they continue to be thrown together during the Christmas season, can Marjorie open her heart to Herbert’s friendship, homespun remedies and advice, and maybe more?

To find out more visit The Christmas Cure’s Amazon US or Amazon UK page.

Posted in December 2016, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Peek Into Following Disasters

I’ve always enjoyed ghost stories and have been particularly interested in them during the past few months as I wrote one myself earlier this year. A few weeks ago, I read Following Disasters by Nancy McCabe.

following-disasters-coverHere’s how the publisher describes the novel: “On her twenty-first birthday, Maggie Owen receives an unusual birthday gift: a house. That same day, the house’s owner, her aunt, dies. For three years, Maggie has been fleeing her childhood demons: the deaths of her parents, estrangement from her terminally-ill aunt, and a betrayal by her best friend. But now her career on the road, following natural disasters in temporary insurance claims offices, ends abruptly as Maggie returns home to face her past. But why does the house hold a mysterious spell over her? Why does she have the persistent feeling that her aunt is haunting her? Why did her aunt lie to her about the circumstances of her parents’ deaths? Who is the ghost child that may be hanging around the house? And what’s with the guy next door who seems so hostile toward her? FOLLOWING DISASTERS is tightly woven ghost story that raises questions about legacies and their influence on our choices.”

I found this novel rather slow to get into as the main character, Maggie-Kate is a difficult person to get to know. She almost reluctantly reveals her story as she languishes in the house that she has inherited from her aunt, thinking about her past and reading her aunt’s journals. But the author has deftly created a multi-layered story that is gradually revealed through Maggie-Kate’s memories and her aunt’s writings. The two accounts of the past don’t always match and this compels the reader to keep reading. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that nothing is as straightforward as it might first appear.

As well as the challenging plot, the author has created complex characters, with sometimes conflicting motivations spurring their actions, and they seem more real as a result.

There are tense moments in the story but this isn’t a typical horror story or a ghost story that makes you want to hide under the bedclothes. Rather it’s a thought provoking supernatural tale and I found it intriguing rather than frightening. This story lingered in my mind after I read it and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a story that makes them think.

Readers can learn more about Nancy McCabe by visiting her website and her Facebook and Goodreads pages. Following Disasters is available from Amazon and other online retailers.

following-disasters-authorAbout Nancy McCabe: Following Disasters is Nancy McCabe’s first novel. She has also published four books of creative nonfiction, including Meeting Sophie: A Memoir or Adoption; Crossing the Blue Willow Bridge: A Journey to My Daughter’s Birthplace in China; and From Little Houses to Little Women: Revisiting a Literary Childhood. She is a regular blogger for Ploughshares and has published work in Newsweek, Writers’ Digest, Prairie Schooner, Gulf Coast, Fourth Genre, and other magazines and anthologies. Her work has received a Pushcart and six times made notable lists in Houghton Mifflin Best American anthologies.

Posted in December 2016, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Books Are The Answer

How’s the Christmas preparations going? Are you stressed, tired, fed up or just plain panicked yet? What you may need is ideas for gifts – as well as something for you to enjoy too.


Books are the answer. Why not buy a great book for friends or family and get the eBook version for yourself free or discounted? With the Kindle Matchbook program, you can get a free or discounted eBook if you purchase the paperback.

Can I recommend to you some wartime fiction which are included in the Matchbook programme that you might enjoy? Click the link below to browse this selection of wartime fiction. All the authors listed on the page are members of the Second World War Club on Facebook – a private group for readers who enjoy wartime fiction. Members of the group regularly share photos, memories, and stories, and discuss wartime fiction that they’ve read. I’d like to invite you to check out these books in the link below and, if wartime fiction is your cup of tea, why not join us in the Facebook group too (click the group name above to access it).

HINT: My short story collection, set in WWII Northern Ireland, The Yankee Years Books 1-3, is included in this offer.

Here’s the link to the page where you can find our books (this page will be available until the end of December): http://alexakang.com/home/facebook-second-world-war-club/

I hope this will help you with gift ideas, and maybe the relaxation you need as well.

Happy shopping and reading!

Posted in December 2016, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Semper Sonnet

Today Seth Margolis is visiting Ascroft, eh? to tell us a bit about his novel, The Semper Sonnet.

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

Tell us about your novel.
SM: In THE SEMPER SONNET, Lee Nicholson, a graduate student in English literature at semper-coverColumbia University in New York, unearths a never-before published sonnet by William Shakespeare. When she reads a portion of the poem on the air, she triggers a series of events, including attacks on her, that convinces her that something in the language of the sonnet, in its allusions and wordplay, is highly threatening to her – and invaluable to others.

The sonnet contains secrets that have been hidden since Elizabethan times, shared by the queen and her doctor, by men who seek the crown and men who seek the world. If the riddles are solved, it could explode what the world knows of the monarchy. Or it could release a pandemic more deadly than the world has ever seen.

Lee’s quest keeps her one step ahead of an international hunt ― from the police who want her for murder, to a group of men who will stop at nothing to end her quest, to a madman who pursues the answers for destructive reasons of his own.

What prompted you to write about this historical era?
I’ve always loved the Tudor period in English history. It’s one of those epochs, like late-18th century America, that seems preternaturally crowded with larger-than-life characters: Henry VIII, Elizabeth, Shakespeare, Sir Walter Raleigh, Thomas Cromwell … and many others. The intersection of history and personal drama was quite intense in 16th century England – catnip for a novelist. So I’d always wanted to write about the period, but through the lens of our own time, and in the context of a suspense novel.

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

SM: The events in the novel are invented. But the historical details are based in fact. In deciding how far to deviate from actual facts, I always asked myself if a given plot twist would be plausible to a reader who was at least somewhat versed in Elizabethan history. THE SEMPER SONNET definitely requires the reader to “willingly suspend disbelief.” That famous phrase was coined by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, who suggested that if a writer could infuse a “human interest and a semblance of truth into a fantastic tale, the reader would suspend judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.” This is what I tried to do throughout THE SEMPER SONNET, infuse both “human interest” and a “semblance of truth” into an admittedly “fantastic tale.” I’ll let the reader decide if I succeeded.

What research did you do for this book?

SM: I began with a marvelous book, ELIZABETH’S LONDON by Liza Picard. It is so well researched and so energetically written, you can practically smell London in the 16th century. There’s also fascinating information about Elizabethan childbirth, which was very useful.

This book, along with a couple of biographies of Elizabeth and some strategic Googling, gave me the confidence to get started. But, pretty soon I realized that secondary research just didn’t provide what I needed to set scenes in sixteenth and seventeenth century England.  I wanted readers to see, hear and even smell what it was like to live in Elizabeth’s England. So I booked a flight to London.

My first destination was Hatfield, Elizabeth’s childhood home. After a short train ride from London, I walked from the station up the hill to the palace, having made an appointment with Hatfield’s publicity manager. I was able to walk the same walk my current-day character would walk as she investigated the meaning hidden in the sonnet, which gave me invaluable perspective. I was given a private tour of the “old palace,” where Elizabeth was essentially imprisoned by her half-sister, “Bloody” Mary. This is where a pivotal – and invented – scene in my novel occurs, and standing in the great hall gave me the information I needed to write it with confidence.

My second research visit was to Westminster Abbey, specifically Henry VII’s Lady Chapel, considered the last great masterpiece of English medieval architecture. More relevant to my novel, it’s where Elizabeth is entombed. In a great irony of history, her tomb was placed directly on top of her hated half-sister’s. I was planning to set a climactic scene in the Lady Chapel, so I spent several hours there as groups of tourists came and went. I took notes on the architecture, the various memorials lining the walls, the points of access where my characters could enter and leave.

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?

SM: Elizabeth I figures prominently in the novel. Several figures in her court, including her loyal governess and friend, Kat Astley, are also depicted. The other characters, in particular the queen’s physician, Rufus Hatton, are invented. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it’s a lot easier and therefore more fun to write about an invented character – you can just make stuff up. Every time I created a bit of dialogue for the queen I worried that one of her legions of contemporary fans would find it implausible or off-tone, somehow. I keep waiting for the angry emails; to date, none have arrived.

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?
SM: For me, the biggest challenge in writing THE SEMPER SONNET was not so much recreating a bygone era as capturing the “voice” of the 16th Century. I solved it (I hope!) by telling the Tudor portions of the story through a series of letters written by an Elizabethan doctor, Rufus Hatton. Channeling the “good doctor’s” thoughts and words made it much easier to bring what I hope is an authentic tone to the novel.

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?

SM: One of the things that drew me to Elizabethan England was the obvious fact that it was dominated by a woman! Part of the fascination about Elizabeth was her sex, and how she used it to gain and maintain control in a very complex and dangerous court. In THE SEMPER SONNET, I created a modern-day heroine, Lee Nicholson, whose life in most ways is much freer than that of Elizabeth. Though neither wealthy nor powerful, Lee is fully able to pursue a career of her choosing, marry whom she wants or remain single, say and do whatever comes to mind. Five centuries earlier, the most powerful woman on earth could do none of those things. I don’t prefer to write about one sex or the other, but in this case, writing about two women, similar in many ways but separated by 500 years, was irresistible.

Thanks for answering my questions, Seth. Readers can learn more about Seth Margolis by visiting his website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

The book is available online from the following retailers: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

semper-authorAbout Seth Margolis: He is a writer whose most recent novel, THE SEMPER SONNET, was published on April 19. He is the author of six earlier novels, including LOSING ISAIAH, which was made into a film starring Halle Berry and Jessica Lange.

Seth lives with his wife, Carole, in New York City. They have two grown children, Maggie and Jack. Seth received a BA in English from the University of Rochester and an MBA in marketing from New York University’s Stern School of Business Administration. When not writing fiction, he is a branding consultant for a wide range of companies, primarily in the financial services, technology and pharmaceutical industries. He has written articles for the New York Times and other publications on travel and entertainment.

Posted in December 2016, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


bathtubOn Saturday I attended a writing workshop tutored by Anthony J. Quinn, a Northern Irish crime writer. We spent considerable time discussing how to develop three dimensional characters. One of the interesting suggestions he offered was to give your characters memories.

After the workshop finished, I mulled over the idea in my head. I’ve blogged about it on the Writers Abroad website today. You’ll find my post here.

Posted in November 2016, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Meet the Silver Baron’s Wife

Today I’d like to welcome Donna Baier Stein to Ascroft, eh? to chat about her new novel, The Silver Baron’s Wife.

silver-baron-coverThis is how the publisher, Serving House Books, describes the book: “The Silver Baron’s Wife traces the rags-to-riches-to-rags life of Colorado’s Baby Doe Tabor (Lizzie). This fascinating heroine worked in the silver mines and had two scandalous marriages, one to a philandering opium addict and one to a Senator and silver baron worth $24 million in the late 19th century. A divorcee shunned by Denver society, Lizzie raised two daughters in a villa where 100 peacocks roamed the lawns, entertained Sarah Bernhardt when the actress performed at Tabor’s Opera House, and after her second husband’s death, moved to a one-room shack at the Matchless Mine in Leadville. She lived the last 35 years of her life there, writing down thousands of her dreams and noting visitations of spirits on her calendar. Hers is the tale of a fiercely independent woman who bucked all social expectations by working where 19th century women didn’t work, becoming the key figure in one of the West’s most scandalous love triangles, and, after a devastating stock market crash destroyed Tabor’s vast fortune, living in eccentric isolation at the Matchless Mine. An earlier version of this novel won the PEN/New England Discovery Award in Fiction.”

Welcome Donna. Let’s get down to a few questions, shall we?

Tell us about your novel.

DBS: My novel is based on a historical figure, Baby Doe Tabor, who lived in Colorado in the late 19th, early 20th centuries.  She was in many ways a woman ahead of her time. She worked in the silver mines despite the prevalent superstition that women brought bad luck to miners… was part of one of the West’s most scandalous love triangles… and wrote down thousands of her dreams at a time when, though psychoanalysis was becoming popular in Europe, people were not regularly keeping dream journals. She noted spirit visitations on her wall calendars.

Some people have considered her a female American mystic; others thought she was simply eccentric.  She was also married to one of America’s wealthiest men, silver baron Horace Tabor. There is an American opera written by Douglas Moore called The Ballad of Baby Doe. I wanted to write her story, in first person, to reveal her as someone other than just a mistress and later wife of a wealthy man.

What prompted you to write about this historical figure?

DBS: I first learned about Baby Doe (Lizzie) when I travelled with my parents to Colorado on one of many family vacations. I still own the post cards from that long ago trip. Even as a child I recognized something very special in her life – the contradictions between materialism and spirituality, family ties and loneliness, wealth and poverty.

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

DBS: I followed the historical facts fairly closely, though there was such a wealth of material that I had to omit certain events in order to accommodate the narrative arc I’d set for the novel. Originally, and very naively, I assumed that since Lizzie lived such a fascinating life, with so many colorful events, her story would provide an automatic plot structure. The novel begins when she is 12 years old and ends when she is 81. I wanted to follow certain threads – specifically her spiritual search and her accommodation to loss – and so focused on scenes that would best reveal those.

What research did you do for this book?

DBS: I did a lot of research for this book, travelling several times to Leadville, Denver, and the Willard Hotel in Washington DC where Lizzie and Horace Tabor were married. I was irresistibly drawn to the shack where Lizzie spent her last years at the Matchless Mine in Leadville. I photocopied many of her original dream writings, which are now housed in the Colorado Historical Society. I read nonfiction books about her and one novel, which I did not like at all because it so obviously was a male, almost misogynistic, approach to her life. One of my favorite nonfiction books was Madwoman in the Cabin by Judy Nolte-Temple. I also read many books about the early days of Leadville, silver mining, and the political fight between those who backed silver versus gold as the money standard in the U.S.

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

DBS: Yes, there is a mixture. Lizzie and her two husbands are historic figures who appear in the novel, as do President Chester Arthur, William Jennings Bryan, and Sarah Bernhardt. There’s even a conversation about Nikola Tesla and Swami Vivekananda. But several important minor characters were imagined. These include Arvilla Bunn, an older woman who befriends Lizzie in her early days at the Dogwood mining camp; Joseph Mooney, an assayer and his family; and Tommy Birdsall, who manages the Matchless Mine. In some ways the made-up characters were easier to write because I had more leeway in writing them.

Which to you prefer to write and why?

DBS: This is hard for me to answer. I loved re-creating a real woman’s life, especially a woman as fascinating as Baby Doe Tabor. It was the real facts of her life that first compelled me to write her story, of course. And I love doing historical research. I love the synchronicities that occur during research—the way stumbling on a small detail can lead to a new direction for the story. I’m finding this to be true again now as I complete a collection of short stories based on lithographs by Thomas Hart Benton, all set in 1920s and 1930s Arkansas and Missouri.

On the other hand, there are constraints you face writing about a historical figure. I couldn’t change the basic structure of Lizzie’s life. I knew that there are enough people out there who are familiar with her story and would object if I veered too far from the facts.

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?

DBS: It may sound a little mystical, but every time I have visited Leadville and the Matchless Mine I have felt a very special, almost magical, resonance with the place. Lizzie felt alive to me throughout the writing of the book. I almost felt as though I were channeling the story she wanted to tell about her life rather than the story men had earlier told. Doing obsessive research about clothing and food and visiting the actual places that were significant in Lizzie’s story helped me bring those settings to life.

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?

DBS: I LOVED writing from the point of view of a historical female character. I think we need many more books about the women who preceded us. History is by no means constrained to the way men view it or lived it. History includes more than wars and battles. This doesn’t mean that women don’t fight their own wars and battles. But I do believe women experience the world and move through the world in a way that is different from the way men do. It’s important that those experiences and actions be granted equal weight, in fiction and in life.

Thank you for answering my questions, Donna. Lizzie sounds like a fascinating person and character. Good luck with your novel.

Readers can learn more about Donna by visiting her websiteFacebook, Twitter, and Goodreads pages. The Silver Baron’s Wife is available online at: Amazon | Barnes &  Noble

silver-baron-author-imageAbout Donna Baier Stein: She is the author of The Silver Baron’s Wife (PEN/New England Discovery Award), Sympathetic People (Iowa Fiction Award Finalist and 2015 IndieBook Awards Finalist), and Sometimes You Sense the Difference. She founded and publishes Tiferet Journal. She has received a Scholarship from Bread Loaf, a Fellowship from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars, three Pushcart nominations, and prizes from the Allen Ginsberg Awards and elsewhere. Her writing has appeared in Ascent, Beloit Poetry Journal, Poet Lore, Prairie Schooner, Virginia Quarterly Review, Puerto del Sol, Writer’s Digest, as well as in anthologies from Simon & Schuster and The Spirit That Moves Us Press. She is currently completing a new collection of stories based on Thomas Hart Benton lithographs.

Donna was also an award-winning copywriter whose clients include Smithsonian, World Wildlife Fund, Citrix, and other non-profit and for-profit organizations.


Posted in November 2016, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Peek Into Pearl Harbor and More


My guest post today is a little unusual – I’ve invited myself to chat with you. Why? I’d like to tell you a bit about Pearl Harbor and More, a recently released short story collection I’ve been involved in writing and producing, and my story in the collection.

This year is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Pearl Harbor. On 7th December, 1941, a pivotal event took place that changed the face of World War II. Hundreds of Japanese fighter planes carried out a devastating surprise attack on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

pearl-harbour-finalFew people’s lives were unaffected in some way by that fateful day. The wide-ranging collection of eight stories in Pearl Harbor and More, by our diverse group of authors, who all write wartime fiction, reflects this. Some of the stories are set at Pearl Harbor itself, in other parts of the United States and in Singapore. Other stories take place in Europe: occupied France, Germany and Northern Ireland. They explore the experiences of U.S. servicemen and women, a German Jew, Japanese Americans, a French countess, an Ulster Home Guard, and many others.

You may have guessed that the story about the Ulster Home Guard is my contribution to the collection. Allies After All is set in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland during December 1941. As part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland had already been at war for more than two years when my story opens. But, it was the same, yet a different, war than the rest of the United Kingdom was waging. Due to the political and religious tensions in the province, some aspects of Northern Ireland’s experience of the war differed greatly from the rest of the United Kingdom. They faced rationing, the fear of invasion by Axis troops and many saw their loved ones go off to fight. Though, because conscription was never introduced, those who joined the armed forces did so voluntarily and the enlistment rate was lower than in some other parts of the UK. But what the province didn’t supply in manpower, they made up for with industrial output. Northern Ireland’s industries supplied ships, aircraft, munitions and cloth for the armed forces.

County Fermanagh, in the west of the province, did its part for the war effort with increased crop yields and milk production for consumption locally and across the Irish Sea in England. Bordering neutral Ireland, the county was in a unique position. The hardships of rationing were offset by a thriving cross border smuggling trade between the two countries. Yet, at the same time, the Unionists in Fermanagh constantly worried about the proximity of the border, fearing that the IRA would sneak across it to attack local targets, sabotage military operations in the county and aide Axis forces to infiltrate the province. Local defence throughout Northern Ireland was overseen by the police rather than the military, in order to employ their local knowledge to prevent anyone with suspected terrorist connections from being accepted into the Local Defence Force, which later became the Ulster Home Guard.

Northern Ireland was also a staging platform for the Allied troops arriving in the United Kingdom to prepare for the invasion of occupied Europe. This included the Americans. Although America was neutral until the attack on Pearl Harbor pushed them into the war, they had already been in Northern Ireland for months, secretly preparing for their entry into the war. The construction of military installations by American civilian contractors, in various places in the United Kingdom, including County Fermanagh, was already well underway by December 1941.

When my story opens, an American mechanic, Art Miller, working for a civilian company on the construction of ammunition storage dump facilities near Ardess, has a memorable first meeting with Robbie Hetherington, a member of the Local Defence Force in County Fermanagh.

Here’s the excerpt from my story:

cow-at-fence     “Art yanked the van’s door open. Despite the crazy angle the vehicle was sitting at, in one quick movement he swung himself out of the driver’s seat onto the bumpy, badly surfaced road. Huh, you’d hardly call it a road; it wasn’t much wider than a sidewalk back home. Nothing like the smooth, straight Route 62 that passed through his hometown in New York State. The highway’s surface might crack in the summer heat, but there sure weren’t any craters in it. This was only fit for donkeys and carts. Guess that was about right around here.

Art ran his hand across the back of his neck and up into his sandy crew cut as he stared at the vehicle. His old man had never let them grow their hair when they were kids, and he still had the same haircut he’d had in grade school. Not that he had a beef with that. He had the hair; now he just needed the uniform. He was ready to answer Uncle Sam’s call.

Well, if he ever got this truck outta the hole he would be. What he could sure use right now would be Popeye to come along and lift that tin can outta there. He wasn’t far outside Ardess village but he hadn’t seen anyone around when he drove through it. The place looked like a ghost town. It was more than a mile back to Kiltierney camp. If he started walking, with any luck, a truck headed for the camp would pass him and he could hitch a ride. He’d get someone to come back and tow him out.

As he turned and started walking away from the vehicle, a young man around his own age wearing a heavy khaki overcoat and field service cap cycled toward him on a sturdy black bicycle.

“Hiya, buddy,” Art said to the cyclist when he stopped beside him.

“Are you abandoning that vehicle in the middle of the road?” the khaki-uniformed man sputtered.

“Well, it ain’t goin’ nowhere. It’s stuck in a hole.”

“You can’t leave it there. It might fall into the wrong hands.”

“Is that so? I don’t see anyone around here. Do you?” Art ran his hand through his hair as he stared at the man. Who is this smart aleck? he thought.

“See here, you certainly can’t leave it there. Spies or terrorists could sneak across the border from Ireland and have it quicker than a fox slips into a henhouse.”

Art raised one eyebrow and snorted. “Yeah? And how do I know you ain’t a Jerry soldier? Who are you, anyway, pal?”

“I’m a Local Defence Volunteer. Let’s see your ID.”

Could this day get any worse? Art really didn’t feel like dealing with this smart aleck right now. He had had it with being pushed around. “Is that a wing of the Boy Scouts?”

Art thought his interrogator looked sore about the wisecrack, but he didn’t care. He just wanted to get that truck out of the hole and get back to camp to finish the repair he’d been working on. If he couldn’t convince the boss to send him home, then he would do his darndest to get this construction project finished lickity-split so he could get outta here.

The uniformed man regarded him stiffly. “It’s the Ulster Special Constabulary.”

“You’re a copper, then?”

“No, Local Defence. Like the Home Guard in England.”

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard of them – aren’t they old guys, soldiers that are over the hill? Marching around with broomsticks.”

“Not in Northern Ireland. We’re part of the police force. And we’re issued Lee–Enfield rifles.”

Art shook his head. The guy looked pretty young to be in some broomstick brigade instead of the army, but what did he care? It was none of his beeswax. Getting this truck out of the hole was. Say, maybe this smart aleck could help him.”

Pearl Harbor and More is available at the following online booksellers: 
Amazon UK  |  Nook  |  iTunes  |  Kobo  |  !Indigo  |  Books2Read

I’d like to thank several bloggers who are also sharing my guest post today and encourage readers to pop over to their blogs too:

Fermanagh Writers 

Manchester Irish Writers

Louise Charles

Amsterdam Oriole

Celtic Ladys Reviews

Queen of All She Reads


Posted in November 2016, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment