Review: Voyage of Strangers by Elizabeth Zelvin

Voyage of Strangers

Pub Date   Sep 30 2014

The year is 1493, and young Jewish sailor Diego Mendoza has returned from Columbus’s triumphant first voyage with tales of lush landscapes, rivers running with gold, and welcoming locals. But back home in Spain, Diego finds the Inquisition at its terrifying peak, and he must protect his spirited sister, Rachel, from betrayal and death. Disguising herself as a boy, Rachel sneaks onto Columbus’s second expedition, bound for the new lands they call the Indies. As the Spaniards build their first settlements and search for gold, Diego and Rachel fall in love with the place, people, and customs. Still forced to hide their religious faith and Rachel’s true identity, the brother and sister witness the Spaniards’ devastation of the island in their haste to harvest riches.

This unflinching look at Columbus’s exploration and its terrible cost to the native Taino people introduces two valiant young people who struggle against the inevitable destruction of paradise.

Review:

When I saw this up for review on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to review this! I couldn’t believe my luck when I was approved! First off, I have wanted to read a story with Columbus and about his voyages for a very long time…while this story does not entirely center on that…it still was an amazing read! Diego and Rachel made such an impression on me. Their story is extraordinary and Diego’s duty to protect Rachel and his brotherly love to her is admirable and courageous! The adventure they embark on is so entertaining and exciting. And the danger they face will have you clinching your teeth and holding your breath, waiting to find out what the outcome will be. I know….this all sounds rather dramatic, but it is true.

I was also really drawn into the setting and period of the story…..one feels like they are actually there on the ship and in the first settlements, living the lives they are living. How wonderful is that? I wanted this story to continue and I would love to read more about Diego and Rachel’s adventures….

I was very impressed with how the author portrayed Columbus as well….you see a side to him that you might not read about in the history books. And we all love a good sea adventure!! You will get that in this book! I thoroughly enjoyed discovering and learning about the Taino people as well and found them really fascinating and would like to learn more about them and their culture. I will definitely be on the lookout for more books from this author and I highly recommend you read this story.

Stephanie Moore Hopkins

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Review: The Poet’s Wife by Rebecca Stonehill

The Poets Wife

Pub Date: September 26, 2014

An unforgettable journey into the heart of one family torn apart by war. Granada, 1920. Free-spirited Luisa and young poet Eduardo fall in love, cementing a bond that can never be broken. Behind the jasmine filled courtyard, perched amongst houses like clouds on a hilltop, stands a beautiful villa; Carmen de las Estrellas. Beneath its walls live Eduardo and Luisa with their thriving family, but war is looming, casting its shadow over the household. When Civil War finally breaks out, Luisa and Eduardo must fiercely protect those dear to them. Yet these are turbulent times, and as each of their children begin to make their way in the world, the solace of home cannot shield them from the horrors of war.

Review: I would first like to say that this is an extraordinary story. I haven’t really read any fiction that depicts the civil war in Spain during this early 1900’s and it was deeply emotional to read about. I have to admit I had a different mind- set going into this story due to the title because I feel like the story doesn’t really center around Luisa but around her whole family and what they experienced first-hand during this turbulent time.

There are a few things I feel I should point out and normally I tend to stay away from little things that bother me about stories due to the fact I really did enjoy reading this story. I would have liked to have seen stronger character development of Luisa and I felt her relationship with her husband Eduardo wasn’t quite convincing me of their love for each other….for several reasons but I won’t comment. You just need to read the story to form your own opinion. Also, this story expands over a large period of years but towards the end of the story it jumps quite a bit to the story of Isabel’s daughter. Which I did enjoy reading about but I felt it was rushed.

The characters that really stood out to me the most was Isabel, Mar and Pablo. I loved all three immensely and I would have like to have seen a little more back story on Pablo. I felt the author did a fabulous job with the setting, and the historical detail and I like the author’s style of writing. I felt I was really in that period…one of the important things I like to experience when reading in this genre. All in all this is a story worth reading and I do recommend it to all.

Stephanie Moore Hopkins

One Writer’s Life by Sarah Kennedy

Ten years ago, I called myself a poet. A writer of poetry, a critic of poetry, a teacher of poetry both old and contemporary. I loved novels, and I read them voraciously, but when I sat down to create, what came out were poems. Was I a calm, meditative person, my gaze fixed on eternity as I composed my deathless verse? No way! I was fitful, nervous, writing here and there in fifteen- or twenty-minute intervals of breathless intense concentration, sometimes between classes at my college, when a student had used that absolutely perfect word that my imagination had been seeking.

My poems ranged in subject from the painfully personal to the distantly narrative, and as I grew older, those autobiographical tendencies waned. My scholarly training was largely in the Renaissance, and I found myself teaching the eighteenth century, as well. As a researcher, I was often in the UK, seeking out materials that would help me understand the lives of women—always a central concern of mine—who had lived in the past. As a doctoral student, I was pushed, most of the time, to study the great male writers, but as a professor I wanted to fill in the gaps, to include women in my discussions. I was particularly interested in women’s spiritual and domestic lives, and this curiosity led me to read the medieval mystics Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. Jane Grey, Mary Tudor (“Bloody Mary”), Anne Askew—all of these women suffered for their beliefs, and I wanted to know how ordinary women might have coped with the great changes in England as it shifted from being a Roman Catholic to a Protestant country.

And something happened along the way: I became a novelist. It began one summer in Wales, when I was digging into the National Library, reading old recipe manuscripts and account books, kept by women in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These books were full of personal information about debts, expenses, love matches gone awry, popular songs and sermons. This was an academic project, but reading these women’s words altered my imagination. I began to hear them talking in my head . . . and in my poems. My work got longer, almost (but not quite) reaching the right-hand margin. A friend told me, after reading these poems, “You ought to write a novel.” At the time, I said no, but the seed was planted. And one day, standing in a bookstore with an armload of historical novels, I turned to my husband and said, “I’m going to write one of these.”

Sarah Kennedy's Book Cover

And I did . . . and the stories keep coming. I began with The Altarpiece, a novel about a young nun who’s being forced out of her convent by Henry VIII’s men. She’s devout, but she’s also aware of the corruptions in the church. She struggles to find a new way to keep her old faith and to adapt herself to the changing world without losing her essential self. Her story continues in City of Ladies, to be released in October 2014 and moves right into the dangerous world of Henry’s court in the third volume, The King’s Sisters, coming out in August 2015.

And, surprisingly, my writing self has changed along with my genre. I now write every evening—or afternoon if the evening promises to be busy—in a long block of quiet, solitary time. I write until I’m exhausted. And I generally write with a newfound tranquility that comes of a long-term goal. Novelists don’t get the intermittent rewards that poets get as they place individual pieces in journals; we have to have an eye on the page in front of us and on the book that will emerge at the end. And most of the time, it’s just the writer and the page, alone, working toward the finish line.

 Sarah Kennedy

Is being a novelist a lonely calling? In some ways, I suppose it is. Most of the writers I know tend to be rather solitary individuals, and I’m no exception. I’m most content pulling weeds in my garden, feeding and watching the birds that visit the yard, and sitting with a book. I wouldn’t, however, call myself lonesome. I’m never bored, and I’m never at a loss for something to do. Characters of all kinds are always with me, demanding attention, a chance to show what they’re thinking and a stage on which to act out their lives. Sometimes, they won’t even let me alone to sleep!

I do love to travel, but even on trips abroad I like to explore places, usually historical sites, by myself, going wherever my mood or fancy strike me and investigating who lived there and what happened to them. I like to imagine even ruins filled with men and women, talking, laughing, weeping—living out their dramas. And then I return to the blank page and fill it, giving them flesh and personalities and conflicts to overcome, if they can.

And guess what? They become my friends, even the baddies, as authentic to me as many physical people I know. And with friends from everywhere—Tudor England to contemporary Virginia—I’m never, really, by myself at all.

Sarah Kennedy

Interview with Author Lucinda Elliot

02_Ravensdale

When the group of highwaymen headed by the disgraced Earl of Little Dean, Reynaud Ravensdale hold up the hoydenish Isabella Murray’s coach, she knocks one of them down and lectures them all on following Robin Hood’s example.

The rascally Reynaud Ravensdale – otherwise known as the dashing highwayman Mr Fox – is fascinated by her spirit.

He escaped abroad three years back following his supposedly shooting a friend dead after a quarrel. Rumour has it that his far more respectable cousin was involved. Now, having come back during his father’s last illness, the young Earl is seeking to clear his name.

Isabella’s ambitious parents are eager to marry her off to Reynaud Ravensdale’s cousin, the next in line to his title. The totally unromantic Isabella is even ready to elope with her outlaw admirer to escape this fate – on condition that he teaches her how to be a highwaywoman herself.

This hilarious spoof uses vivid characters and lively comedy to bring new life to a theme traditionally favoured by historical novelists – that of the wild young Earl, who, falsely accused of murder by the machinations of a conniving cousin and prejudged by his reputation, lives as an outlaw whilst seeking to clear his name.

‘Ravensdale’ is a fast paced, funny and romantic read from the writer of ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’, following the adventures of his equally roguish cousin and set in 1792, just prior to the French Revolution, two years before ‘That Scoundrel Émile Dubois’.

Stephanie: Hello, Lucinda! Thank you for chatting with me today. It is not often I read romance or Historical romance and one with humor into it to boot. Please tell me what sets yours apart from others in this genre?

Lucinda: It’s a pleasure to talk to you. And as for being given an opportunity to go on and on about my writing, what writer could resist that? In answer to your question, I suppose all writers think of their writing as being a thing apart from all the rest -it’s our tragedy that most readers have a different take on the matter. My particular way of flattering myself that mine stands out is to believe that the ironical approach in all my novels is original. I like to share fun with the reader with pointing out the clichéd aspects of some situation while inviting the reader to join with me in enjoying it anyway. ‘Ravensdale’ is an outright satire, but for all that, one which I hope draws the reader into the fun of the adventure and into sympathizing with the characters, who while based on the stereotypes of the clichés of traditional historical romance, are meant to develop into fully rounded characters as the story progresses.

Stephanie: Please tell me a little about, Isabella.

Lucinda: Isabella breaks all the rules – she doesn’t want to play the role of the traditional passive female, and she’s very gung-ho and quite unladylike. She wants to learn to shoot accurately, to fight effectively and she loves a wild gallop in her brother’s breeches, straddling her horse and taking high hedges. She’s a tall, strapping woman with a long mane of black hair and flashing black eyes, and has everyone’s idea of a ‘gypsyish’ attraction. She despises the injustices she can see in her world and would like to try and right a few by emulating Robin Hood and stealing from the rich to give to the poor.

Stephanie: What is an example of a humor part in your book?

Lucinda: Well, this is fairly typical: –

‘Kate’s younger sister Suki came from the back. Seeing her, Flashy Jack, his bright fair hair disguised under powder, took his porter to the bar. Kate came for the dirty plates. “Soup not to your liking?” she asked Ravensdale, who had gone to stand gazing out of the window, arms folded across his chest.

“It was well enough.”

“Have you got guts ache? You keep on leaving your food.”

The landlord, Tom Watts, so strapping and healthy that he didn’t remember when he had last left his own, turned, shocked. “You don’t want to get anything like that; I’ve known cases, strong one month, and invalids at the fireside the next.”

Mr Fox scowled and said nothing.

“Have you got bellyache?” Kate determined to speak plain though the fellow was a real toff, even, some said, none other than the Disgraced Lord Little Dean.

He kept silent, glowering into his porter.

Flashy Jack warmed to his theme: “He’s holding on round the chest. It could be lung trouble. That can be caught early. I knew a man, fading away with it, till his wife had him gargle rum every day. That set him to rights.”

“He ain’t got a cough.” Kate pointed out.

The object of their concern shifted under their gaze, which seemed to penetrate to his innards.

“I hear you don’t until that phlegm sets in. Then, before you know it, you’re spitting blood.”

“Mercy.” Suki joined in. She knew that they would all end on the gallows, but this was immediate.

The Chief Brigand, clearly only silent through reluctance to be ungallant to the women, turned on Jack: “Hold your noise, damn you! My insides are my own affair.”

Kate, undeterred, held up one finger: “I know the very thing, whatever it is. That cure I got from that pedlar works on anything. I’ve even tried it on baby there.” She smiled on her infant, sleeping in his cradle at the side of the bar.

“Well, you shouldn’t give it him, Kate. Those poisoners have surely caused more deaths than any honest rogue.” Mr Fox made for the door and stood outside, still slightly hunched and gazing across the yard to where the hens scrabbled about in the dust.

“There’s no pleasing some folk.” Kate went back to collecting the dishes.

“There ain’t any pleasing him these last couple of weeks.” Jack turned his attention back to Suki.’

Stephanie: What was the inspiration for your story? And do you have any other stories in this genre?

Lucinda: What was the inspiration? Traditional historical romances, I suppose; I always felt they accepted sex roles and social injustice too readily. I read a good few of them many years ago, when as a teenager I was snowed in at home in the Clwyd Valley for some time; I got through a lot of stuff on the bookshelves, which included job lots of books my mother had got as part of a ‘lot’ at various auctions. So, I read numerous novels by Georgette Heyer, Barbara Cartland and so on. I always thought sending up the cliches of the genre, if not done maliciously, would be fun. You know, the Disgraced Wild Young Earl Turned Outlaw, the Spirited Heroine, the Conniving Cousin who Stands to Gain from the Heir’s Disgrace, etc. ‘Ravensdale’ is actually a prequel to my first novel, ‘That Scoundrel Emile Dubois’ which was a take on traditional gothic – vampires, brigands and the heroine isolated in a deserted mansion, surrounded by a wicked household.

Stephanie: Were there any challenges in writing, Ravensdale?

Lucinda: Oh, yes. I had a dismal period of writer’s block for a couple of weeks where I just couldn’t get through some problems with bringing the characters together for the grand finale of the story. But I always find that period of writer’s block happens; you just have to wait, groaning, for the obstruction to clear. There was the historical research on the savage penal code of the time and the activities of highwaymen and so on, but a tedious amount of research is part of the ground work of writing about a past age.

Stephanie: What was the process and how long did it take to write your story?

Lucinda: It took me six months and then I sent it off to my writing partner, who suggested some revisions. Believe it or not, I start writing first thing in the morning, in a notebook in longhand, aiming for an average of four hundred words but hoping for five hundred. Later in the day, I type that bit up, editing as I go along. Every day I’m tempted to put it off, but that’s typical of writers, I think.

Stephanie: What do you like most about writing? And when did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Lucinda: I love the excitement of creating an imaginary world and the possibility of sharing it with people. Probably at fourteen I knew I would write sometime, but I took a long time to get down to it seriously – or as seriously as I can be about anything.

Stephanie: What do you like most about Historical Romance?

Lucinda: Quite honestly, I’m not a great reader of historical romance generally these days, but I do like the world free of cars more than anything!

Stephanie: In your bio, it says you were brought up in old houses. Do you feel that this has helped your creativity in your writing?

Lucinda: Without a doubt; I know the layout of big old houses. Also, they would all have made fine settings for a gothic novel.

Stephanie: Where in your home do you like to write and how often do you write?

Lucinda: In the spare room, which serves as a sort of study. Usually I put in a minimum of three hours a day.

Stephanie: Who are your influences?

Lucinda: Innumerable – Jane Austin, Elizabeth Gaskell, Pushkin, Shakespeare, Patrick Hamilton, Thackeray, even that writer of appalling nineteenth century romances, Charles Garvice (yes, he was on the bookshelves during that long period of being snowed in).

Stephanie: What book(s) are on your night stand?

Lucinda: They vary. At the moment, believe it or not, ‘King Lear’ and ‘The Virago Book of Ghost Stories.

Stephanie: Thank you, Lucinda!

Lucinda: It is for me to thank you, as the French say.

Buy the Book

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About the Author

Lucinda Elliot loves writing Gothic style stories, which isn’t surprising because she was brought up in a series of big old isolated houses which her parents were refurbishing (it wasn’t so fashionable back then). After that, she lived, studied and worked in London for many years and now lives in Mid Wales with her family.

She loves writing about strong women to complement gung ho males.

Her interests do include weight training and body shaping,and she was once a champion Sports fighter, but apart from that her interests are quite geeky. Reading classic novels, conservation, gardening, and even names and their meanings (bring on the carrot juice). She loves a laugh above anything.

For more information please visit Lucinda’s website. You can also connect with her on Goodreads.

Ravensdale Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 22 Review at Flashlight Commentary

Tuesday, September 23 Interview at Layered Pages

Wednesday, September 24 Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Thursday, September 25 Review at “Good Friends, Good Books and a Sleepy Conscience: This is the Ideal Life.” Spotlight at Historical Tapestry

Saturday, September 27 Spotlight at Romantic Historical Fiction Lovers

Sunday, September 28 Review at Carole’s Ramblings

Monday, September 29 Interview at Let Them Read Books

Tuesday, September 30 Review at WTF Are You Reading? Review at Devilishly Delicious Book Blog

Thursday, October 2 Review at Book Nerd Spotlight at Just One More Chapter

Friday, October 3 Spotlight at SOS Aloha

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Spotlight: The Crystal Cage by Merryn Allingham

02_The Crystal Cage

Publication Date: August 4, 2014 eHarlequin eBook; ASIN: B00JTPU72S

Genre: Historical Romance

Captivated…or captured?

Appearances don’t always reveal the truth. Grace Latimer knows this better than most. Illusions of commitment and comfort have her trapped—until bohemian adventurer Nick Heysham charms his way into her world. Commissioned to recover a Great Exhibition architect’s missing designs, he persuades her to assist in his research. The mystery of the Crystal Palace seduces Grace, and once she discovers clues about a forbidden Victorian love affair, she’s lured into the deep secrets of the past…secrets that resemble her own.

As Grace and Nick dig into the elusive architect’s illicit, long-untold story, the ghosts of guilt and forbidden passion slip free. And history is bound to repeat itself, unless Grace finds the courage to break free and find a new definition of love…

Buy the eBook

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About the Author

03_Merryn Allingham

My father was a soldier and most of my childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including several years living in Egypt and Germany. I loved some of the schools I attended, but hated others, so it wasn’t too surprising that I left half way through the sixth form with ‘A’ Levels unfinished.

I became a secretary, as many girls did at the time, only to realise that the role of handmaiden wasn’t for me. Escape beckoned when I landed a job with an airline. I was determined to see as much of the world as possible, and working as cabin crew I met a good many interesting people and enjoyed some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca to mention just a few.

I still love to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage and children meant a more settled existence on the south coast of England, where I’ve lived ever since. It also gave me the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually gain a PhD from the University of Sussex. For many years I taught university literature and loved every minute of it. What could be better than spending my life reading and talking about books? Well, perhaps writing them.

I’ve always had a desire to write but there never seemed time to do more than dabble with the occasional short story. And my day job ensured that I never lost the critical voice in my head telling me that I really shouldn’t bother. But gradually the voice started growing fainter and at the same time the idea that I might actually write a whole book began to take hold. My cats – two stunning cream and lilac shorthairs – gave their approval, since it meant my spending a good deal more time at home with them!

The 19th century is my special period of literature and I grew up reading Georgette Heyer, so when I finally found the courage to try writing for myself, the books had to be Regency romances. Over the last four years, writing as Isabelle Goddard, I’ve published six novels set in the Regency period.

Since then, I’ve moved on a few years to Victorian England, and I’ve changed genre too. The Crystal Cage is my first novel under the name of Merryn Allingham. The book is a mystery/romantic suspense and tells the story of a long-lost tragedy, and the way echoes from the past can powerfully influence the life of a modern day heroine. The next few Allingham books will see yet another move timewise. I’ve been writing a suspense trilogy set in India and wartime London during the 1930s and 1940s, and hope soon to have news of publication.

Whatever period, whatever genre, creating new worlds and sharing them with readers gives me huge pleasure and I can’t think of a better job.

Connect with Merryn Allingham on Facebook and Goodreads.

The Crystal Cage Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, September 15 Review at To Read or Not to Read Spotlight at Flashlight Commentary Spotlight & Excerpt at Romantic Historical Reviews

Tuesday, September 16 Review at A Bookish Affair Excerpt at Casual Readers

Wednesday, September 17 Excerpt at CelticLady’s Reviews Interview at What Is That Book About

Thursday, September 18 Review at Turning the Pages

Friday, September 19 Review at Queen of All Reads Excerpt at Just One More Chapter

Monday, September 22 Review at Bibliotica Spotlight at Layered Pages

Tuesday, September 23 Interview at SOS Aloha Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection

Wednesday, September 24 Excerpt at Passages to the Past

Thursday, September 25 Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book Excerpt at Princess of Eboli

Friday, September 26 Review at Unshelish Spotlight at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, October 15 Review at The Worm Hole

Giveaway

To win an eBook of The Crystal Cage please complete the Rafflecopter giveaway form below. Two copies are up for grabs. Giveaway is open internationally.

Giveaway ends at 11:59pm on October 15th. You must be 18 or older to enter. Winner will be chosen via Rafflecopter on October 16th and notified via email. Winner have 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Enter Book Giveaway Here

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Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Author Daniel Cray

Soaring Stones

It’s an unforgettable sight: innovation expert Maureen Clemmons can lift and “fly” massive stones, some of them weighing sixteen tons, with little more than a steady wind and a good kite. But did the ancient Egyptians do the same thing when hoisting immense pyramid stones? Egyptologists say no. Clemmons, backed by a decade of field tests and a Caltech aeronautics team, isn’t so certain– especially when the Egyptologists make it clear they are unwilling to consider evidence from anyone outside their insular field. Buoyed by a tremendous groundswell of grassroots support, Clemmons’ stunning, block-heaving experiments generate national news coverage, a History Channel documentary, and a mention in engineering textbooks. Audiences from NASA, the American Institute of Architects, and a multitude of universities gather to hear her compelling presentations. In the span of just a few short years, she successfully advances a simple “Eureka!” moment in her California backyard to the halls of academia, and eventually to Egypt’s Giza Plateau, site of the actual pyramids. She also proves an important point: that you don’t need a degree, just an inspired idea and some passion, to be a good scientist.

Hello, Daniel! Congrats in the B.R.A.G. Medallion for your book, Soaring Stones. Please tell me how you discovered indieBRAG.

Thanks Stephanie, it’s such a thrill seeing Soaring Stones receive a B.R.A.G. Medallion because I myself look for B.R.A.G. Medallion winners when shopping for new books! That’s how I discovered indieBRAG: about three years ago, while browsing online. It’s hard to find indie awards that assess books by quality, but I think the writing community, and hopefully readers, understand that indieBRAG does things the right way.

What was the inspiration for your story and what genre does this fall under?

I love Clemmons’ empowering message that anyone, kids included, can do their own backyard science and make a genuine contribution to a professional scientific field so long as they do the proper research. People forget that some of our greatest scientists did their own, independent research. In fact Alexander Graham Bell conducted similar experiments with a 40-foot kite near his Nova Scotia home.

My wife (fiancée at the time) met Maureen Clemmons at a work function and later told me about her captivating idea that the ancient Egyptians might have used linen kites as a tool to help lift pyramid stones. It sounded pretty outlandish but Clemmons was planning an experiment for her young children to test the idea using little plastic kites and a heavy log at their local park. Once I saw that tiny kids’ kite hoist the log in maybe two seconds, I knew Clemmons’ was onto something.

So Soaring Stones is a biography of one woman’s determination to conduct accurate backyard science… but the book certainly crosses into history as well.

Please tell me a little about Maureen Clemmons.

What a dynamic woman. The official line is that Maureen Clemmons is an innovation consultant who holds a doctorate and an MBA from Pepperdine University. But here’s the real deal about Maureen.

You know how most people come up with innovative ideas but never actually do them? She does them. One time Clemmons’ and her siblings decided to build a replica Viking ship… so of course they went out, built it, and sailed it. (Though not for long before it sank!) She taught her two children how to make medicine from nasturtiums, fashion their own compass, cobble together makeshift tools… the list goes on. That’s a hands-on, enthusiastic approach you don’t often find among people living in suburban Los Angeles.

She also hosts an annual Oktoberfest with a live band and polka dances which, sadly, I have yet to attend!

What got you into science writing and what has your journey been like in this field?

I started out the way most journalists do: taking whatever stories came down the pipeline, trying to work my way up. At some point I found myself standing outside a Beverly Hills courthouse, covering a 1990s case involving Zsa Zsa Gabor—pure drivel for everyone except Ms. Gabor—and decided it was time to focus on stories with real meaning. Though writing has always been my passion, science was my backup option during college and I seem to have a knack for translating technical jargon into understandable language, so I decided to combine the two interests. Eventually that led to covering topics such as genome research, climate change, and the NASA rovers… hopefully much more useful to readers than an actress’ courtroom drama. I suppose politics, business and entertainment all have their important moments, but to me science is the only field offering real information on a regular basis. Plus I’m a bit of a geek anyway, so it’s probably a good fit.

What fascinates you about the Egyptian pyramid construction?

With all of our technology, we still can’t replicate what the ancient Egyptians managed to do 4,000 years ago. Egyptologists and engineers have a good handle on many of the fundamental techniques and can create small-scale pyramids, but at some point the size and weight always present roadblocks. One thing I learned while writing the book is that presenting theories is one thing, but standing face-to-face with a four-ton stone, feeling its reflected heat, and then trying to apply the research by moving a behemoth rock is a challenge of a completely different scale… and that doesn’t even take into account the need to stack them 400 feet high, with precision.

Many researchers never actually make such an attempt, and that’s a problem because artifacts and math can only take you so far. Using kites (or sailcloth) to help lift a pyramid stone doesn’t seem so outlandish once you try moving one with nothing more than ramps, rollers, and brute strength.

What is your message to your readers?

Don’t let criticism strangle a solid idea. Clemmons faced countless hurdles, from naysayers to financial obstacles to an insular scientific community, but she stuck with her concept because she knew the engineering evidence was on her side.

While she may never sway Egyptologists (they refuse to consider the theory barring discovery of an ancient kite—unlikely since kites wouldn’t survive 4,000 years), she nonetheless accomplished her goal: to get the concept in front of both the public and the experts, who can now search for evidence.

Were there any challenges in writing this story?

Soaring Stones started out as a project for National Geographic Books, and the people there were wonderful to work with, but publishing schedules and scientists’ schedules don’t always mesh. As I began writing, Clemmons was collaborating with Caltech engineers, who of course set the experiment timetables according to the scientific needs, not the publishing schedule. Sometimes that meant six-month delays.

That’s not an issue for a writer, but National Geographic understandably decided they didn’t want to wait on academia’s glacial pace. Clemmons and I wound up caught in the middle… which probably worked out for the best since I was then able to write the book in conjunction with her experiments and then bring it to readers once the science was complete. By that time, the publishing world had changed and indie publishing was a viable option—especially for me, since I had already spent several years running my own writing and publishing business.

What was your writing process for this story and how long did it take you to write it?

The book is relatively short and keeps a fast pace, so people are usually surprised to learn it took portions of five years to write. Again, it ties to working in conjunction with academia. When I began writing, Clemmons and Caltech hadn’t yet attempted to lift the heaviest objects, including the sixteen-ton obelisk that eventually became a focal point of their experiments, so I had blank chapters that I would fill in as each experiment wrapped. Sometimes I’d try foreshadowing a result, or outlining chapters in advance. I learned pretty quickly that wasn’t going to work. Experiments are trial-and-error processes that almost never proceed as expected. At one point Clemmons and the researchers had an entire adventure just trying to reach a field testing site in Mexico that could have been a book of its own.

Where in your home do you like to write and how much time do you devote to the craft?

Ahh, here’s where my Janus complex comes into play. While wearing my nonfiction face I write next to an old land-line phone, with news websites flashing updates near my face—a nondescript environment. But then there’s my “fiction face” (to stretch the Janus thing past credulity): I spend a portion of my year writing fantasy (a passion since high school), usually situated between two large bookcases housing my favorite novels.

What advice would you give to an inspiring writer?

Write for yourself, not for your readers. That’s not meant as any disrespect to readers—quite the opposite, actually, since everyone wins when a writer sticks with their own inherent strengths and avoids the constant temptation to cave to bestseller trends.

Where can readers buy your book?

Right now it’s Amazon-only, both ebook and print formats, though I’m open to trying other distributors in the future. The A-word triggers a lot of emotion these days, but I’ve noticed Amazon and indie bookstores have something in common: very dedicated readers, and an appreciation for writers. I’m hoping that signals Soaring Stones can be on Amazon and still reach bookstore shelves sometime soon.

**Stephanie, thanks so much for including me, and for your efforts to give a voice to indie-pubbed writers! Reading insights from so many successful, B.R.A.G.-winning authors on this blog is inspiring… and again, I’m excited and grateful to be part of it.

My pleasure, Daniel and thank you for a wonderful interview!

Author Page on Amazon

Soaring Stones at Amazon

About Author:

Daniel Cray is a Los Angeles-based writer and journalist. He has reported more than 60 Time magazine cover stories and written features for Time, Life, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, and more than a dozen other news publications. He is currently at work on his second novel.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Daniel Cray, who is the author of, Soaring Stones of our medallion honorees at indieBRAG . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, 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, Soaring Stones, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 

Review: The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar by Kim Rendfeld

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772 AD: Charlemagne’s battles in Saxony have left Leova with nothing but her two children, Deorlaf and Sunwynn. Her beloved husband died in combat. Her faith lies shattered in the ashes of the Irminsul, the Pillar of Heaven. The relatives obligated to defend her and her family instead sell them into slavery.

In Francia, Leova is resolved to protect her son and daughter, even if it means sacrificing her own honor. Her determination only grows stronger as Sunwynn blossoms into a beautiful young woman attracting the lust of a cruel master and Deorlaf becomes a headstrong man willing to brave starvation and demons to free his family. Yet Leova’s most difficult dilemma comes in the form of a Frankish friend, Hugh. He saves Deorlaf from a fanatical Saxon and is Sunwynn’s champion – but he is the warrior who slew Leova’s husband.

Set against a backdrop of historic events, including the destruction of the Irminsul, The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar explores faith, friendship, and justice. This companion to Kim Rendfeld’s acclaimed The Cross and the Dragon tells the story of an ordinary family in extraordinary circumstances.

My review:

I was super excited about participating in this book tour. I do not believe I have read a fiction book that is set around the time of Charlemagne’s battles or the culture of the time…while this story does not really center on him, this story is centered on a family-a mother and her three children who lost their father- living during that time (who are fictional) and what they were going through. They were free people who were cruelly sold into slavery. Not that there isn’t anything nice about slavery…the fact that it was their own family that sold them into slavery makes it even more appalling…the obstacles and the horrid situations they went through and overcame, is truly remarkable and makes for a brilliant story.

I am thoroughly impressed with the author’s characterization and her strong historical detail. She really gives the reader a believable glimpse of what many of the people’s lives might have been like during this period. A truly extraordinary story that everyone must read.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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Kim Rendfeld is the author of The Cross and the Dragon (2012, Fireship Press) and The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar (August 28, 2014, Fireship Press). To read the first chapters of either novel or learn more about Kim, visit kimrendfeld.com. You’re also welcome to visit her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist at kimrendfeld.wordpress.com, like her on Facebook at facebook.com/authorkimrendfeld, follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld, connect with her on Goodreads at www.goodreads.com/Kim_Rendfeld, check out her Amazon page at www.amazon.com/author/kimrendfeld, or contact her at kim [at] kimrendfeld [dot] com.

Ashes Tour Graphic