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

Amazon

 

 

 

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

 

Interview with B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree S.L. Dwyer

Sharon Dwyer BRAGI’d like to welcome back B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree Hi, S.L. Dwyer to Layered Pages today! S.L., thank you for visiting with me today to talk about your B.R.A.G. Medallion Book, The Fantasmagorical Forest. Please tell me about your story.

The story centers on 15-year-old Katelin who has not been able handle her grief over her father’s death. She is devastated when told she will be spending part of her summer, along with her younger brother, at their great-grandmother’s home in the Appalachian Mountains. With no malls, no TV, and no cell phone service, she not only brings her physical baggage, but her emotional baggage. Thinking her life is a total mess now, she fights the beauty of magic they find in the forest that surrounds Nana’s home. But not her brother Simon, who drags her along, willing or not, on his adventures exploring the wonders of the land. Faeries, talking birds, and gentle trolls fail to bring Katelin out of what her brother calls her “baditude”. When Nana is kidnapped, Katelin must organize a race to save her using all the magical beings they met even though she has been rude to all of them.  It’s a story about how a teen reacts to the death of a parent and the road she must travel to realize she still has the love of the rest of her family and it’s okay to grieve.

Describe Katelin and Simon’s great-grandmother’s home in a valley in the Appalachian Mountains.

Nana’s home sits alone in a valley surrounded by the Appalachian Mountains and a lush forest. The house is wood with a large front porch and a smaller back porch facing the forest. Although the house seems small from the outside, once you step inside it appears much larger due to Nana’s personality, with a living room filled with family pictures and a rocking chair next to a large window looking out onto the valley, a rarely used dining room and a cozy kitchen where everyone spends most of their time. There is always fresh lemonade on the table and the aroma of fresh baked goods.  Near the house is a shed made from the remnants of the original log cabin her parents had built and the old well where, as a child, she drew water. Although alone in the valley, the house is cozy within the environment it sits.

The Fantasmagorical Forest BRAGHow did you come up with the name, Fantasmagorical?

The original title was Nana’s Enchanted Valley, but the more I wrote the story the more I didn’t like the title. I wanted the title to reflect the main characters. During one of my writer’s group meetings we threw some words around to get an idea of a new title. The Fantasmagorical Forest was born and it fit great with the young characters. Simon always makes up words (baditude, awesomity, fantasmagorical) so it fit with the story.

What is the world of Dhumfeld like?

The land of the gentle trolls, where everything is big, is bordered on three sides by tall, formidable mountains, cut in half by a river filled with giant snakes, and covered for as far as you can see with tall, golden grass. Warm with a mild breeze, it has subtle beauty intertwined with danger. Green, cool woods shaped like circles plunked down in the plains are inviting but deadly in the truest sense. There are no houses or villages as the trolls live in a huge cave within a mountain. Their mountain is the portal between the two worlds.

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

Katelin is consumed with grief and it shows in everything she does and says which plays well off Simon’s, happy personality. They bump heads at every turn with Katelin’s need to take her pain out on all those around her and force the story by creating situations that they must work together to resolve. As with all opposite personalities, they come to a point where they must confront each other and say what is in their hearts – good and bad. This becomes the turning point in which the story goes from fighting with each other to joining together, heart and soul, in their race to find Nana.

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

I become each character as I write their actions and dialogue, especially in this book and my previous book, Dirt. Writing about young characters gives me the opportunity to forget about how adults would react to situations and go back to how I dealt with emotions as a teen. It’s amazing how our mind never forgets all those years spent becoming an adult.  Emotions are like freckles; they may fade but never really go away. I can’t believe I just thought about freckles, they bothered me as a teen and I couldn’t wait for them to disappear. Memories tend to show up in our writing without us being aware of it. Back to the question… as I become that young person, I get to say what I want and do what I want and not care or worry about what anyone thought. The abandonment of thinking about doing things right (or being PC) sets me free. I go back to when I was a teen and think about how I would react in the same situation, or at least how I thought I would react, if I want to be angry and not care who got hurt, or be a daredevil and never think about the consequences. I become that character.

Personality helps to drive the plot because as I know my character I am able to put them in positions that require some action, whether it be passive or active. They become three dimensional by using good and bad traits. I love writing young adult stories. Young teens have such a great way of dealing with situations. They are so “in your face” with their emotions. I try to make the characters as real as possible and hope I get it right.

Who designed your book cover?

The picture is actually a photograph of a forest in Nettuno, Italy by Moyan Brenn. I came across it on the internet and realized this was my Fantasmagorical Forest and contacted the photographer. He is a great photographer and gave me permission to use it. Joleen Naylor did the title work. I guess you can say I designed it with a great deal of help by these two wonderful people. I’ve already picked out one of his photographs for the cover of the next book in the trilogy.

How long did it take to write your story and what was your process?

I took about a year since I wrote while taking care of my 91-year-old father 24/7. I really can’t schedule a specific time to write since I never know what will be happening that day. An idea comes and I think about it for awhile until a see a story forming then I take 3×5 cards and use one for each chapter writing the main scene and notes for things I want to include in that chapter. As I’m writing, if I find something I want to include in a previous chapter, I write a note on the corresponding chapter card in red and use them when I edit and rewrite. This system works for me because I don’t have to go back to previous chapters to put something in and end up losing my train of thought as I write.

Favorite food or drink while you write?

Anything I can eat or drink with one hand. When I’m on a roll and the writing is flowing, I don’t want to stop and fix something that stops my train of thought.  Lots of water and yogurt. If I’m energetic, I’ll make a plate of cheese and crackers.

Are there any new writing habits you have developed with each book you have written?

Absolutely. As writers, we all hope to grow as we tackle each story, find new ways to work that produces our best writing. I never plotted or wrote an outline for my first two books.  I sat down and wrote until I felt the story was complete. I knew the beginning, middle and end. This worked only up to a point. I ended up throwing out over one hundred pages and totally rewrote the first two chapters in my first book.  It was a good learning experience.  By the time I got to my third book, Dirt, I used the 3×5 cards for the first time and realized how much easier it was to keep the story on track and to go back and add things or take them out. When I wrote The Fantasmagorical Forest, I used the cards but left out the last chapter thinking I wasn’t happy with what I had envisioned at the start and waited until I was almost finished before deciding on the ending. The second book in The Fantasmagorical Forest trilogy, I used the 3×5 cards and left the last few chapters open. As it is, I’ve already deviated from my cards by chapter 3 and now I am catching up to the original story line.  That’s the good thing about using the cards, I can move away and catch up without losing the story I originally envisioned. I never used to go over any of my chapters until I finished the story. I am now going back over the last chapter I wrote, rereading it and doing a little editing before writing the next chapter. This gets me into the story faster.  I’m evolving.

Where can readers buy your book? 

All my books are on Amazon. I’m getting ready to add them to Barnes and Noble.

What are you currently working on?

Book 2 of The Fantasmagorical Forest. I love this story because Katelin is now almost eighteen and her views of the world are a little different. She makes decisions and worries about the consequences later.  It seems as if some of her brother, Simon, has rubbed off on her.

Thank you, S.L.! A pleasure to talk with you today.

About Author:

Born in Connecticut and raised in Florida, I still consider myself a New Englander and miss the scenery. I’ve worked at several different professions from nursing to engineering to finance until I realized writing is what makes me the happiest.  The joy of taking a single idea and turning it into a story people want to read is exhilarating.

People ask me where I get my ideas for my books. Well, as most writers will tell you, they come from observing life around you. I am a people watcher and find stories where ever I look. I am also a day dreamer – which sometimes gets in the way of my writing.

I am currently working on my third YA book and having fun staying in the heads of a fifteen-year-old and eleven-year-old. The freedom to shape these characters is enormous and I have fun going back in time and being that child again – without all the problems inherent to teenagers. I would never have thought this is where I would settle in my writing. My first book was action/adventure; shoot-outs and chases were fun along with exotic locales. My second book was mainstream drama and left me feeling drained from the emotional baggage that came with the story.

So, putting those books behind me, I have embarked on a wonderful journey writing stories with children being my main characters and finding all sorts of trouble for them to get into. And, I plan on sticking with teen and YA stories, at least for now.

Links

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A message from indieBRAG:

We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview S.L. Dwyer who is the author of, The Fantasmagorical Forest, 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, The Fantasmagorical Forest, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.

 indiebrag team member

Characters in Motion: Bestselling Author Margaret Porter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Pledge of Better Times

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

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

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

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

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

Website Website

Twitter @MargaretAuthor

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Interview with Best-Selling Author Lynn Cullen

Lynn Cullen Twains EndI have the great pleasure of welcoming back Lynn Cullen to Layered Pages to talk with me about her current novel. Lynn’s recent novel, Mrs. Poe, a national bestseller, has been named a Target Book Club Pick, an NPR 2013 Great Read, an Oprah.com “Book that Makes Time Stand Still,” and an Indie Next List selection.  Her current release, Twain’s End, called “reputation squaring…incendiary” by the New York Times and “intelligently drawn” by Library Journal, is a People pick, an Indie Next selection, and a 2016 Townsend Prize finalist.  Cullen, named “the Bronte of our day” by the Huffington Post, grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  She now lives in Atlanta surrounded by her large family, and, like Mark Twain, enjoys being bossed around by cats.

Hi, Lynn! Tell me about your story, Twain’s End.

Thank you for inviting me to chat with you about Twain’s End at Layered Pages, Stephanie.  I’m so happy to be with you here!  To get things started, at its core. Twain’s End is a tale of The Other Woman.  The real-life woman in the shadows in this case is Mark Twain’s secretary, Isabel Lyon.   But the story, Isabel Lyon is not competing for Twain’s heart and soul with his wife, Livy Clemens.  No, Isabel’s competition is much stiffer.  Isabel must battle with “Mark Twain,” the extraordinarily successful character the real life man, Samuel Clemens, created in his thirst for fame and adulation.  Isabel Lyon fell in love with the real man behind the legend, and ultimately, forced him to choose between her and the love of his public.

What made you decide to write this story?

I ‘m always interested in the underdog.  When I learned about Mark Twain’s tragic childhood, my antennae went up.  Among other horrific incidents that he experienced as a boy, he watched doctors dissect his own father through the keyhole of his parents’ bedroom door.  This episode said a lot about the toxic, hostile state of his parents’ marriage and about their extreme poverty.  It was unspeakably taboo for a wife to sell her own husband as a cadaver in those days.  How she must have hated the man to do so!  But as damaging as little Sammy’s boyhood was, I was more astonished by his brutal turning against his secretary, Isabel Lyon, after nearly seven years of devoted service.  She was more than an employee.  She traveled with him, entertained his daughters, oversaw the family medical needs, handled his social life and reporters, and oversaw the construction and furnishing of his home.  She even washed that white hair and bought those white suits! He told her, as well as friends and reporters, that she knew him better than anyone.  It was obvious to their friends that they were a couple.  Yet, a month after she married his business manager, Twain told those same people that Isabel was “a liar, a forger, a thief, a hypocrite, a drunkard, a sneak, a humbug, a traitor, a conspirator, a filthy-minded and salacious slut pining for seduction.” I wanted to know what caused the radical turnabout.

02_Twains-EndTell me a little about the research you did.

It’s important to me for my readers to know that everything they read in my novels could have actually happened–at least to my knowledge, they could have.  I like to take known events and flesh them out without changing the facts I have learned through painstaking research.  To give my readers confidence in the plausibility of my stories, I go to great lengths to track down the truth behind the legend.

To this end, I’ve found that there’s no substitute for traveling to the setting of every scene in my books.  For Twain’s End, combing through family writings and photographs gave me clues beyond reading dozens of Mark Twain biographies, as well.

The most helpful of sources was Isabel Lyon’s own diary, in which she kept a daily record of her life with the man she called “The King.”  I shaped many of the scenes in the book around her diary entries.

Tell me about Isabel V. Lyon.

Isabel is a remarkable example of someone trying to make the best out of the limited opportunities for women in the decades around the turn of the twentieth century.  She was born into a wealthy Eastern family but after her father’s death when she was a teenager, it was up to her to support herself and her mother.   The only work available to someone in her class was as a governess, at which she worked until Mark Twain hired her in her early thirties as a social secretary to his ailing wife.   She also made pincushions to sell in those pre-Etsy days.  Once working for the Clemenses, Isabel quickly became more than a secretary to the entire eccentric Clemens family, eventually assuming the role as mother when Livy died.  Yet within seven years, the family turned against her and ended up ensuring that her name was mud for all time.  I try to explain why and how this happened in my story.

What do you think of Clara Clemens?

It’s convenient to blame Clara for Twain’s abuse of Isabel Lyon and many Twain scholars revile Clara.  Yet, while I pull no punches in Twain’s End showing what a pill Clara truly was in real life, I actually feel sorry for her.  I hope to show in the story how her bizarre family life contributed to her instability.  I was just trying to report why she did the things she did, which was what I was trying to do with all my characters in the book.  I’m not trying to pass judgment them.  My job was to lay out the facts so that readers could decide how they feel.

Self-image is important in characters, how is this important to your characters?

Self-image was everything to Mark Twain.  Samuel Clemens had to maintain his persona as the amiable everyday family man, Mark Twain, if he was to keep the love of the world that he so craved.   As he matured, he attempted to write things closer to his heart but whenever he did, sales flagged.  The public did not welcome his dark side.  They wanted the creator of Tom Sawyer or nothing.

Talk about the courage and strength of your character. -and possibly the isolation your character may feel with these attributes.

I found it interesting that even after Twain and his daughter Clara took a scorched earth approach to publically slandering Isabel, she never fought back.  A large part of this might be due to Isabel’s understanding that she could never win a he said/she said battle with the world’s most beloved man, as Twain was at the time.   The other part, I feel, was that Isabel believed that her own good deeds would eventually vindicate her; surely the truth of her good character would have to come out.  It didn’t.  I wrote Twain’s End as an example of how innocence is sometimes not enough to clear someone’s name.

What are your favorite writings by Twain?

One of my favorites is a little known short story, “A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It.”

Mark Twain calls his tale “true,” although of course it’s fictitious.  Yet there a very real truth hidden in this story–the truth about his own grief over the inhuman treatment the family slave received at his parents’ hands.   Twain’s End explores Twain’s relationship with this slave, Jennie, and how it might have affected his thinking.

Do you think any differently of him after researching him?

I went into writing this book with the same basic knowledge of the white-suited wit as any other American:  he was the funny guy who wrote Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn and he rocked the color white before Colonel Sanders ever did.  My research revealed a much more complicated man.  I found that, as is the case

with many other humorists, below his hilarious surface, he was one very angry and melancholic man.  I ended up appreciating what Twain, the product of a difficult childhood, made of himself, and I savor his charisma and cleverness.  Although there is no denying his flaws—and he was at his very worst when striking out at Isabel–I have great sympathy for him as a fellow human.

How long did it take to write your story?

I wrote the story over a two-year period, traveling and researching while writing.  I go to scenes both before and after I’ve written them, and put in 8 – 12 hour days writing (with lots of snacking, walking, and bird-gazing tossed in.)

What are you currently working on?

My next book takes place during the Great Depression in 1934.  Famous people are in it… (to be continued.)

Thank you for the chat, Lynn! Please visit me at Layered Pages again!

It was a treat to talk with you, Stephanie.  Much love to you and the readers of Layered Pages!

For more information, please visit Lynn Cullen’s website. You can also find her on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Goodreads.

Interview with Kristen Harnisch!

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

Kristen, thank you for chatting with me today about your book, The Vintner’s Daughter! I enjoyed reading your story very much! Please tell your audience a little about the story.

The Vintner’s Daughter is the story of Sara Thibault, a winemaker’s daughter, and her struggle to reclaim her family’s nineteenth-century Loire Valley vineyard. In 1895, through a series of tragic events, Sara is forced to flee her French village of Vouvray for America, on a journey that will take her across the Atlantic, to the slums of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and out west to the rolling hills and sprawling vineyards of Napa, California. In Napa, Sara is determined to follow in her father’s footsteps as a master winemaker, but must face the one man who could either restore her family’s vineyard to her—or prosecute her for her crime.

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

In The Vintner’s Daughter, I often use setting to reflect the emotional state of my characters. For example, Sara is deeply attached to Saint Martin, her family’s estate in Vouvray. The vineyard, winery and ancestral home are where she played with her older sister and worked alongside her beloved father. Here she created some of her best childhood memories, learning how to cultivate and press grapes, craft wine and work to secure the best price for each vintage. She felt useful and cherished. When she’s forced to seek refuge at a cloistered convent in Manhattan, its dark stone hallways, austere lifestyle and strict schedules of this temporary home magnify Sara’s inner turmoil. She yearns to break free—and she eventually does.

What draws you in the most about winemaking and how you weaved this into your story?

I wrote The Vintner’s Daughter because I wanted to learn more about the art and science of making wine. Sixteen years ago, in October of 2000, I received the inspiration for the story while standing on the edge of a vineyard in Vouvray, France. The pristine rows of chenin blanc grapevines, the limestone caves, the whitewashed winery on my far left, and the abandoned watchman’s house on my right all captured my imagination. “This,” I thought to myself, “would be the perfect setting for a novel.”

Questions leapt to mind as I toured the Loire Valley cellars. Why have these families chosen to make wine for centuries? How do they choose the grapes they grow, how do they create fine wine, and what challenges do they encounter? The winemakers themselves answered some of my questions, but once I returned home, I also wanted to learn more about the history of the wine trade in California, where I had recently lived. I delved into French and California wine history books, read years of nineteenth-century trade papers such as The Pacific Wine and Spirit Review, consulted a master winemaker, reviewed old maps and photographs at The Napa County Historical Society and toured several family-owned Napa vineyards on foot and on bike. I was fascinated by what I discovered.

Every bottle of wine contains nearly three pounds of grapes and the vulnerability of this fruit is striking: over the last century and a half, grapes have fallen victim to pests, rodents, frost, mildew and Prohibition in the United States. Still, with a precise blend of hard labor, science and art, winemakers continue to perfect the wines that fill our glasses. I remain inspired and humbled by their efforts.

In The Vintner’s Daughter, I weave my knowledge of winemaking into Sara’s story and with my descriptions, I try to bring the reader into every scene—to taste, touch, see, smell and hear the beauty of the vineyards and the winemaking process as the characters do.

The Vintners Daughter by Kristen Harnisch II

What are Philippe Lemieux’s strengths and weaknesses?

Philippe is the product of a loving mother and an abusive, controlling father who favored his older brother, Bastien. After their mother died, Philippe left France to make his own way as a winemaker in America, settling as far away as possible from his father and brother—in Napa. He is an astute and trustworthy businessman and has made quick friends (and a few enemies) among his fellow winemakers. He’s had his share of indiscretions, but perhaps his biggest faults are that he’s too quick to judge and sometimes overly protective of those closest to him.

One of the themes in your story was about the Suffragette movement, can you tell us a little about that and why you chose to include that in your story?

The late 1800s were such an exciting time in American history because the women’s rights movement was gaining momentum. Our culture was experiencing a dramatic shift. Women were coming out of the kitchens and taking active roles in their family’s businesses or farms, or working in the city factories. In the last decade of the 1800s, although there was a vocal minority of women who pushed for the right to vote, most women were more concerned about their right to safe working conditions, to earn a fair wage and to open an individual bank account. They marched in their cities and towns to show their support and influence and after several decades, the legislature started to listen.

I chose to include details about the suffrage movement because, before conducting my research, I didn’t realize that the majority of suffragettes were also members of Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which supported a prohibition of alcohol. Sara, a winemaker, finds herself caught between her desire to fight for women’s rights and her commitment to protect the production and sale of wine. This conflict creates quite a dilemma for Sara in the story’s sequel, The California Wife.

What are your personal motivations in storytelling?

I was a banker for nine years before I decided to stay home and raise my children. That’s when I started to dream about writing a novel. In 2000, when I was inspired to write Sara’s story, I didn’t know how to write fiction! I took online writing classes and re-wrote the story ten times over fourteen years. It was one of the most time-consuming but rewarding leaps of faith I’ve ever taken. My motivations were simple: to challenge myself intellectually and to escape the laundry!

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

When I sit down to write a novel, I’m both excited and plagued with self-doubt. The only way to overcome this is to silence the voices in my head that continually ask, “What if it’s not as good as your last novel?” or “What if the critics hate it?” I focus on the story and making it the best I possibly can—and then I release it into the world. Beyond that, I have little control over how it’s received. This is the creative process!

What is your writing process?

When I write historical fiction, I start by researching the topics I’d like to cover, and many times I’ll uncover interesting real-life events that help me to construct the plot and conflict of the novel. Then I’ll make a haphazard attempt to outline the plot, which I’ll use as a guideline, but I prefer to dive in and start writing. I write in three-hour blocks, in the morning and/or late evening when the kids have gone to bed, and I usually don’t write scenes in order. Instead, I write about what excites me on that particular day—an argument between the characters, an earthquake, a shooting, a tender moment between characters—whatever I feel emotionally prepared to tackle. Coffee, afternoon tea and the occasional glass of wine in the evening all help the flow of creativity!

Where can reader buy your book? At your local bookseller, at Amazon.com, Audible, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, or anywhere! The Vintner’s Daughter is available in paperback, e-book and audio book!

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Characters in Motion with Janet Wertman

I’d like to welcome Janet Wertman to Layered Pages today. Janet is taking part in my characters in Motion series and talks with us about her earliest draft of Jane the Quene. Be sure to check out her links below and click on her website to learn more about her.

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Janet WertmanFirst, let me thank you for this series and the opportunity to discuss Characters in Motion. It was a fun exercise for me – especially since it was a topic I struggled with. I didn’t get to create the story from my characters, I had to create my characters from the story…and likable ones at that!

My debut novel, Jane the Quene, is the story of Jane Seymour, the third wife for whom Henry VIII executed Anne Boleyn. A lot of people know the basic facts, and virtually all of them are Team Anne.  But there is a way to tell Jane’s story that highlights its natural poignancy. That’s the story I wanted to tell, the one that would give Jane a team of her own – or at least acceptance.

The earliest drafts of the novel failed to do that. I wanted to make sure I got the story factually right, so I established my markers – very specific dates on which things happened – and I filled in the characters based on how they were reported to have acted at that time (I did have some wiggle room thanks to conflicting reports from inconsistent chroniclers, which let me pick and choose from a tapestry of stories that many had heard before, and reinterpret them in the way that felt right to me). As my writing books suggested, I told each scene from the point of view of the person most impacted in it …but that led to me giving voices to eight people – Jane, Henry, Edward, Cromwell, Anne Boleyn, Anne Seymour, even Mary. Jane’s voice and experience were lost, and the story was flat.

Then I found a great developmental editor who told me that I needed to forget the objective story and make it all about Jane’s personal experience. I could keep my timeline but I had to drastically cut the POVs. She originally suggested keeping only Jane’s voice, but I knew I needed a second someone to tell the other side of the story, someone who could detail the actual plotting that was taking place. Cromwell was the perfect choice – he was another vilified character with a poignant story (though the poignancy does not emerge until the close of this book), and he allowed me to reveal more of Henry (Jane saw him as good, Cromwell saw him as evil).

jane-the-queen-book-cover

From there, everything just fell into place. Since everything I wanted to say had to be filtered through Jane or Cromwell, I found myself showing more and telling less. Making each scene unfold slowly, with sensory details to anchor it. This was fiction after all and I was able to layer in the imagined private moments of Jane’s journey.  The September 1535 meeting in the gardens, the April 1536 hunting trip where Jane learns that Anne will die…these were the key pieces of the narrative. Invented, but still loosely based on facts (like the fact that Henry loved concocting medicines…the fact that hunting involved unmaking the deer and sharing the “good” organs on the spot…).  I had almost free rein with these, except for one particular pivotal scene: The December 1536 confluence of two blessed events (Mary’s return to court, London gathering on the frozen Thames to cheer on the royal procession to church) with two tragic ones (Jane’s father dying and another miscarriage). Luckily, everything worked (assuming a relatively speedy messenger!).

I’m finding the same challenges in the sequel: I am currently working on The Path to Somerset, which is the story of Edward Seymour (another vilified character with a poignant story…I have a pattern!) during the second three-set of Henry’s wives (Henry’s crazy years). Jane was about morality, Somerset is about power and risk. I am really enjoying getting to motivation in between the things we know happened…though I have to say I look forward to the editing process as I already know some places to be smoothed out a bit!

Janet Wertman

Author Links:

LINKS

Amazon US

Amazon UK

Amazon AU

For more information on Janet and her book Jane the Quene, go to her wonderful website, where she blogs on Tudor history.

Facebook Author Page

My Twitter

Jane’s Twitter (yes, she has her own – and tweets different stuff than I do!):

Pinterest

Google+ 

Be sure to check out Nancy Bilyeau’s  interview with Janet!

 

 

 

 

Interview with Author Laura Powell

Laura PowellI have the great pleasure of welcoming Laura Powell to Layered Pages today. Laura is a Features Commissioning Editor at the Daily Telegraph. She has written for The Guardian, Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday and various magazines. She was awarded a New Writer’s Bursary from Literature Wales and was named as one of Amazon’s Rising Stars. She grew up in South Wales and now lives in London. The Unforgotten is her first novel.

Laura, thank you so much for talking with me today about your book, The Unforgotten. What a stunning debut! I enjoyed your story and I love the complexities of your characters. Tell me how you came to write this story?

Thanks so much – it still feels funny to hear that other people have read about the world that lived in my head only for so long. I started writing it one Sunday afternoon when my then-boyfriend was in football practice. I’d been on Facebook and had seen an old face that brought back so many memories. Out of the blue I started writing a dark, sort-of love story about someone who was in a relationship but was never sure whether her feelings were returned or not. By the end of the day I’d written two chapters. I’ve since weaved in lots of other elements – murder, mental illness, moral dilemmas. But that bittersweet love story remains the core for me.

What is the premise of your story?

It’s a forbidden love story between a 15-year-old girl Betty and a 30-year-old journalist Gallagher set in 1950s Cornwall. They’re from different classes, different worlds – but their relationship becomes very deep, very fast. They meet when Gallagher arrives in the fishing village where Betty lives to report on a series of murders – but they soon make a discovery related to the murders. And they are each faced with a huge dilemma that tests their feelings for the other and questions their morality. The devastating consequences of that decision unravels over the next 50 years.

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

It is very dark, bleak but there is also a hopefulness and a lightness to it, which I hope shines through. Though ultimately I’m a sucker for a weepy book or film so…

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

The main character, Betty, is 15 and has hardly ever left her hometown of St Steele – a fictional Cornish fishing village – aside from going to the occasional dance in the neighbouring town. She travels outside that area for the first time in her life in the book – first to St Ives, a real Cornish town. And later, to London. Taking her away from that setting makes her even more vulnerable than she always has been, but also really tests her, as she has been so insulated (geographically speaking) all her life.

The Unforgotten

How did you choose a Cornish fishing village of St Steele as the setting of your story? Is it a real place? And why did you choose the 1950’s as the period for your story?

I chose to write about Cornwall because it’s my favourite part of the country. I’m Welsh. I now live in London. And I studied in the West Midlands (Warwick). Yet I’ve been to Cornwall – usually St Ives – every year since I was born, sometimes twice or three times. I love the town, it is full of happy memories with friends and family, so it was wonderful to ‘live’ there in my head for so long when writing. Yet I didn’t want to be tied to a real place so I invented St Steele. It’s loosely based on a teeny cove called Porthgwidden in St Ives that is just gorgeous. Making it a fictional place gives you a lot more freedom to move around, and to pick up a building or a street and drop it elsewhere if that benefits the plot, rather than being tied down to the truths of history.

Please tell your audience a little about Dolores Broadbent.

Dolores is the third main character. She is the mother of Betty, the main character. And she runs the guest house in St Steele. She was by far the easiest character to write and I had such a clear vision of her – a little like Julianne Moore’s character in A Single Man (the beautiful Tom Ford-directed film with Colin Firth.) She is beautiful and glamorous and whimsical but damaged and broken. She once had any man she wanted, she wafted about and was carefree. But now she is older, widowed, with little money, failing looks and a daughter of 15 who is not at all as she was, she is finding it hard to come to terms with her lot and as a result, can be quite violent and brutal. I loved her complexity. I hope people have the same sympathy for her that I do.

What are the changing emotions you have as a writer?

I’ve probably gone through every feeling on the spectrum. But if I’m honest, the one thing I always feel is disappointed. I wonder why I wrote that terrible line, why this or that isn’t working as well as I’d like it to, I’m constantly critiquing my writing and pulling it apart. I’m a bit of a malcontent. But I’m teaching myself not to be. Slowly.

What are your personal motivations in story-telling?

To inhabit the world as clearly and fully as I inhabit the ‘real’ world.

What are you working on next?

Another book. I don’t want to say too much in case I jinx it but it’s dark and historical and layered with mystery that unravels over the years, based on a catastrophic fictional event in our pasts. The idea has been bubbling in my head for years and I’m really enjoying delving in!

What is your writing process?

I’m afraid it’s an approach I can’t recommend for others but it works for me – ‘feast and famine’ is probably the best description. I spend weeks obsessed with writing the book; I think about it, write every spare second I have, late into the night and early into the morning, I write bits on the Notes of my phone, on my laptop when I’m on buses and trains, on scrawled napkins in cafes, then back to my laptop that night. Even when I’m with friends I’m thinking about the book… Then I crash. And spend a few weeks sleeping, reading, working, living etc – before I begin writing again. This is just for the first and second drafts I should add – I’d go mad if I was like that permanently. The later editing processes are much more methodical and orderly and calming. But that early writing stage is all a bit, well, obsessive!

Where can readers buy our book?

Amazon, Waterstones or Freight Books. Here are the links! If you read it, I’d love to know what you think – I’m on Twitter @laurapow1

Sites:

Waterstones-The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

Amazon UK

Freight Books-The Unforgotten by Laura Powell

 

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY IS AN HISTORICAL MYSTERY, BUT IT’S ALSO A TOUR OF FLORENCE

Welcome Donna Russo Morin to Layered Pages! 

Thank you so very much for hosting me today. It’s always a pleasure to have a chance to chat with bloggers and their readers.

PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY: Da Vinci’s Disciples has its historical basis rooted firmly in truth…one of the greatest conspiracies of the 15th century, a conspiracy that reached all the way to the Vatican. An assassination plot history now calls the Pazzi Conspiracy. With such a firm historical foundation, it allowed me to immerse myself fully in the city of Florence, as it was in 1478. And thanks to the many resources, both paper and virtual, the details of the setting found their way onto my page. It even allowed me to create a map, something I’ve always wanted to do.

Renaissance Florence map

Today, I’d like to share some of those remarkable architectural delights with you.

We must start where the story starts, where the assassination takes place: in Brunelleschi’s Duomo. In truth the Gothic style basilica, part of the complex of Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (Saint Mary of the Flowers Cathedral), was originally designed by Arnolfo di Cambio. Built on the ruins of the 7th century Santa Raparata Church, construction on the new structure began in 1296; it wasn’t complete, as it stands today—as it was in 1478—until 1436.

 

Duomo collage

The exterior façade is a checkerboard of marble using three different colors and strains of the opulent stone. Only in comparison, can the inside be called rather plain. By far one of its most enchanting features is the mosaic pavements that cover the floor.

But it is the dome itself that has always made the Duomo not only one of the greatest tourist attractions in the world, but one of its most innovative. Using buttresses was forbidden in Florence, for it was a favored technique of their enemies to the north. Creating an unsupported dome had never been done before. Only a Renaissance genius such as Filippo Brunelleschi (1377-1446) would dare attempt it. For decades, Florentines feared it would fall upon their heads, especially during times of unrest, when they believed the wrath of God would strike the dome, burying any beneath in a fatal rubble. Today, the golden-bricked dome is one of Florence’s most recognized monuments and dominates the skyline.
Palazzo della Signoria collage

Giuliano de’ Medici is murdered. His brother, the powerful Lorenzo de’ Medici survives. But he would never be the same again. He sets out on a rampage of vengeance that would eventually find close to one hundred executed. Lorenzo’s preferred method of eliminating his enemies…throwing them out a window of the Palazzo della Signoria (now known as the Palazzo Vecchio), a rope wrapped around their throats.

The government palace is made of solid rusticated stonework and is enhanced with two rows of Gothic windows. It is from these windows that the Otto, the eight that ruled the police forces of Florence, flung the Medici enemies.

Built in 1299 by the citizens of the original Florence commune, it has been enlarged and enriched by decorative details in the many years since. It is at one of the main entrances to the palace that Michelangelo’s David originally stood. This most famous sculpture has since been replaced with a copy when the original was damaged in one of Florence’s many military challenges.
Santo Spirito collage

The secret society of women artists that inhabit Portrait of a Conspiracy are a product of my imagination only. Santo Spirito, the church in whose sacristy the woman have their ‘secret studio’ is very real.

The Basilica of the Holy Spirit (simply known as Santo Spirito) is located in the Oltrarno quarter of the city, in 15th century Florence, one of the wealthiest sections of the city.  The original structure was also built in the 13th century. The existing structure was also designed by Brunelleschi after it suffered both physical and spiritual ruin during a period of the city’s civil unrest. The first cornerstones of the building, the pillars, were delivered ten days before Brunelleschi’s death. His followers Antonio Manetti, Giovanni da Gaiole, and Salvi d’Andrea completed the work begun by the master.

Santo Spirito will play a major role in all volumes of the Da Vinci’s Disciples trilogy. It is not only the home of this secret art society, it is the location of some of their most decisive challenges.

I hope you enjoyed this little tour of Florence. You’ll find more, including the actual names of the streets as they existed in the 15th century, within the pages of my books.

Book Blurb:

02_The-Portrait-of-Conspiracy

One murder ignites the powderkeg that threatens to consume the Medici’s Florence. Amidst the chaos, five women and one legendary artist weave together a plot that could bring peace, or get them all killed. Seeking to wrest power from the Medici family in 15th Century Florence, members of the Pazzi family drew their blades in a church and slew Giuliano. But Lorenzo de Medici survives, and seeks revenge on everyone involved, plunging the city into a murderous chaos that takes dozens of lives. Bodies are dragged through the streets, and no one is safe. Five women steal away to a church to ply their craft in secret. Viviana, Fiammetta, Isabetta, Natasia, and Mattea are painters, not allowed to be public with their skill, but freed from the restrictions in their lives by their art. When a sixth member of their group, Lapaccia, goes missing, and is rumored to have stolen a much sought after painting as she vanished, the women must venture out into the dangerous streets to find their friend and see her safe. They will have help from one of the most renowned painters of their era the peaceful and kind Leonardo Da Vinci. It is under his tutelage that they will flourish as artists, and with his access that they will infiltrate some of the highest, most secretive places in Florence, unraveling one conspiracy as they build another in its place. Historical fiction at its finest, Donna Russo Morin begins a series of Da Vinci’s disciples with a novel both vibrant and absorbing, perfect for the readers of Sarah Dunant.

“A riveting page-turner unlike any historical novel you’ve read, weaving passion, adventure, artistic rebirth, and consequences of ambition into the first of a trilogy by a masterful writer at the peak of her craft.” -C. W. Gortner, author of The Confessions of Catherine de’ Medici and The Vatican Princess

 Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

 About the Author

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Donna Russo Morin is the award winning of author of historical fiction. A graduate of the University of Rhode Island, she lives near the shore with her two sons, Devon and Dylan, her greatest works in progress.

Donna enjoys meeting with book groups in person and via Skype chat. Visit her website at www.donnarussomorin.com; friend her on Facebook and follow her on

Twitter@DonnaRussoMorin.

 Blog Tour Schedule

Tuesday, May 10
Review at Unshelfish
Review at The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, May 11
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Thursday, May 12
Review at CelticLady’s Reviews

Friday, May 13
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at With Her Nose Stuck In A Book

Monday, May 16
Review at Just One More Chapter
Interview at A Literary Vacation

Tuesday, May 17
Review at Seize the Words

Wednesday, May 18
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Thursday, May 19
Review at Worth Getting in Bed For
Interview at Flashlight Commentary

Friday, May 20
Guest Post at Layered Pages
Interview at Oh, for the Hook of a Book

Monday, May 23
Review at Broken Teepee

Tuesday, May 24
Review at #redhead.with.book
Interview at Reading the Past

Wednesday, May 25
Review at Book Lovers Paradise

Thursday, May 26
Review at Puddletown Reviews

Friday, May 27
Review at The True Book Addict

Monday, May 30
Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, May 31
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Wednesday, June 1
Review at The Book Connection

Thursday, June 2
Review at Book Nerd
Review at Bookramblings

Friday, June 3
Review at Beth’s Book Nook Blog

Giveaway

To enter to win an eBook of PORTRAIT OF A CONSPIRACY by Donne Russo Morin please enter the giveaway via the GLEAM form below. FIVE copies are up for grabs!

Rules

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– Winner has 48 hours to claim prize or new winner is chosen.

Direct Link to enter giveaway click here

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The Sons of Godwine: Part Two of The Last Great Saxon Earls by Mercedes Rochelle

02_The Sons of Godwine

Publication Date: March 7, 2016
Sergeant Press
eBook & Print; 306 Pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Emerging from the long shadow cast by his formidable father, Harold Godwineson showed himself to be a worthy successor to the Earldom of Wessex. In the following twelve years, he became the King’s most trusted advisor, practically taking the reins of government into his own hands. And on Edward the Confessor’s death, Harold Godwineson mounted the throne—the first king of England not of royal blood. Yet Harold was only a man, and his rise in fortune was not blameless. Like any person aspiring to power, he made choices he wasn’t particularly proud of. Unfortunately, those closest to him sometimes paid the price of his fame.

This is a story of Godwine’s family as told from the viewpoint of Harold and his younger brothers. Queen Editha, known for her Vita Ædwardi Regis, originally commissioned a work to memorialize the deeds of her family, but after the Conquest historians tell us she abandoned this project and concentrated on her husband, the less dangerous subject. In THE SONS OF GODWINE and FATAL RIVALRY, I am telling the story as it might have survived had she collected and passed on the memoirs of her tragic brothers.

This book is part two of The Last Great Saxon Earls series. Book one, GODWINE KINGMAKER, depicted the rise and fall of the first Earl of Wessex who came to power under Canute and rose to preeminence at the beginning of Edward the Confessor’s reign. Unfortunately, Godwine’s misguided efforts to champion his eldest son Swegn recoiled on the whole family, contributing to their outlawry and Queen Editha’s disgrace. Their exile only lasted one year and they returned victorious to London, though it was obvious that Harold’s career was just beginning as his father’s journey was coming to an end.

Harold’s siblings were all overshadowed by their famous brother; in their memoirs we see remarks tinged sometimes with admiration, sometimes with skepticism, and in Tostig’s case, with jealousy. We see a Harold who is ambitious, self-assured, sometimes egocentric, imperfect, yet heroic. His own story is all about Harold, but his brothers see things a little differently. Throughout, their observations are purely subjective, and witnessing events through their eyes gives us an insider’s perspective.

Harold was his mother’s favorite, confident enough to rise above petty sibling rivalry but Tostig, next in line, was not so lucky. Harold would have been surprised by Tostig’s vindictiveness, if he had ever given his brother a second thought. And that was the problem. Tostig’s love/hate relationship with Harold would eventually destroy everything they worked for, leaving the country open to foreign conquest. This subplot comes to a crisis in book three of the series, FATAL RIVALRY.

Available at Amazon

TOSTIG REMEMBERS

Not long after we were comfortably housed in Flanders, Judith and I attended church with Matilda, Baldwin’s only surviving daughter, and her ladies. Matilda was a tiny thing, but a spirited little bundle of energy nonetheless, and very pretty. She would have fit under Judith’s chin. But she was the pride and joy of her parents, well-educated and very conscious of her lineage; her mother was the king of France’s sister, and Baldwin’s ancestors have ruled Flanders since the ninth century.

It had been raining that day and the sun was just peeking from the clouds as we finished the services in the church of St. Donation, which stood only about 400 meters from the castle. As we were leaving, Matilda led her little procession; I was far back in the crowd when the commotion began. Women were screaming, arms were waving, and people were pushing into each other trying to fall back. By the time I elbowed my way through the door, craning my neck to see over all the heads, Matilda was lying face-down in a puddle of mud. She was sobbing for all the world like she had just taken a beating. The poor girl was covered from head to toe with muck, and her beautiful dress was ruined. As she pushed herself up by the arms, I shook the girl next to me.

“What happened?”

“It was him,” she sobbed, pointing. Looking up, I saw a somewhat disheveled man riding away. There was no time to catch up with him—not with poor Matilda in need of assistance. I ran to her side and rolled her into my arms, picking the unresisting girl up like she was a child. She put her arms around my neck, smearing mud and tears all over my tunic.

“Take…take me home,” she coughed between sobs. She didn’t need to tell me that!

By now we had drawn a crowd, but they all parted respectfully as I carried Bruges’ favorite daughter back to her father’s castle. I heard the murmurs as we passed by.

“William the Bastard,” said somebody.

“The Duke,” said another. “He must be punished.”

“Poor girl,” said a third. “He just grabbed her by the back of the neck and threw her in the mud.”

“He beat her!”

“No, he kicked her!”

“He rolled her in the mud then got on his horse.”

I was shocked. That was the Duke of Normandy?

Murmuring words of encouragement, I carried Matilda up the hill to the castle. We passed between rows of soldiers and into the citadel where her ladies ran ahead of me to prepare her chamber. I laid Matilda on a pile of covers and she rolled on her side, hiding her face. Her father rushed in the door and knelt by her bedside.

“Oh my poor child. What happened?”

At that, she sat up and threw her arms around Baldwin’s neck, covering him with mud, too. After a few moments of sobbing, she pulled herself together.

“Oh father. It was Duke William. He was waiting for me at the church. When I came out, he accused me of humiliating him! I told him I would not lower myself to marry a mere bastard, when he grabbed me and threw me into the mud. He pushed me back and forth until I was totally covered then got on his horse and rode away.”

She took a cloth from one of her ladies and blew her nose in it.

“Outrageous!” spit the Count. “I will have his head for this!”

Turning Matilda over to her women, he rose and tried to look dignified. But he was all bespattered like myself, and decided to leave the room, taking the witnesses with him. He put an arm around my shoulder.

“Thank you, Tostig. Poor girl.” He tried to straighten out his tunic then gave up. “Right before you came to Flanders, Duke William sent an embassy asking for Matilda’s hand in marriage. You can imagine how quickly she sent them packing. William was beneath her station, and a bastard on top of everything else. She is not shy, my little Matilda!” He laughed briefly. “But we weren’t expecting this!”

The more he thought about it, his face became redder and redder.

“How dare he shame my little girl! Come, Tostig. We cannot let this go unavenged!”

There is one thing I can say about Count Baldwin; he is a very decisive man. He wasted no time in calling together his scribes and composing letters to his knights and captains. He summoned his household steward and demanded an accounting of all supplies. He called for his banker so he could determine how many funds he could raise. He worked long into the night.

The following day, as Baldwin was busily giving orders, Matilda walked into the great hall, trailing her women. There were no signs of the previous afternoon’s dishevelment; in fact, she had regained her proud bearing. Everyone stopped what they were doing and stared at her.

“Father, I have made a decision,” she said evenly. “You may stop preparations for war. I have decided I will marry Duke William of Normandy.”

You could have heard a feather drop in the room. We were all stunned into silence.

“You what?” her father finally muttered.

“I will have no one else.”

Apparently used to Matilda’s strange behavior, her father leaned back and put the quill down.

“And what has brought about this change of mind?” He crossed his arms over his chest.

She appeared to think for a moment. “It must be a brave and powerful man who would dare do such a thing, right in the middle of your territory.” A brief smile flicked across her face. “I understand him better, now.”

Baldwin looked around at his courtiers. “There you have it. Cancel our preparations.” I detected a bit of sarcasm in his voice, but he was quickly obeyed. He held out a hand to Matilda.

“Come, my child. Sit beside me.”

Someone brought a chair and Matilda obliged, taking her father’s hand.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” he said gently. “He may prove to be a dangerous husband.”

“I will manage him. After all, he really didn’t hurt me.”

Baldwin didn’t even try to reason with her. Given time, he told me later, she might change her mind again.

Mercedes Rochelle

About the Author

Born in St. Louis MO with a degree from University of Missouri, Mercedes Rochelle learned about living history as a re-enactor and has been enamored with historical fiction ever since. A move to New York to do research and two careers ensued, but writing fiction remains her primary vocation. She lives in Sergeantsville, NJ with her husband in a log home they had built themselves.

For more information visit Mercedes Rochelle’s website and blog. You can also follow her on FacebookTwitter, and Goodreads.

Blog Tour Schedule

Monday, April 18
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

Wednesday, April 20
Guest Post at Just One More Chapter

Friday, April 22
Excerpt & Giveaway at Queen of All She Reads

Sunday, April 24
Excerpt & Giveaway at Teddy Rose Book Reviews Plus More

Monday, April 25
Review at Book Nerd

Wednesday, May 4
Excerpt at Layered Pages

Thursday, May 5
Review at Impressions In Ink

Friday, May 13
Interview at Passages to the Past

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