Monthly Archives: March 2014

Celebrating Women Series: Tim Busbey Talks About a Woman of Ghost Legend, Ceely Rose

Welcome to the 17th article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Tim Busbey for this article. The series ran March 19-31, 2014, and you can head to this blog page, Women in History, which will give you links to all articles in the series that you can read and share at any time.


Ceely Rose, Ohio Female Killer of 19th Century Featured on Syfy’s Ghost Hunters
by author/editor Tim Busbey

Ceely Rose

Ceely Rose, a photo taken during the time of her trial in 1896.

My article for the Celebrating Women series is a little different than most of them. The woman I am writing about is a person most people would not consider to be inspiring or “good.” However, her story is one that bears re-telling.

Today, I am going to share with you the story of Ceely Rose. Unless you happen to be from North Central Ohio, you probably have no idea who Ceely is. Most people in these parts have at least heard the name of the 19th century young lady who killed her parents over the love of a young man.

Nestled within the confines of what is now known as Malabar Farm State Park stands a rather non-descript, two-story white home. To the thousands of visitors who pass through the park each year, there is no sign of the tragic events that took place within those four walls 118 years ago.

Those tragic events were given birth by one young lady. Her name was Celia Rose, but to the residents of Pleasant Valley, she was known as Ceely. Ceely was born on March 13, 1873, to David and Rebecca Rose. By today’s standards, Ceely was severely learning disabled.

According to “Historic Haunted America” by Michael Norman and Beth Scott, “By the age of thirteen she could barely read and was always in classes with students much younger than herself. Many youngsters teased her for her poor grades and her pronounced stammer whenever she was called upon to recite.

With the cruelty that children often inflict on one another, they would scream, ‘Dumbbell Ceely! Ugly old Ceely!’” (As a weird sidenote/bit of trivia, Michael Norman was a professor of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls where I attended college my freshman year and I had him as a professor for two journalism classes.)

Although she was 23 at the time of the murders in 1896, it is said that she had a mental age closer to a young teenager. According to an 1896 newspaper report, “She talked with a stutter and performed on a level with children seven years younger than her. She might be described as half-child and half-woman.”

In 1896, Ceely was in love with a local boy named Guy Berry, who lived on a neighboring farm. Although Guy certainly didn’t share those feelings, Ceely told everyone that the two were engaged. Not wanting to hurt Ceely by telling her his true feelings, Guy reportedly lied and told her they could never be married because her family did not approve of him. Another version of the story says that Guy’s father was upset by Ceely’s daily visit to their home and told her parents to keep her away.

Photo by Erin Al-Mehairi

The Rose Home at Malabar Farm Photo by Erin Al-Mehairi

Heartbroken, Ceely decided to exact revenge on her family. At breakfast one morning in late June 1896, Ceely laced her family’s cottage cheese with arsenic. Her father died on June 30. Her brother, Walter, survived a few more days, dying on July 4.

Her mother must not have eaten much of the cottage cheese, because she recovered, eventually realizing what had happened. But when her mother began talking of moving away from Pleasant Valley, Ceely poisoned her mother again with a massive dose of arsenic. Her mother died July 19.

As the lone survivor of the Rose family, suspicion immediately fell on Ceely, but investigators had no evidence to prove her involvement. This was long before the days of “CSI.” Instead, it was a childhood friend of Ceely’s who talked with her and got her to confess to the killings.

Ceely was tried for all three deaths and found not guilty by reason of insanity. She was sent to an asylum in Toledo where she spent the next 19 years. In 1915, Ceely became one of the first patients at the new Lima State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. She died there a day after her 61st birthday in 1934 and her gravestone still stands in a cemetery at that site.

Ceely’s family and Guy Berry are buried in Pleasant Valley Cemetery, located just a short distance from the Rose and Berry homes.

You may be wondering why I chose Ceely as my woman to write about for this series. A few years ago, I got the idea to write a non-fiction book about the many sites in North Central Ohio that are reportedly haunted. My research uncovered a number of them, including Malabar Farm.

Many people believe that Ceely haunts the Rose and Berry homes, both of which still stand on the grounds of Malabar Farm State Park, as well as the Pleasant Valley Cemetery. Over the years, people have reported seeing a girl in a window of the former Rose home at times when no one was in the home, which is now owned by the Ohio State Parks. A play about her life is performed in a barn at Malabar Farm State Park, and many strange occurrences have been reported during rehearsals and performances.

Just last month, an episode of “Ghost Hunters” that was taped at Malabar Farm aired on the SyFy Channel. I don’t usually watch the show but I made sure to watch that episode OnDemand.

Whether or not you believe her ghost is still hanging around Pleasant Valley, the story of Ceely Rose is truly a tragic tale. The young lady was likely bullied her whole life for being different. Combine that with her developmental issues and it was a tragedy waiting to happen.

Besides the major women in history, it’s interesting to find the hidden stories of women of note right in your own backyard. Don’t be afraid to explore and investigate your local history. You never know what interesting tales you might find.

Tim Busbey, Biography~

1000041_10151504816312462_893841430_nTim Busbey has a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism from Bowling Green State University. He has been a professional writer for nearly 20 years, spending the first 11 years of his career in the newspaper industry before transitioning into a role as a copywriter/marketing communications specialist. He has written for newspapers, a recruitment communication agency, a major small appliance manufacturer, and one of the top personal injury law firms in Ohio.

Currently, he is working as a full-time freelance writer/copywriter/editor for a variety of clients including an electronics distributor, an online news source, and a law firm, while assisting with other projects of Addison’s Compass Public Relations, a PR/Com/Marketing business he runs with Erin Al-Mehairi.

Tim is in the process of writing a horror novella, a non-fiction book about haunted locations in North Central Ohio, and a science fiction thriller novel that is the first of a series. He also offers editing services to a wealth of authors in all genres.

Tim has volunteered his time for a number of community organizations including The United Way of Ashland County and the Ashland County Cancer Association.

Tim lives in Ohio with his long-time girlfriend, Erin, and their three kids. When he’s not writing, Tim loves to read (sci-fi, fantasy, horror and thrillers mostly), watch TV, and coach his kids’ sports teams.


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My Thoughts on Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga Book Five: Serpents in the Garden

Serpents in the GardenSerpents in the Garden is book five in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series. It’s been an interesting ride in following along with this family and their adventures in history, with Alex coming from modern times and incorporating pretty well in to Matthew’s 17th Century world, all things considered.  As they’ve moved on now to the New World, and as the present keeps appearing into the past, we see how both times collide. Then, there are the new characters introduced and assisted in each novel that really make each story unique. Yet, there is also a seamless feel to them as well.

As this is book five, we start to see more of their children as they grow, and in this novel we experience watching Jacob and Daniel find their career paths, Ian and his wife Jenny struggle, people out for revenge due to Matthew’s actions, and more. The life of Matthew and Alex is always full of love, but also outside conflicts and the violence with others who believe they’ve been wronged heat up in this book as much as the sexual scenes. If you love a lot of action and steamy romance, this book will keep you turning the pages!

There’s always feisty and independent Alex, and loyal and patient Matthew, and though they do get into tiffs now and again, they have a deep love that transcends all the plots of all the novels. But the romance part isn’t what draws me to her books, it’s that she’s written a well-done novel of time travel that features Alex fitting in and making a life in history. I enjoy her deep character development. It’s been exciting, as a modern woman, seeing Alex travel from my period and into all the various tumultuous periods of history. Seeing the struggles of life during these travels through her eyes, is enlightening.

Anna is a wonderful storyteller and her books are always well-written. This series is definitely one you’ll want to collect with its sweeping saga of prose and its elegant and gorgeous covers. You could probably start with any of them and enjoy the story, the way they are written, but I definitely thinking buying the whole set is worth it if you like historical romance with a twist.

Serpents in the Garden, Synopsis~

Serpents in the GardenPublication Date: March 1, 2014
SilverWood Books
Formats: Ebook, Paperback

After years of hard work, Matthew and Alex Graham have created a thriving home in the Colony of Maryland. About time, in Alex’s opinion, after far too many adventures she is really looking forward to some well-deserved peace and quiet.

A futile hope, as it turns out. Things start to heat up when Jacob, the third Graham son, absconds from his apprenticeship to see the world – especially as Jacob leaves behind a girl whom he has wed in a most irregular fashion.

Then there’s the infected matter of the fellow time traveller Alex feels obliged to help – no matter the risk. Worst of all, one day Philip Burley and his brothers resurface after years of absence. As determined as ever to make Matthew pay for every perceived wrong – starting with the death of their youngest brother – the Burleys play out a complicated cat and mouse game, and Alex is thrown back into an existence where her heart is constantly in her mouth, convinced as she is that one day the Burleys will achieve their purpose.

Will the Burleys succeed? And if they do, will the Graham family survive the exacted price?
Serpents in the Garden is the fifth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Graham Saga Titles
Book One: A Rip in the Veil
Book Two: Like Chaff in the Wind
Book Three: The Prodigal Son
Book Four: A Newfound Land
Book Five: Serpents in the Garden
Book Six: Revenge & Retribution (coming August 2014)
Book Seven: Whither Thou Goest

Buy the Book~

Amazon CA
Amazon US
Barnes & Noble
Book Depository
Kobo Books

Author Anna Belfrage, Biography~

Anna BelfrageI was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive …

Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

For more information, please visit Anna Belfrage’s website. You can also find her on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.

Tour Schedule:
Tour Hashtag: #SerpentsintheGardenTour

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Celebrating Women Series: Heather Webb on Camille Claudel, artist/sculptor & lover of Auguste Rodin

Welcome to the 16th article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Heather Webb for this next article. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.


The Sad Story of Camille Caudel, French Sculptor
by historical author Heather Webb

Camille Claudel

Camille Claudel

I fell in love with Camille Claudel’s story in my French film class in college. The 1988 movie about her life captured my heart and endeared me to this brilliant, tortured woman who toiled against the male-dominated art world. Her talent was not ordinary, nor was she, and those who knew her spoke of her charm and sudden violence, her biting sense of humor and fervent love for those most dear to her.

But Camille was betrayed ultimately—by her own mind. She developed paranoid schizophrenia that turned her inward, and she adopted a life of solitude; one in which, she fought no one but herself. The day she was committed to the Ville-Evrard Asylum, a brilliant light went out. Yet her works remain, and transcend the tragedy of her life. Her busts and figures tell the story of a woman who admired the beauty of deeply emotional contrasts, the planes of light and shadow, and the perfection of the human form.

In terms of Camille’s successes, she produced many pieces that exhibited in Paris and London, and won recognition from major critics of the day, though in small doses. She was a visionary in her time, as was her teacher and lover, Auguste Rodin. They both bucked the tradition of allegorical sculpture with overwrought gesturing that was so common from the academes of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts.

claudel working

Camille Working

Rodin focused on his idolization of musculature and physical form early in his career and transitioned to more expressionist works that paved the way for the modern era, whereas Camille’s works showcased an emphasis on movement and the inner workings of human emotion. After their split, Camille’s focus turned toward Japonism and polychromy, or the art of sculpting with several different materials within one piece. Today, the bulk of her works reside at Musée Rodin in Paris, as do the letters exchanged between herself and her one great love.

My novel about Camille Claudel and her love affair with her art and Auguste Rodin releases next winter from Plume/Penguin and is called RODIN’S LOVER. Check out my website for details: (live link:

For those of you interested in seeing some of her works, a few of my favorites are: The Waltz, The Wave, Maturity, The Gossips, and Clotho. I have a Pinterest board packed with photos of her work as well as Rodin’s. For more, go here (live link:

*Photos in this blog post taken from Heather’s Pinterest file.

Heather Webb, Biography~

Heather WebbHeather Webb is the author of historical novels BECOMING JOSEPHINE and the forthcoming RODIN’S LOVER (Plume/Penguin 2015).  A freelance editor and blogger, she spends oodles of time helping writers hone their skills—something she adores. Find her twittering @msheatherwebb or contributing to her favorite award-winning sites and

Becoming Josephine, Synopsis~

Becoming JosephinePublication Date: December 31, 2013
Plume Books/Penguin
Paperback; 320p
ISBN-10: 0142180653

Rose Tascher sails from her Martinique plantation to Paris to trade her Creole black magic culture for love and adventure. She arrives exultant to follow her dreams of attending Court with Alexandre, her elegant aristocrat and soldier husband. But Alexandre dashes her hopes and abandons her amid the tumult of the French Revolution.

Through her savoir faire, Rose secures her footing in high society, reveling in handsome men and glitzy balls—until the heads of her friends begin to roll.

After narrowly escaping death in the blood-drenched cells of Les Carmes prison, she reinvents herself as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. Yet her youth is fading, and Josephine must choose between a precarious independence and the love of an awkward suitor. Little does she know, he would become the most powerful man of his century- Napoleon Bonaparte.

BECOMING JOSEPHINE is a novel of one woman’s journey to find eternal love and stability, and ultimately to find herself.

Praise for Becoming Josephine

“Heather Webb’s epic novel captivates from its opening in a turbulent plantation society in the Caribbean, to the dramatic rise of one of France’s most fascinating women: Josephine Bonaparte. Perfectly balancing history and story, character and setting, detail and pathos, Becoming Josephine marks a debut as bewitching as its protagonist.” –Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl

“With vivid characters and rich historical detail, Heather Webb has portrayed in Josephine a true heroine of great heart, admirable strength, and inspiring courage whose quest is that of women everywhere: to find, and claim, oneself.” –Sherry Jones, bestselling author of The Jewel of the Medina

“A fast-paced, riveting journey, Becoming Josephine captures the volatile mood of one of the most intense periods of history—libertine France, Caribbean slave revolts, the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars—from the point of a view of one of its key witnesses, Josephine Bonaparte.” –Dana Gynther, author of Crossing on the Paris

“Vivid and passionate, Becoming Josephine captures the fiery spirit of the woman who stole Napoleon’s heart and enchanted an empire. –Susan Spann, author of The Shinobi Mysteries
“Spellbinding . . . Heather Webb’s novel takes us behind the mask of the Josephine we thought we knew.” –Christy English, author of How to Tame a Willful Wife and To Be Queen

“Enchanting prose takes the reader on an unforgettable journey . . . Captivating young Rose springs from the lush beauty of her family’s sugar plantation in Martinique to shine in the eighteenth century elegance of Parisian salon society. When France is torn by revolution, not even the blood-bathed terror of imprisonment can break her spirit.” –Marci Jefferson, author of Girl on the Gold Coin (Thomas Dunne Books, 2014)




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Celebrating Women Series: Nike Campbell-Fatoki Writes on Funlayo Alabi and Her Empowerment of African Women

Welcome to the 15th article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Nike Campbell-Fatoki for this next article. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.


Women’s History Month – Woman Making History
Funlayo Alabi of Shea Radiance: Empowering African Women
by Nike Campbell-Fatoki, author and business owner

“Shea Radiance represents the full circle of giving that uplifts women all the way through the value chain. from seed to shelf.”

Not many companies can say that they started off with the goal of helping the community. Not many can say they were motivated to give back seeing the hardship of others. It is usually an afterthought.

shea-radiance-natural-funlayo-alabiNot so with Funlayo Alabi and Shea Radiance – an eco-luxury beauty brand, located in Columbia, Maryland a suburb in the Washington DC metropolitan Area. Shea Radiance creates effective and luxurious beauty products using shea butter as the key active ingredient. Delivered in sustainable packaging, the products positively impact the lives of women and children in Nigeria.

Shea-Radiance-Abuja-Nigeria-2013-35Shea radiance was borne out of a necessity as so many innovative things are. Funlayo’s son suffered from dry and eczema-prone skin. In 2005, a search for a cure led Funlayo and her husband, Shola, back to their homeland, Nigeria, West Africa. They witnessed the hardship of the women – lack of access to education and good health care – who gathered the nuts to produce raw shea butter and were moved.

Inspired to make a difference, they have created channels for women to sell their products and earn disposable income. Women who have the desire to work and make money for their family but do not have the financial capacity are given the opportunity through training, cooperative building and capacity building.

Shea-Radiance-Abuja-Nigeria-2013-31Shea Radiance’s core values are quality and integrity. The company continues to reach back and buy raw shea butter from the women.

Funlayo Alabi makes Nigeria and Africa proud. Today, she is making history as a woman who cares for her fellow women and is doing something about it. She recognizes that women hold the key to a life out of poverty. As Dr. James Aggrey stated, “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate woman, you educate a nation.”

Shea communities (3)

Connect with Shea Radiance at


Nike Campbell-Fatoki, Biography~


Funlayo Alabi (l) and Nike Campbell-Fatoki (R)

Nike Campbell-Fatoki is the author of Thread of Gold Beads, a historical fiction novel published in November 2012 in the US and 2013 in Nigeria.

She dabbles in poetry, has a passion for mentoring and is an advocate for domestic violence victims.

She loves traveling, watching movies, and listening to music. She is also the owner and creative director of Eclectic Goodies, an African-inspired home décor, party favors and gifts packaging company.

Her passion continues to be having a positive impact in people’s lives where ever she goes. She does this through the platforms available to her – writing, blogging, and public speaking.

She is presently writing her second novel, a collection of short stories. She lives in the Washington DC area with her family.

To learn more and connect with Nike, visit
Twitter handle: @nikecfatoki


Thread of Gold Beads, Synopsis~

thread of gold beadsAmelia, daughter of the last independent King of Danhomè, King Gbèhanzin, is the apple of her father’s eye, loved beyond measure by her mother, and overprotected by her siblings. She searches for her place within the palace amidst conspirators and traitors to the Kingdom.

Just when Amelia begins to feel at home in her role as a Princess, a well-kept secret shatters the perfect life she knows. Someone else within the palace also knows and does everything to bring the secret to light. A struggle between good and evil ensues causing Amelia to leave all that she knows and loves. She must flee Danhomè with her brother, to south-western Nigeria.

In a faraway land, she finds the love of a new family and God. The well-kept secret thought to have been dead and buried, resurrects with the flash of a thread of gold beads. Amelia must fight for her life and what is left of her soul.

during the French-Danhomè war of the late 1890s in Benin Republic and early 1900s in Abeokuta and Lagos, South-Western Nigeria, Thread of Gold Beads is a delicate love story, and coming of age of a young girl. It clearly depicts the strength of the human spirit in the face of adversities.

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Celebrating Women Series: Rosemary Tran Lauer on Her Grandmother’s Early 20th Century Vietnam Life and What She Taught Her

Welcome to the 14th article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Rosemary Tran Lauer and her co-author Scott Beller. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.


Ahead of Her Time and Against Social Norms,Tüöng Phố Set a Bold Example as a Strong Single Mother
by author Rosemary Tran Lauer

My grandmother Tüöng Phố was an educated woman who embodied everything that Women’s History Month was created to celebrate: character, courage and commitment. What’s even more remarkable about her to me is that she did so at a time and place (early 20th century Vietnam) where such qualities were, in many ways and for many decades afterwards, discouraged in women. My grandmother was a celebrated poet and an artist with great integrity. But as a single mother, even her fame could not shield her from the strict expectations of a culture that insisted a woman’s most important role (and goal) was to be a proper wife serving a rich husband.

My grandfather died before my father was old enough to know him. Stigmatized for a tragic circumstance completely out of her control, my grandmother spent the rest of her life seeking to overcome it. To do so she focused inward, channeling her sorrows through creative expression and a dedication to honoring my grandfather’s memory by loving her only son while instilling in him and her grandchildren a respect for the power of education.

I was lucky as a young girl to have been one of her “chosen” pupils. My grandmother inspired me then and continues to inspire me today. Although I tried but never was able to attain a college education, she showed me that no matter where or how you learn, the dedication to learning and the knowledge you obtain are what’s most important in overcoming life’s challenges. She also gave me a shining example of someone who didn’t let her circumstances keep her down. She found ways to use adversity as the most important learning experience. Adversity only served to propel her forward. It was just as much nourishment to her as her success.

My relationship with my grandmother continues to inform the way I approach any situation, good or bad, personal or professional. As a small tribute to and show of love for her, I began my recently published memoir Beggars or Angels: How a Single Mother Triumphed Over War, Welfare and Cancer to Become a Successful Philanthropist (August 2013, Oaklight Publishing), by sharing part of her story. I did this to illustrate the great influence she’s had on me as well as those who I’ve tried to help through Devotion to Children (, the child care advocacy nonprofit I began in 1994.

Although, her amazing life could fill two books by itself, the following excerpt from the opening chapter of my book will have to suffice for now. I hope you enjoy it:

Following excerpt taken from the memoir Beggars or Angels: How a Single Mother Triumphed Over War, Welfare and Cancer to Become a Successful Philanthropist (Oaklight Publishing © 2013 by Rosemary Tran Lauer and Scott Beller). It is being reprinted by the “Hook of a Book” blog with permission. No other reproduction or distribution, either in print or electronically, is permitted without obtaining the prior written consent of the copyright holders.

Beggars or Angels
By Rosemary Tran Lauer
with Scott Beller


Chapter 1 Everything Happens for a Reason

Growing up in Vietnam, I knew exactly what was expected of me. In the Asian culture, it’s believed the ideal life for a woman is to grow up proper, get married, raise children, and then live happily ever after. And that’s just what I planned to do. I didn’t know that such fairytales are routinely interrupted by the conflicts, heartbreaks and unexpected detours of real life. I know this now.
Because I was raised in a Buddhist culture, I was taught to believe that people who lead challenged lives or fall upon hard times must have negative karma. In other words, bad things happen for a reason, and the reason is that you must have done something wrong in a past life. I’ve never been able to accept this philosophy. Two lifetimes of experience have taught me differently.

To be clear, I’m not talking about reincarnation. The first lifetime that changed how I see the world was not my own; it was my grandmother’s.

My grandmother Tüöng Phố was beloved throughout Vietnam for her poetry. Her poems invoked breathtaking imagery to express the most profound, heartrending and romantic sentiments. In her art and in her life, she embodied the avant-garde. And in the oppressive Vietnamese society of the early 20th century, she courageously followed her own path.

She married my grandfather when she was quite young and was soon with child. While she was pregnant, my grandfather was called away to practice medicine in France. But after several months abroad, he fell ill with tuberculosis and returned home to his family. A few months later, my grandfather passed away—leaving my grandmother alone with her son.

As a way to express and perhaps release some of the paralyzing anguish of losing her husband of only two years, my grandmother wrote “Autumn Tears” in 1923. She was a teacher at the time and not yet a full-time poet. This work brought her almost instant recognition throughout Vietnam. She was young, beautiful and suddenly famous.

In that time and culture, however, peering public eyes coldly chose to focus on something else: she was now a single mother. The situation didn’t sit well with people. Even though my grandmother was a widow, many of those in her community believed a “good” woman with children must have a husband in order to maintain her honor and dignity. So her parents quickly arranged for her to wed a man who was wealthy, powerful, and extremely influential in the local community.

Money and status didn’t matter to my grandmother, but her will to resist was weakened by her grief and love for my grandfather. She gave into societal pressure and her parents’ wishes. She remarried to appease them all, but she never again allowed herself to love another man.

If not for her son, my grandmother might have given up on the life she now considered broken and out of her control. My father became her will to live, and her poetry became her escape. Together her child and creative writing nourished her. In him she found renewed reason to strive for a fulfilling life, while her painful circumstances provided unlimited fuel for her poems. Each and every line she wrote radiated with sorrow.

Just after I was born, my grandmother read my star chart, which revealed to her that my life would also be complicated. To Buddhists, “complicated” is often synonymous with “difficult”—which means bad karma, something for which many believe there can be no forgiveness. My grandmother worried I might someday endure a life as difficult as hers—maybe worse. To change my destiny, she suggested to my parents that I pursue ordination as a Buddhist nun, even though doing so would divert me from the ideal married-with-children, happily-ever-after Vietnamese experience.

I didn’t become a nun. And despite my life’s many twists and turns and highs and lows, I still believe my decision was the right one for me.

Although I never made it to the safety of a monastery, my grandmother was always there to serve as my guardian. I was the seventh of 14 children and even lower in the pecking order because I was small. I became tough out of necessity. My older and younger brothers routinely beat me up and called it “playing.” They also told me, “You’re ugly, and nobody will ever want to marry you. You’ll be an old maid!” Rough as they were, I considered their abuse the price of being included.

My grandmother gave me refuge from my brothers. I don’t know why she seemed to favor me over my siblings. Maybe because of my unsettling star chart, she felt we shared a deeper connection than she had with any of her other grandchildren. Whatever her reasons, and no matter how strict she could be, I always took solace in knowing my grandmother deemed herself my protector from the very beginning.

She was also my first teacher. I was just 3 years old when she began drilling me daily on my multiplication tables. This was not shocking because I was a toddler, but because I was a girl. Within that repressed society, it mattered more that Vietnamese girls be able to cook, embroider, display good manners, and please people than it did for them to get an education. And above all, it mattered whether they were pretty enough to marry rich. But my grandmother was different, so she insisted I be different too. She wanted more for me—and expected more from me—than to be just another pretty object, ready and willing to serve a wealthy husband. She wanted me to shine from the inside out.

So I joined my grandmother each day in her tiny, tin-roofed kitchen. The little hut, screened in with bamboo and situated across from the main house, was her private “workshop.” While she sat hunched over on her stool, tending clay pots bubbling on two coal-burning stoves, I would sit in the corner, practicing my math skills. And I would sweat. My seemingly-endless recitations of “two by two equals four … two by three equals six …” and so on, cut through 100-degree air thick with humidity and the sugary, sharp aroma of omai, her famed candied plum and pickle treats. If I said them all correctly, I got to eat. Those treats were a great incentive for me to become a quick study and a constant threat to spoil my concentration …and my dinner!

On the hottest days, when it seemed my brain was searing faster than the food on my grandmother’s stove, her rigorous teaching methods and attention didn’t feel very loving. They felt more like punishment. I didn’t yet understand that as she prepared her heavenly confections, she was also preparing me to appreciate the value of an education and instilling in me a lifelong hunger for knowledge.

Despite my efforts to attain one, I never actually received a college degree. Instead I earned a diploma from cosmetology school. When I remember the way my grandmother disapproved of me wearing too much makeup as a teenager, I can’t help but smile. Pointing at my painted eyes, she would say, “Little one, you don’t need all that.” The funny thing is that without “all that,” I might not have made it very far in America.

For that journey, one I would not make until many years later, I did not need my grandmother’s math lessons. But I did need her courage, strength and independent spirit … and a whole lot of faith.


beggars_or_angels_front_a__67839Beggars or Angels: How a Single Mother Triumphed Over War, Welfare and Cancer to Become a Successful Philanthropist, Synopsis~

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Oaklight Publishing (August 14, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1613920024
  • ISBN-13: 978-1613920022

Imagine waking up tomorrow in a foreign land with no home, no money, no grasp of the language, no formal education, no friends or family for support, and with two kids under age three depending on you. What would you do?

Beggars or Angels: How a Single Mother Triumphed Over War, Welfare and Cancer to Become a Successful Philanthropist tells the inspirational story of Rosemary Tran Lauer, a mother who found the will and a way to survive when faced with this overwhelming scenario. Drawing on her strength, bold resourcefulness, and sense of humor, Rosemary was eventually able to give her family a wealth of opportunities they wouldn’t have dared dream about in the war-torn homeland they left behind.

A courageous welfare-mother-turned-philanthropist, she was willing to sacrifice everything but her self-respect for the sake of her children’s futures . . . and for the futures of thousands of families around the world. Beggars or Angels is about one woman’s dare to care and her persistent search for a reason “why.” Once she discovered it, Rosemary transformed her years of struggle into an altruistic ambition and purpose-the child care advocacy nonprofit Devotion to Children.

Rosemary Tran Lauer, Biography~

Rosemary Tran Lauer is an American success story. When she escaped from war-torn Vietnam in 1975, she had no college education and spoke little English. Striving for financial independence, she relied on the kindness of friends to help care for her kids while she worked multiple jobs. She relied on welfare benefits to make ends meet when she went back to school.

After cosmetology school, she spent more than 20 years in the beauty industry. In 1994, she founded the child care nonprofit Devotion to Children to make her vision, and the dreams of thousands of needy families, a reality.

In 2001, she earned her commercial-real-estate license and joined Long and Foster Realty, where she has been a top producer ever since. Rosemary serves on the Board of Directors for Northern Virginia Family Services (NVFS) and the Board of Advisors for Virginia Commerce Bank, and is active with the Vietnamese Realtor Forum.

She’s been honored by NVFS’s We Are America Now initiative and has received SmartCEO’s 2010 Spirited Service Award, the Association of Fundraising Professionals’ 2010 Outstanding Fundraising Volunteer Award, and The Asian American Chamber of Commerce’s 2011 Public Service Award.

Now a philanthropist, business leader, life coach, and happily-remarried mother of five, Rosemary lives in Oakton, Virginia, and works tirelessly with her husband Bill to give disadvantaged children and their working parents a brighter future.

Scott Beller, Biography~

Scott is a public relations industry veteran with more than 20 years experience as a writer and strategic communications consultant. As a work-at-home dad raising two children under age 6, Scott knows the challenges of balancing career and family, as well as finding affordable, quality child care.

During his PR career Scott has held leadership positions with some of the world’s top agencies, including Fleishman-Hillard and Weber-Shandwick, where he honed his writing skills and developed numerous public-information campaigns supporting the improved quality of life for children and their families.

As an independent consultant, Scott continues to handle range of writing, PR and strategic media projects for a variety of technology, entertainment and nonprofit clients. He also has helped launch two parenting organizations, DADS Unlimited and REEL FATHERS (, with their founder Allan Shedlin. In 2003, Shedlin appointed Scott as his volunteer director of communications. That same year, Scott was named Volunteer of the Year as a youth mentor for New Hope Housing, Northern Virginia’s largest provider of shelter, transitional and permanent housing to homeless families.

Scott lives in Arlington, Virginia, with his wife Elisabeth and two kind, brilliant, adorable and exhausting daughters.

Beggars or Angels on Amazon at
Excerpt (Chapter 1) posted on Asian Fortune News:
Beggars or Angels on Facebook:
Devotion to Children:
Scott Beller on Facebook:

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Celebrating Women Series: Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi on the Life of Emily Dickinson

Welcome to the 13th article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Now, it’s my own turn to post an article, lucky 13? If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.


The Life, Writing, and Misconceptions of Emily Dickinson
by Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

EDickinsonPortraitIf you are a writer or author yourself you can most likely relate to the poet Emily Dickinson in regards to her pursuit of scribbling her words at random as her brain and emotions produced them, whether that be onto napkins, pieces of small paper, or her journals. Though she did spend longer lengths of time in her bedroom and at her desk, she was often found doing things like skimming the milk (remember it’s the mid-1800s) in the kitchen while her other hand was feverishly writing.

However, in later times, she often collected her works in handmade journals, which are called fascicles. In fact, they came to house more than 800 of her poems, though her final total of works is somewhere around 1800.

Let’s take a step back and look at how Emily’s life began so we can understand how it ended up, and ultimately, why her poetry resonates as some of the best loved and most read works of all time.

Born in 1830 in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily Dickinson had a childhood in her middle years that included baking, music, gardening, reading, writing letters, and other creative pursuits. She had a stellar education, her paternal grandfather—Samuel Dickinson– having founded Amherst College in 1821 (then it was Amherst Academy) with a group of town leaders who served as the first trustees (one of note personally to me is one of my ancestors, Noah Webster). Her father worked there as well and was also a state legislator. Growing up in this intellectual family with plenty of social engagements, Emily had a good upbringing.

She was educated at Amherst for many years as well as the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College), where she spent a year. For a woman of the nineteenth century, this would not be a normal opportunity to have so much education, but in Amherst it was accepted and she loved her teachers and was loved by teachers, as well as admired by classmates and friends, mainly for her compositions. She enjoyed the freedom that the school allowed her in her creativity, though she was always probably lost in the clouds. Surprising to some who refer to Emily only as a lonely woman, she was in fact at this age very social and had a lot of friends.

Unlike most other educational institutions, Amherst had a wide and broad program in classics and literature, open for both men and women. Their structure, though adhering to religion and piety, also gave students more room for creative thinking. With Emily being somewhat of a dreamer, I have concluded myself that she probably thrived in this environment. Not only was she able to write well, but she had a penchant for biology and Amherst would quite often feed her craving for learning with guest speakers and lectures. In fact, the famous geologist Edward Hitchcock became administrator of the academy at the time Emily attended and this afforded her the ability to learn all she wanted in regards to science.

As readers of her works today, we can view her vocabulary choices and some of her themes and regard them with the fact that she gleaned a good portion from her interest in science and the utilization of it being offered in such a high degree. Over the years her botany hobby (in her middle years, after she had returned home, her father even built her an indoor conservatory of which her bedroom window overlooked) led to her growing beautiful flowers and plants that were a great source of inspiration for her well-being and for her poetry.

emily poem HOPEIntermixed within these years however, Emily dealt with the loss of many friends and relatives and this prompted her already curious mind to begin asking questions in regards to life and death. Living in a Calvinist community, everyone around her was concerned for the soul and its transition. Though her family joined the Church, Emily did not. I conclude that she probably had too many questions, as her personality revealed she often had a mind of her own that was led by no one, and her lingering issues with death and dying only heightened from her teenage years into her adult years.

In various writings and letters, it becomes obvious in her thinking that she wonders how and why she is different from most people. I tend to think she didn’t fit into any mold or crowd and enjoyed the beauty of nature. This leads me to further to believe she was a very emotional woman who did not take the hurt of losing anyone close to her lightly. She expressed herself best through her letters and her poetry and unveiled her innermost thoughts and emotions.

Between 1858 and 1865, Emily wrote hundreds of her works we identify with as readers today. The major timeline occurrence during this time in history of course was the Civil War. But not only was the country going through turmoil, Emily’s life also went under vast changes as well. She lived with her parents (with her brother, sister-in-law, and their three children nearby) and this is when she had her conservatory and penned those 800 poems into the handmade books I wrote about earlier in the article. At 35, she had amassed over 1100 works that were like music to the lips that spoke of grief, love, loss, and nature. Still, almost all remained known only to her as just her personal observations and feelings put to paper.

emily_dickinson_quote booksShe had strong friendships with men and women, some she wrote frequent letters to over the course of this time. She began to be the household caregiver, being a nursemaid to her ailing mother and therefore, becoming increasingly confined to the home. The letters served as her connection to friends and family, and possible suitors. Amazingly enough, less and less becomes known of her relationships even as she writes more and more during this time period. In putting her emotions onto the page in the form of poetry, instead of journal entries, scholars are only able to offer guess work into her connections with those around her, namely suitors. However, some of her poetry heightens as if she is romantically in angst. With her emotions on the rise, her grief over losing more key family members in her life, and her continued reclusive situation, it seems she may have suffered from some anxiety or depression. However, as with many the life of a creative person, she was the most efficient at producing poetry at this time.

Eventually, Emily was diagnosed with an eye condition and had several extensive treatments out of town. Upon returning home for the last time to Amherst in 1865, she rarely is known to have left her home though she did see visitors (some suitors, possible love affairs through letters, and proposals were in her midst), and keep up her connections mainly through writing. Often times she sent poems and letters to friends with dried flowers enclosed.

Many of her close friends tried unsuccessfully to obtain from her permission to publish or publicly read her poems under her own name. The why is not known, though in my own reasoning she did seem to be private and probably publishing such writings would be like bearing her soul to the public. She begins to stop writing in the journals and writes haphazardly in notes and whenever a whim arrived.

emilydickinson_5 home

The Homestead. From lithograph by J.B. Bachelder (1825-94), 1858. Courtesy of the Jones Library, Amherst, Massachusetts.

Finally, in the last days of her own life she saw dire illness and death of many of the closest people to her, including her mother, father, prospective suitor, her nephew, and a good friend. This was probably too much for Emily’s kind heart to endure. She died in 1886 of kidney disease shortly after this string of heartache of which she admitted had tired her soul.

Her first volume of poems was published in 1890, after her sister found all her booklets and published additional volumes as well. Surprisingly enough, a full compilation of her works was not even published until 1955, but she would become one of the most famous literary figures of the 20th Century.


As I write my novel, a suspense novel that includes the ghost of Emily Dickinson, I am utilizing the parts of her angst-ridden heart, her emotional turmoil, and her supposed romantic relationships that are seemingly vague. It seemed her heart was full of a caring and giving nature, and yet possibly the men she had relationships with at arm’s length never quite lived up to her expectations.

As my protagonist in my novel is dealing with being in an abusive relationship in modern times, and trying to hold down a job at the Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst, Massachusetts, Emily appears to her. I play on the vagueness of Emily’s own male relationships and her broken and tired heart, not to mention her reasons for reclusive behavior, and have her assist my protagonist on her own journey of independence, rebellion against abuse, and ultimately revenge. Love, loss, the search for the meaning of life and death, and living as an intuitive are all explored within my novel.

I hope that, through my fiction work, others feel a kinship with Emily and understand that her reclusive behavior probably really stemmed from having a warm and gentle heart coupled with extreme intelligence and independence.

Some Reference Sites:

Photo Courtesy Notes:

First photo–The only confirmed photograph of Emily Dickinson circa 1847, from a daguerreotype.
Courtesy, Amherst College Library.

Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi, Long-Version Biography~

1004459_10151763958181800_831736198_nErin Sweet Al-Mehairi has a Bachelor of Arts degree in both English and Journalism as well as in History. She has been writing essays, stories, and poetry since she was a teen and has always been an avid reader of many genres. She has edited poetry anthologies, novels, and other various writing and journalistic pieces, and has won awards for her essays and poetry. As a journalist, she’s written for various newspapers, magazines, and online news sources.

Erin owns Addison’s Compass Public Relations, with a subsidiary of Hook of a Book Media. She has over 18 years of writing, communications, public relations, marketing, editing, fund-raising, event planning, blogging, social media, and copywriting experience and offers services in all of the above mentioned areas.

She has given thousands of hours of community service time and served on many boards for various organizations for human and health rights and services and domestic violence awareness, as well as women’s organizations. She was the 2008 Business and Professional Women of Ohio’s Young Careerist representative to the National Convention, the winner of the 2009 Women of Achievement Award in her community, and had an appointment to the Ohio Governor’s Office for Women’s Initiatives, for which she sat on the sub-committee for health.

Erin is in the process of writing a children’s fantasy book for middle readers, a novel of paranormal suspense featuring Emily Dickinson, a historical novel based on Dutch traders from the 1600s, a fantasy/horror book of a Viking version of the Loch Ness Monster, and many other short stories, including a short story anthology based on the works of Van Gogh. Yep, one day she’ll accomplish all the stories in her head!

Erin is also the owner, operator and writer for this blog, Oh for the Hook of a Book and has brought the Celebrating Women Series to you for Women’s History Month. You can see more on the “About Erin Al-Mehairi” page on this site.

She is delighted to be the mother of three children, Nassem Al-Mehairi, Emma Al-Mehairi, and Addison Busbey, and lives in Ohio, where she reads, writes, cooks, bakes, and probably has a million other things going on at once.

You can e-mail her at hookofabook (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Celebrating Women Series: Judith Starkston on Powerful Hittite and Mycenaean Queens

Welcome to the 12th article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Judith Starkston for offering the 12th article in this series. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.


Trojan Women:
Women’s Roles in Ancient Anatolia and Mycenaean Greece

Part II: A Woman’s View from the Top:
Hittite and Mycenaean Queens
by historian and author Judith Starkston

One way to see how a society views women is to examine its leaders. Are women included and, if they are, to whatQueen-Helen-and-Paris-oil-painting-Guido-Reni-1631-©-Zenodot-Verlagsgesellschaft-mbH-Wikimedia-Commons extent? Both the Hittite and Mycenaean world had powerful queens. I’ll look in particular at Queen Puduhepa and Queen Helen of Sparta (both c. 1250 BC).

Hittite queens definitely wielded power in the court. When her husband, the king, died a Hittite queen continued as Tawananna, Great Queen and high priestess of the Hittite realm, which indicates an independent status. They were not, however, the primary ruler. Even while they continued as queen, their son or some other male relation took over as king. In an interesting sidelight, this meant that the new king’s wife did not take over as queen until her mother-in-law died. As you can imagine, this did make for some very strained relationships—the echoes of which we hear even through the ancient clay tablets of formal court business (Collins, 101).

Puduhepa is the Hittite queen we know the most about since she corresponded with Ramesses II, the Pharoah of Egypt, and she made religious declarations, treaties, and judicial decisions which were recorded by scribes. Puduhepa was the wife of Hattusili III. Before her marriage she was a priestess, “a handmaiden of Ishtar.” She was said to be very beautiful, and Hattusili tells us he married her following a vision he had in a dream. Many years into their marriage, Hattusili wrote that the goddess Ishtar blessed them with “the love of husband and wife” (Hughes, 188). Hattusili was frequently sick, and he depended on his strong-willed, highly intelligent wife to help him run the vast Hittite empire (Bryce, 13). He shows every sign of trusting her completely. We do not know if other queens, with less commanding personalities, had quite as much lee-way. Probably not, but they had great independence nonetheless.

stamp-seal-from-the-Louvre-probably-Egyptian-photo-©-Rama-Wikimedia-CommonsHittite queens regularly shared seals with their husbands, giving them the right to “sign” official documents and independently conduct the business of the realm. Puduhepa had her own seal. In fact, the stamp seal of Queen Puduhepa can be seen today in the Corum Museum, Turkey. Much as Puduhepa stands out as a distinctive woman, however, she could not have been treated with respect by the Egyptian pharoah and exercised broad political power unless queens generally could do many of the same things she did. Her reign is a window into what a woman at the top could do in the Hittite Empire.

Puduhepa carried on diplomatic correspondence with Egypt on equal terms with the Pharoah. She co-signed with her husband the copy of the Egyptian-Hittite treaty that was sent to Egypt (Collins, 100).


During negotiations with Ramesses II regarding her daughter’s marriage to the pharaoh, she received exact duplicates of the letters he sent to her husband. At one point when she had to delay sending her daughter to him because she found herself short on the needed dowry funds due to a fire in her treasury house, she sent a down-right cranky letter to Ramesses pointing out that he hardly needed the money and should not rushing her. Her willingness to call to account Ramesses, clearly one of the most powerful leaders of the world at that point, speaks of her confidence in her position. Here’s an excerpt from her letter:

“Does my brother [i.e. Ramesses] possess nothing at all? Only if the son of the Sun-God, the son of the Storm-God, and the sea have nothing do you have nothing! Yet, my brother, you seek to enrich yourself at my expense. That is worthy neither of your reputation, nor your status.” (Hughes, 189)

Puduhepa adjudicated many challenging legal cases in the place of her husband; one, for example, regarded the ownership of sunken treasure once a ship had been attacked (Hughes, 189). She also ordered a complete reorganization of the Hittite state religion. It’s true that the Hittite pantheon was a mess with thousands of gods, many borrowed from wherever the Hittites happened to have conquered, and lots of “duplicate” gods, but you can imagine how much authority and power a pope would have to have in order to bump a few saints, rename a few others, combine this version of Mary with that one and reject another all together—you get the idea. She was both deeply devout and immensely influential.

I think we can conclude that Hittite queens had significant power in their own right.

On the Mycenaean side, the picture comes to us from radically different sources. Instead of treaties and other official court documents, we have myth and legend, passed on orally through generations until finally written down in epics, plays, and other literature. About Queen Helen of Sparta, we can’t even assert with absolute certainty that she was a real historical character. But for what it’s worth, and I think that’s actually worth a great deal, myth and legend paint a picture of powerful Mycenaean queens also.

The person who has made the strongest case for a powerful Bronze Age Helen and her sister Mycenaean queens is Bettany Hughes in her book Helen of Troy and in her BBC documentary on the same topic. I’ll quote her argument from her book:

“Time and again in literature and myth-stories [of the Mycenaean period] we hear that women are the kingmakers, that the right to monarchy does not pass from husband to son, but from mother to daughter. Men have to win a crown by winning a wife [in athletic/military contests held by the king for his daughter’s hand]. Helen’s half-sister Clytemnestra makes her lover, Aigisthos, king while her husband Agamemnon is overseas, fighting the Trojan War; Pelops (who gave his name to the Peloponnese) becomes King of Elis through his marriage to Hippodamia; Oedipus is crowned the King of Thebes when he marries Queen Jocasta. Even faithful Penelope, left at home by Odysseus, seems to have the prerogative to choose who will be her next king. And, of course, Menelaus becomes King of Sparta when he marries Helen.

Tradition tells us that along with his daughters Helen and Clytemnestra, Tyndareus had two sons—Castor and Pollux. And yet there is no suggestion that either of them will inherit their father’s title when he dies. It is Helen who will become queen and it is only marriage to Helen that will bring regal status and sovereignty over the Spartan territory. We hear from Pausanias, amplifying Homer, that it is not one of Menelaus’ sons, not even his ‘favorite son’, who becomes king of Sparta. Instead it is the children of Helen’s daughter Hermione who succeed to the throne” (Hughes, 78-79).

Queen-Clytemnestra-oil-painting-John-Collier-1882-Wikimedia-CommonsTo sum up Bettany Hughes’s case, rule of Mycenaean kingdoms passed through the women, and the rule was held in their name and through their authority. No wonder Menelaus ran after Helen when Paris took her off to Troy. She was his meal-ticket to power. Without her, he had no formal justification for rule. Hughes shows that this pattern is reflected throughout the mythological record of Mycenaean courts. Another piece in Hughes’s argument for a powerful Helen rests in the treasure she and Paris are said to steal when they run off to Troy. On the eight occasions in Homer when this treasure is mentioned, it is ascribed to Helen not Menelaus. “We hear in Troy that Paris begins to ‘fight Menelaus for Helen’s treasure’. If wealth was the honey-pot which attracted suitors like Menelaus, women like Helen appear to have owned and enjoyed the honey” (Hughes, 80).

It would be more persuasive if the Linear B tablets included the kinds of court documents that we find in the Hittite capital of Hattusa, but they don’t. In the Iliad the kings who have led their warriors to Troy do not seem to need their queens to conduct business, but war until the twenty-first century AD was a decidedly male dominated activity, and perhaps the queens are back home ruling the home front with absolute power of their own. Penelope and Clytemnestra seem to indicate that is the case. It is also true that as the Bronze Age shifts into the Iron Age—that is the age during which Homer actually sang/composed the Iliad—with massive upheavals of peoples throughout the Mediterranean, women lose the power they had. We see this evidence in everything from drinking rituals that shift from centering on women to excluding them (Steel) to loss of property rights. Perhaps Homer is reflecting his Iron Age reality in this case, rather than the earlier period he professes to portray. That is always a sticky issue when trying to use Homer as history—just which historical period might Homer be depicting.

However, I think it’s awfully tricky to explain away all those legends of heroes moving into town to compete for the king’s daughter and ending up king when they win. And then having to leave the kingdom to their daughters. Seems pretty fishy behavior for an entirely patrilineal society. But it isn’t the sort of academic history that scholars find so reassuring for good reasons. Fortunately this isn’t a graduate thesis and we don’t have to decide one way or the other. It’s a pleasure to ponder the possibilities from ancient pages.

Bibliography for this article:

Bryce, Trevor. Life and Society in the Hittite World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Collins, Billie Jean. The Hittites and Their World. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2007

Hughes, Bettany. Helen of Troy. New York: Knopf, 2005.

Steel, Louise. “Wine, Women and Song: Drinking Ritual in Cyprus” in Engendering Aphrodite: Women and Society in Ancient Cyprus, edited by Diane Bolger and Nancy Serwint. Boston: American Schools of Oriental Research Archaeological Reports, 2002.

Judith Starkston, Biography~

Author PhotoJudith writes historical fiction and mysteries set in Troy and the Hittite Empire, as well as the occasional contemporary short story. She also reviews on her website, as well as Historical Novels Review, the New York Journal of Books and the Poisoned Fiction Review.

She trained as a classicist (B.A. University of California, Santa Cruz, M.A. Cornell University) and taught high school English, Latin and humanities.

As part of the research for her novels, she traveled extensively in Turkey. With her husband, she has two grown children and lives in Phoenix, AZ, along with our golden retriever Socrates.



Hand of Fire, Fireship Press 2014, Synopsis~
(Cover not revealed yet)

Hand of Fire tells the tale of Briseis, the captive woman Achilles and Agamemnon fought over in the Iliad. When Achilles, the half-immortal Greek warrior, takes Briseis captive in the midst of the Trojan War, he gets more than he bargained for: a healing priestess, a strong-willed princess—and a warrior. She raises a sword against Achilles and ignites a passion that seals his fate and changes her destiny.

Achilles and a Nereid Attic red-figure vase photo by Marie Lan Nguyen

We’ve learned a lot through archaeology over the last twenty years about the people who lived in and around Troy and further east into the Hittite Empire. The civilization of the Hittites, sharing much the same culture as their allies the Trojans, was buried and nearly forgotten until the 20th century. Huge libraries of cuneiform clay tablets have been brought to light and translated.

The right moment to tell Briseis’s story has arrived—now that those clay tablets and digs have told us about her world. But the impetus for my novel came from a question that had bugged me each time I taught the Iliad. Briseis, being a woman in a patriarchal epic, gets only a handful of lines, but one thing Homer insists on is the mutual bond of love between Achilles and Briseis. Huh? Isn’t Achilles the guy who destroyed Briseis’s city, reduced her from princess to slave, and killed a lot of people she loved?

Yes, he is, but before anyone assumes “Stockholm Syndrome,” let me add some critical Homeric characterization. Achilles is conflicted and half-immortal. He’s the best warrior who nonetheless questions the value of war and wonders what the purpose of life is. Achilles is an existential hero who is way too fragmented and likeable to be a brainwasher. He’s the one in need of mental assistance.

So what, I wondered, drew Briseis to Achilles? That was my quest—to find the qualities in Briseis that could make her understand and need this odd if hunky hero, in spite of all the bad history between them. In that clay-stored history I discovered powerful women, queens and priestesses who served as healers and intermediaries with the gods. Mix in careful doses of imagination and Briseis emerged—strong and subtle enough to challenge the greatest of the Greeks. I hope I’ve created an historically believable Briseis in a fast-moving tale that finally gives this mysterious young woman a voice that epic tradition denied her.

Advance Praise for Hand of Fire

“Suspenseful, tragic, surprising and sexy” –Nancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown and The Chalice

“Absolutely loved the book. Couldn’t put it down. Wonderful writing. And, I see no errors whatsoever as regards the history.” –Professor Eric Cline, Chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, George Washington University

“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 and 9 other Prioress Eleanor mysteries

See the past articles, or what’s coming up, by clicking on icon below:



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Celebrating Women’s Series: JoAnn Shade on Honoring Women Then and Now

Welcome to the 11th article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to JoAnn Shade for offering the 11th article in this series. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.


On Honoring Women During Women’s History Month
*reprinted from the Ashland Times-Gazette Column, March 2014
by author JoAnn Shade, D.Min

Given the continued cold temperatures we’ve enjoying well into March, it’s appropriate that this month is National Frozen Foods Month, as well as Irish American Month, National Peanut Month, and Music in Our Schools Month, an observance near and dear to my heart.

Beyond my love for music, for many years my Salvation Army ministry, academic pursuits and writing interests have been interwoven with the lives of women, particularly those who have struggled in the face of poverty and prejudice. I’ve even been told that some within Salvation Army circles see me as “that radical woman,” a label I’m actually quite fond of, as radical means ‘from the root.’ So along with the focus on frozen foods and peanuts, as a radical woman I am especially glad to note that the month of March is also National Women’s History Month, celebrating women of character, courage, and commitment.

In my early academic endeavors in the 60s, the classroom textbooks seldom mentioned the role of women in the history of our country or our world, yet as I discovered their stories on the shelves of the local library, somehow I knew they belonged in those history texts as well. I doubt that I understood the long-lasting impact the accounts of Elizabeth Blackwell, M.D., Harriet Tubman, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Dorothy Day would have on the trajectory of my life, but their biographies planted seeds of inspiration in the life of that young girl.

Times have changed, and since 1980, women from a variety of areas of achievement have been honored during this month of recognition, and this year’s list includes a pharmacologist and public health activist (Frances Oldham Kelsey), a congresswoman and Iraq War veteran (Tammy Duckworth) and Anna Julia Haywood Cooper, the slavery-born author and educator with a life mission to open the doors of higher education to children of color.

Chipeta, also on this year’s list, was a new name to me, a woman born into the Kiowa Apache in the 1840s and remembered as a peacemaker, wise elder, and advisor to other Indian chiefs. I also was awed by the many accomplishments of Roxcy O’Neal Bolton, who founded Florida’s first battered women’s shelter, convinced the airlines to offer maternity leave to its pregnant flight attendants (instead of firing them), and persuaded the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to name hurricanes after both women and men.

Yet it isn’t only the historical achievements of women that are being honored during March. Since 2007, the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award has recognized women around the globe who have demonstrated exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for peace, justice, human rights, gender equality and women’s empowerment, often at great personal risk.

This year, these women include Dr. Nasrin Oryakhil of Afghanistan, a prominent leader in the field of maternal health, and Beatrice Mtetwa, who is Zimbabwe’s most prominent human rights lawyer, fighting against injustice, defending press freedom, and upholding the rule of law. With the eyes of the world focused on the unrest in the Ukraine, I took special notice of Ruslana Lyzhychko, a civil society activist, human rights advocate and a leader of Ukraine‘s Maidan movement for democratic reform. Her bio notes that Lyzhychko’s “steadfast commitment to non-violent resistance and national unity helped channel a series of popular demonstrations into a national movement against government corruption and human rights abuses.”

Rudyard Kipling understands: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” The stories of women add a rich texture to our understanding of history and of contemporary life. These are the stories I want to tell my granddaughter: stories of her fore-mothers who left all they knew to immigrate to the United States, stories of women in history who risked their lives for the rights she will take for granted, and stories of women around the world today who do what they have to do to feed their children and to change their world. I want the lovely Madelyn Simone to know women of character, courage and commitment in her community, her country, and her world. Let me tell you a story, Madelyn . . .

JoAnn Streeter Shade, Biography~

856c1c3bJoAnnShadeJoAnn Streeter Shade has walked alongside many women in a variety of ministry settings for more than thirty-five years. She has served in Salvation Army congregations and social service programs, has ministered at North Coast Family Foundation, a Christian counseling center in Northeast Ohio, and has also written extensively about the issues facing women in today’s culture. She writes a weekly column in the Ashland Times-Gazette, and is the author of more than a dozen books on topics such as spiritual growth (The Heartwork of Hope, The God Gallery), sexual abuse (Rapha’s Touch), marriage (The Guerilla and the Green Beret), biblical narrative (The Other Woman, WomenVoices), and the joy of living in Ashland (Only in Ashland: Reflections of a Smitten Immigrant).

She is married to Larry, is the mother of three adult sons, Greg, Drew and Dan, and Lauren, a beloved daughter-in-law, and is Nana to the lovely Madelyn Simone. With an M.A. in pastoral counseling and a D.Min. in the Women in Prophetic Leadership track from Ashland Theological Seminary, she combines her academic training with a writer’s eye, a pastor’s heart and a grandmother’s joy.

JoAnn’s blog is, and Facebook page is Gracednotes Ministries, Amazon author page is


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Talking with Anne Barnhill about Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter and What Intrigues Her About the Tudor Era

Today we have an interview with Anne Clinard Barnhill, author of Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter. You can see that review from yesterday, HERE. Enjoy!

Hi Anne! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We are celebrating Women’s History Month here, so there is no better time to talk to a woman author about the women she writes about! Your second book, Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter: A Novel of Elizabeth I, just released last week. How has the book launch excitement been going for you?

Anne: Thank you for having me. The launch thus far has been quite exciting. On the actual launch day, DU JOUR magazine name Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter as one of the best new historical fiction books of 2014. That was quite thrilling!

Erin: Let’s put on some tea, I like Earl Grey quite a bit, though I go in phases. What would you like?

Anne: Oh, I love apple cinnamon or anything with a little spice.

Erin: Let’s have a sit, drink our tea, and get talking about books. Make yourself at home.

Queen Elizabeths Daughter

Q: Your first book of the Tudor era was At the Mercy of the Queen, and now, Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter. Where did you find the inspiration for your books and are they connected?

A: I’ve found inspiration from both books from my family tree. The two Shelton women I’ve written about so far are my ancestors. That, plus my love of the Tudor era is the inspiration for both books. They are not really connected except via the Shelton connection.

Q: What intrigues you most about the Tudor era? What keeps you from being intimidated in your writing by the fact that so many historical fiction author write about this era?

A: I love all the court intrigue, the dress, the politics and the challenge of trying to humanize these larger-than-life people, such as Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. There are oodles of books out there of all kinds; I try to focus on my own story and try not to worry about what other writers are doing. Though I love to read their stuff, I try to separate my work from my reading pleasure.

Q: What makes your books different from the other Tudor-type novels? Some have more romance, some more mystery, some more politics…where do your books lie and who would you target to read them?

A: Excellent question. As a writer, I think my strengths lie in characterization and creating a rich world that makes the reader feel at home. I try to connect with the universal, though we are separated from the Tudors by over 500 years. They were still human beings and I hope my books are good at portraying that. There is a romance in each book, but I wouldn’t characterize them as romances only. There is also intrigue and danger.

Q: What is the most amazing thing about Elizabeth I in relation to her ladies-in-waiting? How did she treat them and why did she do so? Besides your main character of Mary Shelton, one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting, who were some other famous women who served the Queen?

A: Other ladies included Kat Ashley, Blanche Parry, Eleanor Brydges and Catherine Carey, to name just a few. Elizabeth must have been a difficult mistress in many ways. She occasionally slapped her ladies if they displeased her. I think she had a temper, just as her mother had had. On the other hand, she could be quite kind and understanding. There are instances when she allowed them to return home to care for sick relatives. They were her friends, at least some of them were intimates. She depended on them to be loyal and to take care of her personal needs. I’m sure she must have confided in a select few.

Q: I’ve always felt so bad for the ladies-in-waiting in regards to marrying. They seem almost married to the Queen, never being out from under her need or watching eye. How does real romance, not the arranged kind, even happen for them?

A: Romance was almost bound to happen. In comparison with the number of men at court, the ladies were few. There were lots of fish in that sea. More than one couple fell in love and married without the queen’s permission—Sir Walter Raleigh and Beth Throckmorton to name a more famous couple. Elizabeth could control a great deal and she encouraged her ladies not to marry. But such power can only go so far—the human heart carries even greater power.

Q: What was the most thought-provoking part of your research for either of these two novels?

A: Learning about how the court of wards worked was quite interesting. It made me realize just how many children lost parents or fathers at this time when the average lifespan for men was 48. And I was once again amazed at how money and power played into that system, when it should have been about caring for the children. It was also extremely complex.

Q: Have you written any other books or works? If so, what are they?

A: Yes, I’ve written a memoir, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ: Autism, My Sister and Me which is about what it was like growing up with an autistic sister before anyone had heard the word and what my family went through trying to get help for my sister. I’ve also written a short story collection, WHAT YOU LONG FOR, and a poetry chapbook, COAL, BABY.

Q: Are you interested in writing books about another historical time, place, or person? If so, who?

A: Yes, of course! I’d love to write about Moll Cutpurse, who lived in the latter part of Elizabeth’s reign and was quite a lively character. I have mystery series in mind with her as the major detective. And I have two novels in mind set in West Virginia, one I the 1880’s and the other in 1960.

Q: Where can readers connect with you?

A: I’m on facebook, Anne Clinard Barnhill-Writer, and I also have a website, I’m on twitter but I run that mainly from the facebook page. We have a lot of fun—I put up stuff about the Tudors and we play piggly-wiggly. Sometimes I tell jokes! One person sent in all these great bands from the Tudor era—like New Kids on the Chopping Block and Three Dog Knight. It’s fun!

Q: Where can they purchase your books?

A: At any independent bookstore, online at Amazon and B & N.

Erin: Thank you very much, Anne, for taking time from your schedule to appear here and talk about your new book, Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter. I wish you much success with all your books. Please feel free to come by again anytime!

Anne: Thanks, Erin, for having me! It was great fun!

Queen Elizabeth’s Daughter, Synopsis~

Queen Elizabeths DaughterPublication Date: March 18, 2014
St. Martin’s Griffin
Paperback; 320p
ISBN-10: 0312662122

Mistress Mary Shelton is Queen Elizabeth’s favorite ward, enjoying every privilege the position affords. The queen loves Mary like a daughter, and, like any good mother, she wants her to make a powerful match. The most likely prospect: Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford. But while Oxford seems to be everything the queen admires: clever, polished and wealthy, Mary knows him to be lecherous, cruel, and full of treachery. No matter how hard the queen tries to push her into his arms, Mary refuses.

Instead, Mary falls in love with a man who is completely unsuitable. Sir John Skydemore is a minor knight with little money, a widower with five children. Worst of all, he’s a Catholic at a time when Catholic plots against Elizabeth are rampant. The queen forbids Mary to wed the man she loves. When the young woman, who is the queen’s own flesh and blood, defies her, the couple finds their very lives in danger as Elizabeth’s wrath knows no bounds.

Author Anne Clinard Barnhill, Biography~

Anne Clinard BarnhillAnne Clinard Barnhill has been writing or dreaming of writing for most of her life. For the past twenty years, she has published articles, book and theater reviews, poetry, and short stories. Her first book, AT HOME IN THE LAND OF OZ, recalls what it was like growing up with an autistic sister. Her work has won various awards and grants.

Barnhill holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Besides writing, Barnhill also enjoys teaching, conducting writing workshops, and facilitating seminars to enhance creativity. She loves spending time with her three grown sons and their families. For fun, she and her husband of thirty years, Frank, take long walks and play bridge. In rare moments, they dance.

For more information, view Anne Barnhill’s website at:

Tour Schedule:
Tour Hashtag: #QueenElizabethsDaughterTour

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Celebrating Women Series: Elizabeth Ashworth on Alice de Lacy

Welcome to the 1oth article in the “Celebrating Women” Series for Women’s History Month! It’s the first time I’ve coordinated an author guest article series to celebrate women in history or women making history! Thank you to Elizabeth Ashworth for offering the 10th article in this series. If you’d like to continue on with the tour, which runs March 19-31, 2014, follow along each day on the main blog or head to this blog page, Women in History, which will be updated daily with the scheduled link.


Alice de Lacy – the maligned countess
by historical author Elizabeth Ashworth

Alice de Lacy, taken from Broken Arrow films blog

Alice de Lacy, taken from Broken Arrow films blog

Alice de Lacy was one of the wealthiest and most important noblewomen in England during the early 14th century. She could easily have become queen. But hardly anyone has heard of her, because she lost everything – her wealth, her titles, her status and her reputation – simply because she was a woman.

Alice de Lacy was the daughter of Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, and Margaret Longespee, Countess of Salisbury. After a childhood accident left her brother, Edmund, dead Alice became the only surviving heir of Henry and Margaret, and, as a daughter, it was important that she made a good marriage. Her father made an agreement with the king, Edward I, that Alice should be married to his nephew, Thomas. As part of the agreement, Henry gave all his lands to the king and was re-granted them for his lifetime, after which they would pass to Thomas and Alice and their heirs. It must have seemed the ideal solution to Henry. He must have hoped that Alice would bear sons who, although they would not have the de Lacy name, would carry his bloodline and his fortune into the future and be a part of the extended royal family.

However, things not go according to plan. The marriage was not a happy one. It appears that Alice and Thomas hated one another. Alice bore no children and after the death of Henry de Lacy, Thomas sent his wife to Pickering Castle to live alone whilst he fathered at least two sons with a mistress back at Pontefract Castle, which had been the de Lacy stronghold and Alice’s home.

When Thomas fell out with his cousin, Edward II, and led a rebellion he was defeated at the Battle of Boroughbridge in 1322. As a traitor, he was executed and all his lands and castles were seized by the king. Alice was made to sign over all her possessions too – even the ones she had inherited from her mother which had never belonged to Thomas. She was left with very little except a manor in Lincolnshire where she was sent to live.

Having lost her wealth and her titles, Alice also suffered the indignity of losing her reputation. Whilst her husband is never criticised for his mistresses, chroniclers and even present day historians have called Alice a ‘wanton woman’, ‘the foulest whore’, ‘disgraceful’, and ‘a woman of notoriously bad character’. The reason for this tirade against her is that she fell in love, and may have had a relationship, with her second husband, Eble le Strange, whilst Thomas was still alive.

History judges men and women very differently. Thomas, who had many mistresses, was adored as a saint after his death. Alice, who fell in love with a man she married and remained faithful to is called appalling names.

The reason I wrote my novel, Favoured Beyond Fortune, was to tell Alice de Lacy’s story and try to reclaim her reputation from historians who repeat the accusations against her without ever making a proper study of her life. Alice is a much maligned character and she deserves better.

Elizabeth Ashworth, Biography~

elizabeth ashworthElizabeth Ashworth is an author based in Lancashire. She writes fiction and non-fiction books as well as short stories and articles.

Her first historical novel The de Lacy Inheritance was published by Myrmidon Books in June 2010 and her second novel An Honourable Estate is available as an ebook and a paperback, along with its very own short prequel The Lady of Haigh.

Her third novel, By Loyalty Bound, which tells the story of the mistress of Richard III was published in July 2013 by Pen and Sword Fiction. Her fourth novel, Favoured Beyond Fortune, which tells the story of Alicia de Lacy is available now as an e-book.

You can find her on Facebook and her Twitter is @elizashworth.  Her website is:

Favoured_Beyond_Fort_Cover_for_KindleFavoured Beyond Fortune, Synopsis~

  • File Size: 676 KB
  • Print Length: 214 pages
  • Publisher: AWES Books (March 8, 2014)

‘He is rich who has that which is heart desires’

She was one of the richest noblewomen in England. But Alicia de Lacy lost everything when her husband, Thomas of Lancaster, led a rebellion against King Edward II.

Everything except the love of one man.

Read an excerpt here:

See her Pinterest Board on the de Lacy family:


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