Interview with Andrea Zuvich

Andrea ZuvichAndrea Zuvich is visiting me today to talk with me about her book, The Stuart Vampire and about the period in history she focuses on. Andrea is a seventeenth-century historian specialising in the House of Stuart (1603–1714), as well as a historical advisor and author of historical fiction. She is the host of the popular ‘The Seventeenth Century Lady’ blog. She has degrees in History and Anthropology. Zuvich has appeared on television and radio discussing the Stuarts and gives lectures on the dynasty throughout the UK. She was one of the original developers of and leaders on the Garden History Tours at Kensington Palace. Zuvich, a Chilean-American born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, now lives in England with her husband.

Hi, Andrea! Thank you for chatting with me today about your book, The Stuart Vampire. Tell me a little about the premise.

Thank you for having me on this great site! The Stuart Vampire follows the brief life of Henry Stuart, Duke of Gloucester, who was the youngest son of King Charles I (and therefore the youngest brother of King Charles II). Henry historically died from smallpox when he was twenty, and my story takes a decidedly paranormal turn from that point on and takes us along on Henry’s journey as he copes with his forced transformation into a vampire and he embarks on a mission to try to make something good out of this horrible curse. Along the way, he meets Susanna, the shocking inhabitants of the isolated village of Coffin’s Bishop, Sebastian (originally a mediaeval stonemason), among others.

Why 17th Century?

For me, the seventeenth century has it all and is yet grossly overlooked by both readers and authors (though I’m pleased to say I’ve seen a steady surge in interest from both in the past couple of years). The century was pretty controversial and one can still get heated arguments about topics from that time (i.e. whether or not it was lawful to execute King Charles I, what we should call the English Civil Wars, if we should recognize William and Mary as true sovereigns or usurpers… the list goes on and on). I love the aesthetics of this time period as well – the Baroque style is sometimes criticised for being over-exuberant and outrageously flamboyant – but I love it as, to me, it’s stunning and unashamed of displaying the gamut of human emotion.

The Stuart Vampire

Tell me a little about Charles II.

Ah, Charles II, hands-down the most popular of the Stuarts. Often called the “Merry Monarch”, he is best remembered for his rather prolific love life and for the Great Fire of London rather than for the political events during his reign – which included the Popish Plot of the 1670s, the Rye House Plot of 1683, the Secret Treaty of Dover with Louis XIV of France, etc. Charles II appears occasionally in The Stuart Vampire because he was an important figure in Henry’s life.

What are the emotional triggers of Contessa Griselda di Cuorenero and how does she act on them?

Griselda is the main antagonist of the book. Her biggest flaw is her obsession with her looks. She’s been fortunate to have beauty, but naturally this fades with time and it is the lengths to which she’ll go to in order to maintain this beauty that shows the depths of her vanity and evil. I can’t comment any further without giving anything away!

What is the courage and strengths of Henry Stuart? -and possibly the isolation he may feel with these attributes.

Henry has a strong sense of morality, and I think this is his strongest point. When he is around Griselda, she is a despicable individual and he knows he does not want to be like her. His longing to maintain his humanity is touching but at the same time makes him lonely. His devotion to and love for Susanna is another strength, and it’s the same for her. After a secret is revealed, Susanna tells Henry that “Our love will be the light and the darkness shall perish beneath the weight of it” – and that’s the strength of their relationship in a nutshell.

How is your character(s) influenced by their setting?

At one point, Henry leaves London and goes into the countryside, which does influence him – I think characters, like real people, do get influenced by their surroundings and those who surround them. The town of Coffin’s Bishop is a negative influence on Susanna, who does need to get away from that horrid place just for some peace of mind.

What is the greatest challenge of writing a story with Vampires in it?

Believability, especially from those who know me as a more serious historian. Most of my days are spent writing nonfiction history, but I’m very keen on making history accessible to as many people as possible as I don’t think it should only be for the academic community. When some people hear that I’ve written “a vampire story” they have a rude tendency to roll their eyes and/or chuckle, but the fact is, this story has made Henry Stuart known to a lot more people – people who have subsequently gone on to read more about the Stuarts, the English Civil Wars, the seventeenth century, and so on. I had one teenager contact me saying that solely because of The Stuart Vampire, she decided to get books about the Stuarts from her library to learn more about them – which is great! And that’s certainly nothing to snigger about.

Where can readers buy your book?

The Stuart Vampire is available in both paperback and eBook formats on Amazon, iBooks, Google Books, signed copies are available through my website, and the book will soon to be released as an audiobook on Audible. My other books are also available in these formats, but the two nonfiction books, A Year in the Life of Stuart Britain (hardback, 2016) and The Stuarts in 100 Facts (paperback, 2015) can be bought from any good bookseller.

Please tell me about yourself as an Historian.

History has been a very important aspect of my life since I was a little girl. I remember I was in the fourth grade and I knew I wanted to be a historian. I went to a community college during high school and then got my AA in History, and then I went to the University of Central Florida where I obtained two BA degrees – one in History and the other in Anthropology. After this, I got married and moved to the UK, and continued my history studies with Oxford University and Princeton University. That being said, there was absolutely no better training for me than actually delving into archives around the world – handling documents from the seventeenth century brought the history to life in ways that could never be done in a classroom. Indeed, by the time I had finished studying history in university, I was burned out, I almost couldn’t stand it anymore as formal study and the somewhat politically biased teaching wasn’t right for me. I had time off and fell in love with history again, by self-teaching with primary sources. Whilst living in London, I volunteered at Kensington Palace and later was one of the creators and leaders on their Garden History Tours, which was a very enlightening experience for me. Since 2010, I’ve run The Seventeenth Century Lady website which is devoted to all things seventeenth-century, with an emphasis on European history. I’ve been giving lectures on the Stuart period of 1603-1714 for several years now, and it’s a delight to do so.

Will you write other stories related to the paranormal?

It’s funny because I was never before interested in paranormal stories until The Stuart Vampire. That being said, I’ve had numerous readers who have responded favorably to this and many have asked for a continuation of Henry’s story – which does indeed interest me!

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just finished writing a short story set during the plague outbreak of 1630s Venice, and I’m also recording the audio version of The Stuart Vampire. I’m expecting a child due in October, so I hope to finish off two more historical fiction novels that I’ve been working on over the past few years (I started my novel about William and Mary in 2010, and my novel about a Restoration actress’s adventures in 2014) – we’ll see how that goes!

Often times the best inspiration comes within us. How do you flesh out your characters to drive the plot?

I write historical novels based on historical fact, and there are unknowns in any biography and I use my imagination – strictly based on in-depth study on that person’s behavior and character – to flesh out the story. I rather see the whole process as though the facts are the bones of a fish, and my job is to give educated guesses as to the rest – to flesh out the fish. Every author has their way of going about it, but I’m comfortable with this so I’ll keep on trucking.

Thank you, Andrea!

Thank you, Stephanie!

Please visit Andrea’s site here

Other Links:

Amazon Profile

Goodreads

 

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

Blog Blog

Review: A Death Along the River Fleet (Lucy Campion Mysteries #4) by Susanna Calkins

A Death Along the River FleetLucy Campion, a ladies’ maid turned printer’s apprentice in 17th-century London, is crossing Holborn Bridge over the vilest portion of the River Fleet one morning when she encounters a distraught young woman, barely able to speak and clad only in a blood-spattered nightdress. The woman has no memory of who she is or what’s happened to her, and the townspeople believe she’s posessed. But Lucy is concerned for the woman’s well-being and takes her to a physician. When, shockingly, the woman is identified as the daughter of a nobleman, Lucy is asked to temporarily give up her bookselling duties to discreetly serve as the woman’s companion while she remains under the physician’s care. As the woman slowly recovers, she begins-with Lucy’s help-to reconstruct the terrible events that led her to Holborn Bridge that morning. But when it becomes clear the woman’s safety might still be at risk, Lucy becomes unwillingly privy to a plot with far-reaching social implications, and she’ll have to decide how far she’s willing to go to protect the young woman in her care.

My thoughts:

A Death Along the River Fleet is the first book I have read by Susanna Calkins and probably the first historical fiction book I have read that takes place soon after the great London fire. The title of the book, the cover and the premise really drew me in. I was completely absorbed in the story from the very beginning.

I’d have to say that Lucy Campion is now one of my favorite female heroines. She is strong, intelligent, wise even. I love her process of thought and her desire to help people. The fact that she works as a printer’s apprentice helps a great deal too! Also, how the people around her respond to her is fascinating. Really strong character development here.

There are solid historical aspects to this story and I was thrilled with the intrigue! How the story unfolded and how the clues were stacking up was brilliant! This is about the best mystery story I have read in a long time. I really can’t say enough great things about this book. I highly recommend it. Now I will be sure to go back and read the other three books that came before this one!

Rated: Five Stars!

I obtained a copy of this book through NetGalley for an honest review.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

Serpents in the Garden by Anna Belfrage

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Publication Date: March 1, 2014 SilverWood Books Formats: Ebook, Paperback

After years of hard work, Matthew and Alex Graham have created a thriving home in the Colony of Maryland. About time, in Alex’s opinion, after far too many adventures she is really looking forward to some well-deserved peace and quiet.

A futile hope, as it turns out. Things start to heat up when Jacob, the third Graham son, absconds from his apprenticeship to see the world – especially as Jacob leaves behind a girl whom he has wed in a most irregular fashion.

Then there’s the infected matter of the fellow time traveller Alex feels obliged to help – no matter the risk. Worst of all, one day Philip Burley and his brothers resurface after years of absence. As determined as ever to make Matthew pay for every perceived wrong – starting with the death of their youngest brother – the Burleys play out a complicated cat and mouse game, and Alex is thrown back into an existence where her heart is constantly in her mouth, convinced as she is that one day the Burleys will achieve their purpose.

Will the Burleys succeed? And if they do, will the Graham family survive the exacted price?

Serpents in the Garden is the fifth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Author Bio:

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Had Anna been allowed to choose, she’d have become a professional time-traveller. As such a profession does as yet not exists, she settled for second best and became a financial professional with two absorbing and time-consuming interests, namely British History and writing. These days, Anna spends almost as much time writing and researching as she does working, which leaves little time for other important pursuits such as cooking and baking.

Anna Belfrage is the author of The Graham Saga – so far five of the total eight books have been published. Set in seventeenth century Scotland and Virginia/Maryland, The Graham Saga tell the story of Matthew and Alex, two people who should never have met – not when she was born three hundred years after him.

Links:

Serpents in the Garden

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble

Silverwood Books

A Newfound Land

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Barnes & Noble

Silverwood Books

Kobo

Smashwords

Links to Anna’s websites

www.annabelfrage.com

http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com

Interview with Author Anna Belfrage

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Stephanie: Hello, Anna! It is a delight to be chatting with you again! Congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion for your book, The Prodigal Son, which I have read and enjoyed very much!

Anna: Thank you, Stephanie – and may I say I am very glad to be here today, and extremely proud of having won the B.R.A.G Medallion.

Stephanie: Your medallion is well deserved! Please tell your audience about your story.

Anna: Set in 17th century Scotland, The Prodigal Son is the story of Matthew Graham’s struggle to balance his religious convictions with the need of his family, and foremost those of his time-traveler wife, Alexandra Lind, who has little understanding for Matthew’s continued support of his co-religionists, not when it can potentially cost him his life.

At the time, the early 1660’s, the political upheaval that so scarred the British Isles during the 17th century have come almost full circle. Charles II, son of the beheaded Charles I, has been restored, the Commonwealth replaced by a ruling monarch. While the restoration is greeted with relief by many (and not only the royalists; Oliver Cromwell was at times a harsh ruler), the people of Ayrshire are less than thrilled when the king – or his fervent Anglican counsellors – decide to bring the Scottish Kirk to its knees, forcing all of Charles’ subjects to recognize his supremacy, not only as king but also as head of all things religious.
The Scottish Kirk was traditionally ruled by a General Assembly. They had never considered the king as the head of their church, and had no intention of doing so now, and so the scene was set for a bloody confrontation between the devout Scottish people and their king.
Matthew Graham was raised in the Scottish Kirk. He has fought in the Parliamentarian armies, against the king, and remains convinced that the king has no right to meddle in matters of faith or conscience. When people he has known since childhood are threatened and bullied, when the ministers who represent his Kirk and his beliefs are thrown out of their livings and chased like wild animals across the moors, Matthew feels obliged to lend support. And while Alex sympathizes, she is also scared silly by what he risks whenever he buckles on his sword and slips out into the night to help the ministers. So scared, in fact, that one day she lays down an ultimatum; his faith or his family. Suddenly, Matthew is fighting a battle on two fronts…

Stephanie: Tell me a little about Sandy Peden and his strengths and weaknesses? He is a character I find most interesting. He is pious and has a lot of opinions about women and such. Sometimes I disliked him and other times I admired him for his stand and courage of his faith.

Anna: Ah, dear Sandy… I have spent the last few years in very close proximity to Alexander Peden, opinionated minister, dedicated preacher and loyal member of the Scottish Kirk. I must admit to admiring him, quite a lot actually. There is something very attractive about people who have the integrity to cling to their beliefs, no matter at what cost, and Alexander Peden did more than cling, he stood up and more or less shouted to his flock that God was there, with them, as long as they did not abandon their faith. Charismatic, clearly a gifted speaker and also a man of a deep and very personal faith, Sandy inspired huge loyalty among his followers, quite a few of whom risked their lives to see him safe.
To our modern eyes, there is an unattractive streak of fanaticism in a man as dedicated to his faith and God as Sandy was. But before we judge, we should also keep in mind that most men had very strong opinions when it came to religion in the 17th century, and Sandy wasn’t out to impose his beliefs on the Anglicans or Episcopalians – however weak of faith he found them – all he wanted was to continue worshiping God as he had been taught to do. A harsh God, Sandy’s God. A God that demanded obedience and humility, that would condemn the greater part of humanity to hell everlasting while only a few, through God’s grace and mercy, would ever make it through the narrow gate of Heaven. But also a God who filled the world with little miracles; the song of a thrush in spring, the burbling of a burn as it skipped its way down a Scottish hillside, here and there bordered with stands of windflowers (anemones). And I believe Alexander Peden was a man who truly admired God’s creation, from the glorious show of a sunset to the perfection of a polished pebble.
As to Sandy’s views on women, there is a little anecdote involving a young Alexander and an equally young woman. Something soured, the woman accused Alexander of having done more (a lot more) than hold her hand. He insisted that he hadn’t, and from that day forward he approached women with a certain caution, preferring always to address them as a minister rather than as a man. Besides, when he complains about Alex being far too opinionated, he is but expressing the common beliefs of the time; a good woman was a good wife and mother, a woman who stood by her husband through thick and thin, always acquiescent to his will and greater wisdom. Needless to say, such thoughts had Alex rolling over in paroxysms of hysterical laughter…

Stephanie: Do you think Matthew did the right thing by his supporting of the Sandy at the risk of his family’s safety?

Anna: From a modern perspective, I think it is easy to say “no” to that question. Matthew was risking everything in his continued support of the evicted Presbyterian ministers, and as Alex points out, he does have other responsibilities, mainly his children.
But Matthew is a man who has fought for the right to practice his faith, and as a man of his times and of his convictions, the choice is never as clear-cut as saying “family first”. To Matthew, Sandy and his brothers in faith are family – albeit a very extended family. To not help them is to risk his soul and his chance of a life everlasting. To help them is to endanger himself and his family. Not the easiest of choices – not then, not now.
Ultimately, of course, everything comes at a price, and Matthew will pay a very heavy price for his continued support of the covenanters. Too heavy, far too heavy – but that is easy to say with hindsight, isn’t it?

Stephanie: I would agree. Alex is my favorite character. What is her take on Sandy and Matthew helping him?

Anna: I’m glad you like Alex – I am very fond of her as well, even if I do have something of a crush on Matthew. (This causes some strain between Alex and me at times. She will glower like an aggravated bull, telling me to keep my hands off her husband, or else… Ridiculous really, as Matthew only exists in my head – as does Alex – but let me tell you those dark blue eyes of hers can freeze me to the spot…)
As to Sandy, Alex is very ambivalent. She recognizes Sandy as a devout and committed minister, she hates him for placing her husband repeatedly in danger. And then he has this irritating tendency to quiz Alex about the Bible, the Catechism, and the teachings of the Kirk, generally indicating just how dissatisfying and ignorant he finds her answers.
At some level, Alex understands just how torn apart her Matthew is by all the upheaval that surrounds them. She sees his pain when childhood friends are fined from home and hearth for nothing more than helping a fleeing minister, but she is also terribly hurt by what she perceives as his willingness to set his faith before their family – and her. To Alex, there is no conflict. To Alex, her family – and Matthew – always come first.
Of course, when it comes to the crunch, Alex could no more abandon her husband than she could lope of her leg. When he truly needs her, she is there, as always, doing her utmost to keep her man safe despite his stubborn insistence in risking his life, over and over again.

Stephanie: Was there research involved in this story?

Anna: Yes, of course there was – I think you only need to read the preceding answers to realize that. Alexander Peden is a real person, commemorated by a rather ugly monument in Cumnock, Ayrshire (I think it would have made him grin), and the persecution of the die-hard members of the Scottish Kirk, often collectively labelled Covenanters, is a historical fact, a tragedy that tainted the lives of the local Scots for more than two decades. I enjoy the research, and especially when it includes such a heady brew of political and religious upheaval as the 17th century does.

Stephanie: How long did it take you to write this book?

Anna: About six months – excluding all the edits and re-writes. I generally write most of the story at a very intense pace – 10 000 words a week or so. After that, I review the entire text from a historical perspective – it is important to me that the historical background is as correctly depicted as it can be. And then (cracking my knuckles here) begins the real work; the re-writes, the weighing of words, the murder of adverbs and the tweaking of dialogue. It’s like being a sculptor. There is a lump of clay before you, showing the general shape of a man encased in mud, and as the rewrites progress, the man acquires features and idiosyncrasies, evolving from an anonymous being into someone you know everything about. (“Everything?” Alex laughs out loud, shaking her head so that the curls I so envy her bounce round her shoulders. “You don’t know the half of it,” she continues, resting back against her husband’s larger and broader frame. His hands come up to cover hers, placed lightly over a rounded belly, and as I watch he bends his head to nibble her neck and….JEEZ! Cut!)
Stephanie: That is an incredible amount of words written in one week for all the work you do! You are inspiring!

Who designed the book cover?

Anna: All my covers have been designed by the marvelous Oliver Bennett of More Visual (www.morevisual.me) I sort of express an idea, he thinks about it some days and reverts with something that takes my breath away. Sometimes I worry he might be a mind reader…

Stephanie: What are some of the positive things people have said about your book?

Anna: It is always nice when people say they like your book – and many people apparently do. Many say that it touched them. One of the subplots is the story of Ian, Matthew’s son from his first marriage, and his developing relationship with Alex. The book is dedicated to all those people who open their hearts to a child not of their blood and take it as their own, and I have had a number of people approach me and express that I have done a very good job depicting Alex’s feelings as regards to Ian.
I think quite a few people have cried – at least to judge from their comments, and then there are those that are very nervous as to the prophesy Alexander Peden makes towards the end of the book. Rightly so, I might add. Me, knowing how things will work out, would recommend many boxes of tissues.

Stephanie: What do you like most about writing?
Anna: I have a very demanding day job at which I average 55-60 hours a week. I get home, shed my work clothes, inspect the fridge to see if there’s something to eat, make myself some tea and then it is writing time. I open my ongoing WIP, and wham, I am transported to another world, another time (I always have a historical element in my books). Even better, it is a world I control – to a point. Writing is my elixir, my personal bubble of escapism, a constant source of joy and energy. Plus, I learn something new every day. Isn’t that just fantastic?

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Anna: I actually discovered it when I was reading Sons of the Wolf by Paula Lofting. Her book had already won the B.R.A.G Medallion, and as I had had a couple of recent rather disappointing indie reads, I was very pleased to discover that the medal did go with quality – high quality at that. I never dared to submit the first books of the series (now I will), but The Prodigal Son is a book I am very proud of, so I completed the submission form, took a deep breath and pressed send. The rest, as they say, is history.

And may I take this opportunity to highlight yet again just how important a job indieBRAG is doing. Self-published books struggle against perceptions that they’re all trash, badly written, badly edited and badly formatted. After all, had they been good, the author would have gone mainstream, right? No, not necessarily, as some of us want total control over our babies. indieBRAG singles out self-published books that meet (and sometimes surpass) mainstream publishing standards. It sets a quality stamp on the book and the author, telling readers that this is a book they can pick up and expect to enjoy.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Anna: Everywhere where good books are sold, to quote my publisher… Seriously, it is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, a number of other e-retailers, and at quite some bookshops (if nothing else they can order it for you)

Thank you, Anna!

Anna: Well, thank you, Stephanie. Knowing how busy you are with your own writing, it is very nice of you to tear yourself away from it to host me. Best of luck with Arthur!

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Anna Belfrage, who is the author of, The Prodigal Son, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . 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, The Prodigal Son, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

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Anna Belfrage’s Bio:

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Ideally, I aspired to becoming a pioneer time traveller, but science has as yet not advanced to the point of making that possible. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred. 

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

Links, Anna Belfrage

Website: http://www.annabelfrage.com Blog: http://annabelfrage.wordpress.com Twitter:  https://twitter.com/Anna_Belfrage Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/theAlexandMatthewstory Amazon Author page:  https://www.amazon.com/author/anna_belfrage 

Interview with Award Winning Author Jo Ann Butler

Jo Ann Butler

I’d like to welcome Jo Ann Butler to Layered Pages today. She is a genealogist and one-time colonial archeologist, Ms. Butler has tapped her work in New England for her first historical fiction novel, “Rebel Puritan.” She can be reached at www.rebelpuritan.com

Thank you Jo Ann for visiting with me again and congrats for winning the B.R.A.G Medallion for the second time. It was a pleasure to interview you about Rebel Puritan and I’m delighted be chatting with you about The Reputed Wife. Please tell your audience about your book?

Thank you, Stephanie, and it’s an honor to talk with you as a second-time B.R.A.G. Medallion winner! Readers of Rebel Puritan are familiar with Herodias Long and George Gardner. In The Reputed Wife, Herod raises a burgeoning family in 17th century Newport, Rhode Island, even as she and George try to conceal their unconventional relationship. Rhode Island suffers its own growing pains when more powerful Puritan colonies try to usurp its lands. Lastly, Quaker missionaries arrive in New England, bent on converting Puritans. Mary Dyer is one of their converts, and so is Herod, who takes her protest against Puritan abuse to the whipping post.

 Jo Ann book cover

What fascinates you most about this time period your story is written in?

The New Englanders’ struggle to survive, to build homes in the wilderness, and to create their own society. Their laws and customs were based on English law, but Puritan and non-Puritan alike added their own New England flavor. Rhode Island’s own struggle is also amazing. The residents were all non-conforming outcasts from Puritan colonies, and had to learn to work together to form a viable colony of their own.

With this sequel is there anything new you learned in your research that you did not know in your first book?

I originally meant to write a single book about Herodias, so there weren’t any big surprises for me while writing The Reputed Wife. However, I’m now writing The Golden Shore, the final volume in my Scandalous Life trilogy. Just a couple of weeks ago I learned that a convicted witch from Hartford, Connecticut escaped to Rhode Island, and that Herod’s son George was involved in her escape. I paused to research the 1662-63 Hartford witch trials, and am bringing that dramatic episode into The Golden Shore.

What are your thoughts on the Puritans and the Quakers? How they lived their life and the rules they followed.

Jo Ann: 17th-century Quakers were not the pacifist folk we picture. They believed in passive resistance and street theater to make their points, and outraged Puritans with their actions. Walking into church with your face painted black in mourning for the Puritans’ damnation, or stripped naked to demonstrate Puritan spiritual nakedness did not win the Quakers any friends.

Puritans believed that God no longer spoke to man, and that only learned men should speak in church, to prevent ‘errors’ in religious beliefs. Quakers often worshiped in silence, waiting for divine revelation to put words into their mouths. Such revelation was heresy to Puritans, and they couldn’t decide whether Quakers were witches, possessed by Satan, or both.

I might feel sorry for Puritans, who felt beset by Quakers berating them in church and court, except for the methods used to encourage those Quakers to leave Puritan colonies alone. Those Quakers were jailed, branded, and whipped, including Herod Gardner, who walked sixty miles to protest the torture. Four Quakers went to the gallows for defying their banishment, including Mary Dyer.

Please tell me about some of the places you visited to research for you book(s).

In the last 30 years I’ve spent weeks in libraries and archives in Boston, Newport, Providence, and Salt Lake City. On my first trip, I nearly fainted when I was handed Rhode Island’s original record book dating from 1638. Newport’s historian showed me the 1651 record authorizing William Coddington as Rhode Island’s governor-for-life. I’ve also visited places I know that Herod must have seen, like Smith’s Castle, a trading post in Wickford, and camped near Herod’s home for a week to get a feel for her world. Google Earth has also been invaluable.

Will there be a third book? Will you tell me a little about it?

My first draft of The Golden Shore is about 20% complete. I hope to print it next year, but realize that’s a very, very ambitious goal. Herod and her maturing Gardner children all move to the west side of Narragansett Bay, and her messy personal life takes yet another turn which I won’t spoil here. New England’s Indian tribes are losing their land in gigantic chunks, and King Philip of the Wampanoag Indians leads the tribes in war against encroaching settlers. Slavery is on the rise, so I have plenty of social issues to explore.

Please tell me about any of the challenges you had while writing your story.

I have a historical framework for my books, but everything else is seat-of-pants writing, waiting for my characters to tell me where they are going. Deciding what to include and what to omit is always tough. I throw all my ingredients into the kettle, produce a massive first draft, then start pruning.

Tell me a little about Herodias Long and George Gardner.

 Any woman who marries at thirteen like Herod did in real life must be ferociously impulsive. Herod takes responsibility for her acts and does her best to live with, and learn from the results, but her headstrong nature sometimes gets the best of her.

George Gardner is a solid citizen and a hard worker, but like Frank Kennedy in Gone With the Wind, George has taken up with a little more woman than he can manage. He is happy just farming and planting to provide for his family, but Herod’s ambitions push George way beyond his comfort zone.

After you are done writing this series what will be your next book project?

The 1662 Connecticut witchcraft outbreak is very tempting, but I may try a modern thriller first. When a geologist is killed and his laptop goes missing, who wants him dead? A jealous boyfriend? Frackers? Lake Effect would also let me bring in our local meteorological headache – snowfall above and beyond belief – into play.

I also have an idea combining birds, magic, and history into multiple story lines, but I’m not doing anything with it until after The Golden Shore is done.

That sounds interesting. What advice would you give to an aspiring author?

Don’t dream it – be it! If you have an idea, start writing. Also, I sold single-page, and then longer articles to Equus and Birds and Blooms magazines while I was finishing Rebel Puritan. It was great practice for writing queries, and also for creating a tight tale with introduction, body, and conclusion – exactly what you need for a book.

A message from BRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Jo Ann Butler, who is the author of, The Reputed Wife one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.comTo 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, The Reputed Wife merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

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Disclaimer: All book reviews, interviews, guest posts and promotions are originals. In order to use any text or pictures from Layered Pages, please ask for permission from Stephanie. M. Hopkins/Owner of Layered Pages

Review: The Reputed Wife by Jo Ann Butler

The Reputed Wife

Set in 17th century Northeast, primarily in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, The Reputed Wife is the story of Goodwife Herodias “Herod” Gardner a/k/a Hicks and her struggle to free herself from the bonds of a rash marriage to John Hicks. After Hicks beats her to within an inch of her life, Herod finds solace, love, and security in George Gardner, but in the process loses the children that she had with Hicks. It is the story of redemption and her efforts to vindicate herself in a patriarchal puritanical world.

The Reputed Wife is also the story of Rhode Island’s developing, and at times rocky, relationship with neighboring areas. A turf war between the governors over their fiefdoms is in progress at the start of the novel and continues throughout. Complicating this is that Rhode Island is viewed as an unruly step child that no one wants because it befriends Quakers and any others who have the audacity to call attention and protest against abuses, whether leveled by Puritans, government, or individuals seeking vengeance.

 

Butler’s writing is easy to get into, though at times, it is hard to tell who is speaking, particularly early on when the reader does not have the necessary background. In spite of this, the story resonated with me; I could identify with Herod in her quest to determine what she wanted out of life. In her time, women’s options were limited and as a result she finds her voice, in some rather painful ways. This pain is not borne in vain, however. Herod finds that the simple good life of home and hearth can be compelling, testimony, maybe more so than the vocal martyrdom engaged in by her friend, Mary Dyer and other Quakers. Butler also brings out through Herod’s struggle with recognizing when God has spoken that sometimes a quiet faith can be as powerful as fire and brimstone oratory.

 

In terms of the structure, I have no complaints, though I would have liked to have had the ending a bit more fleshed out. Herod’s story ended too quickly. I envisioned more detail of the understated tug of war for Herod’s attention and heart that was occurring between George Gardner and John Porter by bringing this conflict out in the open between Herod and Porter and then by giving the reader what my husband calls a snail’s eye view of Herod’s decision to resolve to make amends with Gardner and reclaim her life with him and their children.

 

All in all, The Reputed Wife was excellent and I learned a lot. If Goodreads allowed partial stars, I would have given the novel a 4.75.

 

A Layered Pages Review.

By Susan Berry