A New Favorite: Rebecca Stead

My favorite new children’s author is Rebecca Stead.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca SteadShe won the 2010 Newbery Medal for her novel, When You Reach Me, which is the story of a sort of geeky sixth-grade girl, Miranda, who lives in New York City in the 1970s.  After losing her house key and her best friend, she starts getting strange notes, such as: “I am coming to save your friend’s life, and my own.  I must ask two favors. First, you must write me a letter.”  The messages are odd yet show that the writer knows a lot about Miranda’s life.    The plot is a marvellous puzzle that keeps readers guessing until the end.  A great story for kids and adults alike.

Stead’s most recent novel is Liar & Spy, a contemporary story about seventh-grader, Georges (the “s” is silent, but causes him no end of grief in school), who must deal with bullying, a change of residence when his father loses his job, and a mother who works so much she’s never home.  In his new apartment, Georges meets Safer, a home-schooled boy who accepts Georges into the Spy Club to investigate the strange doings of Mr. X who lives in the apartment above Georges.

As the parent of a seventh-grade boy, I can tell you that Stead knows kids.  The characters are smart and funny and troubled and, more than anything, real.  I loved Georges, and loved Safer’s little sister Candy, and as my focus was on the characters, I was taken completely by surprise at the turn of events in the book.  Wow!  Again, a great book for kids and adults alike.

Stead has also written the novel First Light, which I haven’t read yet.  You can bet I’ll be getting it soon.

Interview with Margaret Muir

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Today I’m welcoming Margaret Muir, author of Sea Dust, the nineteenth-century story of a young woman who hides aboard a ship bound for Australia hoping to create a new life for herself; Through Glass Eyes, a saga set in Yorkshire; The Black Thread, a dramatic tale set on the Leeds and Liverpool canal in 1898; The Condor’s Feather, an equestrian adventure across the Pampas of Patagonia in 1885; and Floating Gold, the first in a series of naval adventure novels set during the Napoleonic Wars.

Elizabeth: Please tell us more about your most recent novel, Floating Gold. Image

Margaret: Floating Gold is an Age-of-Sail nautical fiction adventure, written for a male readership especially those who enjoy the works of CS Forester (Horatio Hornblower) or Patrick O’Brian (Master and Commander). Set in 1802, Captain Quintrell is entrusted with secret Admiralty orders and heads to the Southern Ocean aboard the Royal Navy frigate, Perpetual. Battling unforgiving seas, near mutiny and freezing Antarctic waters, the captain is unaware of the dangers awaiting him when he reaches his destination.

Elizabeth: Sounds exciting! You are currently writing the second book in the series. What will be happening to the main characters in this next instalment?

Margaret: In The Tainted Prize, Captain Quintrell and his motley crew again head south but this time the destination is Peru. Drama and intrigue lie ahead, however, action on the gun deck is tempered by the undertone of political unrest which is simmering in the Spanish vice-royalties in South America. Also of concern is the vast number of African slaves being transported to Peru to work and die in the silver mines. This raises questions about the social, economic and human cost of the slave trade.

Elizabeth: Many of your novels are nautical adventures or involve the sea as a setting, almost as a character. Would I be right in this?

Margaret: Yes indeed, Elizabeth, and thank you for your observation. Both for me and certain characters I create, there is definite affinity with the sea to the extent that it almost takes on a character of its own – a dual character that can be either male or female. The masculine Sea (metaphorically speaking) is dominant, powerful, cruel, exciting and mischievous, manifesting himself in violent storms and turbulent currents. Conversely, the feminine Sea is beautiful, mesmerizing, gentle and evocative.

Here is an example of this personification from The Tainted Prize:

For Oliver Quintrell, the sea was his comfort and companion and, when licking the salt from his lips, he had no doubt she was his mistress. Despite her foibles and fickleness, moods and mysteries, she was soft and sensuous – beguiling in her calms and tantalising in her tantrums. She was the force which heaved beneath him every day and lulled him to sleep every night. By constantly challenging him, it was the sea who made him fearless (not reckless), and it was the sea who would receive him into her arms on the final day of reckoning.

Elizabeth: How much historical fact is woven into your fiction and how do you go about your research?

Margaret: As all my stories are woven around imaginary characters, it is the time, place and setting that provides the historical elements. Floating Gold and The Tainted Prize take place against a backdrop of the Napoleonic War in the early 1800s. This is a well-documented era and there is no shortage of information about it, however, primary source material written by sailors who served in the Royal Navy at the time, or copies of original ships’ logs are most valuable for research.

ImageWalking the gun decks of an original man-of war like HMS Victory provides a valuable insight into life aboard a fighting ship, and in October, I will be re-visiting Victory and the Historic Dockyard in Portsmouth. After that, I will sail to Gibraltar to learn its history and experience its atmosphere first hand, as it will be one of the settings in my next book. Academic study of the Napoleonic Era, the Atlantic World and the Age of Revolution has provided me with background material to pepper my books. And, last but not least, sailing as a crew member aboard various tall ships has left me with an insatiable appetite for the sea.

Elizabeth: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.

Margaret: I was born and bred in Yorkshire, England but moved to Australia in 1970. For twenty-five years my priorities were my career in Cytology and raising a family, and it was not until I was made redundant in the mid-1990s, that I had time to do things I had always wanted to. One of these was to write. The other was to sail on a tall ship. The tall ship came first followed by a BA (Writing) which led to my first novel, Sea Dust (2005).

Though it is many years since I left England, it was the moors and the rugged Yorkshire coast that I called on for the settings of my first three books. And while world travel is something I have enjoyed in more recent years, this also has had a considerable influence on my writing. Visits to South America and the Antarctic Peninsula directly inspired the settings for my novels, The Condor’s Feather and Floating Gold. Today, I live in Tasmania, an Australian state settled in the early 1800s from convict stock. It is called the Island of Inspiration and its history has inspired me to, one day, write a book about one of its infamous Bushrangers.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Margaret: Whatever you are having.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Margaret: Ocean, of course.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Margaret: Hate shopping. Loved hiking when I was younger.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Margaret: Neither – prefer the sound of silence.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Margaret: Mystery.

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Margaret: Heathcliff.

Elizabeth: Love scene or death scene?

Margaret: Death – stirs deeper emotions.

Learn more about Margaret at her blog www.margaretmuirauthor.blogspot.com  and website: www.margaretmuirauthor.com

ImageFor the month of September, you can purchase Sea Dust on Kindle for $0.99:

http://www.amazon.com/Sea-Dust-ebook/dp/B008J1PPP2/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1347314267&sr=1-1

Floating Gold is on Kindle for $2.99.

http://www.amazon.com/Floating-Under-Admiralty-Orders-ebook/dp/B008K9E3FQ/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1347314408&sr=1-1

Margaret Muir’s other titles are available on Kindle and as paperbacks via Amazon.

Margaret, thanks for visiting my blog today!

Interview with Heather Webb

Today I’m welcoming historical fiction writer, freelance editor, and blogger Heather Webb.

Elizabeth: Hi, Heather. Can you tell us about your book?

Heather: I’ve just completed my first novel titled Becoming Josephine: The First Empress. I’m hoping to go on submission later this fall. My novel is about a young woman of Martinique who has her hopes for love dashed when her haughty Parisian husband abandons her during the tumult of the French Revolution. Narrowly escaping death in the blood-stained cells of Les Carmes prison, she emerges from the grisly Terreur to reinvent herself as the woman known as Josephine, a socialite of status and power. But Josephine’s youth is fading, and she must decide between a precarious independence and the unwelcome love of an awkward suitor who would become the most important man of the century- Napoleon Bonaparte.

Elizabeth: How did you become interested in Josephine?

Heather: I taught French history for almost a decade, and the French revolutionary period always fascinated me. But I really first became interested in Josephine because of a song by Tori Amos about her. Years later, I awoke one morning with Josephine’s voice in my head. Just like that! So I read my first biography of her and I was hooked. Besides, she wouldn’t stop babbling in my ear. The topic for my current work in progress happened in a similar way—my protagonist started talking to me. My husband thinks I’m insane. Hearing voices in your head must not be normal!

Elizabeth: I have the hearing voices problem too! So, tell me, how do you go about researching your novels?

Heather: I research quite a bit, almost compulsively at times–what I like to call researchitis. I read every primary and secondary source I can get my hands on, watch films, visit locations, take classes, etc. That being said, my character’s emotional arc and good story-telling are far more important to me than being strictly factual. My novels are works of fiction and my goal is to both entertain readers and inspire them to branch out to do their own research. I will, however, outline any facts I’ve altered that are important to mention in an author’s note.

Elizabeth: You are represented by Michelle Brower of Folio Literary Management. Can you tell us how you got Michelle as an agent?

Heather: I met Michelle at the Backspace conference held in New York City. (It runs every spring and fall.) It’s a fabulous conference with a unique small workshop setting. I highly recommend it to writers seeking representation or just feedback on their queries and pages.

Michelle requested pages after I finished reading my query aloud on the spot! From there, I sent a partial, then a full very quickly—within two weeks. When I received her email about wanting to have “the call”, I paced for two days! I can’t tell you how excited and nervous I was. But we had a great conversation and clicked immediately. I knew she was the one for me when her ideas for revisions gelled with my vision of the novel. It really goes the way everyone says: the agent you should sign with is the one who “gets” your work and LOVES it. I’d like to caution writers to not sign with just anyone. It’s a partnership that could potentially last decades. You don’t want to enter in this marriage of sorts with an agent that isn’t quite right. God forbid divorce! Oh, and when you know, you know!

I’m a firm believer in getting out there to conferences to pitch your work in person! It launches you right out of the slush pile and onto the agent’s desk. I hear this all the time—writers are too nervous to attend conferences so they hide at home in front of their laptops. GO OUTSIDE OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE to make your dreams happen! I love to cheer writers on, to help them feel confident with this process. This is how I ended up becoming an editor—I suppose it’s the teacher in me.

Elizabeth: Teacher, writer, editor–and you blog too.  You have a lively blogging voice and write about several topics. How did you first get into blogging?

Heather: Thank you! I first started blogging about two years ago because I noticed that many many authors had one. I started with posts about pop culture, which is a love of mine, but quickly realized I wasn’t the soap box ranty type, at least not on a regular basis. I’m a teacher at heart, as I mentioned before, and I really wanted to reach out to other writers. As I learned and grew into my own writer skin, I began sharing little lessons and hosting contests and found I felt comfortable there. Now I interview authors as well to target readers.

Elizabeth: Enough of your writing—tell us about yourself.

Heather: I’m a former military brat so I’ve become a bit of a culture junkie as an adult. I love everything that goes with travel —food, language, customs, history, architecture and landscapes, most of all people. All of these elements go into crafting a believable world in a historical novel. I always loved writing, though it never occurred to me as a career, despite the stories I wrote as a kid. I also wrote a few essays that won awards and did copy editing for my high school and college newspapers and STILL never considered writing as a profession. I look back and think, what was I thinking? It wasn’t until I had children and resigned from my high school teaching job to be home with them that I began to pursue this passion I never realized I had. Now there’s no going back. I love writing in all its forms and I find the publishing business fascinating and challenging.

Elizabeth: We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Elizabeth: Coffee or tea?

Heather: Absolutely coffee—preferably café au lait.

Elizabeth: Ocean or mountain?

Heather: Ocean. I’m a total beach hound.

Elizabeth: Hiking or shopping?

Heather: Depends on my mood. Unfortunately for my wallet, I love to spend money, whether it be for myself or someone else. But I feel most alive outdoors and enjoy being in the woods.

Elizabeth: Violin or piano?

Heather: Piano! I wish I played.

Elizabeth: Mystery or fantasy?

Heather: Mystery. Puzzles are so much fun.

Elizabeth: Darcy or Heathcliff?

Heather: Ohhh, good question. They’re both full of pride, though it manifests itself differently within each of them. I LOVE Darcy, but I may have to say Heathcliff. I always like an underdog, and I can’t help but be attracted to his wild, passionate nature.

Elizabeth; Love scene or death scene?

Heather: To read–love scene. Always. To write–I enjoy both.

Follow Heather on her blog, Between the Sheets

and on Twitter:@msheatherwebb http://twitter.com/msheatherwebb

Thanks to Heather for joining me today.

Haiku Marquee

Downtown Stevens Point is the home of the Fox Theater, which has not been in operation for the twelve years that I’ve lived in town (due to some local squabble about which I do not care).  But now, thanks to the Haiku Marquee Project, poets can submit haiku and monthly winners will have their haiku posted to the theater’s marquee.  Adult winners are on one side of the marquee and school-aged winners on the other side.

Both of my sons have submitted haiku, and I’m so proud of their poems that I got permission to post them here.  If they win, I’ll post a picture of the marquee.

I was born to lead
people across this highway
It’s safe, please follow m–

–Thomas Felt, age 12

~

Stuck inside this box
Broken elevators stink
I need to go pee

–Craig Felt, age 16

For more information about haiku on the Fox Theater marquee, visit their Facebook page or read this article at Verse Wisconsin.

Interview with Donald Michael Platt

 

 

Today I welcome Donald Michael Platt to my series of author interviews. Donald is the author of A Gathering of Vultures, Rocamora, and its sequel, the soon to be released House of Rocamora.

Q: Donald, can you give us some background on your novel Rocamora and some idea of what readers can expect from the House of Rocamora

A: Rocamora, a finalist at the 2012 International Book Awards, is set in 17th century Spain during its Golden Age. My historical MC Vicente de Rocamora, 1601-1684, struggles to make his place in an empire dominated by the Dominican controlled Inquisition and obsessed with limpieza de sangre, purity of blood untainted by Jew, Moor, or recent converts.

Historically, Rocamora was the Dominican royal confessor for Philip IV’s teenage sister Infanta María and renowned for his piety and eloquence. For the first forty-two years of his life he lived in Spain, and I filled the novel with Court and Church intrigues, depredations of the Inquisition, a mystery about Rocamora’s origins, his romantic involvement with several interesting women, assassination attempts, and duels.

Q: Was there love between Rocamora and Infanta María?

A: Imagine a fifteen- to sixteen-year-old girl who had no personal contact with any young men except her brothers. Then, her elderly confessor is replaced by a young man only five years older than she. It is documented María confessed several times a week, honored Rocamora, and showered him with gifts. Their relationship is best summed by a Spanish saying: No man is closer to a woman then her confessor, not her father, not her brother, and not her husband. No portrait or written description of Rocamora has been found.

Q: How does the sequel continue the story?

A: House of Rocamora covers the last forty-one years of Rocamora’s life in Amsterdam, during which he must again make his place in a land antipodal to Spain antipodal by climate, landscape, religion, government, and religious tolerance. Does he succeed? I answer all that and more through my fiction and the following facts. Rocamora went to medical school, became a physician at age forty-six and married a twenty-five year old who bore him nine children over eleven years. One may wonder how celibate he may have been in Spain. Rocamora was one of only three Jewish physicians who received citizenship equal to Dutch Christians, a philanthropist, and a respected poet although none of his writings are extant. Through Rocamora’s second son, he established a multi-generational dynasty of physicians. All this takes place during Amsterdam’s Golden Age, which included several plagues, the excommunication of Spinoza, hysteria generated among Jews and Protestants by a false messiah, and wars against Spain and England.

Q: What made you interested in writing about this character?

A: Little-known historical individuals who led interesting lives arouse my interest. The less documentation about them, the freer I am to create character motivation and an entertaining story line unlike the well-plowed Tudors, as an example. That is why I selected Vicente de Rocamora, 1601-1684, to be the protagonist of my novels. Several anomalies, unanswered questions. and many gaps in his life piqued my curiosity. The historical spoiler at the end of Rocamora, a truly unique event, is what most motivated me to write the novel.

My research failed to discover Rocamora’s parents and lineage, why he entered the Dominican Order, how and why he became confessor and spiritual director for the Infanta, and why he left Spain when he did in 1643. I have a letter from the director of the Inquisitorial files in Madrid stating Rocamora was never arrested or even denounced as a secret Jew or later condemned and burned in effigy. In Amsterdam, there are no extant records that explain why he received citizenship equal to Dutch Christians. I did discover a tenuous relationship to the noble de Rocamoras of Valencia, caballero caste of Murcia, and documented evidence of his true attitude toward religion, all of which contributed to the course of my novels.

Q: How much historical fact is woven into your novel?

A: The historical background, personages, and events are treated factually, but the great lacunae in Rocamora’s life that I fill are fictional. One typical example: I inserted Rocamora into the comical wooing of María by Charles, Prince of Wales. Of course, I did my best to show and not tell thus avoiding info-dumping, I hope. I do have author’s notes at the end of both novels to separate fact from fiction and a list of fictional characters as well.

Q: Tell us a little about your novel A Gathering of Vultures.

A: A Gathering of Vultures is a contemporary thriller-horror novel, based on my experiences when I lived where the story takes place.  Professional ballroom dancers Terri and Rick Hamilton aspire to be world champions. Unfortunately, Terri’s recurring health problems place that goal well out of reach. They travel to Terri’s birthplace, Florianópolis, on the scenic island of Santa Catarina off the coast of Brazil to vacation and visit their best friends and mentors.

Along the picturesque beaches, dead penguins and eviscerated bodies wash up, and Antarctic blasts play counterpoint to the tropical storms that rock the island. The scenic wonder is home not only to urubus, a unique sub-species of the black vulture, but also to a clique of mysterious women who offer Terri perfect health and the promise of fame—at a terrible price. Rick fears Terri is being drawn into a cult and that his own life may be in danger. Will it be too late when he discovers something even more terrifying lives beneath the tranquil, tropical veneer of the island?

Q: What was your path to becoming published?

A: I either submitted my writing though agents or personal connections with some success in film and television, but none sold my novels. In 2007, I sent A Gathering of Vultures to a startup independent publisher, and she accepted it. My publisher also loved Rocamora, and she published it in hard cover. Later she merged with Briona Glen, another startup, and they republished both novels in soft cover, Kindle, Nook, ebooks.. They will be publishing House of Rocamora in the same formats.

Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.

A: Born and raised inside San Francisco, I graduated from prestigious Lowell High School and received my B.A. In History from the University of California at Berkeley. After two years in the Army, I went to graduate school at San Jose State where I won several writing awards. One of my short stories was published in the college’s literary magazine, The Reed.

When I moved to southern California, I began my professional writing career. I sold to the television series Mr Novak, ghost wrote Your Hair and Your Diet for health food guru Dan Dale Alexander, and wrote for and and with diverse producers, directors and stuntmen. Options have been taken on my unpublished WWII fighter ace novel.

After living in Florianopolis, Brazil, setting of A Gathering of Vultures, I moved to Jupiter, Florida, where I wrote Vitamin Enriched with Carl DeSantis and The Couple’s Disease with Dr. Lawrence S. Hakim.

Currently I reside in Winter Haven, Florida, where I am polishing a completed novel set in the ninth century Carolingian Empire about another unusual and elusive historical personage, Bodo the Apostate, and I have a WWII fighter ace novel on the tarmac after that.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Coffee, strong and black.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: Ocean. Mountains give me a feeling of claustrophobia.

Q: Hiking or shopping?

A: Neither, but if forced to choose, shopping, preferably for wines.

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Violin.

Q: Mystery or fantasy?

A: Mystery.

Q: Hester Prynne or Scarlet O’Hara?

A: Yuck, neither, but if forced, Hester, although I might wait for Pearl to reach a marriageable age. I never cared for “Queen Bee” types. I would have been an indifferent Ashley in Scarlet’s world.

Q: Love scene or death scene?

A: Love scene, but no gratuitous sex.

You can learn more about Donald Michael Platt at his website, www.donaldmichaelplatt.com,

see a trailer for Rocamora on Youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXZthhY6OtI&feature=channel_page

meet his publisher Briona Glen http://www.brionaglen.com/

and/or friend Donald on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/donald.m.platt?ref=tn_tnmn

Rocomora and A Gathering of Vultures are available at amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Smashwords.

Thanks, Donald, for visiting my blog today.

Ya’anmi’il

How do you expect food from another world to taste? Like something you’ve had before? Of course, it doesn’t.

I remember the first time I was offered a ya’anmi’il—I wasn’t even sure it was food. It’s about the size and shape of a walnut shell but a bright, winter-sky blue. Although it looks rubbery, it’s hard and smooth, like a river-washed stone. It has no smell at all, which is why it’s hard to tell it’s edible. The flavor, on your tongue, is like old peaches—except that makes it sound bad, and it’s delicious—sweet and earthy.

The consistency will surprise you. When you bite into a ya’anmi’il, it shatters like glass, but every tiny jagged shard is soft and warm in your mouth, a warmth that quickly spreads throughout your body. It isn’t like drinking alcohol; it’s more like the feeling you get when your very own baby grabs and holds onto your finger for the first time. A tingling warmth of love and awe. A ya’anmi’il doesn’t just feed your body, it feeds your soul.

Well, not exactly.

I’m not describing it well. I wish I had a ya’anmi’il right now, so I could give it to you. Then you’d know.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t grow on earth and doesn’t survive interstellar transport. If you want to taste one, you’ll have to travel.

This is from a writing exercise I did a few years ago and held on to.  I liked it and wasn’t sure what to do with it.  Thank goodness for blogs!

Interview with Jeanne Treat

 

 

Today I’m welcoming Jeanne Treat, author of the Dark Birthright trilogy as well as a collection of short stories, Dark, Mysterious and Irreverent.

 

Q: Can you give us a brief description of the Dark Birthright trilogy?

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A: The Dark Birthright trilogy takes place in seventeenth century Scotland, England, and the American Colonies. The series has sold more than 8,000 books and eBooks through promotion at Scottish and Celtic festivals, book events, and the internet.

The first book, Dark Birthright, is the story of a child born of mysterious circumstances, given to a fisherman and his wife to raise as their own. Dughall grows up in a family bound by honor and becomes a healer.  His life is torn apart when he is claimed by his real father, a cruel and powerful lord who tries to mold him in his image.  Dughall must define himself, in the midst of a struggle between a Duke, an Earl, and the family who wants him back.  All the while, he’s determined to marry the girl he left behind, a woodland lass with eyes as green as a peacock’s feather.

Book two, Dark Lord, follows the same characters. Set during a time of political and religious strife, it features action, romance, and politics.  Dughall is settling into his new role when the King (Charles I) imposes an Anglican liturgy book on the Scottish church.  Protests and riots plague the realm, forcing lords and commoners to take a stand. Dughall and his half brother Gilbert are placed in precarious positions, torn between loyalty to the crown, their families, and zealous subjects. The National Covenant is signed and war breaks out. Tempers run hot and actions are rash.  To maintain order, one brother must take their late father’s place.  Who shall become the Dark Lord?

Book three, Dark Destiny, continues the story of the Gordon clan. The English civil war is over.  The imprisoned King and his lieutenants are in trouble.  Dughall’s half brother Gilbert is one of them.  What will the Gordon brothers do?  You will meet the next generation of Gordon children – one son’s supernatural abilities threaten his father.  England executes the King and declares itself a Republic, but the Scottish government refuses to follow.  The King’s son (Charles II) tries to gain his thrones, starting with Scotland.  Unfortunately, he was given a directive by his father to execute Lord Dughall Gordon. What will the Gordon brothers do? Will they abandon Scotland for the Colonies?

Q: You describe your writing as historical fantasy. What made you decide to mix these genres?

A: I describe the series as historical fiction with a touch of fantasy. It is historically correct, but there is a sword with a curse on it and two brothers with the second sight. What is the second sight? When they were children, their mother described it as, “They speak to each other without words, they each know where the other is, and feel each other’s pain and pleasure. Sometimes they say what others are thinking. It scares me that people will find out.” This spawns some interesting situations, particularly when they are older.

I have always been interested in the supernatural – so you will see this woven throughout my work.

Q: How historically accurate are your novels?

A: The novels are correctly set in the seventeenth century in respect to geography and political and religious systems. They follow historical events closely and reflect what it was like to live as a lord, a peasant, a fisherman, and a woodland villager. To research the novels, I used books and the internet, but I also traveled to Scotland and England to visit castles, seaports, and stone circles. I worked with a Scottish historian from a village near Old Deer.

Q: Your books are illustrated by fantasy artist Jane Starr Weils. How did this collaboration occur? 

A: A press in Virginia agreed to publish my first book, Dark Birthright. They had already published The Rebel King Series, which was illustrated. My publisher suggested that my novel would benefit from character portrait sketches. Jane Starr Weils was one of the names mentioned, so I contacted her. She lives in New York near the Vermont border, so we visited her after a trip to Maine.

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Here is how we created a portrait sketch. I would identify a person whose visage represented my character and photograph them. We knew some of these people. Others, we photographed at Scottish festivals. I would relay the photograph to Jane, along with a description of any changes – like clothing, hair color, and facial hair. She did an initial pass at the drawing and we collaborated until the sketch was perfect. The sketches are wonderful. I use them to promote my books.

Q: What is your creative process?

A: An author’s creative process is as unique as the writer. A friend of mine meticulously plans a novel ahead of time, using character descriptions, plot and chapter outlines, and theme and sub-theme descriptions. It works for her, but my creative process is different. I approach the task like it is an artist’s canvas. I know where the story begins and how it ends and that’s my road map. I ask the characters to talk to me and they do. In some ways I become them. My husband likes to tell people, “I’ve been sleeping with a dozen Scots in my bed for years. The women are fine, but it’s weird being with the men.”

Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.

A: I grew up in Western New York, in a suburb of Buffalo. I began writing as a child and continued into my teens, when I penned a column in the school newspaper called “Tea Time with Cecily Fripple.” (Did I just date myself?) I graduated from college with an English Liberal Arts degree. I took literature and creating writing courses at school, which helped me to write.  I always wanted to be a writer, although I did not seriously pursue it until 2004. My mother is partially responsible for my success. The dedication in my novels says, “This book is dedicated to my mother, who told everyone I was an author before it was true.”

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Coffee – hopelessly addicted

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: Definitely mountain!

Q: Hiking or shopping?

A: Hiking

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Violin!

Q: Mystery or fantasy?

A: Mystery

Q: Darcy or Heathcliff?

A: Hmmm… Neither… But Darcy if a choice must be made.

Q: Love scene or death scene?

A: Love scene

To learn more about Jeanne, visit her blog, http://jeannetreat.wordpress.com/

To learn more about her books and view some book trailers:

http://www.darkbirthrightsaga.com

Jeanne’s short story collection, Dark, Mysterious, and Irreverent is available for FREE download through 08/31/12.  Follow the link below and use coupon code KQ22Q

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/54082

Jeanne, thanks for joining me today!

Cheap Appliances

I don’t write a lot of poetry, but sometimes something occurs to me that will only work in poetry form.  So, here’s my most recent poem.  I hope you like it.

Cheap Appliances

My husband is the kind of man who buys cheap appliances

and then tinkers and charms to keep them running.

 

When our car stereo started eating tapes,

he stuck a red and white plastic drinking straw

into its mouth

and it stopped eating

 

When our dishwasher wasn’t cleaning dishes,

he ran it with the door open,

studying its mechanics as

hot water sprayed clean the floor,

then he removed the filter, cut off a layer,

and twelve years later our dishes are sparkling clean

 

When our clothes dryer would not dry,

He took off the top,

rolled the large metal drum this way and that,

played with a giant rubber band,

ordered a part

and dry it does again.

 

I am only forty-six,

but my warranty period must have passed.

My body is failing me; things don’t work as they should:

my eyes

my bladder

my back

my teeth

my memory

but my heart is kept strong by a man I know will not give up on me.

Interview with Monette Bebow-Reinhard

 

 

Today I’m welcoming Monette Bebow-Reinhard to my series of author interviews. Monette is the author of two Bonanza books, Felling of the Sons and Mystic Fire; is marketing a major nonfiction, Civil War and Bloody Peace and a fiction series about a Greek vampire, a Vrykolakas; has just been offered a contract for Dancing with Cannibals; and is in final edit with Saving Boone: Legend of a Half-Breed.

Q: Can you give us a brief description of your most recent novel ?

A: Dancing with Cannibals is set in 1906 Africa to show the Belgium conquest of the Congo, when two Belgian prisoners are released to become colonists of African villages, to bring them Christianity and claim their resources. Simon sees the wrong in what he’s doing but enjoys the power, while Jean sees the wrong and becomes enamored of the cannibal culture, eventually marrying into it. Inevitably, however, neither man can control the destiny of a country when a more powerful one is determined to conquer it. I think the novel holds great lessons for the world today.

Q: What made you interested in this story?

A: Dicho did, actually. He’s my partner on the book and the instigator of the story and its history. He lives in South Africa but was born in the Congo. He is a French speaker with story ideas who was looking for help and contacted me and others through the website Authors Den to edit his stories and get them ready to market. He had six stories to offer, and I chose the one on cannibals because I’ve done a lot of research on the practice in this country and am interested in removing the stigma, from the point of view of the cannibal, as to the reason one would eat another human. Attitude, to me, is the most important thing in history, and something that’s often overlooked. We’re often judging other cultures through our own eyes. This book tries to change that.

Q: How much historical fact is woven into your story?

A: It’s amazing what he had when he sent the book to me to edit. He didn’t have a fiction novel. He had a series of historical events, two fiction scenes, and a number of fiction characters. I had to take what he had and turn it into a novel. First I asked him – do you want this as fiction or nonfiction? We went from there. I took his characters, and with a lot of back and forth asking him questions about their motives, the plot began to emerge. He had specific ideas of how this would go. But I told him, I don’t want to make this from the point of view that Christianity was a good thing to happen to them. Let’s go for a more balanced approach. I wanted to see us portray the culture as it was, and I depended on him to get the history and the culture right. I bought a number of books of Africa in this period, however, so that I could familiarize myself with it, and I also watched some videos—because Dicho wanted me to add the descriptive material. Even though I’ve never been there! He says he’s not good at it. So you will see more plot than description. But we did what we could. He gave me a lot of history I had to try and incorporate so that readers wouldn’t get lost or bored. It was a challenge to make this kind of book not preachy or what they call “an info dump.”

Q: How hard was marketing something like this?

A: Very hard. We couldn’t tell if publishers were turned off by the title, but didn’t see any reason to change it. We also didn’t know if publishers wanted to work with two authors. I have no experience with a co-authored submission and really didn’t know how to address these concerns. But we just kept at it. And really, we never received any kind of feedback from anyone about why they would reject it. We followed the right format, we found publishers who wanted historical, who wanted cultural, and who wanted controversial. But no luck. We did several rewrites, thinking that might help. I think adding the viewpoint of Betu, one of the cannibal women who eventually marries Jean, was the perfect move.

Now with Spartan, I saw the opportunity to try a new history publisher, and they scooped it up as though the best thing they’d ever seen. It’s exciting working with someone raw and eager, and we’ve already gotten comments on how to improve the material. So Dicho and I really appreciate having Dancing with Cannibals recognized for what it has to offer. Dicho has turned all the edits over to me, because I was mostly responsible for putting it in its current readable format.

But sometimes I wondered if I wasn’t more of a hindrance to him, than a help. I was reassured recently when a publisher who rejected Dancing (the only one who told us why) asked me to help Dicho get one of his other novels ready for her. She says she loves his story but it’s way too long, and needs to be edited before she can consider it. So Dicho’s hired me, not as a partner here, but as an editor. I charge a meager $1 a page, because I enjoy helping other writers. He’s very excited about this second opportunity, and this same publisher is willing to look at my Greek Vampire as well. She’s into romance and it’s called Adventures in Death and Romance.

I would love to see something out there about partnering on a fiction novel – the ins and outs. I still don’t feel I’ve learned enough to write this commentary myself. I wish more publishers and agents were more direct about why they won’t look at something. I know they’re busy, but they don’t realize the disservice they do to projects like this.

Q: Your novels Felling of the Sons and Mystic Fire are Bonanza fan fiction. Can you talk about your “obsession” with Bonanza and how you came to write these stories?

A: Oh, that would take too long! Seriously, I have an article at my website, “Becoming an authorized Bonanza novelist” on the Bonanza page there. In brief, I can say that I was in the right time at the right place, and got David Dortort’s attention as a fan who said all the right things. I finally got to meet him, and we worked on a couple of scripts together for television. With that association, retaining the friendship was easy enough as well as getting permission to sell Felling of the Sons, which I’d written first and used to begin the initial contact. I felt it was too good to get thrown into the fanfic pile. A few years later we talked Civil War together and David was impressed enough with my knowledge to give me permission for the second novel. He’s since died, and I miss him like crazy. No one else has managed to go through Bonanza Ventures with a novel for authorization, but I hear people are trying.

Back in 1992, after I began to see the series on the air again, and while also writing other historical material, I thought I’d try my hand at Bonanza fanfic. I couldn’t believe how easily these stories just poured out of me. For some reason—maybe the death of my sister during the show’s first season in 1959—the show just captivated me and even at the tender age of seven I began rewriting the stories on I saw on TV to make them ‘better.’ Pretty crazy, I know, but one of those episodes I rewrote was”The Crucible” with guest star Lee Marvin, an episode so intense it still frightens fans. My rewrite was so vivid to me, even years later, that I thought it was an actual episode. Imagine my surprise finding out that I wrote the whole story myself, because it wasn’t an episode. “Fork in the Road” is now one of the short stories in Cartwright Saga, which is a complete anthology novel I offer free to people who purchase both of these novels.

I think the best part about Bonanza was its use of history with fictional characters. I can still remember my surprise finding out Mark Twain really did work in Virginia City and Philip Deidesheimer really did create a series of honeycomb safety timbering for the mines. I did some follow-up research on this and learned that he never patented it and died a poor man. Things like this spurred my interest in history—oddly enough, my worst subject in high school was history. I now hold a master’s in history.

Q: Did you get your master’s in history to teach?

A: Nope – just to write. I have a major nonfiction, Civil War & Bloody Peace: following a soldier’s orders, that I’m desperate to get published. Well, maybe not desperate enough, I recently canceled a contract with Sunbury Press because they kept dragging their feet on it—after six months I still didn’t have an editor and then they said, well, maybe we could put it out in two volumes after assuring me it would make a good 450-page book. Well, yes, that’s the way it needs to be, which is why I signed with them. In its submission format it’s about 750 pages with maps and photos. And I think it’s a really good way to look at the pivotal period in our nation’s history, following the orders of one soldier to find out why he was sent where he was sent. The soldier is my grandfather’s great uncle, and he had the unique experience of being in the army for 22 years, as a private, non-com.

But my BA in history didn’t teach me enough about research to finish this book. So I went back to become a better historian. And I think the book will speak for itself, once I find a decent contract. I had Potomac interested but they weren’t sure how to market it. I’ve since created a marketing query letter and hope I addressed some of their concerns.

While getting the master’s and researching the Civil War I created the second Bonanza novel, Mystic Fire. Using the Cartwrights, and having the Civil War tear them apart with an understanding of who Lincoln was in 1862, I created what I call an ‘epic saga.’ It’s a bit more of a challenge to read than my first Bonanza novel because I tear the four Cartwrights into separate storylines—a fire, ghosts, Lincoln, cattle rustling, runaway slaves, the Civil War and an unusual assassination attempt—all combined to help assure me that I had the right title. Sadly, it hasn’t done as well as Felling of the Sons. I don’t feel I’ve yet found its market. The goal in part is to demonstrate what Lincoln was like in 1862, and I really enjoyed giving him a voice in this novel.

Q: Enough of your books—tell us about yourself.

A: Not much to tell. Normal life in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Two brothers and two sisters. My sister Diane died when I was six, and then my parents had two more girls. Diane probably would have been my best friend. We were two years apart. I was my father’s favorite, or so I’m told. He died when I was 14. My mother moved away when I was 18, taking everyone but me to Phoenix in 1971. I stayed in Wisconsin, where all I wanted was my own family. Married my husband Joe in 1975, and have three kids – Carrielynn, Adam and Bennett. All grown and into their own lives. My youngest has made me a grandmother, but sadly they live over in Seattle. I run the Green Bay Reading Writers Guild, and we have a Facebook page. I post a lot of writing related topics there and encourage writers to find readers before they seek publication. I worked in offices as secretary nearly all my life, while helping on my husband’s family’s golf course as manager (for a little while) and bartender. Going back to college was a dream that finally came true when my kids were older. I had one year of college in back in 1972, majoring in theater, and went back in 1994. I’ve been an actress practically all my life in local community groups, even helped form one. I was curator of a museum for three years until I got tired of no pay, no time and no appreciation. But I now run the Archaic Copper Newsletter in conjunction with that experience. I’m one of these persons who doesn’t sit still well! I like being busy. And I have a lot in my head that needs to come out.

Q: How difficult do you find balancing your writing career and your other jobs?

A: Very very. I remember back when all I had was a typewriter. I typed my first novel, and sure wish I’d kept it. It was every night, typing for an hour after the kids went to bed, with my peppermint schnapps (yeah, I’m German). I had to drink before bed because my husband snores! Then my mother sent me her old computer, and though I resisted at first, became very fond of the idea of changing the material before I printed it. I’ve been updating my computers ever since, giving my kids my old ones (Bennett now works for Microsoft). But always my writing took place late at night, and then once I started school, I’d write a couple of pages between classes or between assignments. I got little sleep in those days, and often credit my great kid with raising themselves. Plus doing theater? I sure hope they don’t look back on growing up and wonder where their mother was! I also put myself through my BA with jobs, part-time, temporary. One semester I worked three at the same time. Crazy stuff. I was fortunate that my first successes are Bonanza novels because they were so easy for me to write. Much harder has been my conception of a Greek vampire. I created him as my own original, but, through inspiration of Bonanza, put him into historical events.

We’ve now reached the time in our interview for the let’s-get-to-know-the-author-better, nearly-pointless, sort-of-silly, rapid-fire questions:

Q: Coffee or tea?

A: Coffee! Actually both, but coffee first.

Q: Ocean or mountain?

A: I’d have to say ocean, but doggoneit, I like them both! I think we need water more than rocks, though.

Q: Hiking or shopping?

A: Hiking! Although shopping is a good substitute, especially on hot days.

Q: Violin or piano?

A: Piano. I wouldn’t know which end of a violin to hold, and the sound kind of irritates me.

Q: Mystery or fantasy?

A: Fantasy. I love to plot, but have never tried sheer mystery. On the other hand, in fantasy we can let our imagination run wild.

Q: Darcy or Heathcliff?

A: Darcy – to be honest, I don’t know Heathcliff. Maybe if I did, I’d like him better?

Q; Love scene or death scene?

A: Death – because it’s so final, or so some people think. And it’s so real, where love scenes can be phony. I’ve been criticized for having so much death in my writing, but I am fascinated by it.

Thanks to Monette for joining me today.  To learn more about Monette, her writing and to order her stories, visit her websites:

www.monettebebow-reinhard.com

www.bonanza-legacy.com

www.writewordsinc.com

www.spartan-publishing.com

Thanks, Monette!

The Hunger Games series: A Study in Novel Construction

I’m re-reading The Hunger Games. I know, I know, I’ve read it half a dozen times, but I’m doing it this time as WORK. How can that be work? You ask.

Well, I’m a writer studying The Hunger Games because I think it is one of the most well-written books in recent history, and I’m trying to figure out how Suzanne Collins did it.

Of course, lots of books have fast-paced plots and/or well-developed main characters with fully developed side characters and/or extensive world building and/or thought-provoking themes and/or clever symbolism and/or brilliant style. But how many books are at the top of the craft in all of these areas? The Hunger Games is the only one that comes to my mind. In the comments below I’d love to hear what other books you see as being similarly successful.

So, how does Suzanne Collins do it?

Point of View

First, I think her choice of first-person by Katniss Everdeen has many positive ramifications. We don’t see her world, Panem, as a passive outsider, we see it and feel it and understand it in the way Katniss does. We get her thoughts—what she understands to be normal, what she finds to be cruel, how she is able to survive.

Obviously, the first-person perspective allows for a thorough development of Katniss’s character. We understand her decisions and where she waivers. She is a character who has to make choices when there are no good options. She is always trying to do what is right, but is thwarted by her circumstances. She’s likable and admirable but by no means perfect.

Characterization

One of the things I enjoyed most in this novel is the development of the minor characters, and part of this happens because of the first-person point of view. When we meet people for the first time, we get Katniss’s take on them, which is usually limited and often biased by her own prejudices.

For example, Haymitch Abernathy is first shown to the reader at the reaping where he is drunk, causes a scene and falls off the stage. Katniss explains what an embarrassment he is to their district. And we see him like she sees him. When he first acts as her mentor, we see him as cruel and uncaring because that’s how Katniss sees him. But over the course of the novels, Katniss learns more about Haymitch’s sad history. Hunger Games survivors have nightmares that never go away.  And what is it like to mentor two children every year for 23 years and watch them die in the games? Is it pathetic that he drinks?  Or is it human?

This minor character development happens all over The Hunger Games trilogy. There are no stereotypes or flat side characters. Every single character has a history—even if you never learn what it is, you can feel it in their aliveness. Cripes, even the cat has surprising depth.

Every time I re-read these stories I’m trying to figure out how Suzanne Collins manages to bring to life such a vast army of characters.

Plot

This is what has made the trilogy a bestseller; your average reader doesn’t notice the clever manipulation of the POV or the depth of the characterization, but they know whether or not the plot works. The Hunger Games‘ plot is fabulously constructed, page-turning, and jam-packed with action. How does she do it? Constant conflict. Suzanne Collins covers all types of conflict: person vs society, person vs person, person vs environment, person vs self. Some conflicts last the whole series, others are solved quickly but replaced by others. Poor Katniss. She must handle conflict after conflict after conflict. Her methods for solving problems are diverse, mostly successful, but she is human enough to sometimes solve small problems without  realizing the ramifications and/or their long-term effects.

Plot is the main reason these books are so popular.

Setting/World Building

This is another aspect I’m studying, and I have to admit this is one area I struggle with. The Hunger Games takes place in a dystopian future, and Suzanne Collins creates this world in such depth and detail, that having read the series several times, I know Panem like I know my own world. Yet Collins never “info dumps.” Info dumping is when an author spends a whole lot of time describing the world without anything else happening.  Frowned upon in the literary community.  Boring to the average reader.

Suzanne Collins is able to have her action rolling along at a fast clip, while still thoroughly detailing the world of Panem (and deeply exploring every single character). How does she do it? The explanations of her world are subtle and thorough and wrapped up in the plot and characters, and I may have to read this series several more times before I can learn from her.

Themes

Collins takes on the theme of war and handles it with great adeptness and without any trace of didactism. Again, the first-person point of view helps here. Katniss does not have the answers, but asks good questions. At one point, Katniss ponders (and I’m paraphrasing here): Are there no rules for how badly a human can treat another? She doesn’t like the idea of killing innocent people, and yet she has been forced to do that very thing. And, like a real person, she waivers in what she thinks–especially in the heat of battle or when emotionally frayed.

Another theme Collins hits hard is the superficiality of popular culture and the harm that can come from it.

Symbolism

Wow! Symbolism is so much fun in this story. The most obvious is Fire. Katniss is The Girl on Fire, and that idea is played with throughout the whole series: by Katniss, by the Capitol, by the rebellion, by Suzanne Collins. But there are other symbols, both obvious and subtle: the mockingjay, the smell of roses, Buttercup, the pearl…. Can you think of others?

Style

Collins’ writing is superb. My set of books nearly reeks with the cloying smell of roses. Could you feel the heaviness of the jungle air in the Quarter Quell? Did your heart stick in your throat when the second parachutes went off? Did you laugh when Johanna stepped out of her tree costume? or when Boggs said, “Sorry if we’re not impressed, but we just saw Finnick Odair in his underwear.” Your reactions are the result of superb writing.

And most amazing? These books are short. So much happens, so much is accomplished, with so few words. My head spins just thinking of it.

So, I should get back to work—the rebels are underground and the mutts are calling Katniss’s name.