Tag Archives: new historical fiction for 2013

Interview with the Intelligent and Humorous Anna Belfrage, historical author of The Graham Saga Series

Today, I have an excellent exclusive interview with Anna Belfrage, author of The Graham Saga series, the newest release being book three, called The Prodigal Son. Make sure to sign-up for the giveaway for a copy of the book, following the interview. Enjoy my discussion with Anna, she’s so insightful and humorous! You’ll love it!

Hi Anna! So happy to have you on Oh, for the Hook of a Book today for an interview! You’re an absolute delight and I bet readers are going to have as good a time reading our interview as I will have hosting it. How are things? You’ve been so busy producing your book series, have you had time for anything else?

Anna: Hi Erin, I’m so thrilled to be here – I feel quite honoured to have the opportunity to chat with you like this. As to how things are, well it’s all a bit hectic – but fun hectic. However, if you ask my family they might grumble, along the lines that their mother & wife spends too much time in front of her computer, too little in the kitchen.

Erin: Ah, well let’s relax and have a tea party then, shall we? What’s your choice of tea (Anna replies that she likes black tea, no milk) and I’ll make up a pot. Let’s splurge and eat something yummy while we’re at it too! Let’s get our discussion started!

Q:  When were you first inspired to write? Given your day job, how did you decide it was time to let your creative side out for all of us to enjoy?

A: I was first inspired to write when as I child I read a book (by Henry Treece I think) where the ending was not to my liking. I’m a bit of a sucker for some sort of a happy end – it doesn’t have to be an uncomplicated happy end, and there may be sorrows and losses along the way, but still, some sort of “phew, they made it!” feeling is important to me. This is why – dare I admit it? – I always peek at the last page to reassure myself the characters I’m rooting for will be okay. Makes it a bit difficult to read George. R.R. Martin, let me tell you! (But I do)

As to my day job, I am fortunate enough to have a demanding, challenging job that keeps me on my toes and allows me to grow. Yes, I have a number of time conflicts, but now that my children are more or less grown up, I invest the time I used to spend on them at my writing desk. I escape into my bubble of make believe for a couple of hours and reappear refreshed and energized – well, sometimes I reappear a bit too late, like three a.m. which makes next morning somewhat heavy, but the sheer joy of writing makes it all worthwhile.

Q:  How did the idea form for you to write A Rip in the Veil, your first book that started your Graham Saga series, which is just now publishing Book Three, The Prodigal Son? Were at first just set to write one book and it became a series? Or did you always have a series in mind?

A: Alexandra Lind has been in my head for very many years. She’s danced through my brain and in her wake came Matthew (happy sigh) and a whispered account of so many adventures my mind suffered a minor quake. So when I started writing A Rip in the Veil I already knew one book wouldn’t be enough.

Q: How much do you control the characters in your novel as you write and how often do they lead you to where their story needs to go?

A: “Control?” Alex laughs and shakes her head. “You have no idea, do you Erin? We lead Anna quite the merry dance, we do!” Well; maybe not as merry as all that, because I do have a general blueprint of how the story is going to develop, but my characters do have a major influence on events. I have spent a lot of time with Matthew and Alex, I know where they’re going, I know where they’ve been, and still there are moments when they act in a way that surprises me but which, after having considered it for some minutes, makes absolute sense.

In book two, Like Chaff in the Wind, there is a scene where Alex feels obliged to taunt Matthew into a rage to break through the walls of silence he is building to protect his vulnerable and ravaged inner core. The fallout was not quite what I had expected… (And Matthew prefers not to think of it – at all.) In book three Captain Leslie decided to reappear, riding down the lane with perfect timing. I was very happy to see him – as was Alex – especially as he goes on to play an important part in all the subsequent books.  

Q:  Has it been an easy story to tell in the sense of it flows pretty easy on paper? I know you have several planned in the series (all with great covers), have you already written them all or do you have it all scheduled out? Can you talk about what is coming up in the series?

A: It’s an easy story to write, definitely. The problem lies in pruning it, because there are so many potential side stories, so many cameo characters that could grow into something more. And yes, I have already written them all – but that doesn’t mean I am finished as I have a LOT of editing left to do.

As to where the future books will take us, we will follow the Graham family to Maryland and their new life there, we will spend some time in London, traipse down to the West Indies to rescue a family member and return to Scotland with a  detour through Seville. Religion remains a recurring theme and in Maryland the relationship between colonists and Indians play a central part. One of Mercedes’ magical paintings will resurface, causing considerable chaos, and to top it all off both Matthew and Alex will come face to face with people from their past – not all of them friendly faces.

Q:  Speaking of covers, you have some of the most beautiful covers! Did you have a hand in designing them?  Do you think covers help sell books?

A: Why thank you! The credit resides with Oliver Bennett at GB Print. I will waffle on about what I want – I have a very clear image of what I want and sometimes I’ve sent him a sketch – he will think for a couple of days, and voilà! a new cover lands in my inbox. It’s sort of amusing; Oliver is a young man, far from the intended target group for my books, and yet he immediately gets it, now and then adding details to make the whole even better. I think a good cover snags the eye, thereby generating the initial interest that is a prerequisite for a sale.

The Prodigal Son

Q:  Who is your favorite character in any of your books so far? And why?

A: I am rather in love with Matthew. (“What?” Alex scowls. “Hands off, lady!” “Fine,” I mutter, “it’s not as if I have a chance anyway, is it?” “Nay, not as such,” Matthew says, gathering Alex to his chest. He winks at me, that long mouth of his quirking into a smile. ) I like his steadfastness, his convictions, the stubborn streak in him that Alex finds enervating. I like how vulnerable he can be at times, that he admits to being frightened, that he recognizes how dependent he is on his Alex. (“Shush,” Matthew mutters, “she doesn’t need to know, aye?” Alex hugs him from behind. “I already do,” she says, kissing his nape. “Besides, it’s mutual.”) I have really enjoyed working with a male POV – I think it has deepened my understanding of men in general.

Q: What has been your favorite part of writing this series? (I know, when those voices talk to you..ha!)

A: Yes, the voices in my head do add an extra dimension to my life. 🙂 Actually, I really enjoy following Matthew and Alex through their lives, being at their side as their family expands, holding their hand when they suffer loss. Through them I have learnt so much; about life in the seventeenth century, about the sheer courage required to set off for a new life in the colonies, about love in all its varied forms, about faith and determination – and about myself.

Q:  What has been your biggest challenge?

A: As a writer of Historical Fiction, I think the biggest challenge is to always remember that it’s the characters, not the historical events, that must be the backbone of your book. Readers relate to people, not to dates, and no matter how much facts you load your work with it won’t fly unless there’s a human interest. There is a constant temptation to show off, to add a paragraph or two describing just how the cider press works, or how the honey is separated from the honeycomb, or how the maple syrup is kept simmering for hours on end over open fire. The thing is, most of the readers don’t care! Having said that, most readers are quick to spot an anachronism, so whatever you do include must be correct, so I don’t have Alex wandering out to collect eggs in in December – hens don’t lay eggs between November and March – nor do Matthew’s breeches have zippers (duh!).

Q:  What is your favorite historical time period? Do you have another time and place you’d like to write about outside of this series? If you could time travel yourself, where would it be to?

A: Well, obviously I have a thing about the 17th century – it is something of a breaking point between old and new. Many of the foundations upon which our modern societies are based saw the light of the day in the 17th century, starting with the Bill of Rights approved by the English Parliament in 1689. Also, I am rather fascinated by the religious conflicts that dominated the century.

I am also very interested in the medieval period and have a draft for a story set in early 14th century in England. Also, I have a fascination for the period of the Reconquista in Spain (15th century, mainly) and especially in the Andalucía region.

If I could time travel I would love to spend time with Henry II of England. And with Llewellyn Fawr. And with Robert Bruce. And with Isabel of Castille. And with Henry of Navarre. And with St Catherine of Sienna. And with Cardinal Richelieu. And with my favourite Swedish king, Gustavus Adolphus. Sheesh; I’d have one major jetlag after all those trips back and forth!

Q:  Do you think that it’s possible to time travel now or in the future? What kind of impact might that have on the future if we mess with history?

A: No, I don’t think time travelling will ever be possible – unless one resorts to magic, and one should never discount magic, should one? If it were possible, I think we would all be very tempted to tamper with history. Assassinating Robespierre would seem a good idea to avoid the terror he unleashed on Paris in the aftermath of the revolution. Drowning Hitler as a baby seems a good idea, and as to Lenin and Stalin… The problem with this is that we have no idea what the consequences would be if we did away with all these baddies. An excellent novel about the potential disaster caused by time travelling is Stephen Fry’s book Making History.

Q:  Are there any famous women in history that you’d like to write about in a novel or one that you admire?

A: I have a thing about Queen Christina of Sweden. I’m not sure I admire her, but she did know how to cause quite the ruckus – imagine that; the queen of staunchly protestant Sweden abdicated AND converted to Catholicism. I do have a WIP in which Queen Christina figures quite prominently. Otherwise, my admiration is mostly for the women who lived “ordinary” lives, who fed their children, held their families together, who followed their men across the seas to unknown lands. I cannot begin to comprehend just how brave these pioneer women were!

Q:  What advice do you have for women writers? How can they fulfill their writing dreams and make time for family and other obligations as well?

A: Difficult question: it is always a question of priorities, isn’t it? If you’re in that stage of your life where you have young children and have to combine this with a full time job I don’t think you should even try – it is difficult enough to juggle kids and work and your relationship. For many years all I did was write notes to self on scraps of paper, in notebooks – but I did write those notes! Once the children got older, I set aside “me” time for my writing – and made it clear to my family this was very important to me. Unless you consider it important enough to set aside time for it, no one else will take your writing seriously.

Q:  Do you have any other projects you are working on or plan for the future you haven’t already discussed?

A: Well, I did mention the book with Queen Christina in it, didn’t I? My lead character is a young woman called Sofia Carolina who decides she deserves a new start in life and finances this by nicking a nobleman’s family jewels. Off she goes, the enraged nobleman comes after, and things would not have ended well for Sofia if it hadn’t been for Jon Darrow, a disillusioned royalist who has been forced into exile and earns his living through various … err… creative endeavours.

Q:  Who are your writing mentors? Who inspires your writing? And who are some of you own favorite authors?

A: I don’t have any mentors – but I have a handful of people who support me and cheer me on, first and foremost my husband. Inspiration comes from various sources, but my children have definitely contributed to the Graham children. My favourite authors… now that is a long list! I read voraciously, across all genres, but if I restrict myself to the Historical Fiction genre the authors I always return to are Sharon Penman, Edith Pargeter, Barbara Erskine (especially her early books) and Pamela Belle. And yes, when in need of a special treat I will re-read my favourite passages in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  

Q:  Where is the most beautiful place in the United Kingdom?

A: Given that I’m not British, I probably haven’t seen ALL the beautiful places in the UK, no matter that I’ve spent a lot of time there. However, I would argue that the Aber falls (Afon Rhaedr fawr) close to the A55 on the northern coast of Wales is a spectacular spot.

Q:  And last but not least, what kind of food gets you through marathon writing sessions?

A: Chocolate. Tea. More chocolate. Unfortunately carrots don’t do it for me…

Q: Where can readers connect with you?

A: On my website, www.annabelfrage.com, or by commenting on my blog, annabelfrage.wordpress.com. I am also on facebook and on twitter, @Anna_Belfrage.

Q:  Where is the best place to purchase your books?

A: They’re actually available on most online bookshops, but I tend to recommend Amazon, Barnes& Noble and Trobador.co.uk.

Erin:  Anna, thank you so much for coming by my site, it’s always a pleasure to get to speak with you. Best wishes on your writing!

Anna: Likewise Erin – and thanks! And hey, if you’re not having that last slice of chocolate cake, can I have it?

Erin: I’ll split it with you. *wink*

Giveaway~

The giveaway is for one copy of The Prodigal Son and open internationally.  To enter, please comment below in the footer, email me to hookofabook(at)hotmail(dot)com, or on the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HookofaBook. In all cases, you must leave your email so I can contact you if you win.

Extra entries: +1 for following this blog, +1 for recommending the blog, and +3 for “liking” the above mentioned Facebook page. Good luck and let me know which extras you do.

 THE PRODIGAL SON, Synopsis~

The Prodigal SonPublication Date: July 1, 2013
Matador Publishing
Paperback; 392p
ISBN-10: 1780885741

Safely returned from an involuntary stay on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, Matthew Graham finds the Scottish Lowlands torn asunder by religious strife. The government of His Restored Majesty, Charles II, requires all his subjects to swear fealty to him and the Church of England, riding roughshod over any opposition.

In Ayrshire, the people close ranks around their evicted ministers, stubbornly clinging to their Presbyterian faith. But disobedience comes at a price – a very steep price – and as neighbours and friends are driven from hearth and home, Alex becomes increasingly more nervous as to what her Matthew is risking by his continued support of the clandestine ministers – foremost amongst them the charismatic Sandy Peden.

Privately, Alex considers Sandy an enervating fanatic and all this religious fervour is totally incomprehensible to her. So when Matthew repeatedly sets his faith and minister before his own safety and therefore per extension her safety and the safety of their children, he puts their marriage under severe strain.

The situation is further complicated by the presence of Ian, the son Matthew was cruelly duped into disowning several years ago. Now Matthew wants Ian back and Alex isn’t entirely sure this is a good thing, watching from a distance as her husband dances round his lost boy.

Things are brought to a head when Matthew yet again places all their lives in the balance to save his dear friend and preacher from the dragoons that chase him over the moor.
How much is Matthew willing to risk? How much will he ultimately lose?

Will she find him in time? And if she does, will she be capable of paying the price required to buy him free?

Author Anna Belfrage, Biography~

Anna BelfrageI was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

www.annabelfrage.com

Link to Tour Schedule: http://hfvirtualbooktours.com/theprodigalsontour/
Twitter Hashtag: #ProdigalSonTour

The Prodigal Son Tour Banner FINAL

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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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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan: Astonishing and Amazing, It’s a Must Read

painted-girls_FFSynopsis~

A heartrending, gripping novel set in belle époque Paris and inspired by the real-life model for Degas’s Little Dancer Aged 14 and by the era’s most famous criminal trials.

Following their father’s sudden death, the Van Goethem sisters find their lives upended. Without his wages, and with the small amount their laundress mother earns disappearing into the absinthe bottle, eviction seems imminent. With few options for work, Marie is dispatched to the Paris Opéra, where she will be trained to enter the famous Ballet and meet Edgar Degas. Her older sister, Antoinette, finds employment—and the love of a dangerous young man—as an extra in a stage adaptation of Émile Zola’s Naturalist masterpiece L’Assommoir.  Set at a moment of profound artistic, cultural, and societal change,The Painted Girls is a tale of two remarkable sisters rendered uniquely vulnerable to the darker impulses of “civilized society.” (from Riverhead Books)

Review~

The Painted Girls, by Cathy Marie Buchanan, is not just the story of the famous Impressionist Edgar Degas’ paintings and sculptures, or of the French Opera House and Ballet post revolution, but rather, a story of the depths of sociology, psychology, and the desire of human nature to judge and categorize.  However, it’s also the story of overcoming odds, circumstances, and even predestined labels, showing that humankind is redeemable and that people can overtake insurmountable boundaries.

The Painted Girls is an astonishing look inside the poignant world of art, dance, and the modern world of post-revolution France.  Intellectually, it made me contemplate and left a lasting impression, while emotionally, it broke my heart and then reclaimed it by the end.

I first wanted to read this book primarily not just for my fondness of history, but also my admiration for Impressionist artist Degas, as well as ballet. My youngest daughter, aged 5, dreams of being a ballerina and we have enjoyed several outings together to an art museum that features one of Degas’ works showcasing dancers. Immediately into reading this novel, I knew I would be absorbing a book that had so much more to it than I realized. Buchanan really delves into the heart of her highly developed characters with this novel and gives us a glimpse of humanity at its ugliest and at its finest.

The story is primarily told through the words of two sisters, Antoinette and Marie van Goethem, by alternating chapters between them to tell the story in each point of view.  Antoinette, not set to following rules and basing decisions on emotions, is kicked-out of the ballet early on, and though taking care of her two youngest sisters while their mother works and drowns her sorrows in alcohol, she finds romance with a street thug Emile who makes her feel “adored” and makes him her life’s goal.

Blinded by love, Antoinette and Emile are both are cast in a stage play of the time, L’Assommoir, historically well-known now as a production based on an 1877 book that showcased the lower rung of society and working class debauchery.  Much like Degas’ art of the time, the book’s author, Emile Zola, writes a realistic picture (as Degas paints it) of the realism of certain areas of France that were overcome with not enough money, too much drink, and too many seedy relations. Antoinette’s story shows her misfortune as a laundress, her tie to a criminal, and even her dreams of being someone with a life only money can bring.

Meanwhile, Marie begins dancing at the Paris ballet with her younger sister. She works tirelessly in worn tights, shoes and costumes for hours a day with no emotional support, while struggling with the prospect of having a suitor to pay for her progress, which was common place during this time. The grueling work leaves her overly fatigued, but her family needs money.  And she desires to progress to the next step up the ladder, which is to be on stage.  She wants to be remembered; she wants to be appreciated for her talent. Unlike most from her area, she can read and is intelligent as well.  She begins working at a bakery for extra income for private lessons and through hard work is promoted at the ballet.

Prior and during this time Marie also begins to model for Degas in his home studio, where he pays people to pose for him.  Marie, in real life and in Buchanan’s fictionalized tale, is his model for his famous Dancer Aged 14.  Featuring his work at the Sixth Impressionist Exhibition in 1881, Degas primarily gives an ode to how these lower class models are predisposed to crime and seedier ways, for instance that their facial structure in some way determines them as evil and not able to be morally sound.  His goal of showcasing the realism of these lower subjects is ironically turned to international praise for this little ballerina in today’s society.  The statue in wax that Parisians once called ugly and “marked by the hateful promise of every vice” is now an international icon in bronze to the beauty and discipline that is ballet.

Ballerinas Degas

Painting above of ballet dancers by Edgar Degas is an example of his work showcasing the life of a dancer. This one I enjoy seeing at the museum by my home in Ohio. On her website, Buchanan features many of his works, as well as the sculpture, that inspired her book. Take a look at www.cathymariebuchanan.com/art

Information for my photograph above:

Frieze of Dancers, c. 1895, oil on fabric

Edgar Degas (French, 1834-1917)
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio

Buchanan, a ballerina and teacher of dance herself over her the course of her life, started at a young age admiring Degas’ portraits of dancers.  Later, she fully imagined this eloquent and touching novel, raw and intense, stemming from research on the Van Goethem sisters, the Paris ballet and the social climate, then mixed it with one of the notorious criminal cases of the time period.

The novel is full, rich, and emotional, both dealing with overcoming societal boundaries, sibling rivalry, and the dance that is relationships, yet also a touching glimpse at a sisterly love that overcomes all.

Cathy Marie Buchanan, Biography~

Cathy-Marie-Buchanan-by-Ania-Szado-223x300Cathy Marie Buchanan is the author of The Painted Girls and The Day the Falls Stood Still.

Published January 2013, The Painted Girls received a starred review from Kirkus and is a People Magazine Pick, a Good Housekeeping Book Pick, an Indie Next pick, a USA Today New and Notable selection, a Barnes & Noble Staff Pick, an Entertainment Weekly Must List pick, a Chatelaine Book Club pick and a national bestseller in Canada.

The Day the Falls Stood Still, her debut novel, was a New York Times bestseller, a Barnes & Noble Recommends selection, and an IndieNext pick.

Her stories have appeared in many of Canada’s most respected literary journals, and she has received awards from both the Toronto Arts Council and the Ontario Arts Council. She holds a BSc (Honours Biochemistry) and an MBA from Western University. Born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, she now resides in Toronto.  (Photo of Buchanan by Ania Szado)

You can find information on Buchanan, her books, and her writing at www.cathymariebuchanan.com.

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