Tag Archives: advice for women writers

Interview with Gigi Pandian on her Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series + Review of Quicksand!


Today, I have a review of Gigi Pandian’s Quicksand, plus an exclusive, entertaining interview with Pandian and a link to a tour wide giveaway option below. Enjoy your weekend!

Review ~

I was entranced by the covers in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series, as soon as I first heard about Quicksand and realized it was the third book in the series. So that said, I haven’t read the first book, Artifact, or the second book, Pirate Vishnu yet, though their covers and blurbs entice me! I did read Quicksand for review, though, so let’s start there by saying that I didn’t feel too lost in reading only it, though as in any series with the same lead protagonist, I’m sure it’s always better to read them all for extra connectivity to character(s). Yet, the mysteries themselves in each book are standalone.

Jaya, the main female lead and historian, receives a letter from Lane, an old love interest she met previously and fell for hard, with a plane ticket to France enclosed and a request for her to meet him there. She goes against her better judgement and is talked into helping him steal something from the Louvre. There is a double mystery, one solved early on, in which Jaya put together clues to figure out the stolen item, and one later, in which witty, determined, and intelligent Jaya helps to stop one enormous archaeological theft. Of course, she’s helped by sidekick Lane and an old magician, Sébastien. Much of this story takes place on the island of Mont Saint Michel, which is an interesting fortress located off the coast of Normandy, France. I thought the setting was fun and ingenious.

Pandian writes well-researched historical mysteries that intertwine many cool places into a suspense mystery and an action-filled adventure. I have heard her described as being similar to Elizabeth Peters, one of my favorite authors, and yet, I feel that Pandian writes with even more flow, flair, magic, suspense, and the ability to hold a higher level of interest for modern readers of all ages. This book would appeal to teenage readers as well as adults for its clean romance and zippy action. It’s like Tomb Raider meets The Librarians or a female version of the Young Indiana Jones. Her magical elements make her story even more unique and on top of all that she plots in twists and turns to keep us on our toes.

Jaya and Lane are well-developed characters. Jaya is a very courageous lead and I could fully engage with her. However, I also enjoyed her characterization of the French magician in this story! He added an extra element to the story. As well, the villain in this story, North, was entertaining and balanced out the cast.

Overall, I can fondly say that Pandian’s Quicksand had some of all the major elements of a book to love. I can’t wait to go back and read the others, plus anything else that she writes in the future. This book was a captivating, energized ride to historical and cultural places ripe with mystery and suspense. Pandian’s characters seem like old friends more than just mere characters on a page.


Hi Gigi, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It’s a pleasure to have you here, in conjunction with the release of Quicksand, your third book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series. I see you’ve been busy promoting, attending conferences, and accepting awards. Congratulations on your success!

Gigi: Thank you! I was so surprised to be awarded the Rose Award at Left Coast Crime last month for Pirate Vishnu, the book in the series that comes before Quicksand. This coming week I’m headed to Malice Domestic, the big convention for traditional mysteries.

Erin: You’re a woman to be admired. I want to learn more about your commitment to writing and your books. You seem like someone who would love to get lost in travel and a good adventure, like me!

Let’s sit for a moment and relax in my cozy library. You can take your seat and I’ll put on some tea? What kind of tea is your favorite? Sugar and cream?

 I’ll also bring out some sweets. Can’t talk books without sweets!

Gigi: Unsweetened mint green tea is my favorite. It goes wonderfully with any type of chocolate!

Erin: Tea is poured and sweets are for the taking, don’t be shy. Let’s get started with some questions. You first started out pursuing a life in academics, but then realized you’d rather write. How and why so? What helped you come to that decision? Did growing up with cultural anthropologists as parents help mold your desire to write adventure/mystery stories?

Gigi: You guessed correctly. Traveling with my parents as a kid, I made up grand adventures while they conducted research. Those travels and their influence helped me a storyteller from a young age.

As an adult, academia wasn’t as satisfying as I imagined it would be. I should have realized it sooner, because all of my college electives were creative pursuits (writing, art, photography), but I never imagined I could have a creative career. I left a PhD program and began writing a novel while attending art school. I’m so glad I followed my heart, because now I make a living being creative.

Erin: Did you have the idea for the Jaya Jones series immediately and what was the inspiration you used when you began writing the first book, Artifact. How did you take off at the gate with construction of the plot? Did you have in mind a series from the start?

Gigi: I knew it would be a series, and that the books would be puzzle plot mysteries set all around the world with plenty of adventure a romance – the type of book I love to read. Beyond that, it took many years to figure out exactly what my own unique voice was.

Erin: You must have had some success with self-publishing Artifact, and I did see it was Suspense Magazine’s “Best of 2012,” because you then obtained a publishing deal for it, and the rest of your series, with Henery Press. How did that all come together? What kind of success does an author need to show on their own for a publisher to pick up on the book?

Gigi: Every writer’s journey is different, but if you follow your heart and don’t rush the process, I believe you’ll find the right bath for you. I was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant (a grant for unpublished mystery writers) for Artifact back when it was a work in progress. That’s what made me take my writing seriously – and then I had to learn how to write a good book! Two years later, I thought the book was in good shape, and I found an agent quickly. However, she had trouble selling the book; it doesn’t fit neatly into one sub-genre, so big presses were wary.

When my agent was getting ready to pitch the book to smaller presses, which are often more open to taking books that don’t fit genre lines, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was only 36, and I didn’t know what would happen, and I needed to be in control of something in my life. I decided to work with an editor (every writer needs one, and if you’re with a publisher, the publisher supplies an editor) and self-publish the book. I put a lot of work into it to do it professionally, including making Advance Reader Copies so I could get trade reviews, and it was worth it. As you mentioned, Artifact was well-received, leading Henery Press to become interested in the series.

I was getting ready to self-publish Pirate Vishnu, and Henery Press requested a copy of the new book. They said it was even better than Artifact, and that’s when they offered me a 3-book deal for the series. So the most important factor was still the quality of the book, but getting great reviews and putting myself out there professionally is what put me on Henery’s radar.

Erin: They must have been correct about your book series, because the next book after Artifact, which was Pirate Vishnu, won an award (Left Coast Crime Rose Award). What do professionals have to say about your series? What makes it similar but different from other books on the market? Who is your target audience?

Gigi: I’ve been thrilled to receive some wonderful reviews, including many that compare my stories to my favorite author, Elizabeth Peters (such a thrill!). Most professional reviewers call the book as a cozy mystery, but readers who aren’t in the industry characterize my books in many ways. The series is definitely cozy reader friendly (no violence or sex or bad language on the page, and no dark endings) but it’s also genre-bending. It’s a romantic multicultural adventure puzzle plot mystery.

Erin: I’ve just been able to read Quicksand, and am itching to go back and read the first two, but I’d like you to tell my readers, what makes it a treasure hunt and what makes it a mystery? Is it a true who-dun-it or more of a mission-based mystery?

Gigi: The combination of a quest and a whodunit is what creates my style of books. I’d say the series is an equal mix of adventure and mystery. They’re all treasure hunts that concern present-day crimes linked to historical treasures relating to India’s colonial history.

Erin: In all honestly, should you read the books in order from the start, or are they stand-alone? What might a reader miss if he/she doesn’t read the first book, Artifact?

Gigi: The plots stand alone completely, but the character relationships progress. So if a reader is drawn to a particular adventure, then it works just fine to read an individual book. But if you want to follow the love triangle, in particular, it’s best to read the series in order.

Erin: How did you construct your lead character? Did you outline her or did she have a voice of her own? What traits did you give her and why?

Gigi: In some ways Jaya Jones is based on my own life. I have one Indian parent and one American parent. It’s easiest to start writing when you writer what you know, but I also wanted to make sure Jaya didn’t become me. I’m tall (6 feet tall in heels), so as a jumping-off point to make sure I never wrote too much of myself into her, I made Jaya only 5 feet tall.

Erin: Besides your historian Jaya Jones, what other characters have been your favorites to write into your book? Why?

Gigi: In Quicksand, 90-year-old retired stage magician Sébastien was a blast to write! I love characters who surprise me.

Erin: Is this third book, Quicksand, the end of this series? Why or why not?

Gigi: The series is continuing! I’ve got so many adventures in mind for Jaya and friends. So far her adventures have taken her from San Francisco to Scotland, India, and France. I’m toying with an idea for Italy next…

Erin: You just published a new book, The Accidental Alchemist, in January 2015, with Midnight Ink. It sounds very inviting! Is this adult, YA, or both? What’s the book about? Will it be a series, too?

Quicksand Accidental-Alchemist-Gigi-Pandian-cover-w-text-WEB-mediumGigi: The Accidental Alchemist is a paranormal cozy series, but I’m hearing from lots of booksellers that it’s YA-friendly (so is the Jaya Jones treasure hunt series). The series is about a centuries-old female alchemist and her impish gargoyle sidekick who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician. It takes place in Portland, Oregon, and the gargoyle is a food-snob chef. Yup, it’s a humorous, lighthearted series.

Erin: Who does your amazing cover art and fun extras, like the cards and games? I love it all! And they are great attractions for the book. Even if they aren’t YA, you sure did grab my daughter’s attention too.

Gigi: Lovely! I went to art school, so I have a lot of fun designing my promotional materials. (Readers can win recipe postcards – my book covers on one side with recipes from each of the countries where the books take place on the other – as part of the grand prize of this blog tour.)

Erin: I understand that you also like to read and write “locked room mysteries.” Can you tell us what exactly ARE locked room mysteries, why you like them, and some of your favorites? Also, share with us any you’ve written that you think readers would be interested in. I’m curious!

Gigi: Locked-room mysteries are impossible crimes. The classic example is a dead man found in a room locked from the inside, but he’s alone and there’s no gun.

John Dickson Carr was the master of the genre. I was honored to have my locked-room story The Hindi Houdini nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards.

Erin: What has been your favorite place to travel and why? Where do you want to go that you haven’t yet?

Gigi: Scotland and India. My first trip abroad was a summer in Scotland with my mom when I was 10 years old, and it captured my imagination and will always hold a special place in my heart.

My dad is from India but has lived in the United States for most of his adult life, so it’s always special to travel to India with him.

I’d like to spend more time in Southeast Asia. I backpacked through Europe after college, but in Asia I’ve only traveled throughout India.

Quicksand 1985-Gigi-with-a-bagpiper-by-Loch-Ness-Scotland-webres-textQuicksand India-2010-Gigi-in-Mysore-webres-text

Erin: Oh, Gigi, you’re adorable! And by Loch Ness! One of the top places on my bucket list! Do you work in any of your own travels into your books? If so, where? If not (or in addition), how do you choose your locations?

Gigi: All my books are set in places I’ve been. Sometimes I’ve visited a place already when I have the idea for a book, and sometimes it’s a great excuse to take a trip. For Quicksand, I’d been to France before, but I hadn’t been to all of the locations where I wanted to set the book. It was a perfect excuse to take a research trip.


Erin: I’m a foodie, so I always ask, what have you eaten somewhere that you dream of eating again?

Gigi: There are so many restaurants in Paris I’d love to visit again, both for the food and the atmosphere.

Erin: I know you value life in a way that “each day counts.” How has this led you to write faster and publish more often? How does this help you in the creation of your goals?

Gigi: Most definitely! After surviving breast cancer, I’ve held onto the feeling of wanting to live life to the fullest. I love storytelling, so by doing it mainly for myself, rather than worrying about what other people think, I’ve been able to write more quickly because I don’t second-guess my gut instincts.

Erin: What advice do you have for other writers when it comes to make writing a priority? What tips did you use starting out that helped you create such success with your books?

Gigi: Set goals and stick to them. But I know that’s easier said than done. That’s why I recommend trying NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), challenging yourself to write a 50,000-word draft of a novel in 30 days. NaNoWriMo is what helped me finish a first draft of my first novel, because it allowed me to let go of thinking my writing had to be good. But nobody’s writing is good at first. The point is to get your ideas down on paper. You can edit the words later, but finishing a project is the first serious step in becoming a writer.

My other trick is to set a writing time and stick to it. I write three mornings a week, because that’s what fits into my schedule, and I make sure those chunks of time are sacred. Even if there’s no food in the house, or a big pile of laundry, writing comes first during those dedicated writing times.

Erin: Who were your favorite authors or favorite books growing up? Which ones inspired your writing? What types of mysteries do you read now for pleasure?

Gigi: Elizabeth Peters and Aaron Elkins were the mystery writers I read as a teenager that made me want to become a writer. Their books are full of mystery, history, and adventure in settings across the globe. I read mostly within the mystery genre, but all types of mysteries from cozies to thrillers. (You can see what I’m reading on Goodreads.)

Erin: I’ve gathered that you have an obsession for gargoyles? How did this start? What’s a favorite that you’ve spotted? What is one you hope to see but haven’t yet?

Gigi: I’ve been photographing gargoyles since I was a kid. (Seriously, I have some awful photos I took on a 110mm film camera from that first trip to Scotland when I was 10!) I love mysteries, as you may have gathered, and gargoyles are so mysterious. That’s why my new series features a stone gargoyle who was accidentally brought to life. It’s been a lot of fun to hear from readers who love the gargoyle, Dorian.

Here are a couple of my favorite gargoyle photos, and there are many more on my Gargoyle Girl blog.

Quicksand westminster gargoyle 1997 blue square - webres - by Gigi Pandian GARGOYLEQuicksand-Notre-Dame-gargoyle-Gigi-Pandian-webres

Erin: It has been so much fun chatting with you, Gigi! I look forward to reading many more of your books and following your writing! As a writer myself, you are very inspiring. Feel free to stop back anytime! I’ll make more tea, or maybe a smoothie next time!

Gigi: Thanks for inviting me to stop by! Your questions were a lot of fun.

Quicksand book coverQuicksand: A Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery

(cozy mystery)

Release date: March 10, 2015
at Henery Press
280 pages

ISBN: 9781941962275


A thousand-year-old secret room. A sultan’s stolen treasure. A missing French priest. And an invitation to Paris to rekindle an old flame…

Historian Jaya Jones finds herself on the wrong side of the law during an art heist at the Louvre. To redeem herself, she follows clues from an illuminated manuscript that lead from the cobblestone streets of Paris to the quicksand-surrounded fortress of Mont Saint-Michel. With the help of enigmatic Lane Peters and a 90-year-old stage magician, Jaya delves into France’s colonial past in India to clear her name and catch a killer.

Gigi Pandian, Biography~

 Gigi PandianUSA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. After being dragged around the world during her childhood,
she tried to escape her fate when she left a PhD program for art school. But adventurous academics wouldn’t stay out of her head. Thus was born the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, and Quicksand).

Gigi’s debut mystery novel was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” Debut Novel by Suspense Magazine. Her short fiction has been short-listed for Agatha and Macavity awards, and she also writes the new Accidental Alchemist mystery series.

She takes photos of gargoyles wherever she goes, and posts them on her Gargoyle Girl blog.

Visit her website. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter

Subscribe to her newsletter

Visit her Gargoyle photography blog: http://www.gargoylegirl.com

Buy the book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Kobo | Itunes | Google Play


You can enter the global giveaway here at the link below or on any other book blogs participating in this tour.
Be sure to follow each participant on Twitter/Facebook, they are listed in the entry form below too.


Visit each blogger on the tour: tweeting about the giveaway everyday of the Tour will give you five (5) extra entries each time [just follow the directions on the entry-form]!

Global giveaway open internationally:
1 winner will receive a print copy of the 3 books in the

Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mysteries Series

plus a beautiful set of recipe cards matching the 3 books!

Yes, you got that right: 1 winner will win the 3 books + recipe cards!

Click on the tour graphic below to follow along with more information on the tour!

Quicksand banner


Filed under Book Reviews, Q and A with Authors

Interview with the Intelligent History-loving Journalist, Editor, and Author Nancy Bilyeau

Hi, Nancy! Welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I was thrilled to read your newest book, The Tapestry, and readers can see my review HERE and a phenomenal article by you HERE, in which you speak about what makes a historian and what you offer your readers when you write a book!

Nancy: I love your blog—and you know that! I really love the engagement you get from your followers. And also I think we are kindred spirits because we both love historical fiction AND we work in the media. That combo doesn’t come along every day.

I agree, Nancy! Thank you! 😀 It’s always my joy to have you here, and now, with the release of The Tapestry, which is the third novel in your Joanna Stafford historical mystery series! It seems like a whirlwind. How have you kept up with book babies and full-time life at the same time? What’s been most exciting about the release of this final novel in the trilogy?

01_The Tapestry

Nancy: It’s been crazy. I’m not getting more than five hours of sleep a night because I’m trying to put out the books on top of working fulltime and having two kids to raise. Two nights after The Tapestry came out, I was at a parent teacher conference for three hours. The high school has five floors, no elevator. I thought I would pass out.

Erin: I haven’t put out a book yet, but I do know that feeling! So, it’s still time for tea, coffee, or whatever is your pleasure, even though it’s warming up? I think I’m going to be having some coffee myself today, a latte, or maybe a hot Chai tea. I think we should just head out to a nearby café? We both could use a boost and I want to come to the CITY!

Nancy: I think my bloodstream is 50 percent coffee. A Dunkin Donuts large will keep me going all day. But for this conversation, let’s head to a small bohemian café and I’ll order a cappuccino.

Erin: That sounds lovely, the weather is perfect. We can even talk about the Wolf Hall episode from last night. Let’s settle in, warm our hands, and I think I’ll stay awhile. I’m ready for some down time. I’m sure you are too. However, I might not go easy on the questions!

Nancy:  I’m ready for anything. An open book!

Erin: I know your books “can” be read stand alone and enjoyed, but I also know that if you read them all there is a bit more that you get out of it as a series. So, first of all, I was thinking about the book titles in your series the other day. What is the tie that binds them all? There, of course, is a progression in your novels based on an overall ARC, so how can you the enlighten readers who haven’t read all your books with the thought behind the titles?

Nancy: First of all, my original title for The Crown was The Last Nun. I STILL like that title. LOL. My publisher changed it to The Crown. Since they did that, I felt like the next one should be a single word descriptive noun. I picked The Chalice. I thought it would help the branding to make it “C.” My idea for the third was “The Covenant.” I sold it on that title. After I finished writing it, they said it had to be changed because they’d published a thriller with that title a few years earlier.  I couldn’t come up with another “C” title that didn’t sound contrived. The Tapestry was the most accurate title, and also it sounds intriguing.

the crown

Erin: I have my own thoughts, but without giving away an spoilers, or reading experience, how do you feel  that Joanna has grown as a character from the first book, The Crown, to this third book, The Tapestry? Did you plan it this way, or did Joanna take the lead?

Nancy: She took the lead. Always. I think Joanna became more compassionate over the series and more confident too. Perhaps the same could be said of me.

this is a building open to the public today in Dartford. A part of this red-brick building is the gatehouse raised in 1539 on the rubble of the priory of nuns. After the Dominican priory was "surrendered" to the king, it was demolished and a large manor house built on the site, using some of the bricks of the nuns' home. The gatehouse was part of the property. It was a home for Henry VIII but he never stayed there. He gave the house to Anne of Cleves after he divorced her

Caption: This is a building open to the public today in Dartford. A part of this red-brick building is the gatehouse raised in 1539 on the rubble of the priory of nuns. After the Dominican priory was “surrendered” to the king, it was demolished and a large manor house built on the site, using some of the bricks of the nuns’ home. The gatehouse was part of the property. It was a home for Henry VIII but he never stayed there. He gave the house to Anne of Cleves after he divorced her. Photo courtesy of Nancy Bilyeau.

Erin: I agree with that, Nancy! I know you’ve loved reading Tudor history since you were a girl. But where did the final drive come from to write about a Dominican novice in the middle of the Reformation? Why create her as the lead?

Nancy: I wanted to write something original. And I wanted to write books that were full of conflict and drama, and what could be more dramatic than being driven out of your home with no clue on what to do with the rest of your life? That is what happened to the nuns and monks and friars.

Erin: Why do you feel that sharing a story outside of the more everyday widely-known Tudor names, and placing the first two settings away from court, was something that was right for you with your series? Do you think readers appreciated this? And furthermore, why then did you feel it was time for Joanna to go to court in The Tapestry?

Nancy: I got a lot of positive feedback about writing novels set outside of the main “action” of the court of Henry VIII. People seem interested. I have read some fantastic historical fiction that features the real-life royals of the period. But for me, at the end of the day, no matter how high level the writing gets—as with Hilary Mantel’s books—these stories are reanimating the dead. You’re taking people from an extremely well-known nonfiction template and giving it your own spin. I want to create people from my imagination. But I do add “real” people in secondary roles to make it even more fun. I sent Joanna into Whitehall into Book Three because I felt it was time for a showdown.

Erin: What are some of your favorite memories of anything Tudor you absorbed yourself in when you were younger? Did any of them leak into your novels either for fun, or by accident?

Nancy: Watching “Elizabeth R” with my parents on television. It was magical—and very influential for me. I think Joanna has a little Elizabeth Tudor in her, don’t you?

The Chalice

Erin: I completely do! You’re right! You chose Joanna to be a Stafford, and therefore, she’s also related to King Henry VIII. Of all the sub-sets of families that are ancestrally related to the Tudors, which one is your favorite and why?

Nancy: The Staffords! They are so doomed and aristocratic and they make all the wrong choices. LOL. This has all taken over my life to the extent that when I read some bit of history about an early Stafford, I react personally, with pride or annoyance. I have to remind myself, these are not MY ancestors.

Erin: Catherine Howard, King Henry VIII’s fifth queen, plays a much larger role in The Tapestry, due to the progression of the novel into that time period right before and into her being his wife. I also know that you have a much variant opinion of her than most. Can you discuss how you portray Howard in your book and why?

Nancy: There is a huge double standard about Catherine, her possible—not proven– affair with Thomas Culpepper is treated as if she was extremely promiscuous. It is part of history that in her lifetime the powers that be agreed she should die for suspected infidelity, when the men who were never faithful underwent no criticism. But do we have to take that attitude in the 21st century?

Erin: Um, yes, it seems we haven’t learned much in our world today, same double standard! Well, most of the time. Being named The Tapestry, and with the art of tapestry making being involved in your novels, I should ask, did it just fit based on the setting and characters you created in your novels? Or did you have a love of tapestries or tapestry-making? How much research did you have to do on tapestries and what was something interesting you found or can you share a beautiful tapestry you spotted?

Nancy: I was somewhat interested in tapestry making before I wrote these novels, my father was a landscape artist and I just love art. I did a lot of research into Renaissance tapestries—it was an exquisite world that allowed the very wealthy to both show off and to express something. When Henry VIII broke with Rome, he commissioned a series of tapestries of King David.

Erin: I love tapestries! At the Cleveland Museum of Art, they have a bunch of donated tapestries from France and England. Beautiful! Also, they kept the heat in amid the chill of the castles!!

 Let’s just put this out there. You like cathedrals, monasteries, etc. Old things made from rock. You like tombs. So, what famous tombs and effigies would you like to visit from this era? What were the most fun or interesting ones you’ve found? Additionally, if you’ve visited any, which ones were your favorites?

Nancy: I love tombs. I’d pay decent money to someone if they could explain WHY. I wish I could spend every weekend hunting down ruins in England. Sadly, I live in America. But I can get my fix at the Cloisters Museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They have fantastic tombs and effigies.

When I went to Dartford to research, I found the remains of the priory: a 16th century gatehouse that was built immediately afterward and a long, low wall. They’ve done a bit of excavating and found objects like a green-glazed dish for food dating to the 1500s. From the era I write about, if I could put back together any of those monasteries it would be Blackfriars, the Dominican friary in London. Once it was a palace and complex of buildings housing libraries and chambers large enough to contain Parliament and rooms of great beauty. Now it’s gone. Just rubble—two gravestones, that’s it! I found those gravestones during one of my hunts for monastic remains in London.

Photo courtesy of Nancy Bilyeau

Caption: Nancy in the Cloisters Museum. Photo courtesy of Nancy Bilyeau

Erin: But they are beautiful works of art, the stone work is amazing. My mom has lots of photos from when we lived in England. She used to like to do stone rubbings. I long to go do that again!

Back to your book, you decided to make your historical fiction not only Tudor-related but a mystery rather than a romance or general historical fiction. I think you are a thriller, spy buff much like me…correct? Is that why you chose to write it, as it would be something you yourself would want to read, or was there more to it? And why not a “who-dun-it” murder mystery, but more of a personal mission-type of mystery?

Nancy: I wrote the sort of book I wanted to read! I adore historical thrillers like Katherine Neville’s The Eight, Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian, DanielleTrussoni’s Angelology. ALL of the novels of Kate Mosse. They are suspenseful, well-written, and rich with both dimensional characters and inventive history-based plots. I do read the “who-dun-it’s” too—and I love watching them on TV, like “Midsomer Murders.” But I just didn’t feel personally compelled to write that kind of series, in which each book revolves around a dead body being found and the killer must be uncovered. Also it is just completely unbelievable that a Dominican sister in 1538 would be running around solving crimes. It would be silly enough to turn Dartford, in Kent, into a corpse-riddled Midsomer—or Cabot Cove of “Murder She Wrote.” But how could I justify Joanna as crime solver? When she was in the priory, she was enclosed, meaning she couldn’t ever leave! No, instead, I made these into high-stakes thrillers, turning on the genuine drama of the period and the havoc wrought by Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

Erin: Yes, that makes total sense!! It was a different kind of mystery, and really I did like it that way. It’s original too. And you just named a few of my TOP fave authors: Kostova and Kate Mosse. ADORE!

How did you not only write your historical fiction by the seat of your pants (I know you’re a pantser) after conducting research, but how did you manage to plot your suspense and action so well?

Nancy: I plot very loosely and then let the characters take over. I do a LOT of revision in drafts to increase suspense.

Erin: You’ve said that this trilogy is done, because…well…it’s a trilogy, I know. But I don’t feel that Joanna is really done gracing pages of stories and books. Do you have more in mind for Joanna?

Nancy: I have more ideas for Joanna! If this series gains more traction with the public, it is possible I will return.

Erin: That would be awesome.Go forth and buy buy buy people!! 😀

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Caption: Nancy at one of her book launch parties at The Mysterious Bookshop in NYC. Photo courtesy of Nancy Bilyeau.

I know you like to write for the screen. Have you written, or would you consider writing, your Joanna Stafford series into a screen script? Maybe a mini-series? (BBC, Starz, are you listening???!!) A secondary question, then, how do you feel your experience writing for the screen has helped you write better books?

Nancy: I would love it! A producer optioned The Crown, but nothing came of it.

And I think my fondness for visual writing comes from scripts. I try to write taut, evocative description.

Erin: You’re a journalist and executive editor of DuJour magazine. How does your writing style every day at your job differ from your writing of fiction and historical non-fiction (your great blog I’m thinking). Being a journalist makes your research skills priceless for writing historical fiction, but how do you switch back and forth between editing styles, not mention length limits? How do they help each other or hinder?

Nancy: I’ve been writing journalism a lot longer than fiction. I find it easy to funnel my love of history into the blog posts. Sometimes I think I should cut down the time spent on them, though. I really work hard on a blog post, and then it goes on to get thousands of page views…but it doesn’t seem to lead people to my series. I fear they are content with the blogs. I know people on social media who follow my nonfiction—which is flattering—but have never read even one of the books in the series. Which is a bummer. I don’t know if it is smart to spend so much time on free content if it doesn’t support my books. If I can’t sell books, I can’t continue as a novelist. It is a baffling problem.


Caption: Nancy at the Cloister Museum doorway. Photo courtesy of Nancy Bilyeau.

Erin: Yes, I hear that a lot. I seem to think that blogs keeps an author’s name out there, increasing SEO opportunities, and makes you more of an expert. I am surprised it hasn’t resulted in sales though. I think that’s a struggle, the time. If I might suggest, I’d say not to stop, but maybe just to shorten the length or do more photo posts. Though easier said than done! And I know you LOVE to write them. But it’s hard putting a lot of work into something like that for little result.

What do you love most about living in New York City after growing up in the Midwest area? (Me being from Ohio and longing to be in NY..lol) Why is this such a great place for writers?

Nancy: This may surprise you, but I would love to switch places. I am really ready to leave! It is so expensive here, and so crowded. It’s actually very hard to live as a writer here, because of the enormous taxes and high cost of living. But my kids are locked into the good public schools in my neighborhood. And I do adore the museums and the history of the city. I have a collection of copies of early 20th century photos of New York.

Erin: Yes, I can understand that. It would be nice to have the best of both worlds! My son is pretty set on moving to New York, so at least in my case, I may be around soon! What is your favorite place to eat in New York? What would your favorite food be if you lived abroad? And finally, what would you eat if you lived near Joanna Stafford in that time period?

Nancy: There is a small restaurant near us called Danny Brown’s that has a Michelin star. Fantastic French food and wine. Danny’s mother is the hostess. 🙂 If I lived abroad, I would try to follow the Mediterranean diet, I believe it is the best. As for what I’d eat if I were near Joanna—the Tudors consumed a great deal of meat and some vegetables. Joanna herself would be very much into fasting. Something I’m NOT into.

Erin: Mediterranean food all the way for me!! Not a meat person, I’d not have survived the eating of that time period!

If Joanna is truly done in your writing, at least for now, what else have your thought about writing? Different time periods? Different culture? Different people? What most interests you?

Nancy: I am interested in so many time periods and cultures! I have started a new novel set in another time, but my agent has ordered me to keep my mouth zipped.

Erin: Darn!!

Both of us have ancestors, who came to New Amsterdam in the 1600s. Yours helped create Staten Island, and mine, Manhattan. Have you ever thought of writing anything in this time period based on these ties, especially since you now live in New York?

Nancy: Yes. ß-Nancy whistles innocently.

Erin: Haha, excellent!! Can’t wait to hear about it.

So, your favorite women in history and/or making history?

Nancy: I’d love to meet Queen Zenobia, who tried to conquer Rome. And of course the Tudor sisters: not just Elizabeth but Mary.

Erin: I probably have a million more questions to ask you, Nancy, but you’re time is short and I’ve already taken up so much of it. Thank you so much for sharing Joanna with us, and I wish you much continued success with your series and with whatever else comes in the future. I’m always here to support you! (Oh, and have coffee and cookies!)

Nancy: I’ve loved our talk. I’m actually a little sad to say goodbye.

Erin: It was fun! We’ll talk again soon!

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The Tapestry, Synopsis~

US Publication Date: March 24, 2015

UK Publication Date: April 24, 2015

Touchstone Publishing
Formats: eBook, Hardcover
Pages: 390

Series: Joanna Stafford, Book Three
Genre: Historical Mystery


In THE CROWN, Sister Joanna Stafford searched for a Dark Ages relic that could save her priory from Cromwell’s advancing army of destruction. In THE CHALICE, Joanna was drawn

into an international conspiracy against Henry VIII himself as she struggled to learn the truth behind a prophecy of his destruction.

Now, in THE TAPESTRY, Joanna Stafford finally chooses her own destiny.

After her Dominican priory in Dartford closed forever—collateral damage in tyrannical King Henry VIII’s quest to overthrow the Catholic Church—Joanna resolves to live a quiet and honorable life weaving tapestries, shunning dangerous quests and conspiracies. Until she is summoned to Whitehall Palace, where her tapestry weaving has drawn the King’s attention.

Joanna is uncomfortable serving the King, and fears for her life in a court bursting with hidden agendas and a casual disregard for the virtues she holds dear. Her suspicions are confirmed when an assassin attempts to kill her moments after arriving at Whitehall.

Struggling to stay ahead of her most formidable enemy yet, an unknown one, she becomes entangled in dangerous court politics. Her dear friend Catherine Howard is rumored to be the King’s mistress. Joanna is determined to protect young, beautiful, naïve Catherine from becoming the King’s next wife and, possibly, victim.

Set in a world of royal banquets and feasts, tournament jousts, ship voyages, and Tower Hill executions, this thrilling tale finds Joanna in her most dangerous situation yet, as she attempts to decide the life she wants to live: nun or wife, spy or subject, rebel or courtier. Joanna Stafford must finally choose.

Praise for The Tapestry~

“Nancy Bilyeau’s passion for history infuses her books and transports us back to the dangerous world of Tudor England. Vivid characters and gripping plots are at the heart of this wonderful trilogy, and this third book will not fail to thrill readers. Warmly recommended!” – Bestselling Author Alison Weir

“Illuminated by Bilyeau’s vivid prose, minor players of Tudor England emerge from the shadows.” —Kirkus Reviews

“In THE TAPESTRY, Nancy Bilyeau brilliantly captures both the white-hot religious passions and the brutal politics of Tudor England. It is a rare book that does both so well.” —Sam Thomas, author of The Midwife’s Tale

“In spite of murderous plots, volatile kings, and a divided heart, Joanna Stafford manages to stay true to her noble character. Fans of Ken Follett will devour Nancy Bilyeau’s novel of political treachery and courageous love, set amid the endlessly fascinating Tudor landscape.” —Erika Robuck, author of Hemingway’s Girl

“These aren’t your mother’s nuns! Nancy Bilyeau has done it again, giving us a compelling and wonderfully realized portrait of Tudor life in all its complexity and wonder. A nun, a tapestry, a page-turning tale of suspense: this is historical mystery at its finest.” —Bruce Holsinger, author of A Burnable Book and The Invention of Fire

“A supremely deft, clever and pacy entertainment. This is Nancy Bilyeau’s most thrilling—and enlightening—novel in the Joanna Stafford series yet.” —Andrew Pyper, author of The Demonologist and The Damned

“A master of atmosphere, Nancy Bilyeau imbues her novel with a sense of dread and oppression lurking behind the royal glamour; in her descriptions and characterizations… Bilyeau breathes life into history.” —Laura Andersen, author of The Boleyn King

Pre-Order/Buy The Tapestry~

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Author Nancy Bilyeau, Biography~

02_Nancy BilyeauNancy Bilyeau has worked on the staffs of InStyle, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, and Ladies Home Journal. She is currently the executive editor of DuJour magazine.

Her screenplays have placed in several prominent industry competitions. Two scripts reached the semi-finalist round of the Nicholl Fellowships of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Her screenplay “Zenobia” placed with the American Zoetrope competition, and “Loving Marys” reached the finalist stage of Scriptapalooza.

A native of the Midwest, she earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan. THE CROWN, her first novel, was published in 2012; the sequel, THE CHALICE, followed in 2013. THE TAPESTRY will be released in March 2015.

Nancy lives in New York City with her husband and two children. Stay in touch with her on Twitter at @tudorscribe. For more information or to sign up for Nancy’s Newsletter please visit her official website.

View Nancy’s recent tour here:

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Filed under Q and A with Authors

Interview with Historical Author Susanna Calkins about her 17th Century London Mystery Series

Today, I have an interview with historical mystery author Susanna Calkins, after previously publishing a review of her third novel earlier today! To read my review of The Masque of the Murderer, which releases mid-April 2015, read HERE.


Hi Susie, welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! Always a pleasure to have you here with us! This time, you’ve recently had your second historical mystery book, From the Charred Remains, publish in paperback (3/17/15) and your third book, The Masque of the Murderer,  is about to release! You’ve come a long way fast since we first featured the first book in your Lucy Campion Mystery Series! How does it feel to have a third book coming out?

Susanna: Thank you so much for having me! These last few years have been such a blur, but it feels wonderful to see my third Lucy Campion mystery out and about in the world.

Erin: Yes, you are a very busy woman! We are fairly close in proximity, with you in Illinois and I in Ohio (though I know you are native Pennsylvanian!) so I thank you for blowing in from the land of the Windy City and into chilly Ohio. Let’s put on a pot of tea, let’s do something English? I might have some English Breakfast tea today. What would care for? Sugar and cream?

Susanna: Delightful! I’ll take mine with a little honey, if you have any.

Erin: Wonderful! I’ll pour right after I bring in some fresh baked mini-almond cakes! And now, we’ll have a seat and chat for awhile together. Let’s get started!

Susanna: Alright!

Q: You debuted as an historical mystery author in 2013 with A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, first in the Lucy Campion Mystery Series set in 17th Century London.  How does that first launch (in terms of nerves and know-how), and that first book (in terms of writing), compare with your third year of publishing and the upcoming third novel/writing the fourth?

Murder at..

A: That is a great question. I wrote my first novel in a little cocoon for years and years (well, let’s be honest, essentially a decade) just as my own personal pleasure.  So it was extremely nerve-wracking when I put my book out into the world.  Even my second novel, From the Charred Remains, was written in a little bubble, because I completed it before anyone had read the first. This third novel, The Masque of a Murderer, was the first one I wrote while actively promoting the first two. So some things are easier now, because I understand the process, and some things are more challenging, in terms of timing.

Q: What has been the best thing, or most useful thing, that you’ve discovered over these last several years of experience in writing a mystery series?

A: This probably seems obvious, but I never understood until From the Charred Remains came out that I am always promoting my first book.  And that makes complete sense—most people wish to read a book from the beginning of my series. Although I did write each book so that it could be read separately, I can see why people like to see how Lucy’s story began, and how she has grown over the first three books.

Q: When you first wrote A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, were you planning to create this series with Lucy at the helm? Can you explain, either way, about the process?

A: No, I didn’t even really understand the concept of “series potential,” because I was so new to publishing. So I did write the first book as a standalone, but I was quite sad when I finished because I wanted Lucy’s story to continue.  What happens after the Great Fire anyway…?

Q: In the second book, From the Charred Remains, I particularly liked the apprenticeship/assistant job that you created for Lucy, primarily since I love journalism and print publishing so much. I have a penchant for the history of print news and books. How did you research this particular business of the time, from the intricacies of the printing press to its role in society? What did you learn that intrigued you the most?

Charred Remains

A: When I was a graduate student in history, and later as a historian, I spent a lot of time reading through the cheap print of the 17th century—the strange and odd things that people wrote (“Strange News from Kent!” “A True Account of a Most Cruel Murder!”; “The Monster from York,” etc).  Additionally, I was intrigued by the print-making and bookselling trades—which actually were two separate trades, which I collapsed into one. When I started to read about how printing presses actually worked, I was fascinated by the way printers actually regarded the presses, almost as their wayward children or servants. They “bled” ink, they sometimes stopped working like recalcitrant servants etc.  So I found that pretty interesting.

Q: I’m assuming it would be terribly hard to find a way for a woman of the 17th century to not only be allowed to roam around single, but also to be privy to enough news to investigate anything more easily! In Sam Thomas’s books, he used a midwife, you’ve chosen to my delight to make Lucy a printer’s apprentice, allowing her to know all the latest news as well as be able to move around the streets on writing missions or selling of books. Do you feel it was important for a female to be featured as the lead amateur detective in your novel, why or why not?

A:Well, as a historian of women’s history, I’ve long been astounded by how women were so easily written out of history. Even if found a way to transcend the constraints around them, their accomplishments were often dismissed as unimportant. So, yes, to me, I wanted my lead to be female. And women who were servants or in trade actually had more freedom than gentlewomen and noblewomen.

Q: I think your characterization of Lucy was so well-done. I feel so connected to Lucy and am excited to read more of her adventures. She seems authentic and inquisitive. How did you construct her character? What personality traits did you intended for her to have as you wrote her onto the page?

A: I wanted Lucy to be curious about the world, and inquisitive in nature.  I also wanted her to be someone who sought to improve herself, by learning to read and write, which then opened her mind to bigger questions about bigger issues in the world. Throughout time and across the globe, there have always been people who managed to overcome humble beginnings, and I thought Lucy could be one of those people. I had to give her enough agency as well that if a murder happened and someone she knows is accused of the crime that she wouldn’t just say, “Alas, that’s a shame. But there’s nothing I can do.” It wouldn’t make for a very fun sleuth! 😉

Q: Is she destined to be single, or is romance coming within book three or four? Why or why not?

A:I have struggled with this a bit. Lucy does have two potential love interests—Adam Hargrave, the son of the magistrate, and someone whom I introduced more fully in book two, Constable Duncan.  Adam—her first love—is a bit above her station, which she clearly understands, while Duncan is a bit more at her level.  However, despite popular perceptions to the contrary, people in the laboring class and those of the “middling sort” actually did not get married until they were closer to age 25, because they needed time to establish themselves.  Only people of the upper class married when they were younger. So it is actually not that strange that Lucy would wish to hold off. She also knows that if she married Adam, she is likely to have to give up her occupation as a printer, which gives her pause as well.

Q: The 17th Century, and Restoration England/London, was a time and place dealing with much social, political, and religious upheaval. How did this play into your novel? Were there any lessons you hoped readers would pick up on in regards to social injustices, or did you just intended it to be more of an overall education of the time period intermixed with your mystery plot? These questions pertain to all or any of your books.

A: Another great question! I did deliberately bring in these larger social-cultural themes because I have always been interested in how those forces play out in the everyday lives of real people. Even though I am an educator, I did not mean the books to be textbooks, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised when readers say they have learned from reading my book.

Q: By the third book, The Masque of a Murderer, does Lucy decide that she enjoys figuring out these crimes or does she still feel like they keep falling into her lap? How or why?

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A: Lucy has been characterized as a “reluctant sleuth” by others, and I think that is an accurate depiction. She’s not hanging out the proverbial shingle as a detective; I’ve tried to design the mysteries that come her way as personal—she needs to become involved because someone she loves might be injured or blamed for a crime.

Q: How does The Masque of a Murderer differ from From the Charred Remains? This could be in historical foundation, characters, plot, etc.

A: The Masque of a Murderer is set a few months after From the Charred Remains leaves off. I set this one in the midst of a Quaker community, so I may have emphasized the ongoing religious tensions even more in this book. All of my books seem to bring in the idea of identity theft—because the communal ties were so disrupted by the plague and the Great Fire, that people could say they were someone else, and their neighbors are no longer around to deny or confirm their claims.

Q: I know there is a fourth novel on the way. What kind of historical research, if more, will you be doing for this novel in the series? What will be happening in London during the plot of book four?

A: I am currently writing A Death along the River Fleet. It is going to deal with madness and witchcraft. Yes, I always do a lot of research, reading books, and reading primary sources to support the fictional parts.

Q: Will there be more books in the Lucy Campion Mystery Series beyond book four that you are presently writing? Will you take on the 18th Century in London?

A: Fun question! I’ve decided that each book will only cover a few months of Lucy’s life at a time now. At this point I’m not contracted for books beyond A Death along the River Fleet, but I have a number of ideas that get me through the 1670s.  I’m not sure I can bring Lucy up to the 18th century or not…

Erin: Of course she may not, but you never know when a family member might come along and continue the legacy!

Q: Do you hope to write anything beyond this mystery series? What other times and places, or types of books, do you think about writing on? Pirates, maybe? 😉

A: I had actually thought about pirates, since I was a pirate in 16th century London. (well, I served aboard a replica of the 16th century Golden Hinde, which is currently dry-docked in the Thames. We were tour guides during the week, and pirates on the weekends. Not a bad gig. But I digress). I was interested in real pirate Mary Reed. However, I did write two other books, temporarily in the drawer, one set in 1930s Chicago, the other set in the sewers of Paris, set in late 19th century.

Q: Who is one of your favorite women, or role models, in history? Why or why not?

A: While I admire women like Queen Elizabeth and Eleanore Roosevelt, I really just admire lesser-known women who managed to write books even when people said they shouldn’t.  Like most of the Quaker women I studied in graduate schools.

Q: If you could travel this summer, where would you go and what kind of food would you beat the pavement to enjoy?

A: While I always enjoy travelling in England, Ireland and Scotland (and there are many places I’ve never been, like Wales, which I’d like to go), I have to admit everywhere I go after trying the local cuisine, I usually seek out an Indian restaurant, as that is my favorite cuisine. One day I am hoping to travel to India as well.

Q: I know you’ve been shortlisted for several awards for your books, which must feel tremendous! What an achievement! What do you feel is another success story for you?

A: Thank you. It has been such an honor to be nominated for a few historical mystery awards.  I guess as an author with a traditional press, I will view another contract as a huge success. I would, at some point, love to see the other books I’ve mentioned published as well.

Q: I’m glad to see historical mysteries of the rise. Do have any classic favorite mystery writers? Any current ones? What do you love the most about writing mysteries?

A: I grew up on Agatha Christie, so she is a personal favorite. But Anne Perry, Rhys Bowen, Charles Todd, Tasha Alexander, and Charles Finch all inspired me to write historical mysteries. And I have to say, its been such an honor and privilege to have met them all.  As for writing mysteries, I just love the puzzle of it all. Writing itself is a bit of a puzzle, and thinking through a mystery in particular, is my favorite type of puzzle.

Erin: Susie, thank you so much for sharing so much of yourself, your work, and your time with me! It’s always a joy to have you stop by. I wish you much success with entire series! 🙂

Susanna: You’re wonderful! Thanks for all you do for readers and authors alike.

Erin:  My pleasure!

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The Masque of the Murderer, Synopsis~

Publication Date: April 14, 2015
Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press
Formats: Hardcover, eBook
Pages: 323

Series: Book Three, Lucy Campion Mysteries
Genre: Historical Mystery


In Susanna Calkins’ next richly drawn mystery set in 17th century England, Lucy Campion, formerly a ladies’ maid in the local magistrate’s household, has now found gainful employment as a printer’s apprentice. On a freezing winter afternoon in 1667, she accompanies the magistrate’s daughter, Sarah, to the home of a severely injured Quaker man to record his dying words, a common practice of the time. The man, having been trampled by a horse and cart the night before, only has a few hours left to live. Lucy scribbles down the Quaker man’s last utterances, but she’s unprepared for what he reveals to her—that someone deliberately pushed him into the path of the horse, because of a secret he had recently uncovered.

Fearful that Sarah might be traveling in the company of a murderer, Lucy feels compelled to seek the truth, with the help of the magistrate’s son, Adam, and the local constable. But delving into the dead man’s background might prove more dangerous than any of them had imagined.

In The Masque of a Murderer, Susanna Calkins has once again combined finely wrought characters, a richly detailed historical atmosphere, and a tightly-plotted mystery into a compelling read.

Lucy Campion Mystery Series Titles

Book One: A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate
Macavity Award Finalist Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (2014)
Barnes & Noble Bookseller’s Selection (“Mystery Pick” and “Featured New Arrival”)
Chicago Book Review – Best Books of 2013

Book Two: From the Charred Remains (Paperback release on March 17, 2015)
Short-listed for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award (2015)

Book Three: The Masque of a Murderer (coming April 2015!)

Praise for the Lucy Campion Mystery Series~

“…the high-quality writing augurs well for future outings.” -Publisher’s Weekly

“Calkins makes Lucy’s efforts to find the real killer entirely plausible, leading to a nail-biter climax with London in flames. This history-mystery delivers a strong heroine making her way through the social labyrinth of Restoration London.” -Booklist

“Calkins’ debut mystery places her unusual detective in a world rich in carefully researched historical detail.” -Kirkus

“A historical mystery with originality and great attention to detail. Readers are transported to 17th century England, a time when social classes were just beginning to change. The characters are multi-dimensional–including the smart, adventurous Lucy Campion–and the mystery will keep readers turning the pages, and they’ll eagerly await the next book in the series.” RT Book Reviews (4 Stars)

“…an intricate tale of fraud and blackmail, leavened by a touch of romance. Calkins, who holds a doctorate in British history, puts her knowledge to sparkling use in this intriguing mystery, which combines a gripping plot with rich historical detail and one of the most admirable protagonists in the genre.” -The Richmond Times-Dispatch

“Calkins is able to seamlessly weave this romance into the story without making it the main plot line, and keeping the mystery the main focus of the story….The puzzles, anagrams, and many secrets combine to make intertwining plot twists that keep the pages turning. FROM THE CHARRED REMAINS is an exciting, secret filled, historical mystery that will keep readers guessing until the very end.” –Fresh Fiction (Reviewer’s Pick)

“A good yarn and a fascinating look at life in England in a time when things began to change…social classes, positions, servants’ rights…all because of plague and fire.” -Book Babe Blog

“For me, this book was more than a mystery. It was an eye-opening look at what London was like in the mid-1660s, including the plague and fire that ravaged London, class struggle, the plight of women, and the laws of the time. The author’s engaging writing style made it easy to slip back into the past and experience these things with Lucy.” -Book of Secrets

“A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is Susanna Calkins’ absorbing debut novel. Just a warning that time WILL easily slip away as you become engrossed in this historical fiction mystery.” -1776 Books: A Philadelphian’s Literary Journey

Pre-Order the Book~

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Book Depository

Author Susanna Calkins, Biography~

calkinsBorn and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives in Highland Park, Illinois with her husband and two sons, where she is an educator at Northwestern University.

With a PhD in history, her historical mysteries feature Lucy Campion, a 17th century chambermaid-turned-printer’s apprentice. Her first novel, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate, was a finalist for the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award (Macavity).

The second in this series, From the Charred Remains, is currently a finalist for the Bruce Alexander Historical Mystery Award. Her third, The Masque of a Murderer, will be released in April 2015.

For more information and to subscribe to Susanna Calkins’ newsletter please visit her website. You can also follow her blog, and connect with her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

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

Hashtags: #TheMasqueofaMurdererBlogTour #HistoricalMystery #History #SusannaCalkins

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @scalkins3 @MinotaurBooks

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

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

Enjoy this interview, it’s a good one.

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

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


Mercedes Yardley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any idea when we can expect #2?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Give us the gist of the story.

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

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

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

Awesome. Check that out people!

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

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

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


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

That’s a damn shame.

Let’s talk shop for a minute….

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

I want to switch gears back to writing and inspiration.

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

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

What is the scariest novel you ever read?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Enter to Win a Copy of Banquet of Lies by Michelle Diener, Plus Questions!

Historical author Michelle Diener is on tour for her Banquet of Lies novel, published by Gallery books! Michelle and I sat down for an interview this past Spring when she published a book from a separate historical period, so I’ve pulled out a few of our discussion areas from that to give you a glimpse of Michelle and her writing. I hope you enjoy it!

There’s also a giveaway for this stop, so follow the directions after the interview and enter to win!!

Banquet of Lies

Brief excerpt of previously published interview with Michelle Diener from April 2013~

Q: How long have you been writing? What else have you written?

A: I’ve been writing seriously for around 9 years. I’ve got three other historical novels published with Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books: A Tudor-set series including In a Treacherous Court and Keeper of the King’s Secrets, and a Regency-set historical, The Emperor’s Conspiracy. A new novel, set as a loosely-connected book to The Emperor’s Conspiracy, Banquet of Lies, is due out later this year, in October. *This is now available!!*

Erin Comments: One of my favorite time periods, I can’t wait to read them all!!

Q: As a woman, do you feel it’s important to “schedule” time for yourself to complete your writing dreams? As a mother also running from place to place (I can relate!), how do you find time for your writing?

A: I do! There is very much a feeling that my work takes a back seat to everything else. I have to be very clear that it is important. That said, I try and do as much writing as possible while my children are at school, which is a nice chunk of time.

Erin Comments: Always a battle for time, but worth it.

Q: Do you set goals for writing, such as so many words a day, use an outline, or free write?

A: I do try to set goals for writing, but I’ve given up on the words a day thing. Sometimes I need to rework what I’ve written, and so my actual word count doesn’t go up that much, but I’ve been working solidly for hours. I try to get around 1800 – 2000 words a day, but if I don’t make that, I don’t worry. I like to have an outline. Whether I use it or not, it’s nice to have! 🙂

Q: What advice do you have for other female aspiring authors?

A: Make time for yourself. You are entitled time to pursue your dream. And when you get the time, make it count!

Q: What is your favorite time period of history? Why?

A: I really find this so difficult to answer, because I just find so many periods fascinating. Let’s say Tudor, Medieval, Regency and Victorian. But I am also very interested in WWI, WWII and the time in-between, as well.

Q: I was pleased to see that you are part of a short story anthology, Entangled, that gives proceeds to Breast Cancer Research Foundation. What an amazing thing to do! Being the President of our local Cancer Association, I understand how important fund-raising for the cause it. Can you tell us more about it briefly? And thank you for helping to fight Cancer!

A: Thanks, Erin. I’m so proud of my involvement in the Entangled anthology. The idea was conceived by fellow writer, Edie Ramer, and she got together a group of us. We all contributed the stories for free, the cover artist, Laura Morrigan, donated the cover, and the book formatting was also donated. So far, thanks to our readers, we’ve made more than $12,000 for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. My story for the anthology, Breaking Out, is a contemporary paranormal short story, totally different to what I usually write. I had such fun!

Q: What writing is coming up in the future for you?

A: I’ve got my Regency-set novel Banquest of Lies coming up in October of this year. I’m busy with the copy edits right now, and I’m loving revisiting the book again. Some of the characters from The Emperor’s Conspiracy are secondary characters in Banquet of Lies. *Again, available now!!*

It’s about a woman who is carrying an important diplomatic document and doesn’t know who to give it to. She goes into hiding in London as a French cook while she figures out who to trust, but finds her new employer far too curious about her for his safety and hers. Food, spies and illicit attraction! And a French chef with a bad attitude and a very large cleaver!

Erin comments: Sounds fascinating!

Q: You live in Australia, which I hear is amazing beautiful. Where would you wish to travel (or would you like to talk about places you’ve been as you’ve lived several places)?

A: I’ve been very fortunate to have travelled a lot. I think I’ve always had the travel bug, and I have tried to travel as much as possible. One part of the world I’ve never been to is Eastern Europe, and I would love to travel there.

Q: Where can readers connect with you?

A: They can visit my website (www.michellediener.com), connect with me on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michelle-Diener/196593580366013) or on twitter (@michellediener). I love connecting with readers, so don’t be shy



The giveaway is for 1 (one) copy and open to U.S. residents only. Leave a comment on the blog below with your EMAIL included, or email it to me at hookofabook(at)hotmail.com.  You get +3 entry points for following my Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook.



Banquet of LiesPublication Date: October 22, 2013
Gallery Books
Paperback; 352p
ISBN-10: 1451684452

A young noblewoman flees to London and poses as a servant to evade a murderer in this richly detailed and “compelling” (Publishers Weekly) historical novel.

Frightened for her life after her father, a British spy, is murdered, Giselle Barrington flees with the secret document her father gave her for safekeeping. Needing to hide from those now chasing her, and knowing that no one would look for a wealthy young society lady in a kitchen, she takes a job as a cook for a nobleman, determined to use her anonymity to uncover the murderer. Life below stairs gives her a new perspective on the hard realities of servants’ lives, even though she’s a highly paid one. And when her employer is drawn not only into her investigations, but also to her, they find themselves faced with the power imbalance between servant and master.

Author Michelle Diener, Biography~

Michelle DienerMichelle Diener writes historical fiction. Her Susanna Horenbout and John Parker series starts with IN A TREACHEROUS COURT. Set in the court of Henry VIII, it features the real historical figures of artist Susanna Horenbout and Henry’s Keeper of the Palace of Westminster and Yeoman of the King’s Robes, John Parker. It was followed by KEEPER OF THE KING’S SECRETS, also featuring Susanna Horenbout and John Parker, and DANGEROUS SANCTUARY, a short story with the same characters, set between the two books, is currently available as an ebook only.

A new historical novel, set during the Napoleonic Wars in London in 1811, THE EMPEROR’S CONSPIRACY, was released on November 27th, 2012.

Michelle also contributed a short paranormal story to the ENTANGLED Anthology entitled BREAKING OUT. All the proceeds of the sale of ENTANGLED go to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Michelle grew up in South Africa, and now lives in Australia with her husband and two children.

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

Banquet of Lies Tour Banner FINAL

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/banquetofliestour
Twitter Hashtag: #BanquetOfLiesTour


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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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Guest Post: Author Tanya Peterson Discusses Mental Health Awareness and Making Time to Write

Today we have a guest post by author Tanya J. Peterson, who is on book tour for her just published novel, Leave of Absence.  Her fiction novel encompasses the issues of mental illness and she hopes to create awareness and break down barriers with her work. In the guest post, Tanya tells us why she wrote the book and then gives us insight and advice into how to make time for ourselves for things like pursuing our dreams, without feeling guilty……writing included!

You can view a synopsis of the book and her information at the end of the post. Stop back by the next two Fridays here to see a review of the book and then an exclusive interview. Take it away, Tanya….


Time for a Mission
Guest Post by Tanya J. Peterson, Author of Leave of Absence

Tanya PetersonI have a mission in life:  to help reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.  Doing this involves correcting the negative stereotypes that are perpetuated by mainstream media and helping people understand what various mental illnesses are really like.  Doing this will increase understanding, and with understanding comes compassion. 

I’m joining lots of others in this mission, of course, and we all have unique things to offer.  I’m drawing on my background, my life experience, and my love of writing, and I’ve rolled them all together to create Leave of Absence.  In the novel, Penelope Baker wrestles with schizophrenia and depression and the devastating impact these illnesses have had on her life.  Oliver Graham experiences post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and complicated mourning in the wake of the traumatic loss of his wife and son.  (I won’t say more so I don’t infringe upon Erin’s review or inadvertently create a spoiler!)

I drew on my background and experience to make these characters realistic.  One of my goals is to correct the misconceptions and stereotypes that are out there, so I figured that I’d better be accurate.  The background and experience to which I’ve referred is this:  I’ve experienced mental illness from the perspective of a counselor and the perspective of a patient.  I have a degree in counseling and am a Nationally Certified Counselor, and I’ve worked with people to help them help themselves.  I’m also a patient.  I have Bipolar I disorder.  I’ve even been in a behavioral health hospital on several occasions in the past.  That was extremely helpful in depicting Airhaven, the behavioral health center that is the setting for much of Leave of Absence. Airhaven and the characters there are definitely fictitious, but I drew on the reality of my own experience to paint a picture of life in a behavioral health hospital.

I’m really happy that I finally took a chance and dove headfirst into my passions.  I’ve wanted to write for a very long time, but until recently I pushed my dream aside.  Real life and its responsibilities kept getting in the way.  To be sure, much of that was by choice.  I wanted to have a family, and I have two wonderful children with my husband.  Kids, marriage, and a career are time-consuming.  Originally, I was a high school teacher; later, I was an at-home mom who volunteered in schools, led a Cub Scout den, and did ordinary mothering tasks. During this time, I did write a novel (It’s a YA novel entitled Losing Elizabeth, which I published last year using CreateSpace.  I like its message about an emotionally abusive relationship, but I don’t consider myself a strong YA author.  I did learn a lot about publishing from that experience.)  I really, really enjoyed writing that novel, but it required a lot of my time, and I felt guilty devoting so much of my energy to it rather than to my family.  At the time, I saw it as an either-or type of thing:  either I was a writer or a mother, but certainly not both at the same time. 

Then, I suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident, entered graduate school for counseling, was diagnosed (in the hospital I mentioned above) with Bipolar I disorder (not caused by the injury), graduated, worked and volunteered as a counselor, moved across the country, and worked at a school for runaway and homeless adolescents (my official title was teacher, but only two of us worked in a school of approximately 45 students who attended when they could, and I played dual role of teacher and counselor).  During this time, as I experienced the consequences of stigma and helped others who also faced this stigma, my passion to change things grew.  And my love of writing and desire to write novels also grew. 

Yet I was still a busy mother.  Certainly I should continue to put my own desires on hold.  I found it increasingly difficult, though, to ignore the desire to write novels and create characters to whom people could connect.  I wanted to use my characters to show what mental illness and its stigma are really like.  Then I had an epiphany.  As a mother, I could do a tremendous service to my kids by modeling the fact that women, mothers can indeed follow their dreams.  As important as it is for me to provide this service to my children, even more important is the fact that I’m honoring myself by doing something that makes me happy. 

I once saw a bumper sticker that read, “If Mamma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”  In my household, that’s very true!  I’m happy when I write.  I’m happy that I’m modeling healthy behavior for my kids.  And I’m happy that I’m pursuing a greater mission:  to increase awareness and understanding of mental illness through character-driven novels like Leave of Absence.


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.

Here’s a link to the video trailer:


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.


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Interview with Susanna Calkins, Author of Historical Mystery A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate

Hi Susie! I’m thrilled to have you stop by Oh, for the Hook of a Book today to talk about your upcoming April 23 release, A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (Minotaur Books/St. Martin’s Press). As well, I hope you’ll be sharing a little more about yourself so everyone can get a glimpse into your world! How are things going for you?

Susanna:  I’m doing well, thanks for hosting me today! 

Erin:  Delighted to! Let’s have a steaming cup of tea and start our conversation!

Susanna:  Sounds good; you don’t mind if I’m drinking coffee, right? 🙂

Erin: Absolutely, actually it’s what I’m drinking too! I’ll feature the cover and synopsis first to tantalize readers….really beautiful cover.

Murder at..

Murder at Rosamund’s Gate: A Mystery, Synopsis~
Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press (April 23, 2013)
When someone she loves faces hanging for the murder of a fellow servant, Lucy Campion—a seventeenth-century English chambermaid—must interpret the clues hidden in miniature portraits, popular ballads, and a corpse’s pointing finger–to save his life, before the true murderer turns on her…

Q:  I believe A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate is your debut novel, correct? When did you start writing and how long did it take this novel to come to fruition?

A: Yes, ROSAMUND is my debut novel and is also the first novel that I finished. I got the idea years ago, when I was a graduate student in history, and then I began to work on different scenes in a very haphazard way for the next few weeks.  Finally around 2009, with about 150 pages written, I sat down and took it seriously, giving myself space and time to complete the first draft in 2010.

Q: Since I’ve not reviewed your book yet, tell us some about your book and the inspiration behind it….

A: My book was inspired by some 17th century murder ballads I’d come across in my research on domestic homicide for a paper I was writing in grad school.  They were often romanticized versions of “true accounts” detailing how murderers lured their victims to their deaths; very often, the corpse seems to have been found with a letter in her pocket, signed by her murderer.  I had so many questions, beginning with ‘why would the murderer have left a note?” and “Why weren’t the victims more suspicious?” My novel was an attempt to answer some of these questions.

Erin Comments: I love that! Notes seemed to be a common theme in that time period, for everything! I like the questions your posing, can’t wait to see how your novel answers them.

Q:  What are your personal favorite books in the mystery novel genre?

A: When I was younger, I loved Agatha Christie. Now, I love everything by Patricia Cornwell and Anne Perry, and other writers of historical mysteries, including Charles Todd, Jacqueline Winspeare and Rhys Bowen.

Erin Comments: Me too, great list.

Q:  Is your book’s setting in Restoration England (or 17th Century) your favorite historical time period? If so why?

A:  I really enjoy this time period, especially in the mid 1660s.  The Plague, followed by the Great Fire of London, make for an exciting backdrop!

Q:  What are some of your other favorite historical time periods and why?

A: I have a fondness for the middle ages, especially with the emergence of the universities and guilds. I’m also fascinated by nineteenth century France.

Q: If you could write about a woman from history, who would it be? Why?

A:  Great question.  I’ve always focused on women’s and gender history, so I’ve always been interested in the everyday lives of ordinary women. I went through a phase when I was enamored of some of the great queens, like Elizabeth I of England and Queen Isabella of Spain, because I admired their strength of character and the liveliness of their minds.  I’ve written about many seventeenth century Quaker women, including one of the founders, Margaret Fell Fox.  I’ve also written about the nineteenth century Quaker reformer, Elizabeth Frye.  You can see I’m interested in Quakers! And they do feature in ROSAMUND!

Erin Comments: Sounds like a book featuring Fox or Frye and the Quakers would be a great one to read! Have you considered?

Q:  How much research is involved when writing a mystery that is thick with plot, but also takes place during an historical time period rich with detail? Can you explain your research or any interesting tidbits you collected along the way?

A:  Well, in some ways I did years of research before I started writing one word of ROSAMUND. In addition to reading a lot of scholarly works, I spent a lot of time reading the cheap print (ballads, chapbooks, pamphlets and other penny pieces) from the era, to get a feel for the language and customs of the time. I really enjoyed reading the work of Samuel Pepys, the great diarist of the time. 

Q: How do you develop your characters, both the leading and the supporting, to ensure not only their historical accuracy, but also emotionally in order for them to connect to the reader?

A: Even though Lucy was “just” a chambermaid—and an uneducated one at that—I wanted to believe that a servant could have had a lively inquiring mind and that, when push came to shove, she would do anything for her friends and family (Pursuing the murderer of one friend, and seeking to save someone else from being hanged). Even though households were structured somewhat differently back then, I believe that people who care about each other will still try to do what’s right, even if they end up defying some conventions of the time, like Lucy did.

Q:  Do you feel it’s important for women as writers to “schedule” writing time in order to complete and pursue their dreams? What advice do you have for other women writers about fitting it all in?

A: Oh my goodness! I get this question all the time, and I don’t know if I have an answer that will work for other people. I do have a lot of commitments (full time job, additional adjunct teaching, wife and mother of two young children), so I’m pretty busy. But I’m also fortunate to have a supportive spouse who takes on many of the family and childrearing responsibilities.  More importantly, I don’t try to write in luxurious three hour blocks, I always just think, ‘okay, I’ve got 20 or 30 minutes, what can I work on?” So maybe I write a scene. Or I look up a historical detail on the internet.   

I also don’t heed most of the writing advice I hear, especially those who insist that writers should ‘write first thing in the morning’ (I hate writing in the morning), or ‘Write every day.’ You know what, sometimes you can’t write everyday, and that’s okay.  But I do usually think about something related to writing every day, and at the very least, I lay in bed dreaming out a favorite scene. When I tell myself the scene enough, I’ts pretty easy to write down when I get a chance.

Erin Comments: I ask this one of most women authors to see the differences or advice, for myself as well as other aspiring women authors. This is one of the best answers by far and pretty much sums me up. I am not a morning person. 🙂 Thank you!

Q:  What has been the most challenging aspect for you in becoming a published author? What has been the most positive? 

A:  I think I have had to develop a thicker skin when it comes to what readers/reviewers will say about my book.  I’ve learned to say, ‘Well, my book wasn’t for that reader,” but mean comments can still hurt. On the flip side, I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet readers, librarians, reviewers, publishing people and other writers. I wrote so much in isolation, I do enjoy talking about reading and writing with other people.

Q:  What other things do you enjoy beyond writing and reading?

A: I enjoy playing games with my children (ages 9 and 6); I really like teaching (grading, not so much), and I love my full-time job, which is to help faculty improve their teaching.  I also love traveling, any new place is a great place to be!

Erin Comments: Two of my three children are 9 and 5 (6 in May)! We also play a lot of games too, especially in the winter.

Q:  What things do you have planned for your upcoming launch date?

A: Ha! I actually scheduled my students’ first paper assignment on my release date (April 23), so I know I’ll be doing some grading! But in relation to the actual book launch, I’ll be doing some talks at my local library in Highland Park, Illinois (April 25) and at the Barnes and Noble in Skokie, Illinois on April 26. Why don’t you come on by?

Erin Comments: I would love to! I’m in Ohio and Tim’s family is from Illinois, but it’s probably too far a drive for this week. 🙂 I hope any readers in the area will come by though. I know you also have a lot of stops on a book tour too, and readers can find those stops on your website (link below).

Q: Is there another novel in the works for you? What other writing are you doing or plan to do in the future?

A: Yes, the second Lucy Campion mystery (tentatively titled “From the Charred Remains”) will come out next April. I am also working on a Young Adult novel about a gang of teenage thieves living in late nineteenth century Paris.

Erin comments: All sounds wonderful!

Q: Where can readers connect with you?

A:  Readers can check out my website at www.susannacalkins.com, email me at s.calkins.nu@gmail.com, or tweet to me @scalkins3. I’d love to hear from you!

Erin:  Thank you so much, Susie, for joining us today. I can’t wait to finish up your historical mystery! I wish you the best of luck with all your pursuits! Keep in touch!

Susanna:  Thank you so much! This was a lot of fun! I’ll stop back by to answer any questions!

And stay tuned readers for a review coming up next week of A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate and a giveaway!

Susanna Calkins, Biography~

calkinsSusanna Calkins is a historian and academic, currently working at Northwestern University. She’s had a morbid curiosity about murder in seventeenth-century England ever since she was in grad school, when she was first working on her Ph.D. in history. The ephemera from the archives—tantalizing true accounts of the fantastic and the strange—inspired her historical mysteries, including A Murder at Rosamund’s Gate (St. Martins Press/Minotaur Books). Born and raised in Philadelphia, she lives outside Chicago now with her husband and two sons.  See more at www.susannacalkins.com.


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