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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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Interview with Author D.J. Williams: His Debut Thriller and Giving Back to Stop Human Trafficking

DisillusionedFBBannerFinalHi D.J.! I am so happy to be interviewing you on Oh, for the Hook of a Book today! I have been so interested in your novel, but also in the person behind it. I can’t wait to pick your brain. How have things been going?

D.J.:  Life is been great! I’m very excited for The Disillusioned to be released to the world. I’m staying busy with other projects as well. I can’t complain.

Erin:  Wonderful! Let’s kick back in my comfy chairs and get the conversation started….but first we let me entice readers with the cover and synopsis for The Disillusioned

The Disillusioned, Synopsis~

DISILLUSIONEDFRONTCOVERWEBA mother’s suicide threatens to destroy a family legacy. Her sons, Sam and Daniel, are forced to leave their comfortable worlds behind and search for a woman they believe can unlock the secrets that have remained hidden. They are propelled into separate journeys from Los Angeles to the heart of the Zambezi where they are forced to confront a man known as Die Duiwel, the Devil. On their adventures they will find themselves in a place where death is one breath away, where thousands of children are disappearing into the darkness, and where the woman they are searching for is on the hunt for revenge. When they stand face-to-face with the forgotten slaves of Africa they will fight to redeem what has been lost.

Q: Can you tell us what gave you the inspiration to write The Disillusioned?

A: I was coming out of a difficult year both personally and professionally. Two unexpected deaths in my family only thirty days apart. A business venture that that ended shortly after. For months I wondered what was happening. I didn’t know that this season would change the direction of my life. I didn’t fully understand it until a few years later. During that season I started writing. I never expected the twists and turns that followed. I was discovering the story along the way. The deeper I immersed myself the more I knew it would eventually involve a social cause. I hoped it would make people judge the truth for themselves and make a choice to get involved in some way.

Q: Does the novel have any allegory to current humanitarian situations?

 A: As many of us know, millions are being sold into slavery. Human trafficking is the second fastest growing criminal enterprises in the world. It is not just something that is happening in third world countries, it is happening here in the U.S. as well. Knowing that is reality, I decided before The Disillusioned was finished that I wanted to do what I could to help make a difference. So, for every book sold we are making a donation to the “Let’s Respond” Campaign, which is headed up by the F.A.C.T. Alliance in Orange County, CA.

They are focused on building aftercare facilities for victims, both nationally and internationally. Without aftercare, rescue is futile, as statistically, victims tend to go back to the only life they know unless they have strong alternatives. Currently, the campaign is focused on building an aftercare village in Africa, a victim support facility in Northern California, and has partnered with The Love 146 Roundhome in the Philippines. I am excited that The Disillusioned will be a part of helping this great organization.

If you’re interested in learning more about them you can visit www.LetsRespond.com or you can contact me on my website at www.djwilliamsbooks.com

Erin Comment: I have always been quite the activist myself, primarily in regard to women’s rights, but I am really drawn to this cause and plan on getting more involved. I am thrilled by your efforts.

Q: Why did you choose to write a thriller, as opposed to say a non-fiction work? And is it more mystery or more suspense?

A: While I did quite a bit of research for the book, it was not nearly as much as I would’ve needed to do if I were writing a non-fiction book about this topic. I needed to have the freedom to create without worrying about whether or not I was getting all of the facts right. However, I knew early on that I wanted the story to have a fast pace and I figured mystery and suspense were the best ways to do it. I followed my instincts and allowed the characters to take me to a place where the fact and fiction collided.

Q: What do hope readers will feel after they absorb your novel and share with others?

A: Allow me to quote one of the book reviewers, Christy Maurer.

“The Disillusioned is an amazing story! I just finished reading it, and I’m feeling that withdrawal you feel after reading a good book. It’s as if you have been on an incredible journey and now must return to real life. This book is suspenseful, mysterious, thrilling, eye-opening, and convicting all at the same time. From the very first chapter, it grips you and keeps you wanting more. It is a book that really makes you think. It transcends genres. It is a book for anyone who cares about fixing what is wrong with the world. It is for anyone who loves adventure. The action is riveting and keeps you on the edge of your seat. It’s for anyone driven by compassion for a suffering world. And it is for anyone willing to be convicted to be more than what they are.”

I’m not sure I could say it any better.

Q: Besides being an author, I know you are a director/producer for TV. Can you share with us about that? And further, how exciting a job is that???? (I’m putting on a cheesy grin)

A: I think working in any type of creative media helps when you crossover into another aspect of visual or written storytelling. In all of these areas you’re trying to tell a story that is compelling for the viewer/reader. You need to grab their attention and then keep it throughout. That’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from the projects I’ve been involved in. Also, on the television side I work mainly as a producer or director so it’s a different frame of mind from writing. I’m always watching the clock, the schedule, the shots and making sure I’m getting what we need to cut an episode together. For me, writing The Disillusioned was an escape from all of that. I took my time. I wrote alone. No one read a single word until I was nearly finished. It was much more solitary than directing or producing, which I enjoyed.

Q: Have you thought of producing any documentaries on the subject, or have you already?

A: My main focus right now is on getting The Disillusioned out to the world. I believe through the story and the sales that I will be able to make a greater impact. At the same time, we are reaching out to various companies in regards to submitting the novel for possible screenplay consideration. We’ll have to sit back and see what happens. Either way, I will continue to share about the impact human trafficking is having on our world and hopefully readers will be inspired to get involved where they are.

Erin Comments: I can understand that. But it would make a great online documentary. Maybe that’s the journalist in me talking. But every amount of exposure helps. And I’m sure your book will inspire many people.

Q: What is your stance on women’s rights? What role do you feel women take on in society and why are there so many issues with fair treatment and equality around the world?

A: That’s a really deep question, which I’m not sure I’m expert enough to answer. I will say this, as you read The Disillusioned you will see that each of the female characters are strong in their own way, even heroic. I think it’s important that we fight for equality for all of society, whether it be men, women, children, rich, poor, or the forgotten among us. We are all part of the human race and we need to help those who are in need.

Erin Comments: I appreciate your comment. However, I think everyone is able to give an opinion on women’s rights. I interview so many women authors and ask a similar question, but it’s even more important for men to stand up for women and it’s fair for me to ask the same question of them. I agree, we need to fight for all human rights, but it does seem that more women are trafficked, abused, mistreated, etc.

Q: You grew up in Hong Kong. What was that like? How does it differ from America?

A: Growing up in Hong Kong I was always surrounded by friends from different cultures. It gave me a unique perspective that has stuck with me. I’ve also been given the opportunity to travel the world and meet many different people, to hear their stories, and to reflect on how their story has affected my own story. That shapes how I develop my characters. For example, many of the characters in The Disillusioned were inspired by people I’ve met over the years. I have another book that’s making the rounds with publishers where the characters are friends from childhood who I’ve placed into my story line. I’d also say that many of the locations in my stories are places I’ve been. I think it helps make the scenes even more real because I’ve experienced these places firsthand.

Erin comments: That sounds amazing.

Q: It sounds like you’ve also had some adventures in places like the Amazon…how did that come to pass and can you talk a little bit about it?

A: One experience that comes to mind was along the Zambezi River where we were filming in the back of a Land Rover. With camera in hand I was focused on capturing the incredible wildlife that surrounded us, which included an elephant with huge white tusks. Everything was going fine, until we realized we were too close. In a matter of seconds the elephant charged as the driver put the Land Rover in reverse. Knowing that we were not going to outmaneuver the elephant, the driver stopped and stood up in his seat. He yelled and waved his arms as the elephant charged. With only a few feet separating us the elephant suddenly stopped. Dust blew around us and when it cleared we stared into the face of this great animal. No one moved. Not a sound was heard. A few minutes passed before the elephant backed away and disappeared into the bush. Everyone in the vehicle sighed with relief, and then asked if I’d captured it on tape. I smiled. I’ve kept the footage safely in the archives as proof of our face-to-face encounter.

Erin comments: Wow! Talk about lucky to be alive! But, what a memory.

Q: What other adventures do you hope to have in the future? Where do you want to travel?

A: Right now I’m staying in the U.S. mainly. I’m producing and directing a television show that airs 52 episodes a year and I’m writing my next novel. That’s keeping me quite busy at the moment. If I could choose one place to go it would probably be Australia for a vacation!

Q: Your life sounds very fast-paced and quick moving. What do you do in your downtime?

A: When I’m not working I spend time with my wife and friends. I’m a basketball fanatic so I watch quite a bit of it on NBA TV. Other than that work takes up the majority of my time these days.

Erin comments: Bit of a basketball obsession going on with me too, though I prefer college.

Q: Who are your favorite authors? Do you have any mentors or any that are particularly inspiring to you?

A: Top three authors would be John Grisham, Michael Connelly, J.K. Rowling. I can’t say that I have any mentors, but I do have a group of close friends who keep me in check.

Q: What are some of your favorite shows or movies?

A: Favorite shows would be Southland and Blue Bloods. Movies would be the Lord of The Rings trilogy and the Harry Potter series.

Q: Since you sound like a very well-rounded individual with great taste, so I am curious…what is your favorite food?

A: I like a good ribeye with a baked potato. I’m pretty simple.

Erin comments: Nice. You got me on that question. I thought it would be snake from the Amazon or grasshopper in the Orient.

Q: Where can readers connect with you, D.J.?

A: Readers can reach out to me at www.djwilliamsbooks.com as well as Goodreads, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Kindle.

Erin:  It has been a unique pleasure to learn more about you today in this interview. You sound like a phenomenal individual. THANK YOU so much for stopping by to talk to us today and keep in touch! Best of luck in all your pursuits….

D.J.:  Thank you for the kind words and for allowing me to share about The Disillusioned. Talk soon.

 D.J. Williams, Biography~

Derek WilliamsFor the past fifteen years Williams has worked in the non-profit and entertainment industry. He has produced media projects that have raised awareness to help those in need. With the DNA of a world traveler, Williams was born in Hong Kong, has ventured into the jungles of the Amazon, the bush of Africa, and the slums of the Far East, to share stories of those who are overcoming incredible odds. Writing credits include Restoration Road with Mitch Kruse (Credo House, Fall 2009), as well as ghostwriting for other fiction authors. His novel, Disillusioned, is coming in 2013.

Williams has produced and directed over 140 television episodes syndicated on NBC, ABC, FOX and various cable networks worldwide.. Currently, he lives in Los Angeles, California with his wife.

www.djwilliamsbooks.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chalice

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

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

Erin comments: Totally agree!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  Who are your women role models?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q: What is your advice for aspiring authors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Erin comments: Yes, congratulations!!

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

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

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

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

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

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

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

The ChaliceThe Chalice Info and Synopsis~

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

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

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

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

Praise for The Chalice

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

Nancy Bilyeau, Biography~

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

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

 

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

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Interview with Historical Author Cynthia Sally Haggard: What Inspired Her War of the Roses Collection?

Cynthia Sally Haggard, author of Thwarted Queen, has graciously stopped by the blog for an exclusive interview. Find out about her motivation to write about Cecylee Neville and Richard, Duke of York, as well as where she’d like to travel, if she misses England, and how she became a writer!  With Thwarted Queen being her debut collection, I look forward to more novels to come from Haggard in the future.

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Erin:  Hi Cynthia! Thank you so much for coming by to speak with me at Oh, for the Hook of a Book!  We are happy to be able to talk to you about your life and your books.

Cynthia:  Hello! Thank you for interviewing me.

Let’s make some history of our own and get started!

Q:  What was your inspiration for Thwarted Queen?

A:  A documentary made by Tony Robinson on BBC 4, in which he talked about the Princes in the Tower, and casually mentioned that British historian Michael K. Jones had been going through the archives of Rouen Cathedral and turned up evidence that King Edward IV might be illegitimate. It seems that Richard, Duke of York was away during that long hot summer of 1441. In his absence, his wife Cecylee, Duchess of York had an affair with a well-favored archer on the Rouen garrison.

Erin comments:  That is all so very interesting. It seems the case in many of these historical figures, when historians or writers are doing research they turn up all kinds of juicy things that make great stories and get the creative juices flowing!

Q: How would you describe this novel, beyond the synopsis, to potential readers?

A: This is a fictionalized biography that covers 71 years of Cecylee’s life. It starts in 1424, when Lady Cecylee Neville is 9 years old, and is about to be betrothed to 13-year-old Richard of York. It ends in March, 1495, a couple of months before her death. So it has an enormous story arc. I see things in colors, so the beginning of the novel is the golden color of sunlight, that gradually becomes darker and darker.

Erin comments: I love the color analogy, Cynthia, and now that you said that, I can see it within the novel. Very well done.

Q:  Will this be a stand alone or have a sequel?

A: THWARTED QUEEN in its entirety (all 495 pages) is a stand-alone novel. However, it is also available in as a 4-volume e-series (THE BRIDE PRICE, ONE SEED SOWN, THE GILDED CAGE and TWO MURDERS REAPED) and as a 3-volume paperback series (ROSE OF RABY, THE GILDED CAGE and TWO MURDERS REAPED). The reason for doing that is because the novel naturally falls into 4 books, and I didn’t want people to be intimidated by having to read the whole of a large novel. The reason why the paperbacks are in a 3-volume series, is because Books I and II are too short for me to put the titles on the spine, so I combined them into ROSE OF RABY.

Q: What other books have you written? Can you tell us about them?

A: The only books I have published are THWARTED QUEEN and the THWARTED QUEEN series, as described above. However, I have 3 novels that are works in progress.

Q:  Where do you hope your writing takes you in the future? What do you have “in progress”?

A: What I actually have in progress are a 2-novel sequence set in the earlier part of the 20th-century (between 1921 and 1944), and a third novel that is set in the early middle ages (around 830 AD). As you can see, I like to write about very different periods. Part of the reason for this is because I like to have two very different projects going at once. I find that they feed off of each other. I hope to continue to build my career as a writer. To that end, I’ve applied to take an MFA in Creative Writing.

Q:  I read that you found a love for fiction writing during a university class project and never looked back.  Is then when you first started to write, why or if not, when?

A: I started to write fiction after I decided to make the transition from research scientist to science writer. I thought that taking fiction classes would help my writing. So yes, I did find my love for fiction writing during that class project, and I have never looked back.

Q:  What is your process for writing like? Do you schedule, outline, or write as the inspiration arises?

A: I actually do both. I do a great deal of reading before I write a word. Then I usually write what I refer to as “Act I” where I set the story up. At that point, I may let it rest awhile before I continue. During that first draft I usually write to inspiration, because there is something so magical about discovering your story as you write. And I like to give myself that treat. On subsequent drafts, I do a lot of editing, organizing and planning.

Erin Comments:  I can appreciate that. I tend to also write from the heart first, getting it all down and then go back and revise later. I think you can funnel a lot of emotion into writing that way. Though I know different things work for different people.

Q:  What has been the most challenging thing you’ve had to overcome on your writing journey?

A:  The biggest problem I face (like all other writers) is, how much can I get away with before the reader notices or minds? There are all these rules we are supposed to obey, like “Show, don’t tell.” But the fact is that you can get away with telling the reader things, if you know how to do it without annoying the reader. (Jane Austen knew how to do it).

Q:  Where is your favorite place to travel or that you would like to travel? And why?

A: I do a lot of traveling, and I always have travel plans. So I don’t have a favorite place yet, because I’m in the process of discovering the many marvelous places in this world. So far, I’ve confined myself to traveling around the US and in Europe. But one day, I hope to find the courage to visit non-European cultures.

Q:  I was also born in England and my mom’s ancestors originate there. I can’t wait to go back and do some further research for some upcoming novel ideas. What brought you to America and how much do you miss the UK? Why and/or why not? Do you find inspiration in family history?

A: I came to America thirty years ago when I married my first husband. It took me ten years to settle down here because I missed England so much. I still miss England, but I am now happy here. Yes, I do find inspiration in family history. I would like to do a fictionalized biography about Grandma Stephanie, who was quite a colorful character. (I talk a bit about her on Spun Stories, as she was a person who inspired me to tell stories.)

Q:  What other historical time periods are you interested in?

A: All historical time periods interest me, but I particularly gravitate to those periods in which a transition is happening, like the early years of the 1920s, or 1938 on the cusp of the second world war, or the ninth century just as Sicily was being taken over by the Saracens. I love those transitional times because that’s when conflicts erupt and interesting things happen.

Erin Comments: I concur. Though I don’t normally like American History, I do tend to like those major transition periods most and have lately been getting into early 1900s history.  I think it would be great if you looked into writing a novel on ninth century Sicily!

Q:  What authors have, or do, inspire you? What books do you like?

A: I love historical novels. But I have also been influenced by authors such as Jane Austen, Fanny Burney, Leo Tolstoy, Vladimir Nabokov.

Q:  What is your best loved hobby outside of writing and reading?

A: I love to dance, do yoga, hike and now I’ve taken up karate! I spend a great deal of time doing physical exercise, principally because I suffer from chronic back pain and that is how I treat it. (Better for my health & wellbeing to exercise rather than pop painkillers. J )

Erin Comments: I also struggle with a condition that brings chronic pain and I do a lot of yoga and hiking. I commend you for being so physical, I agree it does help!!

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A: The best place is my website, http://www.spunstories.com

Erin:  It was lovely to host an interview with such a wonderful woman such as yourself!  Thank you and I do hope to talk to you further another time!

Cynthia:  Thank you for asking such interesting questions! It was a pleasure to get to know you.

 Thwarted Queen Synopsis~

Thwarted Queen coverPublication Date: October 29, 2012 | CreateSpace | 498P

THWARTED QUEEN is a portrait of a woman trapped by power, a marriage undone by betrayal, and a King brought down by fear.

Cecylee is the apple of her mother’s eye. The seventh daughter, she is the only one left unmarried by 1424, the year she turns nine. In her father’s eyes, however, she is merely a valuable pawn in the game of marriage. The Earl of Westmorland plans to marry his youngest daughter to 13-year-old Richard, Duke of York, who is close to the throne. He wants this splendid match to take place so badly, he locks his daughter up.

The event that fuels the narrative is Cecylee’s encounter with Blaybourne, a handsome archer, when she is twenty-six years old. This love affair produces a child (the “One Seed” of Book II), who becomes King Edward IV. But how does a public figure like Cecylee, whose position depends upon the goodwill of her husband, carry off such an affair? The duke could have locked her up, or disposed of this illegitimate son.

But Richard does neither, keeping her firmly by his side as he tries to make his voice heard in the tumultuous years that encompass the end of the Hundred Years War – during which England loses all of her possessions in France – and the opening phase of the Wars of the Roses. He inherits the political mantle of his mentor Duke Humphrey of Gloucester, and become’s the people’s champion. The rambunctious Londoners are unhappy that their country has become mired in misrule due to the ineptitude of a King prone to fits of madness. Nor are they better pleased by the attempts of the King’s French wife to maneuver herself into power, especially as she was responsible for England’s losses in France. But can Richard and Cecylee prevail? Everywhere, their enemies lurk in the shadows.

This book is filled with many voices, not least those of the Londoners, who forged their political destiny by engaging in public debate with the powerful aristocrats of the time. By their courageous acts, these fifteenth-century Londoners set the stage for American Democracy.

SEE MY REVIEW of THWARTED QUEEN HERE! There’s a GIVEAWAY there until March 4, 2013!

Cynthia Haggard, Biography~

CynthiaSallyHaggardBorn and raised in Surrey, England, CYNTHIA SALLY HAGGARD has lived in the United States for twenty-nine years. She has had four careers: violinist, cognitive scientist, medical writer and novelist. Why does she write historical novels? Because she has been reading them with great enjoyment since she was a child. Because she has a great imagination and a love of history that won’t go away. And because she has an annoying tendency to remember trivial details of the past and to treat long-dead people as if they were more real than those around her.

Cynthia’s biggest influence was her grandmother, Stephanie Treffry, who had a natural story-telling ability. As a widow in 1970s Britain, Grandma Stephanie didn’t drive a car, so would spend time waiting for buses. Her stories were about various encounters she had at those bus-stops. Nothing extraordinary, except that she made them so funny, everyone was in fits of laughter. A born entertainer, Cynthia tries to emulate her when she writes her novels.

In case you were wondering, she is related to H. Rider Haggard, the author of SHE and KING SOLOMONS’S MINES. (H. Rider Haggard was a younger brother of her great-grandfather.) Cynthia Sally Haggard is a member of the Historical Novel Society.

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

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Join in My Discussion with Kim Rendfeld, Author of Middle Ages Fiction The Cross and the Dragon

Today I have an interview with historical novelist Kim Rendfeld.  She’s published The Cross and the Dragon with Fireship Press, which is a novel of the Middle Ages (during the early years of Charlemagne) with a extremely courageous and endearing protagonist. I’ll be posting the review tomorrow. Until then, hope you have some time to read the discussion Kim and I had about writing, the Middle Ages, research, and getting published.

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Erin:  Hi, Kim! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We are happy you’ve stopped by today to share your love of historical fiction and all things about being a writer. How are you enjoying this wintery weather?

Kim Rendfeld:  Thanks for having me, Erin.  This winter seems to be overcompensating for the extremely mild one we had last year. Fortunately, my houseplants are blooming or sending up buds to remind me winter won’t last forever.

Well, the groundhog says Spring will be right around the corner, so let’s hope!  Let’s sit back, enjoy some tea (since we’re both in colder states!!) and get to know one another.

Q:  Your novel, The Cross and the Dragon, takes on historical legend during the Middle Ages.  Having a second degree in History myself, I’ve taken courses on the Middle Ages.  Seemingly a time of legend and romantic endeavors that are quite entertaining to read and watch, I know from my studies that it was also a time of horrid living conditions and multiple wars. Do you think this is why legends and stories came about?

A: Regardless of the age we live in, we want to escape our reality from time to time, and storytelling around the fire is the oldest form of entertainment. In stories, we can make the world as it should be. Heroes surmount their challenges. Villains get their just deserts. It’s a universal wish.

Throughout history, stories were also used as propaganda, and the Middle Ages is no exception. To illustrate my point, I’m going to use a spoiler, so readers who would like to avoid it should skip ahead. The 778 ambush at the Pass of Roncevaux by Christian Basques was such a disaster for the Franks that it was not written about while King Charles (Charlemagne) was alive. Fast forward a few centuries to the time of the Crusades, and an anonymous poet transforms the event into a heroic stand against overwhelming odds in the form of a Muslim army.

Q:  Where did you come across the legend you base your novel around? Can you explain to us the legend and how it inspired your book?

A: There are a few spoilers in this answer, too. I encountered the legend behind Rolandsbogen in a guide book during a family vacation in Germany. Rolandsbogen is an ivy covered arch on a high hill overlooking the Rhine. The legend is that Roland (Hruodland in The Cross and the Dragon) built the castle for his bride and went off to war in Spain. The bride heard false news that her beloved had been killed at the Pass of Roncevaux. She took a vow chastity and joined the convent on nearby Nonnenwerth Island. Roland returned too late. Heartbroken, he spent the rest of his days at his window in Rolandsbogen, trying to get a glimpse of her as she went to and from prayers.

This story would not leave me alone until I sat at my chair and started writing, even though I knew little of the real Middle Ages.

Q:  What do you think really defined love during the Medieval times? How has romance changed today?

A: In an age of arranged marriages to build wealth or alliances, medieval folk might have been happy if the husband didn’t beat the living daylights out the wife and the wife was faithful to the husband. Still, primary sources that focus on politics and battles reveal hints of affection in a married couple.

A pair of rare sentences in the Royal Frankish Annals describe Charlemagne’s return to Francia after months in Italy: “The same most gracious king reached his wife, the Lady Fastrada, in the city of Worms. There they rejoiced over each other and were happy together and praised God’s mercy.”

A few years later, Charles sent a letter to Fastrada before a war with the Avars. Among other things, he refers to her having an infirmity and asks her to write to him more often and tell him about her health. It gives meaning to his greeting her as his “beloved and most loving wife.”

Even though Charles and Fastrada lived 1,200 years ago, their sentiments–joy when reunited, worry about your spouse’s health–are remarkably similar to modern times.

Q:  What do you feel is the main message within The Cross and the Dragon?  If not a message, what do you hope the reader leaves with when they complete your novel?

A: I hope readers will understand not only how much times have changed, but how much human nature remains the same. Although their world view and expectations of marriage differed from ours, medieval folk felt the same emotions we do. They grieved, they loved, they felt joy and anger.

Q:  Who was your favorite character to write about and why?

A: For this book, it’s Alda. There is so much to like about her. She’s intelligent, compassionate, and fiercely loyal. But I what I most admire about her is her courage.

Q:  How did you research your novel? What avenues did you take, how were discoveries made, and how much time was involved?

A: In an age when few people could read and even fewer could write, this era lends itself to a dearth of information, but fortunately some people did write a few things down for us. Even though the authors are biased and don’t always let the facts get in the way of their stories, I love primary sources, and I owe a great deal to scholars who’ve translated and interpreted them.

It’s hard for me to say how much time was involved. I spent a few months reading, but as I started writing, I would constantly find that I needed to look something up. Even as I neared the end of my revisions, questions would pop up such as whether bishops at the time wore miters (they didn’t).

Q:  What is your writing process like? Do you form an outline or write at will? Do you set writing goals?

A: When it comes to fiction, I plunge right on in. I’d get stuck on an outline if I started with it. I wrote an outline partially through the process, only to throw two-thirds of it away. My writing goal is to spend at least an hour a day working on the story. If I set a word goal, I’d get so flustered on not making my numbers, I’d choke.

Q:  How long did it take you to complete your novel?

A: Like the question about research, this is not an easy one to quantify. I spent a year or two with the earliest draft of the manuscript and thought it was done. After year or so of unsuccessful queries, I joined a critique group who kindly told me otherwise. Two more years of revisions, and again I thought it was done and tried to interest an agent or editor. For several years, I would revise the manuscript whenever I got a useful rejection.  If I had to total up the time, I would estimate five years or so. However, I also had a full-time job.

Q:  You have a day job and a family. How did you make the time for such as accomplishment as writing a novel?

A: My stepdaughter is grown and has children of her own, so my husband and I don’t have small children to look after or teenagers to chauffer. Still, finding time to write is my biggest challenge.

I am blessed to have not only a very supportive husband, but one who cooks. I often squeeze in time to write in the evenings after I’ve fed the cats and on weekends. Part of my time to write comes at the expense of housekeeping and some sleep. I don’t watch a lot of TV and have a few yet-to-be-watched episodes of Downton Abbey on my DVR, and I’ve had to refrain from getting into lively but time-consuming discussions on Facebook.

Q:  What did you learn about yourself through the writing process and with the completion of the book?

A: Despite the problems our society faces these days, I truly am grateful for what we have today. I like our instant communication, women’s rights, mostly scientific medical care, and my morning coffee.

In finishing the book, I proved to myself that I could create something that required that kind of discipline and commitment.

Q:  How did you begin the process of publication?

A: If you can’t stand rejection, don’t try to get published. I am not kidding when I say I have enough rejection letters to paper a good-sized walk-in closet.

After I had finished revisions based on feedback from my critique group, I queried agents and a few editors. An editor I met at a Historical Novel Society conference wrote a useful rejection letter, which led to more revisions, and more queries. I finally found an agent in the fall of 2007, and the manuscript was revised again. Still, she was not able to sell it, and the relationship ended.

You know that definition of insanity as repeatedly doing the same thing and expecting different results? In 2011, I knew I needed to do something different. That something was then entering the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition, where I finished as a quarterfinalist.  My consolation prize was a favorable review of the unedited manuscript from Publishers Weekly. The endorsement itself was wonderful, but it gave me a boost in self-confidence when I really needed it.

I queried a few more agents and Fireship Press, an independent publisher I had read about on another author’s blog.  Fireship liked the manuscript, and I could not be happier with the way the book turned out.

 

Le 25 décembre de l’an 800, à Saint-Pierre de Rome, Charlemagne est couronné empereur par le pape Léon III. Sacre de Charlemagne

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Q:  How do you feel about the book publishing industry in today’s society? How does it help and/or hinder the historical fiction genre?

A: I am concerned with large-scale publishing being concentrated in fewer hands. It is not good for society for only a few corporations to control anything, whether that’s airline travel or information. The Big 5 (or whatever the correct number is these days) is less and less willing to take a chance on a new voice, a new story, or a new setting, historical fiction included.

Too many authors see their choice as either the Big 5 or self-publishing. There is a third alternative, the small press, the choice I made. I am grateful that my independent publisher, Fireship Press, was willing to take a chance on a story set in an uncommon era and uncommon place.

In my own experience with the small press, I had much more control than I expected over the process. The title is mine. I was able to have readers weigh in on the image that graces the cover—and they have great taste.

Q:  You and your husband have also worked in the journalism field.  What do you feel makes Journalists successful when they cross over into fiction work?

A: The time and space constraints of journalism taught me to get to the point. Maturing in the field taught me to be more concerned that my readers understood what I was saying rather than be impressed with my cleverness.

I also learned to question my sources and so-called conventional wisdom. Where is this information coming from? When was this written? What is the writer’s motivation? This mindset is especially useful in historical research, where the primary sources are fresh and colorful but not always accurate.

Q:  Do you have plans for a sequel and/or separate novels? If so, please share with us.

A: I am polishing a companion novel, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar, set in the same time period. Here is my latest version of the blurb:

Can a mother’s love triumph over war?

Charlemagne’s 772 battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her husband died in combat. Her faith lies in the ashes of the Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. And the relatives obligated to defend her and her family sold them into slavery, stealing their farm.

Taken in Francia, Leova will stop at nothing to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her honor and her safety. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family.

Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon Christian and is Sunwynn’s champion—and he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.

Q:  Who inspires you as a writer? What are some of your favorite books, movies, or the like?

A: As a teenager, my favorite fiction was the Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I admire how he can make an imaginary world seem real. As an adult, I owe a lot to my critique partners in the Lafayette Novel Group, one of whom was Roberta Gellis, who has written mysteries and romances set in the Middle Ages. Roberta helped me transform my characters from people in period clothing to true medieval folk.

Q:  Favorite food your husband fed you to keep you eating during your writing process?

A: I was so obsessed with getting finished I can’t remember what my husband cooked for me, except for linguine with a meat and tomato sauce. Most of the fare was typical of what we normally eat.

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A: Readers can connect with me on my website (www.kimrendfeld.com), my blog www.kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, Facebook (www.facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld), Twitter (www.twitter.com/kimrendfeld) or Goodreads (www.goodreads.com/Kim_Rendfeld).

Q:  Please let us know where your books are available for purchase?

A: The Cross and the Dragon is available in print and e-book at Amazon U.S., U.K., and Canada as well as Barnes & Noble, iBookstore, Kobo, Indigo, and other outlets.

Erin:  Thank you so very much for joining us and sharing on our site today. We hope you will stop by again and wish you the best of luck!

**************************************************************************************************

The Cross and the Dragon Synopsis~

9781611792270-CrossandDragon-small2A tale of love in an era of war and blood feuds.

Francia, 778: Alda has never forgotten Ganelon’s vow of vengeance when she married his rival, Hruodland. Yet the jilted suitor’s malice is nothing compared to Alda’s premonition of disaster for her beloved, battle-scarred husband.

Although the army invading Hispania is the largest ever and King Charles has never lost a war, Alda cannot shake her anxiety. Determined to keep Hruodland from harm, even if it exposes her to danger, Alda gives him a charmed dragon amulet.

 Is its magic enough to keep Alda’s worst fears from coming true—and protect her from Ganelon?

Inspired by legend and painstakingly researched, The Cross and the Dragon is a story of tenderness, sacrifice, lies, and revenge in the early years of Charlemagne’s reign, told by a fresh, new voice in historical fiction.

Kim Rendfeld, Biography~

KimBookPhotoSmallerKim Rendfeld has a lifelong fascination with fairy tales and legends, which set her on her quest to write The Cross and the Dragon.

She grew up in New Jersey and attended Indiana University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English, with a minor in French. If it weren’t for feminism, she would be one of those junior high English teachers scaring the bejesus out of her students, correcting grammar to the point of obnoxiousness. Instead, her career has been in journalism, public relations, and now fiction.

 Kim was a journalist for almost twenty years at Indiana newspapers, including the Journal and Courier in Lafayette, The Muncie Star, and The News and Sun in Dunkirk, and she won several awards from the Hoosier State Press Association. Her career changed in 2007, when she joined the marketing and communications team at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana. She gets paid to agonize over commas and hyphens, along with suggesting ways to improve writing, and thoroughly enjoys it. She is proud to have been part of projects that have received national recognition.

Kim lives in Indiana with her husband, Randy, and their spoiled cats.  They have a daughter and two granddaughters, with a third due in May 2013.

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A Chat with Laura K. Cowan, Author of The Little Seer, on Supernatural Spiritual Fiction

Hi Laura! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We are so pleased to have the pleasure of speaking with you about your break-out novel, The Little Seer.

Thank you so much! It’s really my privilege.

Let’s get started….

img_0072_2_2Q:  What is The Little Seer, your speculative supernatural novel, about?

A:   The Little Seer is about a young girl who discovers, through prophetic nightmares of the destruction of her church, that God is not who everyone told her he is, and neither is she. It is a waking dream–a novel of symbolic dreamscapes, teleportation, and angels and demons fighting over a girl’s destiny–but it’s also a story about discovering the importance of your life, and learning how to love through great pain.

Q:   How did you come to write The Little Seer?

A:   I have always had vivid dreams, but when I was about eight years old, I had a dream that I was in a classroom, and there was a conversation going on in front of me. Sometime later, I was in my classroom, and that exact conversation began to play out. It happened more than once, even into high school, and it rocked my ideas about what was possible in the world. I grew up with a resulting feeling that the way I experienced the world didn’t fit with other people’s experience, and I dealt with quite a bit of rejection and bullying, which left me terrified that God was secretly angry with me too.

But when I was a teenager I was literally flattened to the floor with a vision at the Toronto Blessing Revival in Canada, in which God revealed to me that the rejection and unforgiveness I had been carrying around my whole life was like a boulder on my back. He revealed Himself to me as extravagantly loving, and as I forgave one person at a time who had wronged me, the weight began to lift. I had to be carried out of the building, it was such a profound experience for me, and I was never the same again.

I also went through a church split on top of my wedding that split my new family down the middle and cost me most of my mentors. As autobiographical as it sounds, The Little Seer is not what happened to me at all, but I wanted to write a book that acknowledges the pain that people go through from spiritual abuse, and explore how someone could learn that they were loved after experiencing rejection.

seer-final-front-v2Q:   The publishing of The Little Seer is unique, yet following in line with a new type of publishing I’ve been seeing…launching part by part, each with a different name. Can you tell us about that, why you chose it, and finally how you think it has worked?

A:   Well for this project that was an easy decision, because the novel naturally divides into three parts, each with its own story arc, but each fitting into the larger story. I knew that as an indie author my only real chance to get my work out there would be to give people a way to experience it at very low risk, so I made the first novella, Exodus, free for five days after launch, and before I knew it, thousands of people were reading my story, and it was climbing the bestseller lists for free titles on Amazon.

Q:  What accolades has The Little Seer already accomplished that you are excited about?

A:   Most awards and even reviews are closed to me as an indie author, though I can see that changing in just a few years with the way publishing is evolving. So my focus is on what readers think, and how many people are finding and reading The Little Seer.

Because of my launch promotion, The Little Seer shot to #2 on the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list for free Christian Suspense titles, and #5 in Occult/Supernatural. And despite its controversial content, readers began to give the book mostly 4- and 5-star reviews, saying it was riveting from beginning to end, and that if you don’t know you are loved, read this book. I can’t think of any better accolades than that. Even a blogger reviewing the book on this blog tour told me the book touched her on a very personal level. I’m so grateful right now, just that people are giving me a chance.

Q: Where do you hope the novel goes from here?

A:   Because it’s an indie title and I’m just starting my career, word of mouth is really going to have to drive this thing. I hope people enjoy the story in its own right, but it does have the potential to mean something to someone who needs to know the value of their life, so if the story speaks to people, I’m hoping they will join The Aria Project, which is something I set up on laurakcowan.com to give people ideas on how they can help me spread the word.

Q:  What do you hope readers take away with them from you book after they complete reading it?

A:   Life is more than meets the eye, and so are you.

Q:  What kinds of readers do you feel will enjoy your book?

A:   Spiritual seekers of any kind will love this book, but I think it also appeals to the child in all of us that loved adventure stories and imaginative tales of things that sparkled in the darkness and spoke of destiny.

Q: How do the words supernatural and speculative fit into religion? I’m guessing some would think those words don’t….

A:  Yes, it’s very controversial. The Bible is a supernatural book, filled with teleportation and miracles, symbolic visions of the apocalypse and talking animals, but there’s something about Western culture that has stripped Christianity, and some other religions as well, of their awareness of the mystical nature of life and faith.

Speculative novels just ask the question “What if?” What if the world doesn’t work quite the way we think it does? And in that way, speculative supernatural novels are more religious than some modern expressions of religion. It’s a blind spot of Western culture, in my opinion, possibly caused by the need to filter everything through rational and empirical processes in order to accept it as part of life. Too bad life doesn’t fit in our boxes, and neither does religion.

Q:  Is this book only for the religious? Those of Christian faith? Why or why not?

A:   I hope not. I think this book has a lot more to say about relationship and love than anything else. I kept hesitating to publish the book, because I wanted to make sure I had rooted out as much preachiness as I could, and just left enthusiasm for loving people back to wholeness. I’m sure it’s not perfect, but the early reviews are really encouraging me that I succeeded on some level in getting the real message of compassion across, and that transcends religions.

Q:  What kinds of novels do you like? What writers inspire you?

A:   Oh wow, what a topic to get me started on! I love anything that sparkles with life, really, especially that twinkle you only catch out of the corner of your eye when the angel doesn’t think you’re looking at him.

Nature writing such as Ralph Waldo Emerson or the poetry of Juan Ramon Jimenez blows me away, because of its passion for the universe and the harmony of all things, and I grew up adoring spiritual fantasy writer Madeleine L’Engle as well as intellectual mystery writers like Agatha Christie or writers with a witty edge like Mark Twain. Hemingway is a huge favorite because of his vivid descriptions that are so face-slappingly efficient.

But of course supernatural novels are my first love, especially literary ones like Thornton Wilder’s. I read Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness as a kid and knew I would always be looking for more books with angels and demons, and with the veil to the spiritual pulled back to give the reader a peek beyond the everyday.

cropped-seer-final-v-2013-frontQ: Have you written any other novels? What are you working on for the future?

A:   I’m excited about my second novel Music of Sacred Lakes, which is about a young man in crisis whose redemption comes through the haunting of a girl he accidentally kills and through the voice of Lake Michigan speaking to him about his connection to the land that birthed him. It’s a weird and wonderful story about reconnecting with your life and the source of your joy, and I can’t wait to offer it to the world.

I’m also working on a speculative short story collection called The Thin Places: Supernatural Tales of the Unseen, which takes 30 different “What if?” questions about how the physical and spiritual worlds interact and spins them in all different directions. It’s me letting my hair down and really having fun with some fascinating stories–everything from portals to time juxtapositions to fairy tales.

Q: What is your writing process like? How do you find the time to fit it in?

A:   Oh, goodness. I’m a mother of a preschooler, a wife, a (very) part-time journalist, and I’m launching this career as a novelist. My experience as an editor helps me keep everything organized, so for instance I have a notebook recording checklists of edits for each project I’m working on. If I can break things down like that into a series of tasks, I can do anything I need to even in the midst of a busy life. But my writing process really amounts to doing my best to relax and give myself space to dream. As Madeleine L’Engle used to say (maybe I’m paraphrasing?), you had it all in the beginning. You have only forgotten how to walk on water.

Q:  What has been your biggest challenge on your book journey?

A:   Balance. I don’t know if any mom ever gets it right, if there is any such thing anymore, but for me, a person who has struggled with workaholism and perfectionisms and all the -isms you can think of that tie a person up in anxiety, the key is believing that there will be enough time and energy for me to take care of myself and everyone else, and still do the work. It’s a struggle, every day.

Q: What is the thing you’ve been celebrating about the most?

A:   I have the great privilege of seeing my work reach people before I made any money at it because of the free book launch promotion, and it was that night that 3,000 people downloaded my book that I realized I already had what I wanted, and the money didn’t matter so much. Not everyone has the opportunity to sort out their motives so clearly and prove to themselves that their heart is in the work itself. That’s really a gift.

Q: Are you self-published or have a publisher? Explain the process to that, either way.

A:   Technically Amazon is my publisher, but I’m the modern indie author for the moment, using tools to put out books largely on my own. I had the cover designed for The Little Seer, but everything else is me, from beginning to end. But these days that’s not so hard. It helps that I have editorial experience and writer friends who can give me great feedback on my books, but the technology for getting a book into the world has never been more accessible. I may not always be an indie author, but right now I’m playing it by ear. It has never been a better way to start.

Q: You seem to be taking the marketing tactic of building a community, much like Ted Dekker (one of my favorite authors). Are you modeling this concept? Why or why not, or if similar, why unique?

A:   All I really want to do with my books beyond entertain people is to connect with them, and encourage them to engage with their spirituality. I think that happens powerfully in a community. I don’t care if it centers on me or my work or just the ideas that draw people together. It’s the community that counts.

Q: Where can readers contact and/or interact with you?

A:   I post all news to my website laurakcowan.com, and people can always email me directly at laurakcowan [at] gmail.com. I love to hear people’s stories, so please feel free to say hello.

Thanks, Laura! I wish you much more successful momentum on your book and your thoughts. I hope to talk to you again further in the future!

I hope so, too. Thank you for having me!

The Little Seer, Synopsis~

seer-final-front-v2A young girl wakes from a dream that a tornado destroyed her church and her pastor ordered crows to peck out her eyes, only to discover deep cuts on her arms where she was attacked. Soon her dreams begin unfolding in her waking reality, her church and family begin to fall apart, and the only anchor of her sanity is a strange man who keeps appearing in her ever stranger dreams. What is happening to Aria? How is it that her dreams can tell the future? And why is her identity key in a spiritual battle raging over her church and town that could decide not only her fate and that of her friends, but that of the whole country or even the world? A story for the dreamers and the truth tellers, The Little Seer never averts its gaze from the tragedies and possibilities of modern American Christian spirituality, and provides a vision for the hope of another great spiritual awakening that could be just around the corner–if we have eyes to see.

Success and Reviews~

The Little Seer shot to #4 on the Kindle Bestsellers List for free Christian Suspense titles within 24 hours of publication during its launch promotion, and hit #2 in Christian Suspense for free Kindle titles and #5 for Occult/Supernatural within the first week.

People are calling The Little Seer “riveting from the beginning to the end,” and saying, “If you feel that you are not loved, read this book.”

And from a book reviewer on The Little Seer blog tour:

The Little Seer by Laura Cowan is a high-intensity, no holds barred, we-are-coming-to-get-you thriller that will open your eyes to more than you can ever imagine. It will make you think twice about what you think you see, and it will not easily let you go….The love and compassion that flows from the pages of this book will revitalize even the coldest and hardest of hearts…. This story touched me deeply on a very personal level…. It broke my heart that someone gathered bits and pieces of such a haunting, hurtful, and yet valuable part of my life and then artfully weaved them into such a thought-provoking journey that I felt so ashamedly naked but also overwhelmingly loved.”

Formats Available

The Little Seer paperback

The Little Seer Kindle e-book

The Little Seer Kindle e-book novella trilogy: Exodus, Desert, & Midnight

GIVEAWAY on LAURA’S WEBSITE!

Follow this link to the book giveaway on Laura’s site, and read the instructions at the bottom of the blog post to enter for your chance to win a signed copy of The Little Seer for yourself or a friend! Thanks, Laura!

The Little Seer book giveaway

Laura K. Cowan, Biography~

laura-k-cowan-headshotLaura K. Cowan writes richly imaginative supernatural novels exploring an enduring love of spirituality, nature and dreams. Join her as she delves into the issues raised in her books, such as the relationship between music and the land we come from, the nature of the spiritual world, and the power of a human life lived truly.

Laura wrote her first story, about a mouse’s theft of an automated grocery cart, at the age of eight, about the same age she saw her first glimpses of the future: simple clips of classroom life that played themselves out verbatim in experiences that rocked her ideas about time, prophecy, and the possibilities of the world. She was a sensitive child, knowing early on her mystical experiences of the world didn’t match those of the people around her, and she became increasingly isolated, trying to earn approval through achievements and perfectionism. Bullies plagued her from childhood, when a journal entry she had written about wanting people to love her for who she was was held up in front of the entire seventh grade and ridiculed. She stopped being able to write.

Laura was paralyzed with fear that God was secretly angry with her, too. But she met God in a vision at the Toronto Blessing Revival in the 90s in her early teens, in which he revealed himself to be extravagantly loving, dramatically shifting her experience of spirituality and beginning her healing, as well as further revealing the world of angels and demons to her. Even this experience didn’t quite reach the depth of her pain, and Laura still suffered another decade with an anxiety disorder and increasingly severe migraines.

She was married at age 20 to her childhood sweetheart in the midst of a church split that divided her new family and cost her most of her mentors. Laura had seen the split coming, through prophetic symbolic dreams, but even she could not have foreseen that, through a process of drawing her out of her situation and to himself, God was preparing her to go back and help others. Laura found her healing in stages. After a long process of learning to evaluate alternative remedies for her migraines and learning an enormous amount about healing, spirituality and mysticism that was missing from modern Western culture, she was healed of migraines through the hands-on prayer of new church friends. Then, through another series of encounters, she learned to set boundaries and deal with the bullies in her life, and she had finally found her bravery. She came back to her first love, writing, and discovered that a great deal of her pain had come when she cut herself off from the people who hurt her early in life. Asking God what he could do to heal this early decision to be self-sufficient, Laura heard the words, “I will raise this one myself.” And so he had.

A lifelong dreamer and modern Christian mystic, Laura draws from subconscious depths to bring the things we believe are impossible, spiritually and physically, into the world in a literal way, to bring her experiences of the supernatural into the natural and help others come to see their infinite worth and the exquisite possibilities that exist in a world in which the supernatural is part of the natural order of things. Her mission is healing, truth, and love for a world gone mad for lack of them. Laura’s stories quite simply open the door to let heaven through, often in unexpected ways, to bless people to come into the fullness of their own lives.

Laura has worked for years as an accomplished writer and editor in genres such as green tech, green parenting, and automotive media, and has been called one of the best copy editors in the business by multiple colleagues, including late mentor David E. Davis, Jr., whom TIME Magazine called “the Dean of Automotive Journalism.” She is the founder of popular green parenting blog 29 Diapers, author of Ecofrugal Baby: How To Save 70% Off Baby’s First Year, and Road Test Editor for Inhabitat, the web’s largest green design blog. Laura’s work has appeared in Automobile Quarterly as well as on numerous parenting sites including BabyCenter, EcoMom, and Inhabitots. She has nearly 1,000 articles and blog posts to her credit, but is now happy to be able to pursue her dream of writing fiction full-time. She lives in Michigan with her husband and her 3-year-old daughter, who is already dictating her first stories to her to be published on construction paper. You can find her on Twitter at http://www.Twitter.com/LauraKCowan and LinkedIn, or connect with her at laurakcowan[at]gmail.com or on her website LauraKCowan.com.

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Interview with Author Alana White: Her Life, the Italian Renaissance, and Writing

Yesterday, we presented information and a review of Alana White’s historical fiction novel The Sign of the Weeping Virgin.  If you missed it, you can see it by clicking HERE.

Today, we have an amazing interview with White where we talk about the Pope’s recent resignation, why it’s important to make time for yourself to write, and if times have changed much in regards intrigue and family drama. You’ll also read what scenes were cut out of her newest book and why. I think you’ll enjoy it!

And remember at the end to check out the information on the GIVEAWAY!!

Hi Alana, it’s so nice to spend some time with you doing an interview here on Oh, for the Hook of a Book!  I’m looking forward to getting to know you better.

Hi, Erin, Thank you so much for having me.  It’s a privilege, and I appreciate it.

Let’s dive in…

Q:  Is The Sign of the Weeping Virgin your first novel?

A:  No.  My first novel, Come Next Spring, is a coming-of-age story set in the Smoky Mountains in 1949.  In it, my protagonist, who is very romantic-minded, writes a letter to Margaret Mitchell wanting assurance that Rhett Butler eventually returned to Scarlett O’Hara after Gone With the Wind ends.  And so, till the end of the story, along with the main character, we readers wait for Margaret Mitchell’s reply.  Set in Tennessee, Come Next Spring received good reviews, and it is available online.

Q: When did you first discover your love of words? Is then when you started to write, why or if not, when?

A:  I have always been a reader—one of those kids whose parents say, “Why don’t you go outside and play for a while?”  I think I was just born this way.  I started trying to write a novel when I was twelve.  As you might expect, I didn’t get very far.  I discovered it wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be.  It still isn’t.

Erin Comments:  Me too. And though I’ve been writing ever since, I haven’t got as far as completing that novel yet. Though life gets in the way, I suppose there is something to the time being right also.

Q:  What is your writing process like?

A:  If I don’t begin writing in the morning, it doesn’t get done.  Too many distractions, too many ways to put writing last.  Because it is hard, for me, at least.  As much as I’m loath to admit it, I’m a perfectionist.  So, mornings are when I go over pages from the previous day, tweaking, and asking more questions, looking over my notes to see what happens next.  Also, to refresh my memory of where I am in the story, and what my characters were doing and thinking the previous day.

Erin Comments: Distractions are always a problem, especially for me too. I’m also a perfectionist so it takes me much longer to get something exactly right. J

Q:  What has been the worst thing you’ve had to overcome on your writing journey?

A:  Finding the courage and the means to protect time for myself.  We are all pulled in so many different, important directions, right?  In the opening pages of Weeping Virgin, I thank my husband for giving me “the gift of time.”  And I mean that sincerely.

Erin Comments: I love what you said: “to protect time for myself.” So true.

Q:  What other novels have you written or are writing?

A:  I’ve completed a YA novel with a teen boy as the protagonist.  I need to introduce him to the world.  Time issues, again.  This week, I began the next book in the Guid’Antonio Vespucci mystery series.  So, it’s back to him and Florence (in my mind and heart, anyway), and that makes me happy, indeed.

Q:  What is it that draws you to the City of Flowers (in other words, Florence)?

A:  I truly don’t know why Florence has tapped into my heart.  Of course, the Italian renaissance intrigues me, as it has done so many people.  The richness, the intrigue, and the personal stories.  Today, when you go there, you walk through the same byways and past the same huge stone palaces that were there in the days of the Medicis and the Vespuccis.  In some ways, very little has changed.  Today, rather than Lorenzo de’ Medici striding around the walled city, Florentines have a charming, thirty-something mayor who rides the streets on his bicycle.

Q:  What do you think of the present Pope’s resignation? Do you feel this will make someone a novel years from now?

A:  I think it took courage and cooperation for him to resign his place.  When I say cooperation, I mean there may have been people who would have preferred him to remain Pope, no matter the conditions.  And, yes!  The first thing that occurred to me when I heard the news was along the lines of people jockeying for position, what lengths will they go to, etc.  No doubt Daniel Silva, whose terrific fictional Gabriel Allon character is a “friend” of the Pope in Silva’s novels, is already sharpening his pencils.  I hope so.

Q: How do you feel that historical intrigue and family drama has changed over time and why?

A:  You know, I don’t believe it has so much.  We have different trappings, but I think in the end our hearts beat for the same things: our children, their future, who is at the forefront in government (not only ours), wars, love and betrayal in all its shapes and forms.

Erin Comments: I totally agree, we just don’t always see it as clearly.

Q:  What are your other historical interests?

A:  That’s a terrific question.  If I had all the time (there is that word, again) in the world, I would write about small town southern life in the 1930s and 40s.  Probably this is because I come from a childhood background of sitting on the front porch listening to my mother and grandmother’s stories.  (Or juicy gossip, if you will.)

Q:  What authors have, or do, inspire you? What books do you like?

A:  I mentioned Daniel Silva’s Gabriel Allon series; I like it and probably was drawn to it in the first place because the fictional Gabriel is the world’s greatest art restorer.  So, there is the link to art, and that attracts me.  These books aren’t historicals, but they read like it.  I loved Susan Vreeland’s Clara and Mr. Tiffany.  I like books that open a new world to me.  Clara certainly did that—women designed much of Tiffany’s line, but weren’t given credit for it till just recently.  And—I like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series!

Erin Comments:  You must love art history as much as I do.  I have to tell you that one of my top 10 books of all time is Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Vreeland. I even reviewed it on this site and included photos of Tiffany’s glass work that I took at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Also, I am a crusader for women’s issues, as well as liking New York history circa late 1800s to the 1920s, so I was REALLY impressed by this book.

Q:  What is your best -loved hobby outside of writing and reading?

A:  Genealogy.  I spent a long time tracing my family’s roots and enjoyed it tremendously.  But as those of you know who have entered that zone, it’s like eating chocolate chip cookies.  It’s almost impossible to stop.  Also, I like estate sales.  Interesting: both activities deal with the past.

Erin Comments:  I have done Genealogy since I was in high school and though time has got in the way of intense research since I’ve had children, I still like the feeling I get when I open up another “door.”  Sounds like you enjoy anything historical or vintage like me.

Q:  What feelings or message do you hope that readers take away from The Sign of the Weeping Virgin?

A:  That people are all connected in some deep place and way.  We have the same feelings and basic emotions, we weep and work for the same things.  We’re equal in myriad ways, whether then or now, wherever we may be.

Q:  Is there more to the story than what you were able to fit into the novel?

A:  I love this question!  Yes!  I had two rousing scenes with the antagonist who actually did plot the conspiracy to rid the world of Lorenzo and Giuliano de’ Medici, the two young unofficial leaders of the Florentine Republic at the time of Weeping Virgin.  The villain’s name is Girolamo Riario, and he was married to Caterina Sforza, by the way.  I hated cutting Caterina’s scenes, but it was all just going on too long.  Anyway—Caterina threatened to steal the story!

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A:  I would love that.  I’m on Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/authoralanawhite?ref=hl

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/AlanaWhiteautho

Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/338557.Alana_J_White

And at: www.alanawhite.com

I appreciate you participating in this exclusive interview as you shared your world with us!  I just love how writing brings history alive. Best of luck to you and your work!

This has been fun, Erin.  Thanks again for having me.

GIVEAWAY~

A lucky reader can win ONE (1) tangible copy of The Sign of the Weeping Virgin for their library. It’s open INTERNATIONALLY!!  Please leave a comment here, the previous review post, or on my Facebook post, including your email so I can notify you (OR email me at hookofabook(at)hotmail.com)!

You can enter until 11:59 p.m. EST on February 26, 2013.

One (1) extra entry for following this blog! Please let me know you did so.

Alana White, Biography~

Alana WhiteAlana White’s fascination with the Italian Renaissance led to her first short historical mystery fiction, then to a full-length novel, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin, forthcoming from Five Star Mysteries in December 2012. Set in Renaissance Florence, The Sign of the Weeping Virgin features lawyer Guid’Antonio Vespucci and his adventurous young nephew, Amerigo Vespucci, as they investigate crime in Renaissance Florence. Alana’s articles and book reviews appear regularly in Renaissance Magazine and the Historical Novels Review. In young adult+ books, she is the author of Come Next Spring, a novel set in 1940s Appalachia, and a biography, Sacagawea: Westward with Lewis and Clark. She is currently working on her second Guid’Antonio Vespucci mystery.

See more on Alana White and her work at:  www.alanawhite.com

The Sign of the Weeping Virgin Synopsis~

TSOTWVPublication Date: January 9, 2013 | Five Star Publishing | 384p

Romance and intrigue abound in The Sign of the Weeping Virgin an evocative historical mystery that brings the Italian Renaissance gloriously to life.

In 1480 Florentine investigator Guid Antonio Vespucci and his nephew Amerigo are tangled in events that threaten to destroy them and their beloved city.

Marauding Turks abduct a beautiful young Florentine girl and sell her into slavery. And then a holy painting begins weeping in Guid Antonio s church. Are the tears manmade or a sign of God s displeasure with Guid Antonio himself?

In a finely wrought story for lovers of medieval and renaissance mysteries everywhere Guid Antonio follows a spellbinding trail of clues to uncover the thought-provoking truth about the missing girl and the weeping painting s mystifying and miraculous? tears all pursued as he comes face to face with his own personal demons.

See more reviews, interviews, and guest appearances during White’s virtual blog tour by clicking on button below:

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Romance Written in the Stars! Read Linn Halton’s The Quintessential Gemini!

The Quintessential Gemini, by Linn B. Halton, was a refreshing and original romance tale like none other I’ve read in a very long time! Linn has an amazing writing voice, so much so you’ll feel as if you are taking part in the book yourself.  I was totally invested in the story right from the start.  I fell in love with all her characters and felt their emotions right along with them at each stage in the novel.  It’s such a heartfelt tale where everything is crafted perfectly. It reminded me of a good British drama that always has a little bit of humor attached to it in just the right way (my favorite kind and I love anything British!).

The novel is of a single woman reinventing her life after losing her job, which was her whole world for many years. Now, stuck at home with her cat No. 4 (a cat with a great personality by the way and man of the house), she continues to read her horoscope brought to her by celebrity UK and US astrologer Mark Ainsley-Thomas (such a cool name, right?), which she has followed for over 20 years.  Becoming increasingly frantic as to what the stars say about her life considering her drastic change, when her horoscope begins to sound somewhat off kilter, she grows impatient. Finding out that Mark Ainsley-Thomas has hired someone to assist him, she feels embarrassed by her correspondence, but with the new reader James Kingman being patient and forgiving, something else begins to unfold she also didn’t see coming.

So to sum it up, this is the perfect fun read for a lazy summer day in a hammock, but if you have kids you better get a sitter because you won’t put this book down! I read it in one evening (far into the night without sleeping!), because I wanted to find out what the stars had in mind for Katherine, Mark, James, and hey, even No. 4.

I loved how Linn wrote this funny, quirky, amazing romance surrounded by the topic of horoscopes and astrology. Since that topic is always something that has interested me, I really liked seeing how it was used to play out Katherine’s life in this novel. I love how she interspersed the Gemini horoscopes into chapters within the novel and used them to set the stage for what was happening.

Linn and I talk further about horoscopes, astrology, Christianity AND astrology, writing, and more in our interview, which is up next right after the book synopsis. She even tells me what she thinks of me being a VIRGO. Keep reading, you’ll not want to miss this interview. Linn and I are a great working pair! Even the stars might say!

Book Synopsis~

The Quintessential Gemini a fun, romantic story about Katherine Dale and the three men in her life! Two astrologers and a cat named No. 4. Who would have thought that this rather reserved lady would end up caught in a mystic love triangle…. if only!

For twenty-one years the main focus of Katherine Dale’s life has been her work. Love interests and hobbies came and went; but always there for her, her only constant – other than her cat delightfully named No. 4 – was her nine to five habit. Until she’s replaced.

Her confidence is dented and she’s angry; at life and at herself. She’s failed to grasp the office politics that were going on around her and ignored hints of ‘changes to come’ in her horoscope forecasts. Forover twenty years she has followed Mark Ainsley-Thomas, a renowned Astrologer in the UK and USA. His daily forecasts direct the way she lives her life as a typically complex Gemini. Mark is now an ‘A’ list celebrity and his new Agent is determined to raise his profile in America, so he has to take on James Kingman to help him run his website.

Katherine is totally confused by James’ forecasts. After a couple of Email exchanges, James admits he’s writing the daily forecasts now instead of Mark and advises her ‘it’s probably best not to get too bogged down with the minute detail’. Katherine explodes and drafts a reply, letting out all of the hurt and anger she’s been bottling up. She feels better afterwards and instead sends James a much friendlier Email, acknowledging Mark has a unique style and wishing him luck. To her horror she receives a tirade back from James and realises she sent the wrong Email !

The story is told through the eyes of Katherine, Mark and James. Gossip results in all three being named in a national newspaper headline ‘Mystic Love Triangle Surprise’.

The problem is, what will Mark’s wife say when she hears this shattering news – especially as it isn’t true? What will Katherine’s family think now she’s a scarlet woman? And as for James, well – can it possibly get any worse?

Interview with Author Linn B. Halton~

WELCOME, Linn, to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I am so very happy to have you join my readers and I for an exclusive interview. How’s your blog tour going?

It’s been amazing Erin and very diverse.  So many people are interested in the subject of astrology and because this fun chick lit romance also features a cat called No. 4, the features have bounced around between the two topics!  In real-life I read Jonathan Cainer’s horoscopes every day and find him to be amazingly and spookily accurate.  It’s often better to look at forecasts retrospectively, particularly if they are hard to interpret or understand when you first read them.  Many is the time I’ve said ‘no, I just can’t see that happening…’ and then a little way down the road it’s ‘how did he know that?’  I think most people are guilty of reading their horoscopes and trying to make what they want to happen fit with the message being given.  It doesn’t work that way I’m afraid!  

Q:  Let’s start with a fun question surrounding the topic of astrology. My birthday is August 27 and I’m a Virgo. What do you know about me? (*Smile*)

A: I tend only to know and understand the traits of star signs for people very close to me.  That’s the bit that fascinates me, comparing what the heavens say to the individual.  I do know a Virgo and I’d say she is quite a complex person.  Sometimes misunderstood and her head often rules her heart.  However, she is a very sensitive person, shy and reserved.  Generous at heart, loyal as a friend and smart!  It’s known to be a sign of intellect and love of detail too.  So many Virgos become doctors, engineers and scientists.  As well as writers, editors, surgeons … anything where detail is important in some way, shape or form.

It’s often recognised that Virgos can be perfectionists who then want to share what they have learned/developed with others.  Neat, disciplined, organized, punctual and tireless are also words I’ve seen connected to this star sign.  It’s a great birth date to have!

I believe that 2012 is going to be a great year for you, so I hope you have a wonderful time!

Q: I just couldn’t resist asking that question first. I love looking at a person and their sign and seeing what fits. I’m also really like to read horoscopes and see my outline or see what is happening in the world based on the stars, but many times I am chastised for it because I am also a Christian. What are your feelings on that topic? Do you think we can be Christians and still believe in the stars?

A: Absolutely, although I know many will have differing opinions, but each to their own. I write about psychic things too because I have had many personal (and uplifting) experiences.  However, I have believed in the existence of God since a child and what I have learnt on my life path about life after death has only served to strengthen my beliefs.  I no longer attend Church on a regular basis, as I feel my belief is always here with me, and prefer visiting Churches when they are empty. I like to sit quietly, say a big ‘thank you’ for all the good things in life and for the strength I’ve been given to get through the bad things.  I then spend a while contemplating and feeling close to loved ones that are no longer this side of life.  It’s comforting and reassuring.

I believe that everything in the heavens is a part of creation.  In the same way that the tides are influenced by the Moon’s gravitational field, we are influenced by the components of our individual star charts.  I see no conflict at all, it is all a part of the same thing. 

Q: What gave you the idea to use astrology within your new book, The Quintessential Gemini?

A:  The last thing I do at night is read my forecast for the following day on my Blackberry.  One night it wasn’t quite the forecast I was hoping for, it indicated a day of problems rather than solutions and I must admit I was disappointed. As always, I face problems only as and when they arise, I’m very pro-active so I know that anything that could be avoided, I will have covered.  Then it’s up to fate to be kind or maybe teach me one of those valuable life lessons, so I don’t make the same mistake again (I always do …..it’s inherent in my genes, a family trait – laugh!).

That night the thought popped into my head ‘what if someone really did live their life according to their daily horoscope?’ I thought about waking up knowing that the day wasn’t going to be smooth and my imagination took over.  As the story developed it took me in the direction of a romcom-style situation, with Katherine’s life falling apart professionally and love remaining elusive.  All she had left was a cat called No. 4.

Q:  The book was so fun to read. Was it as much fun for you to write as it was for me to read? Why or why not?

A:  That’s so kind of you to say, a writer can only hope that readers enjoy their stories and this is a fun, summer read.  I was aiming for a book to read whilst waiting at the airport, lying on the beach or on a wet afternoon curled up in a chair.  Something fun, reflecting the trials of real life ups and downs, but with a happy ending.

It was amazing fun developing the characters; Katherine really is crazy and James is unusual.  Mark Ainsley-Thomas, the astrologer, was my interpretation of a talented, wise and worldly astrologer. All three became my best friends and it was a little tearful when I penned the last word on the last page.

Q:  Why do you love writing romance books? Do you have a favorite type of romance novel?

A:  I will always write stories with either a psychic or astrological connection, simply because those are two of my lifelong interests.  I began early in life reading historical romances and some of the literary classics – Woman In White by Wilkie Collins and Jane Austen, etc.  Then in my teens I turned to the Angelique series by Sergeanne Golon.  My lifelong love of romance was born.

When I finally hit the point in my life where I could devote my time to writing, I was as surprised as anyone that my first book was a psychic romance!  I spend a lot of time developing the characters to make them real.  What is interesting in life is that two people witnessing something will often go away with two completely different interpretations.  That’s why I write from the perspectives of several of the characters in each of my novels, I feel it allows the reader to understand the emotions going on and why things often go wrong.  However, I also believe that life is really about the pursuit of happiness with someone you love and who loves you equally as passionately in return.  It isn’t easy, it’s often sad – but there will be highs and lows on the way, plus lots of laughter!

Q: What kinds of other books have you written?

A: My debut novel Touched By The Light is about a young woman who finds herself following the light and suddenly involved in the lives of two strangers whose relationship is falling apart.  The next book I wrote is the true story of why I now believe in life after death, it’s called Being A Sceptic Is Oh So Easy.  It is a diary really of incidents that have happened to me since early childhood and my thoughts on luck, coincidences, déjà vu and intuition.  I was a sceptic despite everything I’d witnessed, but one series of incidents meant I had to face up to the reality of what it all meant.  It really is a case of being a sceptic is easy, it’s coming out that’s hard…

Q: As an author, what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve had?

A: I only began writing in 2009. I wrote for about sixteen months without a break, working long days and completed five manuscripts.  However I had no idea what to do with them.  I dabbled with self-publishing and then earlier this year signed a contract with Sapphire Star Publishing.  With The Quintessential Gemini having released on Jun 7, 2012 and The Restaurant coming out on Aug 2, 2012 it’s been quite intensive, but amazing fun!  So I’d say the whole of 2012 is my biggest challenge so far, but my stars say I’m up to it!

Q:  What are some of the most positive times you’ve had creating or marketing your books?

The most recen

A: The support from readers has been amazing. I’ve received Emails from people I don’t know from around the world and some have identified with psychic elements I’ve included in my books. They often go on to tell me about their own experiences and that really touches my heart, as it’s always really personal.

The most recent comment I received was for The Quintessential Gemini, someone who had read my debut novel and wasn’t expecting the second to be chick lit.  She said I’d caused her to get sunburnt, ignoring calls from her boyfriend to go inside ‘I’ll just read to the end of this chapter…..’ but ended up finishing off the entire book.  Comments like that truly are the greatest compliment any writer could ask for.  However, I hope it’s a one off as I’d hate to think of anyone getting sunburnt!

Q: Describe your road to publishing, please. Any advice for aspiring writers or authors?

It was sheer fluke that I submitted to Sapphire Star Publishing when I saw one of their Tweets calling for submissions.  So I would say to anyone, write the best manuscript you can (you will know in your heart if it’s right), believe in it and submit to publishers you feel are a good fit for you.  I cannot explain how supportive the Sapphire Star team are, or how much I’ve learnt since I’ve been with them.  It really is a partnership and I know my work will be better because of that fact.

Q: What can we expect from you in the future? What are you currently working on?

A:  The Restaurant @ The Mill is coming out on August 2, 2012 and is the story of a couple who run a restaurant, which is set in an old flour mill.  It is six stories interwoven as the reader is introduced to some of the customers and the ghost of Sarah, who wanders around in search of her husband.

My current work in progress is The Glass Wall and is a psychic romance with a twist.

Q: What is the BEST thing about living in the UK??

A:  We’ve moved around quite a bit and many of the homes we’ve had have been picture-book cottages, including one stone hunting lodge over 250 years old.  We currently live in a converted cow shed and hayloft, in a small village called Arlingham on the edge of the River Severn.

What it has given me is a wealth of psychic experiences linked to the history of some of the properties we’ve lived in, in addition to other experiences that were more personal.  However, we did have a quite freaky experience when we visited Boston and stayed in the White Mountains.  Fortunately it occurred on the last night of a three-week stay, as it was so unsettling I’m not sure what we would have done if it had happened on the first night.  It was really quite frightening at the time and fortunately I’ve had very few experiences that I would class as ‘bad’.

What we love about where we live now is the peace, quiet and the beautiful green Gloucestershire countryside.

Q: How can readers get in touch with you? Blog? Website? Social Networking? Please name as many as you wish.

A:  Readers can find me here:

Linn’s Website: http://linnbhalton.co.uk/
Twitter Account @LinnBHalton: http://bit.ly/ksXMDS
Loveahappyending.com
Author Page: http://loveahappyending.com/linn-b-halton/
Facebook Pages:
 Linn B Halton and Author Linn B Halton
Sapphire Star Publishing:
  http://sapphirestarpublishing.com/ssp/linnbhalton/

Q: Where can your books be purchased?

A: Buy online via Amazon, order at bookstores using the ISBN numbers, or contact me via my website (above) if you would like signed copies.

Amazon.co.uk (buy) – ebook: http://ow.ly/bpQ5R  paperback: http://ow.ly/boyTk

Amazon.com (buy) –  ebook: http://ow.ly/bpQtb paperback: http://ow.ly/boz06

Erin:  Thank you Linn, for stopping by my blog and I hope you’ll come back again soon!

Linn:  It’s been a thrill and a delight Erin, you’ve been amazing!  For a new author like myself, it is a great honour to be featured and I would like to take this opportunity to say a huge ‘thank you’.  This Gemini (yes, I’m one too….) would like to say to this Virgo, we share some common traits and if I hadn’t been born under the sign of the Twins, then my next choice would have been Virgo.  Both of our star signs indicated that we don’t always make our own lives easy.  We tend to work too hard, be perfectionists and are tireless at times, so even people simply watching us often feel exhausted, but it’s a fun way to live one’s life.

Erin comments: Thanks Linn! I am so glad we are somewhat kindred spirits. I can tell that both of us also have big hearts, smile alot, and love to live life

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Author Linn B. Halton, Bio~

Linn B Halton lives in theUK, in the small GloucestershirevillageofArlingham, on the banks of the River Severn with her adorable husband and cat with attitude – Mr Tiggs! She writes romantic fiction with a psychic or astrological theme and many of the paranormal events that feature in her books are real life experiences.

Linn is also a featured new Author on http://loveahappyending.com/ and Editor of the feature ‘Author & Associate Catch-Ups’ including ‘Reader/Author Team Reports’ on the website’s magazine-style blog.

Linn’s Website: http://linnbhalton.co.uk/
Twitter Account @LinnBHalton: http://bit.ly/ksXMDS
Facebook Pages: Linn B Halton and Author Linn B Halton

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