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Interview with Valerie Stocking: ‘Rewrite and polish and keep doing this until you can’t read it anymore’

Valerie Stocking was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and wrote her first short story when she was five. When she was eight, she won a short story contest in Jack and Jill Magazine. She wrote her first play at the age of ten. In 1966, when she was twelve, she and her mother moved to a small town in Florida where they lived for a year. During this time, Valerie experienced difficulties with the public school system, tried a Seventh Day Adventist school briefly, and then dropped out altogether. It was her experiences during this year that inspired The Promised Land.Later, she would finish high school, graduate from college and earn a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies from NYU.

For nearly 30 years, she wrote and edited in various capacities, including copywriting, newspaper articles, and short stories. She wrote nearly 20 full-length and one act plays over a ten year period, which have been performed throughout the U.S. and Canada. She edited books for audio, abridging over 100 novels in a 6-year period. In 2010, she published her first novel, A Touch of Murder, which is the first of what will become the Samantha Kern mystery series. It was nominated for a Global eBook Award in 2011 for Best Mystery.

Valerie lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her dog and cat, and is working on her next novel.

You can visit her website at www.valeriestocking.com.

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Q: Thank you for this interview, Valerie. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Promised Land, is all about?

Sure! The Promised Land tells the story of 12-year-old Joy Bradford, who’s just moved with her mother from Connecticut to a small, backwater town on the west coast of Florida in August, 1966. She befriends a biracial boy named Clay Dooley in her 7th grade geography class, and this has disastrous consequences.

Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

The main character, Joy Bradford, is an outcast. At a time when most adolescent girls were experimenting with makeup and ironing their long hair, Joy’s hair is short and curly. She wears no make-up, has never shaved, has never plucked an eyebrow. So she looks different from her peers. She is also quite bright, reads Dostoevsky and Hemingway, and writes poetry.

Joy’s biracial friend Clay Dooley is also an outcast. He too, looks different from the other kids, and is shunned by them. Clay is also very bright, but in different ways from Joy.

Joy’s mother, Jessica, is drop-dead gorgeous. She loves men, and loves getting their attention. She becomes romantically involved with her divorce lawyer, Bill McKendrick, who happens to be the head of the local Klan chapter. Meanwhile, another would-be suitor, Thaddeus Simms, the sheriff of the town, tries to throw his hat in the ring for her affections. However, this doesn’t fly.

Clay Dooley’s father, an African-American, is trying to open a clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point, the town where the story takes place. Naturally, Bill and the Klan become involved in thwarting this man’s dreams.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

With this book, there’s a mix of both. Jessica and Joy are based upon my mother and me. Clay was real. So was Bill McKendrick, but I embellished his position in the town quite a bit for the novel. Thaddeus and Clytus, Clay’s father, I created, although I did include details about real people I’ve known in their characterizations.

Usually, my characters are mostly made up. This is the first time I’ve included real people, and it was kind of scary at first. I am still wondering what readers are going to think of these people. I guess time will tell!

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

With The Promised Land, a number of events depicted in the book actually happened, so that part of the plot’s development was easy. In the cases where I was writing fictional segments, I was pretty aware of what was going to be going on in advance. I wrote an outline of the book on index cards, something I’d never done before. Each card had a scene on it, with some brief description. This way, I knew what direction I was going in, but I could veer off down a different path if I wanted to.

Q: Your book is set in Willets Point, Florida. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

It’s a fictitious city, first of all, though it’s based on a place where I actually lived. The city (town, really) plays a key role in the plot, as it’s pretty small and everybody knows everybody’s business. And, despite the signing of the Civil Rights Act into law two years prior, blatant bigotry still exists in this place. It’s kind of isolated, and I remember the smells of it to this day. I tried to depict it as accurately as I could. It was a pretty bleak place.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

The setting is key. At the time the events in this story took place, Florida was ranked 49th in terms of the quality of its public school education. My mother sought assistance for me everywhere she could. There was none. I don’t mean to sound prejudiced, because I don’t know what it’s like down there today, but I think that if this story had taken place in a larger metropolitan area, more accommodations could have been made for me. Also, the fact that the town was small and isolated helped propagate the bigotry that takes place there in the story.

Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?

Jessica has gotten Joy out of bed in the middle of the night. She chases Joy around the house, hitting her over and over again with a belt. No explanation is given to Joy. In the book, I suggest that Jessica was victim to some vicious voices in her head that insisted she do things she didn’t really want to do. It’s a pretty harrowing scene.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

This is a scene where the Ku Klux Klan are laying siege to Clytus Dooley’s house. Clay and Joy are upstairs in Clay’s room, while Clytus and his wife Inga are downstairs trying to stave off the inevitable.

Clay turned his attention to the window. The dim shouts of the men outside were growing louder.

“They’re coming around here,” he cried. He turned off the flashlight, plunging the small room into darkness.

Joy inhaled sharply and turned toward the window. She could see light coming from the group of men who were entering the back yard. Her heart was pounding wildly.

Through the glass of the closed window, she could hear muffled voices:

“They aren’t back here.”

“There’s nobody…”

“Don’t matter. Break it down.”

There were shouts of assent. Joy caught her breath. She counted a total of eight men standing down below her on the grass.

Through the closed door of Clay’s room, Clytus shouted something she couldn’t make out. Then Joy heard thuds coming from the back of the house.

“They’re trying to get in.” Clay’s eyes were wild with fear.

Joy craned her head around to see the cluster of men by the back door. She heard wood splintering and saw the outer screen door hanging off its hinges.

They’re coming in.

Her mouth was dry. She became aware of Clay leaning over her, trying to see out the window, too.

There was the thudding sound of something dull hitting the wood of the back door.

“It won’t hold,” Clay shouted. “What are we going to do?”

Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

I’ve been blessed in that I rarely have writer’s block. When I do, it usually results from the self-consciousness of writing the first sentences, of wanting them to be perfect, so I start going back over them and editing right away, instead of proceeding with the draft. What I do then is, I pull myself together and force myself to keep going, keep those keys clicking. I tell myself it’s okay if I write a bunch of crap; I can always fix it later. Then I become absorbed in the scene that I’m writing, and it is a matter of describing what’s going on in it and what’s being said. I become an observer.

Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?

Work on an article for my blog!

Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?

There are two: As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, and Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. The latter is a children’s book. It’s terrific.

Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?

First, don’t put it out there until it’s been thoroughly edited and gone over by someone you trust, who will tell you the truth about your work. Rewrite and polish and keep doing this until you can’t read it anymore. Then give it to still another person to read and critique. Finally, you have to let it go. I had a problem doing that with The Promised Land. I revised and revised and polished, until I finally said, “That’s enough. That’s it. It’s ready.” Above all, don’t give up!

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Valerie. We wish you much success!

Thank you.

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Interview with Melanie Benjamin, Author of ‘The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb’

Melanie Benjamin is a pseudonym for Melanie Hauser, the author of two contemporary novels. Her first work of historical fiction as Melanie Benjamin was Alice I Have Been. The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is her second release. She lives in Chicago, where she is at work on her next historical novel.
You can visit her online at www.melaniebenjamin.com.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Melanie. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, is all about?

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb is a fictional autobiography of thirty-two inch tall Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump Stratton Magri, better known as Mrs. Tom Thumb. Along with her husband, Charles Stratton – General Tom Thumb – she was one of the most famous personalities of her day. Their wedding knocked the Civil War right off the front pages; the Lincolns even hosted a reception for them in the White House. Vinnie, as she was known, was expected to live her life sheltered in the bosom of her loving family because of her diminutive size. Yet she decided to leave home, first to perform on a rough Mississippi River showboat, then finally bringing herself to P. T. Barnum’s attention. It was while appearing for him at his American Museum that she met her husband, who was thirty-six inches tall. Together – and with her even more diminutive, vulnerable sister, Minnie – they toured the world and met kings, queens and presidents. Despite her sometimes daunting optimism and courage, Vinnie ultimately paid a price for the “larger” life she so avidly sought. Her story takes place against a colorful panoply of American life; she started out when railroads were just beginning to link the country, and by the time she died, she’d appeared in a silent movie!

Q: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Vinnie is my protagonist, the narrator of her story. Born in 1841 to a simple Massachusetts farming family, she was one of several siblings, all the rest of normal size except her youngest sister, Minnie. Vinnie was thirty-two inches tall, Minnie, just twenty-eight; they were “proportionate dwarfs,” perfectly formed miniature people. Vinnie was fiercely intelligent and ladylike, and not about to spend a life hidden away; she very knowingly traded on her size in order to see the world and become famous – but her success came at a cost, particularly in the fate of her beloved younger sister, Minnie. When she married Charles Stratton – aka General Tom Thumb – he was already world famous, having been “found” by P. T. Barnum at the tender age of 5, groomed to perform and mimic in tiny uniforms. Another proportionate dwarf, he was thirty-six inches tall when he married Vinnie. P. T. Barnum was Vinnie’s great friend and, I truly believe, the love of her life; the only person she knew whose personality and dreams were as big as her own.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

With historical fiction, obviously – real people!

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

With historical fiction, writing about real people, you do have a template to follow; you have actual dates – births, deaths, etc. These can help form the bones of the novel. But the trick is to decide which of the hundreds of stories in each life to tell; you can’t tell them all. You have to pick the ones that will shape a thumping good novel! With The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb, of course I anticipated that I would end it with Vinnie’s death. Yet when the time came, I realized that the story I wanted to tell – the touching relationship between Vinnie and Barnum – was over a good forty years before her death. So I ended the novel there, instead.

Q: Where is your book set? Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

Actually, my book is set all over the world, but particularly in an expanding, growing America in the 1800s. Vinnie’s story – so full of optimism and drive – is really the story of America in the age of “Go West, Young Man!” She started out on the early railroads, was one of the first passengers on the Transcontinental Railroad, toured the South immediately after the Civil War – no one city could contain Vinnie!

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Well, yes – as I just described. Also, Vinnie couldn’t have had the fame and fortune she enjoyed had she been born in any other era. America in the years just before, during and after the Civil War was an America just waking up to itself. Towns and villages were suddenly linked; people who had never left home were now reading newspapers from far off places like New York City. Soldiers were tramping all over the country, hundreds of miles from home. People were curious about the new and unknown – and a thirty-two inch tall, perfectly formed miniature woman who sang and danced and had exquisite manners was just about as new and unknown as could be, to most of them.

Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?

Vinnie is just finishing up her first performance, on a cousin’s “floating palace of curiosities” – a showboat on the Mississippi river. It’s rather a rough crowd that she’s facing!

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

This is from the scene in which Vinnie and P. T. Barnum meet for the first time:

“I am Miss Bump,” I said, crossing toward this man and extending my hand without hesitation. “And am I to believe you are the equally famous Mr. Barnum?”

“That I am, that I am, indeed.” He took my hand solemnly, shook it, then suddenly bent down to peer directly into my face. His eyes were level with mine, so close that I could see myself reflected in them, and I had the startling, dizzy impression of a carnival, of colors and sounds and mirrors of every shape and size; of music, joyous, merry music tooted from horns and plucked by fiddles. How one man’s gaze could engage so many senses, I had no idea; I only knew his did. It nearly knocked the breath out of me; my heart did a riotous somersault as the back of my neck tickled with excitement, and I fought an undignified urge to giggle.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Melanie. We wish you much success!

You’re welcome, and thank you for having me!

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Interview with Hazel Statham, Author of ‘Consequence’

 

Hazel read her first Regency Romance, Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer, when she was seventeen and knew that at last she had found her era.

She had been writing since she was fifteen and had mainly been influenced by authors like Austen, the Brontes and Sabatini, but Georgette Heyer opened up the romance and elegance of the eighteen and nineteenth century and she fell head over heels in love with it.

She devoured her books in very quick succession and wanted nothing more than to recreate her own Regency world. History had always been her favorite subject at school and it was just one small step to portray it in her work.

However, despite today’s trend to produce ‘hotter’ novels, she writes ‘traditional’ Regency Romance and closes the door on her characters when they retire. So much emotion can be conveyed by a mere glance or a single word that she doesn’t feel it necessary to leave the metaphorical door open to convey the emotions of the moment. The merest hint is often sufficient to stimulate the reader’s imagination and to go into detail is totally unnecessary.

Hazel has been married to her husband since 1969 and they share their home with a lovely Labrador named Mollie. Apart from reading and writing historical novels, Hazel’s other ruling passion is animals and, until recently, she was treasurer for an organization that raised money for animal charities.

Hazel loves to hear from her readers and promises to answer all mail.

Visit her online at www.hazel-statham.co.uk

Q: Thank you for this interview, Hazel. Can you tell us what your latest book, Consequence, is all about?

In the wake of a duel, Marcel Blake, Duke of Lear, an infamous rake and gamester, leaves London to visit his cousin in Paris. Here he meets and falls in love with Julie, the British ambassador’s daughter. Thinking she would be horrified if she learned of his reputation, Marcel fights the attraction; but when he is wounded while saving her from the unwanted advances of a less-than-desirable, would-be suitor, Marcel finds that she returns his affections.

Ultimately, vengeance conspires against them; at their wedding reception, Julie is maliciously informed of Marcel’s previous life of misdeeds, and she’s led to believe that he only married her to please the king. With this insurmountable gulf suddenly between them, will Marcel prove his reformation, woo his wife, and find happiness with her, or is the sudden desolation in Julie’s heart impossible to overcome? Have Marcel’s games finally caught up to him?

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Marcel is very much a man of his time, an aristocrat with a licentious past who falls deeply in love with Julie Markham, the innocent daughter of the British ambassador.  He marries with the desperate hope to prove his reformation, but the fates conspire against him.

Julie deeply loves her husband but is devastated by the thought that he married her only to appease the king.  Her heart is broken on her wedding day when she is informed of Marcel’s previous life-style and that he has killed his opponent in a duel.  She has no remembrance of him confessing his love for her and believes she has contracted a marriage of convenience – which she abhors.

Julie’s family and Marcel’s cousin Stefan know nothing of the situation and believe the couple to be living a happy and contented life in London not knowing the gulf that lies between them.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination? 

I have to confess that they are totally from my imagination, although I suppose it is possible to be subconsciously influenced by people one sees and meets.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I usually have a vague outline to begin with but my characters dictate where the story goes and it generally unfolds as I write with many unexpected twists and turns.

Q: Your book is set in Paris and London.  Can you tell us why you chose these cities in particular?

They are where my characters live and were the two major cities between which the nobility flowed.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

To a certain degree, yes.  If Marcel needed to remove himself from London then his townhouse in Paris would provide an obvious alternative.  When they return to England after their marriage, London would be the natural place to go. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

“…but to go to Julie with his hands soiled with Lawrence’s death, was almost unthinkable. He said almost for he still held a ray of hope. If she should know nothing of it, could he in all conscience hide it from her? A small voice at the back of his brain said yes; while common sense warned him beware. A plan was fast forming in his mind, one that would not be put aside. If they should marry and he secured her affections, perhaps then he would find a way of proving himself to her before she should become aware of his past, hoping that by then at least he would have some chance of her forgiving him. It was a selfish plan, without a doubt, it was a foolish plan, but his heart would not listen to reason. Reason played no part when his entire happiness, indeed his whole future was in jeopardy.”

The more he thought, the more his thoughts returned to this, until as the fire completely died away, he was firm in the conviction that if he was to have any hopes of attaching Julie’s life to his own, this was what he must do. Julie represented all he held dear. Believing her to be his salvation, he must put aside all thoughts of Lawrence’s death. It was something he would face in the future if the occasion should arise, as for now, he must reply to the king as quickly as possible,

 

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

His grace was not very much hurt, but of a sudden had taken a liking to being pampered and allowed Julie, when she returned, to bathe his temple with a cooling lotion. She perched herself on the arm of his chair requiring him to hold a small china bowl wherein reposed the soothing liquid and gently bathed the offending lump.

The duke, deeming it prudent not to mention Coustellet, in an attempt to divert her thoughts asked lightly, “Did you enjoy your season in London?” 

Julie smiled ruefully, thankful for the diversion. “I’m afraid my aunt who was to have brought me out suffered a seizure just before the season began and so my debut had to be postponed. However, Papa has promised that I will have a season next year.” 

 “No doubt your debut will be a great success, my dear,” he said, smiling. Indeed, it is an event I shall look forward to with great anticipation.” 

As Julie gently smiled in response, he involuntarily became fascinated by the turn of her delicate cheek, and for the moment, imagined his lips resting there. Mentally taking himself to task, he attempted to banish such errant thoughts but against his will, the fascination remained. When, inadvertently spilling some of the liquid on his coat, Julie leaned closer to his profile in an attempt to dab away the offending liquid, he found the temptation impossible to resist. Without conscious thought, he gently tilted up her chin and tenderly kissed the sweet roundness of her face. 

For a moment she gazed blankly at him, and then with a sudden cry, ran from the room and up to her apartments, locking her door against all intruders and there spent the remainder of the day.

The Duke of Lear, cursing himself for being every type of fool reflected that he had treated her hardly better than Coustellet by taking advantage of her trusting innocence. It had however, taken him completely by surprise that he could feel so tenderly toward her, for he had thought himself impervious to her charms and it was in some consternation that he also retired to his room. 

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Hazel.  We wish you much success!

Thank you for the opportunity to talk about my latest release and for your very kind interest in my work.  You will find excerpts and reviews of all my other  books at www.hazel-statham.co.uk

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Interview with Leonora Pruner, Author of ‘In the Aerie of the Wolf’

While born in Dubuque, Iowa, Leonora Pruner was brought to California by her parents during the Second World War, which has since been her principal residence. In 1953, she graduated from Westmont College then earned an MBA from Pepperdine University in 1981. Having married in 1953, she has seen her family expand from two children to thirteen grandchildren and five great- grandchildren.

Writing has been an important activity since junior high. In the late ‘60s, an eighteenth-century English character on The Wonderful World of Disney, captivated her interest. The desire to create a variation of him, led to five years of extensive research, followed by the publication of two period novels in 1981 and 1987, Love’s Secret Storm, and Love’s Silent Gift. Feeling that all that research should be reused, eighteenth-century England continues as a setting for her work.

From 1987 to 1997, she lived in the Republic of Maldives collecting folklore and teaching economics and computer science. While there, she wrote the first drafts of Close to His Heart and The Aerie of the Wolf on her computer.

Visit Leonora online at http://nordskogpublishing.com/book-in-the-aerie-of-the-wolf.shtml

Q: Thank you for this interview, Leonora. Can you tell us what your latest book, In The Aerie of The Wolf, is all about?

Basically, it is about relationships and the significance of trust, especially in a marriage.  It is about having the courage to take a risk, to venture into the unknown and deal with fear and uncertainty.  And it is about learning to see past a person’s physical appearance to the qualities of character beneath the surface.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Anne, about 20 years old, is the younger daughter of a mid-18th century family in the south of England.  Since her father is the younger son of a younger son of a  noble family, he has good blood and little money.  The marriage of her older sister, the recognized beauty of the family, required a substantial dowry.  Anne developed young love for the local, handsome clergyman who helped open her mind to explore some of philosophical things girls were not taught in school.  But, an offer of marriage was made for her with a very large settlement given to her parents and she was sent off to distantYorkshireto a man she had never met.  Of course, she was angry at God for not rewarding her good works with “the love of her life” and frightened over what lay ahead.  Her mother had failed to prepare her for marriage, and certainly not for living in a high, old castle, vastly different from their modern Georgian home.  The story opens with her first sight of the castle from the trail coming down out of the mountains.

Samson is a hunchback of indeterminate age.  His shaggy gray hair dangled about his face to obscure the hideous scar across his left cheek.  Lord Wolverton had charged him with the task of presenting his marriage offer to Anne’s parents and conveying her safely to his home, the Aerie.  Along the lengthy journey, he took great care of Anne for her comforts and to keep her safe.  Following their arrival, he continues to serve her meals and take her on tours of the Aerie and the secret passages within its stone walls.  Clearly, he is much respected by the staff and obeyed instantly.  Anne comes to lean on him and trust him in everything, even to confiding a little in this old servant.

Andrew, Lord Wolverton was rejected by his parents virtually at birth; they made no effort to hide their preference for his younger brother.  Despite his efforts, it seemed all his life that his brother could better Andrew at anything and openly despised him.  No one expected Andrew to out live his parents and assume the title.  From his youth he rode around the hills making friends with the miners and others living there.  Since his one year atOxfordwas disastrous as he became the butt of cutting remarks and vicious pranks, he turned away from the outside.   However, his loving nurse and godfather nurtured his dreams and hopes.

A single man, Sir Andrew Acton, Lord Wolverton, Sr.’s best friend, happily stood as godfather for Wolverton’s first born son’s baptism.  The boy was given the name of Andrew.   Troubled by the boy’s mistreatment, he began to treat him as if he was truly his son, giving him affection and encouragement on all his visits.  He was instrumental in the shaping of the young Lord Wolverton after the parents died.  After encountering Anne, he selected her as the appropriate woman to become Lady Wolverton.

Rev. Michael Pennywaithe was a young, earnest vicar at Anne’s village’s church.  Well aware that his position in life was inadequate for Anne’s parents to agree to their marriage, he tried to restrain any expression of his fondness for her.  His commitment to living righteously in all things was a priority in his life.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination? 

Mostly they begin in my imagination, with bits of people I have known and read about woven in here and there.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

Pretty much it is a discovery.  It begins with a “what if” question, then working out the answer and new questions, letting it evolve as it will.  Many stories end with a wedding.  But many of the most interesting and important events follow that.  If these people do marry, what then?

Q: Your book is set in Yorkshire, England in the mid-18th century.  Can you tell us why you chose this place in particular?

The heroine is from the South Downs.  She must travel to a distant, strange place to meet and marry an unknown man.  I chose this location because it was far from her home, a frightening, mountainous place, totally at variance with her sunny Georgian home.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

This strange, friendly but ominous setting provides the environment for Anne to grow from a young, sheltered adult in a small village to a stronger woman making hard choices on her own and facing the consequences of her actions. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Anne is being led by Samson, a hunchback and trusted servant, to explore secret passages within the castle walls.  At this point she is putting on pattens (to wear over her shoes) as they were going beneath the moat where it would be muddy.  He opens the hidden door and they begin to go down stone steps within the wall, pausing to peep into various rooms, then under the moat and beyond.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

 

This is when Anne first meets her fiancé in a moonlit garden.

The strange, deep voice coming from a dark corner startled her, prompting a rash of prickles on her skin. She heard a crunching step on one of the paths. Had he come through the door? She heard no sound of it. Should she call for Smithson? Anne pulled her Spanish shawl tighter as she rose and faced the voice, demanding in tones elevated by fear, “W-who are you?”

“Andrew Lupus, at your service.”

She saw the flash of diamond buckles as he made a proper leg in bowing. Diamonds? Who else could it be in this place? Despite a mouth suddenly dry she managed to murmur, “Anne Crofton,” and dropped a curtsy.

“I know.”

“Have we met?” she asked hesitantly, trying to recognize his voice.

“Not formally. We do not stand on ceremony at the Aerie.”

“Oh.” Her heart was pounding uncomfortably hard. “Are you, are you Lord Wolverton, m-my host?”

“The same.”

At last! She made a deep curtsy, trying to conceal her nervousness. “I am so happy to have this opportunity to thank you for your kindness in providing my lovely rooms. The moment I crossed the threshold, I felt the warmth of ‘home’.”

“Such was my desire. I am gratified it pleased you.”

She noticed the moonlight exposed the white stockings covering his ankles above the sparkling buckles. If she could talk long enough, it might move up his figure and reveal his features. “I was uneasy coming to this strange place, as you might imagine. But, on seeing my things from ho… the Haven, and realizing your considerable effort in bringing them here, not to say planning and forethought, I felt easier in my mind.”

“Then the efforts were more than justified. I trust your journey was not overly tiring.”

“No. Lengthy, but Old Samson took excellent care of me.”

“He is … my most faithful servant.”

Anne took a small step backwards and was pleased to see his feet move towards her and the moonlight expose his dark breeches fastened at his knees. “This is a very unusual garden. Old Samson said it was developed some years past, which I take to mean by one of your ancestors?”

“Traditions in the region indicate it was first planted in the 15th century by the eccentric master of the castle. He also delighted in fostering the notion that we were werewolves.”

Suddenly chilled, Anne asked, “W-werewolves? Surely you jest.”

“Not at all. Very likely it suited a perverse sense of humor or provided primitive power over a very superstitious people. Whatever his reasons, he cultivated that image. He called this place the ‘Aerie of the Wolf’ and took ‘Lupus’ as the family name.”

“How strange,” she murmured, seeing the dark skirt of his coat become visible, possibly brown like his servant’s livery. Casually, she moved a step away from him.

“Anything out of the way was attributed to him, justly or not. As a result, a number of legends grew up about us.” Again, his feet moved forward.

The fingers of his right hand became visible. Beneath the wide lace hanging from his sleeve, she noticed a ring with a large dark stone on his fore finger. Perhaps it was like the betrothal ring she wore. A word, long forgotten, learned with exciting shivers of fright, rose to her consciousness. Gripping her fan tightly, and taking a deep breath, she asked boldly, “And you, are you also a, ly, lycanthrope?”

“A what? A lycanthrope?”

Tensely, she awaited his reaction. Fascinated, she watched the light slowly move up his arm as he stepped towards her with a low laugh.

“You are asking me if I am a werewolf? Come, come. How might I answer? If I say ‘No, of course not,’ I could be lying. If I was a werewolf, I certainly would not admit to it to my … betrothed.”

The emotional timbre when he pronounced ‘betrothed’, created an enjoyable tingle in Anne. “No, I suppose not. I might be frightened away before being wed.”

“And that would not suit my plan at all.”

He almost sounded as if he was smiling. “And what is your plan, milord?” She tried to speak lightly, but her voice trembled slightly.

He paused briefly before answering in measured, vibrant tones, “To make you my wife.”

“Oh!” Her pulse quickened. “But why? Why me? You don’t even know me.”

“Ah, there you err. I know a great deal about you. Your gentle kindness and graciousness will be valued at the Aerie, and your wit and brave heart especially please me.”

“I cannot think why you should entertain such absurd ideas about me. I am far from brave, although I should like to be so,” she ended wistfully. She looked down at her fan, opened and closed it, and drifted back another step.

“It takes great courage to converse with a suspected werewolf on the night of a full moon without screaming for aid.”

She looked up in surprise. The lace of his shirt was clearly visible and metallic braid glinted down the front edges of his full-skirted coat. He’s not a great deal taller than I am, she thought. Perhaps he is shy because he is of small stature. “I, I may be foolish, but I admit I feel no danger.”

“Under these circumstances it is foolhardy to inquire if your companion is a werewolf, even in a veiled manner. The question might rouse him to a lethal reaction.”

“Ah, but if you do not wed me, your plan will fail. I must be safe until then.”

“As you say.”

“In any event, as your guest, I am already at your mercy, milord. Your many kindnesses encourage me to trust you.” Turning, she walked away slowly to the far side of the bench, hoping he would follow into the light. “Please, do not tell me my trust is misplaced,” she said, glancing hopefully over her shoulder.

But she was alone.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Leonora.  We wish you much success!

Thank you for the gift of this opportunity.  It has been a pleasure.

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The Paris Wife: Interview with Historical Novelist Paula McLain

Paula McLain received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan and has been a resident of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. She is the author of two collections of poetry, as well as a memoir, Like Family, and a first novel, A Ticket to Ride. She lives in Cleveland with her family. You can visit Paula McLain’s website to learn more about The Paris Wife at www.pariswife.com.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Paula. Can you tell us what your latest book, The Paris Wife, is all about? 

It’s a historical novel about Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and early years in Paris told from Hadley Hemingway’s point of view. Theirs is one of the most romantic and tragic love stories in literary history. Set at the same time as A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises, the book offers us a fresh and intimate view of Hemingway as he was creating himself, the writer and the man, and transports a reader into the fascinating realm of Bohemian Paris, and also many other exotic destinations—the Austrian Voralberg for Alpine Skiing, Pamplona for fiesta. Their life together was thrilling, but also very tender and real.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters? 

Besides Ernest and Hadley, there’s a fascinating cast of literary giants like Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound. Zelda’s there in all her complicated glory, and bohemian Paris becomes a character, too, in a way. What a singular time in history.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

Every character in this book is a real historical figure—though I did invent a great deal for them—all the dialogue, for instance, and many events and small moments that work to ground and dramatize the story I’m most interested in, the love relationship between Hadley and Ernest, what happens and why; what makes them tick and pushes on them emotionally.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write? 

Historical fiction can sometimes be difficult to frame and control—but for this novel, I was relieved that the book all but plotted itself. It was clear as soon as I began to do research that the story had to begin with Hadley and Ernest’s meeting, and end with their separation and divorce. It was all there, waiting to be filled in. What was left to be discovered, then, were the deeper undercurrents, the story beneath the story. 

Q: Your book is set in Paris.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular? 

Paris was the Ernest and Hadley’s home base during the early twenties, when my book is set. They went many other marvelous places, and those provide fabulous backdrops for important moments—but they always returned to Paris, and it’s a character too, as I say above. Their small flat with no running water, the rue Mouffetard with its fruit mongers and coal peddlers, the cafés of Monparnasse and the rich talk that happened there. Hemingway himself says it best in A Moveable Feast, doesn’t he: “There is never any end to Paris.” 

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

 See above. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening? 

Oh dear, it’s a sad scene! The Hemingways are newly married, and Ernest is having his first major depressive episode, which has Hadley wondering about the nature of his sadness, how deep it goes, and where it comes from, and if there’s any way she can truly help him through it.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts? 

I’m pretty fond of the prologue, actually. Here’s just a taste: 

“Interesting people were everywhere just then. The cafés of Montparnasse breathed them in and out, French painters and Russian dancers and American writers. On any given night, you could see Picasso walking from Saint- Germain to his apartment in the rue des Grands-Augustins, always exactly the same route and always looking quietly at everyone and everything. Nearly anyone might feel like a painter walking the streets of Paris then because the light brought it out in you, and the shadows alongside the buildings, and the bridges which seemed to want to break your heart, and the sculpturally beautiful women in Chanel’s black sheath dresses, smoking and throwing back their heads to laugh. We could walk into any café and feel the wonderful chaos of it, ordering Pernod or Rhum St. James until we were beautifully blurred and happy to be there together.” 

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Paula.  We wish you much success! 

It was my pleasure. Thanks for reading, and for loving books!

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Interview with C.W. Gortner, Author of “The Tudor Secret”

C.W. Gortner is the author of the acclaimed historical novels The Last Queen and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici. He holds an MFA in Writing with an emphasis on Renaissance Studies from the New College of California. In his extensive travels to research his books, he has danced a galliard in a Tudor great hall and experienced life in a Spanish castle. He is also a dedicated advocate for animal rights and environmental issues. Half-Spanish by birth, he divides his time between Northern California and Antigua, Guatemala.

The Tudor Secret is the first book in Gortner’s The Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles series.

You can visit the author online at www.cwgortner.com or his blog at http://historicalboys.blogspot.com/.

Q: Thank you for this interview, C.W.  Can you tell us what your latest book, THE TUDOR SECRET, is all about? 

Set during the tumultuous final days of the reign of King Edward VI, The Tudor Secret tells the story of an orphaned squire, Brendan Prescott, who is raised by the powerful Dudley family and brought to court, where he becomes a spy to protect Elizabeth Tudor from a deadly plot and unravel the secret of his own mysterious past. It’s a fast paced suspense thriller, exploring a different side of the Tudor era – an underworld of intrigue, ambitions, and deadly secrets.  While the Tudors have been covered from nearly every angle, nothing I’ve read had ever explored the possibility that Elizabeth may have had her own secret spy, someone devoted to her special interests— and someone who ended up becoming her close friend even as he roused the lifelong enmity of her lover, Robert Dudley. This is the premise behind The Tudor Secret and the next novels in this projected series called the “Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles” (“Elizabeth’s Spymaster” in the UK). 

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters? 

My main character, Brendan, is fictional. I modeled him on the bits of information we have of other known spies in the Tudor era, as well as the archetypes of historical heroes from such authors as Rafael Sabatini and Alexander Dumas. Brendan is the quintessential ordinary man, unaware that he harbors a secret that is capable of overturning his world. This secret will both exalt and condemn him to a life of secrecy. Brendan interacts with several famous figures from the time, including of course the incomparable and enigmatic Elizabeth, as well as her ambitious friend, Robert Dudley, and her canny protector, William Cecil. However, unlike other accounts featuring these well known persons, I’ve strived to depict a different side to them— one more in sync with their historical personas. Though some readers may be surprised by my characterizations, I believe it’ll also make for more exciting reading. 

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination? 

This is the first novel where I worked with fictional characters from my imagination as well as historical ones. However, even with these fictional people, I did my best to make them realistic to their time. For example, Brendan’s sidekick, the stable boy Peregrine, is modeled on the hundreds of anonymous boys who found employment in the lower ranks of court. And Brendan’s overseer, the steward Archie Shelton, is based on the veterans of Henry VIII’s Scottish wars who found employment in noble households. And when working with real people, like Elizabeth, there is a certain amount of imagination that comes into play, for while we may know a great deal about her life, less is known about her inner emotions. I therefore had to learn everything I could about Elizabeth in order to craft my own unique portrait of the flesh-and-blood woman she might have been. 

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write? 

With The Tudor Secret, I was consciously aware of the plot before I began because I wanted to interweave two storylines: the historical one and the ‘what-if?’ As in, what if Elizabeth had gone to court to find out what had happened to her brother Edward? What if she met a squire to her childhood friend, Robert Dudley, who was then lured into spying for her? And what if this spy began to learn about a heinous plot threatening her life? Still, even with as much advance planning as I did, stories have a way of going their own way and characters can surprise you. 

Q: Your book is set in Tudor England.  Can you tell us why you chose this era in particular? 

The Tudor era offers an especially rich and dynamic arena for a writer to explore, in that within a relatively short span of time so much happened politically and socially. The drama, intrigue and tumult of the Tudor world have, for good reason, captured generations of readers; it seems there’s always something new to discover. I knew that Elizabeth’s supporters developed one of the most sophisticated intelligence systems in the world to protect her, as she faced enemies both in England and abroad for most of her long reign. But I’d never stopped to consider what being a spy for her might entail or what that service might have looked like before she assumed her throne. This conjecture is what inspired the plot for The Tudor Secret.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Absolutely. The Tudor era, and much of the 16th century, was for most part a time of both extreme glamour and extreme brutality— the gorgeous pageantry of the court in stark contrast to the degradation and poverty experienced by so many people, the abuse and corruption of the government, as well as the ambition of the nobility. And such famous places as London’s Palace of Whitehall and the fearsome Tower are essential components of my story. For the characters, the threat of being imprisoned in the latter while navigating the treacherous halls of the former are inescapable parts of their existence and make the story all the more thrilling. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening? 

My lead character, Brendan, is trying to persuade Elizabeth Tudor to accept his master, Robert Dudley’s, ring. Elizabeth has just discovered that she will not be allowed to see her brother and is understandably upset. Brendan risks his entire future, perhaps even his safety, if he does not deliver Dudley’s gift. 

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts? 

In spite of my apprehension at our reunion after ten years, he was a sight to behold. I had always secretly envied him. While mine was an unremarkable face, so commonplace it was as easily forgotten as rain, Robert was a superlative specimen of breeding at its best; impressive in stature, broad of chest and muscular of shank like his father, with his mother’s chiseled nose, thick black hair, and long-lashed, dusky eyes that had certainly made more than a few maidens melt at his feet. 

He possessed everything I did not, including years of service at court and, upon King Edward’s ascension, prestigious appointments leading up to a distinguished, if brief, campaign against the Scots, and the wedding and bedding, or vice versa, of a damsel of means.

Yes, Lord Robert Dudley had everything a man like me could want.

And he was everything a man like me should fear. 

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, C.W.   We wish you much success! 

Thank you for having me! I hope your readers enjoy THE TUDOR SECRET as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it. To learn more about me and my books, as well as access special features, please visit me at: http://www.cwgortner.com.

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Why I Love (and Write) Historical Fiction

Why I Love (and Write) Historical Fiction

By M.M. Bennetts

Truth to tell, I always wanted to write a novel about spies.  Spy thrillers have such drive, such pace.  They pack such a wallop.

But when I first conceived of Of Honest Fame, I think I must have been envisioning the spy-version of Sharpe.  Or Hornblower.  And I wrote a bit of an opening.

At the time, however, I was wholly immersed in the research for my other novel, May 1812, and was reading everything to do with the domestic trials and tribulations that occurred within British politics as they were fighting the French–the assassination of the Prime Minister, the bills for the abolition of the pillory for women and the reformation of the Apprenticeship Acts, plus the Luddite rebellion, as well as the ongoing war effort.  So that the whole spy business was put to one side.

But then, that work done, and the first novel finished, I widened my scope and turned my attention to what else was happening in Europe in 1812.

And this coincided with the publication of Adam Zamoyski’s landmark study of the French Invasion of Russia which he titled simply 1812.

Because of Zamoyski’s own background, plus the opening up of the archives which had been closed to the West, roughly since the Russian Revolution, an entirely new picture of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia emerged.  One which set aside the Napoleonic PR machine’s carefully constructed fabrication of everything being hunky-dunky until that nasty winter set in early.

Zamoyski blew the whole field open, proving once and for all that Napoleon exposed his troops to every avoidable misery and disaster.  And this not just on the way out of Russia, but on the way in as well.  According to Zamoyski, at least half of the invasion force was dead before they ever crossed into Russia.

Another forgotten or overlooked casualty of the Napoleonic Invasion was Poland, stripped bare, beggared and abused, not by the Russians–who generally get the blame for most Polish ills of the period–but by their allies, the French.

Not only did Napoleon empty their already depleted treasury, he beggared, quite literally, their entire government; his troops stole everything they could lay their hands on, abused the populace, starved them, and the Polish Lancers who were pledged to help him were turned against their own countrymen when sent out to ‘requisition’ for the army.

This book changed forever the nature of Of Honest Fame.

It was this book which forced me to leave my espionage comfort zone of Britain and France and the Peninsula (which is where I had envisioned some of the novel taking place) to refocus my attention on the war in Europe, on these lands and these peoples whose lives and countries were ravaged by the Grande Armee.

Because frankly, I couldn’t get the pictures out of my head.

Then came David A. Bell’s riveting The First Total War.  Another book which knocked my socks off, detailing as it does the atrocities which the French committed throughout the Napoleonic wars, using the Terror tactics they developed during the Revolution to subdue every opposing European power.

The atrocities committed against the Spanish population were exposed by Goya in the etchings, which I had seen.  But no one previously had ever revealed that Spain wasn’t the only place these were committed.  Italy and Germany had also suffered so.

All of which coincided with the publication of histories of British spies and intelligence work during the war which showed that, at the very least, the Foreign Secretary and the Secretary for War were well aware of the war as it was progressing in Central Europe.

They were not, as we have come to be in the last hundred years, only aware of their own efforts against Napoleon in the Peninsula.  On the contrary, they were actively supporting the Russian effort as well as exchanging information with their ally.

So it was through the work of all these splendid historians that Of Honest Fame took shape and became the book it is today.

I owe them an immense debt of gratitude for their painstaking work to dismantle the hoary monolith of Napoleonic propaganda.  And I hope that my work can help to disseminate the truth of their findings still farther–and still deliver a ripping good read.

London, Paris, Prussia, Poland, Bohemia…these are the settings against which the gambler, gaoler, soldier, sailor, etc. conduct their business as intelligence men.

It’s not quite what I envisioned all those years ago.  I think it may just be better.

Educated at Boston University and St Andrews, M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in the economic, social and military history of Napoleonic Europe. The author is a keen cross-country and dressage rider, as well as an accomplished pianist, regularly performing music of the era as both a soloist and accompanist. Bennetts is a long-standing book critic for The Christian Science Monitor.

The author is married and lives in England.

Bennetts’ latest book is Of Honest Fame.

You can visit the author’s website at www.mmbennetts.com.

 

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