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A Walk Through the English Countryside with Author Deborah Swift, Talking about A Divided Inheritance

Today, I’ve interview Deborah Swift, author of A Divided Inheritance! We’ve set off on a a walk and a talk, which you can read below. If you missed my review of A Divided Inheritance, you can read it HERE. This book was fabulous and if you’re a history lover, you’ll agree.

Hello, Deborah, and Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I hear it’s getting quite dark and dank in the English countryside, which isn’t much unlike Ohio for me right now. What are your plans for the long winter days?

Deborah: I suppose my ideal spot would be in front of our log burning stove, curled up with a good book – but it probably won’t be quite like that! I have quite a busy life and lots of hobbies so I tend to be rushing from one place to another and hours of uninterrupted reading would be a bit of a luxury!

Erin: A lovely thought, though! If it isn’t TOO cold yet, I’d say we put on our wellies and take a bit of a stroll among all those historical buildings you live near. Where should we go first? Choose and tell me a bit about it.

Deborah: OK, we’ll go just a bit up the road and take a look at Leighton Hall, which is where I held my book launch for A Divided Inheritance. If you don’t mind, I’ll bring Diver (a little terrier – one of Elspet’s dogs in A Divided Inheritance).There has been a building on that site since the 12th century, but it was rebuilt in the 18th century and now there is what looks like a Gothic castle. All the crenellated top is a façade as there is really a Georgian building underneath. Even the bit that looks like a chapel isn’t actually a chapel, it’s just made to look that way. One of the owners found the Georgian style too plain and decided to remodel it. Diver! Come back! Sorry, he’s after that rabbit, I’ll just run after him.

Erin: So cool your book launch was there, what an ideal spot! Hi, Diver….(scratches behind his ears). As we have a look see, I’ll start with some questions also! If you see something interesting, be sure to stop me and point it out!

Q:  How did you come up with your idea to write A Divided Inheritance? Is it based on real life historical people?

A: (Clipping Diver back on his lead) There are quite a few real-life people in the novel – men who studied at the fencing school in Seville, and the King of Spain, Felipe III. But these are not the main characters in the novel, my main characters are fictional. Having some real historical people in the novel helps to ground it in reality. My two main characters came from the premise that both Elspet and Zachary have in some way lost their inheritance, and in the end, despite their differences, it is their common experience of hardship that brings them together. The birth of a novel is a complex process and it was inspired by my love of crafts – like lace—making and the forging of a sword blade, along with the history of the Morisco expulsion in Seville that provided the initial starting point for the story.

A Divided Inheritance

Q:  Did you place the setting of your novel in one of the historical places surrounding your home?

A: No, although I did use Levens Hall which is nearby as the setting for one of the homes in one of my other books, The Lady’s Slipper.

Q:  Who was your favorite character to give a voice to in your novel? And why?

A: I enjoyed writing Zachary because he is a rogue, but there is a good heart underneath. His bad behaviour comes from the fact he has never known any other life than the example of his criminal elder brothers. And yes, Diver, I did enjoy writing about you too, but you’re hardly the main character. (Diver looks crestfallen) Go on then, you can have your stomach rubbed. (Diver rolls over)

Q:  What do you feel is the “hook” to your book that will pull readers in? Is your book more for entertainment or to tell a historical story that might be used for education?

A: I think the hook is that a woman whose main ambition is to take over a lace-making business finds she is actually capable of much more – that she can expand her horizons not only to learn the skill of swordsmanship along with the men, but also to leave behind her narrow world-view.

I write primarily to entertain, but like to use little-known events that might open people’s eyes to unfamiliar aspects of the past.

Q:  I know you used to be a costume or set designer for TV and film? And you’ve probably done a lot of research on the clothing of the time period. Can you explain some of it for us? Paint us a picture of what our wardrobe might have looked like?

A: Not very suitable for walking in this countryside, I’m afraid. Lots of trailing skirts to get in all this mud. We would probably have chopines (stilt-like additions to our shoes) instead of wellies, to keep ourselves above the filth. And with no synthetic fabrics we would be wearing very heavy and bulky wool cloaks with fur linings of rabbit to keep us warm. We would have to be careful our hats did not blow away by tying them down with a muslin scarf. But then we would have servants to walk the dog and assist us. (Oh dear, I shouldn’t have said that word ‘rabbit’, now Diver’s all excited again!)

Erin comments:  I don’t even know how they kept their hems clean!

Q:  I read that you always dreamed of becoming a writer. When did you first fulfill your dream and what tips do you have for aspiring authors in terms of getting through the arduous process of completion?

A: My first novel was published in 2010, and I suppose my main tip is that you have to love what you’re writing, and live the story. At the end of the day you should feel like you’ve been there. Then it doesn’t feel like work, but like a pleasure.

Q: How long does it take you to write your novels? Do you use an outline or do you free write?

A: About eighteen months, including the research. They are all quite long complex books. I use a rough outline, but it is not very detailed – a few pages of A4 paper. Then I free-write within those parameters. After the first draft I do a time-line to check that all the fiction and historical facts are meshing together before I do my subsequent drafts.

Q:  What other novels have you written and what are they about?

A: The Lady’s Slipper and The Gilded Lily. The Lady’s Slipper is a tale of one woman’s obsession with a rare orchid – an obsession that plunges her into a web of intrigue and danger. The Gilded Lily is about two sisters on the run in the glitter and glamour of Restoration London, and is about beauty, desire and ambition.

Q:  What are some of the lessons you try to teach through the writing of your novels?

A: I try to tell a good story, and let the reader decide what the lessons are for themselves.

Q:  What do you plan on writing next? Any in the works?

A: I have just finished a novel for teenagers set in the seventeenth century, based around a real character, and I am working on a novel based round Pepys’s Diary. (No, Diver, you can’t be in those books as well.)

Erin comments: I know a few here that might like to read your teen novel!

Q:  Do you have women from history that have made an impression on you?

A: I can’t fail to be impressed with Elizabeth I. She kept supreme control over the country and her court and gave us the great flowering of culture and literature such as Shakespeare.

Erin comments: Such an amazing amount of history from her time….and all that intrigue.

Q: Where can readers and writers connect with you?

A: Via twitter @swiftstory or through my website and blogs at http://www.deborahswift.com

Q:  Where can your books be purchased?

A: Bookshops if you are in the UK, and the usual online retailers if you are in the US.

Erin:  Thank you so much Deborah for your time today, best of luck to you with all your writing! I certainly enjoyed the tour and the conversation! Let’s head inside and put on a pot of tea.

Deborah: Thanks Erin, I’ve really enjoyed our walk, and I hope you don’t mind imaginary muddy paws in your house. And the good news is – I’ve brought cake! – But sorry, that’s imaginary too : (  !

Erin: No such thing as imaginary when it comes to cake! 😉
A DIVIDED INHERITANCE, Synopsis~

A Divided InheritanceUK Publication Date: October 23, 2013
Pan MacMillan
Paperback; 480p
ISBN-10: 033054344X

A family divided by fortune. A country divided by faith.
London 1609…

Elspet Leviston’s greatest ambition is to continue the success of her father Nathaniel’s lace business. But her dreams are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of her mysterious cousin Zachary Deane – who has his own designs on Leviston’s Lace.

Zachary is a dedicated swordsman with a secret past that seems to invite trouble. So Nathaniel sends him on a Grand Tour, away from the distractions of Jacobean London. Elspet believes herself to be free of her hot-headed relative but when Nathaniel dies her fortunes change dramatically. She is forced to leave her beloved home and go in search of Zachary – determined to claim back from him the inheritance that is rightfully hers.

Under the searing Spanish sun, Elspet and Zachary become locked in a battle of wills. But these are dangerous times and they are soon embroiled in the roar and sweep of something far more threatening, sending them both on an unexpected journey of discovery which finally unlocks the true meaning of family . . .

A Divided Inheritance is a breathtaking adventure set in London just after the Gunpowder Plot and in the bustling courtyards of Golden Age Seville.

Author Deborah Swift, Biography~

Deborah SwiftDeborah Swift used to work in the theatre and at the BBC as a set and costume designer, before studying for an MA in Creative Writing in 2007.

She lives in a beautiful area of Lancashire near the Lake District National Park.

She is the author of The Lady’s Slipper and is a member of the Historical Writers Association, the Historical Novel Society, and the Romantic Novelists Association.

For more information, please visit Deborah’s website. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/adividedinheritancetour
Twitter Hashtag: #DividedInheritanceTour

A Divided Inheritance Tour Banner FINAL

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Interview with Leave of Absence Author Tanya J. Peterson on her Life, Her Book, and Mental Health Awareness

Today I have a fabulous interview with Tanya J. Peterson, author of a contemporary fiction called Leave of Absence.  She had previously written a great guest post about finding time to write with a busy schedule and why she chose to write a book with mental health awareness themes. You can read that HERE if you missed it.

Enjoy the interview and she’ll be happy to answer any comments you leave as well!

Hi Tanya, welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We’ve featured your guest post, and I’ve done a review of your book, so I hope everyone is now as anxious (in a good way) as I am to hear your answers to some questions surrounding you and your work. How have you been?

Tanya: Hi Erin!  I’ve been busy, as I’m sure you and everyone reading this can relate.  Running after kids (sometimes literally as my son has decided to become a distance runner – I’m not a natural runner!), helping Leave of Absence along, speaking and writing on mental illness, and the endless daily tasks all keep me hopping.  Overall, though, things are going very well. What about you? 

Erin: As a mother and more, busy too, but it’s all good! And you won’t catch me literally running though. Good luck!!  Now, I’d love to be the one laying on the couch while you pick my brain, but today it will need to be the other way around. So put your feet up and let’s get started…

Tanya:  Let me settle in and let’s chat. Can it be a dentist’s chair instead of the traditional couch? I love those. I always wanted my therapists to have dentist chairs. Okay, getting serious now…

9781592998838 cov.inddQ: What purpose do you see in writing a book such as Leave of Absence? What experiences assisted you in formulating the idea?

A:  I wrote Leave of Absence for a very specific purpose.  I wanted to show the reality of mental illness, the human side.  The basis for the story is entirely fictional, of course, but I have indeed had life experiences that were quite helpful in “filling out” the story.  When I was just two years old… Just kidding!  No one here wants my life history.  I drew from many different things (including the “whys” and “what ifs” I constantly ask myself about situations and people), but the most impactful one for the creating of many of the scenes in Leave of Absence was the time I spent in a behavioral health center/hospital.  Much of Leave of Absence takes place in such a hospital, and while this place in the novel is entirely fictional, I drew on my own experiences to add depth and detail to the setting.  I did have a motivation for setting the story here:  there is quite a bit of mystery shrouding these places.  Because of incorrect portrayals in books and movies, often what comes to mind is an image of an “insane asylum,” with barred windows and screaming patients.  Sadly, people are often shunned by society after having been to a behavioral health hospital.  I wanted to provide people with an accurate portrayal of these places. 

Erin Comments: You can read my review of Leave of Absence HERE.

Q:  What is your background and how did that help you to write your book?

A: From my answer above, it’s probably evident that I have a personal background to draw on.  As mentioned, I’ve spent time in a behavioral health center.  I have bipolar I disorder and difficulties with anxiety, so I understand much of what Oliver and Penelope deal with.  In addition to this, though, I also have a professional background.  I have a Master’s Degree in counseling and am a Nationally Certified Counselor.  Both my personal and professional backgrounds helped me create a novel that, while fiction, is accurate and very realistic. 

Erin Comments: I think it is amazing that you can balance your illness enough to be able to continue on in your professional life. Quite a challenge and so amazing! Of course, that is great that you can help others through your experiences.

Q:  What do you hope that readers will “take away” or what feelings do you hope are invoked from Leave of Absence?

A:  I really hope that readers form an emotional connection to Oliver, Penelope, and William.  In fact, this emotional connection is the very reason I have chosen to illuminate aspects of mental illness through fiction rather than non-fiction.  Non-fiction can be very helpful, of course, and there are many great non-fiction works out there to educate and inform.  It’s hard, though, to make a true human connection through non-fiction.  It’s my hope that in reading Leave of Absence, readers will come to understand what it is that each character experiences.

Ideally, for example, people will understand schizophrenia through Penelope and PTSD and depression through Oliver.  However, I’d like readers to experience the issues more deeply than just understanding the “what” of them.  I’d like them to connect with the “who” behind the illnesses.  As a society, when we understand what mental illness really is (rather than the stereotyped version) and when we come to see the person behind the illness, we will develop greater empathy and compassion.  And maybe, just maybe, the stigma associated with mental illness will disappear. 

Erin Comments: The “who” is so important…..and empathy.

Q:  Where do you think the deep seeded desire to help others comes from (from yourself and then also in others)?

A:  To paraphrase Lady Gaga, I seem to have been born that way.  I remember being sensitive to others’ suffering even in grade school.  I was always baffled and angered by bullying and did what little I could to assist those who needed it.  Jump to adulthood.  I initially became a teacher, but it took all of about a week to realize that I’d much rather be a counselor, and, years later, when I was becoming a counselor, I realized that I wanted to use my education and experience on a larger scale to advocate for those who don’t always have a voice.  The desire to advocate came, in part, from a personal predisposition to stand up publicly for what I believe in. 

It also came from one of my favorite graduate school professors.  In class, she often spoke of the power and importance of advocacy, and she and I had numerous private discussions about it.  It was these conversations that planted the seed of my combining my love of writing with my desire to help people by increasing awareness and understanding. 

 Q:  What kind of thoughts went into developing your characters, especially Oliver and Penelope?

A:  Thoughts of affection!  I thought of them first, before I ever formulated a story line.  I developed stories about them – who they were, why they were suffering, how they were suffering, how they would come together, etc.  That merged into creating the storyline.  Then as I wrote the story, I always began my writing session by connecting with them and how they were feeling.  More often than not, when I was writing it was as if I were each of them rather than myself.  When I wasn’t writing, I was thinking about them.  I bonded with them!  After all, if I wasn’t connected to them, how on Earth would readers ever connect with them? 

Q:  Do you feel your book is mainly serious fiction, due to the subject matter, or did you mean for a glint of humor to be allowed to shine through?

A:  My overall intent was for Leave of Absence to be serious.  However, mental illness and life struggles don’t mean constant and permanent despair.  Everyone can experience happiness, and people do heal.  I tried to instill a realistic sense of hope in the story without being a canned, Pollyanna-type of hope.  Therefore, I thought that a touch of humor would be appropriate.  This will seem strange, I know, but you know how in the previous question I stated that it was often as if the characters themselves were writing their stories?  That’s how the tiny bits of humor happened.  Yes, I knew that some humor was necessary, but I didn’t actually plan it out.  Putting a direction in my notes reading, “Comic relieve on page 107” just doesn’t work.  It happened through the characters themselves. 

Erin Comments: There was some humor to it, whether is should be or not. For some reason Eleanor yelling at Penelope to eat the crayons and her doing it was both sad and humorous to me at the same time. Not necessarily laughter at Penelope, but laughter at how our minds work sometimes (or don’t work).

Q:  Do you think their portrayal will help the general public understand the many facets of mental illness and the people who struggle with various forms of it?

A:  That’s my very hope.  Mental illnesses are very complex and individualized.  So the way Penelope and Oliver experience it won’t look exactly the same in others with the same disorders.  That said, there are general defining characteristics of the various mental illnesses that are common to those that experience them.  I did a great deal of research to ensure that Penelope’s and Oliver’s experiences were accurate.  I really hope that readers see what is happening to these characters and what their inner experiences are like – what’s going through their minds.    What Penelope and Oliver think and feel can be transferred to people in the real world. 

Q:  What else do you feel can be done, or needs to be done, in order to create more awareness for those with mental illness?

A:  Stereotypes in mainstream media need to be corrected!  When the news stations constantly jump to the conclusion that criminals are mentally ill (other than antisocial personality disorder, violence is not associated with mental illness) or when movies and television shows inaccurately portray people with mental illness, great harm is done.  Society assumes these things are accurate and thus forms negative stereotypes about people experiencing mental illness.   These prejudices create stigma.  All of this is hurtful.  It leads to discrimination, shame, isolation, and loneliness. 

Of course, there are other things as well, such as equal access to affordable mental health care.  Thankfully there are so many passionate people with different strengths to bring to the table to help create awareness and equality.  I’m not good at accomplishing things like access to health care, but I can work to correct stereotypes and increase empathy and understanding (at least I hope so, anyway, and will give it a try.)

Erin Comments: Keep up the great work, it’s worth it!

Q:  What other types of fiction do you like? Favorite books?

A:  I love character-driven stories!  I have a hard time getting into books that are all about plot and storyline, but I know that’s just me.  Others feel the opposite way.  If I can connect with a character, I don’t care what the plot or genre is.  Some of my favorite fiction books that I’ve read recently are The Promise of Stardust by Pricille Sibley, Too Bright to Hear Too Loud to See by Juliann Garey, and all of the books in the Will Trent series by Karin Slaughter (I love Will Trent!).    

Q: Do you have hopes to write other various types of fiction? If so, what other types do you want to try?

A:  I am definitely going to write more novels.  My plan for now is to stick with contemporary fiction and the theme of mental health.  When I was a history major in college, I did dream of writing historical fiction.  I’m honestly not sure if I can see myself writing anything other than contemporary fiction, but I suppose if I did venture into other things, I would try my hand at historical fiction. 

Q:  What has been your biggest challenge along your road to publishing? What has been your greatest success?

A:  One of my biggest challenges is the fact that I’m still unknown with a small budget.  Spreading the word about Leave of Absence often feels like an uphill battle.  I have a fantastic publicist who helps me with this, but still, given that I’m starting from nothing, it’s difficult.  Erin, what you’re doing for me is very helpful, by the way!  By inviting me onto your blog, you’re introducing me to all of your wonderful readers, and I appreciate that so much.  This is how an unknown author introduces her book to the world.

I think I’ve absolutely experienced success with Leave of Absence.  It’s too early to know if I’m selling copies.  But I don’t define success by sales, anyway.  I’ll be honest:  I need to sell books because I have living expenses that include two children, the oldest of whom is nearing college.  However, my motivation in writing is not to become wealthy.  I like to live simply.  My motivation is, as you know, to increase awareness and compassion in order to reduce stigma and help things be better for those who experience mental illness.  Happily, it seems so far that is happening! 

I’ve had great feedback from professional reviewers and “real” readers like you.  J  And I’ve had discussions on radio shows and have been invited to give presentations about mental illness and to give readings from Leave of Absence.  All this is really exciting.  I’ve only made a very small ripple, though, so I hope that this ripple will do what a ripple is supposed to do:  expand and grow.  Not knowing what’s going to happen is stressful and anxiety-provoking, but I’m going to keep working hard to help it happen. 

For all of your readers who have paid attention to my guest post, your review and this interview, I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your taking the time to check out Leave of Absence and learn about me.  Thank you. 

Q:  Can you explain your publishing process? Do have thoughts regarding traditional publishing versus self-publishing?

A:  This sure is a hot topic right now!  When I was deciding how to publish Leave of Absence, I read a ton of information about publishing.  I attended workshops.  I talked to a traditionally published author I know, and I went to a conference just so I could talk to agents about the publishing process.  I compiled all of the information I gathered into a pros and cons chart, and I realized that for me right now, independent publishing was absolutely the way to go. 

Leave of Absence is published by Inkwater Press, which is actually more of a hybrid publisher, a cross between traditional and independent publishing.  I had to submit my manuscript for consideration as they don’t accept everyone.  Their standards are high, and I was honored to be accepted.  Inkwater Press provides a full range of services, but as an author who maintains the rights to her work, I have much more input into things than I would have had with a traditional publisher.  From what I have learned from the authors I know and the agents with whom I spoke, traditionally published authors have almost no control over what the publisher does, including the way the story is modified.  I’m very happy with my decision to independently publish with Inkwater Press. 

Q:  What advice do you have for busy moms who are aspiring authors or current authors? How do you fit it all in?

A:  It’s a balancing act, and I often trip.  Last summer, I did much of my writing very early in the morning.  That no longer works, so I’ve adjusted.  I work very hard when the kids are at school and my husband is at work so I can be with them in the evenings.  I do indeed work here and there on evenings and weekends, but I make sure to take time to focus on my family.  For me, the key is to prioritize.  I create a to-do list of sorts of the major things I need to accomplish in a week, and then I filter those tasks into days and times.  I constantly remind myself of my main priorities of the day, and I make sure that my family is on that list.  We’ll always be busy and have way too much to do.  Focusing on the big picture helps me when I get overwhelmed by the little details. 

Erin Comments: That’s true, we’ll never not be busy so we might as well adjust to it and prioritize. People need to stop feeling so guilty, you know?

Q:  Who are some of your favorite authors?

A:  Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and Saul Bellow.  While I definitely haven’t read all works by these authors, I have enough exposure to them to put them on a list of my favorite authors.  I admire the depth and poignancy of their characters and themes. 

Q:  Color can tell a lot about a person, I think. What is your favorite color(s)?

A:  Green and purple!  And sometimes blue.  (What does it say about me that I can’t pick just one?)

Q: What are your biggest ways to relieve stress and balance your mind? What advice do you have for others?

A:  I experience quite a bit of anxiety, and stress definitely makes it worse.  When I experience stress and anxiety, I get agitated and full of an excess of energy.  I need an outlet for it to avoid becoming overwhelmed and irritable.  Physical activity works well for me for that.  I try to get up early in the morning and use the treadmill or the elliptical.  I like to hike, bike, or kayak on the weekends too.  I also need quiet meditation, too, but if I’m too agitated it doesn’t work. 

Regarding advice, I’d say that it’s important to honor yourself as an expert of your own existence.  Reading information about wellness, illness, etc. is very important and helpful, as is working with a counselor or therapist if or when you need to.  Ultimately, though, you know yourself. 

Experiment to find stress-relieving techniques that work best for you, and use those techniques when you can to help deal with stress.  As long as what you’re doing doesn’t harm yourself or others, there’s no “wrong” way to de-stress.  If meditation doesn’t work for you (sometimes it works for me and other times it doesn’t), don’t force yourself to do it just because everyone you know is raving about the new meditation center in town!  Honor yourself. 

Erin Comments: So eating chocolate would be appropriate, since chocolate never hurt anyone….*wink*

Q:  What is next for you?

A:  I have a new novel in the works!  I’ve done a bit of brainstorming and begun some preliminary research.  Of course I’m focusing primarily on the characters!  (My biggest challenge in this right now is letting go of Oliver, Penelope, and William.  I’m struggling with that at the moment.)

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A:  I love to connect with readers, so I hope people do!  My website is http://www.tanyajpeterson.com (I have a contact form there).  For those who like social media, my Facebook page is http://www.facebook.com/tanyajpeterson and my Twitter handle is @tanyajpeterson1.  Oh, and I’m on Goodreads, too.  A search of Tanya J Peterson will lead people to me. 

Erin:  Thank you so much, Tanya, for coming by today for this interview, we’ve learned a lot and I’m so glad to be able to hear your thoughts on so many important subjects. I wish you much continued success into the future!

Tanya: Erin, this has been wonderful!  Thank you for asking me all of these great questions.  I love being able to chat about Leave of Absence so people know why I wrote it, and it’s fun to discuss lighter things as well.  I’ve enjoyed being a guest on your blog.  It was so kind of you interview me and to allow me to write a guest post.  And of course your review is amazing and gets right to the heart of Leave of Absence (and, by default, to my heart).  I sincerely appreciate you and all you have done.  I read in one of your recent posts that you coach a Little League team.  My son is in Little League.  I don’t coach, but I do of course go to all of the games.  Have fun on the field!! 

Erin Comments: You’re quite welcome, Tanya. Yes, we do coach several teams, both soccer and ball, and try to spend lots of time with the kiddos. Thank YOU so much for everything!

Leave of Absence Synopsis~

9781592998838 cov.indd“Oliver knew deep in his heart that he would never, ever be better.” In this insightful and evocative novel, Tanya J. Peterson delves deeply into the world of post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and schizophrenia.

When Oliver Graham’s suicide attempt fails, he is admitted to Airhaven Behavioral Health Center. Unable to cope with the traumatic loss of his beloved wife and son, he finds a single thread of attachment to life in Penelope, a fellow patient wrestling with schizophrenia and its devastating impact on her once happy and successful life. They both struggle to discover a reason to live while Penelope’s fiancé William strives to convince her that she is worth loving. As Oliver and Penelope try to achieve emotional stability, face others who have been part of their lives, and function in the “real world,” they discover that human connection may be reason enough to go on.

Written with extraordinary perception into the thought processes of those grappling with mental illness, Leave of Absence is perfect for readers seeking an empathic depiction of grief, loss, and schizophrenia, as well as anyone who has ever experienced human suffering and healing.

Author Tanya J. Peterson, Biography~

Tanya PetersonTanya J. Peterson holds a Bachelor of Science in secondary education, Master of Science in counseling, and is a Nationally Certified Counselor.  She has been a teacher and a counselor in various settings, including a traditional high school and an alternative school for homeless and runaway adolescents, and she has volunteered her services in both schools and communities.  She draws on her life experience as well as her education to write stories about the emotional aspect of the human condition. 

She has published Losing Elizabeth, a young adult novel about an abusive relationship, Challenge!, a short story about a person who finds the confidence to overcome criticism and achieve a goal, and a book review of Linley and Joseph’s Positive Therapy: A Meta-Theory for Positive Psychological Practice that appeared in Counseling Today, the national publication of the American Counseling Association. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and two children.

Her website is http://www.tanyajpeterson.com.

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Exclusive and Magical Interview with Talented & Creative Melika Lux on Much More than Her City of Lights Novel

Today, we have a special treat  because we have an exclusive interview with a very talented and sweet person, author Melika Lux. You can read my review of Melika’s book by clicking CITY OF LIGHTS.

Our interview is VERY in-depth and you will marvel at Melika’s original personality, including how a trained stage soprano has such an addiction to Great White Sharks!!

Melika LuxI am pleased to have you stop by for a visit today, Melika! You sound like a fabulously creative person. How are you?

Melika:  I am great, Erin, and thrilled to be here!  

Erin:  So happy!  Let’s move on and learn more about you and your writing!

Q:  When did you first begin to write? What gave you the inspiration?

A:  My love for writing grew out of an early love for reading.  I think what led me to this point, what essentially caused the inspiration to germinate, was that my mother started reading to me when I was in the womb, and my father told me wild, not-exactly-verifiable tall tales while I was still in the cradle.  I remember writing little stories and vignettes when I was a very young child and also staging my first play (an adaptation of King of Kings) when I was eight years old.  The budget was nonexistent, so my family was conscripted into the production, with my dad and mom playing six parts each.  I think that was when the writing bug first reared its head and bit me squarely on the heart. I felt a little like Cecil B. DeMille after that.  There is a VHS of the play floating around somewhere.  It is one of my first memories of writing.

One turning point I can recall was when I was about eleven or twelve.  I wrote a very short story along the lines of Jurassic Park.  It was about a brother and sister being chased to the edge of a cliff by a T-Rex.  The kids gave the Rex the old “one-two-jump!” fake out and the dinosaur tumbled over the cliff.  End of story—happily ever after for everyone except the Rex. But the point was that it was fun! I had actually finished something I’d set out to write! It was great, even though it was only six pages long! You have to start somewhere, right?

Q:   What inspires you currently in your overall writing?

A: What began to stand out more and more to me as the years wore on, and what I think was the real reason I truly grew to love writing so much, was the freedom it gave me to be able to get lost in a different world.  I love creating characters and their individual stories.  Everything that a person experiences in his or her life affects the person they become and how they react to situations, so being able to explore this with my characters is something I am always eager to do—uncovering what motivates them, what drives their worldview, why they would make a decision in a particular situation, what makes them tick, etc.  It is thrilling when characters develop so fully that they essentially start to write the stories themselves.

Currently, I’m most interested and inspired by trying out different storytelling mediums and POVs. My preferred method of telling a story is first person, but in my latest works, I’m using third person limited and also third person omniscient, which presents a whole heap of challenges! I’m also experimenting with short stories. You would think this would be easier, but I’m finding it an exciting challenge to tell a complete and gripping story in 40 pages or less rather than having a broad canvas (my last novel, Corcitura, was 700 pages long) on which to paint, essentially, the characters’ lives.

My last two novels were primarily historical fiction, City of Lights: The Trials and Triumphs of Ilyse Charpentier being an historical fiction/family saga set in Paris in 1894, and Corcitura  being an historical fiction/supernatural thriller, complete with hybrid vampires, which takes place over the years 1888-1895 in locales across Europe and in Gilded Age New York. I have felt very comfortable writing in this era due to the fact that I read a tremendous amount of fantastic Victorian literature during my high school and college years and fell in love with the period. However, I am now transitioning into dystopian, horror, comedy, and fantasy. Talk about freeing! I no longer have to worry about when a word came into the vernacular! Huzzah! Besides that added bonus, I love to genre-hop and not confine myself to one particular time period. It keeps thinks exciting.

Q:  Did your musical background play any part in your writing? Also, explain your musical background for our readers.

A: Definitely. I’ve been surrounded by music since I was born and have been singing, dancing, and playing the violin and piano since I was three years old. I was part of a children’s performing group for most of my childhood and was also a member of a local youth symphony orchestra from the ages of 8-18. In addition to singing throughout my community and state, I also performed the role of Meg Giry in a college production of The Phantom of the Opera. What a blast! 😀

In regards to my writing, I draw a lot of inspiration from certain pieces of music, especially movie soundtracks and instrumental numbers, which I love to have playing in the background as I write. Currently, for the dystopian/fantasy novel I’m writing, I keep epic music/soundtracks looping at a low volume in my ear buds. It really spurs my imagination and helps when trying to strike the right mood in battle and intense scenes, especially when there are “creatures” involved.

For City of Lights, Hanging by a Moment by Lifehouse was a huge inspiration and a song I kept looping in the background as I wrote the novel:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESWjziG5B54

To me, this song epitomizes Ilyse and Ian’s love story, and remains a favorite of mine to this day.

Q:  Have you ever danced or been on the stage? If so, explain and if it helped in the writing of your book. What inspired you to write about a Parisian chanteuse in City of Lights?

A: Yes! As I mentioned above, I was part of a children’s performing group from the ages of 3-11. Additionally, I am a classically trained soprano. My most recent performance was in February 2012, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine, FL. You can view the entire concert or excerpts of my solos by clicking on the following link: http://booksinmybelfry.com/music/

Music has always been inextricably linked to City of Lights. The entire novel was actually inspired by a song. One night in December 2002, I was puttering around in my room when I suddenly started singing verses of a song I had made up in that moment.

“Tonight’s the last time that I’ll see your face, my love. This dreadful moment has finally come to be. Tonight the passion ends for you and me, my love. I’m traveling to a place where life will be hell for me…good-bye.”

My mind exploded with questions. Who was this girl? Why was she being forced to give up her love? Why would her life be so awful?

From that song, City of Lights: The Trials and Triumphs of Ilyse Charpentier was born. The song became Tonight, the lyrics directly inspiring the novel and making their way into a pivotal scene toward the end of the book. Now, the only thing remaining was a setting. I’m a singer, a Francophile, and a devotee of fin de siècle culture and literature, so the idea of Paris, a cabaret, forbidden love, and the added tension arising from my heroine being estranged from her brother (her only living relative) was too exciting not to pursue.

My grand plan all along was (and still is) for City of Lights to be a musical.  In addition to Tonight, I wrote eight other songs that inspired further chapters and the overall story arc, the lyrics of those songs also being adapted into dialogue and scenes. Even though the musical is still on the distant horizon, the spirit of the songs thread through the entire novel. And in case you were wondering, the recordings are securely stored in an undisclosed location, waiting for the day when they will see the light once again.  😉

In May 2003, at the age of eighteen, I began writing Ilyse’s story. Eight months later, City of Lights was complete, and another four years later, it was published. Now, it has been given a new look and is being made available to an entirely new readership!

COL Cover

Q:  Myself, I love books and information on the late 1800s to early 1900s in Paris. The entire ballet scene and its behind the scenes drama can be an infuriating tale to tell. Apparently, women still endure the dealings of men pulling their strings so to speak. What interests you most about this time period? Any further thoughts on the performance industry?

A: I’ve been interested in the fin de siècle for as long as I can remember. I think I first became cognizant of how exciting this time period was when I was about 8 or 9 and had just learned to play Orpheus in the Underworld with my local youth symphony orchestra. The Galop Infernal in that operetta became, of course, the Can-Can theme. That piece stayed with me over the years and led me to do research when I got older. As I learned more about France and the culture surrounding the cabarets and dancehalls, I was hooked and became a confirmed Francophile. Since writing City of Lights, I have become increasingly interested in that whole milieu and have since read Camille (A brilliant and tragic novel about the lives of the demimondaine—highly recommended!) and a few novels by Colette. I’m always on the lookout for new reads from or about that fascinating time period when securing the right patron could either make you a star or confine you to the gilded cage, as was the case with Ilyse.  

As for the performance industry, the main facet that I culled and incorporated into City of Lights was favoritism. Ilyse, although she is talented and the best singer to have graced the Parisian stage in years, is Sergei’s favorite. He “plucked her from obscurity” (a fact he never lets her forget) and made her a star. Without him, she most probably would have starved or been forced into a life of squalor, but given how controlling and suffocating Sergei’s hold over her is, accepting his patronage is a choice Ilyse regrets almost immediately.

Q:  I read the biography on your website and laughed to myself because in high school I decided I was either going to school to be a writer or a marine biologist (same as you)!!! I decided I was not cut out enough for the math and just loved the ocean and animal cause, so I went to college for Journalism instead so I could write all about all the many things I love. I came away also with English and History degrees. That all said, besides being afraid of sharks, what really did pull you towards your creative pursuits as compared to science? How do you feel about your decision?

A: Haha, what a coincidence!!! I’ve been obsessed with sharks from a young age. I remember going to Sea World as a three-year-old and spouting off names of all the sharks in the little pond outside the Shark Encounter ride. I also literally started watching Shark Week at the age of two during its inaugural season 26 years ago (dating myself here ;). I still remember them flashing the poster of an enormous Great White shark with a Bermuda-shorted surfer inside its gaping mouth. Fun stuff! 😉   

Then came Jaws—the movie, not the book. Let’s not even go there in regards to the book. I’ve never been more disappointed with a reading experience in my life! But I digress… I became fascinated with Jaws around the age of five when I went to Pic ‘n Save and saw the movie poster. What is it with me and posters? Anyway, I now make it a point to watch the movie twice a year, once on my birthday and once on the last day of Shark Week.  You probably wouldn’t want to watch the movie with me because I know practically all the lines and usually say them in the same voices the characters use. My favorite, obviously, is Quint. “I’m talkin’ about sharkin’!” I sing his little sea shanties with him, too. 😉

What made me consider a career change, however, probably had something to do with Nigel Marvin and the premiere of Air Jaws around the year 2000. The fact that sharks could rocket out of the water was a paradigm shift for me and sort of tilted my world off its axis. Breaching sharks! It was a literary goldmine! Not to mention that it scared the wits out of me to think that I could be quietly minding my own business in a nice safe boat when Mr. Whitey would suddenly decide to go airborne and take me along for the ride. So that was when I knew I’d have more fun writing sharks into my stories instead of sharing the water with them. Strangely enough, though, a small insane part of me would still love to go cage diving with them in South Africa. We’ll see… 😉

As far as creative pursuits in comparison to science, I still love the minutiae of marine and ocean studies, but I now find it much more exciting to be able to do the research or incorporate what I know about sharks and their behavior into my writings. In the dystopian epic I’m working on, white sharks play a huge role as one of the main antagonists (technically, a race of antagonists, because there are a lot of them!) of the story. They have their own species name, stratified society, unusual sharky abilities, and rather wicked roles to play in the oppressive world I’m creating. They are the toothed enforcers of the realm and have a symbiotic relationship with the undead soldiers who train them. They also get to wear steel helms and are so fierce you honestly can’t help thinking they are just a little bit awesome, as all Great Whites generally are. 😉 If I say any more, I’ll be giving away the plot, but suffice it to say that sharks are fascinating in real life and in literature, so I’m having a tremendously fun time giving them their own personalities and storylines and writing about their undeniable appeal in the new book. By the way, I’m a bit of a shark snob, so pretty much the only species of shark I’ll ever write about are Great Whites—my favorites. I tend to view every other shark as a poser. 😉

As a side note, I recently took the Discovery Channel’s shark personality quiz and was matched with, you guessed it, Carcharodon carcharias. I always had a feeling… 😉  

Q:  What do you feel was an interesting or important point in history in regards to women and women’s history?

A: I’ve often wondered how I would have fared as a woman writer if I had been born a few centuries ago. When I think about this, the person who always comes to mind in regards to the restrictions on women and how they were looked down upon for being writers (as were women who chose to go on the stage; the horror! Remember the scandal with Nell Gwyn?!) is Charlotte Bronte and how she originally signed her name to Jane Eyre as Currer Bell. I know the novel had been rejected many times and she was listening to the advice of Wordsworth and others, who claimed that “novel-writing wasn’t the proper pastime of a lady,” but it must have been infuriating to not be able to lay claim to your own work, especially a work as brilliant as Jane Eyre. It’s infuriating to me nearly two centuries later! In my own writing, particularly in the first book of my fantasy duology, I have a character who looks down on his fiancée because she reads too many novels. Can you imagine that kind of attitude today?! So, as far as women’s history goes, I believe that when we started to take charge of our writing careers and not care what men and other women (who could be just as spiteful and controlling, if not more so) or society thought of our chosen profession, this was a giant leap forward and an important advancement, at least to my thinking, for the suffragette movement and ensuring the right to vote.

Q:  Do you feel women should “schedule” time for themselves as writers? Do women sacrifice too much instead of pursuing the muse inside them?  How do you make time for writing?

A: I think it depends on your situation in life. If you’re single, of course you should have more time to write, or at least I would hope so! If you have family and job obligations, however, it becomes much more difficult to carve out pockets of time, but still not impossible. If you’re driven enough and passionate about your writing, though, you can find time to write in just about any instance, even if it’s only a few seconds to scribble down ideas on the corner of a napkin. I’m speaking from experience here. 😉

I do think, however, that women should try to set aside some quiet time (easier said than done!) where they can be alone and just let inspiration flow onto the page. I have a friend who designates specific days during the week where she will not take any phone calls or make appointments and just dedicates those set times to writing, so you can make it work; you just have to be creative about it.

I try to carve out writing time at least every day. Sometimes I’ll have a span of maybe four or five hours in the evening, and sometimes weekends are totally devoted to writing. It depends on family obligations and other things that are going on, those so-called “life interruptions” that can be so detrimental to letting the muse have its day! 😉

Q:  Where are some grand places you’ve traveled, or would like to travel? And why?

A: To date, I’ve been to Switzerland, England, Wales, France, Belgium, Germany, the Czech Republic (visiting Prague was a great help in setting the scene for the latter part of Corcitura), Austria, and Hungary. In addition, I’ve been to several Caribbean islands and 25 of our 50 states, my favorite being Hawaii, which I had the opportunity to visit eleven years ago. I do not have an ounce of Hawaiian blood, but my first name is Hawaiian (it means Melissa), so I’ve always felt an affinity for the islands.

I would love to visit Ireland and also Russia one day—Ireland because my paternal grandmother’s family is from there and I’ve always been fascinated by the country (most recently by the entire Home Rule debate—thank you Downton Abbey! ;), and Russia because I’ve been a Russophile since I saw the animated movie Anastasia when I was twelve. The viewing of that film also engendered in me a fascination with the Romanovs that continues to this day.

Q:  Do you have some favorite authors? Some authors who have mentored your thoughts?

A: Yes, several! Some of my particular favorites would have to be P. G. Wodehouse, Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer, Daphne Du Maurier, Agatha Christie (I can never get enough of her mysteries! So entertaining!), Alexandre Dumas, J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, and Sarah Rayne for her riveting novels of psychological suspense! Wilkie Collins is my wild card in there, too, and I also love everything I’ve ever read by Shannon Hale. Her novels are pure magic. 

As far as mentoring, it would have to be Dumas for his amazing ability to write action scenes, Wodehouse for showing me the trick to making people laugh in fiction, Jane for the effortless way she writes the “dance of romance,” and Tollers and Jack (Tolkien and Lewis) for being the standard by which I measure all fantasy and motivating me to always be original.

Q: What other writings have you done? What’s next for you?

A: My latest novel, Corcitura, was published last year. Here is everything you need to know about the novel in a nutshell: Two vampires…one victim…endless trouble. Beginning in London in the year 1888, Corcitura tells the story of best friends Eric Bradburry and Stefan Ratliff, two eighteen-year-old Englishmen who are experiencing their first taste of freedom by setting out on a solo, grand tour of Europe. But what begins as the adventure of a lifetime, quickly explodes into a twisted untangling of centuries-old secrets as our protagonists are forced to flee from people who turn out to be much older—and somehow possess alarming otherworldly powers—than they originally appear. I am talking, of course, about vampires, and the two progenitors of the Corcitura are the stuff of nightmare: a half-wolf, half-vampire Vrykolakas and a five-hundred-year-old Upyr with an uncontrollable desire to create a hybrid creature to use as his own personal agent of destruction.

But vampires are just one facet of this story. Not only are the vampires horrifying, and their trickery something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but they have fascinating backstories that are inextricably linked with one of the main protagonists and his family—especially his sisters, who have a crucial role to play in how this story works itself out. If you love seeing female vampire protagonists having a major role in the outcome of the story, then you will love the two in this book. Let’s hear it for the girls! They have enough history and chutzpah to fill volumes more—which is my intended plan. They also happen to be werewolves. And if that duality doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what will!

My current project is the book with the sharks that I was talking about before. It is a complete revamping and reworking of my original first novel that I began at the age of fourteen, but abandoned for school, life, and other projects. I have been working on it since July of 2012 and have been totally transforming it into a dystopian epic set in a brutal and lawless world. The entire theme and outcome of the story have changed drastically (the sharks were always there, although they are a much bigger part of the story now), but all the exciting bits (mythical beasts, hidden identities, battles, political intrigue, and some truly horrifying and treacherous villains) are still part of the fabric of the story. With the passage of years, however, everything within the story seems to have more meaning and gravitas to me now. It is definitely not the same book I would have written as a fourteen-year-old, so I am very happy I put the novel on hold.

Additionally, I am mapping out and reworking my fantasy duology (which I’ve also been writing since 2003—that was my banner year for creative ideas, it seems!) and am currently finishing up a collection of short comedy/fantasy/horror stories set in Eastern and Northern Europe in the 1800s. It has been an exciting challenge to essentially create mini-novels in 40 pages or less for this collection.   

Q:  How can readers connect with you?

A: I would love for readers to connect with me on any or all of the following sites:

My website:  http://www.booksinmybelfry.com/

Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/950456.Melika_Dannese_Lux (Books are my passion. I love discussing great novels and non-fiction/history with other readers, so feel free to send me a friend invite!)

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/BooksInMyBelfry 

And if you want to contact me directly, here is my email: booksinmybelfry@hotmail.com

Erin:  Thank you so very much for sitting down and talking with me today. We wish you much continued success in all your creative pursuits!  It was so nice to get to learn more about you.

Melika:  This has been so much fun, Erin! Thanks for letting me share a bit of myself and my work with you and your readers! 😀

City of Lights, Synopsis~

COL CoverPublication Date: October 23, 2012
Books in My Belfry, LLC
Paperback; 166p
ISBN-10: 0615708269

What would you risk for the love of a stranger?

Ilyse Charpentier, a beautiful young chanteuse, is the diva of the 1894 Parisian cabaret scene by night and the unwilling obsession of her patron, Count Sergei Rakmanovich, at every other waking moment.

Though it has always been her secret desire, Ilyse’s life as “La Petite Coquette” of the Paris stage has turned out to be anything but the glamorous existence she had dreamt of as a girl. As a young woman, Ilyse has already suffered tragedy and become estranged from her beloved brother, Maurice, who blames her for allowing the Count to drive them apart.

Unhappy and alone, Ilyse forces herself to banish all thoughts of independence until the night Ian McCarthy waltzes into her life. Immediately taken with the bold, young, British expatriate, Ilyse knows it is time to choose: will she break free and follow her heart or will she remain a slave to her patron’s jealous wrath for the rest of her life?

Melika Lux, Biography~

Melika LuxI write historical fiction, suspense, supernatural thrillers, horror, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories—you name it, I write it! I love to read just about anything and everything and am particularly fond of historical fiction, the classics, mysteries, epic fantasy, history, and non-fiction. I am also a classically trained soprano/violinist/pianist and have been performing since the age of three. Additionally, I hold a BA in Management and an MBA in Marketing.

I am a HUGE fan of Psych, most British drama, comedy, and mystery shows, and am always up for a movie quote challenge. Jaws is my favorite movie of all time, with The Lord of the Rings being a very close second. Tell me something about yourself, and I’ll most probably be able to “Six Degrees of Separation” it back to Gandalf.

Lastly, I love to spend time with my family and friends, and I absolutely adore traveling. Not only is it great to experience other cultures, but travelling expands my horizons as a writer and sets my imagination reeling with a million different ideas for stories. If I hadn’t decided to become a writer (And there’s a Gandalf story for that, too.), I would have become a marine biologist, but after countless years spent watching Shark Week, I realized I’m very attached to my arms and legs and would rather write sharks into my stories than get up close and personal with those toothy wonders.

I am currently working on the sequel to my supernatural thriller/historical novel Corcitura, a collection of comedy/horror/fantasy stories set in Eastern Europe in the 1800s, and the first book of a planned fantasy duology. To learn more, please visit www.booksinmybelfry.com.

City of Lights Tour Banner FINAL

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/cityoflightsvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #CityOfLightsVirtualTour

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In-depth Interview with The Chalice Author and Admired Journalist: Nancy Bilyeau

In my last post I raved in review of Nancy Bilyeau’s second novel, The Chalice! Her Tudor-era thriller, sprinkled with riddles and clues that surround her protagonist Joanna, certainly needs to be on your TBR list for 2013. If you’re a fan of historical fiction, thrillers, or mysteries, see my review and information on the book by clicking HERE and then read our interview. We had a lovely time!

I am so very excited and honored to present this interview with Nancy and hope you’ll read it through and give your thoughts too. We talk about why she writes her book from its particular angle, about women (and journalists) as fiction writers, and her advice for aspiring authors. Not to mention, Nancy is very light-hearted and fun!

Erin:  Hi Nancy! I’m very honored to sit down and talk with you today about your writing, your behind-the-scenes life, and your books! How are your launch festivities going for The Chalice?

Nancy:  Going very well. My launch party was last week, at the Mysterious Bookshop, an independent store in New York City. I did a reading and answered questions. I love that bookshop—they gave me the Soft-Boiled Award for March. These selections “shy away from the gritty, grisly, and gory, instead focusing on character development and careful plotting.” I like being soft-boiled!

Erin:  I guess since you’re a good egg, I’m glad you don’t crack easy!! (laughing) With that said, I’m going to start asking away as I am sure there are anxious readers…..

Q:  I know you had much success with your first novel in this series, called The Crown. How did it feel to complete The Chalice? Was there pressure to compete with it, or just pure excitement?

A: I actually wrote The Chalice before The Crown was published, so there wasn’t much pressure. I sold The Crown to Touchstone/Simon & Schuster and they set it to be published in 18 months, so I wrote a second book in those 18 months. I was excited, sure, but for the most part, I wrote it in a bubble. I didn’t have any input from an editor on my second book in its conception or the writing of the first draft. I workshopped it along the way with a group of fellow writers.

Erin comments: That is amazing! I suppose once you get on a roll…..

Q:  What do you hope readers will take away with them after reading The Crown and The Chalice?

A: I hope that they will fall in love with my main character, Joanna Stafford, who is intelligent, loyal and spiritual, yet she struggles quite a bit with her life’s direction and her emotions. And I hope they will be struck by what the nuns and monks and friars went through after the Dissolution of the Monasteries in England—thousands of people cast adrift.  That sense of powerlessness, of confusion and uncertainty, it resonates today. The main dramas of the 16th century have been told many times in fiction and nonfiction, but I feel I am doing something different.

Erin comments: I agree, Joanna is a wonderful soul with more intelligence than she knows!  I know I was completely taken aback thinking about those religious people. You’re right, I never really thought about what happened to them or that there was so much destruction and I like that you chose this angle. I’m not at all Catholic myself, but overall, to me it doesn’t matter about religion, it just causes me pain to think of anyone persecuted for their beliefs.

The Chalice

Q: Did you have goals in mind when writing the series, or are you an author that just allows the story to flow onto the page? Do you write with an outline or free verse?

A: I use a loose outline but I allow for surprises and characters to evolve. If I outline absolutely everything, then I feel hemmed in and self-conscious.

Erin comments: Totally agree!

Q: I’m a journalist myself, and I know you are quite an accomplished magazine journalist and editor, so how do you feel that journalistic style compares to fiction writing? Does it make it an easier to transition to authoring fiction? And if so, why? And/or what are some of the obstacles?

A: Oh, thank you, that’s nice of you to say. It is tricky to transition from magazine editing and writing to fiction. Now it helps me with the research. I go about my books in a different way than a pure novelist would, or a historian with a PhD. I read contemporary documents and modern nonfiction of the period but then I contact experts, like the assistant curator of the Dartford Borough Museum in Kent or a curatorial intern at the Tower of London, and ask lots and lots of questions.  I go at it like a reporter.

But when it comes to writing of the fiction, I think you have to be open to inspiration and take lots of chances and “let go” to create an interesting, vibrant world for your readers and to find those emotional traits and quirks and longings that make up real people. Your imagination and instincts must lead. That is the opposite of a journalist method or mindset. That’s why when some journalists try to write a novel, the result can be admirable but a little rigid or unemotional. In my case, I had to push through many, many revisions and take tons of classes to shed my nonfiction mindset and enter the world of the imagination.

Erin comments: I can see that. Both Tim and I are journalists, but we are still different. He’s more logical and precise and into editing beyond being curious, and I am more feature-oriented and all about awareness and issues with a creative flair. Both of us are also writing novels…ha! So hopeful we’ll be able to compliment and help each other with our respective traits to make our works shine. I’ve noticed a lot of journalists are turning into fiction writers and it’s fun to see.

Q:  What are some of the best-loved articles you’ve written or edited?

A: For DuJour magazine, where I work now, I edited a true-crime feature by an investigative reporter named John Connolly that was a highlight of my career. It was a long story about a murder in Palm Springs that winds its way back to a trust fund established by “Poor Little Rich Girl” Barbara Hutton. I enjoy reading these types of fascinating true-crime stories and I think a lot of other people do too, but so few magazines run them. It’s such a shame.

A story I wrote much, much earlier in my career that I am fond of was a profile of Gabriel Byrne for Rolling Stone. We met at a nice restaurant. After I’d asked him a question, he said in that beautiful soft, Irish voice, “This whole process is so strange. You can ask me these personal questions but I can’t ask you anything at all.” I started laughing and said, “But you can ask me anything!” He laughed, too. And then didn’t ask. Ha ha ha.

Erin commented: I just laughed out loud. That is a very memorable and funny story! And can I just say I love magazines. I want people to keep reading them and with the switch to reading smaller doses of content at a time, I hope magazines will prosper within that.

Q:  Would you consider yourself a creative person? Imaginative or logical?

A: I like to think I am creative. Writing and sketching. I am not too logical. I had terrible problems with plane geometry in school. Things that seemed obvious to everyone else, I couldn’t get. But a good magazine editor has to work logically, so I pushed myself to be more linear and methodical.

Q:  I’ve read about your family tree. You must also have a love of genealogy and historical family history. Did this influence you as a historical fiction writer?

A: I think so. I am very proud of my French Huguenot ancestor, who came to America in 1661. When I was going through a hard time with my son at one point, when he was diagnosed with being on the autistic spectrum and the school was making all of our lives miserable, I lost myself in ancestry.com. At night, to try to relax, I would work on those trees online. I discovered all sorts of things, such as that my great-grandfather, a farmer in Indiana, married my great-grandmother, a young immigrant from northern Germany, when she was pregnant. I could tell from the marriage date and the date of the birth. I wondered if it was a shotgun wedding—after three more children he divorced her and immediately enlisted in World War I. had already heard that she suffered great poverty after the divorce and after the war he became a chronic alcoholic. It’s fascinating to look at these documents and dates and reconstruct the lives of people who we are connected to—this sad couple is part of who I am.  That is what historical novelists do, right? They think a lot about earlier lives.

Erin comments: I agree, I love it too and it can be very absorbing and moving as well. I have something exciting to tell you in regards to our families in New Amsterdam! Possibly, they could have met each other.  

Q: When did you first know you wanted to write fiction?  When did you first catch the writing “bug?”

A: I declared I would write novels in high school and then took no steps to do so. Ha. I was a passionate reader of fiction all my life but I made my career in magazines. When I gave birth to my son I was seized by this urge to come up with my own stories. It was a lot like being bitten by a bug! I couldn’t stop trying to write.

Q:  Who are your women role models?

A: Mrs. Erickson, my high school English teacher in Livonia, Michigan. I’ve worked for inspiring women in the magazine business, like Ellen Levine, at Good Housekeeping.  I am fascinated by the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter.

Erin comments: I am also a Hillary Clinton supporter, and very proud of it.

Q: Who are your author mentors and/or favorite writers?

A: My writing mentors are screenwriter Max Adams and novelist Russell Rowland. My favorite writers run the gamut from Jane Austen to A.S. Byatt.

Q: Why do you choose the time period of mid-1500s England to write about? What intrigues you?

A:  I think the drama of the personalities drew me in from the beginning:  the Tudors themselves, their courtiers and ministers like Cardinal Wolsey and Robert Dudley. The magic of the Renaissance and the birth of the early modern age infuses the century, from Machiavelli to Shakespeare. And….I like the fashion.

Q: I always have found it interesting that in a time of religious laws and such persecution, especially for things supernaturally or perceived as such, that even Elizabeth I herself chose to call upon seers.  Yet, many used the excuse of astrology to murder people, many times just as a political move for their gain. What are your thoughts on this?

A: That is what obsessed me while writing The Chalice—the pull of the mystical, the prophecies and predictions, in this time. Think about it: Everyone took astrology, based on pagan beliefs, much more seriously in the 16th century, an era of devout Christianity. Now, in our more secular time, fewer people take astrology and prophecy seriously.  It doesn’t make sense, does it?

Erin comments: No, it doesn’t, but also I think people are always curious about the unknown.

Q: Why did you choose to take the religious upheaval angle with your novels?

A:  I’m not personally religious, it was more of my deciding to write a character who was a novice, very spiritual, and then that inevitably led me to focus on religion in people’s lives. There have been so many historical novels written on the suffering of the wives of Henry VIII but what I find truly chilling is what happened to those who defied the king’s religious supremacy.

Q:  What other novels of this time period or subject matter do you like or recommend?

A: The novels of C.J. Sansom, C.W. Gortner, Margaret George. Hillary Mantel, of course. I read an advance proof of a novel by Elizabeth Fremantle about Katherine Parr called “Queen’s Gambit” that I highly recommend.

Erin comments: Yes, Christopher is one of my favorites. And I also have an advanced copy of Queen’s Gambit for review, so glad you recommend it!

Q: What writers have influenced you or do you enjoy reading?

A: I am influenced by Daphne du Maurier, Bram Stoker, Edith Wharton, Elizabeth Kostova, Ellis Peters, Anne Rice, Katherine Neville. Lots of different types of writers.

Q:  What other historical time periods do you enjoy, if any? Do you hope to write about them one day?

A: I am interested in the 17th century, when my ancestor, Pierre Billiou, came to America. I love the Enlightenment, perhaps because I wrote a screenplay about Mary Wollstonecraft. But I also am interesting in going way back, to the “Dark Ages” in Europe. And I’d love to write about all these periods. I need to look into cloning!

Erin comments: All of that sounds very interesting. Ever wish you could just put your finger to the computer and download your head straight in?

Q: What is your advice for aspiring authors?

A: Keep workshopping. I am a product of writer’s workshops and I believe in them.

Q: Have you had any major challenges to overcome when writing your novels?

A: It’s a difficult time to write fiction because the business is going through so many changes. I try to shut out the negativity as best I can.

Q:  How do you feel the industry is doing so far in relation to women authors? What are the successes and how can it improve?

A: Women don’t seem to have a bigger problem than men in getting agents and book deals. In fact it might be easier. But I think women’s fiction is sometimes stigmatized and compartmentalized more than men’s fiction. Jodi Picoult talks about this more forcefully and eloquently than I could. It’s difficult for a woman to be described as writing “literary fiction.” They are writing chick lit or domestic fiction or just commercial fiction. In my case, the stigma of historical fiction is strange and frustrating. Tolstoy wrote books set in another time! At my reading at Mysterious Bookshop, this friend of a friend stood there, surrounded by the work of wonderful, creative, magical authors, men and women who write about crimes that are central to understand humanity, and said, “We don’t have any mysteries in our home. We read literature.” Sad face.

Erin comments: Very sad face. Life is surrounded by mystery.

But I have gone off on a tangent. Men who write mysteries and historical novels suffer from snobbery and stereotypes just as much as women. I think the problem people are pinpointing is that most book reviews for serious newspapers and journals are written by men. The male editors and reviewers are the tastemakers who influence which books get traction in the marketplace. Although now with GoodReads and the boom of the bloggers, there are other, important influences.

Q:  You’re a traditionally published author under the wing of one of the largest book publishers. I’m sure you must feel amazing.  Were there any struggles in your publishing processes? Any words of advice for others?

A: Oh, sure. I wrote screenplays before fiction and I was unable to get any of them optioned—that was frustrating. And then while I was writing The Crown, I had no agent and no publisher and no idea if anyone would want it. It took me five years to write it, and you know, I think someone has to be a little crazy to keep going in that way, flying blind. But I decided I had to give it my all. The first agent I sent the book to said no; the second said she was retiring (and continues to be out there agenting, three years later!). I think the key is to keep going until you find the agent who falls in love with your book, who will champion it through.

Q: Please tell us about some of your successes? What do you feel have been the biggest and what are you most proud of?

A: I’m most proud of The Crown making it onto the shortlist of the Crime Writers Association’s Ellis Peters Historical Dagger Award last year, in England. That was a tremendous honor for an American writing a debut novel.

Erin comments: Yes, congratulations!!

Q: I know that The Chalice is already getting rave reviews. What is up next for you?

A: I’m working on the next book, The Covenant. In this one, Joanna is drawn into the court of Henry VIII himself in 1540, that was a very pivotal year.

Erin comments: I can’t wait to keep up-to-date with your progress on that!

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A: I’m on twitter: @tudorscribe. And I try to reply to all emails that come to my author website. That contact email is tudorscribe@gmail.com I like to hear what people are interested in, what they think about my writing and this period of time. Some authors hate reading their reviews and complain about GoodReads, but I am open to input. Occasionally people are a little nasty, but I tell myself, “Hey, this one is just having a bad day.”

Erin:  Thank you so much, Nancy, for joining me today. I could ask you a million more questions. I wish you continued success with The Chalice, as well as your other writing.

Nancy:  I really, really appreciate the interview and the interest in my work, Erin. This has been a wonderful conversation.

The ChaliceThe Chalice Info and Synopsis~

Publication Date: March 5, 2013
Touchstone Publishing
Hardcover; 512p
ISBN-10: 1476708657

In the next novel from Nancy Bilyeau after her acclaimed debut The Crown, novice Joanna Stafford plunges into an even more dangerous conspiracy as she comes up against some of the most powerful men of her era.

In 1538, England is in the midst of bloody power struggles between crown and cross that threaten to tear the country apart. Joanna Stafford has seen what lies inside the king’s torture rooms and risks imprisonment again, when she is caught up in a shadowy international plot targeting the King. As the power plays turn vicious, Joanna understands she may have to assume her role in a prophecy foretold by three different seers, each more omniscient than the last.

Joanna realizes the life of Henry VIII as well as the future of Christendom are in her hands—hands that must someday hold the chalice that lays at the center of these deadly prophecies…

Praise for The Chalice

“Rarely have the terrors of Henry VIII’s reformation been so exciting. Court intrigue, bloody executions, and haunting emotional entanglements create a heady brew of mystery and adventure that sweeps us from the devastation of the ransacked cloisters to the dangerous spy centers of London and the Low Countries, as ex-novice Joanna Stafford fights to save her way of life and fulfill an ancient prophecy, before everything she loves is destroyed.” – C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow

Nancy Bilyeau, Biography~

Nancy BilyeauNancy Bilyeau, author of The Crown, is a writer and magazine editor who has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Good Housekeeping. Her latest position is features editor of Du Jour magazine. A native of the Midwest, she graduated from the University of Michigan. She lives in New York City with her husband and two children.

For more information, please visit Nancy Bilyeau’s website. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

 

For more on Nancy and The Chalice, go to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thechalicevirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #TheChaliceVirtualTour

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