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Interview with Historical Author Stephanie Thornton on Women in History, Writing, and Thoughts on Ancient Desserts!

Today I have an amazing interview with debut author Stephanie Thornton, who penned one of my favorite current books, The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora! If you have a love of women in history who have overcome great odds and helped change history, this book is for YOU! You can read my review from June HERE!

Now, Stephanie talks about inspiration for her novel, what other intelligent women she’s writing about, and why she’s telling aspiring writers to never give up! PLUS there is a GIVEAWAY and you’ll see that information right under the interview. Enjoy!

The Secret History

Hi Stephanie, welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! I am so happy to feature you back on the site in celebration of your debut novel release, The Secret History: a Novel of Empress Theodora.  How have you been taking it all in?

Stephanie: Thanks so much for having me, Erin. The last week has been a whirlwind of awesomeness, and I’m thrilled to be here!

Erin: I can only imagine your excitement! And well-deserved!! Let’s grab some coffee and start talking about everything under the sun, or at least as much as we can get to!

Q: The Secret History is your first published novel, correct? Where did you find the inspiration to write it?

A: This is indeed my first published novel. I’m a high school history teacher and was inspired to do some more research after reading a line in a textbook about an actress-turned-empress who saved her husband’s throne during riot by giving a rousing speech. That was Theodora’s famous speech during the Nika rebellion, but I soon found out there was so much more to her story!

Q:  Given the amount of research, how did you undertake that task? How long did it take you?

A: The research never ends! (I actually found a new portrait of Theodora this week, hidden in a Roman church, and wish I could go back and write a scene about it for the novel!) I start my research by reading the available primary texts from the era, then move on to biographies of my main characters. Once I have the story, then I move on to the setting details that really make the era come to life. Those pieces tend to fall into place during my final edit, so I’m truly researching the whole way through.

Erin comments: You are very good at setting the scene with amazing details. I can picture all you write as if I am truly there.

Q:  What was the most interesting tidbit about Theodora, or the people surrounding her, that you came across in your research?

A: I absolutely love that Theodora was the daughter of a bear trainer. I’m distantly related to the Bailey side of Barnum & Bailey’s Circus, so I like that we have a shared circus background!

Erin comments: That’s so cool!

Q:  The cover art for your book is beautiful. Did you find much art, creative writings, tapestries, or the like from this time period in Constantinople? I know you described some beautiful architecture and art in your book.  What other cultures influenced that empire creatively during the sixth century?

A: The Byzantine Empire was heavily influenced by the Italian Roman Empire, but was starting to diverge from the classic forms of architecture, as can be seen by the domes of the Hagia Sophia on the novel’s cover. (Which I love, by the way. I almost swooned when I first saw it.) It’s also interesting to note that Byzantine architecture spread out of Constantinople after Theodora’s time—St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice is considered Byzantine in structure. I’m not aware of many creative writings or tapestries from the time period, but fortunately for us, many of the stunning Byzantine mosaics survive to this day—one of the lasting impacts of Byzantine art as they truly excelled at mosaic-making. In fact, if you Google “Mosaics,” the first image you’ll see is one of Christ from the Hagia Sophia and another top hit is a portion of the mosaics from San Vitale in Ravenna, the site of Theodora’s famous mosaic.

Q:  Women from these ancient cultures seemed to have great strength of mind and soul.  Many times they seemed to be even revered by their male peers or significant others intellectually, politically, and romantically. How do you think this happened, even as sometimes women still struggle today with this issue?

A: I think it took a strong man to recognize these amazing women, as that was typically not the norm. Most ancient cultures viewed women as second-class citizens, so for a man like Justinian to realize Theodora’s strengths, and even fight to be allowed to marry her, speaks volumes as to the strength of his own character. Justinian battled laws forbidding his marrying a common actress, and also feuded with his aunt, who wanted him to marry a respectable girl (despite the fact that his aunt had also once been a prostitute). I think it was difficult for men to realize that they didn’t have to give up their power to allow women to also have their say, something that still impacts women today.

Erin comments: You’d think after thousands of years, that would be a simple fix (a man feeling weak when a woman is strong) but alas….it’s still a tad bit of a struggle in the modern world as well. Also, women like Justinian’s aunt who could take their success and use it to teach or help others, but instead of point fingers at someone else just because the finger was pointed at them, aren’t helpful either. Lessons for today many times are still spoken through history.


Mosaic of Empress Theodora

Q:  Keeping in line with that, given the major lines drawn among social classes, the poverty in the city streets, and the actresses who were paid for their bodies, how did some of these women rise to the powerful legacies they become? It couldn’t have been easy.

A: It definitely wasn’t easy, and as it always does, luck played a huge part in Theodora’s uncommon ascent from the gutters to the throne. The Byzantine Empire allowed for some upward mobility, but only for a select few people. Life in the ancient world was brutal for the vast majority of the population, and there were often few choices for women. The fact is that Theodora’s determination, perseverance, and wit would have amounted to little had she not been able to attract a wealthy patron, something she would have been well aware of. Lucky for her, she managed to catch the eye of the future emperor, and was then able to use her talents to their full advantage!

Q:  I know you also like a favorite quote of mine: “Well-behaved women rarely make history!”  Can you expound on that notion and besides the fact that drama always is memorable, what else makes this true? Do you feel it is still true today?

A: That’s one of my favorite quotes—I have it on my webpage and also in my classroom! I think that in order for women in the ancient world to stand out and be remembered, they really did have to break the rules. If they didn’t, they were relegated to the background. Women like Theodora and her friend Antonina refused to let men call all the shots—even the men they loved—and weren’t afraid to voice their own opinions (or perform salacious and daring acts on stage). For Theodora, at least at Nika, that also meant that she was able to turn the tide of history. As for whether this is still true today, I think it’s a little easier for women to get noticed, but it’s still women who break the norms—Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Sandra Day O’Connor—who will likely end up remembered by the history books.

Erin comments: I agree. And though it’s sad that women standing up for beliefs, causes, or for their voice to be heard is considered risky, I applaud women who strive daily without fear and continue to work hard to change society

Q:  What other women in history are you writing about?  Can you talk a little about your next several books and the desire you have to bring to print “your forgotten women in history?”

A: My next novel, DAUGHTER OF THE GODS, is about Hatshepsut, Egypt’s first successful female pharaoh, and my personal idol since I was in the 7th grade. Hatshepsut financed major trade explorations, fought against foreign uprisings, and fell in love with a commoner, all while guiding Egypt into its Golden Age. My third book, THE TIGER QUEENS, will feature Genghis Khan’s first wife and several of his daughters. All of these women were integral to history, but sadly, have been largely forgotten. It seemed wrong that we all remember Cleopatra (who lost Egypt to the Roman Empire—I’ll forever hold that against her) and Anne Boleyn (who did give birth to Elizabeth I, but is mostly famous for getting her head chopped off), yet we don’t know about these other inspiring women who left such a legacy to history.

Erin comments: I agree! Hatshepsut has always been a favorite of mine and would love to see more books showing her in a positive light! Honestly, I have never even hear of Khan’s wife or family, so that will be really interesting!

Q: Besides the women you are currently writing on, what other women have you thought about featuring in a novel? Why?

A: I’m turning my eyes toward ancient Rome for my fourth novel, although I have yet to decide exactly who my new heroine will be. There are a couple of options, but I’m not allowed to start researching those women until I finish revising my third book!

Q:  What words of advice do you have for aspiring female writers? How would you motivate them to pursue their writing dreams?

A: Never give up! It’s cliché, but also so true. This business will wring the blood and tears right out of you, but if you’re passionate about what you’re writing, you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I believed so much in the first book I wrote that I went back and rewrote it from the ground up after finishing THE SECRET HISTORY. That book will release next year as DAUGHTER OF THE GODS, despite all the people who told me it was impossible to get a book on ancient Egypt published these days. You can achieve whatever you want to, but not if you stop writing!

Erin comments: Ancient Egypt is my favorite historical subject to read and there are so many stories of magic and wonder to be told.

Q:  What has been your biggest challenge on your writing journey? Alternatively, what has been your biggest personal success?

A: I almost threw in the towel on the whole writing business in the midst of querying DAUGHTER OF THE GODS, (and having all those naysayers tell me ancient Egypt wasn’t “in”). But I love the women I write about, (I would go totally fan girl on them if I ever invented a time machine), and I knew I had to keep going. My biggest personal success was finding an agent, and then an editor, who believed that the world would want to know about these women.

Erin comments: It seems like such a no-brainer to me! It’s so sad to hear you had so much difficulty. As a reader, writer, and history buff myself, I have been on the look-out for books such as what you are writing! At least you are making this reader happy, but I bet you will many others too. Glad you kept going!

Stephanie Thornton

Author Stephanie Thornton

Q: With a family and a career as a teacher, how do you find the time to write? Do you “schedule” writing time on your calendar or just fit it in as possible? How do you gain support from your family for your writing time?

A: My only real writing time comes at night after my daughter is in bed. I have a wonderfully supportive husband who knows that for one golden hour, I have to hide away in my writing room and get the words into my laptop. I’ve gotten into the habit of writing everything by hand first and then typing it into my laptop, so with that system, I carry notebooks with me just about everywhere to take advantage of other random writing opportunities.

Q:  How do you find your character’s voice when writing? What are some character developing tips?

A: Each character is different, which is fun, but often challenging at the same time. Theodora is pretty snarky, and it was often easy to hear her sarcastic comments in my head as I was writing. I often have mottos for my characters to help determine both their voices and their actions. Theodora’s motto was easy: SURVIVE.

Q:  What other books and authors do you enjoy personally and why?

A: I will read just about anything, but I love historical fiction. (Of course!) My all-time favorite novel is MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA by Arthur Golden and I’ve loved all of Kate Quinn’s novels since MISTRESS OF ROME came out. I love books with a killer plot, characters I love and want to throttle at the same time, and lush, exotic settings.

Q:  The major question I really want to know is if you found any ancient secret baking recipes during your work? What might Theodora’s favorite dessert have been and what is your favorite?

A: Best question ever! First of all, I think it’s a tragedy that Theodora lived in a time without chocolate or ice cream. I’m not sure I would have survived. That said, I did come across a reference to a Byzantine dessert made of cream and sprinkled with orchid pollen. I’m not sure if it would have been any good (certainly not as good as ice cream), but I managed to include a reference to it in one of Theodora’s banquet scenes with Emperor Justin.

Erin comments: Oh, I am always about the food. And your food descriptions in your book were AMAZING!! I think I might even have to try that flower pollen…

Q:  Where can readers and writers connect with you?

A: You can pretty much find me everywhere these days! I’m online at www.stephanie-thornton.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AuthorStephanieThornton, and I tweet as @STephMThornton.

Erin:  Thank you so much, Stephanie, for joining me today on the site. I absolutely adored your book and writing style and I can’t wait for your next upcoming novels! I wish you the best of luck with your writing and hope to have you back again soon!

Stephanie: Thank you so much for having me, and for asking such fantastic questions! I hope we can meet up again when DAUGHTER OF THE GODS releases next year. (That is, if you like hippo attacks, musty tombs, and Egypt’s greatest pharaoh of course!)

Erin: I am absolutely already super excited for Daughter of the Gods!! I want to be first on the reading list!!



The giveaway is for one paperback copy of The Secret History and open internationally!  To enter, please leave a comment under this post, or at the link on the Facebook page when it appears at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook. You can also email me at hookofabook(at)hotmail(dot)com. Whichever you choose, please be sure to leave your own email so I can contact you.

Extra entries: +1 for following my blog and +3 for “liking” the Facebook page mentioned above which is a hub for reviews, interviews, and book news.



The Secret HistoryPublication Date: July 2, 2013
NAL Trade
Paperback; 448p
ISBN-10: 045141778X

Where Theodora went, trouble followed…

In sixth century Constantinople, one woman, Theodora, defied every convention and all the odds, and rose from being a common theater tart to become empress of a great kingdom, the most powerful woman the Roman Empire would ever know. But the woman whose image was later immortalized in glittering mosaic was, in fact, a scrappy, clever, conniving, flesh-and-blood woman full of sensuality and spirit whose real story is as surprising as any ever told…

When her father dies suddenly, Theodora and her sisters face starvation on the streets. Determined to survive, Theodora makes a living any way she can—first on her back with every man who will have her, then on the stage of the city’s infamous amphitheater in a scandalous dramatization of her own invention. When her daring performance grants her a back-door entry into the halls of power, she seizes the chance to win a wealthy protector—only to face heartbreak and betrayal.

Ever resilient, Theodora rises above such trials and by a twist of fate, meets her most passionate admirer yet: the Emperor’s nephew. She will thrive as his confidant and courtesan, but many challenges lie ahead. For one day, this man will hand her a crown. And all the empire will wonder—is she bold enough, shrewd enough, and strong enough to keep it?

Praise for The Secret History

“Stephanie Thornton’s Theodora is tough and intelligent, spitting defiance against the cruel world of the Byzantine Empire. Her rise from street urchin to emperor’s consort made me want to stand up and cheer. Her later years as empress are great fun to read, but it was her early struggle as actress and courtesan that really had me roaring: either with rage at the misfortunes heaped on this poor girl, or with delight as she once more picked herself up with a steely glint in her eye and kept on going.”—Kate Quinn, author of Empress of the Seven Hills

“Loss, ambition and lust keep this rich story moving at top speed. Stephanie Thornton writes a remarkable first novel that brings a little known woman to full, vibrant life…A sprawling and irresistible story.”—Jeane Westin, author of The Spymaster’s Daughter

“A fascinating and vivid account; in The Secret History, the life of Empress Theodora leaps from the page, as colorful and complex as the woman herself.”—Michelle Diener, author of The Emperor’s Conspiracy

Author Stephanie Thornton, Biography~

Stephanie ThorntonStephanie Thornton is a writer and history teacher who has been obsessed with infamous women from ancient history since she was twelve. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alaska, where she is at work on her next novel.

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

 Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/thesecrethistoryvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #SecretHistoryTour

The Secret History Tour Banner FINAL


Filed under Q and A with Authors

Talking with Bestselling Author Ben Kane about Roman Culture, Spartacus, Life, and Writing!

You’ve come by for a very exciting exclusive interview with Top Bestselling Author Ben Kane!  You’ll be pleased you did; please share it with anyone else that might find it interesting!  We’re talking about his Spartacus series, Roman culture and how it compares to today, his upcoming writing plans and so much more.

To read my review of Spartacus: Rebellion – his current release (and the second book in the series), click HERE!

Be sure to check out the GIVEAWAY of a hard copy of Spartacus: Rebellion and a paperback of the first book, Spartacus: Gladiator. Details at the end of the interview! Enjoy!

Spartacus RebellionHi, Ben and welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! We are very excited to feature you today and ask you some probing questions. How are things?

Ben Kane: Hello, Erin, and thank you for the warm welcome. I’m fine, although madly busy – I’ve got a virtual book tour running in the U.S. at the moment, clearly, and I’m trying to get back in the driving seat writing my current novel.

Erin Al-Mehairi: You do seem like a very busy writer! Have to keep those fans happy! ha! Let’s have a seat, grab some coffee or a drink of your choice, and get started!

Q:   I know you spent several years abroad, after spending a previous few months along the ancient Silk Road, and this sparked your interest in Roman military pursuits. I am assuming this was your inspiration for all your books, but what specifically inspired you to write about Spartacus?

A: To be fair, I’ve been interested in Rome and all things Roman since my childhood, when I read the iconic children’s novel, The Eagle of the Ninth, by Rosemary Sutcliff. Anyone who hasn’t read that, please go and buy it now! Even after 58 years, it’s still a work of genius.

Q:  What makes you so curious about ancient Roman practices? How much of their culture still holds with us today (internationally  –  I am in the US, you are in the UK – but they impacted many cultures)?

A: I’m not sure. There are lots of ancient civilisations out there – Egyptian, Greek, Persian, Chinese, Indian etc. but Rome has always fascinated me. Rome’s influence is still with us – more than most people even realise. From language – think ‘Capitol’, ‘Senators’, ‘decimation’ to government – ‘the Senate’ and the basis of so many laws, Rome is still with every day.

Q:  What are the character traits of Spartacus you most like? Most despise? How challenging was it to develop his character for fiction? And how much of it is fact?

A: His leadership and charisma must have been incredible for so many men and women to have followed him. Those qualities I admire greatly. I don’t think I despise the man for his ruthlessness – he must have allowed many atrocities to be committed by his men – but then that’s how the Romans had treated him and his followers. He gave as good as he got, and I can’t blame him for that.

It was a challenge to develop his character, partly because of his fame, and partly because there have been two such iconic depictions of him – in Kubrick’s classic movie, and in the recent TV series, Blood and Sand.

Q:  Did you feel a desire or need to be true to the on-screen movies or TV featuring Spartacus, or in the words of Fleetwood Mac, did you just “go your own way?” Why or why not? Do you feel you accomplished what you wanted?

A: Absolutely not! The depictions in both the film and the TV series use some of the knowledge that we have of Spartacus, but they also veer into the realm of fantasy. I had only seen the Kubrick film once as a boy, and I avoided watching Blood and Sand until I’d written both my books, specifically so that the Spartacus in my books was my Spartacus. I do think I accomplished that, yes.

Q: Besides spending time at various locations, which you can feel free to discuss as well, how did you conduct your research? Were there hard finds? What made it easy? What made it challenging?

A: Before becoming a writer, I would often visit archaeological sites and museums, just out of interest. Now it’s my job, I feel like a kid who’s been given the keys to the toy store. I went to Italy twice to research Spartacus’ campaign against Rome, and I visited an awful lot of the places he would have been or fought in. Despite the passage of time, and the lack of archaeological remains, I found the experience very moving. The worst part was standing on the Via Appia Antica, the original road that ran into Rome – and where some of the 6,000 crucifixes would have stood after the final battle.

Q:  Why do you feel readers connect with your story so much? What thrills them about Spartacus?

A: Because Spartacus’ story connects with us all. It’s the story of a man wronged, who refused to lie down and be beaten. Despite devastating odds against him, he fought for himself and those he held dear, and he died for his cause. That’s a great story in anyone’s book.


Photo of statue of Spartacus, from: http://www.biography.com/people/spartacus-9489885

Q: What kinds of feedback do you get from readers about Spartacus?

A: Overwhelmingly positive, thankfully! I am especially proud when people tell me that they cried at the end of Rebellion. I did, when writing it, so I know I’ve hit the bull’s eye when readers do too.

Q:  Working as a Veterinarian, but then turning your hobby into a writing career, which one do you feel has fulfilled you more?  Obviously you are passionate about all you do.

A: Writing. Writing. Writing. It’s by far my greatest passion. By the time I gave up veterinary medicine, after 16 years, I’d had a bellyful of it. In the UK, it’s commonly regarded as one of the ‘best’ jobs, but it isn’t all it’s supposed to be, I can tell you. The animals are great, but running a small business with high running costs and high staff turnover is like trying to push mud up a hill.

Q:  Do you still consider history to be your biggest hobby? What other time periods and places do you want to discover or do you take an interest in?

A: Yes, I do, very much so. I have lots of interest in many other times, from the Middle Ages right up to the modern day. After I finish the novel I’m currently writing, I am going to start on a new series set during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. That book will be called Crécy.

Q:  You’ve had busy careers, and have a growing family, how do you find time for writing?

A: I have not worked as a veterinarian for more than 4 years now. However, I have even less time to write now that I am very successful. Between writing, replying to fan emails, participating in social media and doing events, I hardly know where I am a lot of the time!

Q: I noticed you are participating in a Romani Walk! Can you tell us a little about what that is, what it’s raising money for, and how you are involved? I noticed you’re even wearing authentic type Roman clothing! Very cool!

A: Around Christmas last year, I decided to walk the length of Hadrian’s Wall in full Roman military kit, including hobnailed boots. I wanted to get fitter, to get a couple of friends to come, and to raise money for charity. Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield were crazy enough to agree, and the idea became reality. I decided to raise money for two charities: Combat Stress, which helps veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors without Borders) which sends medical staff into conflict zones or areas of natural disaster all over the world.

The walk itself was amazing; we had good weather for nearly all of the 74 miles, which was very lucky; we met so many amazing people, and by the end of it (and three months fund-raising), we had raised nearly £16,000 / $25,000 –  not a bad amount of money. Roll on the Romani Walk 2014!

Ben and walkBen on the walk (the Romani are set!), he’s on the left. (Photo courtesy of Ben)

Q:  You have such a humanitarian spirit yourself. Do you feel that with all the horrors of combat and military expedition in ancient history that there ever was any humanitarian effort made on the part of anyone? Or do you feel that it something that has grown, so to speak, on current humanity?

A:  The latter. I think that 2,000 years ago, life was short, sharp and brutal. There may have been individuals who tried to help others, but it wasn’t done on an organized basis. Legionary veterans, for example, may have received land and a sum of money after their time, but I doubt very much whether crippled veterans who had to leave the army early received a thing.

Q:  What writers helped mentor or inspired your writing? How have you tried to perfect your craft?

A: Rosemary Sutcliff (see above). Michael Scott Rohan, sadly little-known author of the fantasy trilogy The Winter of the World. David Gemmell. Guy Gavriel Kay. J.R.R. Tolkien.

Q: When you became a Top Ten Bestselling Author, how did the outlook change for you in regards to your writing? What does that feeling “FEEL” like and do you feel more or less pressure to produce?

A: It was one of the most amazing days of my life when it first happened. Euphoric! The outlook for my writing suddenly improved vastly. I have been able to command much larger advances as a result, which has made a huge financial difference to my life and that of my young family. I feel more pressure to produce now, but that’s OK, because it goes with the territory.

Q: What have been your biggest challenges and as well, your biggest successes?

A: Challenge: having to re-write 25% of my second novel, twice! (I had a very tough editor.) Success: writing both Spartacus novels in 12 months flat.

Q:  What types of books do you like to read yourself? Do you have any recommendations for your readers?

A: I still adore historical fiction, although I do read some contemporary fiction as well. One of my favorite writers around at the moment is Christian Cameron – who writes amazing stories set in ancient Greece. For Roman fans, check out the little-known novel The Boat of Fate by Keith Roberts. (And ignore the cover – it’s an awesome read!)

Q:  Will there be more to the Spartacus series and/or what else do you have planned for the future in regards to writing?

A: There may be another Spartacus book in a few years – about his boyhood and early adulthood. At the moment, I am writing the third in a series about Hannibal and the Second Punic War, the first of which comes out Stateside next year. Next, as I mentioned, I will write Crécy. There are plenty more ideas in my head too!

Q: Any upcoming travels in mind for you now? Where and why?

A: Not for a while. I spent a week in Sicily in March, researching for my current work in progress, Hannibal: Clouds of War, so that will have to do me for the moment.

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A: On my website: benkane.net or on Facebook: facebook.com/benkanebooks or on Twitter: @BenKaneAuthor – please say hi – I’m always pleased to hear from people.

Erin:  Thank you so much, Ben, for stopping by my site. I am honored to have been able to discuss your life and books with you. You’ve had much success, but I wish you much more.

Ben: Thank you, Erin, for chatting with me, and for your good wishes. I hope to visit you again!


Spartacus-Hardback-182x183The giveaway is for one hardcover copy of Spartacus: Rebellion AND one paperback of Spartacus the Gladiator. Open to US and Canada ONLY. Please leave your name and email with a comments in the comment section below, or on one of my Facebook links to the post. Or you can email me at hookofabook@hotmail.com.

Check out www.facebook.com/HookofaBook and “like” it for an +2 extra entry and/or follow this blog for another +1 entry. Please enter by 11:59 p.m. EST 2 weeks from the date of this post.

Spartacus: Rebellion Synopsis~

Spartacus RebellionPublication Date: May 14, 2013
St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover; 464p
ISBN-10: 1250012775

Spartacus has already done the impossible—not only has he escaped from slavery, he and his seconds have created a mighty slave army that has challenged Rome and defeated the armies of three praetors, two consuls, and one proconsul. On the plain of the River Po, in modern Northern Italy, Spartacus has defeated Gaius Cassius Longinus, proconsul and general of an army of two legions. Now the road home lies before them—to Thrace for Spartacus, and to Gaul for his seconds-in-command, Castus and Gannicus.

But storm clouds are gathering on the horizon. One of Spartacus’s most powerful generals has defected, taking his men with him. Back in Rome, the immensely rich Marcus Licinius Crassus is gathering an unheard-of Army. The Senate has given Crassus an army made up of ten legions and the authority to do whatever it takes to end the slave rebellion once and for all.

Meanwhile, Spartacus wants to lead his men over the Alps and home, but his two seconds have a different plan. They want to march on Rome itself and bring the Republic to its knees. Rebellion has become war. War to the death.

Author Ben Kane, Biography~

Ben KaneBen Kane was born in Kenya and raised there and in Ireland. He qualified as a veterinary surgeon from University College Dublin, and worked in Ireland and the UK for several years. After that he travelled the world extensively, indulging his passion for seeing the world and learning more about ancient history. Seven continents and more than 65 countries later, he decided to settle down, for a while at least.

While working in Northumberland in 2001/2, his love of ancient history was fuelled by visits to Hadrian’s Wall. He naïvely decided to write bestselling Roman novels, a plan which came to fruition after several years of working full time at two jobs – being a vet and writing. Retrospectively, this was an unsurprising development, because since his childhood, Ben has been fascinated by Rome, and particularly, its armies. He now lives in North Somerset with his wife and family, where he has sensibly given up veterinary medicine to write full time.

To find out more about Ben and his books visit www.benkane.net.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/spartacusrebellionvirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #SpartacusRebellionTour

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Filed under Q and A with Authors

Interview with Author Maryanne O’Hara about Writing of Depression-Era Novel,Cascade

Today I have an exclusive interview with the wonderful author Maryanne O’Hara!  You can read my review of her novel, Cascade, that I posted yesterday by clicking HERE.  After the interview, there’s a paperback up for giveaway, so don’t miss out!

Hi Maryanne! So happy to have you stop by Oh, for the Hook of a Book today and offer some insight into you and your writing. We are excited to have you…how has everything been going for you?

Maryanne: Thanks for having me! Life has been very busy, especially since the paperback released on May 1, but it’s all good. And it’s spring! So yes, all is well.

Erin: Wonderful news, and I think in Ohio we’ve completely went from winter to humid summer! But it’s so nice outside, let’s have a sit under a shade tree with a tall glass of iced tea and discuss!

CascadeQ:  Where did you first come across the idea to write Cascade? Why did you choose the time period you did?

A: Originally, I wanted to write a short story about artists who painted for Roosevelt’s New Deal arts projects in New York in the 1930s. I am fascinated by that decade—there was so much uncertainty, so much social change, so much drama.

Q:  Have you always been a fan of history, or do you feel your book is more a look into society and human nature and that was the catalyst?

A: I do love history but yes, I am primarily interested in human nature. Cascade just happened to be a 1930s book. The next novel dips into the 50’s, 60’s, and 70s, but primarily takes place in the present. Or so I think! It’s only partly written, at this point.

Q:  Art is a big part of Cascade as your protagonist must choose between love and passion. I love art myself. How do you feel art fit into life at the turn of the decade? Do you feel artistic pursuits were more highly respected than now? Why?

A: The reason I first became interested in this time period was because I had seen an exhibit at the National Archives in DC, in late 1998 calle A New Deal for the Arts. I loved that our government had, in the thirties, decided that it was just as important to put artists to work as it was to put bridge builders to work. I also loved that for the first time, our government said, “art is for everybody.”  As for artistic pursuits being respected—it’s up and down, but fortunately there are always people who care about art.

Q: How do you feel that women’s artistic endeavors were viewed at the time and what women trailblazers did to overcome that gender issue? How did you address this in your book?

A: Woman are still trying to overcome the gender issue. Read Meg Wolitzer’s “The Second Shelf” essay for more on that: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/01/books/review/on-the-rules-of-literary-fiction-for-men-and-women.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0  In Cascade, I tried to show the times as they were. Women were respected painters, but there was always the modifier—in the Jackson Pollock movie, at one point Pollock says to Lee Krasner, “You’re a damn fine woman painter.”

Q:  Describe 1930 Boston in your own words. What of that did you try to nestle into your book? How does it compare to today’s city?

A: Boston has always been a scrappy sort of city, and unfortunately corruption comes and goes and never completely goes away. In Cascade, I reference the fact that the governor gave jobs to his Boston voters and bussed them out to the country, rather than give the jobs to the people who were being displaced.

Q:  In your book, you write about a fictionalized town based primarily on several small, real towns that were flooded in the 1930s by state engineers causing disasters? How did you research this? Handle the topic? And do you think this would ever happen today?

A: The history of the Quabbin Reservoir has been well-documented so I had lots of source material. In fact, these drowned towns happened all over the country, all over the world, so it was also easy to fictionalize my town, which made writing about it a lot more freeing. As for whether it would happen today—you can’t get much more recent than the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China, which was completed in 2012, and displaced over a million people. Earth is facing a water crisis, so who knows what will happen in future?

Q:  I love postcards! I saw on your blog the various postcards you write about and feature as a theme…I especially liked the story of the postcard your publisher found on e-bay and your eerie discovery. Can you talk a little about that particular card for my readers? Thrilling! Also, what makes you love post cards so much and do you think it is a lost art and method of communication?

A: One day, I took a ride out to the Quabbin Reservoir and got stuck behind an antique maroon Ford and it seemed a bit spooky—a maroon Ford makes an appearance in the pages of Cascade. Much later, after I’d finished writing the book, and my agent sold it, Penguin’s art department was working on designing the cover. They originally thought it would be good to use old postcards in the design. They had acquired some old cards randomly, from eBay, etc. One of them portrayed a maroon car! Cool coincidence, BUT what they’d sent me wasn’t the whole postcard—it was just the photo, the “Greetings from” part cropped out. A month or so later, when we were deciding on art for the inside pages, I asked about that maroon car photo. At that point, Penguin sent the whole card, and that was when I saw that the photo was from Belchertown, MA. The Quabbin Reservoir’s legal address is Belchertown, MA.

I do love post cards. There is a wonderful coffee table book, compiled by the British artist Tom Phillips, called, “The Postcard Century,” and Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts recently featured a postcard exhibit. Fortunately, people still do send them, and people love to receive them. I often send handwritten postcards to bookstores and libraries, to introduce myself and the book. Also, when I sign copies of Cascade, I give people a postcard and ask if they’d be willing to send a card to a friend, to spread the word about the book the old-fashioned way.

Q:  What advice do you have for aspiring or in-process women authors? For those that are moms, or have a busy lifestyle, what do you recommend for them in order to “fit it all in” and make those dreams come true?

A: Set aside time to write, the same way you would set aside time to go to the gym or take a shower. Seriously. Make it happen. Even if it’s only an hour, a half hour, fifteen minutes. Something. Carve out that time for yourself, set a timer, and don’t attend to anything else while you are writing.  Don’t “just throw a load of laundry in,” don’t answer the phone. Other activity distracts from the focus, from the world you’re creating.

Q:  Can you explain your road to publishing? What were your biggest successes? And your biggest challenges? What tips, stories, or tidbits do you have to share with other authors?

A: I began writing and publishing short stories just as the market for them was really starting to shrink. My first short story was published in Redbook, when they still had a serious books editor and published literary fiction. Soon enough, they stopped their monthly short stories. Another day, I came home to a message from the New Yorker editor who always read my submissions. She wanted me to call. Naturally, I expected great news, but she said, in a terribly discouraging tone, “I just want you to know I fought for this story.” Everything was changing there, she said, and not long after, she quit.

When I decided to write a novel, I knew it would be an act of faith, that there would be no guarantee that the years of work would pay off with a publisher. Fortunately, because I’d been an editor myself, I knew to be patient with my material. When I finally finished Cascade, the time was right. I found an agent and publisher fairly quickly.

Q:  I read that you were a former associate fiction editor for Boston’s award-winning literary magazine, Ploughshares. What was that like? What lessons learned do you have to share?

A: I loved finding a wonderful story—a piece that made me sit up and take notice, and pray, as I was reading it, that what had started out captivating would stay that way. As I just mentioned, patience is a good thing. Don’t send material before it is ready. You only get someone’s fresh eyes once. If there’s a part of your story that makes you cringe, that you hope we won’t notice or care about because the rest of the story is just so good—know that we will notice, and we will cringe too. I always approached the reading of each manuscript with great respect and with great hope that it would be fantastic, but there were just so many submissions that I was also looking for reasons to say no.

Q:  You have written many stories (using the term I see you mainly use yourself). What intrigues you, and/or excites you, most about telling stories? What are the types of stories you most commonly write?

A: I write about people who are struggling with some kind of inner dilemma. Many of my characters are artists/musicians. They are all struggling with the ‘why am I here’ question, I suppose. Mark Twain supposedly said, “There are two important days in your life. The day you are born, and the day you figure out why.” I guess my stories dance around that second day.

Q:  Tell us some of your most favorite works of art, artists, and places to go to view art (physically or online). We’d love to hear!

A: One of the most wonderful exhibits I ever attended was the Vermeer show at the National Gallery of Art in DC in 1995. There are only 34 known Vermeers in the world, and this exhibit displayed 21 of them, the most ever collected in one place. I went on a quiet winter’s day, before the show became a “must see,” and stayed for a couple of hours. I couldn’t pull myself away from paintings like The Geographer, Woman Holding a Balance, Girl with a Pearl Earring.

I’m dying to go to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam now that it’s open again after 10 years. I love every Paris museum, especially the little ones like Musée Maillol.  And DC’s Phillips Collection. The Frick and MoMA in New York. I love my own city’s museums: the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, which I am going to today, actually! The Institute of Contemporary Art, the MFA, the Harvard museums. Many museums have great online sites now, so even if you can’t visit, you can view the art.

Q:  Do you have more work in process? What else will you be writing about in the future?

A: I am working on a new novel. More people, more inner dilemmas!

Q:  What has been the best thing for you since publishing Cascade? What are some of the most positive memories you’ll have?

A: Most definitely, it has been connecting with readers. I love meeting them, hearing from them via email or letter, and talking with them in person or on Skype.

Q:  Best place to eat in New England? Best dishes? Best tourist places near Boston?

A: Oh, New England is such a big place. We’ve lots that’s good. But lobster in Maine is not overrated. And steamers with butter. Oh, you’re getting me thinking about summer now. Can’t wait.

Q:  Where can readers connect with you?

A: I have contact information on my website; my author address is MaryanneOHaraAuthor@gmail.com.

Erin:  Thank you so very much for stopping by and taking a break to talk to me, Maryanne. It was so very nice discussing your book with you. Best wishes for many more years of success!

Maryanne: Thanks so much, Erin! I enjoyed all your questions. Thank you for spreading the word about my book, and thank you to all of you who will read it! I hope it gives you a lot to think about.


We’re giving away one (1) paperback of Cascade and it’s open in the U.S. only. Please comment below, or on my Facebook link to the review, or email me at hookofabook@hotmail.com.  Enter by 11:59 p.m. EST two weeks from date of the post.  For an extra entry follow my blog, for +2 entries “like” the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook.

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/cascadevirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #CascadeVirtualTour

CASCADE, Synopsis~

CascadePublication Date: April 30, 2013
Publisher: Penguin Books
Paperback; 384p

A Slate Magazine “Best Books 2012″
A People Magazine “People Pick”
A Library Journal 2012 “Best Bet”

During the 1930s in a small town fighting for its survival, a conflicted new wife seeks to reconcile her artistic ambitions with the binding promises she has made

Fans of Richard Russo, Amor Towles, Sebastian Barry, and Paula McLain will devour this transporting novel about the eternal tug between our duties and our desires, set during in New York City and New England during the Depression and New Deal eras.

It’s 1935, and Desdemona Hart Spaulding has sacrificed her plans to work as an artist in New York to care for her bankrupt, ailing father in Cascade, Massachusetts. When he dies, Dez finds herself caught in a marriage of convenience, bound to the promise she made to save her father’s Shakespeare Theater, even as her town may be flooded to create a reservoir for Boston. When she falls for artist Jacob Solomon, she sees a chance to escape and realize her New York ambitions, but is it morally possible to set herself free?

Praise for CASCADE

“The protagonist is Desdemona Hart, a woman drowning in the choices she’s been forced to make: a marriage of necessity to save her father’s legacy and put a roof over his head as he dies……trouble escalates, and so will the rate at which you turn the pages. Cascade is perfect for sitting by the fire on a chilly day contemplating the immutability of things.” –Slate: 2012 Best Books, Staff Picks

“When state engineers created the Quabbin Reservoir in the 1930s, four Central Massachusetts towns disappeared beneath the waters. In her debut novel, Cascade, Ashland resident Maryanne O’Hara chronicles the fate of one such (fictionalized) town and its inhabitants, notably Desdemona Hart Spaulding, an ambitious artist trapped in a loveless marriage. O’Hara, a former Ploughshares fiction editor, shapes her protagonist’s story to pose questions like: If art is not lastingly valuable, what is? Ponder that over your next glass of tap water.” –Boston Globe, Best of the New, 2012

“Gorgeously written and involving, Cascade explores the age-old conflict between a woman’s perceived duty and her deepest desires, but in O’Hara’s skilled hands the struggle feels fresh and new.” –People Magazine

Link to the Official Book Trailer: http://www.maryanneohara.com/cascade-trailer/

Author Maryanne O’Hara, Biography~

Maryanne O'HaraMaryanne O’Hara was the longtime associate fiction editor at the award-winning literary journal Ploughshares. She received her MFA from Emerson College fifteen years ago, and wrote short fiction that was widely published before committing to the long form. She lives on a river near Boston.


Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/cascadevirtualtour/
Twitter Hashtag: #CascadeVirtualTour

Cascade Tour Banner FINAL


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