Tag Archives: interviews with authors

Interview: Julie K. Rose Talks about Writing, Research, Tunisian Cake, and More!

I’m pleased today to have Julie K. Rose drop by for tea and cookies (and bringing a cake recipe by too that sounds lovely) and to talk about her newest book, Dido’s Crown, as well her life and writing! I hope you enjoy our conversation. If you missed my exciting review of Dido’s Crown earlier this week, you can see it HERE. It’s a wonderful story, set in 1935, of a woman caught up in espionage in Tunisia!


Hi Julie! Welcome back to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m so excited about your newest fictional endeavor, Dido’s Crown. As I prepare our seats and refreshment, tell me, what’s behind that name?

Julie: Hi! I’m so excited to be back. You always have the best refreshments, and conversation! In terms of the name, it’s tied to an important plot point in the book, so I don’t want to say too much. That said, it ties nicely to Tunisia – Dido was the founder and first queen of Carthage, modern-day Tunis. And I like the suggestion of Dido’s complicated and melancholy story.

Erin: Yay!! Yes, it does. 🙂 We will let them all find out by reading the book! How exciting has this been for you to release another book? It’s so hot here in Ohio – I mean it’s not autumn weather at all that we are used this time of year. We will be wearing swimsuits for Halloween. And with a serial killer being arrested here it’s been a bit stressful. So I’m up for relaxing in my comfy library chairs with you while we talk about Dido’s Crown. And I’m thinking mojitos today – they are my favorite. We can do mint and other assorted flavors…..blueberry…cherry…. You’ve packed for a weekend stay right?

Julie: Of course I did! Sitting together, chatting about books sounds just like the antidote to the world that I need this week.This world is completely nuts, so art is more important than ever. It helps us remember how to be human, you know? I’d actually love a cup of hot, sweet mint tea if you don’t mind. Puts me in a North Africa kind of mood.

Erin: Okay, mint tea is one of my faves for Fall and Winter and since the air conditioning is on late for this time of year I’ll make some and it won’t make me too hot. My ex-husband was from Egypt and hot tea was a must drink (or Turkish coffee). We can save the mojitos for another day since you’ll be staying awhile. I’ve baked up some spice cookies in the Dutch tradition though! I suppose that is not very North African.. They just sound good today and I think you’ll like them. They smell like Fall or Christmas and I’m anticipating those seasons. I’ll pour the tea and we’ll get started! Oh –I always ask you to share a recipe when you come too! Do you have one you’d like to share on this trip? May I can make that for us for later.

Julie:  Oooh spice cookies are the BEST.

I do have a recipe! This is for Tunisian Orange and Almond cake. Tunisia is a country of real contrast, and the northern climes are home to vineyards and orchards – very similar to the climate here in the Bay Area. Orange cake plays an important role right in the first chapter of Dido’s Crown.

This is adapted from Reza Mahammad’s recipe, found here: http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/recipes/tunisian-orange-almond-cake.html

tunisian cake.jpg


  • 1 cupsuperfine sugar (not powdered)
  • ¾ cup ground almond
  • ¼ cup panko crumbs, slightly stale breadcrumbs or cake crumb
  • Finely grated zest of 2 unwaxed oranges
  • Finely grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
  • 1 ½ tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup sunflower oil
  • 4 eggs
  • For the syrup:
  • Juice of 2 oranges
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cloves
  • 2 star anise
  • ½ tbsp orange blossom water
  • Powdered sugar for dusting
  1. Line and grease an 8″ spring-form cake tin.
  2. Mix together the sugar, almonds, panko crumbs, both zests and baking powder.
  3. In a separate bowl whisk together the eggs and the oil.
  4. Pour onto the almond mixture and mix.
  5. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and place into a cold oven. (At this point make the syrup)
  6. Turn on to 355°F and bake for 40-45 minutes until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
  7. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out onto a plate.
  8. While the cake is warm, pierce it all over with a wooden skewer or toothpick and pour on some of the syrup.
  9. Keep spooning over more syrup every now and then until it’s all been absorbed.

For the syrup:

  1. Make the syrup by adding all the ingredients except the orange blossom water into a saucepan. Bring gently to the boil stirring to dissolve the sugar whilst allowing the liquid to thicken to a syrupy consistency.
  2. Add the orange blossom water and remove the spices which can be used to decorate the cake.
  3. Set aside till cake ready. To serve, dust with icing sugar and serve on a cake stand with Greek yoghurt or crème fraiche and summer berries.

Erin: Yum!! Yes I’ll definitely make that for us for tomorrow! Thanks for sharing that!

Dido’s Crown is a 1930s novel of intrigue that you describe as being inspired by Indiana Jones and John Le Carré. Two of my favorite things! Plus The Thin Man! I was thrilled when I found out your wrote a story about a woman who takes on a mystery during the political international landscape of 1935! Where did you come up with this idea?

Julie: I’m not sure if I can pinpoint how and where I came up with the concept. I knew I wanted to set a book in Tunisia; I’ve always been fascinated by North Africa, and Tunisia has an amazing history. So I knew I would set at least some of the book there. The plot itself definitely took more time and evolved over the years that I wrote it. It was initially going to be focused on Tom and Will and their time just before WWI, and at that point, the British Secret Service angle hadn’t appeared – it was initially about these two scholars at Oxford. I wish I could remember the moment that Mary showed up, because she of course changed everything.

Erin: Your novel travels around the globe with Mary. How did you research the locations during these time periods and bring them with such vivid description to the page?

Julie:Modern travel guidebooks were actually incredibly useful as a starting point, as I’ve not yet had the chance to visit Tunisia. YouTube was also great – lots of videos of modern Tunisia helped me understand the lay of the land. YouTube was also surprisingly helpful in terms of films of Tunisia at the time. And of course, the normal research you’d expect – contemporary and scholarly sources.

Erin: What background research on the history of this time period did you do and how factual is the foundation your fictional story rest upon?

Julie: Ahhhhh research! The 1930s was a really interesting time for Tunisia, politically speaking, so there was a lot of great scholarly research to tap into. As a matter of fact, I’ve posted a bibliography at my website with a small set of the books and articles I consulted. In terms of the 1930s, there were quite a few great resources, including The Thirties by Juliet Gardiner. The research on the British Secret Intelligence Service was a load of fun, and I particularly loved The Secret History of MI6 by Keith Jeffery.

The foundational information is factual – the SIS, the different stations, the influence of the Deuxième Bureau in colonial life, the Tunisian independence movement, etc. The origin story I created for numbers stations, while based on research into espionage techniques and what we know of numbers station history (which is very little), is pure fiction.

Erin: How did you learn to pace your novel in order to keep the action moving but yet also create your characters with dimension and depth?

Julie: Well, I hope I accomplished that…and if I did, I’m not quite sure how! To be very honest, this book was a bear for me to write. I had to devise ways to keep myself on track, not only with chronologies but also with motivations both at a macro (Secret Intelligence Service) level and a micro level (individual characters). Ultimately the action is accomplished by character, so those personalities and desires were the primary focus.

Erin: Talk about your cover a little bit and the thought behind it?

Julie: I was initially interested in using a painting called Olga by David Jagger (1935), because the subject is so very much like the Mary in my mind.


Olga by David Jagger / Submitted by Julie K. Rose

Unfortunately, I couldn’t obtain the rights for the painting, and I think in the end, it worked out better. I did a search at Bridgeman Art for “photograph” and “1935” and found the gorgeous photo I ended up using, which is held by a museum in New Zealand. I love the look of the woman – she feels self-contained, a little wistful, and a little mysterious. My brother had the genius idea of overlaying the map of Tunis, which gives the cover an interesting weathered look from afar, and a second layer of mystery when you see it up close.

Erin: The cover is amazing!! And your brother had a great idea. How long have you been working on the novel? What kind of steps do you put into the process?

Julie: I started working on the novel in 2011, when I was blocked in the midst of trying to finish my last book, Oleanna. That book was published in 2012 and I picked at Dido’s Crown for a bit, but then went through a period of depression and didn’t come back to the book again until the summer of 2015. The steps are pretty much the same as most writers: a very rough first draft, set it aside and percolate on it for a bit, do another draft, lather, rinse, repeat.

Erin: What did you find out about yourself through the process of writing Dido’s Crown?

Julie: I learned that droughts end, dark times pass, and the creative spark will still be there when you come back to it. It’s a very reassuring thing.

Erin: What did you learn about your writing and your process from the publication of Oleanna in 2012 to the your current release?

Julie:I learned to finally not just embrace the rewriting process, but actually enjoy it. I also learned to respect my creative rhythms more. And I knew this, but it was an important reminder: good critique partners and editors are worth their weight in gold.

Erin: You’ll always an inspiration to me, Julie. I really enjoy your motivational YouTube videos. Can you talk about why you prompted to do those, how they help you, and how you hope they help others? Will you keep doing them?

Julie: Oh my goodness, thank you! There are a couple of motivations behind the videos. The first is that I really wanted to try something that scared me. I had taken a public speaking training at work, in which everything we did was filmed. It was both scary and eye opening, and it gave me confidence. But presenting to a group of your colleagues is one thing; filming a video and posting it where any random stranger could see it was initially terrifying. Who the hell am I to take up space? Who the hell am I to have a voice? But there’s something that feels revolutionary and empowering about being seen, as a middle-aged woman, you know? And once I started doing the videos, I found I enjoyed the hell out of them. I like the whole process – writing the script, setting up the shot, filming, editing, etc.

As to the content: I feel like I just recovered my own creativity last year, and realized what a precious and important thing it is. This year has been absolutely insane, on a cultural and political front, and art and creativity are an important bulwark against the horror. I know it can be hard for people, especially women, to embrace their creativity and give themselves permission to do art and be creative. But it’s more important than ever.

I will definitely continue to do videos; I’m kind of addicted now. I may add to the Courage & Creativity series, and I have ideas for other series that could be a lot of fun.

Erin: I look forward to more videos. They truly help me!

What is the best snack you can eat when working your “second job” of writing, editing, promo, etc.? I want to see what’s in your secret snack drawer….

Julie: Oh gosh. I used to have a terrible bubble gum habit, which I’ve finally broken myself of. I don’t snack when I write, because I’m usually writing first thing in the morning before my day job, so if it’s anything, it’s some oatmeal or toast. But I always need to have something to drink – coffee (with sugar-free peppermint syrup!) or hot tea.

Erin: You must be a morning person! I find so many writers tell me they don’t snack when writing. I feel all I do is type five words – snack – type five words -snack. haha!

What do you think you want to write in the future? Do you have any plans or thoughts for topics?

Julie: I’m working on my next book now. It’s set in my home town of San José in 1906, right at the time of the great earthquake. The history of the Santa Clara Valley (now known as the Silicon Valley) is fascinating, and little known outside California, so I’m hoping to shed some light there.

Erin: If you could write a book about a woman in history, who would it be? If you could have 5 critique partners for the book, who would they be?

Julie:This is so tough. I love stories about regular folks, so I’d love to write something about what it was like to live through the troubles in Northumbria in the 6th and 7th centuries. If pressed to write about a famous woman, my first instinct is Boudicca, though I’d love to write someday about Princess Kristina of Norway. She was married to Philip of Castile in 1258, only to die four years later at the age of 28. She had wished a church honoring St. Olav be built, and her wish was finally granted 750 years later in Covarrubias in 2011.

Erin: Yes, now you must write of Princess Kristina!  Okay – a fun question. Your favorite coffee mug is….?

Julie: Is it sad that I have more than one? The “Please do not annoy the writer” mug is from a friend and is both funny and true. The Sons of Heptarchy Northumbria mug is via the British History Podcast and references the sons of Ida, the king of Bernicia. It makes me laugh every time I look at it. And the Good Mythical Morning mug is from my favorite morning show. 


Erin: So cool! I love to see people’s coffee/tea mugs. Give good insight!

If people dedicated a weekend to your book and wanted to throw in a movie to make the event complete, what would they watch? Feel free to give more than one suggestion.

Julie: Oh gosh! Well, pop some popcorn and settle in. Of course, I’d start with Raiders of the Lost Ark. Did you know the scenes that are set in Cairo were actually filmed in Tunis? Beyond that connection, it’s just a great adventure and I love the action, and of course Harrison Ford. I’d follow it up with The Thin Man (1934) with Myrna Loy and William Powell. The dialog is to die for, and it’s a great Hollywood version of the mid-1930s. Finally, if you’re still awake, definitely watch Design for Living (1933). Though based on Noël Coward’s 1932 play, it diverged quite a bit and I think it’s delightful. Plus: Gary Cooper and Frederic March. Come on.

Erin: It’s always a joy to have you on my site, dear friend. As always, I wish you the best of luck with your newest book. I’m so happy and excited for you! Cheers to another cup of hot tea (and mojitos tomorrow) – stay awhile and chat.

Julie: It is always such a pleasure to sit with you, my dear! Thank you always for your support and friendship, you’re such a delight! And yes, let’s keep chatting. These cookies are delicious!

02_dido%27s-crownDido’s Crown by Julie K. Rose

Publication Date: September 29, 2016
Paperback; 340 Pages
ISBN13: 9781365316333

Genre: Historical Fiction/Literary

Set in Tunisia and France in 1935, Dido’s Crown is a taut literary-historical adventure influenced by Indiana Jones, The Thin Man, and John le Carré.

Mary Wilson MacPherson has always been adept at putting the past behind her: her father’s death, her sister’s disappearance, and her complicated relationship with childhood friends Tom and Will. But that all changes when, traveling to North Africa on business for her husband, Mary meets a handsome French-Tunisian trader who holds a mysterious package her husband has purchased — a package which has drawn the interest not only of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service, but the Nazis as well.

When Tom and Will arrive in Tunisia, Mary suddenly finds herself on a race across the mesmerizing and ever-changing landscapes of the country, to the shores of southern France, and all across the wide blue Mediterranean. Despite her best efforts at distancing herself from her husband’s world, Mary has become embroiled in a mystery that could threaten not only Tunisian and British security in the dangerous political landscape of 1935, but Mary’s beliefs about her past and the security of her own future.

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

03_julie-k-roseAuthor Julie K. Rose, Biography

A member of the Historical Novel Society and former reviewer for the Historical Novels Review, Julie lives in the Bay Area with her husband and rescue cats, and loves reading, following the San Francisco Giants, and enjoying the amazing natural beauty of Northern California.

Her historical adventure novel, Dido’s Crown, has released in September 2016.

Oleanna, short-listed for finalists in the 2011 Faulkner-Wisdom literary competition, is her second novel. The Pilgrim Glass, a finalist in the 2005 Faulkner-Wisdom competition and semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards, was published in 2010.

For more information, please visit Julie K. Rose’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.


Check out the Tour Schedule HERE!

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Interview with Marie Savage About Debut Oracles of Delphi: Research, Mythology, Mysteries

Today I welcome Marie Savage/Kristi Blank Makansi to the site! If you missed my review of her debut novel, Oracles of Delphi, which is a mystery of ancient Greece, you can read it here! Enjoy the interview!

Hi, Marie, and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! You’ve been working with books for years, but how does it feel to have published your debut mystery?

Marie: SCARY! I always tell the authors I work with to put out the best book possible and then not to obsess over reviews, but … and when my daughters and I published the first books in our Seeds Trilogy (a YA/sci-fi) series, I could rejoice or lament with them as reviews came in, but having my own book out in the world makes me feel like I’m parading around the town square with no clothes on.

Erin: It’s chilly I think where both of us are, would like to join me for a cup of hot tea? I can put on a pot of hot chai, or whatever your pleasure is, just let me know? Cream or sugar or lemon?

Marie: I’d love some tea with a bit of lemon.

Erin: I’ll pour. Here have a seat in my library, over there in the comfortable chairs by the window. I think you’ll enjoy my ancient world décor. I’ll be right back to bring out some gingerbread scones, fresh from the oven.

Marie: This is all so delightfully cozy.

Erin: With tea and treat in hand, let’s get started on your questions!


Q: When did you first decide to write Oracles of Delphi? How long did it take you to write it?

A: I was inspired by a comment first suggested by my sister as we were visiting Delphi. As we stood up by the stadion looking out across the valley, she said something like: “Imagine you’re a young woman who has the skills to solve a murder, but no one will listen to you.” For the rest of the trip, we brainstormed storylines and obviously, the much has changed since then, but that was the genesis. That trip was in 2008. After we returned home, I worked on the book on and off, hired several editors to help, got it historically fact-checked by a friend who happens to be both Greek and a professor of Classics, and then let it sit for another year or two before I went back in and reworked it. Finally, I decided it was time to unleash Althaia and her friends on the world.

Q: Have you always fostered a love of ancient cultures? Why or why not?

A: I’ve always been a night owl and was one of those kids who enjoyed a good chapter or two in the encyclopedia as well as an exciting novel. I don’t remember how old I was when I first read about the discoveries at Mycenae and Schliemann and Troy, but I’ve been captivated by the ancient Greek world ever since.

Q: Did the intriguing aspect that most ancient cultures seem to carry give you the nudge to make your book a mystery as opposed to just a regular historical fiction?

A: I love mysteries, so I guess the answer is yes…from that moment in Delphi, it was always a mystery and there was always a girl who had some special knowledge that the men around her didn’t have. As a woman with two daughters, I wanted to write a strong, independent female protagonist, but I also wanted to make sure that the real-world social limits of the time could not simply be contravened by magic or the gods.  I wanted the challenges involved in solving the mystery to be grounded in the real world, however they characters themselves might want to interpret them. That said, the question of whether there are indeed gods and oracles is left as a bit of a deeper mystery.

Q: You have many complex characters in your novel. How did your devise and construct them? Are they based on any real people you know?

A: No one character is based on a single person, but rather aspects of people I’ve known or people I’d love to know–real or imagined. My biggest concern (besides all the other normal worries writers fret over) was that my characters were true to their times and personal histories. For instance, one of my favorite characters is Theron, Althaia’s tutor. His back story came to me in one chunk and isessentially the same as the first time I wrote it. His life affected me and I wanted to be true to him and honor his reasons for being so obsessed with finding “truth” and why he has turned his back on the gods. Similarly, all the characters, I wanted to try my best make them as fully formed as possible so that no one felt like a cardboard cutout. Like a movie with an “ensemble” cast, I tried to approach each character as someone so valuable to the story that they could stand alone. Whether or not I’ve accomplished anything near that is for the reader to decide.

Q: How did you create your plot? Did you use an outline or do you write as pantser? Either way you answer, how did that work in writing something as intricate as a mystery?

A: I outlined and then ignored it and wrote like a pantser and then reworked the outline based on what was on the page and then threw that out again. So I guess I’m a hybrid…a bit of a pantser and a bit of a planner. I like to have the general direction in mind before I start, but then the story takes over. For instance, in the first draft(s), Nikos was a much darker character and – SPOILER ALERT – Kleomon was the killer. But I came to love Kleomon with all his bombastic vices and decided he may be a lot of things, but he wasn’t a murderer. So, if he didn’t do it, who did? I had to figure out who was the really bad bad guy as I went along.

Q: What common elements of mysteries did you employ? What, if anything, did you do differently or did you try anything original?

A: At one time, I played with the idea of unfolding the story as a three-act play since so much of plot revolves around the theater of Delphi. One of the editors I worked with LOVED this idea and encouraged me to rework the whole novel. But as I went, it started to seem contrived, so I dropped it. One of the other editors I worked with helped me work on the voices and selecting which characters to give POV chapters to, and his assistance was invaluable. Alternative POVs allowed me to get inside the skin and bones of different characters and, I hope, made the story richer. And, of course, I tried to build suspense along the way by writing scenes/chapters and chapter endings that would, hopefully, compel the reader to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Q:  Oracles of Delphi featured many cultural, religious, and historical details. How did you conduct all the research of this ancient time? How did you come up with your beautiful descriptions?

A: As for the research, I’ve read fairly extensively about Ancient Greece and have shelves full of books—historical fiction and academic—to turn to. A big challenge, one many historical fiction authors face, is getting so excited about the research that they don’t know when to quit or when to shut up.  Deciding what to put in/leave in to move the story forward and what to take out because it slows the story down is nigh impossible sometimes, which is why a good editor is essential.

As for the “beautiful descriptions” (and THANK you for that!), I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Greece several times and have walked everywhere my characters walked. The landscape and history is so rich that I simply tried to put into words the feelings I had when I was “on site.” The scenes in the Korycian Cave, in particular, were important for me to get right. My sister-in-law, an archaeologist, and I went to the cave and it is amazing. I have photos from my trips on my website: www.kristinamakansi.com, but here is one from the cave:

marie capture

Photo from Marie Savage

Q: You really intertwine the spiritual essence of the time and place in your book. Do you feel there is an importance of sharing these ancient religions and thoughts? Share how you so vividly represented the spiritual aspect of Delphi.

A: Religion and belief in the supernatural is a fascinating topic for me. When my mother warned that a good guest never discusses religion or politics, I thought who the hell wants to be a good guest, then? These are my two favorite subjects! Belief – or absence of belief – fundamentally affects one’s world view and shapes how communities cohere, or not, and how laws and customs come to be and are enforced. This was true in ancient times and it is true today—witness what is going on in politics here in the US and in the Middle East. If today we believe that ancient religious beliefs from thousands of years ago were nothing more than misplaced belief in “myth” and that now we know better because we know the “truth,” then I wonder what people will think of our own beliefs thousands of years from now?

In dealing with the oracular prophecies, I wanted to have the characters grapple with the passage of “old” ways and the portent of “new” ways on several levels. First we have Apollo “replacing” Gaia, and then we have the prophecy at the end where a new resurrected god will claim the site from Apollo. When you visit Delphi and imagine the grandeur and power of the Sacred Precinct in classical Greece and how people came from all over to seek answers to their questions—from the political to the mundane—and then look around the modern town and see the lovely churches with their beautiful icons, it, at least to me, demonstrates the power of people’s enduring quest to get those same political and mundane questions answered—should we go to war, should I marry, why is my child sick?  Ultimately, I guess, the characters in Oracles of Delphigrapple with how we answer those questions. Do we turn to the gods or do we turn to science? Or do we have to choose?

Q: For those who don’t know of the history of Delphi, can you explain about the Gaia worshippers and the Oracle of Delphi , before it eventually fell to the spread of Christianity?

A: I took great liberties with the idea that there was competition or rivalry between the worshippers of Gaia and those of Apollo. There’s actually no evidence to suggest this is the case, although I’ve read quite a bit about the idea that male gods/male priests did supplant female/earth-mother goddesses/priestesses about the same time as the rise of the Apollo cult in Delphi. The earliest archeological finds date to the Neolithic period, around 4,000 BCE, and have been found in and around the Korycian Cave. The earliest mythological traditions associate the site with Mother Earth, Gaia, and say the area, including a sacred spring, was guarded by a great serpent that lived in the Korycian Cave and that was later killed by Apollo who claimed the sacred site as his own. In Oracles, I’ve named a popular inn The Dolphin’s Cove, because Apollo was said to have taken on the shape of a dolphin to lead a ship full of Cretan sailors to Delphi’s port so they could become his priests.

Once Apollo and his priests took over, the fame of the oracle and the Pythia spread throughout the ancient Greek world and did not diminish until the rise of the rationalists, the movement Theron represents. Throughout antiquity, the Oracle of Delphi was thought to be the most reliable of all the oracles and kings, princes, tyrants, as well as common people, went to Delphi seeking answers. Delphi was also famous because it was considered the omphalos—or navel—of the earth. It was over Delphi that the two eagles that Zeus had unleashed at opposite ends of the world crossed paths signifying the center of all things. Even in the Hellenic era and into the early Christian era, the traditions of the oracle continued. It wasn’t until 394 AD that Theodosius, the Byzantine emperor, shut the oracle down and turned Delphi into a Christian stronghold.

Q:  Do you hope to make your novel a mystery series with your lead character Althaia as the sleuth? If so, where might further adventures take her?

A: Yes, I do. Our next installment has Althaia back in Athens awaiting Nikos’s arrival while her husband Lycon gets into trouble that endangers everything Althaia cares about. The whole crew is in place—Theron, Praxis, and Nephthys—and it is set against the political background about the debate over whether to make peace with Philip of Macedon or not.

Q: I know you have edited many books, but is this the first novel that you’ve ever written? If not, what else have your written or will be writing?

A: This is the first solo novel that I’ve written that has seen the light of day. Earlier efforts were pretty awful and mostly never finished. I’ve got several projects in process including the outline and first four chapters of the sequel to Oracles. I’ve been slowly doing the research and taking notes on a novel featuring Olympias, and my daughters and I are hard at work on the third book in our Seeds Trilogy. Also, I’ve started a time travel thriller/romance that is based on an artifact and legend from my very extended and very old family history. That’s one I’m particularly excited about.

Q: Are there mystery authors that you like to read yourself? Favorite mysteries of all time?

A: I love Ruth Downie’s mysteries set in the Roman Empire—they’ve got a lot of intrigue, historical detail, and humor! I also love Lindsey Davis, of course, and have enjoyed Gary Corby’s series set in Classical Greece. I also enjoyed Bruce Macbain’s Roman-era mysteries featuring Pliny the Younger as the amateur sleuth, and I’m particularly excited about his books because I’m publishing the first of his Viking saga next spring—Odin’s Child, Book One of the Odd Tangle-Hair Saga. (It’s excellent, but Book Two in the series is even better!) It’s impossible to name a favorite because it depends on my mood.

Q: Are there other types of writing, genres, authors, or particular books that you enjoy?

A: I’m “genre blind” and will read anything if it’s a great story with a great voice—and if there’s nothing handy, I’ll read the nutrition facts on the back of the cereal box.  One of my recent favorites—and this was from a year or two ago, but still stands out in my mind—is Alex Shakar’s novel LUMINARIUM about how technology affects our understanding of reality. 

Q: If you could go back in time to any ancient place, with any ancient person, where and with whom would you go? Why?

A: GAH! This is such a hard question, but perhaps it would be Olympias, Alexander’s mother, who I am, slowly but surely, writing about. Her relationship with Philip and Alexander surely impacted the outcome of Western history and, by all accounts, she was a schemer first class. I guess I’d love to hang with her for a while and watch her political machinations. I’d also love to participate in a salon/symposia led by Aspasia, Pericles’s lover.

Q: Where can people connect with you?

A: I’m available through my www.kristinamakansi.com website as well as through www.blankslatepress.com. I’m on twitter at @readwritenow and @blankslatepress and on facebook at https://www.facebook.com/blankslatepress?ref=bookmarks and for those who like Scifi and YA, you can find me at www.theseedstrilogy.com and https://www.facebook.com/TheSeedsTrilogy.

Erin: Thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your book and your writing! It was a pleasure to have you here, as I know our busy writing and editing schedules leave us both eating many midnight snacks. Lol! I wish you lots of success with your own novel and hope for more mysteries in the future from Marie!

Marie: This has been wonderful, and I thank you so much for such thoughtful questions!

9780989207935-Perfect.inddOracles of Delphi, Synopsis~

Publication Date: October 15, 2014
Blank Slate Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 324

Series: Althaia of Athens Mystery
Genre: Historical Mystery


All Althaia wants on her trip to Delphi is to fulfill her father’s last wish. Finding the body of a woman in the Sacred Precinct is not in her plans. Neither is getting involved in the search for the killer, falling for the son of a famous priestess, or getting pulled into the ancient struggle for control of the two most powerful oracles in the world. But that’s what happens when Theron, Althaia’s tutor and a man with a reputation for finding the truth, is asked to investigate. When a priest hints that Theron himself may be involved, Althaia is certain the old man is crazy — until Nikos, son of a famous priestess, arrives with an urgent message. Theron’s past, greedy priests, paranoid priestesses, prophecies, and stolen treasures complicate the investigation, and as Althaia falls for Nikos, whose dangerous secrets hold the key to the young woman’s death, she discovers that love often comes at a high price and that the true meaning of family is more than a bond of blood.

Praise for Oracles of Delphi

“Mysticism, murder and mystery in ancient Delphi: Marie Savage weaves intrigue and suspense into wonderfully researched historical fiction while introducing the reader to Althaia, a spirited Athenian woman with a flair for forensic detection.” (Elisabeth Storrs, author of The Wedding Shroud and The Golden Dice)

“Oracles of Delphi is an original and compelling mystery. Savage’s complex characters and deft writing shine as she pulls readers into the fascinating world of fourth century B.C. Greece. A wonderful debut!” (Sarah Wisseman, author of the forthcoming Burnt Siena Flora Garibaldi art conservation mystery and the Lisa Donahue archaeological mystery series)

“It is hard to make a female character both strong and vulnerable, but Marie Savage has done just that with Althaia of Athens. Well done!” (Cynthia Graham, author of the forthcoming Beneath Still Waters)

Buy the Book

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Author Marie Savage, Bio~

02_Marie Savage_Author PhotoMarie Savage is the pen name of Kristina Marie Blank Makansi who always wanted to be a Savage (her grandmother’s maiden name) rather than a Blank.

She is co-founder and publisher of Blank Slate Press, an award-winning small press in St. Louis, and founder of Treehouse Author Services. Books she has published and/or edited have been recognized by the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA), the Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY), the Beverly Hills Book Awards, the David J. Langum, Sr. Prize in American Historical Fiction, the British Kitchie awards, and others.

She serves on the board of the Missouri Center for the Book and the Missouri Writers Guild. Along with her two daughters, she has authored The Sowing and The Reaping (Oct. 2014), the first two books of a young adult, science fiction trilogy.

Oracles of Delphi, is her first solo novel. For more information visit Kristina Makansi’s website and the Blank Slate Press website. You can also follow Krisina Makansi and Blank Slate Press on Twitter.

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

Hashtags: #OraclesofDelphiBlogTour #HistoricalMystery #AlthaiaofAthensMystery

Twitter Tags: @hfvbt @ReadWriteNow @BlankSlatePress

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Talking with Andrea Zuvich about Those Oft Forgotten Stuarts in History

Today I have an extra FABULOUS interview with Andrea Zuvich, the Seventeenth Century Lady and author of His Last Mistress: The story of the Duke of Monmouth and Lady Henrietta Wentworth. She’s also one of the founders and present guide of the Garden Tours at Kensington Palace in England, which she discusses as well! We talk about the Stuarts in history including William and Mary, the allure of mistresses, and the upcoming Stuart Vampire novel she’s written. It’s jam-packed of historical goodness and so I invite you in to stay awhile.


Hi Andrea! So happy to have you stop by today so we can do an interview on Oh, for the Hook of a Book!  I am sure the gardens at Kensington Palace are beautiful this time of year and you’ve been busy giving tours, how have you found the time to fit in publicizing your novella as well?

Andrea: Hello, Erin, thanks for having me! Yes, the gardens are looking incredibly beautiful now – we’ve had a real summer this year, plus rain, so the grass is green and the flowers are vibrant and gorgeous. His Last Mistress is my first book, and so that why I decided to go on a virtual tour because I think historical fiction readers might be interested in reading about the latter part of the Duke of Monmouth’s life.

Erin: Ah, what an amazing job! And I’m excited to hear about your writing so let’s find a lovely garden, maybe a halfway point, and have a lovely stroll while we chat. Let’s get started!

Q:  I read that as you were working on another novel, you were asked by your publisher to pen your novella, His Last Mistress, which is the story of the Duke of Monmouth and Lady Henrietta Wentworth.  Why were these real-life characters so important? What was the book about in your own words?

A: Yes, I was working on a biographical fiction of William and Mary when I was contracted by Endeavour Press in London to write a novella. I had a few ideas, and from those, they chose the story of Duke of Monmouth and Lady Henrietta Wentworth. Monmouth was the son of King Charles II and was very popular throughout England because a) he was a really great soldier b) he was a Protestant and c) people thought (or at least hoped) that he might be Charles’s legitimate son. He is a very important figure in the late 17th-century because he led the ill-fated Monmouth Rebellion of 1685.

Henrietta was pretty much an unknown figure, and lesser-known figures are very appealing to me. I want people to know about them! As the story begins, Monmouth is already married, and keeps a mistress. During a masque (a Stuart court entertainment/play) he meets Henrietta Wentworth and falls for her – and to a libertine, love is a very new experience. She becomes, literally, his last mistress and the story is about their love affair – which is horrifically shattered by the events surrounding the Rebellion. It is a tragic romance in the vein of Tristan & Isolde and Romeo & Juliet – even my husband cried when he finished it!

Erin Comments: Yes, I love when people from history are remembered through books. And their love affair, so very beautiful and heart-wrenching at the same time!

His Last Mistress

Q:  Does this novella fit into your work in progress, a novel of William III and Mary II (King and Queen of England in the 1600s)? If so, why?

A: Yes, William and Mary’s story was concurrent with Monmouth’s and I had originally incorporated a good deal of Monmouth’s story in William & Mary. In His Last Mistress, readers are introduced to several characters who will also appear in more detail in William & Mary, which covers the years 1677-1702, and His Last Mistress covers 1675-1686, and Monmouth and Henrietta stayed in the Dutch Republic at the court of William & Mary from around 1684-85, so both works definitely fit in with each other.

Q:  I know you’ve written an article about the “allure” of royal mistresses in regards to readers and writers being drawn to their stories.  Feel free to link that here, but in shorter answer format, why do you feel they carried such great weight with their lovers? As fairly religious monarchs had mistresses, how was this acceptable?

A: I wrote an article entitled “The Allure of the Royal Mistress” for Endeavour Press which was published on The Huffington Post. In the article, I mention that many people over the years have been fascinated by royal adultery and scandal. Mistresses were pretty much accepted as par for the course, really. Throughout history, royal marriages in particular were formed to achieve greater power, money, land, or peace between warring nations. As a result, many of the alliances were not loving unions, and so married persons would seek both romantic love and sexual gratification with partners outside their marriage. That being said, some – as perhaps was the case with Charles II and Catherine of Braganza – loved their spouse but sought sexual release with others. Adultery is usually very painful for the betrayed spouse, but we have to remember the historical context of these liaisons.

Q:  The Duke of Monmouth was a Stuart, as he was the offspring of Charles II and a mistress. He was spoiled as a boy by his father, as he was supposedly handsome and charismatic. However, Henrietta was said to have become the love of his life. When he declared himself King after his father’s death (when actually his uncle became King) he eventually was taken to the Tower and beheaded in the most brutal and remembered beheading in history. 

NPG, Monmouth

James, Duke of Monmouth, photo provided by Andrea Zuvich

Explain A) imagine how his life would have been changed had his mother not been a mistress. Would he have made a good King?  Why or why not? B) How do you think his death impacted Henrietta and what became of her?

A: If his mother, Lucy Walter, had in fact been Charles II’s wife, everything would have been different for Monmouth. He would have been Prince of Wales and accepted by all – without question – as Charles’s heir. The throne could only pass to a legitimate offspring, and Charles was adamant that the only wife he’d ever had was Catherine of Braganza, who unfortunately had great trouble trying to have children. This meant that the throne had to pass to the next legitimate Stuart prince, who was his Catholic brother, James, Duke of York. Monmouth’s infamous execution was undoubtedly the worst kind of death he could have had, and his father would have been utterly distraught and appalled that his beloved son had such an end. Monmouth was very malleable, and whether he would have been a good king would rest, I believe, upon those in close proximity to him. Idiotic fops often surrounded him, and he often engaged in some frankly stupid behavior; but there were times when he showed he was no fool – again depending on who were his companions. There were glimmers in his character that made it seem possible for him to have been a good king.

Henrietta was said to have died from a broken heart, some nasty people said it was because of her cosmetics (which contained poisonous substances), but I think she was severely depressed after Monmouth’s death, from which she couldn’t recover. The horrific manner of his death no doubt would have preyed upon her mind. She died less than a year after him, probably from consumption. They had a son together, according to some documents, and I include this in the story.

Erin Comments: You detail the final endings of both their lives so dramatically in your book. It was so emotional. It is amazing how legalities and circumstances can destroy people’s lives, and in some regards, end their lives in the worst way.

NPG, Henrietta Wentworth

Henrietta Wentworth, photo provided by Andrea Zuvich

Q:  Since you are a freelance researcher, and an avid one, did you find it hard to contain this story to a standard novella size? Why or why not?

A: It was difficult to restrict the story to this size. I wanted to add many more details and events, but I was contracted by my publisher to write a novella, and had to adhere to the terms of the contract.

Q: Have you thought about writing another novel based on Monmouth’s life?

A: Based on the feedback I’ve received about the novella, it’s clear that people want more Monmouth! As a result, I have decided to write a novel about Monmouth’s life up until he meets Henrietta, and then people can finish with His Last Mistress. He had such a colourful, dramatic life, that there is much to include. He was a fascinating historical figure – heroic, dashing, handsome, rakish, but emotionally volatile, violent, unlearned. That project will have to come a bit later, as I have four other books to write first! (The Stuart Vampire, Untitled Restoration actors novel, Book One of Rupert of the Rhine Adventures, and a non-fiction about the Stuarts).

Q:  How much research have you done on your upcoming novel about William and Mary?  Do you feel there is a good place in the book market for a book on these historical monarchs? Why?

A: A lot of research was done! William & Mary has been such a journey. I started researching intensively in late 2010 and I’ve researched in The Netherlands, Scotland, and throughout England in order to make sure I do the best I can.

Royal stories have always interested many people, and I think the topic became even more popular following the Royal Wedding in 2011, when everyone began to talk about Catherine being a commoner and how it’s happened before: Mary’s mother, Anne Hyde, was a commoner when she married James, Duke of York, who later became King James II. There is this great painting of Anne Hyde in the Queen’s Gallery at Kensington Palace, and I love the intelligent look she gives to the viewer.

As for whether the market is good for William & Mary, we’ll have to see, but I’m writing these stories because I love them, and think they’re worth sharing. Also, my fans(?) have been patiently waiting for three years! With any luck, maybe more people will start to read historical fiction and history books about the 17th-Century!

Erin Comments: I think there must be more interest going to emerge about this time period. Once they are done reading about the Tudors, I’d think they’d like to continue down the line of British Monarchy and the people that surround them. Plus, though for so long New World literature hasn’t been trending, I think that with the onset of learning more about America, where we came from, and who ruled us first and then how we fought to get our freedom, it seems that at least in America, this will become a novel of choice very soon too.

Q:  How much information is available about William and Mary? I know she was the actual monarch from succession, so what was their actual relationship like that she allowed him make decisions over her? Or did he show his respect for her enough, and she showed her ability to rule as well, that we remember them as a duo? Please elaborate.

A: There is a good deal of information about their lives and reign. I have had a great deal of help from my contacts in The Netherlands, who are really excited about the novel, because William and Mary are quite large historical figures there, perhaps more so than here in England. Mary only accepted the throne on the condition that her husband, William, was made king. Mary was definitely a woman of her time (and I won’t hear anyone bash her for this!) and she intensely believed that it was unnatural for a wife to be dominant over the husband. That being said, they made an excellent team. Whilst William was off fighting to secure their thrones, Mary very capably managed affairs here in England. I find it rather tragic how Mary II was cut down in her prime, because she could have been another Elizabeth, and contemporaries said as much about her. What I love about her is that, though she was naturally intelligent, she had this endearing humility and self-doubt, which I think a lot of modern politicians could benefit from having! William depended on her, loved her, and when she died, it was such a blow to him that people were certain that he would follow her shortly to the grave.

Q:  What makes them an interesting couple? What are they best known for?

A: I think the relationship between William and Mary was quite an interesting one, for rarely did two people flung together into a political marriage get on as well as they. She was a celebrated beauty and he was this popular, if not militarily successful, Prince of Orange. England and the Dutch Republic had gone through quite a number of hostilities, the Anglo-Dutch wars in particular, and a new marriage between England and Holland seemed a good way for peace.

When Mary met her first cousin William, who was not considered handsome, and then told she was to marry him, she wept for two days! Though they had a bad start, they soon fell in love; though she was much more demonstrative in her affections than he.

A great many things happened during their reign. We have the Bill of Rights of 1689, the College of William and Mary in the USA was founded in 1693, and the Bank of England was founded in 1694. The list goes on and on, but there was a darker side to their reign: the Glencoe Massacre (1692), the Salem Witch Trials (1692/93), and even the long troubles in Northern Ireland stems from their reign (which added to already existing tensions created under Cromwell, and before that, the Tudor Plantations).

Q:  When should we expect your first novel to be published? Will it be published in both the UK and US?

A: William & Mary is currently making the rounds at several agencies, and one publisher has shown interest, but I’m still waiting to get all replies first. I had hoped it would be published for this Christmas, but that’s not looking likely at this point, but yes, when it does, it should be available in Europe and the USA. I’m really excited, and after over three years, it’s certainly my baby!

Erin Comments: I can’t wait to read it, very interested!

Q:  Moving on, you are a fan of the baroque! What about it do you find so enchanting?

A: I love everything Baroque! The music, the art and the architecture – the works! Baroque music was/is so glorious, for it is capable of both intense emotion, but also lively fun. I listen to Baroque everytime I research and write – it’s the perfect accompaniment to my field of study. The French composer, Marin Marais, wrote one piece in particular, La Rêveuse – 4ème livre de Pièces de viole, which profoundly moves me, as does Italian Gregorio Allegri’s (1582-1652) Miserere.

Q:  I know you do Garden History Tours at Kensington Palace and you were a founding coordinator of them. What a lovely idea, and I hope to take one someday!  One of my favorite memories as a child for me was knocking on the Queen’s summer home door. My mom still laughs at that too. What are people most interested in as they come to view the history and modern workings for themselves? What is your favorite part of being involved?

Kensington Gardens 1

Photo of Kensington Gardens in England, provided by Andrea Zuvich

A: That sounds like a lovely memory! It’s funny to think that when we first started the Garden History Tours, most people were keen to know about Diana, but in the past two years, it’s all focused upon William and Catherine. Very few people in the beginning seemed to know about the Stuarts, but I’ve noticed that more and more people ask me Stuart-related questions, and of course, that always makes me happy!

I love showing examples of what the gardens used to look like, first after William and Mary incorporated the popular formal, ornate parterres, and then I show them how things changed – sometimes drastically – from one monarch to the next. Kensington Palace and gardens is really a series of changes throughout history.

My favourite part of being involved is the thought that I am in the same building that some of my favourite historical figures lived. I felt the same way when I visited Het Loo Palace in The Netherlands – it’s such a special feeling.


Photo of Kensington Gardens in England, provided by Andrea Zuvich

Erin Comments: It’s nice to be able to notice trends and why they occur. Wonderful that more people seem interested as well!! I would love to hear how each various monarch has put their own touch on the gardens. 

Q:  What are some of you own favorite books and authors? What books would you recommend for fiction readers who enjoy the baroque era? Feel free to also give ideas for other historical books as well.

A: Hands down, my favourite modern writers are A.S. Byatt and Sebastian Faulks. If I had as much talent as those two have in their pinky fingers, I’ll think I’ve achieved something. Other favourites are long-since dead: William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, Giovanni Bocaccio, Daniel Defoe, Walter Scott. For readers who enjoy the Restoration, I think they should start off with the meticulously researched Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor, Restoration by Rose Tremain, and then work their way to modern historical fiction set in the 17th-century by my friends and acquaintances Anita Seymour, Deborah Swift, and Alison Stuart.

Q:  Do you have any other hobbies or passionate pursuits? If so, tell us about them and what you enjoy.

A: Yes, I’m afraid I’m one of those people who are never bored –there’s too much to learn and do to be bored! My trouble is having the time to do them all! I have always loved to sing, and I’m currently working on ideas for an album of folk songs from the 17th-century. I play the flute, the piano, and I can play a little Spanish guitar and Russian balalaika. I also enjoy painting a great deal, but I haven’t had time to do much painting in the past two years. I also enjoy cooking, but I’m pretty bad at cleaning the kitchen afterwards! :p

Erin Comments: I know what you mean about being interested in EVERYTHING. How could life ever being boring! There is so much art, music, architecture, nature, and books to enjoy. I like to cook for my family, but I hate the clean-up too and oh, does Pinterest and my books call my name….(at least until I can get out to do the other in person).

Q:  If you could write about anything historical outside of this period in England, what other time periods or places would you be interested in?

A: I love the Renaissance with a lesser passion than I love the Seventeenth Century, but it’s still a passion! (I am currently writing a few chapters in The Stuart Vampire set in the Renaissance, so I get the best of both worlds!). I was quite keen on the Mediaeval period as well when I was about twelve.

Q:  Who are some of your favorite women in history? Why?

A: I admire Elisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre, who was a really talented female French Baroque composer, and I’m really pleased that in recent years there has been a renewed interest in her work. I already said I love Mary II, but I also admire the painter Artemisia Gentileschi. In college, I wrote a long research paper about the fascinating Veronica Franco, a Venetian courtesan renowned for her poetry skills and intelligence. Anne of Austria was pretty cool, too.

Q:  I know you are also working on a book that darts to the historical paranormal, which surrounds vampires in the Stuart family. Can you talk about this with us? Tell us why you decided to write a paranormal and how you think it is going for you? When can we expect it?

A: Since there is a rather gruesome scene in His Last Mistress, I think that people won’t be surprised that The Stuart Vampire is gory, with both paranormal and normal horror elements, as there are vampires, but also includes the horrors of 17th-century witch trials, the Great Plague of London, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, and it darts in and out of various time periods – from 17th-century to Renaissance to Victorian, etc.

I decided to write a paranormal story probably because my husband is always putting on horror films (which I was never allowed to watch when I was living with my mom) and I think they’ve warped my brain! I quite like scary films now! I have chosen as my undead protagonist, Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, who died from smallpox in 1660 (or so they would have you believe!). It’s coming along quite well, mainly because I haven’t had to research much at all – it’s mostly from the dark side of my imagination! I’m trying to have this one ready in time to scare people this Halloween, 2013. I hope people enjoy it!

Erin Comments: Well, I happen to love horror! I love when I find other ladies who love history and horror both, thought it isn’t often enough. I am so excited to read your Vampire book. I was also never allowed to watch scary movies or read scary books as a child and now I am grabbing it all up. If you follow my blog, I spend some of my time reviewing horror. There is alot of horror in history too, so it really all fits together! If you put your book out for Halloween, please let me know and I’d be happy to feature it.

Q:  What has been the best part for you on your writing journey so far? Any challenges? What positives keep you going?

A: The absolute best part has been getting messages from people who love the Stuarts and many of them have said they are very pleased that I’m drawing more attention to these lesser-known historical figures. Also, historians and history lovers alike seem to enjoy it, and I’m pleased that all my research has been commended.

The challenges have been that some people have obtained my book through free eBook promotions and then realize it’s not a happy ending, and I’ve had some quite colourful emails from those in the romance community who thought I had made the story up. It’s a biographical fiction with a love story, not a romance with a happy ending.

Another challenge is that I’ve noticed how easy it is for people to dismiss someone’s work on Goodreads or Amazon, and they seem to not understand the time, work, and dedication that the writer has gone through to write and publish a work. It’s funny, because the people who have bought it have been more pleased than those who got it when it was number 1 on Amazon’s free promotion. People have been doing more searches on the Monmouth Rebellion, the Duke of Monmouth, and Henrietta Wentworth – so reading this book has piqued their curiosity about the subject. What keeps me going is that all of them, including those who felt it wasn’t right for them – go away having learned about a piece of British history – and that was the whole point.

Erin Comments: That is so very true. I try to find positives in all books and I don’t like to critique people too harshly because as a writer myself I do realize that someone spent alot of time creating their work. I am harsher on grammar and editing most, as I believe people should pay professionals for that, but the story that is told from the heart deserves a proper reading and reporting. I agree with you about your book, and your future books, as I am sure that more and more people will learn about these very crucial people in our history.

Q:  Where can readers and fellow writers contact you?

A: I’m always happy to communicate with anyone who wants to contact me. I’m on Twitter (where I do “On This Day I’the #17thCentury” daily) @AndreaZuvich and Facebook: The Seventeenth Century Lady, and of course, there is the main website, www.17thcenturylady.com where there are loads of articles about the 17th Century, Book recommendations, and Films Set in the 17th Century!

Q:  How might anyone purchase your novella, His Last Mistress?

A: His Last Mistress is available both in paperback and eBook on most Amazon sites around the world. The paperback version, however, includes a sneak peak of William & Mary! I am also in the process of getting the book stocked at bookstores throughout the UK.

Erin: Thank you, Andrea, for talking with me today. It’s been very interesting to learn about this time period and its players. I wish you much success and look forward to your upcoming books! 

Andrea: Thank you so much, Erin! I’ve really enjoyed speaking with you today, and I hope I can take you on a Garden History Tour someday. It’s been a pleasure!

Erin: I sure do hope to one day soon have you give me a tour and take some fabulous photos!

His Last MistressHIS LAST MISTRESS, Synopsis~

Publication Date: May 20, 2013
Paperback; 206p
ISBN-10: 149042556X

Set in the tumultuous late 17th Century, His Last Mistress tells the true story of the final years of James Scott, the handsome Duke of Monmouth, and his lover Lady Henrietta Wentworth.

As the illegitimate eldest son of King Charles II, the Duke is a spoiled, lecherous man with both a wife and a mistress. However, this rakish libertine is soon captivated by the innocence of young Lady Henrietta Wentworth, who has been raised to covet her virtue. She is determined to spurn his advances, yet she cannot deny the chemistry between them. Will she succumb? At the same time, the Duke begins to harbour risky political ambitions that may threaten not only his life but also that of those around him.

His Last Mistress is a passionate, sometimes explicit, carefully researched and ultimately moving story of love and loss, set against a backdrop of dangerous political unrest, brutal religious tensions, and the looming question of who will be the next King.

Author Andrea Zuvich, Biography~

Andrea ZuvichBorn in Philadelphia in 1985 to Chilean-Croatian parents, Andrea Zuvich is a historian specialising in the Late Stuarts of the Seventeenth Century and is the creator and writer of the history website, The Seventeenth Century Lady.

Andrea studied History and Anthropology at both the University of Central Florida and Oxford University, and has been independently researching the 1600s since 2008. Andrea is a leader on and one of the original developers of The Garden History Tours at Kensington Palace, Historic Royal Palaces, and lives with her English husband in Lancashire, England.

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

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/hislastmistresstour/
Twitter Hashtag: #HisLastMistressTour

His Last Mistress Tour Banner FINAL


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Age of Desire by Jennie Fields Showcases Legendary Writer Edith Wharton, Plus Interview!

Today I have a VERY FULL post! I have a review of Age of Desire, by Jennie Fields, which is a biographical dramatic fiction of Edith Wharton, the classic author of such titles as House of Mirth and Age of Innocence.  The latter awarded her the title of the first female to win the Pulitzer Prize in the early 1900s, which was a time when most women were supposed to strive for marriage, not merit. Yet, Wharton overcame society’s bounds, leaving behind literary classics that have been re-published many times over, made into movies, and earned her a lasting place in history.

Then I have an AMAZINGLY informative interview and in-depth discussion with Jennie Fields about Age of Desire, Edith Wharton, and the turbulent time period which was the turn of the 2oth Century. First, let’s take a look at the book’s snippet and cover. Enjoy!

The Age of Desire


Paperback Publication Date: May 28, 2013
Penguin Publishing
Paperback; 384p
ISBN: 978-0143123286

For fans of The Paris Wife, a sparkling glimpse into the life of Edith Wharton and the scandalous love affair that threatened her closest friendship.

They say that behind every great man is a great woman. Behind Edith Wharton, there was Anna Bahlmann—her governess turned literary secretary and confidante. At the age of forty-five, despite her growing fame, Edith remains unfulfilled in a lonely, sexless marriage. Against all the rules of Gilded Age society, she falls in love with Morton Fullerton, a dashing young journalist. But their scandalous affair threatens everything in Edith’s life—especially her abiding ties to Anna.

At a moment of regained popularity for Wharton, Jennie Fields brilliantly interweaves Wharton’s real letters and diary entries with her fascinating, untold love story. Told through the points of view of both Edith and Anna, The Age of Desire transports readers to the golden days of Wharton’s turn-of-the century world and—like the recent bestseller The Chaperone—effortlessly re-creates the life of an unforgettable woman.

Review of The Age of Desire~

Jennie Fields’ The Age of Desire is an account of premiere female author Edith Wharton’s middle-aged private life, which is set as a fictional account, yet also very true to actual events (based on much research and reading of letters and diaries between Wharton and the people closest to her in life).

The title, Age of Desire, I believe to be a play on words to Wharton’s own Pulitzer prize-winning Age of Innocence, which was a novel featuring the upper-elite’s guarded values and portrayed innocence wrapped-up in their ironic hidden indiscretions.  Fields’ book shows that Edith is very innocent and emotionally isolated until she reaches her forties, which becomes her “Age of Desire” as she becomes vulnerable to the love of a manipulative American journalist, Morton Fullerton, who works in France.

I was quite overcome with disgust for Edith Wharton at the beginning of the book, based on her actions toward her childhood governess, Anna Bahlmann, who by the time the book’s first scene opens had become her secretary and writing sounding board (her modern-day editor).  Anna was a close friend, confidant, and yet, also her “servant” or her employee.  There is a fine line between them, however. Anna has raised Edith, who had an awful relationship with her abhorrent mother, and Anna is more family to her than anyone–almost like a mother. However, she seems to not know the true way of how to treat familial loved ones, or as most, probably rebelled, just much later in life. Perhaps this is based on her own awful childhood and stems from her also being spoiled in many ways as a child? She never had a good relationship with her mother and probably doesn’t truly know how to love anyone deeply as she should. Her father was very rich (she was a Jones…ever hear the phrase, “keeping up with the Joneses?”) and Edith was somewhat of a genius in creative thinking and conversation.  Her love of intellectual conversations, ironically, is what made her appreciate Anna.  Yet, Anna also could be sent away at Edith’s whim and treated as the lower class servant she was paid to be even though Edith owed much of her beginning success to Anna. Eventually, I see that these are two very different ladies, each wonderful in their own ways.

See why society in the early 1900s makes no sense sometimes with its twists and turns? This is why Jennie Fields’ emotional story is so compelling and page-turning. Edith’s emotions are so hard to contain into the pages of the book. Her personality is so large, she screams off the paper.  In this way, Fields’ character development of Wharton is superb.

There is so much to Edith’s relationship with Anna in this book, with huge segments of Anna disappearing. The book juxtaposed between Edith’s thoughts, and side of the story, and Anna’s thoughts. Anna was so much more reserved, calm, quiet and nurturing which probably not only complemented Edith in real life, but also did well for the reader in the novel (it acted as a balance for me). It gave me a breather from Edith’s emotional roller coaster.  Most likely, as readers, we felt that Anna disappeared for a little while during our reading of the book because in Edith’s somewhat shallow and egocentric mind, she actually did! During this time though, Edith is entrenched in the slow-burning affair that Edith has with Morton Fullerton and quite honestly, I was too. Edith’s emotional capacity for love and lust blossom under the sweet romantic interlude she has with Fullerton. He kept her guessing, which kept the reader guessing. Edith’s conflicted mind kept swaying, which also kept the reader on pins and needles. It was very suspenseful.

Edith marries Teddy Wharton when she is young, on a quick whim, and knowing nothing of being intimate is scared from their initial time together when he seems to be rougher than his general demeanor.  She lives from that time on in a loveless (on her end) marriage as she finds they have nothing in common intellectually.  Fullerton gives her a longing and creates passion she didn’t know could exist, both mentally and physically. Meanwhile, Teddy becomes ill both physically and mentally, which leads to depression for him. Edith cannot stand this in him and continues to search out every moment of happiness she can find in love, life, travel to Paris, conversation, and friends. She does not want to hear from Anna what her “duties” are because she begins to believe that life is to be felt and enjoyed.  Her love affair with Fullerton opens feelings and desires in her which last in life for her even after it becomes apparent that he is a playboy and fraud.  This affair, though it doesn’t continue, allows Edith to be who she wishes to be without limits. To be free to be herself as a woman, bound by no demands or ideals outsider her own. She continues to do her best writing work, which seems to be more emotionally driven as well.

Fields’ portrays Wharton’s personality struggles, Anna’s comfortable demeanor, Teddy’s impatience and longing, Fullerton’s conniving, her friend (another well-known writer) Henry James’ fun-loving and entertaining quirks all so well that as a reader I feel I view each of them as if I was a fly on the wall. And to think that they were all real people living this extraordinary sequence of events!

I enjoyed a look into the fast, free, and creative lifestyle of 1900 Paris, compared to the slower moving and structured American high-society country life, with tidbits of travel to Missouri, Germany, and New York!

I certainly will be looking into more of Edith Wharton’s backlist and comparing her private life to her writing. As well, I also hope to enjoy the backlist of Jennie Fields, and her future works!

I highly recommend Age of Desire for a private look into the drama-filled life of one of America’s most trailblazing women authors, as well as for its sensual look into a stifling society and what it means for a creative woman to be freed from its proverbial cage. Engaging, exhilarating, and emotionally-wretching, this novel is a must-read for anyone liking literary works that showcase women finding their true natures and coming to terms with their innermost desires.


Edith Wharton, publicity shot, c. 1905. Edith Wharton Collection, Beinecke Library, Yale University.


Now to learn more about the writing of Age of Desire, please join me for an interview with author Jennie Fields!

Interview with Author Jennie Fields~

Hi Jennie!  Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I’m happy to have you join us and am looking forward to talking to you! Does the summer find you enjoying anything fun?

Jennie: I just returned from a gorgeous trip to Ireland and England with my husband.  Now I’m enjoying being home: walking my puppy – we walk about 5 miles a day – and working on my new book.

Erin: I bet your trip was delightful and a well-deserved break! Let’s pour some tall glasses of iced tea, have a seat, and get started talking about your book, The Age of Desire, which is a fictional novel set in the early 1900s featuring author Edith Wharton.

Q:  As I stated, your historical fiction piece is about author Edith Wharton and her complex life.  How does society remember Edith Warton?  What books did she write?

A: There’s been a recent resurgence of interest in Edith Wharton, maybe because her books were so timeless, her language so modern, though she wrote them 100 years ago.  She’s most famous for The House of Mirth, The Age of Innocence and Ethan Frome.  But she wrote 40 books in her lifetime.  I highly recommend some of the lesser-known books such as The Custom of the Country and The Mother’s Recompense.  Great reads!

Q:  When did you discover Edith Wharton? What gave you the inspiration to delve into her personal life and bring her story to the page?

A: I first read Edith Wharton in college when Ethan Frome was assigned.  Like 90% of teenagers I just didn’t get it.  It was so depressing!  Then when I read The House of Mirth in college, I was hooked and have loved her ever since.  My agent was the one who suggested I write about her life.  I was struggling to find a subject for my fourth novel.  My agent knew I adored Edith, and she said, “Check out her life.”  That was the greatest gift anyone has ever given me.

Q:  What do you think that readers find fascinating with historical reads that draw famous turn of the 20th Century artists, writers, authors, trailblazers, and so forth to light? Why do you feel it’s important to uncover their real lives beyond just remembering them for their “works or achievements?”

A:  That first question is a great one.  And I think the answer lies in the dramatic societal change that occurred between the turn of the century and the 1920’s. Think of the change in clothing.  At the turn of the century, women were wearing corsets, long dresses, high collars.  Modesty was essential.  By the 1920’s, short skirts and little underwear was the norm. A shocking change.  And as in many things, artists and writers were the first to openly break the rules, like the poetess Anna de Noailles, who is a character in my novel and was wildly bohemian before others dared.  Sexual mores changed too. 

Edith Wharton lived in a very prescribed society in the U.S.  That’s one of the reasons she was so drawn to Paris where she was able to spend time with a more free-thinking Bohemian crowd.  If she’d stayed in the US, she might never have met Morton Fullerton who became her lover.  Why does her private life matter?  Well, it gives us insight into the change in her fiction. Pick up The House of Mirth, you’ll see that there’s no real passion there.  But if you read The Age of Innocence, written after her affair with Fullerton, you’ll see it throbs with passion.  Had she never had her affair, Edith would never have encountered passion in her life, and we, as her readers, would have been the poorer.

Q:  How did you begin your research on Edith Wharton’s life?  Did you have a solid idea before writing the novel about the plot and characters involved, or did you write as you researched? What was the most surprising piece of research you uncovered?

A: I picked up three biographies to get the lay of the land, and then I did mostly primary research.  I figured out early on that I was interested in her love affair with Morton Fullerton.  It was so fascinating to me: an unhappily married  woman who at the age of forty-five had a sexual awakening. 

Fortunately, Edith left a treasure trove of information behind.  She kept a diary at the time of the affair that is truly heart-wrenching to read.  She wrote it in second person, almost like a love letter to Morton.  It spoke volumes about her insecurities, her thrill at being wanted by a man who she deemed so desirable.  It’s kept at the Lilly Library at Indiana University.  And Morton kept all the letters she did write him, though she begged him to burn them.  They are at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas. 

But my greatest find had to do with my secondary voice: Anna Bahlmann.  Anna was Edith’s governess, then literary secretary.  None of the biographers had written more than a few sentences about her, but I suspected the two women must have been close, having lived together for much of their lives.  I found out all I could about Anna’s life and began to write.  About two months in, I woke up one night and put Anna’s name into a search engine, as I had done many times before, but this night I discovered that Christie’s Auction House was selling 135 letters that very week from Edith Wharton to Anna Bahlmann!  They’d been hidden away for a hundred years.  I called Christies the next day and was allowed to read the letters.  What a thrill.  Everything I imagined about their closeness was true.  Anna was almost a mother figure to Edith.  Their loving friendship is the heart of my book.  Those letters now reside along with many other letters from Edith Wharton at The Beinecke Library at Yale University.

Q:  Your book also addresses historical situations of this time such as World War 1.  Where does most of your book take place? What were some of the issues that your characters were struggling against? What can readers learn from the writing that surrounds your main romantic element?

A: The majority of the book takes place in Paris and at Edith’s estate in Massachusetts, The Mount.  After Edith’s affair with Morton, she sold The Mount and spent the rest of her life in France.  France felt free to her compared to her hermetically sealed life in the US, and she was very protective towards her adopted country.  Which is why she became so involved in charities to help the French people during World War I.  For her work, she was awarded The Legion of Honor.  While the book is about Edith’s romance, I don’t want people to think it’s a romantic book.  Her romance with Morton was not an easy one, and Edith was a complex and brilliant woman, not always lovable, and no romantic heroine.  But the affair changed her forever, made her more confident, more bold, and a writer who understood the pull of passion.

Q:  Speaking of the romantic element, it was actually an illicit affair that Edith Wharton had with journalist Morton Fullerton.  Is this common knowledge? How much is documented and how much is purely fictionalized?

A:  Her affair is common knowledge now, though she tried to keep it quiet at the time.  The affair was extremely well documented in her diary and letters, as I said earlier.  And I worked very hard to stick to the truth, while trying to understand the emotions that made it happen.

Q:  How did you handle bringing the personality of Anna, her secretary and friend Anna Bahlmann to the story?  She seemed to be her loyal guide, friend, and confidant, but also just an employee.  How was Anna content with being the one behind the scenes? Do you think there really are people who are satisfied with never being the one that is front and center?

A: I think it’s terribly important to remember that while Anna was Edith’s friend and a member of her household, she was also a servant.  This is something that’s hard for us to grasp today.  If you compare her position to Downton Abbey, you might say that Anna’s place was both upstairs AND downstairs.  Sometimes Edith was not very sensitive to Anna’s needs. Edith was a fairly self-centered person, as many geniuses are.  And in that era, servants’ feelings weren’t considered important.  It’s a painful truth.  At the same time, there’s no doubt in my mind that Edith adored Anna.  After all, she kept her close for years and years and was deeply affected when Anna died.  Anna once told a friend of Edith’s that the only thing that mattered to her was making Edith’s life easier.  I think even now, there are people who wish to support others, never wishing to place themselves front and center.  Perhaps they are harder to come by these days, and few are as loyal as dear Anna.

Q:  What approach did you feel you needed to take when writing about Edith Wharton’s “sexual awakening?”  Do you feel that this was also true of the times, a time when women were discovering so many things about themselves, their needs, and in fact, that they were even allowed to have personal feelings and independence?

A: I’ll tell you a little secret: I had something of a guide.  After her affair with Fullerton, Edith wrote some erotica – extremely x-rated erotica at that!  It was just a fragment of a larger story found among her papers when she died.  I found it extraordinarily useful when it came to understanding Edith’s her view of pleasure and orgasm.  In The Age of Desire, I do set up Edith’s awakening to be a reflection of changing times. Anna de Noailles is a symbol of a new freedom Edith had never imagined possible for herself.  In the book, de Noailles is a harbinger for sexual freedom and the pursuit of pleasure.

Q:  Age of Desire is not your first book. What other types of books have you written?  What are they about?

A:  All my books are, in some way, about women trying find permission to be happy.  Passion vs. duty.  It’s a topic that Edith Wharton also often pursued.  It took me years before I saw the parallel.  If I were going to recommend one of my earlier books, I’d recommend Lily Beach, about a young artist in the 1960’s.  I named Lily Beach as an homage Lily Bart, the main character in The House of Mirth.  The characters are not alike, but it was my tip of the hat to Edith.  It was my first book, and when my agent took me on, she recognized the parallel right away.  That’s how I knew she was the perfect agent for me!

Q:  Do you have more women in history that you’d enjoy writing a book about? If you don’t mind, can you name a few that might interest you, and why?

A: There are two women I considered writing about: Georgia O’Keeffe and photographer Lee Miller.  A very good writer is already writing about Georgia.  I don’t know if she’s made it public, so I can’t share her name with you.  And Lee Miller’s archive was closed because a movie is being made about her life.  So I went on to yet another woman…

Q: Are you in process with another novel or have future plans for more books?

A: To finish the last thought, yes!  I am writing about a woman who was world famous in the 1890’s.  She was one of the richest women in the world, she had a great deal of power and used it to promote feminist causes.  And she was a great art collector, one of the first Americans to collect Impressionist painting.  But I’m not sharing her name yet!

Q:  Do you write with an outline, or do you work as you go?  How do you stay organized as a writer?

A:  I never write an outline.  I feel my way around a story.  With biographical novels, I have the benefit of a life story already formed.  For me, it’s really about finding the shape of a specific story within an already existing life.

Q:  What is your favorite historical period and/or place? Why?

A: I’d definitely have to say the 1920’s in Paris.  What an exciting time.  Colorful.  Groundbreaking. I still haven’t found a subject to write about during this time period who hasn’t been overused yet.  But someday, I hope!

Q:  You’re now an author, but spent many years in the creative field of advertising. As a marketing and public relations person myself, I have written a lot of advertising copy and pulled together visuals, yet am first and foremost a writer/journalist (both fun, but different).  How do you feel that your background assists you in your work as an author?  How has the transition been for you from copy writing to long form writing?

A: Ah, so you’ve experienced the world of marketing as well, Erin?  It’s a tough world.  But it can be a rewarding one, and it certainly pays better than writing fiction – unless you’re J.K. Rowling or Stephen King. But advertising was always secondary to me, a way to feed my family.  I’ve always written fiction, long before I became a copywriter.  And in a way, they’re very different disciplines.  I feel they use different sides of my brain.  Advertising is logical, puzzle-solving.  Fiction seems to rise from my subconscious.  But fiction too sometimes requires puzzle solving.  I’ve always enjoyed working in tight parameters in both advertising and fiction.  I call it Rubik’s Cube work.  You have all the pieces dictated to you.  Now you have to put them in a satisfying, creative, exciting order.  I do find the discipline of working every day in advertising has taught me a lot about sitting down and creating whether I’m in the mood or not.  The thrill of coming up with a wonderful idea is the same for both disciplines!

Q:  Do you have any authors you enjoy? What type of book(s) do you like best?

A: No one inspires me more than Edith Wharton.  I also enjoy Ian McEwan, Sue Miller, Anne Tyler, Khaled Hosseini and Barbara Kingsolver.  I like all sorts of books, especially ones where the language just sings to me, and the characters feel real, complex and vivid.

Q:  What do you feel you’ve most learned from any of the characters you’ve written about or created for any of your books? Please explain.

A: All the women I write about seem to be struggling with permission to be happy.  I guess that something I’ve always struggled with too.  I’d say it’s a common issue for women.  Have I learned from my characters?  Maybe I’m just older and happier.  I’m not sure!

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A: I love connecting with readers.  Please “like” my Facebook author page: https://www.facebook.com/jennie.fields.author?ref=hl

Connect with me on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jfieldsauthor

And please check out my website which shows you photos of the characters from The Age of Desire: http://jenniefields.com/

There’s a place on my website to sign up your book group so that I can join you for an evening, in person if you live near me or via Skype if not.  I’ve joined book groups all over the country and have had a great time-sharing evenings with such smart readers.

Q:  Do you have plans for ongoing appearances with Age of Desire?  List all the best places to purchase your books. 

A: I have done two book tours for The Age of Desire, many book festivals and have even done readings in Paris!  So I probably won’t be doing much more traveling.  But if your library is interested, and willing to help me get there, I would love to come to your town.  Some of my favorite readings have been at libraries.  I have a serious crush on the Omaha Public Library, for instance! 

I know it’s easy to buy my book on Amazon, and maybe even cheaper, but please, if you can, buy my book at an independent bookstore.  We need to keep our independent booksellers alive!  I have discovered such fantastic independents across the country.  They are at the heart of a literate community and need our support.  Pay an extra dollar so that they can keep their doors open!  But if you don’t live near an independent, here are the links to my books online:



Erin:  Jennie, it was a joy being able to interview you. The early 1900s is a growing interest for me as well as famous, creative women of this time.  Age of Desire was very enjoyable! Best of luck with your continued career!

Jennie: Erin, what a pleasure to answer your smart, probing questions.  And thanks for the iced tea!

Praise for The Age of Desire~

“Somewhere between the repressiveness of Edith Wharton’s early-20th-century Age of Innocence and our own libertine Shades of Grey era lies the absorbingly sensuous world of Jennie Fields’s The Age of Desire . . . along with the overheated romance and the middle-age passion it so accurately describes, The Age of Desire also offers something simpler and quieter: a tribute to the enduring power of female friendship.” —Boston Globe

“One doesn’t have to be an Edith Wharton fan to luxuriate in the Wharton-esque plotting and prose Fields so elegantly conjures.” —Kirkus

“Delicate and imaginative . . . Fields’s love and respect for all her characters and her care in telling their stories shines through.” —Publishers Weekly

Beautiful … an imaginative tour-de-force with the best-written naughty bits I have ever read.” —UK Daily Mail

Inspired by Wharton’s letters, The Age of Desire is by turns sensuous . . . and sweetly melancholy. It’s also a moving examination of a friendship between two women. —Bookpage

“A fascinating insight into the life of my favorite novelist. Fields brings a secret side of Wharton to life, and shows us a woman whose elegant façade concealed a turbulent sensuality.” —Daisy Goodwin, author of The American Heiress

“With astonishing tenderness and immediacy, The Age of Desire portrays the interwoven lives of Edith Wharton and Anna Bahlmann, her governess, secretary, and close friend. By focusing on these two women from vastly different backgrounds, Jennie Fields miraculously illuminates an entire era. . . . I gained insight into both Wharton’s monumental work and her personal struggles—and I was filled with regret that I’d finished reading so soon.” —Lauren Belfer, author of City of Light and A Fierce Radiance

“In the vein of Loving Frank or The Paris Wife, Jennie Fields has created a page-turning period piece. Fields portrays a woman whose life was hardly innocence and mirth, but passionate, complex, and more mysterious than one might ever imagine.” —Mary Morris, author of Nothing to Declare and Revenge

Author Jennie Fields, Biography~

Jennie FieldsBorn in the heart of the heart of the country – Chicago — Jennie Fields decided to become a writer at the age of six and produced her first (365 page!) novel when she was eleven. She received her MFA at the Iowa Writers Workshop and published her first short stories while spending a postgraduate year at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. But needing to feed her family in the era just post-Mad Men, she became an early female copywriter at an advertising agency, soon rising to creative director and moving to New York. In her 32-year advertising career, she wrote and produced many well-known and award-winning commercials. People even now can embarrass her by telling her they grew up dancing to one of her McDonalds’ jingles.

Still, fiction was her great love. Writing during her lunch hour and after her daughter’s bedtime she penned her first novel, Lily Beach, which was published by Atheneum in 1993 to much acclaim. Since then, she’s written three more novels including Crossing Brooklyn Ferry and The Middle Ages. Her latest, The Age of Desire, is a biographical novel based on the life of the author dearest to her heart, Edith Wharton. An Editor’s Choice of the New York Times Book Review, it describes Wharton’s mid-life love affair with a younger, manipulative man. Why the affinity to Wharton? Because she wrote about people attempting to break society’s expectations for them – which is something Fields has been yearning to do all her life.

For more information, please visit Jennie’s website.

You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/theageofdesiretour/
Twitter Hashtag: #AgeOfDesireTour
I received a copy of this book from Historical Fiction Virtual Tours. All opinions are my own.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Q and A with Authors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  Who are some of your favorite authors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q:  What is next for you?

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

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

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

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

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

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

Leave of Absence Synopsis~

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

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

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

Author Tanya J. Peterson, Biography~

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

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

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

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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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Award-winning Australian Author Kate Forsyth Talks About Her Life in Fairy Tales

Bitter GreensToday, I have a highly anticipated interview with Australian author Kate Forsyth, who recently published her book Bitter Greens in Australia and the United Kingdom. It’s available online to everyone as well and all readers who love fairy tale re-tellings as much as I do will want to take a look at this book.

Forsyth’s fantastical novel gives us a fictionalized view into Charlotte Rose de la Force, one of the first writers to adapt Rapunzel (before it was even called Rapunzel) in the 17th century, as well as the crafting of her own fractured version of the beloved tale. In our interview, we talk about her writing process, her most loved fairy tales, and the animals of Australia!

You can see more about the book and my five-star review by clicking HERE.

Erin:  Hi Kate, it’s so nice to have you on my site. A fellow writer and daydreamer, I am so impressed by you and happy to speak with you.

Kate:  It’s lovely to be here, Erin – thank you so much for having me.

Erin:  I am anxious to ask you some questions, so let’s get started on our walk…..

Q:  What is the first thing you’d love everyone to know about you?

A: I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember and spent my childhood daydreaming, making up stories, and playing imaginary games. My grown up life as an author seems a natural extension of that dreamy little girl’s life.

Erin comments: I know that dream well, with many days of childhood spent under a tree with a notebook. But dreams really can come true!

Q: I see you are a reader of fantasy, caught up in the daydreams of life, much as I am. What propels you to exit the real world and into the world of the unknown?

A: I’ve always loved reading books that are filled with history and suspense and romance and magic, and so it feels very natural to me to write those kind of stories now. I love writing more than anything else in the world (apart from my family, of course!), and so I am at my happiest when absorbed in the imaginary worlds of my own creating.

Q:  When did you start writing? What do you love to write about?

A: I’ve been writing stories ever since I was old enough to hold a pencil, and wrote my first novel when I was seven. I’ve been working on one story or another ever since then. Most of my books draw on history, myth, fairy tale and folklore for their inspiration – I also love books that have a puzzle or a mystery of some sort at their heart, and so this is also of many of my books.

Q: I am a lover of words and also write poetry, what inspires you most when writing poetry? For me, it’s nature.

A: For me, its feelings. I often write poetry when I’m feeling things intensely – grief, or love, or joy. I wrote a very heartfelt poem when I was pregnant with my third child, my daughter, and another when my grandmother died, for example.

Erin comments: Of course, feelings are the whole reason for poetry. They’re a mode of expression.

Q: I read you are obtaining a degree in Fairy Tales? What an amazing time that must be. What do you study? What is your focus?

A: I love it! I’m in the final year of a Doctorate of Creative Arts, focusing on the history and meaning of the Rapunzel fairy tale. It’s been an utterly fascinating exploration into fairy tales in general, and the Maiden in the Tower tales in particular. Rapunzel has fascinated me since I was a child and I spent a long time researching the tale’s background while I was planning my novel ‘Bitter Greens’, which retells it as a historical novel set in 16th century Venice and 17th century Paris.

Erin comments: Absolutely fascinating!

Q: Is your novel, Bitter Greens, a part of your educational process?

A: Yes, I wrote ‘Bitter Greens’ as the creative component of my doctorate, and I am now working on a critical examination of Rapunzel as the theoretical component. I have always wanted to write a retelling of Rapunzel – from at least the age of twelve – and it seemed to me a perfect project for a doctorate.

Q:  Why do you feel that there has been a resurgence of the old fairy tales? I’ve always loved them, but it seems you find everything related anymore appearing as a trend. Do they have lasting quality?

A: I think fairy tales have a universal appeal – we all remember them from our own childhood and then we pass them on to our own children to read, which means the tales survive. Fairy tales are like a manual for life, told in metaphoric code, teaching us that – if we are good and kind and brave and true enough – we can change our lives for the better. This is an important lesson for us all.

Erin comments: With all the advances made, stories still seem to be a thread that binds us.

Q:  What are your favorite fairy tales of all time?

A: My favourite fairy tales are Rapunzel, Six Swans, Sleeping Beauty, the Beauty and the Beast, and The Snow Queen. But I love nearly all of them, really.

Q: Do you have any favorite adaptations of some best-loved stories?

A: Oh yes! I love Juliet Marillier’s retelling of ‘Six Swans’, called ‘Daughter of the Forest’’, and her novel ‘Heart’s Blood’ which retells ‘Beauty and the Beast’. I also love Robin McKinley’s retellings of the same tale, ‘Beauty’ and ‘Rose Daughter’ (she retold the same tale twice), plus her novel ‘Deerskin’, a retelling of the incest tale usually known as ‘Donkeyskin’ or ‘Thousandfurs’. Edith Patou’s retelling of ‘East of the Sun, West of the Moon’ is brilliant too – I think it was published in the US as ‘East’ and in the UK as ‘North Child’. I also loved ‘A Curse as Dark as Gold’ by Elizabeth C. Bunce, a very clever retelling of ‘Rumplstiltskin. I’ve also enjoyed books by Margo Lanagan, Sophie Masson, Shannon Hale, Jessica Day George and Gail Carson Levine.

Q:  What are your other books about? Would you like to talk a little about the things you write?

A: Half of my books are for adults and half are for children, and I really love writing for both markets. I’ve spent the last year or so working on a novel called ‘The Wild Girl’ which tells the little-known love story between Wilhelm Grimm and Dortchen Wild, the young woman who told him many of the famous brothers’ most compelling fairy tales, against the turbulent background of the Napoleonic Wars. One of my children’s books is ‘ The Puzzle Ring’ which tells the story of a 13-year-old girl who must go back in time to the dangerous days of Mary, Queen of Scots, to find a broken puzzle ring so she may break a curse upon her family. My children and I travelled all around Scotland researching that one, and stayed in a haunted tower and an old monastery. It was wonderful. Another book I loved writing was ‘The Gypsy Crown’ about two Romany children and their adventures in the last days of the English Civil War. They have a whole menagerie of animals – a monkey, a horse, a dog, and a dancing bear – and face all kinds of dangers, including highwaymen, smugglers, witches, and a cruel thief-taker.

Q: I imagine it’s fun writing for children. I know I love to read with my three. My youngest daughter, age 5, has a love affair with fairy tales, predominately Rapunzel. We’ve read every adaptation we can get our hands on and she loved to point out to me the differences in each one. What do you love about writing children’s books?

A: I love the joyousness of the story, and the freedom it gives me to invent and imagine and play. I love writing adult books too, but they are generally much longer and much darker. It’s a refreshing change to do something smaller and brighter, in between the larger, more research intensive novels.

Q:  What do you hope readers take away from your work?

A: Utter satisfaction, and an urgent need to read every other book I’ve ever written.

Q:  Do you have any processes for writing? For instance, do you use an outline or just free write?

A: I always plan my novels – I like to be able to ‘see’ my whole novel before I begin to write. I will usually spend a long time daydreaming about the book and imagining it to life before I begin to write. My plan is usually sketched out quite roughly in my notebook, with lots of scribbles and changes as I think about the best turning points and so on. I’m very open to changing my initial plan as the story grows and changes, and quite often the book goes in unexpected directions – and I will always go with it.

Erin comments: I’d love to see those notebooks! I jest. I also write better, for stories or poetry, starting out with pencil and paper.

Q: What are your biggest obstacles to your writing or publishing process?

A: Lack of time! I have three children too.

Q:  How do you make time for your writing? Do you feel it’s important for women to schedule time for their writing and why?

A: Yes, absolutely. I used to write when the kids were asleep, even if it meant getting up at 3.30 a.m. to write at the only time that the house was dark and quiet.  Now I write when they’re at school. I’m utterly dedicated to my writing time – I tend do to household chores and grocery shopping and so forth when the kids are around, and work when they are not. Why? Because otherwise I could not write and I would feel a part of me was slowly dying. Women have as much right to be as much as they can be as men – even if it does mean a lot of ball juggling.

Erin comments: I totally agree.

Q: Have you, or will you, publish a book of poetry?

A: Oh yes, I have had a collection of poetry published called ‘Radiance’. You can buy it here: http://www.altair-australia.com/altair/rad.html

Q: What is your most celebrated achievement yet to date?

A: I was recently voted one of Australia’s Top 25 Favourite Novelists – I came in at No 22, just after Peter Carey. I was very happy about that! I was also overjoyed when five books in the ‘The Gypsy Crown’ series won the Aurealis Award, Australia’s award for speculative fiction. That was a wonderful moment.

Erin comments: Congratulations! How incredible!

Q:  Who are some of your favorite writers and why? Who has inspired you the most?

A: So many wonderful authors to choose from! I always find this a hard question to answer. I think I was greatly inspired by the writers I most loved as a child. For ‘Bitter Greens’, it was fairy tale retellings by Eleanor Farjeon and Nicholas Stuart Grey that were of paramount importance. Other inspirational childhood authors were C.S. Lewis, Geoffrey Trease, Edith Nesbit, Elizabeth Goudge, Joan Aiken … oh I could list two dozen names! As an adult, I have loved books by writers such as Isabel Allende, Tracy Chevalier, Joanne Harris, Robin McKinley, Kate Morton, Kim Wilkins, Juliet Marillier, Philippa Gregory, Sarah Dunant … again, far too many to list!

Q: What are your future plans for your career and/or studies?

A: I plan to keep on writing till I die. I hope this does not happen for a long while as I have so many brilliant ideas for books. I just need the time to write them!

Q:  Do you have any more upcoming books? Any in process?

A: At the moment, I’m writing a five book fantasy series for children aged 9+. Then I plan a novel set in Nazi Germany that retells the beautiful fairy tale, ‘The Lilting, Leaping Lark’, a variant of Beauty and the Beast in which the heroine is far more active and heroic than the version which most people know.

Q:  Are many of your books available in the United States?

A: I’m probably best known in the U.S. for the heroic fantasy series, ‘The Witches of Eileanan’ and ‘Rhiannon’s Ride’. ‘The Gypsy Crown’, a historical adventure for children, was also published in the U.S. and was nominated for a CYBIL Award. All my books are available over the Internet, of course.

Q:  What do you love most about Australia? Can you describe it to those of us who’ve always wanted to travel there, but haven’t gotten the chance?

A: Oh you must come! Australia has some of the best beaches in the world – miles and miles of white sand and turquoise water. It’s also lovely and warm most of the time. I live in Sydney which is a very beautiful city, full of light because of all the water, and very sophisticated with a lot of art and culture (though anyone from New York would be amazed how small it is). Most Americans also love our wildlife – kangaroos and koalas and kookaburras and so forth. I had a wallaby as a pet when I was a child – she used to hop around our kitchen, and would hold a piece of apple in her tiny, delicate paws and nibble on it … then, to go to bed, she would hop up into its ‘pouch’, a lined sack that hung on our back door handle. We have a blue tongued lizard in our back garden, and possums, and kookaburras, and a water dragon, and tawny-faced frogmouths (an Australian owl). Yet we live only 20 minutes from the centre of the city.

Erin comments: Sounds absolutely amazing!

Q: What is the literary scene there like? Does it differ from the United States? How has the internet and social networking created a better world for authors?

A: The literary scene in Australia is much, much smaller than it is in the U.S. There are not many agents and not many publishers and so it can be very difficult to break into if you are a new author.  Our buying market is much smaller too, and the tyranny of distance means it can be difficult for Australian authors to make much impact on the international scene. On the plus side, most Australian writers know each other well, and we are all good friends and very supportive of each other.   The internet and social networking and new technologies have been a great boon to us – we can connect with writers and readers all over the world in a way that was utterly impossible before. I have many writing friends all over the world now, and we buy each other’s books over the internet, and review each other books on our blogs, and talk to each other via Facebook and Twitter. It’s wonderful!

Erin comments: Yes, connecting so many people with similar interests that might not have had a chance to meet before. It’s a tremendous thing.

Q: Where can readers connect with you and your books?

A: My website is www.kateforsyth.com.au and I run a book reviewing blog there that is very popular with Australian readers. I’m also very active on Facebook and Twitter and very easy to find there. I’m also on Goodreads and a few other book sites. I love to talk about books and reading and writing!

Erin:  Thank you so much for talking with me today, Kate. It was a pleasure getting to know you. I wish you great success in all your endeavors and can’t wait to continue to read your writing.

Kate:  I’ve had such a lovely time! Thank you for your fascinating and insightful questions.

Bitter Greens Synopsis~

Bitter GreensBitter Greens is an historical novel for adults which interweaves the Rapunzel fairytale with the true story of Charlotte-Rose de la Force, a 17th century French writer who wrote the version of the fairytale we know best, while locked away in a convent by the Sun King, Louis XIV, for her bold and unconventional views on love and society.

Charlotte-Rose has scandalized the court by falling passionately in love with a young nobleman, then dressing up as a dancing bear to rescue him from imprisonment. Banished to a strict Benedictine convent by the king, she remembers her life and loves at the magnificent and corrupt court of Versailles. Charlotte-Rose is filled at despair at her imprisonment, but she is comforted by an old nun, the apothicairesse at the convent, Sœur Seraphina, who tells her the secret history of a young girl in 16th century Venice, who is sold by her parents for a handful of bitter greens …

Margherita’s parents love her dearly but the penalty for stealing in Venice in the late 16th century is cruel, and so they agree to give up their child at the age of seven to Selena, a courtesan whose walled garden is famous for its herbs and flowers. Selena is the famous red-haired muse of the artist Titian, first painted by him in 1513 and still inspiring him at the time of his death, sixty-one years later. Called La Strega Bella, Selena is at the centre of Renaissance life in Venice, a world of beauty and danger, seduction and betrayal, love and superstition. Selena is determined to never surrender the power that her beauty gives her, and so she turns to black magic and a spell that requires the blood of a virgin. Yet in the decadent world of Renaissance Italy, where courtesans supped with kings, where convents were hotbeds of illicit love, and where a girl’s virginity was sold many times over, how was Selena to ensure her spell would work, not just once, but over and over again? The only way was to build a tower without door or stairs, deep in the forest … and this is where she locks Margherita at the age of twelve. As Margherita grows into womanhood, she sings in the hope someone will hear her. One day, a young man does and climbs her rope of hair into the tower … and so begins a beautiful love story that retells one of the world’s most mysterious and enduring fairytales.

The story of Margherita’s escape from the tower is interwoven with flashbacks that recount Charlotte-Rose’s tragic childhood and her scandalous life at the Sun King’s glittering court, and also the dark and tragic story of the courtesan Selena and how she came to be Titian’s muse. Three women, three lives, three stories, all braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic, and the redemptive power of love.

Praise for Bitter Greens~

“Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens is not only a magnificent achievement that would make any novelist jealous, it’s one of the most beautiful paeans to the magic of storytelling that I’ve ever read.” – C.W. Gortner, author of The Queen’s Vow and The Confessions of Catherine de Medici

Kate Forsyth, Biography~

Kate Forsyth 2Kate Forsyth is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 books for adults and children , translated into 13 languages. She was recently named in the Top 25 of Australia’s Favourite Novelists. Since The Witches of Eileanan was named a Best First Novel by Locus Magazine, Kate has won or been nominated for many awards, including a CYBIL Award in the US. She’s also the only author to win five Aurealis awards in a single year, for her Gypsy Crown series of children’s historical novels. Kate’s latest novel, Bitter Greens, interweaves a retelli

ng of the Rapunzel fairytale with the scandalous life story of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force. It has been called ‘the best fairy tale retelling since Angela Carter’ and ‘an imaginative weaving of magic, fairy tale and history’. A direct descendant of Charlotte Waring, the author of the first book for children ever published in Australia, Kate is currently studying a doctorate in fairy tales at the University of Technology in Sydney, where she lives by the sea, with her husband, three children, and many thousands of books.

Please visit Kate Forsyth’s WEBSITE and BLOG for more information. You can also find her on FACEBOOK and follow her on TWITTER.

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Filed under Q and A with Authors

Romance Time with Rhiannon Ellis: Bonded in Brazil and Dark Wolf Protector Reviewed

Bonded in Brazil, Contemporary Romance

Bonded in Brazil, by Rhiannon Ellis, looked so good I could hardly wait to whittle away a sleepless night with it. Normally, I’m not the romance book type, unless it is historical and/or paranormal first and foremost but Ellis’ book called out to me.  Its voice certainly didn’t disappoint, as the cross-culture and society romance found a place in my heart as quickly as I could turn the pages. This was one romance I couldn’t put down as the clock ticked later into the night.

I loved the emotions emitted by both the main characters, Eliana Menino and Hale Forester. I loved how Eliana helped to heal Hale from his loss and loneliness with her vibrant personality and love of life. You could just picture what a gorgeous couple they would make, even as they fought through their attraction, sometimes giving in to desire and sometimes putting up walls. I loved how this book didn’t throw cheesy sex scenes at me that made me feel like I was intruding, but yet revealed their passion for each other slowly.

While reading it, I was reminded of one of my favorite romantic movies, A Walk in the Clouds (the romantic movie with Keanu Reeves). It was probably the strong female character, the hot male character, the lure of a beautiful vineyard of grapes, and the dance of would be lovers.  It wasn’t until later that I found out that the movie was partly Ellis’ inspiration for the book.

In Bonded by Brazil, Eliana’s family owns a vineyard in Brazil which is having financial difficulties and unable to pay back a loan secured by her father through Hale’s business. They are in fear of losing their heritage, the grape fields and Eliana goes to work as a maid for Hale in order to pay it back so her family can keep their vineyard. 

As they both struggle with deep emotions, each is too proud to let the other know how they truly feel.  Their love grows amid a backdrop of a beautiful Napa Valley estate and is surrounded by a cast of characters that assist in taking the story through a puzzle of deceit, drama, confusion, hurt, passion, and stubbornness. All of her characters are so vividly detailed and you’ll feel so intwined with them.

As the story ended as a happily ever after, I still hoped for a sequel to not only see what happens in the lives of Eliana and Hale, but of Eliana’s brother and the new love he also finds during his visit to the estate. My wish has been granted as Ellis has a sequel that is due to come out next year tentatively called Harvesting the Heart.

I love Ellis’ play on the theme of a vineyard and the caring of grapes, tying it to how we can nurture and tend love in our hearts. Her romance is one that melted my senses and I can’t wait to read the sequel. I recommend reading Bonded in Brazil on one of the upcoming chilly Autumn or Winter evening and definitely while enjoying a glass of wine by the fireplace or candlelight.

Buy this book:  http://www.amazon.com/Bonded-Brazil-Rhiannon-Ellis/dp/1603818464/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1301592162&sr=8-1

Dark Wolf Protector, Paranormal Romance

If you’re in the mood for a hot and sexy paranormal romance novella with handsome men, aka werewolves, then Ellis also has another romance you might like called Dark Wolf Protector. It has a strong-minded beautiful native american heroine, a handsome werewolf hero and set in the sultry South. 

But you gotta like it HOT, because this romance is much more steamy than Bonded in Brazil. Maybe it is the animal magnatism (hehe), but the scenes in this book are much more detailed. I don’t prefer these kind of scenes in my romance novels which are always so quick to arouse women right off the bat, but Ellis’ creation of characters and plot far outweigh these instances. I liked how real and strong-willed  Jaci Waters, the main character, is and her emotional journey from normal life into the paranormal.

Jaci is Tall Oak’s resident animal protector and rescuer, but when the people of the trailer park community cry out against the animal that is frightening them, she works even harder with the Sheriff to persuade them not to kill the wolf. Only she knows she dhas even more of a motive than animal rights.  She is allured by tall, dark and handsome Tall Oaks visitor Dolton Freye.  Dolton has come to Tall Oaks to protect Jaci, but someone else is hanging around too….and in the meantime, she finds out a mystery from her past as well as a secret of her own.

It’s an entertaining, deep south type of romance. It does contain explicit language and detailed sex scenes, but some of you love that (wink). It was a fun read; a paranormal escape with hot sex scenes–a steamy romance for a day at the beach or a rainy day where you want to curl up and be entertained.

Buy this book at: http://www.cobblestone-press.com/catalog/books/darkwolfprotector.htm

Rhiannon Ellis, author

I’ve got to know Rhiannon a little bit and I just LOVE her! She is such young, vibrant, hilarious lady who is a busy mom fitting in her writing as she can. I hope you enjoy her writing and connect with her. From my observation, she loves her children, her husband, writing, and football!!

Rhiannon Ellis turned a hobby into a career in 2008 when she wrote her first novel. Less than three years later, this stay-at-home mom has had two romance books published and there are more in the works.

She is a writer of romance, paranormal romance and mainstream fiction. She is a voracious reader and researcher. Her debut novel–Bonded in Brazil–was released in March of 2011 from Camel Press. She is represented by literary agent Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency.  Rhiannon’s paranormal romance–Dark Wolf Protector–was published shortly after from Cobblestone Press.

Rhiannon says, “WhenI tell people that I’m a writer, they envision me sitting at a computer all day and late into the night, typing away as my muse has my full attention. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m a mom and my days are for my children. Time to write is sparse and comes sporadically, so I’m constantly throwing my writer’s hat on and off throughout the day.”

Rhiannon resides in Columbia County, Wisconsin, with her husband of eight years, Chad, and their two young children, Cameron and Dane. She is also the proud stepmom of thirteen-year-old Taylor.

Catch the interview below and connect with her on her website or online–those contacts are also below.


Q: What is your day job?

A:  I’m a stay at home mom to my 3-year-old son and 5 (almost 6 in a few weeks)-year-old daughter. I spend my days like most moms with young kids—cleaning, cooking, battling an endless pile of laundry—and cherish every second of it. Well, except for the laundry. I could without that. I love being at home with my kids and feel very blessed that I’m able to do so when so many moms cannot. My “day job” is something I don’t take for granted.  I’m now homeschooling too, so that throws another interesting element into the mix.

Q: What is the most challenging part of the writing process?

A:  Finding time that is quiet and uninterrupted–and I think most moms can relate to that. When I’m working on a story, I try to write every day, though it usually comes in spurts as I revolve writing around my sometimes-hectic household.

Q:  Did you experience writer’s block?

A:  When I wrote simply for fun, yes I did. Now that I write for fun and career purposes, I don’t. My mindset is this is something that has to get done—like laundry, ugh—so just do it. This works for me.

Q:  What is the biggest misconception about writing a book?

A:  The biggest misconception is that writing is the hardest part. Yes, writing is work and takes skill as well as creativity, but landing an agent and/or publisher is the toughest part. I’ve read dozens of self-published books and have been shocked that these books were overlooked by publishers. There’s a lot of talent out there, but a novel gets turned down if it’s not marketable enough for publishing standards. I feel very blessed to have had agent and publisher interest—sometimes humbled because I wonder why I deserved it more than some other authors I’ve run across.

Q:  Oprah has famously said that there is no such thing as luck, without preparation and a moment of opportunity. Would you agree or disagree with regard to your own success as a writer?

A:  I’m leaning toward agreeing, based on my own experience. I have to wonder if the “opportunity” part is mostly luck, though. I feel like I’ve been given many great opportunities throughout my life in general, whereas others have not. Is this luck? Have I created these opportunities for myself? I truly don’t know. But I’m grateful, whatever the cause.

Q: What do you pledge to your readers?

A:  With every book, I promise to create dynamic, genuine characters and heroic women. I will also place these characters in exciting locations that will take you–the reader–away from the everyday of your own life and offer escape into a world with exotic fragrances and flavors–a metaphorical room with a view.

Thank you so much for sharing a little of yourself with my readers, Rhiannon. It has been great getting to know you. You are a very real example of a young mother with a writing dream, making her vision come true! Keep on the look out, readers, as Rhiannon will be back soon guest blogging here about the life of being a writer/full-time mom!

Contacting Rhiannon Ellis

Website: www.rhiannonellis.com

Facebook page: (Click Here)

Twitter page: (Click Here)

Blog: http://rhiannonellis.blogspot.com/

FOR MOMS: Rhiannon contributes regularly to MomsEveryday.com–a great place for moms!


Filed under Book Reviews, Q and A with Authors

An Interview with a Vampire Writer…Check out this new interview with author Denise K. Rago of “Immortal Obsession”

Ever wonder what makes a writer of vampire romance novel tick? Thought you’ve too encountered a mysterious stranger that you just sensed you knew?

Well, this weekend I have an exciting interview with a favorite new writer of mine that I now consider a friend. She is a fantastic writer and I love her historical appeal mixed in to her paranormal scenery. I did a review of her first paranormal romance, Immortal Obsession, a few months back on this blog, which you can read by clicking on the book cover to the left. I am happy to have the opportunity to speak to her about herself, her book, and what is on the horizon for her.

At the end of the interview we will be giving away a free signed copy of Immortal Obsession, courtesy of Denise, so please stay tuned and read on!!

Erin:  Welcome Denise!

Denise:  Thank you again Erin for granting me this interview.  I love doing them and I find that each one has a different feel to it. 

Q:  I think the idea for your book coming to you in the guise of a mysterious stranger is very interesting. Can you explain that encounter? Have you ever run into him again?

Immortal Obsession was inspired by an otherworldly experience I had in a New York City diner one night six years ago, when my path crossed with that of a beautiful, unusual stranger who sat down at a table behind my husband and I.  Even by New York standards he was unusual. He was very tall, with waist-length blond hair and dressed entirely in black. When I turned around he said hello and as I fell into his dark eyes he felt very familiar to me. 

That weekend I began writing Immortal Obsession and when my husband and I talked about our experience with this mysterious stranger, I realized we saw two very different people that night.  The experience was unnerving, yet exciting. This stranger was the inspiration for my main character, the vampire Christian Du Mauré. 

I have had a few other encounters with him, though we have never spoken, except when he said hello to me the first time and I said hi back. I am not sure why, but I feel uncomfortable approaching him.  I do try to connect with him through the practice of meditation.

Q: Do you think you might have known him “in another life?” Wouldn’t that be something!

I must preface my answer by explaining that I have always believed in reincarnation, past lives and soul connections. 
I learned that the man I saw in the diner is someone I have known from a past life.  I also have learned that there are many more life times we have shared together and that he continually guides me from the other side as his role in my writing and my life continues to unfold. He is my muse. 

Q:  I know you write paranormal romance as your genre. But how do you think you differ from others in this genre? Why do you think this genre seems to be on the rise?

To answer the first question, I feel that my novel tells Christian Du Mauré’s story, which parallels my experiences with this spirit guide from a past life. 

In April of 2006, I took a writing workshop with Canadian horror writer Nancy Kilpatrick. One of my assignments was to explain why I thought vampires were more popular now, than ever before.  I spoke about the events of September 11, 2001 and their impact on our nation.  From a high point near my home I could see the thick plumes of dark smoke from the burning towers and the sad truth is that death, destruction and the inability to control these events in our lives is very real. I attribute the increase in novels in the paranormal genre as a direct correlation to the unsettling nature of the world in which we all find ourselves.  Perhaps creating tales about the vampire is our subconscious coming to terms with the great unknowable and uncontrollable mystery of death as we try to embrace and to control this mysterious power. 

Q:  Did you dream of vampires as a child? Kidding!! What were your interests as a child?

Actually, I dreamt a lot about aliens invading the earth!  Strange I know.  As a child I was an avid reader with a passion for art, history, ballet, archaeology and the natural world.  My mother enrolled me in ballet class at seven years old and I remember loving it but hating the recitals.  I have never liked competition.  I would come home, toss off my ballet slippers and play in my front yard for hours, digging holes in my yard and burying coins or little plastic toys (I have 4 brothers and there were always toys around).  I tried to imagine what future civilizations would think about us when they uncovered these objects.   I also have always had an interest in astrology, ghosts; anything metaphysical. 

Q:  What are your interests now and what do you think has spurred them? or developed them?

I have the same interests! I took my love of archaeology and got my undergraduate degree in Anthropology, with my focus on Cultural Anthropology.  I spent two summers doing fieldwork on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota to satisfy my love and compassion for the American Indian.  I took my love of art, history and museums and got my Masters’ Degree in Museum studies.  I still take ballet classes when I can and I am a voracious reader.  I started writing poems, plays and short stories in junior high school and to this day I keep a diary.  I have always wanted to write novels and my horoscope is the first thing I read in any newspaper!

Q:  On to the book now, what do you want to tell your readers about your book (I’ve already told them what I think, I love it!)……

Than k you Erin!  Even though the story is set in present day Manhattan, there are themes in Christian’s life that parallel his experiences as a young vampire in eighteenth century Paris. He loves, regrets, second guesses himself and despairs, just like the rest of us.  

The theme of unrequited and forbidden love comes through in my novel as my characters struggle with their choices as well as their losses.  I think we all have regrets.  Love is an emotion that can sustain us as well as cause us great pain.  Vampire Christian Du Mauré falls instantly in love with a young mortal woman, Josette Delacore. At the risk of giving too much away, they embark on a love affair that not only changes both of their lives forever, but causes them both much heartache. 

Another discovery I have always believed, but now know to be true, is that love never dies.  It moves with us through time which ties into my beliefs of reincarnation and meeting souls in our present lives that we knew in a past life. 

Q:  I hear you have plans for subsequent books about the Christian and Michel characters. What can we all do to help you along so you get them done faster? Kidding! In honesty, what do you want to tell us about your future?

I am currently working on the next two novels in this series, which is titled The Enchanted Bloodline Series.  I am hoping to have at least one of them completed by the fall of 2012.

Q:  As writers we all have different times of day and different influences that encourage or hinder our writing. I know you are a morning person, while I am a night person and can’t take my head out of covers in the morning. Sometimes I get to busy to find time to write. That said, when do you write the best? What encourages you? How to time manage and what advice do you have for aspiring writers?

I love writing and though it is not something I do every day I can honestly say I am always thinking about the story I am trying to tell.  Since I am back to working full-time, writing becomes another part of the balancing act which is my life.  Sitting down to write isn’t just about finding the time.  It’s the mindset.   I am a morning person and actually I am writing this at 5:51 am before I head out to work. 

 Advice for aspiring writers?  Believe in yourself and the story you need to tell.  Understand that writing is a process. Write as the story comes to you, even if it is not in sequence.  If your muse calls to you, answer!

Q:  When an idea comes to a writer, sometimes it isn’t always in a convenient place, right? (I seem to find myself in the shower…) How do you organize your thoughts? What advice do you have for others who have a hard time organizing their plots, characters, and ideas?

I bought a wonderful calendar that has a section for Notes and Lists.  I use it a lot.  I also have a binder which contains portraits and character traits for all of the main characters in Immortal Obsession. I also keep a note pad by my computer as I am always jotting down something. 

I have an accordion file which holds my current manuscript plus any articles I need as a part of my research. I try to keep everything in one place. I have genealogy charts and timelines for the characters as well, especially since most of my vampires were born in the eighteenth century.  Anything to keep me organized and on track with the events in their lives. 

Q:  What authors do you relate to as a person? Then, as a writer?

This was my favorite question yet probably the hardest to answer.  One of my favorite authors is Anne Rice.  Reading Interview with the Vampire in 1976 changed how I viewed the vampire. She has had an influence not only on my love of the paranormal novel but on my writing style as well.  She is approachable, intelligent and I have the utmost respect for her as a person and a writer.   

I also love John Connelly, the Irish author who writes what I feel are incredibly dark yet brilliant thrillers.  His detective Charlie Parker is one of my favorite characters and I so look forward to his novels.  I believe that an authors’ work should speak for itself. I truly admire writers like Harper Lee or Suzanne Collins who seem to live by this principal.

Q: What do you have to say about self-publishing? What are the pros and cons of that for you?

I found the entire experience of self-publishing to be rewarding and a learning experience for me.  I chose Createspace and I have found them to be professional, supportive and always there to answer my questions.  Self-publishing gives the author total control over their work product, from the font type to the cover art.  The entire production is in your control.  As an author who has worked hard over the past few years to bring my novel to life, I find this rewarding. 

On the other end of the spectrum, being in total control means just that. Web design, marketing, publicity all fall on my shoulders.  I was fortunate enough to find a design/marketing team out of San Diego California who not only designed my website but also have been instrumental with marketing advice, printed materials and assisting me in all ways.

(Erin: Sorry for the plug here on my blog during your interview, but I just want to note how important this can be and a well-worth-it investment. Tim and I own a PR business in which we copy write, edit, proofread, consult and we love to help writers. We are a small agency and work from home, from a small rural town and always enjoy talking to new authors and writers. We have over 25 years combined experience in our field.  Our website is www.addisonscompass.com)

Q:  How has the dawn of e-books changed the reading world? How about an author’s world?

It’s much more convenient to download books and generally, they are less expensive.  I still like holding a book in my hands. I am always reading and I have such a hard time parting with a book so my house looks like a library!  E-readers allow for the storage of thousands of books and if I had a career where I travelled or commuted then having an e-reader makes so much sense.  I am glad my book is available as an e-book which again, gives readers the option to download it rather than buy the paperback.

 As e-books become more popular we are losing book stores and personally, browsing a book shop is one of my favorite activities.    There needs to be a balance and I believe there is room for both. 

 Q:  Lessons learned, what would you tell first-time authors?

Hire a professional editor and copy editor to read your manuscript and pay them.  I was fortunate enough to have a very experienced editor; publisher and writer read my draft of Immortal Obsession.  He then wrote me a very detailed letter highlighting what he liked but also how I might make my story better.  I took his advice on most things and then hired a copy editor to read it line by line and also make suggestions.

Writing may be a solitary process but please, hire competent professionals whenever possible. Connect with other writers whether on the internet or if you are lucky enough to meet and talk face to face, do so.  Build a platform.  Visit website and blogs that you enjoy and let them know it. Map out your publishing goals yet be realistic, patient and flexible. 

Q:  Where can other authors or interested readers contact you?

My website link is www.denisekrago.com.  Please visit me there as I have several portraits of some of the characters as well as reviews, interviews and guests posts.  Readers can get a clearer sense of who I am and what the buzz is about my novel. I can also be reached on Facebook and  Goodreads as I have pages on both sites.

Q:  Where can everyone find Immortal Obsession?

Again, visit my website at www.denisekrago.com

There is a buy button with a drop down menu to select from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Createspace, Indie Books and Smashwords.  My novel is also available as an e-book too.  If you happen to live in New Jersey near the historic town of Clinton, there is a wonderful book store there which carries a few signed copies of Immortal Obsession

I can’t finish this interview without mentioning the importance of supporting local book stores and the role they play in our communities.  There is room for the massive corporate chain, e-books and local book shops.  Please utilize them so they remain with us.

(Erin: I so agree, Denise. Our home too looks like a small library. We love our bookshelves. I love looking at the covers, touching the pages, imagining the blood, sweat, tears, and joy that the writer poured into the book. I haven’t gotten into e-readers at all yet, though it does seem like something that can be used alongside private book collections and library use. I can’t state enough the important of library funding, and the utilization of libraries, as well as the small town bookstores that let you browse on a balmy, or snowy, Sunday afternoon. If that ever dies, a small part of me will too.)

About Denise K. Rago

An avid reader with a lifelong passion for vampires, history, and art, Rago’s work deftly mixes elements of Gothic art, historical fiction, and the storied literary legacy of the undead. And it all takes place against the backdrop of the world’s most unforgettable cities: a ravished, Revolution-era Paris and modern-day Manhattan.  Denise K. Rago was born and raised in New Jersey, where she resides with her family.

Erin:  I so appreciate your spending this time with us Denise and I have enjoyed getting to know you. You are a fabulous woman of varied intertests much like my own. I hope for future communication and we’ll look forward to your next book!

Immortal Obsession GIVEAWAY

Author Denise Rago is giving away a COMPLIMENTARY copy of her paperback book Immortal Obsession to one lucky reader!  All you have to do is comment on my blog with what you liked best about the interview, comment it on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/almehairierin) and include my blog link www.hookofabook.wordpress.com, or comment it to me on Twitter with a mention @ErinAlMehairi. In one week, a winner from all commenters will be chosen and it could be YOU. YOU don’t want to miss the opportunity to receive this book in the mail. It is phenomenal!


Filed under Book Reviews, Q and A with Authors

Q and A with Authors, Starting with ME!

**Please note**This is from 2011! I can hardly believe it. It was when I first decided to write again after leaving my full-time job in healthcare to start my own business and write on the side.**

Since doing the Red River Writers BlogTalkRadio show, Dellani’s Tea Time yesterday, I decided to go ahead and post my questions and answers to inquiries about me and writing and about my book series. Some of these were talked about on the show. I think these answers will give great insight into me for anyone that is curious.

Introducing Erin Al-Mehairi, author of this blog and aspiring author:

I am a mother of 3 young children in mid-Ohio. My fiancé Tim Busbey and I own a writing and public relations business that we work out of our home called Addison’s Compass Public Relations and a fine art nature photography business called Breathe Beauty Art and Photography. We are both coming back to our dreams of being creative writers and I am working on my first children’s book series as well as my poetry, and he is halfway through his adult religious history thriller. If you want to know more about me, click on the tab at the top of the blog.

When did you start writing?

I remember writing all through childhood. I won a local children’s writing contest in my tween years; it was a Christmas essay contest in our local newspaper. I wrote stories, essays, lots of poetry and have always been an avid reader. I was mentored and encouraged by many of my English teachers from elementary on. I became engrossed in Journalism in high school and then obtained a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and English (as well as History) from Ashland University. I was mentored by many fabulous and distinguished English teachers and edited for the university group Poetry Press. I was encouraged in my writing by one of the most phenomenal Journalism and English professors ever, Dr. Daniel Lehman. I was always writing articles and essays, many times about children in my life or causes that laid on my heart. I continued this writing in various forms along with my newspaper articles for the college paper. During and directly after college, I kept up with my poetry. In 2002 I took a job in public relations and for the next 7 years wrote consistently technical and newsletter type articles, as well as copy writing for web and advertising. I was so busy working so many hours a week that I lost my time for creative writing, and in many ways lost myself. I was in an abusive marriage and trying to raise 2 children. In 2004, I left my marriage. Later on I met the man who is my world today. In 2007, I was pregnant with my third child and though a joy for us together, I was also very ill with both pulmonary and fighting several autoimmune diseases. Taking a risk in hopes of getting my life back, I quit my job. The last year and half at home with my children, while doing freelance article and copy writing and photography, has allowed me to take the long and healing journey back to writing creatively, reading, art, and photography. I’ve come back to myself and it feels really good. I think if I hadn’t done this, hadn’t rid myself of all that way tying me down, I would never have been quiet enough in my mind for my children’s book idea to percolate and summon me. I am so happy to be writing again!

How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

 I don’t know if there was ever really one special moment. I’ve always read and I’ve always written. If there was paper in front of me, and a little time, my pencil would move and create poetry without me even trying. It would move and create essays and stories on children and or nature. I’m excited to say that in the past 6 months, my pencil has been moving that way on paper again. I think it is something that possesses me without me even deciding to do it. Writing isn’t something I decided to do, it is just something that is me.

What gave you the idea for your first book?

I always knew I wanted to write a children’s book, but never had a specific idea. As I began turning my love for fine art nature and historical photography (and repurposing old wooden furniture) into a business while being home with my children, who are 11, 7 and 3, for the past almost 2 years, my creative juices seemed to start working. Before the winter (winter of 2010/2011) we went on many long walks around the older parts of the neighborhood, taking photo pieces of historic houses, an abandoned train depot, old barns and doors and windows. We wanted to know the history behind those places. As we had these mini-adventures and I watched the interactions of the kids, especially those between my two young daughters, my idea sprang to mind. My daughters are opposite personalities and that can become really hilarious at times. I saw using their personalities for humor in the book, while some of our adventures and photographs gave me ideas for the plot of the books.

What is your latest release?

Continuing on with my last answer, I’m just in the starting phase of my book series. I am writing a fiction novel for young first or second graders with two young girls as the main characters, slightly modeled after my own two girls. I had spent time listening to their conversations and I really saw how different their interests are and how unique it makes each of them. And it came to me, I could write a book stemming loosely from their relationship. A 7 to 9-year-old girl who is girly, yet likes sparkly skulls, black, jeans, art, mystery, pop songs, and is super subdued unless spiked by her sister compared to a girl age 3 to 5 who is the total princess package including pink and more pink, dresses, dance and ballet, classical music and song who is really confident. Stemming from their personalities, I’ve come up with the name Monster Princess and Little Diva. My rough outline of the entire series includes the girls having to move with their single mother to a new town and/or state in New England. Since Mom is very busy, the girls start to head-off for walks and in each book of the series, they end up at an old building or house or area. There they find a special item that transports them into an adventure or chaotic happening where they are able to help the people they encounter. For instance, when they find a paintbrush, they are transported into a world they enter that is all one color. They will be able to use the magic brush to show the people how to put color into their lives, embracing diversity. The moral of the story is to embrace the many different “colors” of life. Another story has them helping a cupcake store who has no sugar because a naughty squirrel has stolen and hoarded it. The moral is about sharing.

What age group are your books intended for?

I had wanted to write a hardcover picture book and I think that is because of my love for art as well. I’ve always been an avid collector of picture books for children. Finding a first printing of an old Madeline book in a used book store was so exciting for me! I see just how Monster Princess and Little Diva would look in a book and how cute they would be. However, for right now for my own books I’m trending toward doing the series first for about a first or second grade level. I may take the characters up in age a few years from my own in order to gain the first grade audience. I want to make a book for that age that takes the readers into a different type of adventure that is outside the box, outside of the normal school related adventures that seem to saturate the market. What made you decide to write books for children? As I mentioned before, I think just my own love for children’s books of any age and watching my own children grow up. When I see children’s books, I fall in love. I want to create one to make children’s happy about reading. My daughters are very excited about my series and when I see the gleam in their eyes, I hope that other children might get that too.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your work?

I think just learning what age my characters should be to relate to certain readers. Even children of the same age are at all different reading levels. For the first half of the school year I went every Tuesday for over 2 hours to listen and help the first graders in my daughter’s class read individually. The reading levels were all over the place. Beyond that, my main challenges are fitting the writing into my schedule with 3 kids and finding quiet time to write. I must have quiet to be able to think or I don’t even know what I’m typing!!

What experiences have inspired you?

Certainly, the experiences with my children and in my art and photography hobby and work have inspired me with the story. Sometimes when you look at art or a photograph you can either see it as a flat surface, a flat perception, or you can look FURTHER into the photograph and begin to think about might be behind the door, behind the scene, behind the history. I love to come up with stories that lead you from that first flat look. My illness and other life hardships have inspired me to remember that life is short and we must spend the time with those we love, doing what we love. Otherwise, why live?

What other authors/ artists have influenced you?

Dandi Daley Mackall (www.dandibooks.com) is a children’s author who has inspired me since I was young. She lives in my area and is a friend who I have always looked up to from the moment I met her. She has written over 400 books while living a simple life in rural Ohio. She writes because she loves to do it and she writes wonderful books with great moral guidelines for children. In my talks with her, I’ve really been encouraged to want to be a children’s writer myself. I’ve also always enjoyed the writing and art in Jan Brett’s books. Growing up, and even still, I enjoyed Madeline L’Engle, Lewis Carroll, C.S. Lewis, and all the Grimm Fairy Tales. Right now I really like Victoria Kann, who writes the Pinkalicious series.

Do you find that you “collect” people? In other words, you meet or see someone who eventually finds their way into a book?

I think we first learn about attributes people have from someone we may have encountered in our real lives. Of course with the main characters being molded after my daughters’, I suppose I’ve done that. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors/ illustrators? Don’t be afraid that you can’t write or don’t have the time. Give yourself some quiet time to discover your creative side. If you can only write 15 minutes most days, then that is at least a start. Just write for yourself first. Everyone should make their dreams a priority and not feel they are being selfish. There are many more opportunities out there today for anyone who wants to write.

Tell us about your publication journey.

I’ve just started so I haven’t found a publisher yet, or even looked that much into publishing. I want to get my story out on paper right now since my main motivation is to tell the story. Then I pray the publishing comes. I want to create a legacy for my children.

Please share with our listeners where they can purchase your book(s).

Of course I don’t have a book done yet, but you can follow my journey on writing and read my book reviews of books for all ages at http://www.hookofabook.wordpress.com and my group for children’s books on Facebook called Teaching Kids Through Books. I sell Kane/Miller and Usborne Books.

If you could ask your favorite author a question, who would it be & what question would you ask? How would you answer that question yourself?

I don’t know if it would be about asking just one, but to many authors in general I would ask first, how do you stay focused and secondly, how do you handle any rejection to something you present that is such a part of you? In answering this myself, again I say that you have to make writing a priority and schedule time for it. The only thing I can say about rejection is that you have to be strong enough to love your own story for what it brings you, even if someone else doesn’t agree.

To hear me, as well as mystery writer Beth Groundwater, children’s author Amanda Thrasher, and illustrator Wade Zahares on our BlogTalkRadio show, click on this link: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/rrradio/2011/02/14/dellanis-tea and it will start playing. Put on your headphones and listen while you work, or just listen through the speakers.

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Filed under My New Children's Book Series, Q and A with Authors