Characters in Motion with Cryssa Bazos

When I first started writing, I took a historical fiction course and I still remember the advice that the instructor gave us, which can apply to any fiction: Consider how the character moves around the page. This breathes life into the character as he/she goes about the business of achieving their personal story quest. I quickly found out that it was not enough for them do random actions; instead, the action should do double duty to reflect back on character.

Traitor's KnotTraitor’s Knot, is the story of two fictional characters, James Hart, a former Royalist officer, and Elizabeth Seaton, a herbalist, who fall in love against the backdrop of the English Civil War.

James hasn’t been able to put the war behind him. After the execution of King Charles I, the regicide Parliamentarians are now in control of the country. James refuses to swear allegiance to the new regime, nor will he return home to Coventry to repair his severed relationship with his father. Everyone in Warwick knows him as the ostler of the Chequer and Crowne, but few realize that he’s the highwayman who has been preying on Roundheads.

The first scene that I wrote with that advice in mind is still in my novel today. The scene has been modified through subsequent drafts, but this particular piece survived as it initially written:

“The war’s over, lad. Put it behind you, and look to the future before it’s too late.”

 James studied his chipped tankard. “You have tables to clean.”

 Henry merely snorted and left.

Put it behind him? He’d have to accept defeat first. James traced his thumb along the    hairline cracks in his cup, then rotated it until he found a smooth, unblemished curve. If only he saw this section, would he fool himself into believing the tankard was undamaged? Frowning, he took another swig of ale. The brew failed to wash the bitterness away.’

Here is a man who spent long, bitter years fighting for the king, but now he’s forced to accept that the usurpers have taken over the country. James has had to pretend to pick up the pieces, but he can’t let go of the past. He’s had to swallow his pride while biding his time for the return of the new king, Charles II, to regain his crown. James’s apparent compliance to the new regime is as precarious as that tankard, and any moment he will shatter.

James’s frustration is manifested in many ways. After being rejected by Elizabeth and having to deal with annoying enquiries from the new constable, Lieutenant Hammond, James’s agitation escalates through the scene. At first, as he’s grooming his horse, his brush strokes are harsher than normal:

‘James reached for a brush and started running it through Sovereign’s coat with brisk strokes. He made several passes before the horse tossed his head and took a step back. “Easy,” James said, and grasped him by the halter. When the horse continued to agitated, James grimaced and eased the pressure.’

Later on the scene, when Henry tries to drill into his head, ‘The war is over, and nothing you do will change the fact that these Roundheads control our lives, from that horse brush you’re holding to the ale that flows through my kegs.” James’s temper boils over:

“I will not accept that,” James snapped and whipped the brush into the bucket. The tin rattled and nearly tipped. “If I could, I’d have gone back to Coventry, belly exposed, to take my kicks there. I am not a beaten dog…’”

He then kicks the bucket and sends it clattering across the straw.

But it’s not all teeth grinding frustration for James. Even in a quieter moment of reflection, I use his actions to demonstrate that:

‘Through there were a number of chores he needed to finish in the barn before he turned in, he couldn’t muster the will to leave. Instead, he picked up a long twig and started drawing shapes in the ground with its tip. It was only when the door opened and Elizabeth stepped outside that he realized he had been waiting for her.’

My heroine, Elizabeth Seton, is a young woman who has had her family ripped apart during the war. She and her mother have been shunned in her community after her father was killed during a failed Royalist uprising. After her mother passes away, she is determined to carve out a new life out for herself and moves to Warwick to live with her aunt.

Elizabeth is subtler in how she walks around the page, but her actions reflect her character. Being a healer, she’s keenly attuned to the sense of touch. When she first sees her aunt’s stillroom, she connects to the wonders through touch.

‘Elizabeth’s fingertips brushed over the labels: monkshood, foxglove, and sweet woodruff. I could lose myself in this place. A thrill rippled through her.’

Even her aunt’s coveted collection of herbal recipes is handled with reverence, and as she examines the volume, she’s careful not to crease the pages.

The first time that Elizabeth finds herself alone with James, she’s on a riverbank working out her frustration by throwing rocks in the river. Later, when he’s managed to take her hand, she responds to the awakening of new emotions:

‘His touch was warm and stirring, the contact intimate. His fingers explored her palm, following the gentle curves to its hollow, then lingering on the tips of her fingers. The way his fingers brushed over her skin felt as she imagined a kiss to be.’

Elizabeth is a woman who has to maneuver between living within the rigid constricts of society and expressing her individuality. I often show this in a number of ways, from the way she dresses (she opts for a blue woolen skirt, over more serviceable greys or browns) to even how she deals with her hair.

Women at that time would have worn a coif with hair sedately bound. Elizabeth is no different, however, there is always one dark lock that will not be pinned back or confined, and she is often trying to tuck it behind her ear. I intended this to represent Elizabeth’s streak of independence. While she attempts to subdue it, its nature is otherwise.

Even a first meet market scene provides an opportunity to show her individuality. When James sees Elizabeth wending her way through the market, he notices what draws her attention amongst the stalls:

‘While fancy ribbons and laces had not attracted her interest, a stack of pamphlets and chapbooks made the difference.’

Literacy was growing amongst women during this century, but her interests would have still marked her as unique, and James was struck by this.

I believe it’s important to reveal characters through a variety of different ways, not just through dialogue. How they walk around the page and their reflective actions often reveal more than any declarations they make.

About Author: 

Cryssa

Cryssa Bazos is an award winning historical fiction writer and 17th century enthusiast with a particular interest in the English Civil War. She is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the Romantic Novelist Association and is a co-editor and contributor of the English Historical Fiction Authors blog. Her debut novel, Traitor’s Knot, is published by Endeavour Press. For more stories, visit her blog.

Social media links:

Website

Facebook

Twitter: @CryssaBazos

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Traitor’s Knot is available:

 

 

 

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Book Spotlight: The Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

The Hostage HeartThe Hostage Heart by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Publisher:  Severn House Publishers

Pub Date: November 1, 2017

Pages: 193

Available on Amazon

Emotionally hurt in the past, a job in a large country house seems to be Emma’s best option for staying single and safe… 

When Emma Ruskin becomes governess to 10-year-old Poppy Ackroyd, the haughty Ackroyd family all treat her with contempt – particularly Gavin, the effortlessly superior eldest son.

Yet Emma realises that Gavin alone genuinely cares for Poppy and their unexpected rapport flatters and alarms her – surely he is out of her league?

But then disaster strikes when Emma and Poppy are snatched by kidnappers. Imprisoned and terrified, Emma knows they will be killed if the ransom isn’t paid – unless Gavin can get to them first…

First published as Dangerous Love, and originally under a pseudonym, this is a new edition with a new introduction from the author.

Book Spotlight: Jake for Mayor by Lou Aguilar


Me IIWriting stories is an admirable feast of creativity, perseverance, skill, and the deep understanding of the human condition. What makes people tick? I admire writers who go the distance and produce works of art in storytelling. Writers truly give us a destination, an escape from our lives, and the experience to explore different avenues in life we might not have the chance to explore in our own lives. That is truly magical.

There are all sorts of different types of stories. Author Lou Aguilar brings us a unique story of a man name Ken Miller who exploits a dog’s popularity among a group of people and persuades them to elect Jake for Mayor. What a clever and engaging plot-I look forward to reading this story and further sharing my thoughts about this book.

Stephanie M. Hopkins

About the book:

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Ken Miller is having a bad run of luck. After torpedoing his career as a campaign manager, he drives through tiny Erie, Colorado, when a homeless beagle named Jake causes a series of mishaps that lands him in jail. Ken is granted bail on two conditions: that he not leave town before his trial in three weeks and—much to his chagrin—that he not let Jake out of his sight until then. Stuck in Erie as it prepares for a mayoral election, he’s drawn into the local politics by a waitress who vehemently opposes incumbent Charles Dunbar, the only candidate on the ticket.

Unable to resist political adventure, Ken gets a brainstorm. If he can exploit the dog’s popularity among the townspeople and get them to elect Jake as a protest candidate, the publicity will put him back on top. But things don’t go exactly as planned. Ken warms to the dog, falls for the waitress, and employs her teenage son and his gang as campaign aides in a madcap battle with Mayor Dunbar … who has no intention of losing to a dog.

Read what people are saying about Jake for Mayor:

“In the spirit of full disclosure, I own a beagle, and this book is perfect for me, so I may be a bit prejudice (I’ve read “Shiloh” and watched the movies several times). That said, this is not a children’s book about a beagle, but about Ken Miller, a failing campaign manager and lost soul in the political arena (or is that redundant?) yearning for redemption.” -Topdog

“The rule of thumb is, the more absurd and frightening the state of affairs – the more entertaining the satire. Lou Aguilar understands the formula. I will not hesitate to call him a 21st century Thackeray. An indie filmmaker in his other life, he produces a work of fiction that’s cinematic in its delivery. Jake for Mayor will leave you with a profoundly gratifying, wanna-take-a-shower feeling.” -Money In the Mattress

“Jake for Mayor is a quick read full of fun moments, sly commentary and heart. A fish out of water story in the arena of Doc Hollywood, I enjoyed it. A book that can be enjoyed by a people in a vast range of ages.” JWB

“Why not be the campaign manager for a dog? Just think about the dog’s sweet nature and inability to make gaffes or destroy one’s reputation. Then view the dishonest incumbent candidate, Mayor Dunbar, who belittles his constituents who lack power and money. Ken Miller realizes the townspeople love the dog but knows that the Dunbar would rather commit a crime than lose to a dog.” Tess

About the Author:

Lou II

Lou Aguilar was born in Cuba and lived there until age six, when his anti-Castro scholar father flew the family to America one step ahead of a firing squad (for his dad, not Lou). He attended the University of Maryland, where he majored in English, minored in film, and found both to be dependent on great writing. He became a journalist for “The Washington Post” and “USA Today,” then a screenwriter, and finally a novelist. Lou has had three small movies produced, including the cult science-fiction film “Electra” (33rd on Maxim’s list of “The 50 Coolest ‘B’ Films of All Time”). He presently writes only “A” scripts and has a television legal drama and military thriller feature in development. Lou’s last short story, “The Mirror Cracked,” was published in a prestigious horror anthology, “Kolchak: The Night Stalker Chronicles,” which was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award. Visit Lou’s website

Buy the book at Amazon and  Barnes & Noble.

Read my exclusive interview with Lou Aguilar about Jake for Mayor HERE

A teaser of Lou’s upcoming book: Paper Tigers 

Two ambitious new interns (copyaides) at the Washington Post, a rugged small-town conservative and an Ivy League feminist beauty, match political wits while romantic sparks fly. The question is, can chemistry trump ideology in Trump’s America?

Cover Crush: The Man In The Lighthouse by Erik Valeur

Cover Crush banner

I am not a cover designer but I can agree that cover layouts play an important role in the overall presentation of stories and I must admit, often times I first judge a book by its cover.

The Man in the LighthouseThe Man in the Lighthouse

Pub Date 14 Mar 2017

All his life, Viggo Larssen has been haunted by the same troubling dream, which he calls the Omen—a vision of a woman beckoning to him from the surface of a churning sea. Now, as he broods over his shipwrecked existence in a remote lighthouse off the outermost coast of Denmark, he is about to be borne backward by the current to a past he thought he had escaped forever.

On the Danish mainland, the widowed mother of the nation’s prime minister mysteriously vanishes from her prestigious nursing home. As the police search for clues, evidence mounts that her disappearance is tied to an unsolved crime from Viggo’s childhood. Told through the eyes of multiple characters from Viggo’s old neighborhood, Erik Valeur’s dark, serpentine mystery is a profound meditation on the persistence of memory, the power of dreams, and the secrets we hide from one another—and ourselves.

My Thoughts:

I don’t read a lot of  Scandinavian Literature but I do watch a lot of Scandinavian shows. So when I spotted this story, I thought this would be something to look into. The cover is certainty has a brooding, dark tone feel about it. It shows how at times, the sea can be unforgiving-if you will. Imagine being shipwrecked upon those rocks. This cover is dramatic and I believe fits the premise. Adding this book to my never ending reading pile!

Stephanie M. Hopkins

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

Other great book bloggers who cover crush:

Heather @ The Maiden’s Court

Magdalena @ A Bookaholic Swede

Holly @ 2 Kids and Tired Books

Colleen @ A Literary Vacation

stay-calm-and-support-book-bloggers

Interview with Best-Selling Author C.S. Harris

me-iiI’d like to welcome C. S. Harris today to talk with me about her new release, Good Time Coming, novel of the American Civil War. C.S. is the bestselling author of more than twenty novels including the Sebastian St. Cyr Regency mystery series and the standalone historical Good Time Coming. Under her own name, Candice Proctor, she is also the author of seven historical novels and a nonfiction historical study of women in the French Revolution. As C.S. Graham she writes the Tobie Guinness contemporary thriller series.

A Former academic with a PhD in European history, Candice has also worked as an archaeologist at a variety of sites around the world and spent much of her life abroad, living in Spain, Greece, England, France, Jordan, and Australia. She now makes her home in New Orleans with her husband, retired Army intelligence officer Steve Harris, and an ever-expanding number of cats.

Hi, Candice! Thank you for talking with me today about your newly release novel, Good Time Coming. It is a true honor to be talking about what I think is the most important work of fiction of the American Civil War I have read this year and in a long time. Please tell your audience about the premise of your story?

c-s-harrisHi Stephanie, thanks so much, and thanks for having me! Good Time Coming is the story of Amrie St. Pierre, a young girl forced to grow up fast in Civil War-torn Louisiana. This is a side of war we don’t often hear about—the struggle faced by the women and children left alone to survive in the face of starvation, disease, and the ravages of an invading army. War looks very different when seen through the eyes of a child learning hard truths about personal strength, friendship, and the shades of good and evil that exist within us all.

Rarely do I hear people talking about what the women endured during this war. I believe many are uncomfortable talking about it for many reasons. Neither do many people realize the starvation that was taking place because of the blockades and soldiers taking food for their own needs. You really touched on this and I am glad you did. Were there any moments while writing about this that you thought that it might not be well received? Also, what were your own emotions about this while writing your story?

When I first started thinking about this book, I simply wanted to tell a story about a dramatic, compelling aspect of the Civil War I felt had been neglected for some strange reason. (Yes, you can call me naive!) I’d never lived in the South until I moved to New Orleans shortly before Katrina, so I had no idea just how horrible the war was for the women and children of Louisiana until I started reading their surviving letters, diaries, and memoirs. Although I’m a historian and therefore should have known more than most about the brutal realities of warfare, I was frankly stunned. I was also disturbed to realize just how effectively the truth has been glossed over and hidden.

All nations mythologize their past, but I have a sneaky suspicion Americans do it more than most. The brutal realities of our Civil War don’t fit well with the stories we Americans like to tell ourselves, so we tend to ignore them—or try to. Slavery was a vile institution, and anyone who tries to excuse it (as some, amazingly, still do) by saying most slaves were well treated hasn’t read the numerous extant journals and letters of the period, or the Slave Narratives from the Depression-era Federal Writers’ Project. The simple truth is that slaves worked because they were whipped. Full stop. And because a statistical percentage of any population has sociopathic tendencies, any institution that allows one group of people absolute power over others is a recipe for sadism. At the same time, it’s important to remember that the North did not go to war against the South to end slavery. Their war aim was to preserve the Union, and their motive was the same one that led to the Mexican-American War and the virtual extermination of the Native Americans. The army that marched against the South was the same army that perpetrated the massacres of Native American women and children at Sacramento River and Harvey and countless other sites, a well-understood reality that terrified Southern civilians. To turn the Civil War into a morality play in which one side equals good and the other evil serves only to distort history and perpetuate the dangerous divisions that still exist in our country over 150 years later.

But breaking that taboo and telling a story that portrays what really happened is dangerous for a writer. I knew the book would probably provoke discussion; I didn’t realize it would be so controversial that it would be hard to get published. As for its effects on me, writing this book was a wrenching, highly emotional experience. It’s a powerful story and I still cry when I reread it. I poured my heart and soul into this book, and I am not the same person I was before I started it—it was that life altering.

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I believe you have truly captured the diversity of people and social standings and showed different views of the war in a concise way. The attitudes of the war and government were so complex. It wasn’t as straightforward as people would like to believe. Without giving too much away will you tell your audience a little about how you portrayed people’s attitudes during that time?

I carefully studied the people who were living in St. Francisville and Bayou Sara before the war and made a determined effort to be true to their profiles (many of the minor characters in the book are real historical figures). A surprising number of residents were recent immigrants either from the North or Europe. There were a few wealthy, large plantation owners, but most people were small farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen who owned no slaves. Some, inevitably, were eager for war (as was the case at the outbreak of WWI, most people assumed the war would be over quickly and their side was sure to win). Many were swept up in a patriotic fervor that sounds eerily similar to that of the Revolution. Others, like Amrie’s father, opposed secession but felt compelled to step forward and defend their homes and families. And some, like Amrie’s uncle, a West Point graduate, made the agonizing decision to remain in the Union army and fight their own people.

And then there’s the fact that a huge percentage of the people in the area were enslaved. The antebellum South was also home to over a quarter of a million gens de couleur libres or “free people of color.” Louisiana, especially, had a large population of free African-Americans. Some owned plantations and slaves themselves. Some formed units that fought for the Confederacy; others formed the Corps d’Afrique and fought for the Union. As the war continued and more and more slaves walked off the plantations, those numbers increased.

The longer the war went on, life became increasingly desperate, and society simply broke down. What happened to the people of the area during those years had repercussions that lasted for generations. For many decades after the Civil War, the Feliciana Parishes (in Louisiana, the civil administrative districts known elsewhere as counties are called parishes) had by far the highest murder rate in the country—higher even than the wild, wild West! To be frank, in a very real sense I don’t think it has recovered yet.

What are some emotional triggers for Amrie and her mother and how do they act on them?

One of the things that made the war particularly hard on Southern women was the fact that nineteenth-century Southern culture really did treat women differently—and expected them to behave differently. For example, it was not unusual for women in the North to become schoolteachers and nurses, but that was not true in the South; in fact, it was powerfully discouraged. So when the men all marched off to war (and died at a shocking rate: something like a quarter of the male population) it was even more of a stretch for their women to take over the farms and start running shops. Amrie St. Pierre is what we would today call a tomboy, while her mother defied expectations as a young woman by attending medical lectures in New Orleans (women were allowed to attend lectures even though they could not be licensed as doctors). Yet despite these advantages, they still face enormous hardships in an increasingly dangerous world. And of course one of the truths this story confronts is the reality of rape in war and how Southern women handled that. Two important themes are women finding strengths they don’t know they possess, and the bonds that can form amongst a community of women undergoing hardship together.

Please tell us a little about the supporting characters.

One of the most interesting characters for me to write was Amrie’s mother, Kate St. Pierre. At the beginning of the book Amrie sees her the way all children tend to see their mothers, with little understanding of the hardships and strains Kate is facing. But as the war goes on and Amrie grows up, their relationship subtly shifts, and Amrie begins to realize just how much there is to admire about her mother—and the ways in which they are and are not alike. The mother-daughter dynamic is always a powerful one, and when it is played out against the strains of war and extreme hardship, it’s fascinating.

A very different character is Adelaide Dunbar, Amrie’s grandmother. Adelaide is a hard woman who has done some terrible things in her life (Amrie discovers just how terrible as the story progresses), and yet she has an inner grit that can’t help but inspire respect. She forms a distinct contrast to Castile Boudreaau, a freed slave who serves as something of a mentor to Amrie. He’s an evolved soul who has already lived through so much pain and hardship that he has the calm and wisdom that Amrie lacks—and sorely needs as the war progresses. I could go on and on, talking about Finn, Amrie’s childhood friend, and Hilda Meyers, the enigmatic German shopkeeper; they’re all so real to me that since I’ve finished the book I find I miss them the way you miss friends you haven’t seen in a while.

For those who are not familiar with Civil War battle sites like Port Hudson, Bayou Sara, and Camp Moore, could you talk a little about that?

It’s hard to overstate the strategic importance of the Mississippi River in the Civil War. The Union knew that if they could take the river, they would effectively cut the Confederacy in two and stop the influx of cattle, horses, and other vital supplies coming into the South from Texas. Once New Orleans fell, the last two Confederate strongholds on the river were Port Hudson and Vicksburg, which became the scenes of horrific sieges. The once prosperous town of St. Francisville and its port, Bayou Sara, lay in between the two, so they suffered grievously from the depredations of Union troops trying to overrun both those two fortifications and Camp Moore, an important Confederate training ground that lay just to the east. The entire area was constantly raided and burned, and guerilla attacks on Union supply lines led to brutal acts of retaliation against area civilians. The things done to the women and children of Louisiana were abominable.

This is a big leap from your Regency England St. Cyr series. What prompted you to write this story and will there be any more like this from you? I hope so!

One of the hazards of keeping a series going for years and years is that there’s a risk of the writer becoming complacent or bored working always with the same characters, setting, and types of stories. For a while I was also writing a contemporary thriller series (under the name C. S. Graham), but I’m a slow writer and it almost killed me trying to keep two series going at the same time. So for me, standalones like this are a better solution.

I’ve actually wanted to write this book for over a decade, ever since I wrote a historical mystery set in occupied New Orleans (Midnight Confessions: currently out of print but due to be reissued soon under my real name, Candice Proctor). That’s when I first learned something about how hard the war had been on the civilian population of Louisiana, and I started thinking about looking at those events through the unblinkingly honest eyes of a child. Then Katrina hit, and one of the ways I survived those first horrible months of living in a devastated city was by reminding myself of how the residents of other destroyed cities throughout history pulled together to survive and rebuild. And that experience put a new spin on the story I wanted to tell.

I’m currently writing a novella set in Kent during World War II that will be part of an anthology by four authors called The Jacobite’s Watch. This is a new venture for me in two ways: it’s a time period I’ve never tried before, and I’ve never written a novella. I do think it’s important for a writer to keep challenging herself.

How would your characters describe you?

Ha! That’s an interesting question. I guess it would depend on the character. Amrie and I have much in common—she has a lot of my faults along with a number of characteristics I’d like to have but don’t. Ironically it wasn’t until I was reading the galleys for the published book that I realized Amrie’s mother is in many ways a blending of my own mother and grandmother with parts of me, too. I suspect all writers do this—put parts of themselves in their characters, including parts they don’t have but wish they did.

How much time and research did you spend on Good Time Coming and what was the process in getting a publisher to take it on?

I researched this book for years. I read hundreds of letters, memoirs, and journals, along with countless histories on various aspects of the war. I visited the historic sites that are important in the story—Port Hudson and Camp Moore, Jackson and the site of the vanished town of Bayou Sara. I even bought a weekend house not far from St. Francisville, between Jackson and Clinton! I went to Civil War battle reenactments, toured plantations and slave quarters, and spent days and days in dusty museums learning everything I could about how things were done and what objects actually looked like. And then I sat down and wrote the manuscript in five months in a white heat of eighteen-hour days, seven days a week. I’m normally a painfully slow writer, but this book just came pouring out of me.

Because I’d never written anything like this before—a coming-of-age story told from the first person viewpoint of a young girl—I was more than a bit apprehensive about my ability to do the story justice. But I honestly believe it is the best book I have ever written, and my agent was so excited when I sent it to her. Then she sent it out, and we received the most glowing, lyrical rejection letters ever penned. The problem was the subject matter—the effect of the Civil War on Southern civilians, plus, oddly, the issue of rape. New York editors were afraid to touch it. There’s a reason this book was published in England.

What do you feel is the importance of historical fiction?

As a professional historian, I find it frightening how little so many people know about the past. History has so much to teach us, not only about past events but also about human nature. As the saying goes, history may not repeat itself, but it does rhyme (a truism attributed to Mark Twain although he actually wrote something slightly different). For those who may not enjoy reading nonfiction histories, well-researched historical fiction offers an accessible window to the past.

Who are your influences?

I’ve long believed that the books we read as children influence us the most, and as a child I read Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Alexandre Dumas. Plus we lived in Europe when I was young, and our weekends and summers were spent crawling around crumbling castles, abbeys, and Roman ruins. So it’s no surprise I grew up fascinated by history, and that when I started writing I gravitated to historicals.

Other writers that undoubtedly had an influence on this book are James Lee Burke, both because of his insight into human nature and his lyrically beautiful prose, and of course Harper Lee. It’s impossible to write about a young girl coming of age in the South without consciously or unconsciously referencing Scout.

When writing, do you use visuals to give you inspiration?

I’ve never been one of those writers who makes collages with photos of characters, houses, clothes, etc. But I do like to go to the places I’ll be writing about and look at objects—a Civil War surgeon’s instruments, for example, or a real nineteenth-century homemade bow (I was so excited when I actually found one hanging on the wall of an outbuilding of a St. Francisville plantation house; they were common in the South in the years after the Civil War because former Confederate soldiers were not allowed to own guns).  I tramped all over the extensive battlefields of Fort Hudson, waded through the swamps of Cat Island, and stood in St. Francisville’s churchyard to watch the annual reenactment of what they call the Day the War Stopped (a commemoration of the time Federal and Confederate Masons joined together to give a Union captain a Masonic funeral). When I sit down to write, those are the things I draw on.

What is your writing process and how much time during the day do you write?

I do the bulk of my research before I start writing because I find my plots and characters grow out of what I’m reading and learning. I’ve heard some authors say they plot first and then research only what they need as they’re writing, so they don’t “waste time” learning what they’ll never use. The problem with that approach is that it risks turning history into mere window dressing. When I’m writing, if I come upon something I need but don’t know, I will stop and look it up. I’ve spent half a day chasing down information to get one word right—it’s the hazard of having been a history professor.

Ever since Katrina (when I had no choice) I’ve learned to love writing my books by hand in a legal pad. Recent studies have shown that there is something about holding a pen that stimulates the creative parts of your brain, so I’m not just imagining it. When I finish a chapter, I type it up, print it out, then find a comfortable chair to reread and edit. I constantly go back and edit the chapters I’ve written, so that by the time I finish a manuscript it is virtually in its final state. Yet I have a good friend who composes entirely on her computer, never edits until she’s finished, and never prints out her manuscripts. À chacun son goût.

As for how much of my day I spend on writing, I feel as if I’m always working, that I’m never free to just relax the way someone with a 9-5 job can. The problem with working for yourself is that you feel as if you should always be working. And yet because you’re operating on this long deadline—in my case, usually a year to write a 440-page manuscript—it’s all too easy to waste time, to tell yourself you need to think more about your plot or that the article about sociopaths you want to read is “research.” And then there’s the Internet. Publishers push their writers to be active on Facebook and Twitter, but I think it’s a mistake—soooo many writers I know are now locked in a constant battle against the distraction of social media. It’s a huge time sink.

There was a time I was rigorously self-disciplined. Now, not so much.

What is up next for you?

The twelfth book in the Sebastian St. Cyr series, Where the Dead Lie, will be out in April 2017, and I’ve almost finished #13 (which unfortunately still doesn’t have a title). Then I’ll be moving on to #14, which does have a title: Who Slays the Wicked (love that title!). The anthology with the World War II novella I mentioned will probably be out in 2018. And I’ve also been revising four of my out-of-print historicals; they should all be available early next year.

Where can readers buy your books?

The Sebastian St. Cyr series is available in virtually all outlets in the States and online elsewhere. Good Time Coming is available in hardcover and e-book through various outlets online and can also be ordered through independent bookstores.

Author Links:

Website

Twitter:  @csharris2

Facebook

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Interview with Award Winning Author Lisa Brunette

me-iiI’d like to welcome back two time B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Lisa Brunette today to talk about her award winning book, Framed and Burning. Lisa was born in Santa Rosa, California, but that was only home for a year. A so-called “military brat,” she lived in nine different houses and attended nine different schools by the time she was 14. Through all of the moves, her one constant was books. She read everything, from the entire Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden mystery series to her mother’s books by Daphne du Maurier and Taylor Caldwell. 

A widely published author, game writer, and journalist, Lisa has interviewed homeless women, the designer of the Batmobile, and a sex expert, to name just a few colorful characters. This experience, not to mention her own large, quirky family, led her to create some truly memorable characters in her Dreamslippers Series and other works, whether books or games.

Always a vivid dreamer, not to mention a wannabe psychic, Lisa feels perfectly at home slipping into suspects’ dreams, at least in her imagination. Her husband isn’t so sure she can’t pick up his dreams in real life, though.

With a hefty list of awards and publications to her name, Lisa now lives in a small town in Washington State, but who knows how long that will last…

Hi, Lisa! Thank you for chatting with me today. First, I HAVE to ask you how you came up with the name “Dreamslippers” for your series.

lisa-brunette-ii-bragThat’s a great question. Before I published the first book in the series, Cat in the Flock, I’d been mulling over what to call the psychic dreaming gift that my characters possess. I had used the phrase “slip into your dreams,” and one of my BETA readers, Chrysanne Westin, suggested I call it “dreamslipping.” When I released the first book with the old cover (which my husband and I designed) in July of 2014, it ran under the series title “McCormick Files,” after protagonist Cat’s last name. But when I updated with a professional cover, I decided at that point to call it the Dreamslippers Series. It’s perfect for a family of sleuths with the unique but limited ability to slip into other people’s dreams.

Tell me about Framed and Burning. By the way, I love the title.

Thank you. I agonized over the title for quite some time, testing a few with BETA readers. I settled on Framed and Burning because, like the title for book one, it contains a double entendre. Someone gets framed in the book, and there’s a lot of different kinds of burning in the book, that of the fire in the first scene but also burning ambition, passion, truth… The story opens with a fire in Mick’s studio, killing his assistant, Donnie Hines. The evidence shows its arson, and the police suspect Mick. His sister and grand-niece are PIs, and they work to clear his name.

By the way, it used to be part of my job description to name mystery games at Big Fish; I’ve named hundreds of games. It’s never easy, but it can be fun!

Will you give me a little background on Mick Travers?

Sure! He’s often the only dude in the room, since my series is very female-centric. Mick is a fellow dreamslipper, but he uses the images he picks up from other people’s dreams as inspiration for his art. His older sister, Amazing Grace, and his grand-niece, Cat McCormick, use it to solve crimes.

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

Mick is very jaded after living most of his life in Miami, which can be a plastic-y, materialistic place. Grace is a dyed-in-the-wool Seattleite: politically liberal, spiritually open, self-directed, and very DIY. Cat is like a lot of people from the Midwest: practical, skeptical, grounded. But she’s also adventurous and curious, which draws her to the other two locations.

What are the habits of your protagonist?

Grace’s habits form the basis for much of Cat’s apprenticeship. Grace is a lifelong yoga devotee, a practitioner of several different spiritual paths, including Buddhism and New Thought, and she regularly meditates. In book three, she takes up a holistic, barefoot dance practice called Nia. And she does all of this in her 70s! You can tell I have a lot of fun with her. Cat is a Millennial who’s tied to her tech, never without her cell phone and adept at online research. But she allows her grandmother to take her under her wing, learning the value of yogic breathing, for example, and using it.

How long did it take to write your story, and what was your process? Did your process for this book change from Cat and the Flock?

Framed and Burning came out in a rush over two months. But that was just the first draft. I spent another six months polishing it. My process for Cat in the Flock was much different, as I took two years to craft the story, but I was working 50-70-hour weeks at my day job during that time and couldn’t concentrate on it as much as I did with Framed and Burning.

Tell me a little about the quirky Miami art world in your story. What does art mean to you, personally?

I didn’t grow up around art or museums, but as soon as I left home and was free to explore on my own, I made art discovery a priority, visiting museums in every city I went to and covering my walls with inexpensive art poster prints. In college, I made it part of my curriculum in American Studies, and I worked for a time at the St. Louis Art Museum (selling memberships), where I spent hours staring at paintings, especially in the modern and contemporary galleries, coming to think of them as my friends. My first husband was an artist who worked out of our home, so I was surrounded by paint and canvases for eleven years, with artists of all types traipsing in and out, and I acquired numerous pieces of my own through that experience.

That doesn’t really answer your question, though, does it? I guess you could say I fell in love with art on my own first—and then I fell for an artist. Even though the ex and I have been apart now for seven years, the art is very much still with me.

Who designed your book cover?

I work with Monika Younger, a super pro with more than a decade of experience designing covers for Harlequin (both their romance and mystery lines). I highly recommend her.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve just launched the third book in the series, Bound to the Truth. It’s about the murder of a brilliant Seattle architect. Her widow hires Cat and Grace to investigate a man she suspects as the killer, a well-known conservative radio talk show host.

Thank you, Lisa! It was a pleasure chatting with you!

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A message from indieBRAG:

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

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Characters in Motion with Annie Whitehead

Welcome to Question Time, coming to you ‘live’ from 10th century Mercia. Here with me tonight are, from To Be A Queen, Aethelflaed and Ethelred, and from Alvar the Kingmaker, we have Alvar, Káta, and Alfreda. Our first question comes from our viewer, Stephanie, and she would like to know which of the senses you consider most vital.

Alvar II.jpgAlvar and Káta, if I could turn to you first? 

“Thank you, Annie. Lord Alvar will allow me to begin, but I wish to speak about him. His sense of smell is acute. Once, before he met me, he wandered off in search of a ‘lady’ of the court, trying to locate her by catching a waft of her scent. When he gets angry, he talks in terms of smell, and has been known to declare that foul play ‘Stinks worse than a Welshman’s fart.’ Please excuse my language.”

Lord Alvar?

“Yes, I do notice smells. Káta is too self-effacing to tell you, but when I lay wounded and barely alive, the first thing I perceived when I regained consciousness was the delicate fragrance of her perfume and I knew I was in her care, and would recover. She has always been envious of Queen Alfreda, but she will discover, poignantly, that Alfreda wears that same perfume, and it reminds me always of Káta.”

Lord Alvar, can you tell us about Káta now?

“She will tell you that I am never comfortable talking about the women in my life, and especially about her. I get tongue-tied and often make a fool of myself, but I shall try. I love watching her: her fingers are nimble and throughout our story I have watched her bandaging various people, myself included, and working at her spinning. When she is worried, she will reach out and touch her loved ones, for reassurance or to check that their wounds are healing. In relaxed moments, she will run her hands through a sack of dried peas, or, out walking, she will tug at the plants along the hedgerow, often playing with a stalk of grass that has come away in her hands. I watched her once, threading a chain of flowers, and when she caught me looking at her, I don’t know which of us was more embarrassed. And, after I’d tried and failed to describe Queen Alfreda to her, I tickled her face with a blade of grass. That very nearly led to something we both would have regretted at the time.”

Ah yes, now we should speak to Queen Alfreda?

“Well, it’s all about the eyes, isn’t it? It’s about what people see, or don’t see. Beauty and bruises. I spent my early life making sure that folk could not see the marks upon me. I hid away, I held my hands to my chest when I walked, I sat in dark corners. Then a powerful man, the king, no less, declared me beautiful and persuaded me to believe him. There was a moment, when I made a decision to wear my best and most expensive dress, of green silk. That decision changed my life, for people saw me and knew me to be a noblewoman. It was the day I shed one life and began another. Nowadays, I make sure that whenever men look upon me, they see me at my best. I will smooth my skirts, I sit up straight, and I meet their gaze. I have found, though, that it pleases them if I then look away and slightly downwards. Except that the lord Alvar…”

To BE Quuen by Annie Whitehead II

Thank you, and please don’t upset yourself. Shall we turn now to our guests from To Be A Queen? Lord Ethelred?

“I was a warrior and I relied upon all my senses. I would have answered Stephanie’s question by saying that they are all equal. But there came a time in my life when my eyes and legs failed me. I had to rely for a while on my hearing, and at first it played tricks on me. I lay in bed, and listened, but sometimes in the swirling world between sleep and wakefulness I couldn’t distinguish between the flocks of geese and the noise of chatter from the great hall. Gradually I learned to listen more closely to what I was hearing, and was able to detect the subtle change of tone in people’s voices, that betrayed their true feelings. Did you know that, my love?”

Lady Aethelflaed?

“Yes, I did. And I know the conversation you have in mind. But let’s not dwell on that.”

“No, my love, let us tell them instead about you, and how you honed your missile-launching skills. I watched you, remember, playing with the children and trying to hook horseshoes onto a stick in the ground? It was just after you had thrown a shoe at the crow to scare it away from the newly-planted herb bed. I recall the night you silenced a row between Mercians and their visitors from Wessex by hurling plates and cups at them from the head table. And I daresay those Vikings outside the walls of Chester were a bit surprised to see what you ordered to be pelted over the walls at them.”

“Well, they made me cross. And we had to do something, folk were starving…”

Ah yes, Lady Aethelflaed. We’ve talked tonight about Smell, Touch, Sight, Hearing, and Hand-Eye Co-ordination. What of Taste?

“Annie, dear author, do we really need to remind you? Even when we are not enduring famine, which happens frequently, our food is, really, quite appalling. My wedding feast was sumptuous, thanks to my Lord Ethelred’s generosity, but when I tell you that we had the luxury of expensive herring, you might remember that everything is relative. Mostly, even we rich folk eat what you would call basic foods: meat (boiled or roasted), fish, cheese, fruit, nuts, pulses, vegetables. Oh, and most of us will wear our teeth down quickly because our bread is very gritty. I believe that Káta ordered her flour to be ground more thoroughly when her lord was home, but says she doesn’t need it so finely ground when he is away.”

Ah, but when you say ‘her lord’ you don’t mean Alvar, do you? Perhaps we’d better move on. Thank you to all my guests tonight. Next week there will be a different panel, and no doubt a completely different question from our viewer, Stephanie. Thank you all for watching, and Goodnight.

Annie Whitehead head shot II

Annie Whitehead is a history graduate who now works as an Early Years music teacher. Her first novel, To Be A Queen, is the story of Aethelflaed, daughter of Alfred the Great, who came to be known as the Lady of the Mercians. It was long-listed for the Historical Novel Society’s Indie Book of the Year 2016. Her new release, Alvar the Kingmaker, which tells the story of Aelfhere of Mercia, a nobleman in the time of King Edgar, is available now, and is the story of one man’s battle to keep the monarchy strong and the country at peace, when successive kings die young. Attempting to stay loyal to all those who depend on him, he must make some very personal sacrifices. A third novel, also set in Mercia, is due to be released in 2017. Annie is currently working on the novel which was a prize-winning entry in the Mail on Sunday Novel Writing competition and which she was encouraged by judge Fay Weldon to complete.

Alvar the Kingmaker

To Be a Queen

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