Talking Pesky Characters, Coffee, Crafting, and Commerce of 17th Century London with Piers Alexander

Today I have an interview with Piers Alexander, author of The Bitter Trade, which is set in 17th Century London during the time of commerce, trade, and the Glorious Revolution. The Bitter Trade won the PEN Factor at The Literary Consultancy’s Writing In A Digital Age Conference. Jury Chair Rebecca Swift (Author, Poetic Lives: Dickinson) said: “The Pen Factor jury selected The Bitter Trade based on the quality of writing, the engaging plot, and the rich and unusual historical context. Dazzling and playful!”

02_The Bitter Trade

Hi, Piers! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m thrilled to have you drop by today for a discussion! We have some interesting topics to discuss. I really liked your debut book, The Bitter Trade. Readers can see my review HERE. I can’t wait to learn more!

Piers: Hi Erin! Thanks for having me. Great blog title – and I love that you are proud to do many different things. Death to pigeonholing artists!

 Erin: Come in and have a seat and let’s discuss your book, The Bitter Trade! In honor of the coffee trade that your novel features, I’ll brew your favorite coffee while you have a seat in my library in one of those comfortable chairs over by the window.

What is your favorite coffee? Black or sugar and cream?

Piers: Black, bitter, loamy if you please.

Erin: Wonderful, I’ll pour! As for me, I take my tea with cream and sugar, so I take my coffee much the same. Now that we are settled in, let’s get started.

Q: The Bitter Trade takes place in the late 17th Century London, when William of Orange of the Dutch threatened to overthrow England. What first perked your interest in this historical time period?

A: I was reading Flesh in the Age of Reason by the historian of philosophy, Roy Porter, and got very excited about the flourishing of ideas from the late seventeenth century onwards. I didn’t know anything about the Glorious Revolution, but I was sitting outside the London Library (nursing a coffee, of course!), and saw the statue of William in St James’s Square. I googled him, and realised that 1688 was the perfect setting. Conspiracy, royal family feud, rampant commerce, an explosion of ideas… Wonderful.

Q: You have an amazing story about how you came to be able to write this book, and we’ll get to that later, but first, with all the work it took just to make time to pen this novel, what made you decide, “this story…this is the one?”

A: Well… I started with a story about an eighteenth century Scots philosophy student who gets embroiled in secret duelling clubs. This redheaded, troublemaking chancer called Calumny Spinks popped up as I was scribbling in my diary, one windswept day in a Cornish cottage, and my wife (Rebecca Promitzer), who is an award-winning filmmaker, scriptwriter, novelist and singer-songwriter – you’ll like her! – told me that Cal was MUCH more interesting than the other guy. She was right, and I went with it.

Erin comments: Rebecca is wise! Tell her I said so, and she does sound like someone I’d like! :D

Q: There are so many wonderful facets to the 17th Century in England. People can keep turning out book after book of original stories that sometimes it seems they all couldn’t possibly fit into one century. What type of characters of the many various sects of people available did you choose to focus your book on? Why?

A: In short: outsiders. You’ll know this from your own writing, and all the historical fiction you read: all these long-dead people queue up at your desk and demand to have their stories told. Huguenot refugees. Foreigners. LGBT characters who had no way to express themselves. The illiterate, those outside the guilds and crafts, lepers… and WOMEN. Women, rapping on my skull, telling me to tell their stories PROPERLY. It’s exhausting.

Erin comments: Characters are so pesky, aren’t they?!! I just love how you are telling women’s stories correctly. Score one for you!

Q: So, what does COFFEE have to do with your novel? Of course, I know that at this time William of Orange of the Dutch was threatening to steal the English crown, and the Dutch of course, were the traders (in fact, my own Dutch ancestors were at the time settling New Amsterdam which is now New York), but for readers, what was so special or interesting about coffee?

A: There’s a special relationship between coffee and books, isn’t there? The writing inspiration that comes after the first sip; the deliciousness of reading with a steaming cup at your side. So first of all, I’m indulging myself and my “little” habit. (Erin comments: A lovely habit!)

But the history of coffee says something profound about the history of European expansion. A drug that started as a mild way for Yemeni mystics to connect with Allah, and ends up fuelling the entire information revolution. Along the way, its secrets are guarded and stolen by French and Dutch adventurers, its trees transplanted to remote corners of the new empires; and coffeehouses themselves bubble and brew with revolution, speculation and wit. Chocolate and tea never quite got the same grip on the imagination and ambition of millions.

Erin comments: Isn’t that amazing? As much as some hate to admit it, we owe  a lot of good stuff to ancient cultures!! And I love chocolate too!!

Q: What are the most common themes that your book took on about life or living in the 17th Century? What types of beginnings did the late part of the century procure?

A: The big surprise to me was how important craft was to life in those days. It’s something I never paid attention to at school – like most boys, I loved to read about great heroes and tyrants, not the lives of ordinary people. But Calumny bumps his head against the rules and requirements of getting a trade, and so he ends up becoming a mimic, a smuggler, a “roustabout” as the BBC called him: and that’s the bitter trade. To pretend to be something you’re not, just for money; to not have a skill and craft of your own.

I mentioned the lives of women above. I never felt like I had to pity my female characters: they’re tough and adaptable, but it was still a shock to learn of all the petty restrictions and violences, as well as the grand ones, and to imagine my loved ones having to cope with all that.

The last one – and it’s below the surface – is that England was still coming to terms with itself, nearly fifty years after the Civil War. I grew up in the Seventies and Eighties, and our identity was heavily influenced by the Second World War, so perhaps that’s an influence; but in 1688 I discovered a world of suspicion and brotherhood and secrets that stemmed from a long-ended conflict.

Q: What was the most amazing part of your research? What did you like learning the most and what was one of the most surprising or interesting thing that you came across?

A: This will sound strange, but the best research I did was not historical, it was into the characters. Day by day and year by year they told me their stories, snapped at me when I got them wrong, suggested scenes and activities that took the story in another direction. I didn’t really believe that ideas and characters came from outside writers before – but this book showed me that they have lives of their own.

Q: With this question, I’m not asking you to compare your book to others or just call your book unique, but rather, can you explain to reader why your book might be different or the same as others of the time period?

A: I’m reading a really good novel set in 1678, a crime thriller by Robert J Lloyd called The Bloodless Boy. Interestingly, the author delves into some of my favourite elements: London’s buried rivers, the curiosities of language, the Royal Society, and the hangover from the Civil War. Now that lots of people have read The Bitter Trade, I’ve learned that there are some quite distinct things I’ve done: using a first person narrative, having a very flawed and misleading hero, and being unashamedly interested in commerce as well as violence and politics. Cal counts his pennies and glories in his temporary wealth: something that’s very familiar in today’s world of reality TV and instant Twitter trending.

Q: How do you craft and create your characters? Which character is one of your favorites and why?

A: They always appear in the middle of a scene I’m writing, announcing themselves with an insult or a contradiction; then I write up a little paragraph about them, usually in their voice; then I finish the draft, wonder why the heck they did what they did, and have to rewrite the whole story to honour their intentions. One of my favourites is the leprous coffeehouse owner Mistress John Hollow: a fearless, wisecracking, creative badger of a woman who single-handedly reversed one of my plot threads to her own advantage. Now THAT’S a lady.

Erin comments: HA!

Q: I know that you have had some corporate jobs, owned businesses, and been successful, just to also keep halting that thought to write and get broke in between, or something as such! Can you tell us how your dream of writing came to be fulfilled and what lessons did you learn along the way?

A: To make a very long story short: I wrote half a story when I was 22 and gave it up to get a job. I quit my job, set up a business and sold it to write a story. I wrote a story and ran out of money. Then I knew I had to find a way to build businesses AND write. Which is hard, and risky, and painful, and incredibly rewarding. And now I love it all.

What did I learn? Don’t let other people tell you what isn’t possible. Don’t be fooled by the illusion of solvency. Never give up on what you love. And a little piece of advice to your readers: don’t do what I did. It was genuinely crazy.

Q: How do manage your writing and the rest of your life? What enables you to make writing a priority through the hard work of it for little pay (a question all prospective writers are asking!)?

A: I write 2-3 mornings a week, at least an hour and at most two and a half hours. I write a thousand words an hour, so in six months I finished the draft of my second novel.

I do things slower than other writers, I think. I write fast, but I don’t write every day and I do lots of drafts. Most of all, I like taking my time over a novel. If I wrote one a year I don’t think it would be as rewarding for me or the reader.

The priority thing: just do it first thing. Then your whole day is filled with warm light and happiness!

Erin comments: Isn’t that the truth?!! Writing brings so much sunshine!

 Q: What are the BEST parts of writing to you?

A: About half an hour before I finish a session, it’s just humming. The characters have come alive, new locations and accents are suggesting themselves, the last sip of coffee is still with me, and the street is still quiet.

I’ve just moved into a house behind Alexandra Palace in London. My study looks across at the grove, and beyond it the vaulted glass ceilings of the palace. Witches and pagans used to make a pilgrimage to the mossy well my neighbourhood is named for: when Cecil Rhodes built “the people’s palace” on their ley node, they allegedly cursed it. It’s burned to the ground TWICE. Ha!

Erin comments: Amazing, and very cool!

Q: What else do you hope to write about? Another part of the 17th Century? Or perhaps, a different time period completely?

A: I am just finishing Scatterwood, which moves from coffee to sugar: Cal becomes a runaway in Jamaica. The final part, Calumny’s Republic, will be a rather complex and shocking affair set in Virginia in the new century. After that… it’ll be a different era, but I am still playing with ideas and visiting new places. For fun as well as research!

Q: What are your plans for the future in addition to anything you mentioned in the above question?

A: I have a children’s book in the works; I think I’ll live in a new country one day; and I dream of owning a noisy sculpture studio in a remote place by the sea. Other than that, I hope it has the qualities of the present: love, Rebecca, dogs, good friends and spicy cooking.

Erin comments: You forgot coffee!! :) I would love to hear about the children’s book! What wonderful dreams, I hope you accomplish them all and enjoy the rest. I love spicy cooking too!

Q: what are some of your own favorite books to read or favorite all time authors?

A: I used to reread books a lot as a teenager: Wilbur Smith, George MacDonald Fraser, you name it. These days, I read fewer and I hope better books. Recent favourites are Boxer, Beetle by Ned Beauman and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin stories are wonderful examples of how to combine thrilling action, historical detail and tear-inducingly great literary prose.

Q: If you could sip coffee with anyone in history, who would it be?

A: Louis XIV. What a terrible reputation he has, and what a huge character he must have been. I’d make sure I brewed it myself though…

Erin comments: Oh, he is quite interesting!

Q: Where can readers connect with you?

A: www.piersalexander.com; @thebittertrade on Twitter; Facebook.com/thebittertrade; and I am quite often found reading aloud at coffee festivals!

Erin: Thank you so much Piers for stopping by and chatting with me. It was delightful to meet you and if you found any good Dutch historical references, I may be contacting you in the future as I research my own books. :) Best wishes on your writing career!

Piers: Thank you Erin. The coffee was delicious, the company exquisite, and I hope to read your stories soon. And yes I do have those references… See you in the past!

Erin: That’s excellent!! I look forward to it. Thank you!

02_The Bitter TradeThe Bitter Trade, Synopsis~

Publication Date: April 7, 2014
Tenderfoot
Formats: eBook, Paperback; 448p

Genre: Historical Adventure/Thriller

GoodReads Link

Read an Excerpt. Listen to an Excerpt.

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.

When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Calumny’s desperation leads him to flee to London and become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life – but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.

Praise for The Bitter Trade~

“A fantastic debut novel” – Robert Elms, BBC Radio London

“The ambitious, cheeky Calumny Spinks is a great guide through the sensory overload of 17th century London, in an adventure that combines unexpected insights with just the right amount of rollicking ribaldry. I hope it’s the opener to a series.” – Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant and May novels

“This debut novel is a gripping evocation of late seventeenth century London, rich in persuasive dialect and period detail and with a bold protagonist. An unusual thriller that just keeps you wanting to know more about the many facets of this story. You’ll never view your coffee in quite the same way again.” – Daniel Pembrey, bestselling author of The Candidate

“A very exciting and superbly researched novel” – Mel Ulm, The Reading Life

Buy the Book~

Amazon UK (Paperback)
Amazon US (Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)
iTunes
Kobo

About the Author, Piers Alexander~

03_Piers AlexanderPiers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses.

In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.

For more information visit Piers Alexander’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thebittertradeblogtour

Hashtags: #TheBitterTradeBlogTour #HistoricalThriller

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @BitterTrade

04_The Bitter Trade_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

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Piers Alexander’s The Bitter Trade Steams and Wafts through 17th Century London

02_The Bitter Trade

Did someone say coffee and book in the same sentence? Yes, that’s nothing new to me, I know. Pretty much sums up part of every day for me. However, hearing about  a historical book that features the coffee trade, that’s newer and even better! I couldn’t wait to read Piers Alexander’s The Bitter Trade, especially since it was set in the 1600s during a time of much political and religious upheaval in England. As well, it’s set during the time when the Dutch threaten  to overthrow the English Monarchy of James II.

Calumny Spinks is a unique, street urchin type of character that takes to the late 17th Century London streets and sets his sights on becoming a coffee racketeer, as during this time, coffee was very popular. Since times were tough and unstable, commodities were fought over like life’s blood. Piers’s novel reminded me a bit of reading some of my favorite Charles Dickens novels, mostly in terms of setting, feel, period details, and original, yet lovable, characters! His writing style was even similar to 17th Century London authors, as he wrote set into the time of course, but as well there was still an ease to the writing and reading and would be understandable to all readers.

I could tell that Piers had completed an enormous amount of research before and/or during his writing of The Bitter Trade and is quite knowledgeable about this time period of British history. Parts of this time period, and the Glorious Revolution, seem to not have a large amount written and published in regards to it. Such is the case of  William of Orange and his plans for his Dutch overthrow of the England’s crown, too–I enjoy reading books of this time period, but we need more books! The time period’s great amount of mayhem on land and on sea seem a second thought or are even referred to as calm, though so many pivotal moves in regards to position of power, trade, and international relations were made. As well, the end of the 1600’s in London was seeped in paranoia, trade restraint, guild/labor issues, and class dissension, which created Piers’ backdrop within the new coffee trade of which Calumny became involved. This created the suspenseful, romping, conspiratorial plot within the book that made the reading so exciting and propelled me through the pages.

How does the coffee fit in? In 17th Century London, coffee houses were springing up all over (yes, they’ve been around since then. The British didn’t only drink tea!!) and the craft guilds were organizing. People’s way of life was changing. Commoners wanted more rights, and trade was very important; titles and family wealth of Britain’s elite that created such a boundary among classes began to be dissolved or disregarded, causing more upheaval.

Piers crafts attention to women’s issues of the time (wife auctions to divorce your wife, rape, etc.) in the book and this should also be noted. He doesn’t leave women characters of the book in the background, but brings them to the forefront, showcasing some that even dressed up like men, or acted like men, in order to get around the limitations placed on females. I adored the strong female characters he created to give women a voice.

Speaking of characters, he has fully-defined, quirky, and interesting characters overall that are the layers to his story. I enjoyed reading the nuances of each one, but especially Calumny. I would be thrilled if he continued Calumny’s story. It’s purely historical fiction based on a factual time period, but he admits he takes some liberties to create his protagonist’s story, and in his novel, it works.

I highly recommend The Bitter Trade for an entertaining, suspenseful novel that brings some sides of the Glorious Revolution to fuller light. You’ll enjoy a steaming mug of hot coffee with sugar while reading this and be transported back to London through the amazing details and descriptions that Piers accomplishes within his writing.

02_The Bitter Trade

The Bitter Trade Information, Synopsis~

The Bitter Trade won the PEN Factor at The Literary Consultancy’s Writing In A Digital Age Conference. Jury Chair Rebecca Swift (Author, Poetic Lives: Dickinson) said: “The Pen Factor jury selected The Bitter Trade based on the quality of writing, the engaging plot, and the rich and unusual historical context. Dazzling and playful!”

Publication Date: April 7, 2014
Tenderfoot
Formats: eBook, Paperback; 448p

Genre: Historical Adventure/Thriller

GoodReads Link

Read an Excerpt. Listen to an Excerpt.

In 1688, torn by rebellions, England lives under the threat of a Dutch invasion. Redheaded Calumny Spinks is the lowliest man in an Essex backwater: half-French and still unapprenticed at seventeen, yet he dreams of wealth and title.

When his father’s violent past resurfaces, Calumny’s desperation leads him to flee to London and become a coffee racketeer. He has just three months to pay off a blackmailer and save his father’s life – but his ambition and talent for mimicry pull him into a conspiracy against the King himself. Cal’s journey takes him from the tough life of Huguenot silk weavers to the vicious intrigues at Court. As the illicit trader Benjamin de Corvis and his controlling daughter Emilia pull him into their plots, and his lover Violet Fintry is threatened by impending war, Cal is forced to choose between his conscience and his dream of becoming Mister Calumny Spinks.

Praise for The Bitter Trade~

“A fantastic debut novel” – Robert Elms, BBC Radio London

“The ambitious, cheeky Calumny Spinks is a great guide through the sensory overload of 17th century London, in an adventure that combines unexpected insights with just the right amount of rollicking ribaldry. I hope it’s the opener to a series.” – Christopher Fowler, author of the Bryant and May novels

“This debut novel is a gripping evocation of late seventeenth century London, rich in persuasive dialect and period detail and with a bold protagonist. An unusual thriller that just keeps you wanting to know more about the many facets of this story. You’ll never view your coffee in quite the same way again.” – Daniel Pembrey, bestselling author of The Candidate

“A very exciting and superbly researched novel” – Mel Ulm, The Reading Life

Buy the Book~

Amazon UK (Paperback)
Amazon US (Kindle)
Barnes & Noble (Nook)
iTunes
Kobo

Author Piers Alexander, Biography~

03_Piers AlexanderPiers Alexander is an author and serial entrepreneur. After a successful career as CEO of media and events companies, he became a Co-Founder and Chairman of three start-up businesses. In 2013 he was awarded the PEN Factor Prize for The Bitter Trade. He is currently working on the sequel, Scatterwood, set in Jamaica in 1692.

For more information visit Piers Alexander’s website. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.

Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thebittertradeblogtour

Hashtags: #TheBitterTradeBlogTour #HistoricalThriller

Click to see more stops and use Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @BitterTrade

04_The Bitter Trade_Blog Tour Banner_FINAL

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Rebecca Hazell’s Consolamentum Brings Readers to 13th Century France During Holy Inquisition

Completing her amazing trilogy, which started with The Grip of God (you can see my lengthy review of the HERE) and moving on to Solomon’s Bride (you can read that review HERE), Rebecca Hazell has now treated readers to a dramatic end to an epic story with her third book in the series, Consolamentum, which I’m reviewing today.

But first, please enter to win a set of all three novels in e-book format!!  To enter to win the entire The Tiger and the Dove trilogy for the Kindle (all 3 books in the series), click on this RAFFLECOPTER LINK!

Consolamentum edited

Review~

The Tiger and the Dove series is one of those long, sweeping epics from a time and place we only dream of in our deepest sleep. It’s my opinion that you must read all three books in order, not as stand alone books, so that you can follow the life, growth, and amazing adventures of Sofia, a former princess.

In Consolamentum, book three and final in the series, the dramatic story features Sofia as a single mom who is on a quest to change and better her life once again. Moving from one country to the next is becoming quite common for her, as well as the changing cast of characters surrounding her. In this way, there are always new things to “see” in each of Rebecca’s books, and due to her details, create for us a way to travel through history and to places afar, as well as always fresh people to “meet.”

With Sofia as her constant character, having well-developed her in book one and progressing her with deeper depth and intellect throughout each book, Rebecca is able to construct supportive characters that are unique and original to each situation and place in each book. In Consolamentum, I enjoyed meeting her daughter Anna. Having come full circle from her being just a child herself in the first book, to a mother now, was very sweet to read.

In my other reviews I’ve already noted how I enjoy Rebecca’s books as she features issues of the time period of religion and cultures and gender in her writing. She continues that trend in Consolamentum, as Sofia is led to France and right into the Holy Inquisition. As is common in Rebecca’s books, Sofia is made authentic in her actions and reactions as she addresses each situation. She is independent, but not as some of the historical women featured in other books. I don’t think she’s weak either, though. I just think that Rebecca is more genuine with the fact that questioning yourself and the choices you make would be pretty common in the type of situations most often encountered in the 13th century. Generally, after Sofia does make a decision, she is head first into making it work. That, to me, is strength of character and true human nature.

Rebecca’s story clashes religions and cultures together to create a melting pot in a book, and as a reader, her stories create worlds where you can stop and evaluate how people where treated centuries ago based on their beliefs. Then, you can pause and look at our world now and see if we have even took one step forward. Her details of other places and times make you feel swept away and I enjoyed being immersed in an exotic time. I love her small touches on each page where she created visuals for the reader by interspersing colorful details and dialogue.

Beyond this, Sofia’s ordeal is dramatic and though I have read many books surrounding the Inquisition in various countries in the past few years, her stance on it in this book was interesting. I enjoyed thinking about the questions that Sofia presented and finding out what she thought about it all by the end. Of course, with Sofia, she evaluates each new religion she encounters and show us its positives and negatives. That’s so interesting to me.

Speaking of the ending, I have to say that I enjoyed how she wrapped it up, but also left it open. I think I’ll want to know how the rest of Sofia’s life goes though, and especially, that of her children. It seemed to me, Sofia still has more story to tell. In book one, the books are presented as something that Sofia is writing to her daughter (and in book three we get to meet this daughter), but at the end of book three she finishes up that circle as she ends her letter or journal for her daughter. I like the message at the end, though I don’t want to speak of it for fear of spoiling.

Overall, Rebecca has written a solid finale to a sweeping historical series that isn’t afraid to showcase cultures and religions and the struggle they impose. I enjoyed her lovely details, her unique characters, and her thought-provoking layered plot. I highly recommend this series for those who like captivating historical narratives that feature heroic females.

Consolamentum, Book Three and Final in The Tiger and the Dove Triology

  • File Size: 759 KB
  • Print Length: 378 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
  • Publisher: CreateSpace (September 1, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English

In the finale of Sofia’s memoir, Consolamentum, both dramatic and poignant, her dreams of home are shattered when her own family betrays her. Raising her child on her own, mourning the loss of her beloved knight, and building a trading empire, she seeks safe haven for her child and herself. Her quest takes her from Antioch to Constantinople to Venice. A surprise reunion in Venice leads her to France where she runs afoul of the newly established Holy Inquisition, possibly the greatest challenge she has yet faced. Can a woman so marked by oppression, betrayal, and danger ever find her safe haven, much less genuine happiness?

The novel is available both in paperback and Kindle versions and through your local bookstore by special order.

Amazon Purchase Link

Rebecca Hazell, Biography~

rebecca hazellRebecca Hazell is a an award winning artist, author and educator. She has written, illustrated and published four non-fiction children’s books, created best selling educational filmstrips, designed educational craft kits for children and even created award winning needlepoint canvases.

She is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage, and she holds an honours BA from the University of California at Santa Cruz in Russian and Chinese history.

Rebecca lived for many years in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 1988 she and her family moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2006 she and her husband moved to Vancouver Island. They live near their two adult children in the beautiful Cowichan Valley.

Visit Rebecca:

Website | Goodreads | Facebook

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The Tale of 12th Century Abelard and Heloise Shows Love Can Endure All Things: Excellent Read!

Historical author Sherry Jones is one of the most lyrical, poetic writers of historical and biographical fiction that exists. In all my reading of historical fiction, I’ve rarely seen anyone write sentences with the emotion, depth of feeling, and silky sounding, dripping with detail sentences as Sherry does. As well, her character development, of which usually one is many times in first person, is so dimensional that the historical people come vividly to life.

I am in love with the cover!!!!!

I am in love with the cover!!!!!

Her newest book, The Sharp Hook of Love,  just sold me more on those points and is now one of my favorites of her titles. I highly recommend this book as much as I’d recommend a gorgeous sugary treat from the most prestige bakery on the streets of Paris. Except, though you’ll devour it just as much, you’ll want to forever keep this book and re-read often. It’s deliciously written, with lovely sentences and thought-provoking sections, wrapped up in a tale of love you’ll not soon forget.

The Sharp Hook of Love is her retelling of the story of Heloise,  a young woman in twelfth-century Paris who lives with her Uncle Canon Fulbert after being abandoned by her mother to an abbey. She is on track, with her intellect, to be an abbess. She meets Abelard, a man who has given up his inheritance to teach philosophy and write poetry, becoming a distinguished and highly sought after scholar. He is quite taken with Heloise and becomes her educator, and as cunning as he is, he manipulates her power-hungry uncle into letting him board with them. Immediately, they fall in love, though physical love and intimacy is not allowed for either of them.

The story, in my opinion, though of Heloise and Abelard’s love affair, was really about Heloise. It’s told from her point of view and I can’t but feel sorry for all the abandonment, hurt, and controlling people in her life. She a young woman of great intellect and questions, yet her desire for men to see her as their equal, and love her for her brains and soul, frustrates her, because they remain in the flesh (while preaching against the flesh of course!). It would me too, in any age of time, but in this time, the only women who were allowed to be intelligent and educated or to educate, were nuns. How awful it must have been for her to know she could rival any man, hold her own in debate, be a scholar, and love her Church, but to have that would mean to giving up true love! What a price to pay. I really frown upon this period and the fact that men could have it all, while women could not. (Well, as long as they weren’t caught or announced their doings like Abelard!)

Sherry really deals with the issues of women’s independence, how religion ruled the day in the medieval times, the corrupt actions of men in religious roles, and the fear that permeated all that surrounded the Church, or wanted to be involved in the Church. She really took to task the rules and hypocrisy of the Church and how it effected both men and women during this time period.

I’m proud of the Heloise she wrote of, the one she made me feel connected to so deeply. I felt her pain, her remorse, her excitement, her frustration, her love. Sherry poured her very essence into this book, calling on deep life experiences of her own. Heloise has a need for love and acceptance, for understanding why her mother abandoned her and why her lover must do the same, and wants to know her true calling and who she is to be in life. I like that she knows what she wants and tries to make it happen, to follow her heart, even if others are too afraid to let her have her deepest desire. It’s amazing how being in love can make you feel inside and the lengths some will go to sustain it, and others, to destroy it. Though some feel her naive or manipulated, I think she always was smart enough to know, but choose love and forgiveness, and sometimes emotions, over realistic rules and procedures.

I don’t want to give away all the book, in case you haven’t read it, and in case you don’t know the story from history too, but Heloise wanted to love, to love Abelard and their child, more than she wanted to be a abbess or a prioress. She didn’t want the prestige, only love. But so many others created such strife with this romance, that it truly was a tale of star-crossed lovers. Overall, Heloise was right in her thinking, everyone loves differently, it doesn’t mean they don’t love at all. I loved how Sherry stayed true to the story that they both loved each other, just in different ways, and had various ways of showing it, sometimes causing much perplexing drama to the other. It was an awfully sad tale that really pulled at the heart strings, made me cry, and made me hurt for them. Sherry did a tremendous job writing the characters of Heloise of Abelard and created a lasting tribute to them of merit. I loved how she included excerpts from real letters they wrote each other, because it really tied it all together.

Her secondary characters were wisely and well-created, there is no flat in Sherry’s writing. The uncle I could visualize with clarity and he made me chuckle (with his heh-heh) and retch when he lifted his fist and used his booming voice. I enjoyed her personality created for Agnes, a friend to Heloise and Abelard both, and Jean and Pauline, the servants in her uncle’s home. As well, her settings were seeped in detail and description, yet in a way that molded into the story so as you hardly knew you were reading them, rather absorbing them. Her clothing, home, food, and other description also dripped with clear and distinct details that added such captivating allure to the novel.

The major essence of this book that I loved was that at the end, which though very sad of course, Sherry also showed how love can withstand anything and how things can come full circle. What they went through really did seem senseless. She showed in finality that Abelard loved Heloise, not only lusted after her. I LOVED how Sherry wrote the ending!! Love transcends all boundaries, even life. It was an amazing story of loyalty on both ends, and a joining together after all that had passed, which was emotional and hopeful all at the same time. It showed remorse, forgiveness, and the true joining together of souls. Love can heal hurt and pain, even if it also causes it. I guess the main question really is, how could God not accept true love between people, a love in its truest form, even if the laws of the Church, or family, ruled against it? For love is the most important part of life.

Once I opened this book, it had my heart skipping a beat from the start. I had an instant connection I rarely receive at first, and I was invested and up all night. As I stated at the start, I truly recommend this book to historical readers, but please do take care to open your heart, slow down your reading, savor her delectable sentences, and truly listen to this endearing, even though heart-wrenching, story. It’s beautifully written, as a song on the wind, a book you’d read with your lover on a sunny day, while having a picnic, a bottle of wine, a few stolen kisses, and nothing but the trees around you. Sherry’s retelling will stand the test of time.

The Sharp Hook of a Love, Synopsis

Paperback: 384 pages

Publisher: Gallery Books (October 7, 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1451684797

ISBN-13: 978-1451684797

The first retelling of the passionate, twelfth-century love story since the discovery of 113 lost love letters between Heloise d’Argenteuil and Pierre Abelard—the original Romeo and Juliet.

“While I sleep you never leave me, and after I wake I see you, as soon as I open my eyes, even before the light of day itself.” —Abelard to Heloise

Among the young women of twelfth-century Paris, Heloise d’Argenteuil stands apart. Extraordinarily educated and quick-witted, she is being groomed by her uncle to become an abbess in the service of God.

But with one encounter, her destiny changes forever. Pierre Abelard, headmaster at the Notre-Dame Cloister School, is acclaimed as one of the greatest philosophers in France. His controversial reputation only adds to his allure, yet despite the legions of women swooning over his poetry and dashing looks, he is captivated by the brilliant Heloise alone. As their relationship blossoms from a meeting of the minds to a forbidden love affair, both Heloise and Abelard must choose between love, duty, and ambition.

Sherry Jones weaves the lovers’ own words into an evocative account of desire and sacrifice. As intimate as it is erotic, as devastating as it is beautiful, The Sharp Hook of Love is a poignant, tender tribute to one of history’s greatest romances, and to love’s power to transform and endure.

A sensual journey into twelfth century Paris. With a sharp eye for historical detail, Jones weaves an unforgettable, compelling tale about enduring love. (Lynn Cullen nationally bestselling author of Mrs. Poe)

Passion and treachery mingle in Sherry Jones’s explosive novel The Sharp Hook of Love. Wrenching and erotic, this is a grand romance in every sense of the word. (Mary Sharratt author of Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen)

Heloise is the sort of heroine you cannot help rooting for: brilliant and naïve, vulnerable and tough. The Sharp Hook of Love will have you up all night holding your breath as you turn each page. (Rebecca Kanner author of Sinners and the Sea)

Jones weaves history and passion in a tale full of emotional heft that questions what it means to truly love someone… (Kirkus Reviews)

Purchase and Review Links~

GoodReads

S&S  |  Amazon  |  B&N  |  BAM  | IndieBound  | Kindle   | iBookstore  | Nook

Sherry Jones, Biography~

sherrySherry Jones is an internationally best-selling author of five historical/biographical fiction books: The Sharp Hook of Love; Four Sisters, All Queens; White Heart; The Jewel of Medina, and The Sword of Medina.

She is now at work on a novel for Simon & Schuster/Gallery about the African-American dance sensation Josephine Baker. Sherry’s works have been translated into twenty languages. She lives in Spokane, Washington.

Connect with Sherry Jones on her website, Facebook, or Twitter. She loves to hear from her fans and readers!

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Filed under Book Reviews

Author Glenn Rolfe Interviews Author Mercedes M. Yardley, Who Just Released Pretty Little Dead Girls

Glenn Rolfe is a good friend of mine, and currently I’m serving as editor for his upcoming Oct. 30, 2014 release, a collection of various types of works called SLUSH. I knew he had read Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley and really liked it. When I saw him post this interview, and after I was brought to tears after reading it, I know I had to reprint it. As Glenn told me, she is an amazing woman. She’s been through so much, and I appreciate her spirit. It’s much like mine, open and vulnerable, which of course leads to hurt as well, but when your a writer, it’s inspiration too.

Enjoy this interview, it’s a good one.

Pretty Little Awesome: Mercedes M. Yardley Talks The Bone Angel Trilogy, Pretty Little Dead Girls, and the Power of Heartbreak and Openess

Interview by Glenn Rolfe, Author of The Haunted Halls
Reprinted with permission

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Mercedes Yardley

She’s an amazing woman who has been faced with more heartache and challenges than anyone I’ve ever known and come through life’s shit-storm to pound out some of the most unique, beautiful , and bloody little stories I’ve read this year. Her debut novel, NAMELESS: THE DARKNESS COMES, has garnered mad acclaim and landed her a sweet deal with its publisher Ragnarok Publications  (two more Bone Angel books).

On September 29th, Mercedes M. Yardley and Ragnarok Publications released her next novel, PRETTY LITTLE DEAD GIRLS. I got a chance to talk with Mercedes about her whirlwind 2014 and a whole lot more.

First off, Nameless  66 Amazon reviews—40 5 stars, 24 4 stars (2 meat-heads that didn’t get it). Congrats on the success. One of the reviews I saw called it “Buffy meets Odd Thomas”. To quote Dylan: How does it feel?

MMY: It feels surreal. I can’t believe that many people have read it! And to take the time to review? That’s just awesome. It seems to be hitting people in different ways, too. Some say they laughed out loud. Some love Luna, some hate her. Some people identified with the mental illness aspect. Others ask me how I feel about the demonic personally. It’s been a ride.

But a fun one, I’m sure. How are the follow-up books coming along?

MMY: They’re coming. I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to continue a series. Do I pick up where I left off? Assume (arrogantly) that everybody has read Book One? Reintroduce characters and risk sounding like I’m talking down to the audience? These are things I hadn’t considered before, and quite frankly, I dig it. The sequels are challenges, and I thrive on challenges.

Any idea when we can expect #2?

MMY: Book Two is slated to release in January of 2015. So just a few more months! Book Three is set to release in January 2016. Things are coming along smoothly, and I’m excited. Book Two will be exceptionally dark. I’m pushing Luna to her breaking point, trying to see if I can shatter her psyche. It’s terribly fun.

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In August you announced the upcoming release of Pretty Little Dead Girls. (I FUCKING LOVE that title!)  You said, “…my favorite thing I ever wrote will be coming out this fall…” Is this still true and why is it your favorite?

MMY: Oh, it’s true! I love all of my books. Each character becomes important to me. But this particular story, and the way it’s written…it was a joy.  I wrote this story in three weeks, Glenn. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Everything spilled out onto the page in this great flurry of happiness.

I abandoned the project I felt I was “supposed” to do, and wrote something devastating joyful and unique. It’s a fairy tale with a high body count. It has lyrical language. It breaks the fourth wall. It’s magical realism sprinkled with horror. I love the characters with my whole heart and soul.  Bryony, the protagonist, is all about seizing the moment, about living life as hard as she can before she’s murdered. She’s soft and ephemeral and chats with flowers and stars. She wears fluffy mittens and wears every emotion on her face. When I started writing Nameless, I called Luna the “Anti-Bryony.” They’re both aspects of my personality, but to an extreme. Bryony is open and exceptionally naive. Luna is spiny and sarcastic. These two ladies are Yin and Yang, and I love them fiercely.

There are also several little Easter Eggs in this story. The places she lives. The names of some of the characters, including a shout-out to the Shock Totem boys. The detective is named after members of my writer’s group. If you have read Beautiful Sorrows, there’s a story in there that’s the killer’s origin story. Things like that. Shiny things that tie into other places.

I had the most fun writing PLDG than any other project. I’ll always remember that.

Give us the gist of the story.

MMY: Bryony Adams is destined to be murdered, but fortunately Fate has terrible marksmanship. In order to survive, she must run as far and as fast as she can. After arriving in Seattle, Bryony befriends a tortured musician, a market fish-thrower, and a starry-eyed hero who is secretly a serial killer bent on fulfilling Bryony’s dark destiny.

Sounds so cool! And there will be a limited run of a hardcover edition?

MMY: Yes! Ragnarok Publications is putting out a special signed limited edition hardcover. It’ll have a beautiful piece of art created exclusively for the hardcover by Orion Zangara, who is a phenomenal artist. I mean, I saw his stuff and commissioned him that day, if that tells you how stunning his work is. And Hugo Award Winner and all-around wonderful lady Galen Dara did the cover. It’s exquisite. Dark, ephemeral, and perfectly captures the terrible beauty of the story. The LE hardcover is limited to 100 copies, and they’re currently available for preorder on the Ragnarok site. When they’re gone, they’re gone. You can still purchase paperbacks and hardcovers, I believe, but without the extra bells and whistles.

Awesome. Check that out people!

Some of your works have been audio-ized. Which ones are available and  which ones are coming?

MMY: NAMELESS and APOCALYPTIC MONTESSA AND NUCLEAR LULU: A TALE OF ATOMIC LOVE are both available right now! I adore the narrators they chose. They did a wonderful job. BEAUTIFUL SORROWS will be available fairly soon, I believe. Perhaps in the new year. I’m narrating it with my fellow writer Mason Bundschuh recording, and we still need to do a few overdubs. The problem is that we have 6 ½ children between us, so it’s difficult to find a time when we can get together and record while the kids are quiet. Ha. Those darn kids, playing and having fun. What trouble. ;)

I also caught the “in the closet” photo of you doing the Beautiful Sorrows audio. That’s how I did the vocals for the Never Nudes EP. There’s nothing like getting in there and going for it is there?

closet

MMY: Did you? I didn’t know that! Yep, that’s Mason and his wife’s closet. His wife had the most beautiful pair of boots in there. I fell in love with them during recording. It was strange and fun lurking in their closet. My house doesn’t have a single closet that big. What a shame.

That’s a damn shame.

Let’s talk shop for a minute….

I recently finished up a couple of pieces and found myself leaning heavily on a couple friends of mine. They really kicked my ass and wouldn’t allow me to cut corners or write anything stupid. Do you have someone or someones like that? If so, who? And what makes you trust them ?

MMY: I do. I rely on my writer’s group, The Illiterati. It consists of Mason, Billie the girl, Ryan, Matt, and myself. I ran into Mason at a city writer’s group, and he brought me into the fold, so to speak. We’ve all been working together for five or six years now, and we’ve become family. We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If one of them tells me something, I’m going to listen. It doesn’t mean I always agree with the critique or the advice, but I know it’s coming from a place of love and skill. They’ve helped me improve so much.

In fact, The Desert Companion had journalist and photographer hang out with us last week at an Illiterati meeting! It was so awesome. They’re doing a write-up on us for the October issue, which I think is pretty cool. The group is amazing. We travel to conventions together. We go to each other’s birthday parties. We play ukuleles and banjos and guitars together. I love these cats.

I told you not too long ago that two of my pieces from last year were heavily influenced by Beautiful Sorrows, or at least, I tried to soften my edges and slip into more whimsical/magical realms (even if only for bits here and there). Thank you for that.  What’s the last couple of things you read that you feel really inspired your latest works?

MMY: Glenn, you don’t know how much that pleases me. Thank you! I can’t wait to pick up your newest. Coming from Samhain, right?

Absolutely.

I read this utterly breathtaking book titled THE MOON SISTERS by Therese Walsh. It’s about a mother who may or may not have committed suicide, and how her family deals with the aftermath. Heartbreakingly lovely. Quite frankly, I wish I had written it.

moon

My debut novel, NAMELESS, has a sort of Dean Koontz feel. It’s been compared to both TICK TOCK, which I loved, and his ODD THOMAS. That’s pretty flattering. I suppose I did borrow some of the tone from TICK TOCK, because I loved it so much. They have this fun banter back and forth that really amused me, and I think the dialogue is one of NAMELESS’ strong points.

Another one of your strong points is your heart, your openness.

Real life’s cheap shots often fuel the artist. In light of some of the hardships in your personal life, do you let your pain in, and how do you use it. Do you lash out with a harder edge, or do you let it lend that extra weight to your more melancholy pieces?

MMY: I have to let my pain in. As an artist, I tend to feel things especially deeply. I was never good at letting things roll off my back or walking by somebody who was suffering. I always manage to get right down there in the trenches with them, to see if I can help. Sometimes a little kindness is all I can offer, but you can’t underestimate the value of kindness when it seems like the world is dark.

Sometimes I lash out. In Luna’s case, she deals with things in a very ferocious, biting manner. I finished the second half of that book after losing two babies, so it was a cleansing and safe way for me to scream at the world using her voice. And sometimes I allow sorrow and loss to drift into some of the softer things I do. That melancholy is always there. It always has been. Melancholy runs under my skin like a thin vein of sorrow, and I don’t think that will ever change. But I try to use it instead of letting it weigh me down to the point where I can’t get back up.

My wife is a children’s case manager. She deals with special needs kids on a daily basis. She was looking over my shoulder while I was going through some of your blog posts. When I read some of your posts, I was like ‘ damn.’ . My wife says, “Some people are dealt a shitty hand because the lessons that they can learn can help others.”  And I feel like with your openness and willingness to share your heartbreak and challenges, that’s exactly what you’ve done and continue to do. Can you touch on that?

MMY: Your wife put it beautifully. Please thank her for me.

Heartbreak and challenges. It isn’t something that most people want to share. We’re taught not to show our weakness, and that’s damaging. We all struggle. We all suffer. To put on a happy face when you’re really falling apart inside is insane. It only hurts us. I’ve found being open about some of our challenges allows others to open up as well. To say, “Oh, thank goodness! I thought I was the only one.” You’re not. Whatever you’re going through, somebody has struggled through it, or is currently there.

My oldest son has Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic disease that turned our world inside out. He was abused by a teacher. I had post-partum preeclampsia with my middle child, which the doctors said didn’t technically exist. My organs were shutting down and they called my husband in to say goodbye. My last pregnancy were three beautiful triplets. Two passed away with a rare genetic disease called alobar holoprosencephaly. Be very careful if you research that. It isn’t for the faint of heart.

So we have things that come up and they feel like too much weight to handle. But I’ve found that when I say, “Help,” others are there to reach out and help. When Niko was diagnosed with Williams Syndrome, I didn’t know one other person who had it. I started my Williams blog (www.williamssyndrome.blogpost.com) and I was simply screaming into the universe. Now I’m in a support group with over a thousand members, all who understand the syndrome.

There are strong, sensitive people out there who understand you and whatever you’re going through. The Internet makes it especially easy to reach these people. I hope that by talking about things I used to feel ashamed about, like having a bad day with a special needs child, or grief, or anger, or depression, that others will see that they’re not alone. That’s what I think the purpose of life is. Relationships. Giving each other a hand or a hug or a pillow fort when needed. Protecting those you care about. Realizing that there is dignity in all things, even suffering.

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I also saw that earlier this year you were in a book called, Three Minus One. How did that come about? And have you heard back from any of its readers?

MMY: I have heard back from some readers on that one. Three Minus One is a book dealing with the death of a child. I was still processing my feelings about it and I saw the submissions call. I wrote about the conflict of losing two of my three triplets. Celebrating birthdays and death days, and how difficult that is. I was shopping for a stroller and a casket on the simultaneously, and it was so conflicting and surreal. But the readers seem to find comfort in the book, in knowing they aren’t alone. That’s what I hoped to do by contributing my story along with the others.

It is an amazing ability to be able to accept what comes our way, and an even more admirable gift to be able to put yourself out there and be that someone for those who think no one else gets it.

I want to switch gears back to writing and inspiration.

A couple months ago i watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (great flick). It really inspired me to sit down and write.     Give me the one or two movies that when you watch them they make you want to sit down and craft a new story.

MMY: Stranger Than Fiction made me want to write. I enjoyed it through and through. Also, watching the series LOST made me want to write, too. They dealt with such a huge cast and all of these intricately woven plot lines! I want to do that! Challenge myself by dealing with a large cast of crazy characters. That would be very cool.

What is the scariest novel you ever read?

MMY: Stephen King’s IT scared me. I was eight years old and snuck out to the big, comfy chair in the living room to read it in the middle of the night. Pure terror. We had a gutter and grate right by my house. I was sure Pennywise lived down there. I was also scared by The Amityville Horror. Some of my mom’s romancing were pretty frightening, as well. I thought, “Ewwww! I don’t know what’s going on, but that seems disgusting!”

What’s one novel you haven’t read yet that you’ve TOTALLY been meaning to?

MMY: Oh, geeze. There are so many. I’ve always wanted to read MEIN KAMPF to figure out how a person with such vile views could, with a straight face, explain them. I’ve heard he was a passionate, convincing speaker, and I’m interested in that from a sociological standpoint. I also have so many books from my friends that are on my To Be Read pile. I have three piles, actually. One on my son’s shelf, one in the linen closet, and one by my bed.

I want to read anything that Lee Thompson puts out. Oh, and Gillian Flynn’s SHARP OBJECTS. Armand Rosamilia’s CHELSEA AVENUE. And James Walley’s THE FORTY FIRST WINK. These are all books in my TBR pile or currently on my Kindle.

What about you? What novel have you TOTALLY been meaning to read?

I’ve been meaning to dig into Robert McCammon’s catalog. I read BOY’S LIFE and was dizzied by the magic on the pages. Ronald Malfi’s DECEMBER PARK is also on my very soon list. I also have that friend’s To-be-read collection.

food

Now, everybody loves food. I know you dabble in the kitchen quite a bit.

Personally, I’ve been barbecuing like a mad dog since the beginning of May (I make some pretty tasty BBQ chicken these days). What is the latest kitchen masterpiece from the Yardley home?

MMY: I can’t barbeque to save my life. That’s awesome you do it. I hereby invite myself over to dinner with your family! I’ll bring dessert

We’ve been trying to eat a little healthier. The other day I made potato quinoa patties with curried chickpeas. It sounds bizarre, but it really was delicious and filling. It tasted like comfort food. I’m always making new treats! I made my first full-sized trifle not too long ago. Lemon raspberry, and it was a success. I’m really into making soups right now. Potato, or split pea. Even cauliflower. I pair them with homemade bread sticks or cheddar biscuits with flax and kale added to it. It sounds like it would be dry, but it’s really good.

My biggest achievement right now was putting together freezer meals. I went shopping, cut everything up, and assembled twenty different meals that I can freeze. Pork chops and sweet potatoes, sausage and peppers, rosemary chicken, etc. Then I throw those suckers in a crock pot. Voila, dinner. Because I have three kids, three chickens, a bunny, a turtle, and a fish. Oh, and some insane, brain-exploding deadlines. I just gave myself twenty nights where I don’t have to cook, and that hour and a half will be put toward writing to knock these projects out. It’s crunch time and I’ll use every trick in the book to get things done.

If you guys ever want to come all the way over to the east coast, you are more than welcome.

Thank you so very much for making the time for me. Best of luck with the new book!

MMY: Thanks, Glenn! It’s absolutely a pleasure. And good luck with yours! I’m excited to pick it up.

Find Mercedes and her blog, books, and stories here:

A BROKEN LAPTOP

MERCEDES’S AMAZON PAGE

RAGNAROK PUBLICATIONS

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Judith Starkston Writes: Archaeology and Imagination, On Building a Fiction Scene Set in Ancient World

Archaeology and Imagination:
Building a scene of historical fiction set in the ancient world
by Judith Starkston, Author, Guest Article

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Judith and her writing buddy, Socrates

I open my novel, Hand of Fire, with an emotionally charged moment: a young woman trying to save the life of her dying mother. That’s a universal experience that transcends any particular historical period, but for this opening scene to succeed, I also had to place the reader in Bronze Age Anatolia since my book is set within the Trojan War.

So I had two jobs. First, to bring my reader inside the young woman, Briseis, as she fights against her fears—an act of imagination, of living inside the reality of a another human being. That’s the core of what any fiction writer does, historical or not. Second, to include precise details which make the reader see, hear and smell the physical world of this far away place and time. These two processes have to work in balance, with the emotional content being what the reader is aware of and the world-building slipping in concretely but surreptitiously. In this post I’m going to look at the world-building side of this equation, particularly at how I use archaeology in that process.

At its best, creating an ancient world without distracting the reader from the action and emotions of the story is a magic trick, a sleight of hand that never calls attention to itself. No reader should stop and think, “My, what a great deal this writer knows about palaces of the Late Bronze Age.” Historical fiction writers don’t hit the goal of invisible magic all the time, but that’s where we should all aim.

For this opening scene what did I have to work with? How could I show my reader that we’re in a small sleeping chamber upstairs on a nobleman’s estate outside the city of Lyrnessos not far from Troy in about 1200 BCE?

Mt Ida view to Aegean Sea

Mt Ida view looking out to the Aegean Sea

After a few paragraphs I used a violent storm blowing in to give the larger geography. Briseis imagines it “blowing in from some distant, dangerous place like Greece, blowing across the Aegean Sea and flinging itself against Mount Ida’s flanks.”

But how to “build” the room itself? From archaeology, what did I know about a room like that? I’d seen fragments and reconstructions of beds, and they are different enough from what you and I sleep on to make a quick point that, reader, you’re not in Kansas anymore. So in the first paragraph I said, “Briseis…adjusted the fleeces cushioning her mother’s shoulders from the leather straps pulled across the bed’s wooden frame. She got no response.” The bed description is tied closely to the actions and emotions, so I’m hoping the reader gets a picture in her head without stopping.

Bed fragments

Bed fragments, in the National Museum, Athens

Briseis’s worried brother is twisting his tunic, a small ancient detail, although that didn’t take much archaeology since everyone knows about tunics—but that’s the point here; it’s an easy way to ground a reader.

To bring the larger context of the room into focus, I added “the flickering light came from clay oil lamps, causing the geometric patterns frescoed on the mud-brick walls to lunge and recoil.” Then I remembered the many ceramic braziers I’d seen in museums, so I brought one in.

Corum Museum portable braiser

Corum Museum portable brazier

Central to my understanding of this world are the cuneiform tablets that have have been dug out of the ground in the thousands. So next up, Briseis prepares a sulfur and beeswax poultice on a portable brazier that was lit by a coal brought up from downstairs in a long handled bronze cup, and then she consults the clay tablets she and her mother use in their work as healers.

Corum Museum cuneiform tablet

Corum Museum cuneiform tablet

By now, several paragraphs in, I’m hoping my reader has left the modern world behind, but is mostly focused on the growing crisis. None of Briseis’s measures to save her mother has worked and this room is full of frightening, recoiling flickers—not unlike the flickering life Briseis is so determined to save.

Much later in Hand of Fire, Briseis participates in a daylong festival to their gods. Sometimes archaeology tempts a writer to include something so beautiful or so strikingly different that we have to work very hard at making sure we are not gratuitously including it, the dreaded “info dump.” There’s a silver libation cup in the Metropolitan Museum in New York that calls to me. It’s shaped like a kneeling stag with delicate branching horns, a checked collar and, around its middle where the lip of the cup is, a relief scene of priests making an offering to a god who stands in good Hittite fashion on the back of a stag. ( Stag Rhyton at the Metropolitan Museum )

I’ve never heard an explanation of why it so appealed to the Hittites to perch their gods on the backs of various animals as a sort of throne. It’s quite regal, showing the god’s power over nature, and I guess that’s the point. While full of wine, the nose of the stag would point down and gradually come upright again as the libation is poured completely out. I think this object perfectly expresses these particular people’s devotion to the gods, and it keeps the reader in a Bronze Age Hittite rite. There won’t be a mental blend with a Catholic chalice, for example, because it’s so different. The trick is to slide it into a scene that the action and emotions of the novel absolutely require and not to go too crazy with other details of sacrifice and offerings. It’s tempting—some of the translations from tablets of these rites go on for pages and pages prescribing different kinds of grain, beers, animals, types of priests etc. But sometimes you have to trust the one perfect detail to place your reader in this far away world, and I chose the stag rhyton cup.

This blending of small historical details into the emotional fabric of a novel is the heart of the historical writer’s job. I hope I have built a picture of daily life at the time of the Trojan War in a compelling way that allows the reader to enjoy the story without distraction.

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Hand of Fire, Synopsis~

The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

Judith Starkston, Biography~

Author Photo(1)Judith writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities.

She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.

Find an excerpt, Q&A, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on Starkston’s website www.JudithStarkston.com.

Follow Judith Starkston on FB and Twitter

Visit on Goodreads Hand of Fire

 Buy Links

Amazon 

Amazon UK  

Nook

i-Tunes  

Link to the tour schedule: Hand of Fire Fireship Press Virtual Tour

Advance Praise~

“But what is the difference between a good historical novel and a brilliant one?
I suggest you read Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire and you’ll discover the answer.” Helen Hollick, Historical Novels Review Editor and author of Forever Queen

“In Hand of Fire, Starkston’s careful research brings ancient Greece and Troy to life with passion and grace. This haunting and insightful novel makes you ache for a mortal woman, Briseis, in love with a half-god, Achilles, as she fights to make her own destiny in a world of capricious gods and warriors. I devoured this page-turning escape from the modern world!” — Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath

“In her portrayal of Briseis, Judith Starkston has cast a bright light on one of the Iliad‘s most intriguing sub-plots. With her fast-paced story, three-dimensional characters, and fascinating cultural details, Starkston has given historical fiction fans a tale to remember.” –Priscilla Royal, author of Covenant with Hell

 

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Sci-Fi Scavenger Tale Inspired by Hugh Howey’s Sand: Action, Adventure, and Emotion in the Land of Sand

I was very happy to announce yesterday that Timothy C. Ward published Scavenger: Blue Dawn, the second part of a five-part series of sand diver short stories and novellas inspired by Hugh Howey’s Sands. Tim Busbey and I were very honored to be able to serve as his EDITORS through our Hook of a Book Media business!

Scavenger can be read without having read Sand. It is being written and sold with permission from Hugh Howey. Ward said: “Scavenger is a Sci-Fi adventure mashup of 24 and Dune with a bit of Ronald Malfi type characters to make you care.” Umm…he said Ronald Malfi, how could you go wrong??!! Action, adventure, survival, and human emotion all entwine.

We feel that if you have picked up Scavenger, Part 1: Red Sands, please do as you’ll read quick through its 25 pages, while also downloading Scavenger Part 2: Blue Dawn. Catch up and be ready for Part 3 next month. If you can drop him a review, that will really help the author out heading into compiled collective.

We hope you enjoy the sand adventure in a time in the future where Denver is not longer as you know it! Let me know what you think and have fun playing in the sand!

Check out the fabulous cover by Shawn King, then see below for the information on the books and purchase links.

 Scavenger 2 Blue Dawn

Scavenger Part 2: Blue Dawn, Synopsis

Part Two of the new epic set in Hugh Howey’s world of SAND, a future American dystopia covered in sand and ruled by the powerful few. Written and sold with his permission, Scavenger can be read without having read SAND.

Called Mad Max 2 with more sand, the journey of Divemaster Rush across the sands of this post-apocalyptic America continues. The narrow escape out of Springston toward the fabled under-sand city of Danvar will risk many lives as the technologies of the past and the leaders of the present collide in a race across the American Desert and into an abandoned military base.

A Sand Diver Tale inspired by Hugh Howey’s Sand. Hugh Howey’s novel, Sand, introduced us to a future America covered in sand and the terrorists who will stop at nothing to unearth the fabled city of Danvar.

Timothy Ward’s Scavenger centers on the story of Divemaster Rush, a bereaved father and estranged husband who is offered a job he can’t refuse. Rush can either harden his heart and survive or risk his life for what already seems lost.

Now planned into a five part epic.

File Size: 3612 KB
Print Length: 88 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Spike Publishing (September 30, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

Amazon

GoodReads

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And see where Scavenger starts by also picking up the first part!

Scavenger Red Sands

Scavenger Part 1: Red Sands

File Size: 4233 KB
Print Length: 25 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.

 Amazon

GoodReads

“It is a brisk slice of action with an emotional core that feels genuine rather than tacked on. And with the familiar setup in another writer’s world, Tim Ward made “Scavenger” all his own. An adequate enticement to read Howey’s novel and a promising sign that I should keep a look out for Tim’s work in the future, too.” –Gef, Wag the Fox

Timothy C. Ward, Biography~

Tim WardTim Ward is the Executive Producer of Adventures in SciFi Publishing podcast and website. He is the author of “Cornhusker: Demon Gene” and many yet unpublished stories. He’s currently published two parts of his Scavenger series, which is inspired by Hugh Howey’s Sand universe.

His upcoming novel is Order After Dark, where the apocalypse opens up the rift between Iowa and the Abyss and a future novel, Kaimerus, is described as, “Firefly crashes on Avatar and wakes up 28 Days Later.”

Website:

www.timothycward.com

 

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YA Novel Color Song Brings Beautiful Fantasy and Imagery to a Young Girl’s Renaissance Quest

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Review~

Color Song is the second book in the YA historical fiction Passion Blue series by Victoria Strauss, with the first book having the Passion Blue title. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear of Passion Blue prior to Color Song, and didn’t have time to catch up, but luckily Strauss wrote Color Song in a way that could still be enjoyed by someone who hadn’t read the first book! Color Song was a beautiful novel with a lovely voice and intricate details and emotions.I look forward to going back and reading the first novel too!

Giulia yearns to paint, but women aren’t artists in Renaissance Italy! She is sent to a convent instead, where she is strong enough to still keep her dream alive and strive towards her reality of being a painter. Strauss is good about letting first time readers know how the colors and the color of Passion Blue play into Giulia’s life. That color is very important. I thought that Strauss idea and imaginative writing and storytelling was very clever.

As Giulia runs away to Venice, dressed as a boy, to immerse into the world of art and become an apprentice, we easily can visually see her emotions, her excitement, her fears, and her astounding abilities. Strauss describes Venice with captivating prowess that pulled me in and kept me reading. I could see how not only adult readers would be entranced by this story, but young readers as well. For instance, my almost 11 year old is a higher level reader, and wants to be an artist, and I can imagine her snuggling up in her bed and being lost in the pages of this book!

Giulia can HEAR colors. What an amazing concept. Strauss writes about color so visually with only a pen and paper. She fills in her sentences with phrasing that allows us to SEE the colors that her character hears and read through our eyes not only the words on the page, but watch a canvas before us.

Not only does the book have beautiful imagery and light, there is also the struggle that Giulia has, the secret of the Passion Blue color recipe, new secrets that open up in Venice, fantastical dreams and supernatural elements, and her struggle to hide herself in a new city. There is suspense, angst, indecision, but also personal triumphs and hope. I love Strauss’s portrayal of Giulia. She is a brave, independent, and amazing young woman that many young girls, even in the modern world, can use as a role model.

I love historical fiction, and especially love historical fiction surrounding art, so this book was a treasure for me, but as well I am thrilled to find a YA historical! There just aren’t enough of these books for young women who don’t want to only read dystopian, sci-fi, or horror. With historical fiction, young women can learn history, culture, and as well still read about role models who overcame limitations that others created for them and be able to rise above the turmoil. With this novel, they can get their touch of fantasy as well. I also love fantasy and supernatural and there was just enough of that in this book to hold me spellbound.

I highly recommend Color Song for anyone, or any teen, who loves historical fiction, art, and culture, but especially a coming-of-age novel with some originality.

THERE IS A GIVEAWAY LINK COMING

Color Song, Synopsis~

Publication Date: September 16, 2014
Skyscape (Amazon Children’s Publishing)
Formats: eBook, Paperback, Hardcover

Genre: YA Historical

READ AN EXCERPT.

By the author of the acclaimed Passion Blue, a Kirkus Reviews Best Teen Book of 2012 and “a rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion,” comes a fascinating companion novel.

Artistically brilliant, Giulia is blessed – or cursed – with a spirit’s gift: she can hear the mysterious singing of the colors she creates in the convent workshop of Maestra Humilità. It’s here that Giulia, forced into the convent against her will, has found unexpected happiness, and rekindled her passion to become a painter – an impossible dream for any woman in 15th century Italy.

But when a dying Humilità bequeaths Giulia her most prized possession – the secret formula for the luminously beautiful paint called Passion blue – Giulia realizes she’s in danger from those who have long coveted the famous color for themselves. Faced with the prospect of lifelong imprisonment in the convent, forever barred from painting as a punishment for keeping Humilita’s secret, Giulia is struck by a desperate idea: What if she disguises herself as a boy? Could she make her way to Venice and find work as an artist’s apprentice?

Along with the truth of who she is, Giulia carries more dangerous secrets: the exquisite voices of her paint colors and the formula for Humilità’s precious blue. And Venice, with its graceful gondolas and twisting canals, its gilded palazzi and masked balls, has secrets of its own. Trapped in her false identity in this dream-like place where reality and reflection are easily confused, where art and ambition, love and deception hover like dense fog, can Giulia find her way?

This compelling novel explores timeless themes of love and illusion, gender and identity as it asks the question: what does it mean to risk everything to follow your true passion?

GIVEAWAY LINK! Click that link to enter the win the below prizes!!

2 Grand Prizes Winners:

One Kindle Paperwhite with custom Color Song cover, with Color Song and Passion Blue ebooks pre-loaded, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks), and signed paperback editions of Strauss’s Stone duology (The Arm of the Stone and The Garden of the Stone) (US only)

2 winners:

Signed hardcovers of Color Song and Passion Blue, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks) (US and Canada)

5 winners:

Signed paperbacks of Color Song and Passion Blue, plus swag (postcards, bookmarks) (US and Canada)

See more giveaway details by clicking on the tour button at bottom of the page. Run by Historcial Fiction Virtual Book Tours.

Praise for Books by Strauss~

“Fantasy elements and a historical setting rich with sensuous detail are satisfying, but it’s Giulia’s achingly real search for her heart’s desire that resonates most today, when millions of girls still have limited choices. A rare, rewarding, sumptuous exploration of artistic passion.” – Kirkus Reviews on PASSION BLUE (Starred Review, a Best Teen Book of 2012)

“Compelling…absorbing…An intriguing historical novel inspired by accounts of women artists in the Italian Renaissance.” – Booklist on PASSION BLUE

“Mysterious dreams, suspense-filled legends, the terror that unfolds as the dig ensues, and the fine characterizations weave together beautifully to make this adventure fantasy a winner.” – Booklist on GUARDIAN OF THE HILLS (Starred Review)

“A rich story about human nature, this fantasy is a thought-provoking page-turner. The characters are deeply etched, and the plot turns are credible yet arresting…A thoroughly enjoyable read.” – Kliatt on THE ARM OF THE STONE

“The plot is complex yet convincing, and the abundant, well-chosen details of the settings–as well as the carefully developed characters–make this high fantasy a superior and original novel.” – Publishers Weekly on THE GARDEN OF THE STONE (Starred Review)

Amazon
Barnes & Noble
IndieBound

Victoria Strauss, Biography~

03_Victoria-StraussVictoria Strauss is the author of nine novels for adults and young adults, including the STONE duology (THE ARM OF THE STONE and THE GARDEN OF THE STONE), and a historical novel for teens, PASSION BLUE. She has written hundreds of book reviews for magazines and ezines, including SF Site, and her articles on writing have appeared in Writer’s Digest and elsewhere. In 2006, she served as a judge for the World Fantasy Awards.

An active member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA), she’s co-founder, with Ann Crispin, of Writer Beware, a publishing industry watchdog group that tracks and warns about literary fraud. She maintains the popular Writer Beware website, Facebook page, and blog, for which she was a 2012 winner of an Independent Book Blogger Award. She was honored with the SFWA Service Award in 2009.

She lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.

For more information please visit Victoria’s Strauss’s website. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and Goodreads.

03_Color Song Tour Graphic

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Interview with Judith Starkston on Mythology, Archaeology, Writing, and Who She’s Pranking for Halloween

Today, I have a very insightful interview with classicist and now historian, Judith Starkston, the author of Hand of Fire which was reviewed yesterday to high acclaim on this site. You can read that HERE! Enjoy!

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Hi, Judith! It’s my pleasure to sit down with you today for an interview on Oh, for the Hook of a Book! You’ve been so supportive of me and Hook of a Book and I’m thrilled for you about the recent publishing of your book, Hand of Fire, which seems to be blowing up the historical circles left and right. That would be the good kind of blowing up of course, as the reviews are a stunning sign that your book is a must-read of the year.

Judith: “Stunned” is the right word—that’s how I’ve felt at the positive reviews Hand of Fire has received. As an author you work hard and send a book out hoping you pulled off a “good read,” but to hear a wide range of uninvolved people tell me I succeeded has blown me away, to use your other image.

Erin: Come in and have a seat. It’s fall in Ohio, the skies have been sunny for a few days, with a balmy breeze. The humidity has left (and I know you’ve been hot in Arizona!!) and it’s a lovely day to sit out on the back patio. Push open the double doors from the library to the outdoors, and we’ll have a seat on cushioned wicker chairs, enjoy the leaves turning to orange and red, and maybe light the fire pit.

I’ll be having coffee, it’s my choice of drink lately even in the afternoon and it’s just cool enough we can have that here now outdoors without causing more sweat. Of course, given it’s fall, I’m having some dark roast with pumpkin spice creamer. I can fix you coffee, pour some wine, or we could even celebrate with champagne first if you wish?

Judith: Here in Arizona, I’m enjoying the first couple days of weather cool enough to sit outside, so I’ll happily join you. I also have the door to the patio open so my big golden retriever, Socrates, will join us for the interview. He’s my favorite media consultant, although his universal advice is wag your tail and give lots of kisses. I modify how I implement this strategy, as you can imagine. A hot coffee sounds lovely, but I’m a purist about my coffee, no flavors besides the beans! I’m a little weird that way, no fruit in my chocolate, no spice in my coffee. I like to taste the pure earthiness in my caffeinated treats.

Erin: Your cute dog can give me a kiss on the cheek, but you’ll need to bring him here, unless I’m baking in your kitchen instead of mine! Lol! I’ll bring out the warm pumpkin bread too, with cinnamon butter. So, you’ve brought him along here then? Wonderful! Now that we’re settled, let’s talk about your book, history, life, writing, and wherever else the discussion leads.

Judith: Pumpkin bread with cinnamon butter sounds perfect.

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Q: Hand of Fire, your debut historical novel, primarily revolves around Troy and the time of the Trojan War. Why did you choose this time period and place to set your book?

A: In the big picture, from my college years on, I’ve spent my intellectual life immersed in classical literature and history, and of all the Greek literature I love, my favorite is the Iliad of Homer, the epic poem set in the Trojan War. So I could say love drove me to set my debut in the time of the Trojan War. In the small picture, a different love drove me to it—a love I couldn’t figure out and it bugged me. Let me explain. Although Hand of Fire tells the story in such a way that none of my readers need to know anything about Homer or the Iliad, the triggering idea for my novel arose out of a puzzle Homer creates. In the Iliad a young captive woman, Briseis, sparks a bitter conflict between two of the Greek kings, Agamemnon and Achilles. This conflict is central to the poem, but being a patriarchal project, the epic doesn’t give more than a handful of lines to the woman—only leaving, briefly, the impression that she loves Achilles. Wait a minute, you’d be fair to say, Achilles has destroyed her city, killed her husband and brothers, and turned her from princess to slave. I wouldn’t love the guy, however handsome and half-immortal he might be. What gives? Homer only tells us that she’s a princess of Lyrnessos, a town allied to Troy (not a daughter of Priam as suggested by a certain historically-challenged movie with a hunky star playing Achilles). That’s it. No explanation of why she forms this bizarre bond with Achilles.

About now when I chat about this, most people suggest something like an ancient Stockholm brainwashing, but Achilles questions the whole war, the purpose of life, oh, pretty much everything. He’s a searcher for meaning, utterly unsuited for brainwashing. So I had a psychological puzzle about people and love and what can overcome tragedy and hate enough to make room for love. Pretty cool puzzle, actually. I found an answer in the kind of resilience that women often find in the face of violence. I also found a model with all the details for a historically plausible Briseis right in the historic and archaeological record. And the two matched up—psychology and history. Kind of magically. I still don’t know how that alchemy worked, but I loved the Briseis who climbed into my imagination and started bossing me around. And it made sense that she loved Achilles.

Q: Your protagonist is Briseis, the woman captured and in love with the half-god Achilles. What did you see in Briseis as a woman, or a character, that you chose to feature her emotional story?

A: Now you know that it was what I didn’t know about her that caused me to choose her story—I wanted to know who she was to understand how she could love Achilles. My writing acted as a process of character discovery. Then as I got to know her, I grew ever more drawn to her strong-headed nature, her speak-first, think-second passion, her generosity of spirit and her resilience. I also found some especially appealing skills for her in the historical records of clay cuneiform tablets that have been excavated and translated in the last couple of decades. In those libraries the “job” of healing priestess came to light. The priestesses had both medicinal and story-telling talents (which they saw as one and the same). They believed the spoken word in the context of rites had a transformative power—to bring health and fertility or restore harmony with the gods. They used what we’d call myths to bring about what you or I today would go to the doctor for. While I appreciate modern medicine, what writer could resist a character who innately believes she changes the world with her stories? Also, as a healer she is both grounded and mystical. Very handy for good fiction.

Q: Do you feel readers will connect with her? If so, what types of readers, and also, why?

A: One of my reviewers said Briseis “is a woman who will capture your heart. She could be your friend, your sister or your daughter.” As I wrote her, Briseis increasingly felt like a daughter to me. I think some of this identification comes from my focus through Briseis on women surviving personal violence and finding inner strength. It’s a hopeful theme but it’s also a nail-biting one. Briseis seems to inspire protective instincts in many of my male readers. She’s also beautiful and sexy, which appeals to all of us. So it seems my Briseis reaches into people’s hearts and connects in a variety of ways. One of my final layers of editing involved a very conscious tugging of the reader in closer to Briseis who always holds the point of view in my novel. It took a few months of work, but I think those were effective months. It’s hard to put the reader inside the body and emotions of a character, but that was what I was striving for. I learned a lot of good tools from some excellent mentor writers and editors.

 Q: You obviously love history of the ancient world, but do you also have a penchant for mythology, or is it just something you accept due to its intertwining in certain Greek (or other ancient cultures) time periods? If so, what is the allure of these stories and why are they important to history?

A: Mythology has a kind of dual existence. There’s what it is today—a giant repository of brilliantly engaging stories with a deep vein of cultural significance flowing through them. Pretty much any child will fall in love with the stories of Greek mythology if you give them the right translation/presentation (D’Aulaire’s has always been my choice for kids). Then there is what myth meant before the later Greeks and Romans began to view them with irony and cynicism. Sacred, magical, transformative, and full of emotional power. There’s a saying in Briseis’s culture, “The tongue is the bridge,” meaning stories are the connection between gods and mortals. I decided early on to accept my characters’ understanding of myth and write the tale within their belief system. Take one “mythological” moment from my book—when Thetis, Achilles’ goddess mother, rises out of the sea carrying his new immortal armor so that he can go back into the battle. This goddess is a mom and she knows she is bringing her son’s death in her hands. And she will suffer this grief for eternity because she’s immortal. You and I know if that worst possible thing strikes us and we lose a child, there will be with our deaths an end eventually to the unbearable grief. Not for Thetis, and doesn’t that make your heart ache? I love taking these myths seriously and respecting the source of emotional power they give to my writing.

Q: What do you feel is the most important take away from the Trojan War? Is it the usual story everyone knows that is still used today about “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?” or something more cultural, political, or historical?

A: Actually the Trojan War, as portrayed both in my novel and the Iliad, is an argument against war. I show the seamy greed of leaders choosing to destroy other people’s lives for nothing but their own increase of power. That hasn’t changed for the most part if you look at the underpinnings of war in the last few hundred years. There are exceptions, “good wars,” further down the chain of events, but not at the source of the conflict. Like this ancient war, people gussy up their “reasons” with claims of insulted honor and defending others, but the level of destruction and suffering rarely justifies the reasons. One of the themes of my book is how, in the unstoppable crap that happens once a war is unleashed, some women, a lot of them, despite being on the receiving end of the worst of the violence and sorrow, figure out how to find a good reason to live and rebuild. My book has hope at its core. One purpose of writing a book set in a far-off war is that this war—the Trojan War—is so iconic of the concept of war in our historical consciousness that when the reader is given a chance to draw a sense of hope and human resilience out of that, a sense that human beings are bigger than the meanness of war, then you maybe have something really solid and good in your psyche after the reading experience.

Q: Do you believe that there is any historical reality to the Trojan War? Why or why not?

A: I’ll quote a truly authoritative voice on this subject, Manfred Korfmann, who undertook the contemporary reworking of the archaeological site of Troy for almost twenty years until his death. When asked if the Trojan War really happened, he said, ““According to the archaeological and historical findings of the past decade especially, it is now more likely than not that there were several armed conflicts in and around Troy at the end of the Late Bronze Age. At present we do not know whether all or some of these conflicts were distilled in later memory into the “Trojan War” or whether among them there was an especially memorable, single “Trojan War.” However, everything currently suggests that Homer should be taken seriously, that his story of a military conflict between Greeks and the inhabitants of Troy is based on a memory of historical events—whatever these may have been. If someone came up to me at the excavation one day and expressed his or her belief that the Trojan War did indeed happen here, my response as an archaeologist working at Troy would be: Why not?”

I did a longer discussion of this complicated issue in two posts along the way on this blog tour. The links to both can be found on my website under “The Trojan War: History or Myth?”( http://www.judithstarkston.com/articles/the-trojan-war-history-or-myth )

Q: The Iliad by Homer is an epic poetic literary writing from the period, which is one of the main sources for any record of the Trojan War. I know that you’ve mentioned that, of course, people don’t have to have read Iliad to understand Hand of Fire, but what does this classic piece of literature have to do with the novel?

Iliad

Iliad, Book VIII, lines 245–53, Greek manuscript, late 5th, early 6th centuries AD. / Wikipedia

A: From the beginning I worked closely with all the elements of the story found in the Iliad. Because I am telling the tale from a woman’s point of view and it is a very male poem, I had to add a great deal. My story is a totally different one than the Iliad. However, I never violated anything that the Homeric tradition says. There were times when that posed huge challenges. For example, in the only moment when the Iliad lets Briseis speak she tells us Achilles’ best friend Patroklos told her early on that Achilles would marry her as his legal, recognized wife. It’s one of the signs of how much Achilles loved Briseis, but at the point in the timeline when the scene has to happen, it made no sense to me as I wrote. I tried writing that scene a hundred times and I couldn’t find a way in. Then suddenly I got it. Homer was right. That’s what happened. I just was slow to understand the emotional rightness of it since this was Achilles’ need not Briseis’s at that point. She doesn’t get it at all at that moment, any more than I did, but she comes to and such a vow from Achilles from the get-go turned out to be essential.

So I remained stubbornly true to Homer, unlike that same movie I referred to earlier J, but that fidelity is my job not my readers’. My primary critique partner had never read the Iliad and I checked everything with her. If something confused her, I tracked back to what I was assuming and laid in the necessary plot or character changes so that no one will ever feel “left out” if they haven’t read the Iliad. The old teacher in me is thrilled by how many people have said they’ve picked up the Iliad since reading Hand of Fire. (For that I recommend the Lombardo translation.) But that’s a separate story!

Q: What was Troy like during this time period? They say it was most likely where present day Turkey lies, during the Bronze Age. What are archaeologists uncovering now? What is the latest news?

A: I think we can move from “most likely” to certainly as to the identification of Troy with the archaeological site on the Western Aegean coast of what is now Turkey. Originally a 19thC businessman named Schliemann excavated this site. He had some unfortunate misunderstandings and no knowledge of archaeology. He dug straight down, figuring all the “Homeric” stuff would be at the bottom. The site of Troy actually has 9 layers (distinct rebuilds of the city on the same mound) with a large number of subdivisions in each of those layers. The best hypothesis now places “Homer’s” city at the beginning of the VII layer or end of the VI layer, depending on the numbering system you employ. When Korfmann gave the site a careful modern archaeological makeover, the one sample of writing found to date (a pretty phenomenal find) came from one of Schliemann’s heaped up dump piles—so the modern dig finds some great stuff.

Most of the gold jewelry that Schliemann stole from Turkey and that disappeared into Russia after WWII has resurfaced and some of it has come back to Turkey. So even outside the dig, there are discoveries relating to Troy. Schliemann and many others over the years assumed Troy was pretty much a Greek city, but what Korfmann has conclusively shown is that Troy shares its construction style and layout with other cities of ancient Anatolia (modern Turkey) and that culturally and politically, the Trojans were akin to the powerful empire to the east, the Hittites. Since we didn’t even know about the Hittites when Schliemann was digging, he’s to be forgiven for missing the similarity! Turkey is one of the most active archaeological areas in the world—maybe the most active—and the discoveries relating to my Late Bronze Age period come fast and furious.

Q: You traveled there for research, correct? Did you find its likely location and what did you experience? What did you find that helped you in your writing?

A: Every bronze age city I portray in my fiction is a reconstruction project based on scholarly research and climbing over a lot of very “ruined ruins” to quote my kids. I need the ruins and for that travel is essential. But even more important are the actual landscapes—real, concrete and dramatic. I didn’t have to imagine those because I’d hiked all through them. The glimpses of the Aegean from Mount Ida’s peak, the waterfall in the ravine, the city nestled in a fertile valley. Troy embraced by two rivers. I could write all of that much more vividly for having stood there and taken it all in.

On a slightly different note regarding travel, I discovered this spring as I again went to do a research trip, that archaeology is moving so fast in Turkey that I didn’t know about half the needed things for my current manuscript until I got there and started asking the archaeologists who are directing these exciting sites.

View of Psiloritis (Mt. Ida) mountains from west / Wikipedia

View of Psiloritis (Mt. Ida) mountains from west / Wikipedia

Q: In sights, sounds, visuals, and smells, what was the favorite part of your trip?

A: From the first research trip: the day my family and I spent on Mount Ida, which is now a national park. We wandered along the dirt roads thru a village that looked entirely Bronze Age with its stone and mud brick houses and communal ovens. We met an old woman who shared her olives and plums with us and introduced us to her roommates, a goat and a kitty, in her one room hut up against the mountain slope. Her deeply lined, cheerful face became the model for Eurome, Briseis’s nursemaid.

Q: I know you traveled this summer to Cyprus and back to Turkey. I enjoyed following you along via online photos. What new things did you uncover there, first of all, and second, I believe you went to Cyprus on research for another book you are writing, correct? What are or will you be working on next now that Hand of Fire has published (and after you’ve become un-zombified from all the promotional book launching)?

A: New things I discovered? Let’s see, numerous examples of just the right Bronze Age sword for Briseis to hold on the cover of Hand of Fire, now that it’s too late and the cover is published. Seriously, when I was hunting for an available photo for the press’s graphic artist to use, I could not find anything that didn’t look medieval. The one I sent isn’t bad, but through the whole trip, amazing examples kept leaping out of museum cases to be photographed!

I was in search of research groundwork for two different books on this trip. The best new things were locations for the historical mystery I’m currently in the middle of writing. My “sleuth” is Queen Puduhepa of the Hittites who would be as famous as Cleopatra if she hadn’t been buried in the sands of time. We have in the cuneiform tablets many of her letters, treaties, judicial decisions etc so she’s very much a historical person, but with enough blanks in the record to make her fun to write about. She was a very clever diplomat and judge so she’s perfect at unraveling crimes—even if this aspect is a bit imaginary. I thought none of the key cities of the early part of her life before becoming the Queen of the Hittites had been found. Never underestimate the speed at which Bronze Age ruins get excavated in Turkey. Her hometown, the “villain’s” location, and the next city on her life journey had all been pretty solidly identified at unpublished digs that I only found out about by traveling and talking directly to archaeologists.

So I have all kinds of great landscapes and details for my historical mystery. The springs that surround her hometown are especially fun to incorporate. The archaeologist who directs the dig calls one of them “Puduhepa’s Paradise.” Think Monet’s lily gardens.

Cyprus—well, in truth I wanted to go there because it’s gorgeous and you trip over ruins about every inch or so. I had a tickle of an idea when writing Hand of Fire that I might move one or more characters to Cyprus in a sequel. After my trip to Cyprus, my tickle has turned into a burning determination. So, when you read the sequel, don’t be surprised if some of the action takes place in an entirely new setting.

My only hint as to why is to say that Cyprus was the center of copper mining and copper is the key ingredient of bronze, and a certain main character of mine is very knowledgeable about bronze working. A wonderful archaeologist I shared a great meal with says there’s evidence of women running businesses on their own in Cyprus. Did I mention they’ve been making wine on Cyprus for more than 5,000 years and it’s still a great place for excellent, cheap red wine, so any further research I do there really wouldn’t be unpleasant!

 Q: You love to read about strong historical women like I do. Who are some women in history that believe to be 1) great role models 2) interesting for any reason 3) someone you’d love to write about one day?

A: I’ll defer to my description of Queen Puduhepa in the question above. Hers was a famously happy marriage, a brilliantly active rule that kept peace in difficult times and coped with some major problems like plague and food shortages without losing the support of her people. She continued to rule after her husband’s death, as was the Hittite custom. Women had some clout.

Queen P

The figure on the right is Queen Puduhepa, Queen of the Hittites / Wikipedia

Q: You are a classicist and taught high school English, Latin, and Humanities. Did or would you still encourage people, especially young students interested in literature and history, to read classics such as the Iliad?

A: I think most people would enjoy and benefit from reading the Iliad and other classical pieces. My students identified the Iliad as a favorite year after year, and I think part of its continuing appeal is its accessibility despite its venerable age.

Q: I am grateful to have taken Latin for two years in my schooling, but it isn’t taught as often any longer and it, of course, is a dying language. However, I feel that Latin is one of the best things I ever educated myself in! It’s used in history, law, foreign languages, science, math….how do you feel about it—for young minds (or old for that matter!)?

A: I think Latin is a wonderful language to study. Its lessons are quite different than taking French or Spanish—no ordering your dinner or asking when the next train leaves—but as a training in how language works, fundamentals of syntax and grammar, it can’t be beat. Probably we’d do ourselves a big favor as a country if we immersed all kids in a couple spoken languages from nursery school on and taught Latin from 5th grade through 8th. Then we wouldn’t be incapable of conversing with the world or of writing coherent sentences.

Q: What are some of your most favorite books you’ve ever read? 1) for historical research and 2) for pleasure? What authors do you enjoy reading most? I have noticed you like mysteries too!

A: For historical research, I’m particularly enjoying the scholarship of Eric Cline and Joanna Smith these days. If I go look at my shelves and start reminiscing about other research adventures, this interview will never be done, so we’ll leave it at that.

I do love historical mysteries as well as a bunch of historical and contemporary writers. Here’s a somewhat random selection of some favorites, but as soon as I make a list I hear the ones I’ve left out popping up in my brain: Elizabeth Speller, Priscilla Royal, Kelli Stanley, Kate Quinn, Sharon Kay Penman, Nancy Bilyeau, Geraldine Brooks, Isabel Allende, Rebecca Cantrell, Ellen Feldman, P.D. James, Rhys Bowen, Jacqueline Winspear. Okay, random stop.

Q: If you could give anyone in history the biggest scare of their life for Halloween this year, who would it be and why?

A: Oh let’s choose the Roman emperor Nero. He had a flair for the dramatic, was a total wackjob villain and he killed a lot of innocent people, so if you could have scared him into better behavior, that would have made for a little less misery in history.

Q: Where can readers and writers connect with you?

A: My website: http://www.judithstarkston.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/judy.starkston

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JudithStarkston

Q: Where should everyone purchase Hand of Fire?

Amazon

Amazon UK 

Barnes and Noble

Powell’s Link

Erin: It has been such an amazing afternoon with you, Judith. Thank you so much for spending time with me to talk about your historical pursuits, your thoughts, and your writing. As always, I wish you outstanding success in all you do! It’s always a joy to talk to you!

Judith: I’ve enjoyed our conversation. Thanks for all the good questions and hosting me. Unfortunately the dog is napping on my foot so I’ll have to stay put for a while. You won’t mind if I get to work on Puduhepa’s murder mystery on your patio, do you? This is how I get my writing done—the dog pins me in place. I owe my writing career to my dog Socrates.

Hand of Fire, Synopsis~

The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

Judith Starkston, Biography~

Author Photo(1)Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities.

She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.

Find an excerpt, Q&A, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on Starkston’s website www.JudithStarkston.com

Visit on Goodreads Hand of Fire

Link to the tour schedule: Hand of Fire Fireship Press Virtual Tour

Advance Praise~

“But what is the difference between a good historical novel and a brilliant one?
I suggest you read Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire and you’ll discover the answer.” Helen Hollick, Historical Novels Review Editor and author of Forever Queen

“In Hand of Fire, Starkston’s careful research brings ancient Greece and Troy to life with passion and grace. This haunting and insightful novel makes you ache for a mortal woman, Briseis, in love with a half-god, Achilles, as she fights to make her own destiny in a world of capricious gods and warriors. I devoured this page-turning escape from the modern world!” — Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath

“In her portrayal of Briseis, Judith Starkston has cast a bright light on one of the Iliad‘s most intriguing sub-plots. With her fast-paced story, three-dimensional characters, and fascinating cultural details, Starkston has given historical fiction fans a tale to remember.” –Priscilla Royal, author of Covenant with Hell

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Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire Showcases the Human Side of the Trojan War

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Hand of Fire: A Novel of Briseis and The Trojan War, Synopsis~

The Trojan War threatens Troy’s allies and the Greek supply raids spread. A young healing priestess, designated as future queen, must defend her city against both divine anger and invading Greeks. She finds strength in visions of a handsome warrior god. Will that be enough when the half-immortal Achilles attacks? Hand of Fire, a tale of resilience and hope, blends history and legend in the untold story of Achilles’s famous captive, Briseis.

Review~

When Judith Starkston started talking about her book Hand of Fire, I couldn’t wait to read it! A lover of Greek mythology, or any mythology for that matter, as well as Greek history and ancient cultures (not to mention that I love the classical poets, authors, and philosophers, after studying both in literature, history, science, latin, and philosophy classes), I obviously knew this book was calling my name!! I’ve been looking for more historical fiction in this regard, especially encircling the Trojan War or historical aspects of Greek mythology, and Starkston delivered without a hint of a gift horse in sight. Rather, her chariot arrived with an extraordinarily well-researched, emotionally captivating, and magnificently written novel.

In Homer’s Iliad, which is the one of the foremost texts outlining a possible existence of the Trojan War, he writes of the latter part of this war between Troy and the Greeks. The female, Briseis, is merely mentioned by only a few lines, but her story has harbored questions for historians and readers for many centuries. Who was Briseis, what role did she play? How did a romance with the half-god Achilles play out, with she as a captive priestess of Troy? There might not ever be any further concrete evidence, however, Judith seems to have seen these questions as a challenge she might answer through her historical fiction pen.

Judith writes vividly of Briseis, formulating a protagonist we all can care and cheer for by the end. She creates a strong woman who grows exponentially from the start of the novel to the finale where she is a woman wielding tremendous personal independence and power. She’s a problem solver, has an  inquisitive nature, a fierce but open heart, and does it all with a humble spirit. It’s easy to question yourself under such extreme circumstances, and when Briseis does so, it just makes her that much more real.

As she was a caregiver at home with her family, Briseis becomes a caregiver even as a captive to the Greek soldiers. It was when Achilles loses Patroklos, his most endeared friend, and shows is vulnerable mortal side, that Briseis cares for his grieving heart, even as she herself grieves for Patroklos, who was much loved by all.

Not only did I feel the pain, torment, and loss of the characters due to war, cruelty, death, and remorse, but I absorbed the connection of the couple at the moment when Briseis cares for Achilles and an unlikely romance is ignited, but one that is beautifully told with passion and fervor, a soft hand, yet firm. There is forgiveness, redemption, and hope that fills the lines of this novel that is so compelling to me. Though she is mortal, and he half-mortal, he treats her as a goddess she could be, with her healing powers and pure, yet brave, heart. They understand each other in a way that is truly endearing.

Judith does a remarkable job with her character development of Briseis, showing us who she might have been as a healer, a priestess, and a pivotal woman of history; Achilles, giving us his more sensitive, romantic, and caring side; brave and balanced Patroklos; and the older nurse of Briseis, named Eurome. Judith’s characters have been deftly outlined to construct three-dimensional personae that leave us feeling as if we’ve known them personally. As a reader, it was easy for me to become caught up in their lives. And that, coupled with the historical research and her action and dialogue, made me propel through the pages of this book, wishing never a minute might come in which I had to put it down.

The elegant, detailed descriptions of setting and characters were eloquent and rich, allowing me to visualize the ancient past and yearn for a time long ago. As if watching an even better version of the movie “Troy,” the novel Hand of Fire, brings a grace and elegance to such a time-told tale. Judith was wonderful to give us a version of Briseis in full form within the pages of her book, and though the ending brought tears to my eyes, it also lifted my spirits and I eagerly await the next book. I can’t wait to see how Briseis fares during the next phase of her life’s journey.

I’d ride with fire blazing behind me in my own gold chariot to recommend Judith’s Hand of Fire to anyone who likes historical fiction or Greek mythology, but especially to readers like me who love tales of the ancient worlds and strong female protagonists, especially those who seem chosen to be destined for monumental things. Excellent novel!

STAY TUNED for an INTERVIEW tomorrow with Judith. She’ll probably need a strong vat of coffee after the interview I put her through, as I had WAY too many interesting things to ask! On Friday, she’ll be back on with a wonderful guest article and photos!

Judith Starkston, Biography~

Author Photo(1)Judith Starkston writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire. Ms. Starkston is a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz and M.A. Cornell University) who taught high school English, Latin and humanities.

She and her husband have two grown children and live in Arizona with their golden retriever Socrates. Hand of Fire is her debut novel.

Find an excerpt, Q&A, book reviews, ancient recipes, historical background as well as on-going information about the historical fiction community on Starkston’s website www.JudithStarkston.com.

Follow Judith Starkston on FB and Twitter

Visit on Goodreads Hand of Fire

Buy Links~

Amazon 

Amazon UK 

Nook 

iTunes  

Link to the tour schedule: Hand of Fire Fireship Press Virtual Tour

Praise for Hand of Fire~

“Judith Starkston has created a world full of historical accuracy to rival any other, and has crafted characters that we can all find similar to ourselves. I consider Hand of Fire to be one of the most powerful and well-written tales set in the Late Bronze-Age, and one of the best books of 2014. I look forward with great fervor to future works by Judith Starkston, which, if written on the caliber of Hand of Fire, will become classics themselves.” Nassem Al-Mehairi, Seize the Moment. See full review HERE.

“But what is the difference between a good historical novel and a brilliant one?
I suggest you read Judith Starkston’s Hand of Fire and you’ll discover the answer.” Helen Hollick, Historical Novels Review Editor and author of Forever Queen

“In Hand of Fire, Starkston’s careful research brings ancient Greece and Troy to life with passion and grace. This haunting and insightful novel makes you ache for a mortal woman, Briseis, in love with a half-god, Achilles, as she fights to make her own destiny in a world of capricious gods and warriors. I devoured this page-turning escape from the modern world!” — Rebecca Cantrell, New York Times bestselling author of The World Beneath

“In her portrayal of Briseis, Judith Starkston has cast a bright light on one of the Iliad‘s most intriguing sub-plots. With her fast-paced story, three-dimensional characters, and fascinating cultural details, Starkston has given historical fiction fans a tale to remember.” –Priscilla Royal, author of Covenant with Hell

“Briseis steps out from the handful of lines she gets in Homer’s epic, and fearlessly tells her own story as healer, war prize, and partner to the famous Achilles–here a godlike hero who manages to be all too human. Recommended!”-Kate Quinn, author of Empress of the Seven Hills

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