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Character Interview: Jamie Collins from Michael Bowler’s romantic thriller ‘A Matter of Time’

We’re thrilled to have here today Jamie Collins from Michael Bowler’s new romantic thriller, A Matter of Time.  Jamie is a 20-year-old college student living in Santa Clara, California.

It is a pleasure to have him with us today at Beyond the Books!

Thank you so for this interview, Jamie.  Now that the book has been written, do you feel you were fairly portrayed or would you like to set anything straight with your readers?

Actually, I feel I was excellently portrayed, maybe better than I could’ve portrayed myself. And I’m an aspiring writer, too.

Do you feel the author did a good job colorizing your personality?  If not, how would you like to have been portrayed differently?

He could’ve described me as dashingly handsome to the point that ladies swooned in my presence. Ha! Sadly, that would’ve been true fiction. As to my personality, I feel he got it just right. I’m kind of an introspective guy, even shy at times, and that can be a difficult character trait to make interesting. But I think Mike hit just the right note in describing my interactions with the other characters as well as with the events that befell me.

What do you believe is your strongest trait?

Honorability, maybe loyalty. I confront some very difficult moral dilemmas in this story and had to make very weighty decisions. My honorable nature, I believe, is what impelled me to make the right choices.

Worse trait?

Self-doubt. I second-guess my decisions too much, even when others tell me I made the right one.

If you could choose someone in the television or movie industry to play your part if your book was made into a movie, who would that be (and you can’t say yourself!)?

Ezra Miller is a phenomenal actor and he’d be outstanding playing me (plus he’s better looking than me, too, and that doesn’t hurt – Ha!)

Do you have a love interest in the book?

Yes. Actually, there are two, but only one is my soul mate. Sounds corny, I know, but I do find the love of my life along this journey. (sigh)

At what point of the book did you start getting nervous about the way it was going to turn out?

About the time I realized I had no way to get off Titanic and was going to go down with the ship. I’d planned everything out so perfectly, except how to get myself off the ship!

If you could trade places with one of the other characters in the book, which character would you really not want to be and why?

Jay, because he’s cynical and bitter about life and I wouldn’t want to go through life that way.

How do you feel about the ending of the book without giving too much away?

Fate is pretty cruel to me in this story, and I’m kind of a basket case at the end. Still, I come to a better appreciation of who I am than I had at the beginning, and I’m hopeful that all the pain I endured can be turned into something positive.

What words of wisdom would you give your author if s/he decided to write another book with you in it?

Maybe not quite so much pain and suffering thrown my way next time, huh? How about showing me some love, eh, Mike?

Thank you for this interview, Jamie.  Will we be seeing more of you in the future?

Very likely, since I kind of, inadvertently, changed the timeline ever so slightly, but even a slight alteration can have devastating consequences, and, unfortunately, those consequences will fall on me like the proverbial ton of bricks. Oh well . . .

Michael Bowler grew up in San Rafael, California. He attended St. Raphael’s School and Marin Catholic High School before attending Santa Clara University. Titanic and her tragic fate fascinated him for as far back as he can remember. He has a vast collection of artwork, memorabilia and virtually every book ever written about the disaster.

He majored in English and Theatre at Santa Clara and got a master’s in film production from Loyola Marymount University. He partnered with two friends as producer, writer, and/or director on several films, most notably “Fatal Images,” “Dead Girls,” “Hell Spa” (later re-edited and titled “Club Dead”), “Things” and “Things II.”

He has written a number of unproduced screenplays and is currently working on other novels he has outlined. He’s been teaching high school in Hawthorne, California for over twenty years.

He has also been a volunteer Big Brother to seven different boys over 28 years with the Catholic Big Brothers Big Sisters program and a volunteer within the juvenile justice system in Los Angeles for 27 years.  He is a passionate advocate for the fair treatment of children and teens in California, something that is sorely lacking in this state.

His first novel, A Boy and His Dragon, was originally written in the 1980’s before fantasy stories enjoyed a major renaissance, and has remained unpublished to this day. It is intended as the first of a trilogy.

A Matter of Time, his second novel, was originally written in the 1980’s and completed in the mid-1990’s as time permitted.

You can visit Michael on the web at www.michaeljbowler.webs.com.

Follow Michael Bowler on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/#!/BradleyWallaceM

Friend Michael Bowler at Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1377702356

Pick up a paperback copy of Michael Bowler’s A MATTER OF TIME at Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/A-Matter-Time-Michael-Bowler/dp/143278711X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1344430749&sr=8-1&keywords=michael+bowler

Download your electronic copy of Michael Bowler’s A MATTER OF TIME at Amazon Kindle Store:  http://www.amazon.com/A-Matter-of-Time-ebook/dp/B007GOAC9C/ref=tmm_kin_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1344430749&sr=8-1

Purchase your paperback copy of Michael Bowler’s A MATTER OF TIME at Barnes & Noble:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-matter-of-time-michael-bowler/1109296752

Pick up a copy of Michael Bowler’s A MATTER OF TIME at Outskirts Press:   http://outskirtspress.com/webpage.php?ISBN=9781432787110

http://www.amazon.com/A-Matter-Time-Michael-Bowler/dp/143278711X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1333825240&sr=8-1

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/a-matter-of-time-michael-bowler/1109296752?ean=9781432787110&itm=1&usri=michael+bowler+a+matter+of+time

What is your destiny?

This question haunts 20-year-old Jamie Collins. A junior at Santa Clara University in 1986, Jamie has friends, a  professor who mentors him, and a promising future as a writer.

Then the dreams begin – nightmarish visions that transport him back to a time and place fifty years before he was born: Titanic’s maiden voyage in 1912!  Less than a week before the 74th anniversary of its sinking, Jamie discovers that his fate is inexplicably linked to that of the famous vessel. Somehow, the two timelines are overlapping, and when Titanic dies this time, Jamie will die along with it.

The dreams reveal something evil stalking the ill-fated ship, something that expedites the collision which sinks her. Jamie realizes that the only way to stop this evil and prevent his own death may be to prevent Titanic from sinking in the first place.

But how? How can he stop that ship from sinking in 1912 when he hadn’t even been born yet? And even if he can stop it – should he? What will be the effect on history if he succeeds? Jamie’s quest to fulfill his destiny ties friendsand  family together  in ways he could never have  imagined.

A Matter of Time is an emotionally charged voyage into the value of friendship, the power of love, the impact of evil, and the vagaries of Fate.

 

 

 

Guest Blogger: Coyotes on the Ranch by Susan Spence

Who dreams of the wild wild west?  Everyone!  We have a fantastic author here with us today by the name of Susan Spence.  Susan is the author of the historical fiction, A Story of the West.

Coyotes on the Ranch

By Susan Spence

One thing we live with in rural Montana is coyotes. For many they are a plague. In fact ranchers, as well as the government, have spent a lot of time and money attempting to eradicate them. I know they can cause problems, but my husband and I make every effort to get along with them.

There was a book that came out a few years ago called Don Coyote. It was written by a rancher in Oregon who was upset with the government’s poison control program. Did you know that they used to fly airplanes over both public and private land spreading poison pellets? Dayton Hyde, the author of Don Coyote, described how afterwards, he would ride through the forest and it would be completely silent, the ground littered with dead birds and other animals. He decided there had to be a better way to deal with coyotes and began studying them and even protecting the ones on his ranch.

If we caught one going after our animals, my husband wouldn’t hesitate to kill it, but the fact it’s there doesn’t mean an automatic death sentence. One thing we realize is that despite all efforts to remove them, they are still around. Also, most of them don’t cause problems. Many of them avoid humans and livestock and those are the ones we want around. If we killed them just for being there, who knows if the next one to move in wouldn’t become a nuisance.

A few times we’ve seen coyotes and foxes from the house, which is too close, as we don’t want them coming around the barnyard where our chickens and other animals roam freely. In those cases, my husband quickly pulls out the rifle, which completely freaks out our dogs. He then shoots towards, but not at them. When they hear the shot and the bullet raises a tiny poof of dust as it skips behind them, they get the message and are gone in a flash.

We don’t worry about them around the calves because our cows are excellent mothers. One day I was coming up the drive and a coyote crossed ahead of me, trotting in the direction of our cattle. I watched as the mother cows immediately went into defensive mode, positioning themselves around the calves. The coyote wouldn’t have stood a chance against them, but was just passing through anyway.

When an animal dies on our place, we haul it off a ways and let coyotes, as well as foxes, eat the carcass. We’ve disposed of chickens, cattle and goats this way. Most would think we are asking for trouble, believing our actions will draw undesirable animal species in. We see it differently. As Dayton Hyde pointed out, a well-fed predator is less likely to cause trouble than a hungry one. So they are more than welcome to have what we don’t use.

Of course we don’t take anything for granted. Part of our dogs’ job description is to keep coyotes respectable and to chase off any that come close.

So far this approach has worked, and there’s no reason to think that it won’t continue working. We believe we can share our land with others and not have to worry about anything causing trouble if we simply set a few boundaries.

Susan Spence has always been intrigued with life in the west in the 1880s. She researched historical accounts and first-person narratives as she prepared to write A Story of the West. A lifelong resident of the west, she currently lives in Montana on an old sheep shearing station with lots of furry critters and one partially furry critter. This is her first novel, and she is busily working on a sequel due out in late spring. You can visit her website at www.writing-ranch.com.

Early 60s Racial Tensions Make The Promised Land a Must Read

Valerie Stocking booksigningValerie Stocking was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and wrote her first short story when she was five. When she was eight, she won a short story contest in Jack and Jill Magazine. She wrote her first play at the age of ten. In 1966, when she was twelve, she and her mother moved to a small town in Florida where they lived for a year. During this time, Valerie experienced difficulties with the public school system, tried a Seventh Day Adventist school briefly, and then dropped out altogether. It was her experiences during this year that inspired The Promised Land. Later, she would finish high school, graduate from college and earn a Master’s degree in Cinema Studies from NYU.

For nearly 30 years, she wrote and edited in various capacities, including copywriting, newspaper articles, and short stories. She wrote nearly 20 full-length and one act plays over a ten year period, which have been performed throughout the U.S. and Canada. She edited books for audio, abridging over 100 novels in a 6-year period. In 2010, she published her first novel, A Touch of Murder, which is the first of what will become the Samantha Kern mystery series. It was nominated for a Global eBook Award in 2011 for Best Mystery.

Valerie lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with her dog and cat, and is working on her next novel.

You can visit her website at www.valeriestocking.com.

About The Promised Land

The Promised LandIt’s 1966, just two years after President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and twelve-year-old Joy Bradford’s life is changing dramatically. Born and raised in the white suburbs of Connecticut, Joy is moving to Willets Point, Florida, to live with her mother Jessica because her parents are divorcing. Hoping it really is the Promised Land that her mother describes, she joins in Jessica’s enthusiasm only to find out how horribly wrong that vision is.

Unfortunately for Joy, the move does nothing to change her mother’s emotional and mental instability, resulting in a continuation of the physical and verbal abuse she is all too used to receiving. Her new school is years behind her old one, the kids dress and act differently, and on just the second day, Joy has a run-in with her geography teacher. Things are going from bad to worse until Clay Dooley, a mixed-race boy from that same geography class, offers his friendship. The two become close, sending shockwaves that dovetail with a growing sense of tension and unease in the community as a whole. Clay’s father Clytus, a well-educated black man, attempts to open his own clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point. This causes Jessica’s new lawyer cum boyfriend and leader of the local Klan chapter, Bill McKendrick, to join with other white citizens in using great force to block Clytus’ dreams. Tempers flare and emotions run high when Clytus refuses the Klan’s subsequent demand that he and his family move out of the white neighborhood they live in, setting off an explosive confrontation that will change them all forever.

An absorbing and suspenseful coming of age story set against the tumultuous backdrop of racial tensions in mid-1960’s America, Stocking’s blend of historical fact and fiction is as relevant today as it was during the explosive Civil Rights era. Probing the human psyche for the deep-seated fears that fuel the fires of racism and bigotry, she expertly builds characters who feel their very lives are at stake by the changing times. Full of insight and intensity, The Promised Land is a spellbinding journey you won’t want to miss.

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Valerie.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

“The Promised Land” is my second book.  My first, “A Touch of Murder,” came out in July, 2010.

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

For A Touch of Murder, I went the self-publishing route, but it was through a company rather than me doing everything myself. I paid to be published, but first I had to submit the manuscript of my novel and have it be accepted.  It was, and I was very happy about that.  I self-published because I was tired of doing the query-the-agent routine and getting nowhere.  Self-publishing has become a lot more respectable lately, and I also liked the fact that I got a say in everything that went into producing the physical book.

Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?

With my first book, it took about a year, and that year seemed to drag on forever!  My second book, which was published by SJT Press (CreateSpace) took half that time, but it still felt like a long process.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

It didn’t really hit me that I was a published author until I saw my books on a rack in Borders, where I was doing a book signing.  It felt wonderful!  Just being able to hold the book in my hands was awesome.  I celebrated by going out for Chinese food with friends after the book signing!

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I hired someone to promote the book for me.  That was a mistake.  With The Promised Land, I’ve hired someone to arrange a blog tour for me, but that is far less expensive than having someone else do all the legwork.  Now I am doing the marketing, and it feels great!

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

I would like to think that I have learned from my editors and have improved in certain ways.  Also, I take feedback from readers very seriously, and paid attention to their responses to my first book.  I’m taking more risks now.  I’m putting things down on paperthat actually happened, and mingling them with fictitious situations and characters.  The Promised Land is an edgy story, and totally different from A Touch of Murder.  Touch is a mystery, while The Promised Land is historical fiction/fictional memoir.  I don’t like to write the same thing all the time.  My next book is going to be the sequel to A Touch of Murder and the book after that will be paranormal suspense.

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

The sheer number of people who are involved in the industry, from writers to editors to graphic designers to artists to bloggers to marketers.  It is so vast!  Also, I have been very pleasantly surprised by the quality of service that CreateSpace provides.  A couple of my friends who are also published authors went with them, and they persuaded me to try them.  I’m glad I did.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

When someone likes my work and wants to read more of it.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Get a professional editor to help you.  Join a writer’s group and listen to their critiques.  Rewrite and polish.  Then give it to someone whose opinion you trust and rewrite some more.  When it’s ready, let it go.  Go for it!  You can be published – but you want to publish something that’s of real quality, and that takes work.  So roll up your sleeves and get to it!

 

Read a Chapter: The Promised Land by Valerie Stocking

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at Beyond the Books! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring The Promised Land by Valerie Stocking. Ordering information follows. If you would like to learn more about Valerie, visit her website at www.valeriestocking.com. Enjoy!

 

It’s 1966, just two years after President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law, and twelve-year-old Joy Bradford’s life is changing dramatically. Born and raised in the white suburbs of Connecticut, Joy is moving to Willets Point, Florida, to live with her mother Jessica because her parents are divorcing. Hoping it really is the Promised Land that her mother describes, she joins in Jessica’s enthusiasm only to find out how horribly wrong that vision is.

Unfortunately for Joy, the move does nothing to change her mother’s emotional and mental instability, resulting in a continuation of the physical and verbal abuse she is all too used to receiving. Her new school is years behind her old one, the kids dress and act differently, and on just the second day, Joy has a run-in with her geography teacher. Things are going from bad to worse until Clay Dooley, a mixed-race boy from that same geography class, offers his friendship. The two become close, sending shockwaves that dovetail with a growing sense of tension and unease in the community as a whole. Clay’s father Clytus, a well-educated black man, attempts to open his own clothing store in the white section of downtown Willets Point. This causes Jessica’s new lawyer cum boyfriend and leader of the local Klan chapter, Bill McKendrick, to join with other white citizens in using great force to block Clytus’ dreams. Tempers flare and emotions run high when Clytus refuses the Klan’s subsequent demand that he and his family move out of the white neighborhood they live in, setting off an explosive confrontation that will change them all forever.

An absorbing and suspenseful coming of age story set against the tumultuous backdrop of racial tensions in mid-1960’s America, Stocking’s blend of historical fact and fiction is as relevant today as it was during the explosive Civil Rights era. Probing the human psyche for the deep-seated fears that fuel the fires of racism and bigotry, she expertly builds characters who feel their very lives are at stake by the changing times. Full of insight and intensity, The Promised Land is a spellbinding journey you won’t want to miss.

 

Chapter One

 

AUGUST 1966

 

            Joy Bradford stared out the window of the moving train headed from New York’s Penn Station to St. Petersburg, Florida.  Her ungainly body was encased in a pair of Bermuda shorts and a white, sleeveless Ship and Shore blouse. She had unfashionably short, curly brown hair, and a splotch of acne across her forehead. She was twelve years old.

She frowned, blinking her eyes behind Coke-bottle thick, horn-rimmed glasses.  The area they were traveling through was very poor, with houses that were nothing more than dilapidated, one-room shacks. Some were tilting to one side, threatening to collapse.  Some of the roofs looked partially caved-in. Windows were crude openings, lacking blinds or curtains.

Aunt Margaret, who was traveling with Joy and her mother Jessica, had referred to the lean-tos that Joy was seeing, which had appeared throughout their trip, as “Niggertowns.”  The term bothered Joy.  When she’d been four, her mother taught her a rhyme, “Eenie meenie miney moe, catch a nigger by the toe. If he hollers let him go, eenie, meenie miney moe.”  She’d recited it proudly for their housekeeper Melissa, who had shouted at her, “Don’t you ever say that again.”

“Why not?” Joy asked.

“It’s a bad word for colored people.”

Joy had never seen her so upset.  “Okay, I won’t say it anymore,” she promised…

“What are you doing?”

Joy, startled, jerked away from the window, looking up as Aunt Margaret entered the room.

Aunt Margaret frowned.  “Come away from there.  That’s something you shouldn’t have to see,” she said.  “None of us should have to look at it.  It’s disgusting.  A cesspool.”

Joy eyed her, but was silent.

“Where’s your mother?” Aunt Margaret wanted to know.

Joy shrugged.  “She said she was going to the dining car to get us a table.”

Aunt Margaret looked at her watch.

“Yes, it’s about time for lunch.  Come along.”

Jessica Bradford was waiting for them in the dining car at a table adorned with a starched white tablecloth, white cloth napkins and ornate silverware.  She was an inch taller than Margaret’s diminutive five feet one, and slender. Her shoulder-length blonde hair hung in her face, partially concealing her high cheekbones and doe-like brown eyes. “Well, just a few more hours and we’ll be there,” Margaret said.  She took one of Jessica’s cigarettes from the Phillip Morris pack lying on the table and lit it.  Jessica automatically reached for a cigarette herself, got a light from Margaret’s flame and inhaled deeply.

“Everything should be ready at the house,” Margaret continued.  “Peter will be picking us up at the station, and I’ve notified Vivian and Carly to make up one of the guest suites.”

Jessica nodded, but said nothing.

“You don’t seem as enthusiastic now as you were before we got on the train,” Margaret commented.  “Getting cold feet?”

Jessica’s lips thinned.  She shook her head.  “Not at all.”

Joy shifted uncomfortably in her chair.  Ever since her mother had announced she was leaving Joy’s father, there had been tension between Jessica and Aunt Margaret.  Joy knew that Aunt Margaret liked her father.  Almost everybody did, except for Jessica.

Now, Aunt Margaret shrugged.  “It’s your life,” she said in a voice that was too loud.  “Of course, there’s also Joy to consider.”

“That’s one of the main reasons why I’m getting a divorce,” Jessica said.  “For Joy’s sake.”

Aunt Margaret squinted at her as she inhaled smoke, then shook her head.  “I still don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.  “Your husband is a fine, upstanding…”

“Creep,” Joy’s mother supplied.  In a lower tone, she muttered, “Drunken pervert.”

“Jessica,” Aunt Margaret said in a warning tone.  “Watch your language.”

Jessica snorted and stabbed her cigarette out in the glass ashtray beside her.  Then

she fumbled in her purse and produced a large bottle of Mylanta.

Aunt Margaret watched her disapprovingly.  “We’ll have to get you over to Doc Nelson once you’re settled,” she said.  “It isn’t normal for a person to be taking so much of that stuff.”

“Are you a doctor?” Jessica’s voice was loud.

Aunt Margaret took another pull off her cigarette and said nothing.

There was a pause while Jessica looked for something to pour the antacid into.  The only glasses on the table were filled with water.  She shook the bottle, unscrewed its cap, and tilted it back as she gulped the chalky liquid.  Her dark eyes roamed from side to side, checking to make sure no one noticed. Then she replaced the cap and put the bottle back in her purse.

“Good afternoon, ladies.”  A Negro waiter approached them and handed out menus.

“Good afternoon.” Aunt Margaret smiled what Joy called her Gracious-to-the-Help Smile.  She showed just a bit too much of her teeth, but the gesture was gone so quickly it left you wondering if it had been a grin or a grimace.

They ate in silence.  Joy hated it when things were this way.  Of course, it was far better than they’d been during the past year, when Joy and her parents were living under the same roof.  She gazed sourly at her mother, who left half her chicken sandwich on her plate and was lighting another cigarette.

When she couldn’t stand the tension any longer, Joy said, “I think I’ll go back to the room and read.”

“Go ahead,” Jessica said tightly.

Joy rose so quickly she nearly knocked her chair over.  She saw with dismay that there were two wet streaks left on the seat.  She perspired heavily from the backs of her thighs, but didn’t know what to do about it.

When she reached the room, instead of pulling out a book, she snuck two pages of plain white stationery from her mother’s tablet, picked up a pen lying on the table and began to write:

Dear Dad,

 

We are almost in St. Petersburg.  There are lots of oranges and palm trees and other things that aren’t so nice to look at.  The land is flat.  I don’t think I’ll have any problems riding a bike here.  We just ate lunch.  I like the food on the train, and the men who make up the rooms and wait on the tables are very nice.

 

She hesitated, tapping the tip of the pen against her front teeth.  Then she added,

 

I miss you.  Thank you very much for the five dollars you gave me just before we left.  I still have it, and I didn’t tell Mom about it.

 

Abruptly, she heard footsteps approaching the room, and Aunt Margaret’s voice

 

saying, “Come over for gin rummy as soon as you’re ready.”

Jessica mumbled something Joy couldn’t hear, then turned the knob on the door.  It was locked.  She tapped on the door, calling,

“Joy?  Are you in there?”

Hastily, Joy shoved the stationery under her pillow and put the pen back on the table.

“Joy?”

“Yes.  Coming,” she called, and opened the door.

Jessica stepped in and set her purse on the table.  “Are you all right?” she asked Joy.

“Fine,” Joy replied.

“Aunt Margaret wants me to play cards with her,” Jessica said as she stepped into the tiny bathroom and shut the door.

“That’s nice.”

“Do you want to play?”

“No, thanks.”

There was a pause.

“I wish I didn’t have to,” Jessica muttered.  “That woman cheats.”

Joy smiled.  She’d played cards with her aunt before, and knew that Aunt Margaret wasn’t dishonest. She just had a good memory and knew after a couple of turns who had which cards.  She very seldom lost.

After Jessica left the room to go next door, Joy got out the letter she’d been writing to her father and resumed:

How is Kitty? I miss her.  I miss you, too.

Joy stopped, aware that she’d already said that.  She thought of scratching it out, but that would leave a blotch on the paper, so she left it. She lay on her stomach on her bed, rereading what she’d written, trying to think of something else to say.  Finally, she wrote,

I hope you’re OK.  You can write me at Aunt Margaret’s address in Bellair.

 

Love,

Joy

She’d only used one of the two sheets of paper she’d taken from her mother’s tablet.  She rifled through Jessica’s cosmetic bag where she’d found the paper, searching for an envelope.  She managed to locate one jammed in a corner and pulled it out.  It was creased across the flap, but Joy smoothed it out and wrote her father’s address on it.   Then she put Aunt Margaret’s address in the upper left hand corner.  When she was done, she stuffed her letter in the envelope and sealed it.  There. Now she just needed a stamp.  She’d ask Aunt Margaret for one when they reached the house.  She’d also ask her aunt to mail the letter to her father.  She didn’t trust her mother to do it.

Joy put the sealed letter in her small suitcase underneath some blouses.  She spent the next half hour writing another letter to her best friend Karen.  It had been very painful to say good-bye to her.  They’d been close for nearly two years.

When she was through, Joy decided she’d ask her mother for an envelope.  She didn’t want to go snooping through Jessica’s luggage again.  Jessica might notice something was amiss and get suspicious.

Joy folded the letter to Karen and put it on the table.  There was no reason to hide that one, she thought.

They had stopped in some Florida town, and now they were jerking forward again, the train giving off its loud HOO-HOOOOO and thunketa thunketa thunk as it pulled out of the station.  Joy returned to her place by the window.

            It won’t be long now.

**

Sheriff Thaddeus Simms and Gil Meyers sat side by side on rickety folding chairs as they had for hundreds of Wednesdays, outside Willets Point Barber Shop, which was owned by Gil. Thaddeus was a tall, imposing man, six feet five and more than 250 pounds.  The little hair he had left Gil Meyers buzzed off every Wednesday.  Thaddeus’s face, which had been innocent-looking enough in high school to earn him the nickname Baby Huey, was hard and craggy with age, but his eyes remained an icy blue.

Thaddeus’ cheeks still smarted from the aftershave Gil had slapped on him a few minutes before.  He sat motionless with his eyes closed, feeling the Florida sun bake his face.  He wished there was a breeze.  Sweat was beading on his forehead and dripping down the sides of his nose.

“I hear he’s rented a place downtown,” Gil said.  Short, string bean thin with gangly arms and legs, he exuded an odor of menthol.

Thaddeus’s eyes flew open.  He stared dully at the seven-acre lot across the street.  It had had a For Sale sign on it for so long the sign looked weather-beaten.

“Them niggers is gettin’ awful uppity these days,” Gil added.

Thaddeus shrugged and said, “Don’t borrow trouble until it knocks on your door.”

“You know who I’m talkin’ about, don’t cha?” Gil pressed.

Thaddeus shifted his bulk in the uncomfortable chair, making it squeak in protest.

“I reckon,” he said.

“That nigger from Atlanta, Clytus Dooley.”

“What about him?”

“What are you gonna do about him?” Gil asked.

“Nothing, unless he breaks the law.”

Gil snorted.  Then he asked, “How’s the truck running?”

Thaddeus shrugged.  “You know.”

“What do you mean?” Gil was defensive.  “When I sold it to you I said…”

“I know what you said.  She’s got her moments, is what I’m saying.”

As Thaddeus said this, he couldn’t help but look at Gil’s brand new 1966 Ford

Fairlaine parked in front of the shop.

Must be in hock up past his chin.

Abruptly, Gil changed the subject: “Know who’s coming into town today?”

Thaddeus winced.  Sometimes he wondered why he bothered talking to Gil at all, but he kept his voice even when he asked, “Who’re you talking about?”

“You know who.”

“Why don’t you tell me?” he asked.

“Miss Jessica Arkasian.”

“You mean Mrs. Bradford,” Thaddeus corrected.

“She’ll go back to her maiden name after she’s took that surgeon husband of hers for all she can get.”

Anger flared in Thaddeus.  “She’s no gold-digger,” he said.  “She doesn’t have to be.”

“Well,” Gil said doubtfully.  There was a pause.  “She’s got a kid, I hear.”

“Yeah,” Thaddeus said noncommittally.

“Train’s pulling in, in about an hour,” Gil went on.  When Thaddeus didn’t reply, Gil added, “You gonna go meet ‘em?”

Thaddeus snorted.

“Are you?” Gil pressed.

“Why would I?” He wished Gil would drop it.  It was too damned hot to be talking.

“I’ll bet Bill McKendrick shows up to welcome ‘em,” Gil said, his voice full of needles.

Thaddeus said nothing.  But his hands, which had been resting in his lap, now moved to grip his knees.

“You don’t want him getting the jump on you again, do you?”

“Don’t know what you mean,” Thaddeus said.

But he did know, damned right well…

Gil laughed.  Thaddeus suddenly wanted a drink.  He glanced at his watch.  Another twenty minutes until he was on his official break.

“Come on, Thad.  I’ve heard she’s still a looker.  Don’t tell me you’re not interested.”

Thaddeus rose from the chair, adjusting the heavy belt containing flashlight, handcuffs and gun that rode on his hips.

“I haven’t seen her in almost twenty years,” he said.

“So?”

“So, people change.”

He watched as a satisfied smirk settled on the wrinkled features of Gil Meyers.  It was hard for Thaddeus not to punch him.  He imagined his knuckles connecting with Gil’s nose.  He imagined Gil on the floor, dazed, shaking his head, all the self-assuredness and mean pettiness knocked out of him.

“I just figured you’d want to know,” Gil said.

“I’d best get back to work,” Thaddeus said, glancing once again at his watch.  Seventeen minutes to go…

**

            “I need a drink,” Margaret Karlson murmured.  She stood wilting in a pink linen suit next to Joy and Jessica in the parking lot of the railroad station in St. Petersburg.  They were waiting for Peter, Margaret’s chauffeur, to arrive.  Margaret shifted impatiently from one foot to the other.  She inhaled the fetid air and tried not to grimace.  This was the worst part of the trip.  Why they put railroad stations in the middle of the worst cesspools of humanity she would never understand.  But at least they were off that wretched train.  Five days riding on that damned thing should have won her an endurance medal.  She blamed Johnson for the whole thing, of course.  It was his fault the damned airlines were on strike.  If only Goldwater had gotten in…

Joy stood next to her mother, her face shiny with sweat. There were dark, wet rings under her arms.  Margaret was aware of the perspiration dripping down her own chin, trickling down her neck.  She retrieved a tissue from her bag and mopped it up.  She glanced at Jessica and experienced a short burst of irritation.  Jessica never perspired.  And the sun loved her: she could bake in it for hours until her skin was as dark as a Negro’s.

“I’m going to start calling you my nigger niece,” Margaret told her.  She turned to Joy and added, “I don’t want any niggers in my family, do you?”

Joy stared stonily back at her. The child made Margaret nervous.

“I’m surprised Bill isn’t here,” Margaret said.

Jessica pulled a cigarette out of a beige leather case and put it between her lips.  “He’s probably working,” she said, fumbling in her purse for a lighter.

“Still,” Margaret said.  “Attorneys can take long lunches if they want to.”  She pulled a cigarette out of her own purse and waited until Jessica produced a lighter to incline her head towards the flame.  She inhaled deeply and said, “I’ll let you in on a little secret about Bill.” She paused and looked at her niece.  “He’s going to be the next D.A.”

Jessica puffed on her cigarette and said nothing.

“I’m financing Bill’s campaign.” Margaret paused to let that sink in, then added, “Don’t dare tell anyone.  It’s supposed to be a secret.  He’s going to be on radio, TV, everything.” Margaret watched her niece carefully.

Doesn’t she have any feelings at all?  If she’s fallen out of love with Mike, she can damn well get cozy with Bill again.

“Personal appearances, too, of course,” Margaret added.  “They say those are most important.”

Jessica was silent.  Margaret frowned.  “He never married you know,” Margaret said pointedly.

“Smart man,” Jessica said.

Margaret sighed in exasperation.

I give up!  She shot her niece a look.  For the time being…

She looked both ways, down the rows of cars in the parking lot, and then at her watch.

“Not where’s that damned…oh, here’s Peter,” Aunt Margaret said jubilantly as the black Cadillac limousine nosed its way toward them.  Peter, dressed in full livery, opened the driver’s side door and got out.  He was a small man, barely Margaret’s height, but as far as she was concerned he had the energy of two regular-sized men.

“Welcome home, Mrs. Karlson,” Peter said, bowing and tipping his hat.

“Thank you, Peter.  This is my niece Jessica Bradford and her daughter Joy.”

“Pleasure to meet you,” Peter said, nodding to both of them.  He gestured to the bags near them.  “Is that everything?”

“Yes,” Margaret replied.  To Jessica, she said, “Come on, let’s get in the air conditioning.”

As they climbed into the back of the limo, Margaret looked at her wristwatch, feigning surprise. “I had no idea it was so late. I’m ready for a drink.  Jessica?”

Margaret turned to her niece, pretending not to see the disapproval flash in Jessica’s dark eyes.

“No thank you,” Jessica said.

“What about you?” Margaret asked Joy.  She saw the girl’s eyes widen in surprise.

“Aunt Margaret, please,” Jessica protested.

“Why?  What’s the matter?” Margaret’s voice took on a defensive tone.  “We’ve been stuck on that God-awful train for days, and baking in the heat on that platform for God knows how long.  We’re entitled.  Aren’t we, Joy?”

Without waiting for a reply, Margaret opened the bar in the back of the limo and helped herself to a glass and a miniature of J&B.  “What would you like, Princess?” she asked Joy.  Joy didn’t reply. “Oh, come on,” Margaret said impatiently.  “Didn’t you tell me you were dying of thirst?”

“That was yesterday,” Joy said in a barely audible voice.

“It’s too early,” Jessica muttered.

“It is not.  It’s late afternoon.  How many people have cocktails at lunch?”

“Not everyone,” Jessica retorted.

“Well, it’s hours past lunchtime now.”

They hadn’t served any alcohol on the train before 2pm.  Margaret thought that was outrageous, and had argued with the help on board, but they refused to bend their damned rules.

Now, finally, Jessica was silent. Margaret experienced a sense of triumph.

I showed her.

Peter climbed into the limo on the driver’s side and shifted into drive.

“I bet I know what you’d like,” Margaret said to Joy.  She pulled a small bottle of green liquid out from the back of the liquor supply and took a fresh glass.

“You like mint, don’t you?” Margaret asked.

Joy shrugged.

“Huh?  Do you?” Margaret asked loudly.

“It’s okay,” Joy whispered.

“Here.  Try some of this.” Margaret handed her the glass, which was half-full of the green liquid.  Joy took a small sip.

“Isn’t it good?” Margaret pressed.

“Sure,” Joy said.

Margaret settled back against the leather upholstery, nursing her scotch.

“Oh, Jessica,” she said. “Did I tell you I invited Bill McKendrick over for dinner tonight?”

“No, you didn’t,” Jessica replied.

“It’ll be like old times.”

**

            Joy watched out the limo window as they made their way 30 miles west from St. Petersburg to Willets Point, Florida.

The car was the height of luxury, she thought.  Its upholstery was covered in suede, and the only things Joy could hear were the hiss of the tires and the subdued whir of the air conditioner.  It felt like a long ride to Joy.  However, as the cool, green crème de menthe coated her tongue and throat, she began to relax.  She loved the way it grew warm as it traveled down to her stomach.

They passed a golf course and a short block of boutiques. They made a right turn and were in a really fancy section now.  Homes spread out gracefully on immaculately manicured lawns.  Palm trees adorned the wide meridians.

Joy had never seen anything this opulent back home. It was impossible not to gape, even though she had been here four years ago. Enough time had passed for the impact of this wealth to strike her again.

The last time she’d been here, when she was eight, she’d gotten lost on the first floor of the Karlson home, between the dining room and the guest suite she was supposed to occupy.  She stumbled around in the dark, on carpeting so thick her feet sank into it, wandering through the breakfast gallery, the library, and the cavernous living room before she finally encountered a servant and timidly asked the way back to the kitchen.  The maid had found it terribly funny.

Joy remembered Aunt Margaret’s favorite part of the house was the elevator.  It was a tiny, plushly padded cubicle that whirred from the first to the second floor.  She and Joy went up and down, up and down in it. Aunt Margaret’s small dark eyes shone with childish glee as she said, “Press the button.  Going up.”

**

            Aunt Margaret resided in a two-story mansion on a large corner lot in Bellair, located in the northernmost section of Willets Point.  Like the other homes on the street, it was white stucco with a coral-colored roof and accents.  Jessica remembered it being bigger when they’d last been here, four years ago.

Things had been better with Mike then. Friends of Margaret and Gustav, Margaret’s husband, including several physicians, had tried to persuade him to move and practice urology in Florida.  He seemed amenable to the idea at first, but then backed down as soon as they had returned to Connecticut.

Now, Jessica gasped as she felt hot acid rising to her gorge.  She looked at her handbag, where she’d kept the large bottle of Mylanta, but then realized she’d transferred it to her luggage because the bottle was stretching the material of her purse.

Once they arrived at the house, Aunt Margaret ushered Jessica and Joy into the same guest suite Joy had stayed in four years earlier. It was done in French Provincial, all yellow and white, and boasted a huge separate dressing room and bathroom. Sliding glass doors led directly out onto the patio, which featured inlaid tile and an ornate fountain.

“Freshen up,” Margaret commanded. Her face was flushed, and her strident voice was a bit louder than usual. Her eyes fixed on Jessica’s. “I know you’ll want to look nice for our guest.”

Jessica pursed her lips, but her heart was pounding with excitement.

She’d met Bill after she’d graduated high school.  He was a few years older, with a lot more experience in the ways of the world than she.  She recalled that summer before she went to college.  Bill had just finished his second year of law school, and was full of promise.  She remembered the first time he kissed her in the parking lot of the Willets Point Country Club, how his lips had lingered over hers, coaxing them open.  She had ended it a few weeks later, after he’d started a fistfight with Thaddeus Simms.

Now, in Aunt Margaret’s house, the first thing Jessica unpacked from her red cosmetic case was the large bottle of antacid.  She found small paper cups in the bathroom, filled one with the chalky liquid, and downed it.

After Jessica and Joy had showered and unpacked a few things, Jessica sat at the vanity table in the dressing room, fumbling with a myriad of small tubes, vials, and sticks.  They left smeared, multi-colored trails of powder and liquid on the imported marble surface.

Jessica was aware of Joy watching her as she applied her make-up.  The girl annoyed her to no end.  She was disobedient and disrespectful, and she took Mike’s side in everything.  Further, Jessica found Joy’s beady-eyed stare behind those dreadful spectacles she wore unnerving.

The silence between them thickened.  Well, Jessica was damned if she was going to be the one to break it.

When she was through with her make-up, she rose and walked into the spacious closet. She hesitated, her hand poised over one of her mini skirts.  The hand wavered, then moved past, finally settling on a knee-length, pale blue dress that accentuated the narrowness of her waist and the curve of her hips.

“Can I wear some lipstick?” Joy asked timidly.

“No.”

Joy moved from one foot to the other, causing the loose shift she had changed into to sway. It concealed her growing bosom and the rest of her chunky body.

She was silent as Jessica applied carnelian colored lipstick to her mouth, puckered and pressed her lips into a tissue, leaving an orange smear.  Jessica sprayed herself from neck to chest with cologne in several rapid, waving motions, then turned to Joy.

“Let’s go,” Jessica said.

            They found Margaret alone in the den, having a cocktail. Margaret shook the ice around in her glass of scotch.  “Can you believe it?” she demanded.  “They’re actually letting niggers into white schools.”

Her face was flushed, and she mopped sweat from her chin with her free hand.

“That’s one of the reasons we need Bill,” she went on.  “These niggers are getting away with all kinds of things.  Everyone’s concerned about their damned civil rights.  What about my civil rights?  What about the rights of white people?  Don’t we count any more?  For God’s sake.”

She made a vague gesture towards the bar.  “Help yourselves,” she said.

Jessica nodded to Joy, who went to the bar and mixed a scotch for Jessica and ginger ale and grenadine for herself.

“What about that high-falutin’ one from Atlanta?” Margaret continued. “He thinks because he’s college educated he can come down here and do business with the whites.  It’s absurd.  No white person wants to be associating with coloreds that way. It’s unnatural, that’s what it is.  Unnatural.”

Jessica cleared her throat.  Margaret could carry on after a few belts.  Anyway, Jessica had other things on her mind besides race relations.

“How’s Bill these days?” She tried to keep her voice casual.

“As handsome and eligible as ever,” Margaret said, grinning broadly.  Jessica’s face grew warm.

As if on cue, the doorbell rang.  Margaret darted to the den door.

“I’ll get it, Vivian,” she bellowed. Unconsciously, she pressed her steel-colored curls against the side of her face with one hand as she strode out of the room.

There was a long silence.  Then Jessica heard Margaret’s voice, loud with excitement as she greeted her guest, followed by a man’s voice, much lower, murmur something indistinct.  There was a pause, and Jessica heard Margaret again, this time much closer:

“Right this way, Bill.”

She was followed into the room by Bill McKendrick.  He was a tall, burly man,  dressed in a dark grey suit, white shirt and striped tie. His grey hair was thinning on top.  He wore horn-rimmed glasses and had broad features.

Jessica almost blanched when she saw him.  He looked like an inflated version of the Bill she’d known 20 years ago.  Still, her heart shimmied crazily as Margaret marched him up to her and said, “Bill, you remember my niece, Jessica Bradford.  This is her daughter, Joy.”

Jessica noted with satisfaction that Bill didn’t bother looking at Joy.  Instead, his eyes lit up with interest and his eyebrows rose slightly as he took Jessica in.

“It’s a pleasure to see you again,” he said, extending his hand.

Jessica took it.  It was surprisingly smooth and soft.  He squeezed her hand gently.  She nodded and smiled.

Margaret stepped in.  “I’m hoping you’ll be able to help Jessica.  She wants to divorce her husband, and needs a good lawyer.”

Jessica was mortified.  Then she thought, Why not?  What the hell?

“I’ll be glad to help if I can,” Bill said.

“Let me get you a drink,” Margaret said.  “Still a bourbon man?”

Bill laughed and nodded.

“Tell us what’s been going on in the world of crime.”

Bill settled his large bulk into a loveseat across from Jessica.

“I saw the sheriff yesterday,” he said to Margaret.

“Thaddeus?  How is he?”

“Just fine, I think. Getting a little broad in the beam.” Bill laughed, then patted his own stomach. “Of course, I’m a fine one to talk.”

“What do you mean?” Margaret waved at him impatiently.  “You’re a big man, Bill.”  She turned to Jessica. “And he will probably be an even bigger man before the end of the year.”  She handed Bill a drink.

“Well, now, we don’t know that yet, Margaret,” Bill said, but he was smiling broadly.

Jessica tried not to look too impressed as she thought,

He’s confident.  He’s a man who’s going places.

“Oh, Bill.  You don’t have any competition to speak of, unless you count that nigger-loving peace-blabbing asshole from…”

“Aunt Margaret, please,” Jessica murmured.

“Well, it gets my dander up every time I think of that idiot saying equal this and equal that.” Margaret took a breath.  “What’s wrong with equal and separate?”

“Believe me, most people feel that way,” Bill said.  “We’ve got some pending business downtown with that fellow Clytus Dooley…”

“He’s the one I was telling you about,” Margaret said to Jessica.  “That left leaning nigger from Atlanta.”

“He’s applied for a permit to open a business downtown,” Bill said.

“In the white section, isn’t it?”

Bill nodded.

“Well, can’t you do something to stop him?” Margaret’s voice was strident.

“We’re trying,” Bill answered.  “But he seems to think the law is on his side.  He’s got some sanctimonious leftist lawyer from Tampa to represent him.  White, I might add.”

“Is he going to have white people working in the store?”

“If he is, they’re bound to be trailer trash who don’t know any better,” Bill said.  “The point is, do we want our hard-earned money lining this carpetbagger’s pockets?”

“No,” Margaret almost shouted.  She took a large gulp of her drink.  “What can be done to stop him?”

Bill smiled thinly.  In a soft voice, he said, “We’ll take care of it.”

At that moment, Jessica felt the scope of this man’s power, and smiled.

 He’s going to be mine.

            Jessica was removing her makeup in the dressing room after dinner when Joy came in.

“What do you think of Bill?” Joy asked as she leaned against the wall next to her mother.

“I don’t know.  Why?”

“Are you going to see him again?”

“Well, yes.  Didn’t you hear me make an appointment with him?  Aunt Margaret wants him to handle the divorce.”

“That’s all?” Joy asked.

Jessica shot her a look.  “What do you mean by that?”

“I don’t know. Do you think you might…date him?”

Jessica’s eyes turned hard. “I’m still married, for God’s sake,” she snapped. “Do you think I’m going to start running around with a man like some floozy? For God’s sake.” She picked up the blue-streaked tissue and continued removing her eyeshadow.

**

– Excerpted from The Promised Land.  All rights reserved.

 

Why I Write Historical Fiction by M.M. Bennetts

We have a special guest today!  M.M. Bennetts, author of the historical fiction novel, Of Honest Fame (Diiarts), is here to talk about writing historical fiction! Educated at Boston University and St Andrews, M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in the economic, social and military history of Napoleonic Europe. The author is a keen cross-country and dressage rider, as well as an accomplished pianist, regularly performing music of the era as both a soloist and accompanist. Bennetts is a long-standing book critic for The Christian Science Monitor. The author is married and lives in England. You can visit the author’s website at www.mmbennetts.com.

Why I Write Historical Fiction

By M.M. Bennetts

Somewhere along the line we’ve got the idea that history itself is dry and academic, that it’s about battles, names and dates, and curiously, very few people.   But history without the people isn’t really history at all, it’s geography.

And I want to put the people back.

Recently, I read this line by journalist, Charles Moore:  “In studying history, you must imagine yourself into the truly difficult choices people had to make in the past…”

And I thought, Whoa!  That is exactly it.  Nothing can say it better.

And that is the whole job of the historical fiction writer.  For us, it is not enough to live in another person’s skin within the contemporary world, but (possibly we have a strain of masochism?) we have to complicate matters still further by adding the past senses of smells, sights and sounds that are long gone or diminishing.  Then add to that, imagining ourselves into those unequivocally awful decisions and their aftermaths.

But when we get it right, how great is the result.  How much it deepens the experience of the reader.  And how it transforms our view of our current world by understanding our birth, the nascency of the ideas with which we live, the consequences of actions long since taken.

Historical fiction is one of the greatest communicators, if you’ll pardon the hackneyed expression.

When I was studying at St. Andrews, and skiving, I frequently wandered into Innes’ Stationers and Books, climbed the stairs to the panelled haven where the book department was and sat down on the stool they had there to read.  And it was there that started reading Dorothy Dunnetts’ Lymond sequence.

And for the first time, someone was talking about the Renaissance and Europe as interconnected–artistically, economically, militarily–and doing it through a set of characters with whom I became wholly engaged.  It may have been history made easy, but it was also history made embracing.

Look at how many people were engaged by Patrick O’Brian’s novels about Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin.  Probably more than half the bearded blokes at the conferences leading up to the bicentennial of Trafalgar in 2005 were O’Brian devotees. And that’s how many of them had come to it.  O’Brian had been their window to the past.

And the fact of the matter is I want to see our history, our past, alive and available to all.  Not just to academics in university linen-fold panelled libraries.  Not saying I don’t like faculty libraries or their reading rooms.

But I want more than anything to see people today realise that the past isn’t names and dates, it’s people–good people, bad people, all of whom loved, lived, fought, triumphed, had families, contributed, didn’t contribute, died or survived to fight another day…

And historical fiction can do that.  And do it most effectively.

It can, if skillfully written and well-researched, bridge the gap between our modern-day lives and views and theirs, however many centuries ago they lived.  It can throw open the shutters of our minds, show us their lives–their strengths, their courage, their fears, their failures–and in the process, teach us not only about the challenges of the past, but about answers for the present.

And how cool is that?

A Few Facts about the period of my novels:

1.  Napoleon was only 5’3″ or 5’4″ at most.  I’ve seen his clothes.  He had tiny feet too.

2.  The shoes of the period have neither a right nor a left–they’re like ballet shoes.  And this is true of men’s shoes as well as women’s.

3.   In Napoleon’s army, the buttons on the trousers of the French Infantry were made of tin.  Tin turns to powder in extremely cold temperatures.  So during the French army’s retreat from Moscow in autumn and winter 1812, those poor fellows couldn’t even keep their trousers up.

4.   Lord Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary from 1812-1822, was a fine cellist.  So was the Prince Regent, later King George IV.

5.  The London fog was every bit as bad in the early years of the century as in the old Sherlock Holmes’ movies.  It was often so dense, even during the day, that you couldn’t see from one side of a square across to the other.  This was caused by the use of coal as the primary means of heating the houses.  Paris, on the other hand, was fog-free–they used wood and charcoal for heating.

6.  From November 1806, because of Napoleon’s Continental Blockade, until the end of the wars, across Europe, there was no tea, no coffee, no sugar, no chocolate and no cotton to be had.  Just like during WWII.

# # #

Of Honest Fame: Interview with M.M. Bennetts

Educated at Boston University and St Andrews, M.M. Bennetts is a specialist in the economic, social and military history of Napoleonic Europe. The author is a keen cross-country and dressage rider, as well as an accomplished pianist, regularly performing music of the era as both a soloist and accompanist. Bennetts is a long-standing book critic for The Christian Science Monitor.

The author is married and lives in England.

Bennetts’ latest book is Of Honest Fame.

You can visit the author’s website at www.mmbennetts.com.

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, MM.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

Of Honest Fame is my second novel to be published, but before that I had a long career as a free-lance book critic for The Christian Science Monitor.

Q: When you were published for the first time, which route did you go – mainstream, small press, vanity published or self-published and why or how did you choose this route?

At the time, I was desperately trying to sort out which path would be best.  I had more than one offer on the table.

One was from a well-known agency who wanted to turn my work into a series of novels, a sort of historical James Bond kind of thing, with huge commercial promise, perhaps, but they would have demanded that my first novel, May 1812, was cut nearly by a half.

On the other hand, I had this offer from a small publisher who loved my work as it was, loved the depth, research, texture and multi-layering approach to historical fiction I was taking and wanted it ‘as is’.  So, following a rather harsh edit after which a friend read it and told me I’d killed it, I restored it and went with the small press.  It was a decision which virtually made itself.

Q: How long did it take you to get published once you signed the contract?

I don’t honestly know—probably a few frantic months.  Being a small publisher, they have fewer staff to collect into meetings, so things can happen rather more quickly there.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

The most tremendous moment is when you hold your proof copy in your hands for the first time and gaze down on the cover—the cover that’s yours and on your book.  After that, everything is just on the edge of surreal.  And to celebrate, I reread the ending.  Just to ensure that I’d got it right.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

There was a big launch party in London at the London Canal Museum, and I do remember I was blogging about those rather heady days beforehand as well.

Q: Since you’ve been published, how have you grown as a writer and now a published author?

I think I’ve grown more fearless as a writer and a stylist.  I’ve had to learn to trust my use of the language, of the cadences and rhythms and the poetry of the words themselves.  I’ve also worked very hard on being more alert to the world around me—all the time—so that I’m listening as much as possible to that inner voice in terms of imagery and description.  But at the same time, I’ve grown my demanding of myself, more willing to edit ruthlessly, but also more willing to face up to the harsher vicissitudes of the period about which I write.

Q: What has surprised or amazed you about the publishing industry as a whole?

How utterly brilliant cover designers and artists are!  It’s been such a treat, such an undiluted pleasure to meet and be able to work with these ‘visionaries’ who turn our catalogues of words into these delicious, beautiful objects which call to us from across the room.

Q: What is the most rewarding thing about being a published author?

I think being an author is one of the greatest privileges because it’s such an intimate thing, a book.  Through the medium of my books, I speak directly, mind to mind—my thoughts into the minds of the reader.  There’s no one else there, no intermediary.  And that’s something truly to cherish and respect.  You can’t get better than that.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Learn to accept criticism graciously.  Courtesy is always right.  And never, ever stop learning and growing as a writer.

10 Fun Facts About Blue Bells of Scotland by Laura Vosika

We have a wonderful guest post for you today by Laura Vosika, author of the historical fiction novel, Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy (Gabriel’s Horn Publishing).

10 Fun Facts about Blue Bells of Scotland

by Laura Vosika

  1. Blue Bells of Scotland started as the story of Shawn Kleiner. Niall, as characters often do, had ideas of his own.  He let me know he had a story, too, and the book changed drastically.
  2. One of my favorite scenes in the book was added specifically because a member of my writers’ group said he couldn’t wait to see Shawn play trombone in 1314, now that he’d seen Niall play harp in the present.
  3. Speaking of scenes, my twins’ antics as two-year-olds make a cameo appearance in the novel, as Amy’s young cousins.
  4. I spent two weeks in Scotland visiting the locations in the novel, including backstage at Inverness’s Eden Court Theatre.
  5. I climbed a mountain—Sron a Clachan—in medieval-style leather boots to get a feel for what Shawn felt like, hiking mountains in 1314.
  6. I was so entranced by Finlarig Castle that I wrote it into a scene when I got home.
  7. A very minor character from Blue Bells of Scotland became, largely of his own accord, a major character in Book 2, The Minstrel Boy.
  8. Blue Bells of Scotland is the only novel I know of which features a trombonist as a main character.
  9. The title of the book is taken from a famous theme and variations well-known to trombonists, which is in turn based on a much older folk song.

10. It took 3 years to write Blue Bells of Scotland, although I set it aside for about a year of that time.

Laura Vosika grew up in the military, visiting castles in England, pig fests in Germany, and the historic sites of America’s east coast.

She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on harp, piano, winds, and brass.

Laura is the mother of 7 boys and 2 girls, and lives in Minnesota.

Her latest book is Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy.

You can visit her website at www.bluebellstrilogy.com.



Interview with Donna McDine: ‘Read, read, read in the genre you want to write for.’

Donna McDine is an award-winning children’s author, Honorable Mention in the 77th and two Honorable Mentions in the 78th Annual Writer’s Digest Writing Competitions. Donna’s stories and features have been published in many print and online publications and her interest in American History resulted in writing and publishing The Golden Pathway. Her second book, The Hockey Agony is under contract and will be published by Guardian Angel Publishing. She writes, moms and is the Publicist Intern for The National Writing for Children Center and Children’s Writers’ Coaching Club from her home in the historical hamlet Tappan, NY. McDine is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators and Musing Our Children.

You can visit Donna online at: http://www.donnamcdine.comhttp://www.donna-mcdine.blogspot.com, and http://www.thegoldenpathway.blogspot.com. She is also on Facebook, Twitter, JacketFlap, and LinkedIn.

 

Q: Welcome to Beyond the Books, Donna.  Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here today. I have had publishing success in online ezines and print publications. The Golden Pathway is my first children’s book.

Q: What was the name of your very first book regardless of whether it was published or not and, if not published, why?

Images of the Past. I’m in the editing process of this middle grade historical fiction manuscript.

Q: For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

The Golden Pathway was rejected by five different magazines as a short story before gaining an acceptance by Guardian Angel Publishing as a historical fiction story book. 

Q: How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

I have handled rejections much like how my youngest daughter handles sport competition. Each loss (rejection) brings on a new determination for success.

Q: When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

August 12, 2010 by Guardian Angel Publishing, Inc. We met at the Muse Online Writers Conference and I chose them for their unique personal handling of each author and they ultimately chose me and my manuscript.

Q: How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

My goodness, I walked on air for days after initially signing the book contract. I celebrated with a special dinner with my family at my favorite Italian restaurant.

Q: What was the first thing you did as for as promotion when you were published for the first time?

Wrote and distributed a media release.

Q: If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

No. Guardian Angel Publishing is wonderful.

Q: Have you been published since then and how have you grown as an author?

I’ve had several more online publishing credits and my writing has become much tighter.

Q: Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up?  What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

I honestly can’t complain about the speed of my publishing successes, it’s all about having patience. To avoid rushing the creative process, it’s essential to take one’s time to create the best manuscript possible.

Q: What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

Since the publication of The Golden Pathway designing and getting up to speed on my media kit. 

Q: If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

Interior designer.

Q: Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

No, at this point in time life as an author is where I want to be. 

Q: How do you see yourself in ten years?

Writing for children combined with school and library visits with at least five more books in print.

Q: Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Don’t give up. Rejection is part of the publication dream. It takes many many rejections to achieve the ultimate acceptance. Read, read, read in the genre you want to write for.

Thank you for hosting me today. It was an honor to be here.

 

Interview with Laura Vosika: Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep creating stories and keep submitting

Laura VosikaLaura Vosika grew up in the military, visiting castles in England, pig fests in Germany, and the historic sites of America’s east coast.

She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on harp, piano, winds, and brass.

Laura is the mother of 7 boys and 2 girls, and lives in Minnesota.

Her latest book is Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy.

You can visit her website at www.bluebellstrilogy.com.

About Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy

Shawn Kleiner has it all: money, fame, a skyrocketing career as an international musical phenomenon, his beautiful girlfriend Amy, and all the women he wants—until the night Amy has enough and leaves him stranded in a Scottish castle tower.

He wakes up to find himself mistaken for Niall Campbell, medieval Highland warrior. Soon after, he is sent shimmying down a wind-torn castle wall into a dangerous cross country trek with Niall’s tempting, but knife-wielding fiancee. They are pursued by English soldiers and a Scottish traitor who want Niall dead.

Thrown forward in time, Niall learns history’s horrifying account of his own death, and of the Scots’ slaughter at Bannockburn. Undaunted, he navigates the roiled waters of Shawn’s life—pregnant girlfriend, amorous fans, enemies, and gambling debts—seeking a way to leap back across time to save his people, especially his beloved Allene. His growing fondness for Shawn’s life brings him face to face with his own weakness and teaches him the true meaning of faith.

Blue Bells of Scotland is both a historical adventure and a tale of redemption that will be remembered long after the last page has been turned.

Welcome to Beyond the Books, Laura. Can we start out by telling us whether you are published for the first time or are you multi-published?

Blue Bells of Scotland is my debut novel.

What was the name of your very first book regardless of wether it was published or not, and if not published, why?

Friday’s Child. It was not published because I was 24 when I finished it, and had just had my third child. Life got in the way, and I only sent it to 4 publishers before deciding I didn’t have the time or resources to pursue writing and publication.

For your first published book, how many rejections did you go through before you either found a mainstream publisher, self-published it, or paid a vanity press to publish it?

After a great deal of research and discussion with other authors, both online and in real life, about current publishing options, I took the route of joining other writers to start an independent publishing house, rather than seeking an agent or established publisher. There are now 9 books out under Gabriel’s Horn, from 6 authors, and more coming soon.

How did the rejections make you feel and what did you do to overcome the blows?

They didn’t bother me. I was well aware that even when you choose a publisher carefully with an eye to a good match, even when your work is good, there are many other factors involved. For instance, they can only publish so many books a year. They may have a dozen or a hundred very good ones, but it doesn’t mean they’re able to work with that many authors. So I expected to have to make many submissions and didn’t take it personally.

When your first book was published, who published it and why did you choose them?

Gabriel’s Horn Publishing is a local publishing co-op. I like it because we have a lot of freedom in what we publish. My book, for instance, might be difficult to place because it doesn’t fit neatly into a genre. But we also have the oversight of a number of us working together weekly to make sure the writing and production are of good quality.

How did it make you feel to become published for the first time and how did you celebrate?

I’m pretty low-key about celebrations, and I have 9 children to feed. I think maybe we went to the Chinese buffet. Or maybe I just had a glass of wine!

What was the first thing you did as far as promotion when you were published for the first time?

I did a giveaway at goodreads. Shortly after that, I did a virtual book tour.

If you had to do it over again, would you have chosen another route to be published?

There are pros and cons either way. I see benefits to working with a traditional publisher, but I’ve been quite happy with my decision. It’s been a learning experience, an adventure, lots of fun, and has brought many wonderful people into my life.

Looking back since the early days when you were trying to get published, what do you think you could have done differently to speed things up? What kind of mistakes could you have avoided?

I would find a writers’ critique group much sooner. They are a great help and motivation. In the early days, I wasn’t even aware there were such groups.

What has been the biggest accomplishment you have achieved since becoming published?

Pending approval of the topic, I am scheduled to be on a panel discussion at the Historical Novel Society’s conference in San Diego next June. I’m pretty excited about that.

If you could have chosen another profession, what would that profession be?

Professional orchestral trombonist. In fact, I did play semi-professionally on trombone, harp, and flute for more than fifteen years, for symphonies, pit orchestras, ballets, small ensembles in churches, and jazz bands. I loved every minute of it! The best weekends of my life were the ones when I was out until 2 a.m. playing trombone with a big band, and up again at 6 a.m. to go play flute for church!

Would you give up being an author for that profession or have you combined the best of both worlds?

If by some magic I could choose, I’d be as torn as I’ve always been between writing and music. To an extent, I have combined the best of both worlds, as I still teach music lessons and occasionally perform on harp.

How do you see yourself in ten years?

I see myself having more books published, both fiction and non-fiction. I expect to be an established writer such that I can make it my full-time career.

Any final words for writers who dream of being published one day?

Keep writing, keep dreaming, keep creating stories and characters, and keep submitting.

Debut author Dolen Perkins-Valdez sells historical fiction novel on first try

Don’t you just wonder how some people do it? After years and years of rejections, those of us who refuse to give up are still out there pushing our manuscripts under editors’ noses in the hopes they’ll just give us one chance. Just one chance, that’s all we ask.

Oh, we’ll make it up to them…we’ll sell our books like there’s no tomorrow. We’ll make these publishing houses so rich they’ll be thankful we sent our manuscripts their way and they’ll come begging for more on bended knee.

But it all falls on deaf ears for quite a few of us. And then…there are the fortunate few who write a book and not only an agent accepts it but a big publishing house does, too.

Is it luck or pure talent?

In the case of historical fiction author Dolen Perkins-Valdez, talent definitely ranks right up there. Her book, Wench, has just been released by HarperCollins and is definitely a work of sheer talent.

Dolen has been writing seriously for about thirteen years. She finished her MFA in Creative Writing in ’98 and her thesis she had to write was actually picked up by an agent and went to auction. Unfortunately, the thesis did not sell, but it made her realize one day it could happen to her in a big way.

She went back to school studying for her Ph.D., when she found out she rather liked scholarly research. She accepted a postdoctoral fellowship at the Ralph Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA and continued her research on race riots at the turn of the century. Afterwards, she landed a tenure-track job teaching African American Literature. Throughout those years, however, she continued to write fiction – short stories and two novels that never saw the light of day.

“I found that my scholarship and my fiction writing fed two different parts of my soul,” Dolen says. “I felt I needed both.”

In 2004, she took a chance and went after a Creative Writing professorial job. She had a rough draft of a novel manuscript and a couple of short stories. She got the job, and immediately began to refocus her energies on her Creative Writing.

“Being in the Creative Writing workshop with a phenomenally talented group of students was very invigorating for me,” she says. “As I read short stories and fiction, I was no longer peering through a scholarly lens. I studied character, voice, point-of-view, dialogue, and other fictional techniques. By that time, I was married with a child and a fifty-minute work commute. All of these demands forced me to organize my time wisely. Oddly enough, I write more when I have to fight for the time. For four years, I wrote and re-wrote the novel that would become Wench.”

In the spring of 2007, Dolen found an agent. She submitted the entire manuscript to her, and she accepted it.

“I did not believe it was done,” she says, “and I asked her to give me time to continue polishing. She was patient, but she called me every couple of months to inquire about my progress. That periodic call was good motivation. Each time, I gave her a date when I thought it would be ready, and then once the date arrived, I extended it. Finally, in December of that year, I sent her the newest draft of the manuscript. I felt that it was finished, but I was eager to hear her opinion. Within a couple of weeks, she called me and said she thought it was ready. We began with a publishing house that we both liked and respected: Amistad, an imprint of HarperCollins. The head of this imprint, Dawn Davis, had edited and published Edward P. Jones’ The Known World. We decided to give her an exclusive. Within days, she wrote us back and said she was interested. We never submitted the manuscript anywhere else.

”Dawn Davis has been a phenomenal editor. Not only do I feel fortunate to have worked with her, but I also feel fortunate to know her. She is an inspiration to me. WENCH will be published in January 2010, almost two years after I sold it.”

To find out more about this phenomenal author, visit her website at www.dolenperkinsvaldez.com or visit her official virtual book tour page here to find out where she will be appearing online throughout the month of January 2010.

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