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Exclusive Interview with the Master of Thrillers, Author David Morrell

Today I have an INTERVIEW with the fabulous David Morrell, author of First Blood, and many other titles, that have given him the legacy of being the master of the action thriller. With many decades of books under his belt, he is an amazing author still to this day, writing, mentoring, and inspiring many other authors. Currently, he just published Murder as a Fine Art. Very happy to feature him today and I hope you join us for this exclusive interview…..

Murder as a Fine Art

Hi David, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of Book! I am thrilled and honored to have you stop by to discuss your writing and books with me! As one of the best loved thriller writers and trailblazers in the business, I can’t wait to delve into your thoughts. So how are you?

David: Great. I’m halfway through my tour for Murder as a Fine Art and glad for a chance to sit down and take a breath.

Erin:  In that case, by all means let’s sit down and get started…….

Q:  You’ve had quite the career, David! I love your story of how you caught the writing bug by watching the TV show Route 66 in the 1960s.  How do you think this changed your life?

David MorrellA: I was seventeen and going nowhere.  My high-school principal once told me that I wouldn’t amount to anything because I watched so much television. How ironic that television showed me the way. Stirling Silliphant’s scripts for Route 66 were a combination of action and ideas that absolutely inspired me. I sent him a hand-written letter that basically said, “I want to be you.” He actually responded and encouraged me. I never looked back. Years later, we were able to work together when he was the executive producer of the miniseries based on my novel, The Brotherhood of the Rose.

Q:  How did your writing career first get started then?

A: To the surprise of many, I decided to finish high school. Then I went to college so that I could read the best of what had been written. By then, I realized that not many people earn a living as a writer and that I ought to get a day job. I went to Penn State for an M.A. and Ph.D. in American literature—again to the surprise of many—with the intent of becoming a professor. All along, I kept writing, and finally, twelve years after I first watched Route 66, at the age of 29, I published my first novel, First Blood.

Q: You mention having some fabulous mentors, such as Philip Young who wrote the first critical study about Ernest Hemingway. How did they work with you or effect you in order to make such a profound difference in your life? What did they teach you?

A: Philip Young is important because his book about Hemingway is what made me decide to go to Penn State and study with him. Eventually I became his graduate assistant. But another Philip—Philip Klass, whose pen name is William Tenn—made the difference in terms of my fiction writing. For three years, from 1967 until 1970—he taught me the basics, not only about writing but about being a professional. I explain his theories in my writing book, The Successful Novelist. Klass had a couple of mantras. One was that everyone has a dominant emotion. He believed rightly that mine was fear, the result of a rough childhood. He encouraged me to use my dominant emotion to write a book that only I could write because of the forces that made me what I am.  He described this as “self-psychoanalysis,” and it had a powerful influence on me.

Erin Comments: Writing a novel myself, I like this advice. It’s an ever bigger step than “write what you know.” Emotions are very powerful.

Q:  Your debut novel, First Blood, which introduced the character of Rambo and was adapted into a hit film, has made you a household name. How did you first come up with the idea for First Blood, and then, its series?

First Blood coverA: At Penn State, I earned my tuition by teaching composition classes. In 1967, several of my students were veterans newly returned from Vietnam. They described the problems they had adjusting to peacetime. Nightmares, sweats, difficulty sleeping, reaction to loud noises, problems relating to people. The phrase “post traumatic stress disorder” didn’t exist then, but that’s what they had.  At the same time, the United States was experiencing massive protests against the war, coupled with hundreds of race riots (which in an indirect way were related to the war because a disproportionate number of Blacks were drafted). There seemed a risk that the country would fall apart.

One day, I had the idea of a Medal of Honor winner returning from Vietnam to the U.S. The war, it turns out, had radicalized him because his experiences had taught him that he had a talent for killing and he hated himself because of that. Wanting to be left alone, he inadvertently finds himself in a version of the Vietnam War in the mountains outside a small American town. It’s an anti-war novel that led to a series of films, the second and third installments of which had a reverse theme.  I had nothing to do with the later films, but I think that the first movie is very well made.

Erin Comments:  Amazing.

Q: Were you surprised by its reception with readers? I’m sure that having such success with a novel completely changed your world. Can you put it into words?

A: I wrote my Masters thesis on Hemingway’s style.  When I wrote First Blood, I kept remembering the way Hemingway wrote about action in novels like To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls. He always made it fresh. He never resorted to tired, pulp phrases like “A shot rang out.” I began wondering if it was possible to write an action book that wouldn’t feel like a genre book. In 1972, there’d never been a non-genre book that had that much action.  First Blood changed the way action could be written. Its techniques—and the timeliness of the subject—led to very positive reviews in just about every major magazine and newspaper. First novels seldom get that kind of attention. Then came a big paperback sale, and the movie sale (although the movie didn’t get made for ten years). It was all very bewildering.  Fortunately I was a professor. Teaching the great books every day put everything in perspective for me. 

Rambo

Q: Over the course of the years you’ve written many more novels in the thriller genres and even co-founded International Thriller Writers organization. Are all your books in the same genre? How are they similar, or are any different (besides Murder as a Fine Art that we’ll get to in a minute)?

A: This is my 41st year as a published author. That’s an eternity in the publishing world, where many successful careers end after 15 or at most 20 years. What can happen is that an author finds something that works and repeats it until the author and the author’s readers get tired. In contrast, I thought of my career as a way to grow and evolve, a way to find new methods of showing what a thriller can be.  In fact, I also wrote a western, and I have a large following in the horror community. My work doesn’t have anything supernatural in it, but it often has an eerie tone, which earned me three Stoker awards from the Horror Writers Association. 

In the 1980s, I wrote a series of influential espionage novels that began with The Brotherhood of the Rose. They were the first to combine the authentic espionage tradecraft of the British tradition with the action of the American tradition. I’m always looking for new ways to tell an exciting story, to the point that my friend Steve Berry keeps kidding me about how often I re-invented myself.

Erin Comments: But that is the way to keep yourself fresh and able to sell books!

Q: What do you love the best about writing thrillers?

A: I was destined to write thrillers. My father died in combat just after I was born. My mother couldn’t hold a job and take care of me at the same time, so she put me in an orphanage.  Later she remarried, but my stepfather disliked children. He and my mother fought so much that I lived in fear. I often slept under my bed. In the dark, I made up stories to distract myself. They were adventure stories in which I was the hero.  It’s no wonder that I became a thriller writer. I feel fulfilled every time I sit down to write.

Erin Comments: I am very sorry to hear this, but I’m glad that you took your experiences and used them to motivate your writing. I’m guessing you like to write Captain America comics (I know you’ve done some in recent years) since he was such a hero!

CA

Q: You might have already mentioned research. I know you’ve been able to allow yourself some extensive outside training in your research…raceways, survival training, getting a pilot’s license….what have been some of your most memorable adventures? What do you feel you gain by immersing yourself into these types of training situations?

A: Too many thriller writers take their details from movies and TV shows, which almost always are in error. In a movie, someone will shoot the gas tank of a vehicle, and the fuel tank explodes. In life, that doesn’t happen. Or a character will shoot a tire, and the tire will explode. That doesn’t happen either. Early in my career, I realized that to respect what I was writing about, I needed to have hands-on experience. I interviewed the kind of people I wrote about.

I trained in various activities, such as spending a week at the Bill Scott Raceway in West Virginia to learn how to handle cars the way the Secret Service does. For a wilderness survival sequence, I once lived in Wyoming’s Wind River mountains, receiving training from the National Outdoor Leadership School. I once broke my collarbone in a knife-fighting class. 

For the airplane sequences in The Shimmer (about the mysterious Marfa Lights of west Texas), I took flight lessons until I earned my private pilot’s license.  The research is a way of respecting my material and doing my best to make it believable.

Erin Comments: And very exciting as well! I love how you bring true details and action to your novels.

Q:  I tend to try to be humorous, but the question comes to mind—do you feel you would have been some kind of FBI, Fighter Pilot, or some other risky profession if you hadn’t gotten your break as an author? (Even your picture makes me think you might be undercover –*smiling*)

A: There’s no question that I lead two different lives. Mostly, I sit at a desk and write. But every year or two, I head off for training of various types, and often it’s dangerous.  I look like a mild-mannered professor, but someone who looks like that can be an effective, unsuspected operative. I’m reminded of training I received at the G. Gordon Liddy Academy of Corporate Security.  For three weeks, he brought in ex-government agents who taught a version of what CIA recruits receive at the Farm.  It was invaluable experience, and in our street exercises, following people etc., I was amazed by how invisible a trained operative can be.

Q:  You’ve had a busy year, besides finishing up Murder as a Fine Art, being an archivist and doing all things organizational to assist readers. Can you explain what’s been happening with your titles? Are they all available in e-book form now?

DM 2A: When the e-book revolution occurred in 2009, I started preparing some of my out-of-print titles in digital format. I’ve been publishing for so long that I have the e-rights to the majority of my books. I also began digitalizing short stories and essays that were published decades ago.  Nearly all my work is online now (millions and millions of words), with a few exceptions, such as Extreme Denial, which I’ll release this summer when I’m finished with the release of Murder as a Fine Art.

Erin Comments: That’s exciting!

Q:  Stemming from this, how do you feel that the publishing and book selling industry has changed? What do you find positive, and in comparison, negative, with all that has transpired in the last decade?

A: For most of my career, an author needed to go through the gatekeepers of an agent and an editor. I still think that this is the way to go—because the work is better for having their help. But sometimes a writer finishes something that doesn’t fit what agents or editors are looking for. It can be a beautifully written book, but it just doesn’t fit current trends. In former decades, that would have been the end, but now an author can take charge and release the book digitally. In that sense, there has never been a better time with more opportunities for authors. That’s the good news. The bad news is that some books are so poorly written that they deserve not to be published, but without gatekeepers, an awful lot of those poorly written books are flooding the e-market.

Erin Comments: Spot on. I agree.

Murder as a Fine Art

Q:  Now that you’ve tried to challenge yourself with your writing and take on a new era, how did you find it writing about Victorian England in your newest book, Murder as a Fine Art? How did you come up with the idea?

A: A 2009 film about Darwin’s nervous breakdown (Creation) had a brief bit of dialogue in which someone says, “Charles, people such as De Quincey are saying that it’s possible to be influenced by thoughts and emotions we don’t know we have.” I wondered if the reference was to Thomas De Quincey, an 1800s author whom my long-ago college professor dismissed as being a mere literary footnote. But that bit of dialogue intrigued me. It sounded like Freud, except that Freud didn’t publish his theories for a half-century after De Quincey.  I felt something tugging at my mind.

After the film ended, I opened one of my college textbooks (I still have them). I started reading De Quincey and fell down a Victorian rabbit hole. He invented the word “subsconscious.” He also invented the true-crime genre in his Postscript to his sensational essay “On Murder Consider as One of the Fine Arts,” which is about the notorious Ratcliffe Highway murders. He influenced Edgar Allan Poe, who in turned influenced Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Sherlock Holmes.  This guy was major, I discovered, and I couldn’t wait to write a novel in which he appeared at the start of the detective tradition.

Q:  What kind of research did you put into Murder as a Fine Art? Certainly you didn’t become a serial killer, and likewise, it was probably hard to time travel in order to become a member of Scotland Yard. So how did you “get into costume” so to speak?

A: Again, I became a Method author. The first step was to read and re-read the many thousands of pages that De Quincey wrote. That wasn’t hard—his work became more brilliant with each reading. Eventually I felt as if I was channeling him.  Then I accumulated a vast amount of books about Victorian culture in London in the 1850s. After that, I read and re-read novels from the period. Truly, I began to feel that I was actually there, and my goal became to make readers feel the same way. The reviewer for Entertainment Weekly was especially complimentary about the vividness of the historical details.

Erin Comments:  I agree, the historical details in your novel are fabulous.

Q:  Is history something you are interested in, or was it the literary works of Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle what most influenced you?

A: Most of my novels have a strong element of history. Back in 1977, I even wrote a historical western, Last Reveille, about “Black Jack” Pershing’s hunt for the Mexican bandit, Pancho Villa.  The Brotherhood of the Rose is filled with history.  And so on. But this is easily my most historical book. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes weren’t a factor for me. I admire the character, but Holmes shows up three decades after the events of Murder as a Fine Art. In fact, the chronology is interesting. De Quincey inspired Edgar Allan Poe, who in turn inspired Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to create Holmes.  And then there’s Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, one of the first detective novels (two decades before Holmes). Its climax uses De Quincey’s Confessions of an English Opium-Eater to solve the crime, so De Quincey can truly be found at the start of the detective tradition.

Erin Comments: That is very interesting!

Q:  Do you feel this book also stretched your writing style beyond just the time period? How did the narrative and POV come into play?

A: In graduate school, I was trained to believe that the best novels combine form and content. That meant if I was going to set a novel in 1854 London, I needed to write an imitation Victorian novel, one that was true to the period. These days, the omniscient viewpoint is hardly ever used, but it was used all the time by people like Dickens. Every chapter of Murder as a Fine Art begins with an omniscient narrator. The technique is true to the era, and as a bonus, it allows me to explain the weirdness of Victorian culture, which I would otherwise not have been able to do.  Many Victorian novels also use first-person journals, so I used that device also. It was great technical fun.

Q: Do you have in writing process, or have you thought about, any other types of new novels?

A: The response to Murder as a Fine Art has been so positive that many people asked me to write another book about De Quincey. My publisher was very happy when I said that would be my next project. I don’t normally write sequels, but De Quincey has really grabbed me. I have plenty more to say about him and 1854 London.

Erin Comments: Wonderful news (in my review yesterday, I said I had hoped you’d be writing more)!

Q: Who are your personal favorite thriller writers? Who are your favorite writers overall? And why?

A: The thriller writer who most influenced me is Geoffrey Household, whose classic 1939 novel Rogue Male is about a British big-game hunter who stalks Hitler on the eve of WWII. That book and Household’s Watcher in the Shadows showed me what thrillers can be.

Q: Do you feel all your dreams have come true? What is one thing you’d like to do you haven’t done yet?

A: Truly, I try not to have expectations. That way I don’t have disappointments. My 15-year-old son Matthew died in 1987 from a rare bone cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma. In 2009, my 14-year-old granddaughter Natalie died from the same disease. Only 200 people get it each year in the United States.  My many years have taught me that the only thing of value is time. When I start a project, I always ask myself, “Why is this project worth a year or two or three of your time?”  Writing fulfills me in a mysterious way. I choose projects that have something about their theme, their technique, and their research that will make me feel fuller. Murder as a Fine Art more than did that for me.

Erin Comments: I am sorry to hear that, please accept my sympathies.  I agree with you, time is valuable. Each and every minute and writing, to me, is a lasting legacy.

Q: Where can readers connect with you?

A: www.davidmorrell.net.  It’s a very informative website, with information about Route 66 and Rogue Male and Rambo and video interviews and free essays about writing.

Erin:  Thank you so much, David, for chatting with me. You are quite an inspiration and I am proud to have had this opportunity. I appreciate it and wish you continued success and best wishes!

David: I enjoyed my visit. Thanks.

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Murder as a Fine Art Review~

You can read my review of Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art HERE!

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Giveaway~

You may enter to win one (1) copy of David Morrell’s Murder as a Fine Art by leaving a comment at the end of this blog post or on a Facebook link. Please enter by 11:59 p.m. EST two weeks from the date of this post. Open in the United States only, this time.

For +1 extra entry, follow my blog. For +2 extra entries, please “like” the Hook of a Book Facebook Page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook.

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MURDER AS A FINE ART, Synopsis~

Murder as a Fine ArtPublication Date: May 7, 2013
Mulholland Books
Hardcover; 368p
ISBN-10: 0316216798

GASLIT LONDON IS BROUGHT TO ITS KNEES IN DAVID MORRELL’S BRILLIANT HISTORICAL THRILLER.

Thomas De Quincey, infamous for his memoir Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, is the major suspect in a series of ferocious mass murders identical to ones that terrorized London forty-three years earlier.

The blueprint for the killings seems to be De Quincey’s essay “On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.” Desperate to clear his name but crippled by opium addiction, De Quincey is aided by his devoted daughter Emily and a pair of determined Scotland Yard detectives.

In Murder as a Fine Art, David Morrell plucks De Quincey, Victorian London, and the Ratcliffe Highway murders from history. Fogbound streets become a battleground between a literary star and a brilliant murderer, whose lives are linked by secrets long buried but never forgotten.

Praise for MURDER AS A FINE ART

“Murder As a Fine Art by David Morrell is a masterpiece—I don’t use that word lightly—a fantastic historical thriller, beautifully written, intricately plotted, and populated with unforgettable characters. It brilliantly recreates the London of gaslit streets, fogs, hansom cabs, and Scotland Yard. If you liked The Alienist, you will absolutely love this book. I was spellbound from the first page to last.”

—Douglas Preston, #1 bestselling author of The Monster of Florence

Author David Morrell, Biography~

David MorrellDavid Morrell is a Canadian novelist from Kitchener, Ontario, who has been living in the United States for a number of years. He is best known for his debut 1972 novel First Blood, which would later become a successful film franchise starring Sylvester Stallone. More recently, he has been writing the Captain America comic books limited-series The Chosen.

He’s written numerous novels and been an Edgar, Anthony, and Macavity nominee as well as a three-time recipient of the distinguished Stoker Award from the Horror Writers Association. The International Thriller Writers organization gave him its prestigious career-achievement Thriller Master Award. His work has been translated into twenty-six languages.

For more information on David Morrell and his novels, please visit the official website. You can also follow David on Facebook, Twitter and Google+.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/murderasafineartvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #MurderAsAFineArtTour

Murder as a Fine Art Virtual Tour FINAL2

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Filed under Q and A with Authors

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.

Thwarted Queen cover

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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