Interview with Author W.S. Winslow

What a pleasure it is to be chatting with Author W.S. Winslow about her new book, The Northern Reach. Winslow is a ninth generation Mainer, descended from both Pilgrims and Puritans with odd French fur trapper thrown in, a blood and guts background if there ever there was one.

Though she was born and brought up in Maine, she spent her adult life mostly in New York, where her husband and her raised their daughters. They also lived in San Francisco for five years before returning to Maine in 2019 to settle in a small town Downeast, where it is very, very quiet.

Winslow’s MFA is from NYU, and she also has an undergraduate and graduate degrees in French from the University of Maine. The Northern Reach is her first novel.

Thank you for talking with me today about your book, W.S. Please tell me a little bit about how you came to write about these characters and the time period you chose. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing your story?

Thanks so much for having me!

I came to these characters from an interest in the intersection of people with place and culture, especially as these things have existed, evolved and still persist in my home state of Maine. This project was partly sparked by genealogical research – my family’s origins go back to the earliest settlers in both Plymouth and Salem. When I got into the historical records, I was struck by the unmistakable similarities between my ancestors who lived 350 years ago and some of my family members today. I was also intrigued by the cultural legacy of Puritanism in a remote and demanding place like Maine.

The book has its origins in stories about my own family and the families of my friends who are from here. I’ve been lucky to know many great raconteurs over the years, and I wanted to share those stories, or fictionalized versions of them anyway. I also wanted to write about this place over a long sweep of time, from the dawn of the 20th Century to the beginning of the 21st, but I didn’t want to write a historical novel per se. What I was interested in was telling the story of a place and its people in episodes, in much the same way a patchwork quilt is stitched together.

This is my first book, so I started with no expectations. What surprised me was the way that characters would just suddenly say or do something, completely unbidden and with no warning. I think it was because at a certain point these fictional people became so real in my mind that they set up housekeeping there and just kind of got on with their lives. Even though I’d heard authors talk about that I never expected to experience it.

You certainly have quite the cast of characters! With each of their circumstances, it must have been rather dark at times to write. Is there anything in particular that helped you set the characters’ tone?

There is darkness in the book, to be sure. Maine is isolated and cold, with a short summer and a long, dark winter. It’s always been a hard place to live and consistently ranks among the poorest states in the union. Weirdly, we also have an unusually large number of wealthy people, mostly in summer, which creates a wide gulf between the haves and the have nots. This is the reality, and it’s rough for a lot of people. Looking away doesn’t help, so I leaned in.

That said, I wanted to find the humor in these stories, because Mainers can be really funny in a dry, dark way. There’s a tendency to dismiss the painful and the difficult with humor. It’s a reflexive thing, a way of keeping darkness and pain at arm’s length. Sometimes it works.

As for the book’s tone, language is everything for me. I love accents and foreign languages, but what really tickles me is the way Maine people speak, the intonation, the rhythm, the words, the austerity and understatement. I tried to work as much of that into the text as I could, mostly because writing dialogue is one of my favorite things to do. Tonally, the setting was also important, both as a character and as a place, and I hope people see the Maine I know – the cold bay, the low gray sky, the rolling blueberry fields and round topped mountains – in summer and winter.

Can you share a snippet that isn’t in the blurb or excerpt?

“Planting Tiger” comes in the middle of the book. It’s a sort of palate cleanser in that it’s lighter than the other stories, even in its treatment of grief and death. That was my favorite episode to write, because it includes one of the rare first-person narratives in the book, a “talky” passage from Earlene Baines:

I knew we were in for it when Jessie Martin showed up at Tiger’s funeral. It had been at least ten years since I laid eyes on her, but I could see she was still rougher than the back of a ditch. I can’t say I was shocked when she walked into the church, but I never expected to see her at my house. When Jessie came limping up the driveway, with her go-go boots and that mop of red hair, and introduced herself to Tino, the look on his face was priceless. I was watching from the kitchen window. Mill told me not to interfere and I didn’t, not until Vicky started hollering. She’s half Moody after all, and I never met one who didn’t like a good fight once in a while.

How long have you been writing and what advice would you give to writers who want to write a family saga?

I’m a late bloomer in that I didn’t start writing creatively until my fifties, and I’ll be a few months shy of 60 when The Northern Reach is released. So, my first piece of advice is to just do it, no matter how old you are or how many jobs you’ve had. It’s all experience, and experience fuels imagination.

Even though I started writing relatively late in life, I have always held stories in my head, and I’ve always been a reader. What I’ve found recently is the more I learn about writing, the choosier I become as a reader. Opening a book is something of a busman’s holiday, and I get a great deal out of well written books – because they’re fun to read but also because they’re instructive at the same time.

Anyone who wants to write a family saga would be well advised to start by reading some, and with the most critical eye they can manage. For episodic narratives, Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg Ohio and Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich are good places to start. For more traditional narratives, I like Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead books – so many to choose from.

Where can readers buy your book?

It’s available from major booksellers like Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble  and Amazon  , as well as your favorite local bookstore. My favorite indie is Print in Portland, Maine at  Print A Bookstore.

More Links:

W.S. Winslow’s Website/ Twitter @WSWinslow / W.S. Winslow goodreads page

Layered Pages Book Review

About the Book:

Published March 2nd 2021 by Flatiron Books

A heart-wrenching first novel about the power of place and family ties, the weight of the stories we choose to tell, and the burden of those we hide

Frozen in grief after the loss of her son at sea, Edith Baines stares across the water at a schooner, under full sail yet motionless in the winter wind and surging tide of the Northern Reach. Edith seems to be hallucinating. Or is she? Edith’s boat-watch opens The Northern Reach, set in the coastal town of Wellbridge, Maine, where townspeople squeeze a living from the perilous bay or scrape by on the largesse of the summer folk and whatever they can cobble together, salvage, or grab.

At the center of town life is the Baines family, land-rich, cash-poor descendants of town founders, along with the ne’er-do-well Moody clan, the Martins of Skunk Pond, and the dirt farming, bootlegging Edgecombs. Over the course of the twentieth century, the families intersect, interact, and intermarry, grappling with secrets and prejudices that span generations, opening new wounds and reckoning with old ghosts.

W. S. Winslow’s The Northern Reach is a breathtaking debut about the complexity of family, the cultural legacy of place, and the people and experiences that shape us.

Q&A with Writer Judith Starkston

Stephanie Hopkins

Writing is an art form that weaves together words that tell a story.  My passion at Layered Pages is to capture their essence and to further explore the craft so people will have a deeper understanding of reading, writing and their importance to our society. Today, Judith Starkston is here to discuss with us her Tesha book series.

Thank you for visiting with us, Judith. Before we talk about your story, “Of Kings and Griffins,” what is your favorite childhood story and why?

There were many. I was a bookworm from the get-go, but “The Wind in the Willows” was a particular favorite, partly because my older brother did such a lively job reading aloud the voices and personalities of Mole, Ratty, and Toad. Friends messing about together outdoors, which is its main theme, appealed to me. That was back when a kid could wander unsupervised around the hills, canyons, and waterways near her house. At least, my mother never knew where I was or what I was up to. Also, I was a cautious child, and I think the main plot suited me. Toad receives his come-uppance for wild and absurd behavior, and he realizes that treating his friends kindly mattered most. So much of that book meanders rather than races—not how books are paced these days, but I loved it.

Has your love for reading influenced you to become a writer?

Absolutely! I have to get lost in a story on a regular basis or I get buggy in the head. I love that sensation of being drawn compulsively forward through the pages inside a twisty, layered plot amid characters I can’t stop caring about. To make that happen for someone else is such fun. And doing that wouldn’t be possible for me if I didn’t have a lifetime of models bombarding my imagination with every word I write.

Tell me a little about how you became interested in ancient worlds and historical fantasy?

My career before I became a fiction writer was as a scholar and teacher of Greek and Roman languages and literature. So, I had the knowledge base and enthusiasm for ancient worlds. When writing my first novel, set at Troy, I discovered the culture of the Hittites, powerful neighbors of the Greeks. The archaeology of this massive empire (roughly today’s Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon) had only begun to emerge when I was a graduate student, and I didn’t learn about it then. It’s very exciting for a whole people to step from historical obscurity with the help of all the brilliant, contemporary archaeological tools. It helps that this literate people left behind archives that are gradually being translated.

No one was bringing the Hittite world alive in fiction at that point, so I couldn’t resist. All the more when I met in the written record the most respected and unusual of the Hittite rulers, a queen named Puduhepa, whom I renamed Tesha in my fiction. (Tesha is the Hittite word for “dream,” and this queen was known for her divinely inspired dreams.)

The fantasy aspect flowed naturally from there because the Hittites believed in rites and practices that we call magic. This queen was also a priestess, and she excelled in all these supernatural skills. Allowing the magic full expression inspires my plots with creative power. The framework remains historically grounded and accurate.

If a reader came up to you and asked about, “Of Kings and Griffins,” how would you describe your story?

A Bronze Age queen takes on a vicious king, vengeful griffins, and a scheming goddess.

The somewhat longer version is this:

For Tesha, priestess and queen, happiness is a world she can control, made up of her family and the fractious kingdom she and her husband rule within the Great King’s empire. But now the Great King is dead, and his untried son plots against them. Tesha fights back with forbidden sorcery and savvy. In yet another blow, the griffin king lures Daniti, Tesha’s magical blind sister, into a deadly crisis that Daniti alone can avert.

As danger ensnares everyone Tesha loves, her goddess offers a way out. But can Tesha trust this offer of divine assistance or is it a trap—one that would lead to an unstoppable bloodbath?

Does, “Of Kings and Griffins,” make a good stand alone or should readers start with your first book in the series?

“Of Kings and Griffins” is the third in my Tesha series, but readers will have no trouble starting with this book if they wish—especially if they are drawn to mythical beasts! “Priestess of Ishana” is the first book in the series for those who like to start at the beginning. I am careful to write each book as a satisfying stand alone.

My interest was sparked when I read on goodreads that your series is inspired by the Hittite empire. For those who might not be familiar with that particular empire, can you please tell us a little about it?

The Hittites ruled Anatolia and parts of the Near East from 1650 to 1200 BCE. Their capital, Hattusa, now a World Heritage site, lies about an hour northeast of Ankara. Kingdoms like Troy on the western coast shifted over time from loosely allied to vassal states subservient to the Hittite Great King. The primary rival of the Hittites was Egypt. During Puduhepa’s reign, she and her husband sealed a peace treaty with Ramses II, the Pharaoh in the Biblical Moses story. The Hittite language is related to Greek, although it’s written with the Near Eastern writing system of cuneiform, groups of wedges made with a reed stylus in clay that represent words and syllables, so it doesn’t look anything like Greek. Their culture borrows a lot from Mesopotamia, but it also has a significant core of distinctly Hittite religious and ethnic traditions. In many ways, the Hittites are the bridge we’d lost between the Greeks and the Near Eastern world. Historians now recognize how much “Western Civilization” owes to the cultures further east.

Will there be another book in the series? If so, when can your readers expect the publish date?

Fortunately for me, Queen Puduhepa (my Tesha) ruled from her teens into her eighties, so there is almost never-ending inspiration for more books, and the Late Bronze Age was a time of great turmoil and international political scheming—all great raw material for epic historical fantasy. I end each book with a satisfying sense of completion, even while the next “chapter” in Tesha’s life beckons, so no frustrating cliffhanger endings that require the next book instantly to cure the pain.  No one has to “wait until the series is complete” with mine—a comment I hear a lot about some books.

The fourth Tesha novel will hopefully come out next Fall/early Winter. I say hopefully because I’ve taken a short detour and haven’t started it yet. I am working at the moment on a novella set in the land of the griffins because I’ve been having such fun with those characters, and I wanted to explore them entirely in their own terms. They live for centuries, so my main griffin character in “Of Kings and Griffins” has some seriously grand life stories to dive into. I will publish the novella in a month or so and give it to my newsletter subscribers as a present before I make it available to buy. This is a good time to head over to JudithStarkston.com and sign up!

Thank you for such an intriguing interview, Judith. Where can reader purchase your books?

My books are available in the “real world” at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore (They’ll mail you signed copies, which are also sealed with my reproduction of Puduhepa’s actual seal) and online at Amazon. “Hand of Fire” is my Trojan War book told from a woman’s point of view. The three Tesha series books are “Priestess of Ishana,” “Sorcery in Alpara,” and “Of Kings and Griffins.”

Judith Starkston

Judith Starkston has spent too much time reading about and exploring the remains of the ancient worlds of the Greeks and Hittites. Early on she went so far as to get two degrees in Classics from the University of California, Santa Cruz and Cornell. She loves myths and telling stories. This has gradually gotten more and more out of hand. Her solution: to write fantasy set in the exotic worlds of the past. Fantasy and Magic in a Bronze Age World. Hand of Fire was a semi-finalist for the M.M. Bennett’s Award for Historical Fiction. Priestess of Ishana won the San Diego State University Conference Choice Award. Judith has two grown children and lives in Arizona with her husband.

Author Links:

Amazon  / Newsletter Signup    / Website  

Twitter    / FB   / Instagram

Interview with National Award-Winning Journalist Julie McElwain

me-iiI’d like to welcome back Julie McElwain to Layered Pages! I had the pleasure of being the first person to interview Julie about her book A Murder in Time and she is here with me to talk about her second, A Twist in Time. Julie is a national award-winning journalist. She began her career working for a fashion trade newspaper in Los Angeles, and is currently a West Coast editor for Soaps In Depth, a national soap opera magazine, covering the hit daytime drama, The Young & The Restless.

julie-melwainHi, Julie! It is a delight to chat with you again! First, tell me how your first book, A Murder in Time was received from your audience.

Thank you, Stephanie. I’m thrilled to be chatting with you again, too! I have to say that I was honored and humbled by how well A Murder In Time has been received. Book bloggers such as yourself were so kind and encouraging with your reviews, and the librarians from Library Reads chose the novel as one of their April recommendations. Overdrive, the digital library that is connected to more than 34,000 libraries around the world, selected A Murder In Time as their mystery to read last year, and it became a finalist in Goodreads’ Best Books of the Year, in the sci-fi category. I’ve been so blown away by this journey, and truly grateful for all the support.

That is fantastic to hear, Julie and 34,000 libraries around the world is outstanding! 

Would you please give us a brief description from your first book how Kendra Donovan stumbled through time?

Kendra traveled to Aldridge Castle in England to take down the man responsible for getting many of her fellow team members killed on her last mission. I won’t give away any spoilers in case someone hasn’t read A Murder In Time, but this mission also goes awry, and Kendra is forced to flee through a secret passageway. That’s when things take a really strange turn. When Kendra stumbles out, she is in 1815. Kendra’s mother is a quantum physicist, so Kendra knows something about time travel. She can only surmise that she went through a wormhole or a vortex. She only has theories, but it was an extremely painful experience!

I remembered reading about Kendra’s experience travel through time. It was incredibly vivid.  Tell us about your book, A Twist in Time.

Kendra’s attempt to return to her own timeline fails, but before she can worry too much about her situation, she’s caught up in a new mystery. Lady Dover, who was introduced briefly in A Murder In Time as Alec’s mistress (he dumped her for Kendra) has been viciously murdered, and Alec is the main suspect. Kendra and the Duke travel to London to clear his name, save him from the hangman’s noose and a crime lord named Bear.

a-twist-in-time

How has Kendra adapted to the early nineteenth Century thus far?

Even with the Duke of Aldridge’s support, Kendra struggles with being in this time period. Her parents had very rigid expectations of her, and when she rebelled, they abandoned her. Kendra survived emotionally by becoming independent and self-sufficient. Yet she is thrust into an era where women had no rights; upper class women especially relied on the men in their lives — husbands, fathers, brothers, uncles — to provide for them. As a real-life example, Jane Austen never married, and her oldest brother, Edward, gave her the cottage she lived in.

Kendra also hates being treated like a child. The fashions of the day required assistance to dress. And as a young, unmarried lady, she needs to be chaperoned whenever she leaves the house. This loss of independence is incredibly hard on Kendra.

On the other hand, Kendra is now forced to depend on other people for the first time since she was a teen. It’s great to be self-sufficient, but not to be so closed off from relationships. Some cracks might be forming in Kendra’s protective shell.

You really brought together characters in your story from different classes/walks of life and I admired how you portrayed that. I still believe in today society we can still learn from that.

Thank you! And I completely agree with you about today’s society. America was conceived as a nation without a class system, and England today no longer has the rigid class system that it once had. Yet I think it’s human nature to create hierarchies and be a bit snobbish when we look at groups that don’t conform to our own belief system.

I love trying to figure out how people came to their viewpoint. I’m seeing way too much divisiveness in present-day society, and shutting down or shouting down someone else’s point of view. I think the joy of a being a writer is to get into characters’ heads to see a situation through a variety of perspectives. It’s fun to have people at odds, battle, and learn from one another’s differences. Sometimes they may change. Sometimes they may just have to agree to disagree.

You also touch on the fact that there was no real police force at that time. Did you find it a challenge to make the investigation believable? The process was surely brilliant in my mind. Without the technology we have today, their process was surely a challenge at times.

The lack of technology drives Kendra a bit crazy. She can’t utilize something as basic as fingerprinting. While fingerprints were known as a method of identification during this time — and earlier — it wasn’t used in law enforcement until the late 1800s.

Kendra also has huge problems with the lack of police procedure. In both A Murder In Time and in A Twist In Time, I mention the Marrs murders, which are also known as the Ratcliff Highway murders. This was a true crime during that time, in which a family and their servants were slaughtered. The public was allowed to wander through the crime scene to satisfy their curiosity. Can you imagine that today? Kendra is appalled by what actually was pretty standard practice for that time of civilians visiting crime scenes.

Thankfully, though, basic police work — interviewing suspects and eye witnesses, comparing stories, checking alibis — crosses centuries. In fact, basic police work today still catches more criminals than utilizing technology, mainly because most police departments simply don’t have the budget for the kind of technology we see on cop shows.

What challenged me the most is that my protagonist is a woman. Kendra can’t flash her badge to show her authority. She can’t haul a suspect down to an interrogation room. She has no official capacity. As I already mentioned, she can’t even go anywhere alone. She needs a lady’s maid to shadow her, or risk being ostracized. The Duke, of course, is her greatest asset in gaining access to the people she needs to interview, but it’s awkward for her to grill people in the ballroom.

Was there a scene you found humorous to write about?

Actually, there were several scenes that I had fun writing. I think the changes in language over the centuries lend themselves to humor. But also there are things that we take for granted now that were unknown back then, and that can be pretty humorous when you look at it through nineteenth century eyes. I won’t get into specifics, but at the end of A Twist In Time, the crime lord, Bear, views something that Kendra has done in a way that makes perfect sense from a nineteenth century perspective, but startles Kendra considerably. When I received the manuscript back during the editing process, I laughed when I came across the scene again. It’s just a little thing, but I hope readers will find it as amusing as I do!

Tell us a little about Sam Kelly. I have to admit; I enjoy reading about him. He is one of my favorites.

I love Sam Kelly as well! I feel like he’s a cop deep in his soul. You could take him out of the nineteenth century and plop him in the twenty-first century, and he wouldn’t change. He’d still be a bit rumpled, still love being a detective, and still love his whiskey. He may be puzzled by Kendra, but she earned his respect when she was nearly killed catching a serial killer. If she wasn’t a woman, I think Sam would try to convince her to become a Bow Street Runner.

Duke Aldridge’s prim and proper ways are entertaining to say the least but not in a snobby way. His open-mindedness does him credit. I am delighted you didn’t portray him as the stereotypical male we often see in stories such as this era. What are his attributes you find most intriguing to write about?

What I love about the Duke is that he is far more complicated character than anyone might suspect. He is a gentleman in the truest sense of the word, yet he’s not a pushover. He doesn’t trade on his wealth and title, but he will exert his influence if it means getting his way. The darkest period of his life came when he lost his wife and daughter — and that still haunts him — but the tragedy has made him more empathetic. He is enthusiastic and optimistic, which is a nice counterbalance to Kendra, who tends to be a bit more cynical and careful. The Duke recognizes that Kendra comes from a different time, but I sort of like that he does have an internal struggle on accepting Kendra’s more modern sensibilities. He loves the discussions he has with Kendra, but sometimes he is taken out of his comfort zone.

Can we expect another Kendra Donovan story, if so, how soon?

It will probably depend on how well A Twist In Time does. However, I can tell you that I am working on the third Kendra Donovan book, which I’m actually very excited about. There is a twist in it that I really don’t think readers will see coming, mainly because I didn’t see it coming when I was plotting the book in my head. If things go as planned, it should be out in bookstores April 2018.

Julie, thank you for this wonderful interview. It was a pleasure chatting with you. Please come back to Layered Pages soon. You are always welcome here.

Thank you, Stephanie. I spend most of my time writing, but when I talk to you, you make me think about the writing process. I love that!

Links: 

Author Facebook Page

Pegasus Books

Thank you, Julie! 

Interview with Julie McElwain

Julie MelwainI have the great pleasure and honor to introduce Julie McElwain to Layered Pages today, to talk with me about her book A Murder In Time. Julie is an award-winning journalist, who began her career as a business reporter at California Apparel News, a weekly Los Angeles-based fashion trade newspaper. She has freelanced for numerous publications from professional photographer’s magazines to those following the fashion industry. Currently, Julie is an editor for CBS Soaps In Depth, a national soap opera magazine covering the No. 1 daytime drama, The Young and the Restless. Julie lives in Long Beach, CA.

 Julie, please tell your audience about A Murder in Time.

A Murder In Time is about FBI agent Kendra Donovan, who goes rogue after her present day mission is botched. In her quest for justice, she infiltrates a costume ball at Aldridge Castle in England. When she encounters an assassin, she escapes through a passageway and encounters a terrifying phenomenon, which transports her back to 1815.

You could say that Kendra’s modern senses clash with Regency England’s sensibilities. She’s initially mistaken for a lady’s maid, but is quickly demoted to a below-stairs maid. When the body of a young girl is found brutally murdered, Kendra realizes that a serial killer is on the loose. Stripped of her twenty-first century tools, Kendra is forced to rely on her wits to unmask the murderer.

What are some of the courage and strengths of Kendra and possibly the isolation she may feel with these attributes?

As the offspring of two scientists who believed in positive eugenics, Kendra didn’t have a normal upbringing. Like an athlete, she spent her life “training” to excel in academics. Her intelligence has always set her apart from her peers, and made her feel isolated. She was only a young teenager when she went to college. Socially, she didn’t fit in with the older college students, which only made her feel more like a freak. When her parents abandoned her after she asserted her independence, Kendra was forced to develop a tough outer shell to survive. She became a loner, dedicated to proving herself in her chosen career, and deeply wary of emotional attachments because of her parents’ abandonment. As tragic as Kendra’s life was, I think it gave her the strength to deal with being transported to 1815, where she’s the ultimate outlier. I think a person with a more normal upbringing would have been driven insane or reduced to a quivering ball of fear!

A murder in time

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

 There is a great deal of suspicion between Kendra and her nineteenth century counterparts, which adds to the tension. The Duke of Aldridge, Alec, and Sam Kelly are aware that Kendra lied about how she came to England. They have varying degrees of distrust. They also regard Kendra’s manners, speech patterns and behavior as peculiar, to say the least, but they put it down to her being an American. For her part, Kendra has a difficult time trusting them with her big secret, and that has her proceeding cautiously. And she worries about screwing up the space-time continuum, which is something she’s never had to worry about in her previous murder investigations for the FBI! She can’t help but be skeptical over this group’s contribution to the murder investigation. She was always more advanced than her peers, but with these people, she’s centuries more advanced. It’s not that she thinks she’s superior… but she kind of does. It will be a journey for her to reach a different conclusion.

 Who are your five top antagonist? What motivates them?

 Kendra’s father, Carl Donovan, is an early antagonist. He plays a small part in the overall story, but he is crucial in Kendra’s development as a human being. As a scientist, he prizes intellect above all else, and believes that Kendra stubbornly refused to live up to her potential. His black-and-white view always made Kendra feel unworthy, and therefore more determined to prove herself.

I consider Mrs. Danbury — the castle’s housekeeper — a wonderful antagonist. She’s like the Old Guard protecting the status quo. The world of aristocrats, servants, working class, and merchants is what she’s familiar with, and she finds Kendra’s bold behavior — her lack of deference to the hierarchy — to be bewildering and rather threatening.

I really don’t want to give away the murderer’s identity for someone who hasn’t read the book, so I will put the following men in the antagonist category, with Kendra bumping heads with each of them. Alec’s brother, Gabriel, is a self-pitying alcoholic. Mr. Harris is the youngest son of an earl, who was appointed the village vicar, a station that he thinks is beneath him. Mr. Morland lives in a nearby estate and is the local magistrate, whose chauvinistic attitude towards Kendra is typical of the era. Mr. Dalton is a former surgeon, who inherited a nearby estate, and is insulted to be considered a suspect in Kendra’s investigation. Finally, Captain Harcourt is Gabriel’s friend, and is hunting for an heiress to replenish his funds. All of these men are motivated to keep their secrets from coming to light. Of course, no one is more motivated than the murderer!

 What inspired you for your main character to be an FBI agent?

 I really wanted Kendra to be in some type of law enforcement. She needed to have a specialized skill set — the ability to read a crime scene, to understand criminal behavior, and to be able to defend herself. Being an FBI agent was very organic to the story, which involves a serial killer. But it also felt right, given Kendra’s background. Her parents are driven, ambitious scientists who are at the top of their field. While Kendra chose a different path, which led to a chasm between her and her parents, she is as ambitious and determined to prove herself, and wants to be at the top of her field. Being the youngest agent ever accepted by the Bureau certainly put her on that path!

 Why did you choose 1815 for the period Kendra falls back in time too?

 I’ve always found this period in history to be utterly fascinating. It parallels our own era in so many ways. The war with Napoleon had just ended and the Industrial Revolution was just beginning. New machines were taking away jobs, creating a lot of simmering tensions between the haves and have nots. It was a time of contrasts — with great wealth on one side, and terrible poverty on the other; a silliness in its celebrity culture and yet a seriousness in the political upheaval. Of course, I’m also a big Jane Austen fan, and have enjoyed reading romances set during this era… I just wanted to write a mystery that actually had a modern day heroine — sort of Jane Austen meets Criminal Minds.

Does Aldridge Castle really exist?

 No, but I’ve traveled throughout England, Scotland and Ireland, and one of my favorite things to do is tour old castles and great estates. Aldridge Castle is an amalgam of many of the fantastic places that I’ve visited, including Dublin Castle, Kensington Palace and Leeds Castle, just to name a few.

 How much research went into your story?

 I did tons of research! I probably own every reference and history book on the time period. There are many wonderful blogs and websites by romance writers who specialize in the Regency era, which were invaluable. I also have a library of forensics books and police procedurals, and I did a lot delving into the subjects of quantum physics, wormholes, and string theory. This may be a piece of fiction, but it was important to me to be as accurate as possible.

What do you like most about writing a time travel story?

 I really liked the idea of taking a smart, modern person and tossing them back in time. We have a tendency to think that we’re so much more intelligent than our ancestors. But if you take away our modern inventions, just how smart are we? Would we be able to survive? Once my DSL went out, and I was forced to use dial-up to get on the Internet for about a week. That darned near killed me! I loved putting someone as clever as Kendra, as self-sufficient and independent, in a world that was totally alien to her, and watching how she would cope.

The time travel element also allowed me to offer dual viewpoints. Kendra was as much a puzzle and an oddity to her nineteenth century counterparts as they were to her. I liked being able to view the early nineteenth century through modern eyes, while at the same time, look at our own twenty-first century culture through the lens of the nineteenth century. We don’t blink an eye anymore at using profanity in casual conversation, but that would have shocked and appalled most people in 1815.

Time travel is pivotal to the plot, but this is not a science fiction story. Of course, Kendra thinks about the mechanics of time travel — how could she not? — but I’m more interested in the human element, on how we’ve changed as a people… and how we’ve stayed the same.

Will there be a sequel?

 It depends on how well A Murder In Time does, but I’m currently working on a sequel — so cross your fingers!

Who are your influences in writing?

I’m an avid reader, and am inspired by many authors. Some of my favorites are Karen Slaughter, Lisa Gardener, Tami Hoag, Tess Gerritsen, Nora Roberts, Dean Koontz, Lee Child, Ariana Franklin, Amanda Quick… the list goes on. I tend to be pretty eclectic in what I read, but I veer towards mysteries and thrillers. Let’s just say, I get motivated by anyone who can spin a good tale.

Where can readers buy your book?

 Barnes & Noble and independent bookstores, as well as online retailers like Amazon.

Links: 

Author Facebook Page

Pegasus Books

Thank you, Julie! 

Interview with Melanie Karsak

The Harvesting“The world, it seemed, had gone silent. It was something we knew but did not talk about. We were alone.”

While Layla Petrovich returns home to rural Hamletville after a desperate call from her psychic grandmother, she never could have anticipated the horror of what Grandma Petrovich has foreseen. The residents of Hamletville will need Layla’s cool head, fast blade and itchy trigger finger to survive the undead apocalypse that’s upon them. But even that may not be enough. With mankind silenced, it soon becomes apparent that we were never alone. As the beings living on the fringe seek power, Layla must find a way to protect the ones she loves or all humanity may be lost.

This exciting new dark fantasy/horror hybrid blends the best of the zombie genre with all the elements a fantasy reader loves!

It’s all fun and games until someone ends up undead!

Stephanie: Hello, Melanie! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion. You have written a story in a genre that is seems to be all the rage right now. What sets your book apart from others?

Melanie: Thank you so much for having me today. I am so delighted to be a BRAG Medallion honouree and grateful to be asked to stop by to talk about my novel!

So what sets this book about from all those other zombie novels? Well, in The Harvesting, I wanted to consider what the death of humanity might mean if there were, in fact, other being living in our world. What if there really were vampires, and shape-shifters, and fey people . . . all the beings of folklore? If mankind died, what might the impact be on the unknown world that lives in tandem with us? As an academic, the symbolic nature of the zombie trend really intrigues me. I believe it speaks to an inner deadness we feel as a society. I started playing with how other being might symbolically represent other feelings and attitudes about our world. At the end of all this debating and thinking, I ended up with The Harvesting.

Stephanie: Really interesting…I have to admit I’m not into the whole folklore of Vampires fey people and Zombies but your idea to explore a world where they actually live with us is intriguing.

Please tell me about Layla. What are her goals and the conflict she faces?

Melanie: Layla is interesting. Abandoned by her mother, she was raised by a psychic grandmother who was the town’s resident medium, oddball, and “witch.” Layla always felt a bit ostracized as a child. While she did have a very passionate first love (with Ian), she ran away from Hamletville as soon as she could to better herself—education, a career, life in Washington DC. The end of humanity finds her returning to Hamletville, a place she’d rather not visit. In the wake of the zombie apocalypse, she finds herself reunited with her first love, Ian, but slowly begins to understand she is not the same girl who once loved this hometown boy . . . Ian’s brother Jamie, however, is an entirely different story. Of course, Layla also has to face zombies, and vampires, and her budding psychic ability. Most of all, Layla has to learn how to trust the right people. This is a major struggle for her.

Stephanie: Layla sounds like a fascinating character that I think many can relate to.

Is rural Hamletville a real place?

Melanie: Hamletville is my play on words; I was trying to describe the smallest of small towns. The town, however, is inspired by an amalgam of my hometown (a very Hamletville kind of place), Tidioute, PA as well as North East, PA where I worked.

Stephanie: Small towns are always cool to use in stories…

What is Layla’s occupation in this story and how did she learn to use the weapons she wields?

Melanie: Layla picked up a sword at a young age and fell in love. She learned fencing and went on to study the ancient art, becoming a state champion. She studied medieval history in college and is working at the Smithsonian in Washington DC at the beginning of this book. I took fencing as a student at Penn State, and the experience always stuck with me. A reviewer called Layla pretentious because of her esoteric education and skills, but it is those university-born skills that allow her to become a great leader during this catastrophic event.

Stephanie: Is this a stand-alone story or will there be others?

Melanie: I am planning to release The Shadow Aspect, the second novel in this series, in the summer of 2014. There will also be a Harvesting Series novella, Midway, that will release this summer. The novel will conclude with a third book titled The Green World, which will release in late fall 2014 or 2015.

Stephanie: How does your title tie into the story?

Melanie: Layla has a dream in the novel where the figure of a grim reaper takes her to a graveyard, telling her they are there for the harvest. This scene actually comes from a vivid dream my own grandmother once had and shared with me. In a way, a zombie apocalypse is the harvest of mankind. Our time is done. Those who survive have a big job ahead of them.

Stephanie: What do you like most about writing in this genre and when did you first become interested in it?

Melanie: I have always written fantasy novels, but I think I always took myself too seriously. I wrote The Harvesting for fun. I wanted to play. I wanted to pick a topic that was both light and deep all at once and just enjoy writing it. Zombies seemed like fun. I think that makes me sound weird, lol!

Stephanie: Writing fantasy stories are a lot of fun. I’m working on an alternate history one right now that fits pretty close to fantasy. It’s wonderful that you enjoy writing in this genre and are having fun.

Please tell me about your writing process.

Melanie: I’m a planner. I have to know how the novel will go from A-Z before I sit down to write. I usually map out a narrative arch on paper then go from there. My actual writing process doesn’t take that long because I plan so much.

Stephanie: What do you like most about writing?

Melanie: I love to live in my worlds. I love my characters. They are like real people to me. I enjoy spending time in their heads and seeing the world through different points of view. In the case of my steampunk series, The Airship Racing Chronicles, I love that I can invent an entirely magical and different world and give it verisimilitude!

Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?

Melanie: Shelley Adina, a steampunk author whose work I admire, is a BRAG recipient.

Stephanie: Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?

Melanie: Regarding The Harvesting, if they would like to try a zombie novel that is a bit different (I might even say quirky), they should give the book a try. Many readers say that while they aren’t into zombies, my book is so different that they really enjoyed it! I’ve gotten fabulous feedback on this novel from the book blogger community. It’s a fun, action-packed, book. It’s a fantasy-filled read with a kick-butt heroine, great for a Sunday afternoon.

Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?

Melanie: The Harvesting and my steampunk series, The Airship Racing Chronicles, are available at Amazon.com!

Stephanie: Thank you, Melanie!

Melanie: My pleasure. Thanks for having me!

About Melanie:

Melanie KasakMelanie Karsak grew up in rural northwestern Pennsylvania and earned a Master’s degree in English from Gannon University. A steampunk connoisseur, white elephant collector, and zombie whisperer, the author currently lives in Florida with her husband and two children. She is an Instructor of English at Eastern Florida State College.

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