Characters in Motion: Bestselling Author Margaret Porter

A Pledge of better timesLady Diana de Vere, the heroine of A Pledge of Better Times, was born into an aristocratic and prominent family of the late 17th century. Her father is an earl, a courtier and trusted advisor to Charles II, a position he retains—for a time—under James II. The landscape of Diana’s life, therefore, consists of the royal palace of Whitehall in London—her extended family’s dwellings lie within the palace complex. In a very real sense she’s closed off from the common citizen, from ordinary life, apart from her interaction with servants. Her world is one of opulence and privilege, and also one of restricted movements. A large part of my research was visiting sites were familiar to her during her lifetime, which allowed me to envision her in the actual spaces she had occupied and to imagine her in the ones that no longer exist.

Her father, Lord Oxford, welcomes her questions and provides supportive guidance. Her mother, despite a scandalous past as a courtesan, is far less tolerant of what she perceives as Diana’s faults, and she’s determined that her daughter will achieve a wealthy and advantageous marriage. As a maid of honour to Queen Mary II, my secondary heroine, Diana finds a sort of freedom living away from home, following queen and court from Whitehall to Hampton Court to Kensington and back. Not only does her position remove her from her mother’s orbit, it enables a semi-clandestine courtship by Charles Beauclerk, son of King Charles II and actress Nell Gwyn. As married woman and duchess, Diana’s intelligence, independent spirit, and tendency to speak her mind create conflict on more than one occasion.

Diana’s habits and pursuits are typical of an aristocratic female of her time—needlework, music, dancing, and drawing. Religious instruction in her early life takes firm root, and her faith is a source of strength in difficult times, and supports her during life’s soul-searing tragedies. Her fondness for gardens and sewing and devotional writings make her the ideal companion for Queen Mary, who shares and fosters these interests.

Diana’s personality is a mixture of calm serenity, attractive to the troubled and often agitated Queen Mary, determination, and occasional tempestuousness. In her youth she has convictions but lacks empowerment, but as she matures she gains a certain amount of agency. She will exert herself to control or to remedy a situation, and then faces the consequences with resignation. Her loyalty to her queen, her duty to her family, and her fidelity to her husband are ruling attributes. But she can be prejudiced as well, and finds herself unable to warm to King William—she sees firsthand the distress he causes his wife through his frequent absences. Yet her husband secures His Majesty’s favour, and retaining it is paramount to him.

Diana’s greatest antagonist in early life is her own mother, who values her as an asset to exploit for the family’s advantage, and who hopes to sever her daughter’s relationship with “Nelly’s brat.” Queen Mary’s antagonist is her sister Princess Anne, who causes much grief and anger from insubordination and through her relationship with her confidante Sarah Churchill, the Countess and later the Duchess of Marlborough. The latter is not only an antagonist to the queen, she pulls strings to shatter one of Diana’s most cherished hopes. Sarah was born a commoner, and her unkindness towards Diana—an aristocrat from birth—arises from jealousy.

Charles, Diana’s suitor and eventual husband, faces antagonists at court and on the battlefield—as does her father. For them, the greatest personal antagonist is King James II. Each man strives in different ways to cope with the stubborn and imperious monarch, with varying degrees of success. King James, a Roman Catholic convert, is so fanatical about his religion that he disregards Parliamentary laws and protocols, and thus brings about his destruction. Lady Oxford, Diana’s mother, is antagonistic towards Charles, mocking him in public and in private. In her opinion, he’s an unworthy husband for a de Vere and lacks the money needed to restore the family’s fortunes.

My characters’ self-image is of great significance, with powerful impact upon plot and conflicts within the story. Royal blood flows through the veins of Charles Beauclerk, Duke of St. Ablans: his father and grandparents and prior ancestors were kings and queens of England. Yet his mother was the lowest of commoners. Nell Gwyn, raised in a brothel, sold oranges in the theatre and was an actress before the king made her his mistress. Charles can never feel completely comfortable at the royal court, especially after his father’s death. He chooses instead a voluntary exile in order to become a soldier. As an army officer, he believes, he can rise to prominence on his own merits. This ambition is unexpectedly undermined, and when he discovers by whom he does not react well.

As for Diana, she is a woman of sterling reputation and great depth, but most people in her world (and down through history) regard her primarily as a court beauty. The greatest painter of the day painted her—repeatedly—and she retained her looks till her dying day. Her mother believed that the girl’s lovely face destined her for a brilliant match rather than a match based on passion, affection, and compatibility. As a married woman, Diana wonders whether her beauty alone attracts her husband instead of other qualities she values in herself. Her beauty, like Charles’s bastardy, is isolating, troublesome, and a source of inner conflict. She tends to judge others as critically as she does herself, but that judgment is usually tempered by an effort to understand…something her husband is slower to do.

Lord Oxford, Diana’s father, has lived long and seen much. He tends to regard himself as a relic of the past, yet he’s pragmatic enough to be progressive when necessary. During the Civil Wars he was Royalist—twice he was imprisoned by Cromwell on suspicion of being a spy—and believes himself forever loyal to the Stuarts. When James II tests this loyalty in unexpected ways, his lordship’s conscience as a member of Parliament and as a Protestant force him to turn against his king and support the Williamite cause.

Queen Mary, for a variety of reasons, has low self-esteem and a poor self-image. Her uncle King Charles married her off to her Dutch first cousin, a complete stranger. But her dread and sorrow at leaving England for a foreign court gave way to a true and lasting love. She’s tortured by guilt over her repudiation of her father the King when her husband seizes the crown for himself. Although her claim to England’s throne is stronger than William’s, she regards herself as his inferior, unfit to rule, and willingly cedes all authority to him. Yet it is she who is—most unhappily—left in control of the nation while he’s away fighting his endless wars. At the same time she must deal with her recalcitrant sister Anne and the problematic Lady Marlborough. Adding to these woes is her husband’s infidelity, and the fact that his mistress is a courtier—and much less attractive than Mary.

For me, writing biographical historical fiction requires the weaving of three necessary strands to form a plot. First there’s the factual biographical record of the individuals depicted—gleaned from period diaries, newspaper accounts, portrait sittings, memoirs, family genealogies, and other primary sources. Then there’s the factual historical record of their times—what significant events did they participate in, how were they affected by events near or far, with whom were they likely to interact on a regular or irregular basis. And lastly, but in a way the most important for a fiction writer, is the imagination, the creative component that enables the author to invent.

The bare facts of biography can’t really reveal how a real-life individual felt at any given moment. The private aspects of life—personal opinions, passions, deepest feelings about self or others—are concealed areas of past lives, the least accessible aspects of the individuals. Especially if the characters are relatively obscure, as Diana and Charles are. I must therefore invent conversations, reactions, consequences for my characters. I have to draw conclusions from research that I hope bear a semblance of accuracy, but I can never lose sight of the fact that I am telling a story for the purpose of entertaining—informing about history and enlightening about the human condition are wonderful side benefits. That combination of elements made me love historical fiction in childhood, and they’ve kept me writing it throughout my adulthood!

A Pledge of Better Times

“Porter’s ambitious novel of 17th-century England is brimming with vivid historical figures and events . . . rigorously researched and faithfully portrayed.” ~  Publishers Weekly

“A true delight for fans of monarchy. . . Porter does a sensational job portraying the time period . . . the relationship between Charles and Diana is complex and interesting.” ~ The Examiner

“Elegant prose and vivid detail…sweeps you into late Stuart England.” ~ Marci Jefferson, author of Enchantress of Paris and Girl on the Golden Coin

margaretporterthumb1Because I was born into a family of readers and writers and scholars and travelers, there’s no mystery about how or why I found my profession. From a very early age I invented characters and composed scenes and stories in my head. At about 10 years old I first saw my own words printed–in the grammar school newsletter that I co-founded, typed, and published. Around the same time I decided to combine my theatrical and my writing ambitions, and adapted all my favourite youth novels into scripts.

Since then many, many more words have been published: novels, nonfiction articles on British history and travel and theatre, website content, book and film reviews, my M.A. thesis, advertising copy…and more.

Website Website

Twitter @MargaretAuthor

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Cover Crush: My Sister’s Secret by Tracy Buchanan

Cover Crush banner

My sisters secretThis cover really appeals to me. Maybe it is the picture of the beach…it certainly gives a realistic view of the ocean and walking along the shore. One can imagine the sound of the waves and the birds calling above. Most of all how the two girls portrayed (one walking behind the other, starting after her) gives you a since of mystery and that there is a secret to be revealed. This cover also gives me the longing to visit the beach again! I bet this would be a great beach read. You think? Ha!

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My Sister’s Secret by Tracy Buchanan

What if everything you’d built your life on was a lie?

Willow’s memories are happy: full of smiles, love and laughter. But a mysterious invitation to a photographic exhibition exposes a secret that’s been buried since a tragic accident years ago.

Willow is forced to question everything she knew about Charity, her late mother, and Hope, the aunt she’s lived with since she was a child.

How was the enigmatic photographer connected to Willow’s parents? And what is the secret Hope has been keeping from her sister for so long?

Willow can’t move forward in her life without answers, but no-one wants to give them.

Is there anyone she can trust?

A gripping, page-turning and emotionally powerful story, perfect for fans of Liane Moriarty and Diane Chamberlain.

Be sure to check out my last cover crush here!

Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary.

Here are some of other great cover crushes from a few of my friends this week:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court -Coming soon

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired 

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation -Coming soon

Wish-List 5: Sebastian St. Cyr Series by C.S. Harris

I adore mystery and historical Fiction combined into a story. Today I am sharing with you, the Sebastian St. Cyr Series by C.S. Harris. I am currently reading, What Angels Fear and hope to continue with the other books this year. So little time! Anyhow, below are the ones I want to get to next plus the one I’m reading right now. What is on your wish-list? 

What angles fearWhat Angels Fear -Currently Reading

It’s 1811, and the threat of revolution haunts the upper classes of King George III’s England. Then a beautiful young woman is found raped and savagely murdered on the altar steps of an ancient church near Westminster Abbey. A dueling pistol discovered at the scene and the damning testimony of a witness both point to one man, Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, a brilliant young nobleman shattered by his experience in the Napoleonic Wars.

Now a fugitive running for his life, Sebastian calls upon his skill as an agent during the war to catch the killer and prove his own innocence. In the process, he accumulates a band of unlikely allies, including the enigmatic beauty Kat Boleyn, who broke Sebastian’s heart years ago. In Sebastian’s world of intrigue and espionage, nothing is as it seems, yet the truth may hold the key to the future of the British monarchy, as well as to Sebastian’s own salvation…

When Gods DieWhen Gods Die

Brighton, England, 1811. The beautiful wife of an aging Marquis is found dead in the arms of the Prince Regent. Draped around her neck lies an ancient necklace with mythic origins-and mysterious ties to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. Haunted by his past, Sebastian investigates both the Marchioness’s death and his own possible connection to it-and discovers a complex pattern of lies and subterfuge. With the aid of his lover, Kat Boleyn, and a former street urchin now under his protection, Sebastian edges closer to the killer. And when one murder follows another, he confronts a conspiracy that threatens his own identity…and imperils the monarchy itself.

Why Mermaids SingWhy Mermaids Sing

It’s September 1811, and someone is killing the wealthy young sons of London’s most prominent families. Partially butchered, with strange objects stuffed into their mouths, their bodies are found dumped in public places at dawn. When the grisly remains of Alfred, Lord Stanton’s eldest son are discovered in the Old Palace Yard beside the House of Lords, the local magistrate turns to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for help.

Ranging from the gritty world of Thames-side docks to the luxurious drawing rooms of Mayfair, Sebastian finds himself confronting his most puzzling–and disturbing–case yet. With the help of his trusted allies–young servant Tom, Irish doctor Paul Gibson, and his lover Kat Boleyn–Sebastian struggles to decipher a cryptic set of clues that link the scion of a banking family to the son of a humble Kentish vicar. For as one killing follows another, Sebastian discovers he is confronting a murderer with both a method and a purpose to his ritualized killings, and that the key to it all may lie in the enigmatic stanzas of a haunting poem…and in a secret so dangerous that men are willing to sacrifice their own children to keep the truth from becoming known.

Where serpents sleepWhere Serpents Sleep

London, 1812. The brutal slaughter of eight young prostitutes in a house of refuge near Covent Garden leaves only one survivor- and one witness: Hero Jarvis, reform-minded daughter of the Prince Regent’s cousin, Lord Jarvis. When the Machiavellian powerbroker quashes any official inquiry that might reveal his daughter’s unorthodox presence, Hero launches an investigation of her own and turns to Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, for help.

Working in an uneasy alliance, Hero and Sebastian follow a trail of clues leading from the seedy brothels and docksides of London’s East End to the Mayfair mansions of a noble family with dark secrets to hide. Risking both their lives and their reputations, the two must race against time to stop a killer whose ominous plot threatens to shake the nation to its very core.

What Remains of heavenWhat Remains of Heaven

Another gripping mystery in the series that has won six starred reviews, set in the glittering yet dangerous world of 1812 London, where nobleman and former spy Sebastian St. Cyr courts personal disaster in his effort to expose a murderer.
The latest request for help from Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin–from the Archbishop of Canterbury, no less–is undeniably intriguing: The bodies of two men have been found in an ancient crypt, their violent deaths separated by decades. One is the Bishop of London, the elderly Archbishop’s favored but controversial successor. The identity of the other seems lost in time, although his faded velvet attire marks him as gentleman of the eighteenth century.

To Sebastian’s consternation, the last person to see the Bishop alive was Miss Hero Jarvis, a woman whose already strained relationship with St. Cyr has been complicated by a brief, unexpectedly passionate encounter. It also soon becomes obvious that her powerful father has reasons of his own for wanting the Bishop out of the way. In an investigation that leads from the back alleys of Smithfield to the power corridors of whitehall, Sebastian amasses a list of suspects that ranges from some of the Prince Regent’s closest cronies to William Franklin, embittered son of famous American patriot Ben Franklin. Each step Sebastian takes toward the killer brings him closer to a devastating truth that could ultimately force him to question who–and what–he really is.

Where Shadows DanceWhere Shadows Dance

Regency London: July 1812. How do you set about solving a murder no one can reveal has been committed?

That’s the challenge confronting C.S. Harris’s aristocratic soldier-turned-sleuth Sebastian St. Cyr when his friend, surgeon and “anatomist” Paul Gibson, illegally buys the cadaver of a young man from London’s infamous body snatchers. A rising star at the Foreign Office, Mr. Alexander Ross was reported to have died of a weak heart. But when Gibson discovers a stiletto wound at the base of Ross’s skull, he can turn only to Sebastian for help in catching the killer.

Described by all who knew him as an amiable young man, Ross at first seems an unlikely candidate for murder. But as Sebastian’s search takes him from the Queen’s drawing rooms in St. James’s Palace to the embassies of Russia, the United States, and the Turkish Empire, he plunges into a dangerous shadow land of diplomatic maneuvering and international intrigue, where truth is an elusive commodity and nothing is as it seems.

Meanwhile, Sebastian must confront the turmoil of his personal life. Hero Jarvis, daughter of his powerful nemesis Lord Jarvis, finally agrees to become his wife. But as their wedding approaches, Sebastian can’t escape the growing realization that not only Lord Jarvis but Hero herself knows far more about the events surrounding Ross’s death than they would have him believe.

Then a second body is found, badly decomposed but bearing the same fatal stiletto wound. And Sebastian must race to unmask a ruthless killer who is now threatening the life of his reluctant bride and their unborn child.

And of course…. the rest of the series!

Here are some of the wishlists from a few of my friends this month:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court 

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede 

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired -Coming Soon

Erin @ Flashlight Commentary – Coming soon

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation -Coming soon

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree C.L. Talmadge

C.L. Talmadge BRAGI’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, C.L. Talmadge. Boomer women seeking a powerful inner shift take their intuitive skills to an entirely new level by meeting their spirit guides with help from C.L. Talmadge. Trained as an energy-healer, C.L. has been taking clients to meet their guides since 1988.

Under the byline Candace Talmadge, she has been a professional writer since 1976. She has written for numerous media, including Adweek, Business Week, the Dallas Times Herald, Forbes, the International Herald Tribune, The New York Times, and Reuters America. She has also been a syndicated political columnist whose works have appeared in publications such as Liberal Opinion Week.

Nearly three decades ago, C.L. encountered an alternative healing method called Sunan therapy that enabled her to resolve many of her emotional and spiritual wounds. This therapy also helped her become familiar with the intimate link between spirituality, energy, and healing. It introduced her to some of her past lives and those of family and friends.

Based on these experiences, she co-authored and published nonfiction that explores emotional and spiritual healing resolution based on the Sunan method of working in the energy of human consciousness. In this book, C.L. provides an expanded definition of energy that demonstrates the connection between matter, spirit, mind, and heart.

C.L. and her co-author, Jana L. Simons, have published new nonfiction titled, The Healing Circle—How Anyone Can Contact the Other Side. This spiritual self-help book teaches readers how to contact not only departed loved ones, but children who are not yet born. Many of the spiritual practices and principles explored in C.L.’s nonfiction are also evident in her fiction, the Green Stone of Healing(R) series.

Thank you for chatting with me again, C.L.! Please tell me a little about your story, Outcast

Outcast BRAG I

Thanks for another opportunity, Stephanie.

Outcast is the fourth and latest novel published to date in the Green Stone of Healing® paranormal romance series. Like the first three novels, it has earned a B.R.A.G. Medallion.

The story is set in the lost island nation of Azgard. In the first three novels, the action takes place mostly in the capital of Azgard, Shambhala. Outcast, however, adds the mountainous region of Southern Alta Province, which is the fourth of Azgard that is ruled directly by Lord James Mordecai. He is Duke of Alta and Lord Protector, and is the Toltec father of the first-generation half-breed protagonist Helen Andros, who has a Turanian mother long since believed dead.

After the birth of his son and heir, Lord James’ enemies force him to choose between his two children. The Temple of Kronos has imposed a death mark on Helen, meaning any priest or warrior monk is ordered to kill her on sight. To keep her safe, Lord James sends her to the family who kept him hidden and secure when he was a boy after his father was assassinated and his mother murdered.

That family is the Altairs, the parents of Helen’s secret love and primary bodyguard, Col. Jackson Orlando, who goes by his mother’s name. Orlando is estranged from his father, Jason, who taught Helen’s father everything he knows about being a soldier. Arriving at the Altair home is emotionally rough on Helen and Jackson, although Marlin, Jackson’s mother, takes to Helen instantly. A wise woman and folk healer, Marlin instantly recognizes Helen’s healing abilities and Helen’s love for her son.

Before Jason dies two months after Helen’s arrival, he reconciles with his son. Jackson inherits the farm and becomes leader of Clan Altair, igniting a feud with his uncle, Morgan, who hoped to assume his older brother’s place. That enmity forces Jackson and Lord James to find a new place to keep Helen safe, and in this isolated hideout she learns advanced energy-healing and life-saving energy protection skills from Maguari, the Mist-Weaver.

The plot to assassinate Lord James reaches its tragic conclusion, and on the day of his death, Helen fends off an attack from kidnappers sent by the Temple’s deputy leader, who wants to exploit her abilities instead of killing her, as his own superior commands.

In the space of a few hours, Helen loses her father and her home, and faces obvious and hidden threats to her safety and life that are revealed during Book Five and beyond.

Tell me a little about Helen’s father’s luxurious estates.

Helen’s father is richer than Bill Gates, and has more war toys at his disposal than Barack Obama. He owns two primary residences, and a hunting lodge in the mountainous region of Southern Alta Province that he refurbishes in Outcast to hide Helen once it becomes clear that she cannot remain in the Altair family’s home.

One of Lord James’ two estates is his family’s ancestral manor in Alta Provence, the northwest quadrant of the island of Azgard. This manor is built on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean and spreads out like eagle wings that are wrapped around the point where the northern and western shores of the island intersect. It offers breathtaking, 270-degree views of the water and cliffs.

The other manor is on the western shore of Lake Shambhala, in Azgard’s capital city of the same name. Both homes are large, luxurious, and run by a small army of both Toltec and Turanian servants, which is highly unusual for so high-ranked a Toltec lord as Helen’s father. His chief housekeeper is a Turanian woman, again, simply unheard of among other luxury estates.

When Helen meets her father for the first time, both manors are furnished in a masculine style that reflects the fact her father has remained a childless (he thought) widower for decades.  Helen finds the homes’ luxury and size overwhelming and discomfiting. She also gives the staff fits by cleaning her own bedroom-bathroom-sitting room suite. She put herself through high school, college, and medical school by doing housework, and simply isn’t used to anyone catering to her physical needs and comfort.

What is an otherworldly Mist-Weaver?

Mist-Weaver is the English translation of Oonaki, which is the name of these beings in High Terzil, the ancient language of the Toltecs.

Long before the Toltecs ever arrived on the island they conquered and renamed Azgard, the Mist-Weavers visited the indigenous Turanian people, whom they loved for their gentle ways.

Mist-Weavers are masters of energy, giving them the ability to move between dimensions. They do so by speeding up or slowing down the vibrations of their physical bodies so that the body disappears to human eyes, even though it still exists in other dimensions. None of these wise souls has lived in human form, although a few of them took an interest in human beings and their affairs.

One of them, in the ancient time of Kronos, was named Menadri. Menadri rescued Kronos as a baby from a blizzard and took him to Azgard, where he grew up among the Turanians, very much a stranger in a strange land. Kronos’ journey to find his roots launched the founding of Azgard and resulted in the subjugation of the Turanians to the newcomer Toltecs.

This distressed Menadri, whose life of many thousands of years eventually ended. He reincarnated (in a different dimension than the one in which earth is located) and, as Maguari, kept up his contacts with human beings. In the time of Helen Andros and her farther, Maguari is trying to help the people of Azgard avoid destruction that waits them unless they reclaim their hearts and turn away from greed, fear, and the desire to conquer and control others.

What are the emotional triggers of your characters and how do they act on them?

The series’ first-generation heroine, Helen Andros, is caught up in the shame of being illegitimate and half-breed. She takes society’s condemnation of both personally, and feels worthless and unlovable as a consequence. But her life’s purpose is to serve and to heal, and she struggles to do so despite her self-imposed emotional burdens. Maguari tries to show her that the resistance she experiences in the outer world simply reflects her own inner lack of self-love.

Other characters carry similar limits on their self-love and as a result, suffer. Some of them love to share their suffering with other characters. These are the “villains.” Other characters, the good guys (and gals), keep their pain to themselves, yet still it affects others in ways that may not be obvious at first.

As one example, Col. Jackson Orlando loves Helen, but does not feel worthy of her, especially after he learns her father’s identity. So he never tells her his feelings. Under the same feelings of worthlessness, Helen never tells him of her feelings—until it is almost too late. Helen’s mother rejects the love of her father, for reasons that seem practical but on deeper examination arise out of her belief that in order to be spiritual, she must sacrifice love—for her mate and her child—to prove her worthiness to God.

The entire island of Azgard is filled with powerful people who lack self-love and spiritual connection, and powerless people who walk with spirit but lack the will to reclaim what is rightfully theirs—the island home they inhabited before the Toltecs took it from them. The situation is not sustainable and the series recounts how and why it all fell apart.

What is the courage and strengths of Helen. -and possibly the isolation your character may feel with these attributes.

Helen’s strengths are her tenacity and her gifts for healing. She never gives up on trying to help others, but her sense of worthlessness keeps her from helping herself. That is her weakness. Her sense of isolation stems more from being so different in appearance from the dominant Toltecs or the subservient Turanians. The Toltecs are tall, copper skinned, and dark-eyed. The Turanians are shorter, with pale skin and blond, brown, or red hair and blue or green eyes. Helen is a blend of both. She’s tall and black haired like to Toltecs, but her skin is paler and her eyes are blue-gray like the Turanians.

What was your writing process for this series?

It may seem strange. I ask my characters to reveal themselves to me. This initially took decades of introspection, reading, and thought, but slowly the names and backstories of the heroines, heroes, and villains unfolded to me. I made two failed attempts to start putting the story down in print and just backed off because it wasn’t gelling into anything coherent.

I still had no idea how to start the story until the morning of Saturday, July 25, 1998. I woke up out of a sound sleep, shot upright and thought, I can write it now! It was absolutely amazing. And I could. Over the next 15 months I produced the first drafts of what turned out to be the first and second novels. I had a lot of editing to do and learning how to sculpt a narrative by knowing everything about the story and the characters and then throwing most of it away to set it down in words.

I also struggled at first to decide between first-person and third-person narrative. First person is powerful but too limited for the story. IN the end I opted for both. The Forewords and Afterwords are first-person present tense, and describe the story of the survivors of worldwide cataclysm as it happens. The third-person past-tense is for the main body of the tale and describes what happened in the past that led to the current predicament.

Even now, when I am writing the way the story needs to go it comes easily. But if I veer off, then I get stuck and have to back and find the correct thread to begin again. That usually is fairly obvious.

Who designed your book cover?

All covers for the first four novels were designed at the same time by a talented woman named Pat Virzi, who used to work at the Kwik Kopy Digiprint store close to where I used to live in Texas. The store has moved and she no longer works there, but she is very good at book cover design.

Where can readers purchase your books?

All four novels published to date in the Green Stone of Healing® series are available as paperbacks and Kindle, Nook, or .pdf e-books at all online bookstores. The paperbacks may be ordered at any offline bookstore, too.

What are you currently working on?

I have completed first drafts of the fifth and sixth novels, and have started the seventh. In this latest novel, the story transfers from Helen to the second generation heroine.

Thank you, C.L.!

Thank you, Stephanie! I have enjoyed sharing my characters and process with your readers.

Author Website

A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to C.L. Talmadge who is the author of, Outcast, our medallion honoree at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion ®, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, Outcast, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 indiebrag team member

Interview with Best-Selling Author, Kristen Harnisch

author KHKristen Harnisch is back with me today to talk with me about her book, The California Wife.  Internationally published, Kristen drew upon her extensive research and her experiences living in San Francisco and visiting the Loire Valley and Paris to create the stories for THE CALIFORNIA WIFE and her first novel, THE VINTNER’S DAUGHTER. Ms. Harnisch has a degree in economics from Villanova University and currently resides in Connecticut with her husband and three children.

Welcome back to Layered Pages, Kristen and thank you for chatting with me today about your book The California Wife. Please tell me about your story.

Thanks so much for inviting me back! The California Wife is the stand-alone sequel to The Vintner’s Daughter, and tells the story of a Franco-American winemaking family at the turn of the twentieth century. In The California Wife, the Lemieux family strives to establish an American winemaking dynasty. Sara and Philippe’s ambitions carry them from pastoral Napa to the Paris World’s Fair and into the colorful heart of early 20th-century San Francisco. Marie Chevreau, the midwife, returns just when Sara needs a friend. Marie enrolls as the first female surgical candidate at the prestigious Cooper Medical College in San Francisco. The California Wife is rich with intrigue and drama, and culminates in San Francisco’s Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.

What is the mood or tone your characters portray and how does this affect the story?

The majority of my characters are earnest and action-oriented. This keeps the story moving at a quick pace. Back in the nineteenth century, the average life expectancy was below fifty years of age and there wasn’t a great deal of time for self-reflection. My characters know they have a short time to realize their ambitions with their God-given talents. They are hardworking—pioneers in American winemaking and medicine—but equally passionate about their relationships because they know that their time is finite.

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What are Sara’s weaknesses and strengths?

Sara is a determined character, but she can be single-minded to a fault! She has suffered through the loss of two beloved family members and has worked tirelessly to reclaim her family’s nineteenth-century Loire Valley vineyard. These struggles have contributed to her determination to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker. However, Sara is young and doesn’t have the business or relationship experience that Philippe has acquired and she’s so focused on her own family and farm in Vouvray that she often fails to see the big picture. In The California Wife, Sara is challenged by circumstance to grow and mature.

What is some of the research you did for your story?

For The California Wife, I continued my research in the vineyards of Napa, touring wineries like Hess, Beringer and Bouchaine, and sampling the wines of the area. Winemakers, historians and wine experts all reviewed the manuscript to ensure that I was accurately portraying Napa vineyard life from 1897 to 1906. Old photographs of Napa City, San Francisco and articles from trade papers, like The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, offered insights into the layout of the downtown area, the damage from the earthquake and fire, the wine price wars and life in general back then. For example, in Chapter 8, the characters attend a grand party in Asti at the Italian Swiss Colony. Here, on two thousand acres of land, the Italian-Swiss immigrants cultivated all kinds of fruits and in May of 1898 invited over two hundred fellow winemakers and San Francisco notables to attend a party inside a gigantic underground wine cistern that they’d just emptied of Chianti. This actually happened, and it was so much fun to discover a full account of the event while conducting my research!

What fascinates you most about the period you write in?

Where do I begin? By 1900, after suffering through the devastation of the vines from the phylloxera louse, California vintners were determined to protect and bolster their wine industry. They made scientific innovations in grape growing and winemaking—and invented creative ways to brand their wines to compete with the Europeans. In the late 1800s, women traded in their kitchen chores for important roles in their family businesses or factories. They marched for better working conditions, fair wages, equal opportunity and the right to have individual bank accounts. Temperance advocates, who favored the prohibition of alcohol, were the early driving force behind the suffrage movement. In The California Wife, this creates trouble for Sara, who is a winemaker and women’s rights supporter. These are just a few of the economic/cultural shifts during this era that I explore in my novels!

Define your writing style.

My agent likes to describe my writing style as “literary-meets-commercial,” or “upmarket fiction.” Readers and reviewers generally describe my stories as fast-paced, rich in history and rife with conflict. Book clubs often choose my novels because they pair well with wine!

What are your goals as a writer?

As a writer, my goals are to captivate the reader and to share some memorable historical moments in a subtle, but entertaining way. It’s also very important that the reader feels like he/she is present in the scene with the characters—seeing, touching, tasting, smelling, hearing everything as the characters do.

What are you working on next?

I’m finishing my research for the third book in the series, which will take the Lemieux family through World War I in France and Prohibition in California. I’m also writing a women’s contemporary novel about friendship and reinvention and mid-life survival, which is so much fun because it doesn’t require nearly the amount of research that I’m used to doing!

Where can readers buy your book?

Readers can buy my book at their local bookseller, at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Books-a-Million or anywhere! The California Wife is available in trade paperback and e-book. I also enjoy Skyping/FaceTiming with book clubs, if my schedule permits. Readers and book clubs can contact me through my Website .

Find Kristen Online:

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Be sure to check out my interview with Kristen about her book, The Vintner’s Daughter, here!

Historical Fiction & Meaning with John Orton

John OrtonToday B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree John Orton talks with me about writing historical Fiction. John was awarded an indieBRAG medallion for his first book The Five Stone Steps, (A Tale of a Policeman’s life in 1920’s South Shields), was born in South Shields, England, in 1949. Educated at South Shields Grammar School he read Law at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford and followed a career as a Solicitor in local government. He was County Solicitor and Clerk of Avon County Council when a stress related illness led to his retirement. Married with three children John now lives in Portishead, near Bristol and shares his time between writing, playing old style piano and gardening.

What are the periods of history focused on for your writing?

The 1920s. Writing about life in South Shields in the 1920s did not at first seem to me like history – it’s only a hundred years ago and my father was born in 1920; my Grandparents were born in the 1890s and my Nan was always talking about her life in the early years of the twentieth century. But when you think about how life was then and how it is now, and the changes that we’ve seen over just three generations then yes, it is history. South Shields was at that time a major seaport, a town with three coal mines, shipyards, glass works and other heavy industry all dependent on a resident work force who in the nineteenth century had flocked to the town for work. They lived in long terraced streets paved with cobbles – life had always been hard but with the recession after the Great War it got harder. The town had pubs galore where the sailors, miners, shipyard workers and others would take their beer – and if the men were hard then the Polis had to be harder.

Why Historical Fiction?

When I was in my teens I was taught how to play old style piano – Ragtime, Jelly Roll Morton, blues and boogie-woogie, – by Tommy Gordon, a noted old style jazz pianist. Tommy was a bit of a character and we became firm friends – he liked his beer and would tell all sorts of stories including some about his father’s time as a bobby on the beat in Shields. After my retirement I’d toyed with writing but nothing had really come off. I was thinking of writing a ‘whodunit’ set in my home town in the 1900s and asked Tommy if he could give me any background information about policing in those days. He handed me a dust covered, dog eared, hand written manuscript of his father’s memoirs. They were written when his father was in his seventies and had come to live with Tommy and his family. He would sit of an evening at a table by the fire, glass of malt at hand and write of life as a young bobby on the streets of South Shields in the old days. He was a Scot, had joined the Glasgow Tramways Battallion of the Highland Light Infantry, fought in the trenches and on demob had joined the South Shields Police Force.

The Memoirs were fascinating – as you read them you could nearly smell the whisky and hear the rugged Scottish tones of Tom ‘Jock’ Gordon. The Memoirs were not structured in any particular way, as Jock wrote down what came into his mind, but they did give not only a firsthand account of policing but also of the town and its characters. They inspired me to write The Five Stone Steps a combination of fact and fiction that tells the tale of Tom Duncan, a fictional Scot who joins the South Shields Police in 1919.

When did you know you wanted be a Historical Fiction writer?

Unearthing the memoirs after they had been gathering dust for more than thirty years was a stroke of luck. As I really got into the work of turning them into a fact based fictional narrative I realised that this was a genre I was really comfortable with.

How much time do you spend on research? What sources do you use?

I was fortunate to have one main source, the memoirs, and also a personal knowledge of the town itself together with the many stories my Nan, and my Dad, had told of life in the twenties. But to bring Jock’s memoirs to life I had to know the town as it was in the 1920s – the old town of Shields grew up along the riverside and many of these old houses and buildings, some dating from Tudor times were demolished in the 30s; Shields was hit hard by the German blitz raids during WW2 and many parts of the town had to be rebuilt. Much of the town that Jock Gordon knew in the 20s had gone even before I was born. Using old ordnance survey maps and old photographs in the South Tyneside Library’s collections I was able to build a picture of how the streets of Shields looked in the 1920s, with their pubs, lodging houses, cafés, theatres and picture houses. Two of the stories in the book are set in Holborn, a riverside area crammed full of pubs and seamen’s lodging houses – with a community of Arab and Somalian seafarers – the picture shows one of the narrow streets where you can see the Hop Pole Inn and Mrs. Camillieri’s lodging house. Holborn

The other type of research is ad hoc – you are writing a story line and you want it to go in a certain direction but you are not sure about the historical accuracy of what you want to include.

An example: in the Chapter ‘An early call’  a young seaman from Bristol had married a Shields girl – they had been living together but their landlady found out that they were living in sin and was going to evict them. His wife in Bristol finds out and he is convicted of bigamy. The story I wanted to follow had the girlfriend visiting him every week in Durham Jail – it was only when I was on the third or fourth revision that I stopped and thought – were prison visits allowed in the 1920s? It was not easy to find out but I sent an email to a Society that organises prison visitors and was pleasantly surprised to get a very helpful reply. I had to change the story line but it actually improved it – here is a short extract that tells you about prison visiting in the 1920s.

Constable Tom Duncan (the fictional version of ‘Jock’ Duncan) is the narrator:

Peggy came to see me afterwards and asked if I could help her to pen a letter to Davey in prison. She could barely write herself so I put down a few words for her which she signed, and I sent it to the Prison Chaplain with a covering note from myself. In those days there was no routine visiting for prisoners, and any contact with them had to be arranged with the Chaplain who was responsible for the moral welfare of the prisoners. I received a short letter back enclosing Peggy’s letter. The Chaplain had no intention of encouraging prisoner Honeywill’s immoral liaison with Miss Lampshine and would not permit any contact between them. He had been trying to persuade Honeywill to become reconciled with his wife, and had requested the Prison Authorities to transfer the prisoner to Horfield Prison in Bristol, so that he would be able to receive visits from his wife. We heard afterwards that she had only visited Davey once, had spat in his face, and left.

What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?

It stimulates the imagination in a way not always achieved by contemporary fiction but also brings history to those who might not otherwise take an interest. This effect can be multiplied many times if a successful novel or series is televised – in the UK there has been a lot of interest in the Wars of the Roses not only as a result of the discovery of the skeleton of Richard III in a car park in Leicester but also because of the dramatisation on TV (The White Queen) of Phillipa Gregory’s series The Cousin Wars. This reignited the debate over whether Richard III was a murderous, hunchbacked, child slayer or was a thoroughly good King whose reputation was sullied by a determined PR campaign by the Tudors and their playwright lackey William Shakespeare!

Who are your influences?

As I stumbled into historical fiction I cannot claim to have been influenced by any of the great historical fiction writers whose works I love: Sir Thomas Malory, Alexandre Dumas, Sir Walter Scott, C S Forester, Bernard Cornwell and the French writers Robert Merle (La Fortune de France) and Maurice Druon (Les Rois Maudits). In terms of the writing style I aspire to – easy to read, terse, with plenty of dialogue using idiomatic speech then I would give two American authors, Damon Runyon and Erle Stanley Gardner.

How much fiction (in your opinion) is best to blend with historical facts?

As much as you want. Fiction is storytelling and you will only hold the audience’s attention if you have a good story to tell. If the main historical content, for example the life of Richard III, is all ready a good enough story then you only need to add what you need to tell the story your way. If the story is your own, for example Ivanhoe, or more recently Uthred in Cornwell’s Saxon Stories then you just need to ensure that it fits neatly into the historical context. If in doing so you have to ‘change’ the history, for example dates of battles or other events, then you should tell the reader in a post script.

The Five Stone Steps BRAGBut one thing that is important is to put in as much historical fact as you can to make your story authentic. Tom ‘Jock’ Gordon was one of the team that carried out a raid on a street bookies house – in the Five Stone Steps, in the chapter A Sure Thing, my story line, based on the raid, revolves around the winner of the St. Ledger coming in at long odds. In the first draft I just made up a name of a fictional winner – then I thought that was not good enough – research on the web did not help and then I remembered that we had a book inherited from my father-in-law ‘Cope’s Racegoer’s Encyclopaedia 1949’ – and Lo and Behold! In the tables at the back there was a list of all winners of the St. Ledger since 1896 and in 1922 the race was won by Royal Lancer at 33 to 1 – a perfect fit.

What are the important steps in writing Historical Fiction?

 Know your period inside out – research as much as you can about it even if you will not use it all in your work. Try and make your characters real to the life of that period – not as easy as it sounds. If your book is set in Anglo Saxon times, for example, don’t have your character washing his face first thing in the morning – Anglo Saxons never washed – under any circumstances! The Danes did, once a week on a Sunday in a near-by river, whatever the weather – they also combed their hair –an effeminate vice! (King Ethelred, who was heartily fed up with the Danes massacred as many as he could while they bathed on St. Brice’s Day (Nov 13) 1002.

What must you not do writing in this genre?

Not sure if there any red lines – but for me you do have a duty towards your readers. Many, including myself like to believe in the stories they are reading. So I don’t think you should change or alter history because you have a pet theory – leave that to the professional historian who has to back up any new version of history with evidence and will be harshly judges by his peers if he cannot prove his thesis.

When writing, do you use visuals to give you inspiration? Such as historical pictures of people, castles, towns and such? What about historical objects?

Definitely – I decided that The Five Stone Steps would be illustrated and each chapter has an old photo of a location used in the story – not usual in fiction – but I regard my work as ‘faction’ – fiction based on fact and wanted readers to be able to visualise where the action takes place. As mentioned above a lot of my research was done by looking at old photos of South Shields. This was made easy as a result of South Tyneside Libraries initiative in setting up a web-site Historic Images of South Tyneside – www.southtynesideimages.org.uk/ where you can search their extensive collection of historic photos. One of Jock’s stories related to a fire at a pub in Albermarle Street – at that time the Police manned the fire tender. The Policemen attending the fire would first of all set up a barrel of beer on a trestle to quench their thirst; then they would ‘rescue’ as many bottles as possible that would end up as breakages but before being broken would be transported to Police HQ, decanted into buckets and then drunk down. ‘Jock’ did not name the pub. I did a search on South Tyneside Images and found a photo of a pub in Albermarle Street called the Royal Arms and was able to use this in the story. (If you’d like to see the photo search for  STH0000334)

So far as objects are concerned Tommy did have his Dad’s old truncheon, (which the old hands still referred to as staves)- called Fagan. It was made of solid hardwood which sank in water! In A Nip of Whisky (Chapter 2) someone has drank the pot of whisky left outside the back door of the Black and Grey by the publican for the bobby on night shift – Bill Spyles, an old hand. When Bill returns to the parade room he is not happy.

 “Some bastard’s had me whisky.” We all looked up. “I was all right at the Scotia and the Bridge but when I got to the Black and Grey the pot was empty – same at the Golden Lion and the City of Durham. The bugger had cut the tie and left the pot on the ground.” He looked towards me and Alec and one or two other of the new recruits. “If I catch the sod that did it I’ll ram me stave right up his arse.” Bill didn’t make threats lightly and the truncheons in those days were solid wood.

 

Cover Crush: City of Glory by Beverly Swerling

City of GloryThis week I came across this author and book cover on social media and ever since, I have been drawn to it. The premise & hisory itself is something I am highly interested in and one I hope to read soon. The story takes place in Old New York and the cover shows a city of promise and thriving with life. I love the colors, design!

(This is the second book in the series: Old New York 2)

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Set against the dramatic backdrop of America’s second war for independence, Beverly Swerling’s gripping and intricately plotted sequel to the much-loved “City of Dreams” plunges deep into the crowded streets of old New York. Poised between the Manhattan woods and the sea that is her gateway to the world, the city of 1812 is vibrant but raw, a cauldron where the French accents of Creole pirates mingle with the brogues of Irish seamen, and shipments of rare teas and silks from Canton are sold at raucous Pearl Street auctions. Allegiances are more changeable than the tides, love and lust often indistinguishable, the bonds of country weak compared to the temptation of fabulous riches from the East, and only a few farseeing patriots recognize the need not only to protect the city from the redcoats, but to preserve the fragile Constitutional union forged in 1787.

Joyful Patrick Turner, dashing war hero and brilliant surgeon, loses his hand to a British shell, retreats to private life, and hopes to make his fortune in the China trade. To succeed he must run the British blockade; if he fails, he will lose not only a livelihood, but the beautiful Manon, daughter of a Huguenot jeweler who will not accept a pauper as a son-in-law. When stories of a lost treasure and a mysterious diamond draw him into a treacherous maze of deceit and double-cross, and the British set Washington ablaze, Joyful realizes that more than his personal future is at stake. His adversary, Gornt Blakeman, has a lust for power that will not be sated until he claims Joyful’s fiancee as his wife and half a nation as his personal fiefdom. Like the Turners before him, Joyful must choose: his dreams or hiscountry.

Swerling’s vividly drawn characters illuminate every aspect of the teeming metropolis: John Jacob Astor, the wealthiest man in America, brings the city’s first Chinese to staff his palatial Broadway mansion; Lucretia Carter, wife of a respectable craftsman, makes ends meet as an abortionist serving New York’s brothels; Thumbless Wu, a mysterious Cantonese stowaway, slinks about on a secret mission; and the bewitching Delight Higgins, proprietress of the town’s finest gambling club, lives in terror of the blackbirding gangs who prey on runaway slaves. They are all here, the butchers and shipwrights, the doctors and scriv-eners, the slum dwellers of Five Points and the money men of the infant stock exchange…conspiring by day and carousing by night, while the women must hide their loyalties and ambitions, their very wills, behind pretty sighs and silken skirts.

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Cover Crush is a weekly series that originated with Erin at Flashlight Commentary. Be sure to check out these great cover crushes and bloggers this week. The Maiden’s CourtFlashlight CommentaryA Bookaholic Swede.