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Historical Fiction Author Jill Limber: ‘Spend as much time as you can promoting’

Jill LimberA multi-published author and former RWA President, Jill Limber’s latest books are Montana Morning, A Heart That Dares and The Right Track. As a child, some of Jill’s tales got her in trouble, but now she gets paid for them. Residing in San Diego with her husband and a trio of dogs and one very ancient cat, Jill’s favorite pastime is to gather friends and family for good food, conversation and plenty of laughter.

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

About A Heart That Dares

A Heart That DaresAmanda Giles, an unconventional and free-spirited young artist, has to fulfill a deathbed promise to her brother before she can take up her life as a Bohemian in New York. She finds herself swept up in the perilous life of an undercover espionage agent for the Army of the North with handsome young Army Captain. Daniel McGrath. Daniel knows his preoccupation with the woman posing as his wife puts them both in grave danger, but he finds Amanda has no intention of abandoning their mission. As the danger increases, Daniel’s most vital objective is to secure a future for himself and the woman he loves.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Jill. Can you tell us what your latest book,A Heart That Dares, is all about?

Amanda Giles, an unconventional and free-spirited young artist, has to fulfill a deathbed promise to her brother before she can take up her life as a Bohemian in New York. She finds herself swept up in the perilous life of an undercover espionage agent for the Army of the North with handsome young Army Captain. Daniel McGrath. Daniel knows his preoccupation with the woman posing as his wife puts them both in grave danger, but he finds Amanda has no intention of abandoning their mission. As the danger increases, Daniel’s most vital objective is to secure a future for himself and the woman he loves.

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

The main character, Amanda Giles, is a woman ahead of her time. Her plans to work as an artist are interrupted when she is swept up in the American Civil War. She feisty and stubborn and independent. The hero, Daniel McGrath, reluctantly follows orders and works with Amanda, even though he is convinced a spy mission into enemy territory is no place for a gently bred woman. He is strong and steady, where she is impulsive and rash, a perfect match of opposites. The main minor character, a brave run-away slave women named Sylvie and her two children need to be rescued, and Amanda jumps right in.

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

Totally from imagination. I sometimes use personality traits from people I know, but the characters are totally made up.

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

 Definitely, I’m a plotter. I need the structure of a plot to develop a story properly and keep it on track.

Q: Your book is set during the Civil War in various locations in the Confederate States.  Can you tell us why you chose these cities?

For the plot of this book, the two characters needed to travel, and their adventures take them all over the South. I did a lot of research into where the armies were moving, and chose the cities that way.

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

Absolutely. I feel as if the setting was actually almost like another character in the book, totally necessary to the plot.

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

 Amanda has been wounded by Rebel raiders and Daniel is racing to get her back to camp and to the doctor before she loses too much blood.

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

Sure. I always love the first kiss scene in any book. 

“What do you mean, I don’t know how to kiss? How dare you?” Amanda sputtered, twisting away from him.

Daniel tightened his grip. “I mean you don’t know how to kiss the way a husband would kiss you. The way a lover would kiss you.”

Amanda glared at him. His eyes flashed back at her. Then in one swift movement he pulled her hard up against his chest, one arm circling her waist. He tilted her head back and slowly lowered his mouth to hers, staring directly into her eyes.

Amanda swallowed and tried to speak, but for the life of her she didn’t know what she would say even if she could find her voice.

Finally Daniel touched his lips, warm and firm, to hers and Amanda closed her eyes, savoring the feeling. She felt the strength leaving her tingling body and she leaned into Daniel for support.

He licked her upper lip with the tip of his tongue, then gently nibbled on the lower one. She gasped at the sensation, and when her lips parted, he ran his tongue inside her mouth.

Amanda found she couldn’t trust her legs and she swayed. When Daniel pulled away from her, she opened her eyes, but had trouble focusing.

His voice husky, Daniel murmured, “Goodnight Amanda.”

“Goodnight, Daniel,” she whispered as the door closed behind him.

He was right, she thought. She never had really kissed anyone else before.

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

No, thankfully. I love to write and because I plot first, the story seems to come easily.

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

 I’d do more writing. I find writing is the best part of my day.

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

This is a tough question. I suppose if I had to choose, I would say any of the Harry Potter books. Who wouldn’t want the royalties from that?

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

Spend as much time as you can promoting. It is not what comes easily to most writers, but it is so important if you want to sell your work.

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

 

 

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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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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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Interview with Historical Fiction Author M.M. Bennetts: ‘I start with a plot then let it grow organically’

We have a special guest today!  M.M. Bennetts is here with us to talk about the new historical fiction  novel, Of Honest Fame (Diiarts).  Enjoy!

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.

Q: Thank you for this interview, MM. Can you tell us what your latest book, Of Honest Fame, is all about?

It’s a war of espionage, set in Britain and Continental Europe against a backdrop of Napoleon’s Invasion of Russia in 1812.

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

There are three main characters:  Thomas Jesuadon, a disgraced gentleman and a gambler who runs his own network of watchers and spies in London, Georgie Shuster who is on secondment to the Foreign Office from the Peninsula, and a boy named Boy Tirrell, who spends much of his time out gathering information, anywhere from Paris to Berlin to Vienna.

Jesuadon’s muscle is in the form of an ex-farrier called Barnet.  There’s also the Foreign Secretary, Lord Castlereagh, and a Scotsman called Dunphail who doesn’t want anything to do with any of them, but unfortunately was a witness to a rather important event.

Together they epitomize the fact that in this period, there was no such thing as a proper intelligence agency.  They were all amateurs, they came to work as and when they chose, they risked their lives daily without recognition, and their existence has, until recently, been wholly denied by generations of politicians and historians.

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

Well, in the case of actual historical figures, I base those characters upon a great deal of research—I read biographies, I read their letters, journals, speeches and memoranda—so I build up not just an understanding of what made them tick, but how they spoke, who their friends were, what were their habits.

However, for the fictional characters whom I’ve introduced into the narrative, they’re usually composites of historical figures, plus bits from people I’ve known or observed, plus a bit of imagination synthesizing the whole together.  I very often will have listened to the speech patterns of people around the country so that I can write ‘character’, if you will.

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

I start with an idea of a plot, if by that you mean, a general idea of what I want to write about and where I trust the story will go, but after about the first four or five chapters, I’m afraid I step back and let the thing grow organically, building on itself.  Fortunately, I have the history there to keep me from running too far afield.  So certain people have to die at certain points in the narrative, or be somewhere specific, and that does dictate a certain structure.

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

The book is set mainly in London, because that’s the capital and seat of Government of Britain, so there wasn’t much of a choice.  But the marvelous thing for me was discovering how very different was the London of 1812 from even Victorian London, and it provided me with such a background of ancient districts and slums—perfect for a spy thriller—places with names like the Devil’s Acre or the Rookery.  I don’t have to say anything more—these names are just so evocative.

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

Well, because the action of the novel is shared between London, Paris and Eastern Europe—places like northern Germany, Silesia, Poland, the Sudeten, and Czechoslovakia—where Napoleon’s forces had been gathering prior to the invasion, having a character there, on the ground as it were, made for some pretty stark comparisons between peaceful, unoccupied Britain and the devastation that the French army left in their wake.

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

We’re in a chamber in the barracks at Edinburgh Castle, where Georgie Shuster is attempting to learn from the commanding officer what happened to an escaped prisoner-of-war, who is, the more he hears, sounding like the man who attempted to kill Boy Tirrell.  And this, together with the commanding officer’s obvious incompetence, is causing Shuster to be more than a little nervous.

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

“Lady Wilmot had not been outside the walls of Sparrowhawk’s rambling Inn in over a month. Indeed, she had not once been outside of the locked garret chamber in all that time. Not since that first night when Sparrowhawk had escorted her, exhausted and trembling, up the narrow staircase and through the maze of passages and hidden doors to the room under the eaves. And during the past of those lost days and nights, what she had seen of the sky and its changeable, London fog-bound moods had been framed always within the borders of the upper casement window, near which she was not permitted to stand. Not even to look out upon the moon and the never silent city. Not to feel the sun warm and strong upon her cheek.

“But standing now just without the kitchen’s threshold, she paused and looked up to regard the great expanse of London sky, blue and spectacularly cloudless. And caught her breath. And holding that intake of breath within her as a secret, she gazed upon the sky with a kind of wonder, looking up and glorying in this bright moment of freedom, upon the rooks wheeling overhead, and the street sparrows perched upon the gutters’ edges, gazed with unparalleled pleasure and an awe which made her heart quail. And she would have stood thus the whole morning, emptied of thought or expectation, just watching in open wonder and private contentment the threading drifts of cloud and paling blue and the unfettered birds which flew as winnowed meal. But then, a touch on her shoulder reminded her that she could not linger, that she was not safe…”

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

It’s been a pleasure.  Thank you for having me.

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Why I Love (and Write) Historical Fiction

We have a special guest today!  Laura Vosika, author of the historical fiction novel, Blue Bells of Scotland, is here to talk about why she loves to write historical fiction!

WHY I LOVE (AND WRITE) HISTORICAL FICTION

by Laura Vosika

“There was no better way to understand life than to live it—if not through your own life, then through another’s.”

I recently read this quote in a Ted Dekker book.  This, to me, says it well. I have long been fascinated by people, personalities, and human nature, how and why people interact, and how they live the lives they are given. History and fiction are two great ways to watch these things in action, and combining them makes it even better.

I find history fascinating now. It’s a bit like fiction coming to life, hearing wonderful stories of dramatic events and powerful characters, and knowing it’s all real. Unfortunately, many people—including me—found history a dull collection of facts and dates in school. Even in college, I remember only one professor who really pushed beyond the facts to see the humanity and personalities of the historical actors.  And this, to me, is the beauty of historical fiction: it brings history to life.  Few people are interested in facts and dates. Most people are interested in stories, fascinating people, and great adventures, and these elements are common to both history and fiction.

A typical history class says: Robert Bruce led the Scottish troops against the English at Bannockburn on the 23rd and 24th of June, 1314. Do you care? Will you remember the name, battle, or date in two hours, let alone two years?

Instead, add sights, sounds, emotions, smells—these bring the man to life, as he should be, as he was, not as a dry fact.  Put yourself in Bruce’s place on the hot, summer day of June 23, 1314: in the last 10 years, you have gone from your own noble castles, high status, and royal positions under Edward Longshanks, king of England, to hunted fugitive-king living in the wilderness; from fugitive to guerrilla fighter casting off the traditions of ‘chivalrous’ warfare which certainly would have cost your life and those of your friends and countrymen. You have lived hard and fought hard, and spent years trying to calm the brash hand of your own brother, who has now forced you into the one thing you rigorously avoided—pitched battle against a much greater army. Your wife, daughter, and sister are all imprisoned in England. You have not seen them in years, and they may die as a result of your actions today.  How do you feel so far?

Now, feel the weight of your chain mail, and the heat of the sun blistering through it. Feel the sweat dripping down your back. Look at your men, few in number and ill-equipped compared to the coming behemoth; your close friends who may die: Clansmen from the Highlands and lowlands; Angus Og, Lord of the Isles, with his Islemen in their saffron tunics, who have fought so loyally on their galleys in the western Isles; James Douglas, soft spoken and gentle with his friends, but known to the English these last 8 years as a bogeyman with whom to frighten their children.

Look out across the land you have chosen for battle. Its narrow entrance and spit of dry land will limit Edward II’s ability to throw the whole weight of his great army against you. The marshy ground will slow the fearsome charge of England’s mighty warhorses—against which you have only ponies. You arrived early; you prepared the ground well with murder pits and four-pointed caltrops. You have spent weeks drilling your men to fight in schiltrons—circles of hundreds of spears all pointing outward—that will allow your foot soldiers to take on mounted cavalry. You have carried the relics of Scotland’s greatest saints and implored their prayers to God on your behalf.  You have done everything you can to even the odds against an army three, even four times the size of your own.

But will it be enough?

What is Robert Bruce feeling as the midsummer sun beats down on his chain mail? Is he thinking of the men behind him, the army before him, his wife and daughter far away, whether he’ll be alive or dead tomorrow? This is a real man. He hurt and bled like any of us; he felt love and fear like any of us. What would you do in his place? What would you say to the men waiting behind you, willing to die at your side, on your word? What does Bruce say?

The sights, sounds, smells, and emotions of real stories: they help us to experience it as it was, and to learn from it, in a way we don’t learn from a list of facts.

It was through historical fiction that I first began to understand and appreciate history, to discover the exciting stories in it, and learn something about the way the world and people work, from those who have gone before. It is through the human faces and emotions that I best continue to understand history. This is why I also love to write historical fiction. As a writer, I go even deeper, digging into the layers of causes, reasons, personalities, and how the smallest actions lead to defining moments, to change the course of nations and lives.

When we learn these things, we become wiser, and live our lives better, and that, to me, is the fascination of historical fiction.

Laura Vosika grew up in the military, visiting castles in England, pig fests in Germany, and the historic sites of America’s east coast.

She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on harp, piano, winds, and brass.

Laura is the mother of 7 boys and 2 girls, and lives in Minnesota.

Her latest book is Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy.

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

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Guest Blogger: Castle in the Forest by Historical Fiction Author Laura Vosika


We have a special guest today. Laura Voskia, author of the historical fiction novel, Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy (Gabriel’s Horn Publishing) , is here to tell us about one of the many castles she has visited. Enjoy!

Castle in the Forest

by Laura Vosika

With over 3,000 castles in Scotland—that’s one for about every hundred square miles—it is unlikely I’ll ever be able to visit them all. But during my two week trip to Scotland in 2008, I visited 13, a castle almost every day. Several of those stand out as favorites, ones I hope to go back to, but one in particular captured my heart and imagination.

It is isn’t the oldest or largest. It has nothing as fascinating as Dunvegan’s Fairy Flag. It lacks the history of Stirling. In fact, very little is written about its history. Even with detailed descriptions of its structure, articles on it are a scant few paragraphs, at best. Still, if I could fly back to Scotland today, I would go straight to Finlarig Castle in Killin.

Maybe the attraction, for me was in the way I found it. While my husband and I were staying at the hostel in Killin, the manager there—full of great stories and advice about places to see—told us to look for it on our walk around Loch Tay. He warned us to watch for a small path. I watched all too well, and discovered a dirt track six inches wide pushing through the foliage of a small copse. We followed it and burst into a clearing in the forest, in which rose the gray stone ruins of a castle and mausoleum, overgrown by ivy and woodland. We hadn’t seen anyone else on our walk. The clearing was empty and silent. It felt as mysterious and wonderful as the children discovering the ruins of Cair Paravel in The Chronicles of Narnia.

My husband and I spent a good long time exploring the castle ruins. The structure stands three stories high in places, while the walls are completely gone in others. We walked through the arched entrance, into a tower—and out the other side into what might have been the courtyard, now overgrown and with a tree springing up in the middle of it. We climbed the faint remains of stairs, to fragments of the second floor, and descended into dim recesses that, I later learned, had been cellars and kitchens. We never did find the beheading pit the manager told us to look for. (And I later read that the ‘beheading pit’ was really only a cistern to gather rain water!)

The grounds also feature a mausoleum, very complete on the outside, and with the entrance so overrun with years of dirt and debris that you must climb up and squeeze through what’s left of the opening, near the top of the arch. As a result, exploring the inside of the mausoleum means walking close to where the ceiling would have been. Nearby are a pair of lichen-covered Celtic crosses, the graves of Lord and Lady Campbell, that, though dating only to the 1920’s, give the place even more of an ancient and mysterious feel.

As we left Finlarig, the opposite way from which we entered, we discovered the ‘small’ road we were supposed to have found: a five foot wide tar-topped road, complete with large signs giving dire warnings about the danger of getting too near Castle Finlarig: Do not climb on the structure! Do not go near the structure! The structure may collapse!

I most likely would have heeded those signs. I’m comfortable in my un-extreme world of piano, harp and teaching music lessons to 8-year-olds. Which is why I’m really glad I didn’t see those signs! There was something wonderful about exploring these isolated and abandoned ruins.

Perhaps my attraction to Finlarig was that very isolation and abandonment. We were alone. I think had we stayed longer, we would have continued to be alone, a unique experience among the many castles we visited. It allowed us to feel the atmosphere in a way that’s not possible with hundreds of tourists crowding the place. There were no placards to explain or reveal. I think that left the imagination free to roam, to look at the place as it is now, and all the ways it might have once been, to create possible histories and lives.

Whatever the reason, as much as I loved the elegant beauty of Linlithgow, the wax statues of Eileen Donan, the twisting passages of Doune, as much as I would try to return to each of them and more, Finlarig holds a special place in my heart.

Laura Vosika grew up in the military, visiting castles in England, pig fests in Germany, and the historic sites of America’s east coast.

She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on harp, piano, winds, and brass.

Laura is the mother of 7 boys and 2 girls, and lives in Minnesota.

Her latest book is Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy.

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

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Interview with Laura Vosika, author of ‘Blue Bells of Scotland’

Laura Vosika grew up in the military, visiting castles in England, pig fests in Germany, and the historic sites of America’s east coast.

She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on harp, piano, winds, and brass.

Laura is the mother of 7 boys and 2 girls, and lives in Minnesota.

Her latest book is Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy.

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

Q: Thank you for this interview, Laura. Can you tell us what your latest book, Blue Bells of Scotland, is about?

Blue Bells of Scotland is a time travel and historic adventure, about two men, polar opposites but for their looks and love of music. When they both spend the night at the top of the same castle tower, they wake up in the wrong centuries, caught in one another’s lives.

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

Shawn is a modern-day musical phenomenon, who wears accusations of self-centeredness like a badge of honor. He drinks, gambles, lies, and cheats on his girlfriend. Niall is a sharp contrast, a devout medieval Highland warrior, the epitome of responsibility. The fate of Scotland rests on his shoulders.

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

I came across a character in a Diana Gabaldon book saying that writers are like cannibals: they take bits and pieces of all their friends and make a stew out of them. I pull characters out of my imagination, but often realize later that I have used parts of several people to make up one character. At other times, I ‘borrow’ traits from people: a certain way of laughing, a depth in the eyes, a turn of phrase, a combination of clothes.

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

I’m usually aware of the plot before I start, but I’m more aware of the themes. With Blue Bells of Scotland, I had a basic plot, which involved only Shawn. But Niall had other plans, and the book changed quite a bit from the original concept.

Q: Your book is set in Inverness and Bannockburn in Scotland. Can you tell us why you chose these cities in particular?

I chose Bannockburn because that’s the location of the battle which is the backdrop for the medieval half of the story. However, Niall needed to make a long journey prior to the battle, so I researched castles some ways away, from which he might travel. In addition, his castle had to be close enough to a city where an American orchestra might play, that its members might visit that castle on their days off. Inverness, with Castle Urquhart nearby, fit those requirements, so Inverness and Eden Court Theatre entered the story.

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

Yes and no. Niall’s life, into which Shawn steps, is governed by the war with England. Shawn’s physical discomfort as he hikes Scotland’s mountains, the dangers he faces from English soldiers, and the outrage of others at his behavior—all the things that lead to him changing—are things that could not have happened in his twenty-first century American life. But there are many times and places that have physical challenges, dangers, war, and different outlooks. I could have written a similar story in many settings. What really led me to Scotland was the title of the folk song, whose themes of noble banners and streaming deeds I wanted to include in the story.

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

Page 69 happens to be the last of a chapter, so there are only a couple of paragraphs! But Niall, the medieval warrior, has recently woken up in the 21st Century. He is suffering from severe infection, the result of an arrow wound, and thinks maybe he’s suffering delirium. From his chambers three stories up, he’s seen Shawn’s girlfriend and a man walking on the shore below. With his dagger drawn, he heads down to the shore to find out from them why his castle is deserted and half-broken down.

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

Crashing into a boulder at the foot of the hill, he leaned in, scooped the other man over his shoulder with strength he’d never had, and ran, jarring the monk with each step. The town appeared ahead. A more beautiful sight he’d never seen! Already, his chest heaved for air. His legs screamed for mercy. He couldn’t look back. A stitch ripped through his side. Shapes formed ahead as he closed in: crowds! His salvation!
The merry sounds of a festival reached out to him. He pushed himself, Brother David’s abused body slamming into his back, his moans filling his ears, and reached the edge of the throng.

Jugglers in harlequin clothing danced around him, spinning balls in the air. He gripped Brother David’s legs, batting at the jugglers with his free hand, fought his way through to a booth laden with vegetables.

“Turnips, tasty turnips!” bawled an old woman, grabbing his sleeve. He spun his head, searching for Allene. Now there were more stalls, musicians strolling the street, a man with a monkey. He reached the outlying buildings of the town, his head twisting side to side, hunting for a hiding place.

“Your fortune for a penny,” cried a scarved woman in front of a painted gypsy caravan.

“Breads, buns, rolls!” bellowed a fat man draped in white.

Shawn pushed through a gaggle of giggling children. Brother David grew heavier. Shawn’s legs trembled under the weight. Stone houses and merchants’ stalls rose around him.

“Fruits!” a young girl shrilled in his ear, snatching at his sleeve. “Five a penny!”

He took another step, twisted to peer down a dank alley for a hiding place.

An acrobatic team strolled by on their hands, pointy shoes waving in his face. A boy led a string of ponies, brushing against him, making him stumble. The smell of cheeses and fruits and meat and animals filled the air. Shawn spun, the weight of the monk on his shoulder growing; seeking sanctuary. People called and laughed. Colors spun in and out. His legs weakened under Brother David’s weight.

“Alms!” cried a toothless beggar, stretching a bony hand from among rags.

His knee buckled. He grabbed a stone wall to steady himself.

Something gripped his elbow. He spun, yanking his arm back….

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

Thank you for having me! It’s been a pleasure!



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