Q&A with Melika Dannese Lux

I’d like to welcome Melika Dannese Lux, the author of Deadmarsh Few, to Layered Pages today!  Melika, thank you for taking time from your busy schedule to talk with me today about our upcoming book release, Deadmarsh Fey. Please tell me about your story and the period the story is set in.

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The story takes place in England at the tail end of the 19th century. I should explain that Deadmarsh is not only the name of a family, but also the manor on the English moors which they call home. The main protagonist of this novel is Roger Knightley, a ten year old boy, who is the cousin of Havelock (Lockie) Deadmarsh, the heir. For nearly every summer of his young life, Roger has gone to Deadmarsh to while away the days with Lockie. He doesn’t expect anything to be different this year, but as soon as he crosses the threshold, he realizes that everyone has changed, especially Kip, the family cat, who has inexplicably grown and altered in other alarming ways. After several terrifying encounters with creatures from a death-haunted world called Everl’aria, Roger begins to understand that something evil has been awakened within the halls of Deadmarsh, something that is not only after Lockie and his older sister, Travers, but Roger, as well. A tapestry of secrets and lies has woven itself around the Deadmarshes, and Roger now finds himself in the position of having to unravel the mystery of why a being called the Dark Wreaker has bedeviled his family for 700 years, just what exactly the Deadmarsh connection to Everl’aria really is…and how his ancestress with the unpronounceable name, whom Roger has always called Bloody Granny B, fits into the grand scheme of things. All this, he must unravel before Lockie’s 11th birthday, two days hence. If he doesn’t, blood will drown the earth. And that’s not an understatement.

Your book cover is amazing! Who is your cover designer and age group this story geared to?

Thank you so much, Stephanie! The designer is Ravven (ravven.com), and she is brilliant! I had a very specific vision for the cover, and she was able to bring every single element of it to life in ways that still astound me.

Even though the main protagonist is a young boy, Deadmarsh Fey is not a children’s book. It is geared to anyone who enjoys an intense and detailed genre-bending story with a supernatural twist—a tale that entwines elements of dark fantasy, mystery, horror, and the inexplicable. As for an age group, I think those 14 and older would be able to appreciate and enjoy this story the most.

What is the research that went into for the setting and period of your story?

My last two novels were also set in the late 19th century, so I was already very familiar with the mores, history, vernacular, etc., of this era. For Deadmarsh Fey, my main research centered on folklore, specifically that of Wales and Norway, which are the two branches of myth that flavor the events of this and the subsequent books in my Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light series. I love exploring mythology, then coming up with my own legends and histories for my characters. Names and their meanings have also always played a huge role in my novels, but never more so than in Deadmarsh Fey.    Returning to myths…the backstories of Everl’aria and the beings who populate it, especially the Guardians, were my favorite parts of the novel to write.

Please tell me a little about the Deadmarsh name and how you came up with it. 

About 16 years ago, I was watching a sporting event on TV, only half paying attention to what was going on, when I heard the announcer call out the name Deadmarsh. My first thought was, “Wow! What a fantastically creepy and portentous name that is!” And so it stuck in my head all those years until I finally found a story to build around the family which bore that name.

Will you tell me about the Jagged Ones?

Yes, of course! Their identity is rather sensitive, but I can tell you that Carver, the blue menace on the book’s cover, is their leader. There are many reasons why they are called Jagged Ones, and the main one is not revealed till a few chapters from the end of the novel. Basically, these creatures are the servants of the Dark Wreaker, and use their power and mesmeric qualities to trick their victims into doing their bidding, which opens the door for these creatures to have a rather horrifying rite of access to said victims. I really can’t say more without revealing the entire rationale behind the Jagged Ones’ existence!

How did you get into writing Dark Fantasy?

I’ve always been fascinated by writing fantasy. It was my original love, actually, since my first (as yet uncompleted) novel, which I began writing at 14, was a fantasy novel with a decidedly dystopian flair. You won’t be surprised to hear that sharks played a large role in this book. I revisited the novel in 2012, and wrote a prologue and three chapters before realizing it still wasn’t the right time to be working on this project.

About a year later, I began work on what would be the fourth novel in Dwellers of Darkness, Children of Light. At the time, I thought it would be the first. I’m glad I wrote that novel, though, because the myths that were explored in it helped me tremendously when writing Deadmarsh Fey, which I quickly realized had to be the inaugural book in the series. So, in 2014, I began working on it in earnest. Deadmarsh has actually been with me for a very long while, albeit unknowingly. It turned out to be the prequel to a fantasy trilogy I started writing in 2003, in which Roger was a grandfather! Life and other projects intervened, and I put that story on hold, but the idea of exploring why Roger’s life had turned out the way it had done became too insistent to ignore, and I decided to go back and create an entire foundation for why the events in that trilogy even happened. Needless to say, it’s been a tremendous amount of work, but great fun, as well, because there were story arcs and strands of legend that I’d only scratched the surface of that I got to reveal in Deadmarsh Fey in all their (sometimes hellish) glory.

And that’s where the dark part of dark fantasy came in. The seeds for writing horror were sown in my last novel, Corcitura, which is dark Gothic horror, along classical lines. Think Dracula instead of Twilight. I’m not a person who enjoys writing “sweetness and light” books, although there are always elements of comedy and sarcasm in my novels. Authorial confession: I can’t separate that from my own personality, so it finds its way into my characters! I have to be engaged when writing, and how this happens for me, I’ve noticed, is placing characters into situations, often dire ones, in which life and death are at stake, then having them battle their way out by using their wits, engaging the help of allies, and sometimes, through a confluence of events that saves them from imminent destruction through no doing of their own. They also don’t always find happy ways out of these situations, just to be clear. It depends on where the story tells me to go.

Who is your antagonist and what is a redeeming quality he or she has?

I have several antagonists in the book, but there are five main ones who wreak the most havoc on Roger and his allies. Two I can mention by name, because the identities of the others are revealed gradually. The first is Trahaearn Coffyn, who we meet in the opening chapter. His redeeming quality, though twisted, is his intense loyalty to the evil powers he serves, specifically to a woman he’s been faithful to for, well…for a good long while.

The other is Carver, the blue fiend on the cover. As I mentioned before, he is the leader of the Jagged Ones, and not someone you’d want to run across in real life. And yet, although I despise him…I also like him quite a lot! I think it’s because he’s so comfortable in his own evilness that he oftentimes came out with lines that cracked me up, even though he was being his despicable self! For quite a while, I was mystified by my being able to laugh at them, until I understood that the reason I could was because Carver knew he was irredeemable, and had no qualms about being so. And, yes, you’ve probably noticed that I’m talking about him as if he is a flesh and blood entity. Well, that’s how he, and all the characters in this book, feel to me. I was just the facilitator who was writing down what they wanted me to say. It sounds crazy, I know, but that’s how it was throughout this entire novel!

On a personal level, how does this story resonate with you?

Writing Deadmarsh Fey was a very intense experience for me. Corcitura was an incredibly complex novel, yet I think that because Deadmarsh Fey is not only its own complete story, but also lays the groundwork for the other novels in the series—it required me to plumb depths I never had before as a writer. I also became very attached to these characters, even growing fond of the villains in some strange way, which surprised me!

But the main thing for me when writing this novel was the gamut of emotions I experienced, especially in regards to Roger. The entire book is told from his perspective (third person), and because of that, I felt like I became Roger in this story. I discovered things as he did, saw things through his eyes, which meant that everything he endured, everything he felt—pain, fear, excitement, terror, disappointment, panic, elation—I felt  intensely, too. It was exhausting and rewarding at the same time. And made it very hard to put him through the ordeals I had him undergo. Very hard, but not impossible, and I did feel terrible afterward, but what the story called for, the story got.

Story wise, the events in Deadmarsh Fey resonated with me because they are about fighting for the ones you love. That is the main impetus that propels Roger’s actions, and the actions of his allies. It’s not just about survival, or stopping the evil of the Dark Wreaker and his servants from  being unleashed upon this earth, but about saving the very souls of those who are most important to you, those you’d give your life for. And that is something that has always appealed to me, not only in storyweaving, but in reality.

Please share with me your writing process and your favorite spot to write in your home.

After writing Deadmarsh Fey in chronological order from beginning to end without deviating, I have become addicted to this process, so that is how I now work. I cannot see myself going back to writing novels piecemeal after this experience.

I’m a rover when it comes to my favorite spot to write in at home. I do have a designated office/study/library, with a lovely writing desk, but I don’t like to stay in one place for too long. I feel like I become stagnant if I don’t have a change of writing scene every now and then. So, since I work on a laptop, I take it all over the house, and settle where I’m most comfortable.

Where can readers buy your book?

The Kindle edition of Deadmarsh Fey is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com  (HERE). The paperback edition will also be available for purchase (through Amazon) on May 2nd, the book’s official release date.

About the Author:

Melika

I have been an author since the age of fourteen and write novels that incorporate a variety of different genres, including historical fiction, suspense, thrillers with a supernatural twist, and dark fantasy. I am also a classically trained soprano/violinist/pianist and have been performing since the age of three. Additionally, I hold a BA in Management and an MBA in Marketing.

If I had not decided to become a writer, I would have become a marine biologist, but after countless years spent watching Shark Week, I realized I am very attached to my arms and legs and would rather write sharks into my stories than get up close and personal with those toothy wonders.

Website: Books In My Belfry

Twitter  @BooksInMyBelfry

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Highlighted Reviews: A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott D. Southard

FIVE YEAR ANNIVERSARY EDITION

Now with a new foreword and an updated cover showcasing Jane’s own handwriting, this re-imagining of Jane’s life continues to charm and delight readers of literary fiction worldwide.

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perf5.500x8.500.inddAll her heroines find love in the end–but is there love waiting for Jane?

Jane Austen spends her days writing and matchmaking in the small countryside village of Steventon, until a ball at Godmersham Park propels her into a new world where she yearns for a romance of her own. But whether her heart will settle on a young lawyer, a clever Reverend, a wealthy childhood friend, or a mysterious stranger is anyone’s guess.

Written in the style of Jane herself, this novel ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years–did she ever find love? Weaving fact with fiction, it re-imagines her life, using her own stories to fill in the gaps left by history and showing that all of us–to a greater or lesser degree–are head over heels for Jane.

Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen. He is also the author of the novels: My Problem with Doors, Megan, Permanent Spring Showers, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, and 3 Days in Rome. With his eclectic writing he has found his way into radio, being the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. The production was honored with the Golden Headset Award for Best MultiCast Audio and the Silver Ogle Award for Best Fantasy Audio Production. Scott received his Master’s in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard where he writes on far-ranging topics like writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site. Currently, Scott resides in Michigan with his very understanding wife, his two patient children, and a very opinionated dog named Bronte.

About the Author:

Scott Southard author pic

Scott D. Southard, the author of A Jane Austen Daydream, swears he is not obsessed with Jane Austen. He is also the author of the novels: My Problem with Doors, Megan, Permanent Spring Showers, Maximilian Standforth and the Case of the Dangerous Dare, and 3 Days in Rome. With his eclectic writing he has found his way into radio, being the creator of the radio comedy series The Dante Experience. The production was honored with the Golden Headset Award for Best MultiCast Audio and the Silver Ogle Award for Best Fantasy Audio Production. Scott received his Master’s in writing from the University of Southern California. Scott can be found on the internet via his writing blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard” (sdsouthard.com)  where he writes on far-ranging topics like writing, art, books, TV, writing, parenting, life, movies, and writing. He even shares original fiction on the site. Currently, Scott resides in Michigan with his very understanding wife, his two patient children, and a very opinionated dog named Bronte.

Author Links:

Amazon US

Audible

Author Website

Highlighted Reviews:

“A Jane Austen Daydream is very much a lovely dream. It’s not always a pleasant one—Jane has her own brand of villains and obstacles to contend with along the way. Yet overall, Daydream is an interesting, entertaining look at a life that Jane could have had.” -Laura Hartness from goodreads

“The author brilliantly mashes up an authentic Jane Austen, many of her real family members, intermingles many of her own famous literary characters and tops it off with a generous helping of her most famous lines.” -Jeffery from goodreads

A Jane Austen Daydream by Scott Southard is by far the best Jane Austen “fan fiction” I’ve ever read or listened to.  -Lilmissmolly from goodreads

“For those of you who are exhausted by the innumerable retellings of Austen’s novels, this is a style entirely new…. be rewarded by a quick paced novel unlike any you can ever have read, which injects new ideas and possibilities into the world of Jane Austen.” –Laura Boyle, The Jane Austen Centre

“Mix one-part biography and one-part historical re-imagining…add witty characters and some surprises and you have A Jane Austen Daydream. This was a delightful read.” – Amelia Rodriguez, Jane Austen Society of North America 

“…Lovely, thought-provoking novel. Fans of Austen will adore this book.” – Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List.

“Southard has taken the facts about the great author and woven them into a credible, touching, and also entertaining portrait of a life.” -Historical Novel Society

Blog Tour Schedule:

April 23rd

Book Spotlight-The Writing Desk

April 24th

Book Review – Kate Braithwaite

Book Spotlight – before the second sleep

April 25th

Book Spotlight – Let Them Read Books 

April 26th

Book Spotlight – Locks, Hooks and Books

Book Review – Pursuing Stacie

April 27th

Book Review Highlights –Layered Pages

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The Importance of Writer’s Workshops

Book with glasses

This past Saturday I attended a Writer’s Workshop at the Book Exchange in Marietta, Georgia led by Susan Crawford, Author/Publisher. There was a great group of women writers there and it was a delight to meet them and discuss different aspects of story-telling. Crawford really inspired us and gave a wonderful outline with the right tools to structure our writing and developing our characters. The opening topic was “Experiencing vs. Showing/Telling”. We talked about the balance of the two and it was quite interesting to talk about when it is okay to tell rather than show.

Crawford was open to questions we had and her insight was much appreciated. She led us in three writing exercises that we were able to read out loud to the group and one of them was about, “Opening Line.” This was probably my favorite exercise because as readers and writers we know the “Opening Line” needs to grab us. I’d like to share my opening line with you. This particular line is from a scene of one of stories I’m working on. I wanted to see how it would work with this exercise and it turned out great!

The opening line below is from a story that takes place in North Georgia: Untitled

“As she entered the hiking trail alongside highway 515, she heard an approaching car heading straight for her.”

Writing that as an opening line was interesting- the line grabs you and you want to know what happens next.

I want to encourage you to try this exercise and see what you come up with. It doesn’t have to be from a story you’re already writing. Try to make something up off the top of your head. I know I will be practicing this exercise often and next time, I won’t be using a line from my story.

I learned several valuable lessons at this workshop and now I fully understand the importance of workshops for any writer. For example, meeting with other writers to discuss the different aspects of  story-telling, and the encouragement from these events motivates oneself to keep writing.

These are some other topics we discussed that was a refresher for me:  Reading your work out loud really does help, a deeper understanding of how to experience what is inside your character’s head, and an in-depth look at point of view. Most of all the discussions among fellow writers about the right prose to describe senses, emotion, the setting and so on…

The class lasted two hours and afterwards Crawford critiqued one writers work. Alas, I had not brought my manuscript for this aspect of the workshop but next time…I would love to hear Crawford’s thoughts on my story.

Thank you, Book Exchange for hosting this workshop and for your gracious hospitality.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

More about Susan Crawford:

Susan H. Crawford

Susan grew up in Miami, Florida. She later moved to New York City and then to Boston before settling in Atlanta to raise three amazing daughters and to teach in various adult education settings. A member of The Atlanta Writers Club and The Village Writers, Susan works for the Department of Technical and Adult Education and is a member of her local planning commission. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and a trio of rescue cats, where she enjoys reading books, writing books, rainy days, and spending time with the people she loves.

Author Website

Interview with Susan Crawford at VoyageATL HERE

Book Exchange Website

Book Exchange Facebook Page

Other Layered Pages posts about the Book Exchange:

Bookish Happenings

The Book Exchange: An Independent Book Store

 

 

Medieval Passion, Arthurian Obsession & Courtly Love with Jessica Cale

Today Author Jessica Cale talks with me about her collaboration on Sexuality and its Impact on British History, about her Medieval passion, Arthurian obsession and her fascination with courtly love. -Stephanie M. Hopkins

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When Hunter S. Jones asked me to be a contributor to Sexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare, I was thrilled. This was the kind of opportunity I always dreamt of when I was a kid. (Yes, I was a weird kid.) When everyone else wanted to be doctors, astronauts, and entertainers, I was at home watching History’s Mysteries and wanting to be Leonard Nimoy. Everyone else knew him as Spock, but to me he was the host of my favorite show on the History Channel.

corn palace

Behold, the Corn Palace

From there, things progressed as you might imagine. Medieval history was my passion, and I decided to go to school for it. Growing up in Minnesota, the closest castle was the Corn Palace, so I knew if I wanted to study the Middle Ages properly, I was going to have to get on a plane. Fortunately, I was accepted to my first choice school–Swansea University in Wales. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better place to study British medieval history than Wales. With more castles per square mile than anywhere else on earth, it was my idea of heaven.

My first degree went so by so fast I barely felt it. I was fortunate to have a lot of great teachers, in particular the late Ifor Rowlands, who supervised my undergraduate thesis. It was Ifor who suggested a way for me to combine my love of Arthurian literature with the history behind it: I would compare the stories with the Life of William Marshal.

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William Marshal’s coat of arms as Earl of Pembroke. Look familiar?

Even during his lifetime, William Marshal was widely regarded as the greatest knight in the world. His life had a lot of interesting parallels to the Lancelot of legend, and in my thesis, I made the argument that the depictions of Lancelot coming out of Marie de Champagne’s court (most notably that from Chrétien de Troyes) were directly inspired by Marshal himself. He was a rock star of the High Middle Ages–handsome, noble, and his prowess was second to none. He was the tutor and companion to Henry the Young King, the eldest son of Henry II, and was rumored to have had an affair with Henry’s wife, Margaret of France. Whether or not he did, no one’s sure, but it wouldn’t be difficult to imagine the hottest gossip of the day popping up in the stories told around court.

Marie de Champagne’s court is best remembered as the unofficial birthplace of the idea of courtly love. At the very least, it is where Andreas Capellanus wrote De Amore, or The Art of Courtly Love, the entertaining, often bonkers, and nevertheless revealing treatise on the ideal and practice of courtly love in the Middle Ages.

In The Art of Courtly Love, Capellanus lays out a number of rules for being in love. Some of them are common practice, but other have changed some over the years. For example, Capellanus argues that jealousy is a good thing and that love cannot and should not exist within marriage.

real castle

A photo I took at Pembroke Castle, William Marshal’s residence as Earl of Pembroke

As an Arthurian obsessive and a Historical Romance author, I have always been fascinated by the idea of courtly love, so when Hunter asked if I would like to be involved with her book, I jumped at the chance to examine it further. One thing that struck me as particularly interesting was the discovery that in spite of common belief and even Capellanus’s recommendations, people did marry for love.

In fact, according to Gratian, you couldn’t be married without it. Three things were required to make a marriage: love, sex, and consent. That’s right–consent. Although forced medieval marriages is a popular trope in historical dramas, in practice, the Church viewed consent as a crucial component of any marriage. Yes, people could feel pressured to marry by parents or just circumstance, but that was the exception rather than the rule. The Church frowned on marriages made only for material gain. Procreation was not the only purpose of marriage, and people also married for love and companionship as they do today.

Love in the Middle Ages was not so very different than it is now, and is it any wonder? While the world changes, human nature does not, and we have a lot more in common with our medieval ancestors than you might guess. I cover a lot of ground in my chapter from common law marriages and annulments to sex, homosexuality, and contraception. Did you know that most of the medieval churches in London were built with the profits of prostitution? True story. It was tolerated and licensed by the Church. Surprise! Along with facts like that, I found recipes for herbal abortifacients, sex magic practices involving fish (what?), a gay king (it’s not the one you’re thinking of), and transgender individuals more or less accepted in society. The more you look into it, the more you find that the Middle Ages weren’t as “medieval” as we’ve been told.

I hope you’ll enjoy reading all about it with me in my chapter in Sexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare.

Jessica ColeJessica Cale is a historian, editor, and Historical Romance author. Originally from Minnesota, she earned her B.A. (Hons) in Medieval History and MFA in Creative Writing from Swansea University while climbing castles and photographing mines for history magazines. She is the editor of Dirty, Sexy History and you can visit her website .

Links:

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1 + 2018 Sexuality in History Brits Stripped BareSexuality and its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare

Would you swig a magic potion or plot to kill your husband in order to marry your lover? These are just two of the many romantic and sexual customs from British history that you will explore as seven authors take us through the centuries, revealing that truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to love. From bizarre trivia about courtly love, to techniques and prostitution, you’ll encounter memorable nuggets of provocative information that you’ll want to share.

It’s all here: ménage a trois, chastity belts, Tudor fallacies, royal love and infidelity, marriage contracts (which were more like business arrangements), brothels, kept women, and whorehouses. Take a peek at what really happened between the sheets. Each story provides you with shocking detail about what was at the heart of romance throughout British history.

Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare chronicles the pleasures and perils of the flesh, sharing secrets from the days of the Anglo-Saxons, medieval courtly love traditions, diabolical Tudor escapades—including those of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots—the Regency, and down to the ‘prudish’ Victorian Era. This scholarly yet accessible study brings to light the myriad varieties of British sexual mores.

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The Gilded Age

The late 19th Century and early 20th Century are a deep fascination of mine and I have studied the history for years as part of my own research for my WIP’s. I was delighted when Janet Stafford posted these two posts-below-on her site, “Squeaking Pips.” I’ve read her articles on the Gilded Age several times and I was impressed and intrigued with what she wrote and how concise she is with her knowledge in the era.

Janet Stafford is an author with the wonderful, “Saint Maggie Series” I recommend. She and I are currently working on a project so moving that in the first phase of it, I was moved to tears. What is the project that has me so worked up? More to come on that soon! Meanwhile, please be sure to take the time to read both posts and comments are appreciated. We would love to hear your thoughts! -Stephanie M. Hopkins

The Gilded Age

gilded-age-cover-1873

In 1873, Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner published a book that became the name of an era: The Gilded Age.  This period, generally believed to be between 1870 and 1900, was marked by rapid industrialization, economic growth, and immigration, most notably in the North and West. The South, however, after defeat in the Civil War and the punishment of the Reconstruction, suffered from economic depression. This is an important difference to note. The successes and excesses of the Gilded Age did not touch the United States in its entirety.

Twain and Dudley’s book is set in the United States at the very beginning of the Gilded Age. Marvin Felheim[i], who wrote the introduction to my yellowed paperback copy of the book, notes that the story’s primary criticism was focused on “the greed and lust – for land, for money, for power – of an alliance of Western land speculators, Eastern capitalists, and corrupt officials who dominated the society and appreciably altered its character.”[ii] He goes on to say:

The “Gilded Age” was a “peaceful” era following the horrors of the Civil War. The North, industrialized and righteous, had won. One consequence was the westward extension of institutions representing its victorious value system. Expansion was in the air. Capital was available and bankers were looking avidly for investments. The West, with all its rich potentialities, both of wealth and adventure, lay ready to be exploited. Colonel Sellers’ [a principle character] ambitious schemes were not merely the idle dreams of a satirist’s euphoric imagination: they represented the hopes and beliefs of a nation.[iii]

It is true wages for the average worker rose during this period. However, there was a dark side to all this growth and expansion, and that was an alarming disparity in income and wealth. Briefly put, the gulf between the wealthy class and everyone else began to widen. According to Steve Fraser…Read more HERE

Whispers of the Gilded Age in SEEING THE ELEPHANT

Gold Bars

To recap, the Gilded Age was a period in the United States that roughly spanned 1870-1900. An era of rising industrialization, urbanization, and immigration, it also saw a rising disparity between the wealthiest Americans and those who were “regular” folks.

Although it was a time of conspicuous consumption, some industrialists sought to moderate their public image by engaging in civic works, such as the building of libraries, hospitals, schools, and other institutions beneficial to the populace. In that era, the wealthy still feared hell – and if they didn’t, at least they were willing to hedge their bets by doing something good for those who had little.

The big wigs (or “big bugs,” as Eli calls them) were living well, but many workers in the Gilded Age routinely got injured or killed on the job and had little in the way of compensation. Is it any wonder that this era also saw the rise of the union movement?

New discoveries in science drove improve patient treatment and housing. A reform movement, led by Dorothea Dix, sought to change mental “hospitals” from dank jails where “patients” were put in chains and lived in their own filth to healthy environments that embraced more humane treatment methods.

I enjoyed putting early whispers of the changing landscape in American society into the fourth book in the Saint Maggie series. In 1864, they are felt in the little town of Blaineton, New Jersey. So, when Maggie and her family return to their hometown, they find not only their own lives changing, but also the life of their town, and these changes are borne out in the following storylines…Read more HERE

***Illustration: Cover of the first edition of The Gilded Age by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner, 1873

 

Research & Writing Historical Fiction

Today Judith Arnopp talks about her research, writing and her collaboration on Sexuality and its Impact on British History with me. Judith’s life-long passion for history eventually led her to the University of Wales where she gained a B.A. in English and Creative Writing, and a Masters in Medieval History. Her first novel, Peaceweaver was published in 2009, quickly followed by two others. Her best-selling Tudor novel, The Winchester Goose lead her to create five more novels covering the lives of Anne Boleyn, Katheryn Parr and Elizabeth of York. The King’s Mother is the third book in The Beaufort Chronicles a trilogy following the fascinating life of Margaret Beaufort. She is researching her eleventh novel. Judith’s non-fiction work has been published in various historical anthologies and she is active online at her website and at Facebook  and Twitter @juditharnopp

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During the course of research for my novel The Kiss of the Concubine: a story of Anne Boleyn I constantly came up against intriguing suggestions of some sort of romantic attachment between Anne and Thomas Wyatt. Historians are divided as to the nature of the relationship and at the time, since it had no part in my novel I wasn’t able to pursue the matter. So, when I was approached by Hunter Jones to write a piece for a forthcoming anthology to be published by pen and Sword books, Sexuality and its Impact on British History, I jumped at the chance.

The project is a collaborative project between authors: Hunter S Jones, Annie Whitehead, Jessica Cale, Gayle Hulme, Dr Beth Lynne and Emma Haddon-Wright and myself, examining how romance and sex has impacted upon history. It looks at relationships from the Anglo Saxon period right through to the Victorian, throwing up some surprising facts and details.

I love researching the Tudors. I love Anne Boleyn and I also love Thomas Wyatt’s poetry so it wasn’t long before I was fully immersed, my study piled high with books and snippets of verse stuck around the room.

Wyatt’s presence in Anne’s social circle and the fact of his arrest at the same time as Smeaton, Norris, Brereton, Rochford and Weston, is often overlooked. It is only Wyatt’s surviving poems that give us pause, make us stop and consider if perhaps he was too close to the queen; perhaps he was the lucky one, the one that got away.

Even if their affection was platonic, they were friends and moved in the same circles for most of their lives. The queen’s companions were also his, he drank with them, laughed with them, jousted with them and later, in May 1536, he watched from his prison in the Bell Tower as they died on the scaffold. He may or may not have deserved to die with them but the experience was riven into his heart and coloured his poetry ever afterwards. It is clear he could not forget.

The bell tower showed me such sight

That in my head sticks day and night.

There did I learn out of a grate,

For all favour, glory, or might,

That yet circa Regna tonat.

Whether he was guilty of adultery with Anne or not, the remainder of Wyatt’s life was difficult; he spent most of his time abroad, involved in intrigue and espionage, leading to capture and ransom by the Spanish. His involvement in the attempted assassination of Reginald Pole led a second spell in the Tower of London. His marriage to Elizabeth Brooke failed and eventually he left her and lived openly with his mistress, Elizabeth Darrell. We all know how Anne died but Wyatt died of virulent fever at the home of his friend Sir John Horsey in Sherborne, at the age of thirty nine.

My chapter on Anne and Wyatt, named These Bloody Days in honour of one of his best poems, took a great deal of time and consideration. One day I’d hold one view, the next I felt differently but the more I read the more I became immersed in the desperate sorrows of that time. My personal life took a back seat and I fell behind with my novel The King’s Mother – Book Three of The Beaufort Chronicles, the life of Margaret Beaufort. I distinctly remember one afternoon sitting on the floor surrounded by books and documents and realising that I just had to stop researching and get something on paper or I was going to miss the deadline. Once I began to write it, things became easier, as I slowly made order out of chaos I began to feel better and when it was time to send it off to the editor, I knew it was going to be all right.

As luck would have it, once Anne and Thomas were out of my head I was able to return to Margaret’s story and met the deadline on that project too. All the authors involved are in a fever of excitement and the book has been received with a great deal of enthusiasm and we are all set to go.

Author Judith Arnopp

 Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare 

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Would you swig a magic potion or plot to kill your husband in order to marry your lover? These are just two of the many romantic and sexual customs from British history that you will explore as seven authors take us through the centuries, revealing that truth is stranger than fiction when it comes to love. From bizarre trivia about courtly love, to techniques and prostitution, you’ll encounter memorable nuggets of provocative information that you’ll want to share.

It’s all here: ménage a trois, chastity belts, Tudor fallacies, royal love and infidelity, marriage contracts (which were more like business arrangements), brothels, kept women, and whorehouses. Take a peek at what really happened between the sheets. Each story provides you with shocking detail about what was at the heart of romance throughout British history.

Sexuality and Its Impact on History: The British Stripped Bare chronicles the pleasures and perils of the flesh, sharing secrets from the days of the Anglo-Saxons, medieval courtly love traditions, diabolical Tudor escapades—including those of Anne Boleyn and Mary Queen of Scots—the Regency, and down to the ‘prudish’ Victorian Era. This scholarly yet accessible study brings to light the myriad varieties of British sexual mores.

Available on Amazon 

My Four Legged Stool

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Layered Pages interview with Alfred Woollacott HERE

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About the Author:

Alfred W

Alfred Woollacott, III retired from KPMG after a career spanning 34 years, choosing to reside full time at his summer residence on Martha’s Vineyard. Being “45 minutes from America” and with a 50 – 60 hour per week void to fill, he began dabbling into his family history. His dabbling grew into an obsession, and he published several genealogical summaries of his ancestors. But certain ones absorbed him such that he could not leave them. So he researched their lives and times further while evolving his writing skills from “just the facts ma’am” to a fascinating narrative style. Thus, with imagination, anchored in fact and tempered with plausibility, a remote ancestor can achieve a robust life as envisioned by a writer with a few drops of his ancestor’s blood in his veins.

When not writing, Al serves on several Boards, and keeps physically active with golf, tennis, and hockey. He and his wife of 44 years, Jill, have four children and ten grandchildren.

Author Website

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A Time to Mourn: 19th Century by Janet Stafford

Today at Layered Pages I am featuring Saint Maggie by Janet Stafford.

Saint Maggie is currently $1.99 for the Kindle ebook, free on Kindle Unlimited and $11.90 in paperback at Amazon

A while back, Janet and I were talking about death in the 19th Century and how important it was to people how one died and how they were mourned during the Victorian era. The Victorians took death serious and rightfully so. Our conversation was so fascinating I wanted to learn more about this subject. I am pleased that Janet has provided passages from her story, “Saint Maggie”, that depicts a little of what we discussed. Below you will read about Janet’s book, entries from the story and view images of the cover, house that reminds Janet of Maggie’s Boarding House, the Locktown Stone Church” in Locktown, NJ (Delaware Township). But it once was known as “The Old School Baptist Church.”, the Delaware River by Lumberton, PA and a woman that reminds Janet of her character Maggie. -Stephanie M. Hopkins 

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About Saint Maggie:

Maggie Blaine, a widow with two teenage daughters, runs a rooming house smack dab on the town square. In 1860 this makes her a social outcast. Boarding houses are only semi-respectable and hers has a collection of eclectic boarders – a failed aging writer, an undertaker’s apprentice, a struggling young lawyer, and an old Irishman. In addition, she has a friendship with Emily and Nate, an African-American couple with whom she shares her home and chores. It is a good thing the town doesn’t know that Maggie, along with Nate, Emily, and Eli Smith (the free-thinking editor of the weekly newspaper) are involved in the Underground Railroad. When she is asked to house handsome, gifted Jeremiah Madison, the new Methodist minister, Maggie hopes that he will both revive the little church she attends and provide her boarding house with a bit of badly-needed respectability. But Jeremiah comes with some dark secrets that challenge Maggie’s resolve to love and respect all people. As the town’s people reel from a series of shocking events, the compassionate, faithful Maggie searches for truth and struggles to forgive and love. (Based on a historical event.)

 Entries from SAINT MAGGIE:

Maggie’s Journal, 7 December 1860

 Patrick McCoy and the undertaker have laid Leah out in the front parlor. She lies, wearing her best silk dress of rose as if she were asleep. But she is not lying in bed. She is lying on a cooling board with ice below.

According to custom, our family has gathered to sit and mourn. Samuel, Abigail, and their two sons have been weeping sedately and properly before the coffin, but I know that beneath the propriety their hearts have been torn to shreds. Jeremiah Madison, too, prays and weeps softly. But beneath his veneer, I know that he also is housing an utterly broken heart. He does love Leah. It is obvious to my eyes now. How could I have doubted his devotion to her? There is nothing left inside him. That is so clear. I find myself struggling with memories of how it had been when John and Gideon died – the empty shock, the complete loss of mooring for my soul. And now I have a dead, empty hole within me from my miscarriage. Why does death leave such hollowness, such nothingness, such aloneness? No words, no actions, nothing can touch the aching solitude.

There is little I can do for my brother and his family and for Mr. Madison but to sit, watch, and pray. I feel weary and battered in spirit.

I have found some comfort, though. The Bible says that the Holy Ghost will intercede when we cannot find words, and, oh, how I cling to that promise and rest in the hope that the Spirit is at work when I am unable to do a blessed thing!

Maggie’s Journal, 9 December 1860

 Leah Beatty Madison was buried in the cemetery behind the Methodist Church this shivery, cloudy day. We sent invitations – funerals are private affairs for mourners only and not for curiosity-seekers – and family and close friends came to hear the Presbyterian minister’s prayers and sermon. Everyone was in black, as is proper. As for me, I will wear black for the next three months. Leah was my niece, and I must go into mourning for her.

The procession was slow and solemn, as the four black-plumed horses drew the hearse toward the cemetery. We all followed quietly on foot. Our eyes were downcast and tear-filled. Eli, Nate, Edgar, Robert Beatty and Joshua Beatty served as pallbearers. The rest of us stood, braced against a cold, sharp wind, as they shifted the coffin from the hearse and carried it to the grave. The bleakness of the weather matched the bleakness of our spirits: a fitting setting for the loss of a life so young and another life unborn.

When the family tossed clods of dirt on the coffin, the finality of the act echoed through us all. I know that in the future we will be comforted by the knowledge that Leah is with her Savior in heaven and that we shall all see her again someday. But now, at this moment, there is only death and cold and damp.

About the Author:

Janet R Stafford

Janet Stafford is a Jersey girl, book lover and lifelong scribbler. She readily confesses to being overly-educated, having received a B.A. in Asian Studies from Seton Hall University, as well as a Master of Divinity degree and a Ph.D. in North American Religion and Culture from Drew University. Having answered a call to vocational, but non-ordained ministry, Janet has served six United Methodist Churches, working in spiritual formation, communications, and ministries with children, youth, and families. She also was an adjunct professor for six years, teaching college classes in interdisciplinary studies and world history.

Writing, history, and religion came together for Janet when she authored Saint Maggie, an historical novel set in 1860-61 and based on a research paper written during her Ph.D. studies. She thought the book would be a single novel, but kept hearing readers ask, “What happens next?” In response, Janet created a series that follows the unconventional family from the first book through three other novels and three short stories, all set in the traumatic years of the American Civil War. Janet also ventured into the contemporary romance genre, going closer to home (the church) for her source material. Heart Soul & Rock ’n’ Roll tells the story of 40-year-old Lindsay Mitchell, who led a rock band in college but for the past fifteen years has worked as an assistant minister. Besieged by mid-life crisis, Lins wonders if perhaps she isn’t called to something new. But could that “something new” be a relationship with Neil, a man with a messy life and a bar band called the Grim Reapers?

Author Website

Layered Pages Interview with Janet

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