Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tom Williams and his Historical Secret Agent, James Burke

Today's guest, Tom Williams, tells us about the research and inspiration for his historical adventure, Burke in the Land of Silver. Ladies and gents, meet James Burke....

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Years ago, I wrote a 19th century historical novel that attracted interest from publishers but was generally regarded as too "difficult" for a first novel. My agent (yes, I had an agent then) said that I should write a more straightforward historical adventure in the same period. It made sense, but I like writing stories that are strongly based in historical reality, so I had to find a real life figure I could base an exciting story on. A friend who knows how much I love Argentina suggested that I look at Europeans who were in South America in the early days of that country. Thanks to her, I discovered James Burke, a little known spy for the British around the time of the Napoleonic wars. Burke’s story had everything: war, espionage, beautiful women and an evil villain.

I've taken a few liberties in the telling of the tale but the plot of what became Burke in the Land of Silver is mostly either definitely true or very well could be. As I had already visited Argentina several times, I was writing about a place that I knew and I made a couple of extra trips to research places that were particularly connected with James Burke. That meant the opportunity to ride out with the gauchos on a cattle ranch and a trip on horseback up the Andes, besides the usual visits to museums and historical sites in Buenos Aires.

The story is set around the British invasion of Buenos Aires in 1806. It’s a little known – and not particularly impressive -- part of Britain's colonial history. The book gave me the chance to tell the story of a military adventure that few people will have heard of.

What I tried to do, having got this historical background accurate, was to write a modern spy story but set two hundred years ago. James Burke was to be my James Bond. I have always thought that Ian Fleming was a great writer and that his books are a model of how to write a thriller. Like Bond, Burke is nominally in the armed forces. Bond is a naval officer, Burke is in the infantry. Like Bond, he is a flawed hero: a snobbish womaniser, always with an eye to the main chance. (I’m not saying he has exactly the same flaws as Bond, but there's certainly an overlap.) In the end, though, we admire him because he is brave, loyal, and, when forced to choose, will ultimately do the right thing. It helps that he’s good looking, an excellent rider, multi-lingual and a crack shot.

Does it work? Well, I enjoyed writing it and, more importantly, I enjoyed reading it when I had to check the finished product before publication. I wouldn't claim that it's up to Fleming's standard, but I think it compares well with some of the stuff that’s been passed off as James Bond since Fleming died. I’m not really the person to say, though. Why not read it and decide for yourself?

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Learn more about Tom Williams on his blog.

Burke in the Land of Silver is available on Amazon as a paperback or on Kindle.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Michelle Murrain dances with dystopia in FRIENDS WITH WINGS

One of the beautiful things about genre fiction is its malleable borders. A particular genre or trope can swirl into another, allowing the author to create a completely original blend that suits her world and characters. That's what today's guest, Michelle Murrain, has done with Friends with Wings. She explains:

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Looking at the Future
by Michelle Murrain

I've read my share of dystopias. Some, such as Octavia Butler's "Parable of the Sower," are powerful reminders of how far we may well fall. Some aren't realistic enough (cue: zombie apocalypse) to make much sense to me. I have yet to write a dystopic novel, and I don't even know if there is one in me. The grim reality of the trajectory of the human species is enough, for now, to keep me from it. Friends with Wings, my newest novel, however, does have some dystopia in it, and a bit of a view through the lookinglass to the future. 

Trina, the main character, and only point of view character, lives in the Bronx a little less than 90 years from now, in 2102. Her family was forced to move to the Bronx because her neighborhood in Queens flooded from the encroaching sea. Debt has become inheritable, so she works outside of school to help support her parents, who are trying to pay off debts of their grandparents. She won the lottery to go to school, her sister didn't, so she works full time. When her parents die in an accident, in order to repay the debt, she has to "sell her labor contract," which is early 22nd century speak for being sold into slavery.  She's very lucky to catch a berth on a ship leaving Earth. Otherwise, she'd be stuck in a factory somewhere for the rest of her life.

The looks at the future come later, when she's listening to old, delayed, broadcasts from an increasingly distressed Earth, as she is settling in, and learning about the planet Johannes, where she finds herself. But her life, and the bulk of the book, are about survival on a different planet, and her companions, the Eeriv, an intelligent winged species that populate the planet she's on. Earth's travails are a backdrop she lives with, but isn't really in touch with.

Although the dystopic future is not center stage, Trina's direct experience of that world determines her perspective and approach to things. She's practical, strong, persistent, and doesn't take much for granted. She's resilient, determined to survive, and determined to do good for her family. Relatively early in the book, Earth is the past, and can never be revisited. It is, in its way, irrelevant. I think that is as close to delving into dystopia as is possible for me, at least now.

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Learn more about Michelle Murrain on her website
Read reviews of Friends with Wings on Goodreads.
Purchase Friends with Wings on Amazon.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Alma Alexander on RANDOM and what it means to be human

Today's guest, Alma Alexander, writes fantasy. She explains how she sees the imaginative world of her fiction as standing for the complexities of everyday life.

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The World of Random
by Alma Alexander

When a new book comes out, it's  always fascinating to see just what
it is that jumps out at people, what readers take away from it, how
they respond to the things the writer believed important enough to
build into the story.

In reviews of my latest book, "Random",  I was very happy to see
readers and reviewers pick up on the things which had mattered to me,
which I had put in there for a reason and a purpose, and which were
finding their mark - things like how I had portrayed issues like
bullying and discrimination, what it felt like to be an immigrant in a
strange new place, what it felt like to live "different" and how it
affected the minutiae of one's life.

I was very happy to see comments like "this is a book on what it means
to be HUMAN" - because that, wrapped in the fantasy world inhabited by
the Were-creatures I had created to live there, was exactly what I had
been aiming for.

Being human is such a complicated thing, almost impossible to
communicate precisely from one human mind to another; we may share the
commonality of form and function, but our inner lives are all very
different. We look at the world as filtered by those different
experiences and expectations and often find it disconcerting to have
that worldview challenged by somebody else who might look at an
identical thing but perceive it very differently because of their own
set of filters.

But here's where fiction - fantasy, in particular - is such a
magnificent and unifying lens through which it is possible to look at
something we would find it tough to focus on in its raw reality and to
suddenly perceive the object we are observing and judging in a very
new light.

In fiction, you are offered a set of filters which are almost
inevitably very different from your own - and through those filters,
with a helping of empathy and insight, you are permitted to see
something with a whole new set of eyes.

What I wanted to put out there is that very question - that
deceptively simple question - what DOES it mean to be human, what does
it mean when I consider myself human, and how can I possibly take it
upon myself to judge another human by standards that apply only to me
(because they can't help but fail that test; nobody else can BE me, by

If readers close this book with that in their minds - if they steal a
glance across the aisle and see someone who is not quite like them (a
different race, a different creed, a different sexuality) and see a
connection which had not been there before - even if only a bare
handful of readers do this - we have a beginning of something
potentially wonderful. We have the potential to talk to one another,
to bridge the chasms between us, to communicate, to understand.

And my Were-kind will have left a solid and valuable legacy.

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Learn more about Alma Alexander on her website and on Facebook.

Purchase Random on Amazon. Read some reviews on Goodreads.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Katie Clark's #Dystopian #YAlit Novel VANQUISHED and #giveaway

Congratulations to Katie Clark on her YA dystopian novel, Vanquished. Even better, there are two more novels available in The Enslaved Series. Oh, and even better yet? She's giving away a copy of Vanquished! All you have to do is comment on this post to be entered to win.

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The Making of Vanquished
by Katie Clark

Thank you for having me today! I’m thrilled to introduce your readers to my debut novel, Vanquished

People are always asking me how I got the idea for Vanquished, and since it’s a story I love telling I am happy to share it.

This wasn’t an easy idea. It came to me in bits and pieces over the course of a few years. It started with the main character, Hana. I was always thinking about this girl. This strong but vulnerable girl. She wanted to believe in the life she’d been led to live. She wanted to follow the rules. Except she couldn’t.

At that time, I had no idea what brought about her unhappiness or dissatisfaction, I only knew she needed to work toward something more.

Fast forward a year or two, I was given the idea to write a story set in a world where there was no God. No Bible. No religion. Would this world be better? Worse? And how? I had no idea how to make this story happen, but the idea stuck in my head and percolated.

Finally, the two halves came together to make a whole. One day I was sitting in church (yes, I admit I was daydreaming), and it hit me. These two stories were the same story. Hana was dissatisfied because she suspected there was more than met the eye in her city, and she set out to find it. Her mom was sick, and she needed answers. What she uncovered went way beyond hidden medications and technology—what she found was the truth that the God she’d been told was myth might not be myth at all. The story just flew from there, and it didn’t end for three books!

I hope you all enjoy it, and to celebrate I’m giving away an e-copy of Vanquished! I’ll choose one lucky commenter at random, so leave your name and email address below for a chance to win. Thanks for stopping by!

About Vanquished:
When Hana’s mom is diagnosed with the mutation, she is denied the medication that might save her life.  Fischer, a medic at the hospital, implies there are people who can help—except Hana’s not sure she can trust him; Fischer is involved in a religious group, and religion has been outlawed for the last hundred years.  Hana embarks on a dangerous journey, seeking the answers Fischer insists are available. When the truth is uncovered does Hana stick to what she knows?  Or does she join the rebellion, taking a stand against an untrustworthy society?

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Learn more about Katie Clark at her website, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

Purchase The Enslaved Series (Vanquished, Deliverance, Redeemer) on Amazon.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Romance and Suspense in Emma Elliot's novel AS DARKNESS GATHERS

I am please to welcome Emma Elliot to the blog today. Her novel As Darkness Gathers shows characters skirting the cliff's edge. She shares some thoughts about crafting a world of such complex emotions.

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As Darkness Gathers is, essentially, about betrayal, about varying degrees of the destruction of trust. Trust is essential in any relationship, and any chipping away of that has a rippling effect in one’s life and in his or her interactions with others. The story revolves around Finch, a woman whose reality is turned on end when she’s involved in a plane crash. Surviving that horror is only the beginning of her struggle.

“The line between friend and foe is blurred.” I think that line sums up the struggle the heroine is faced with in the story. You know how to relate to people when you know where you stand with them, when you know of their agendas toward you and their attitudes, when you know what motivates them in their interaction with you. Understanding those aspects affects your approach to the relationship. When there’s a lack of clarity regarding those aspects, you’re left in a more vulnerable position.

In As Darkness Gathers, increasingly frightening events make Finch question those around her. Someone wants to hurt her, and she isn’t sure whom she can trust. I think Finch navigates this uncertainty with a lot more aplomb than I ever would. She’s afraid and angry, of course, but she doesn’t allow it to cripple her. She refuses to be cowed and doesn’t allow the experience to make her bitter. She has a lot of grace and strength of character, even as she struggles to determine whether those she loves are the ones she can trust.

I love a good mystery, which probably comes from cutting my reading teeth on Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, Trixie Belden, and the Bobbsey Twins books. Intrigue of a multitude of sorts drives any story:  the uncertainty of a relationship in a romance, the personal trials in a drama, the political machinations in a thriller, the outcome of a battle in an historical…. But I love the intrigue of a suspenseful novel, the tension and anxiety, the apprehension and puzzles.

If there’s a secret recipe to combining romance and suspense, I haven’t discovered it yet. I’ve written two different books within the genres. The first, A Thin, Dark Line, is a character-driven story that is very much a romance with a suspenseful subplot. My latest release, As Darkness Gathers, is more plot-driven, and I’d say it’s a suspense novel with a romantic subplot. I think the balance and weight of the two genres largely depends on the story and the character’s journey over the course of it.

Romance and suspense are two genres that are perfect for exploring the human story. Both—love and anxiety—have an internal and external impact on a person, and when the romance and suspense are woven together, you can better dig into the visceral fears and desires of a character. Romantic suspense is an excellent platform to study human reaction, interaction, and motivation.

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Learn more about Emma Elliot on her blog or on Facebook.

Go to Amazon to purchase As Darkness Gathers  and A Thin, Dark Line.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

THE LAST HERO: How Escapist Imagination and Real Life Led to Nathaniel Dane's First Novel

Anyone who writes fiction---actually, anyone in the arts---will relate to the essay from today's guest, Nathaniel Danes. He shares how the world he created for his first military science fiction novel, The Last Hero, grew in his mind and gained importance in his life until he just couldn't keep it off the page.

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The Last Hero -- I had to write it

by Nathaniel Danes

I never thought I'd write a book. Heck, for most of my life, getting beyond page three of any school writing project felt like a Herculean task. I think the difference between now and then, is my writing doesn't feel forced, like the story is there, I just need to get it out. Maybe that's the difference between writing what you want as opposed to what you have to.

Thinking about it now, it almost feels as if The Last Hero grew itself organically rather than having been written. My over-active imagination, love for military history, science fiction addiction, blindness, failed military career, daughter, and more were filtered through my fingers onto the page. It's a nexus where several pieces of my life came together. Believe me, that sounds far easier than it was.

I've always used my imagination as an escape hatch from life. As far back as I can remember I'd bolt from mundane situations in my mind, transporting myself to excitement and adventure. I'm sure most kids do this, but for me, I've never stopped. Today, I do this as a coping mechanism. I'm losing my sight to a genetic disorder, the reason for my failed military career, and I find it relaxing to drift off into worlds where I don't have that limitation.

These fantasies were always content to live inside my head until I read The Forever War. That classic sparked something inside me. Science fiction has always been my preferred genre for TV and movies, but as far as books go, I used to only read military history. After stumbling upon The Forever War everything changed. I couldn't read enough military science fiction and those stories in my head started to become restless.

I also can't overstate the importance of my daughter's birth in helping to shape the story in my first novel. There are a select few things I truly love in his world, my wife for one, so the feeling isn't foreign to me. However, I honestly wasn't prepared for the body blow of raw emotion, of pure unconditional love, I felt the second I held my baby girl for the first time. From then on, I couldn't imagine a universe that she wasn't a part of, where that incredible connection didn't exist. Her presence in my life enriched and brought depth to my fantasy worlds. She brought meaning and purpose to them.

Literally bursting at the seams, I had to get the stories out. So, I started to write and write, then I rewrote and rewrote. Before I knew it, a few years had past and I'd written four books. Finally, I decided to try and get one published. Fortunately, Solstice Publishing saw fit to give me a chance and agreed to release the The Last Hero.

If you read my book, I hope you enjoy it and can feel the passion that went into its creation. It will be the first of many. I don't have a choice, the stories have to come out.

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Learn more about Nathaniel Danes on his website.

Purchase The Last Hero on Amazon.


Sunday, October 26, 2014

EBENZER'S LOCKER #spooky #kidlit #ebook #giveaway: #Halloween #creepyfreebies

Milo James Fowler was kind and scary enough to invite me to join #creepyfreebies, a circle of authors giving away copies of their spooky books and stories.

I'm giving away three e-copies of EBENEZER'S LOCKER, my middle-grade paranormal mystery novel (more funny-spooky than scary, dear parents!). The entry form is at the bottom of this post, and the winners will be chosen Halloween night!


A hundred years ago, Corbin Elementary School's building housed Dr. Ebenezer Corbin's School for Psychical Research. It seems that a couple of old spirits are still wandering the halls. It's up to Rhonda Zymler to find out what they want.
Ebenezer's Locker follows the adventures of Rhonda, a sassy sixth-grader who's having trouble finding her place and identity. Getting to know these spirits becomes Rhonda's quest. The more she digs, the more perilous her task becomes, and to complete it she must take two trips back in time. This story blends the realities of an economically challenged modern American town with supernatural elements. What Rhonda finds not only gives her life a sense of purpose but changes the fortunes of her entire town.

EBENEZER'S LOCKER excerpt, in which Rhonda Zymler tries to gather clues by traveling through time. The technique called Semi-Centennial Astral Transport (SCAT) sends her into the past in multiples of fifty years.

One last thought passed through my mind before I was SCAT-ted a hundred years into the past.  I tried to say, “Do we know how I’m going to get back?” But I couldn’t force my mouth to move.
The world went fuzzy. My heart crashed and banged like a rocker’s drum kit. I felt lifted and pressed down at the same time. There were colors, every possible color, swirling everywhere, and then forming sharp-edged shapes, and then sprayed like fireworks. I heard sirens, screaming, a thousand ambulances, and a million dog whistles.
Then silence. What I noticed first were the smells. Men’s cologne. Old wood. Mothballs. Then the sounds. Creaks and scrapes and breathing and talking and wind and plumbing and birds and footsteps and someone slurping a soda. I had superhero hearing.
At last my vision started to clear, but nothing looked right. I saw the little room through a giant magnifying glass. There was too much detail. I could count the stitches on the blanket over the cot and see three layers of varnish painted on the desk. Yet, in the mirror opposite me, I couldn’t see myself. Looking down at where my hand should be, I saw only the floor. I tried to pinch my cheek. I couldn’t feel anything.

Footsteps and floor creaks grew louder, and I heard a deafening CLACK as the lock turned. The door opened inward.

For lots more chances to win ghoulish lit, learn about the other #creepyfreebies participants here.

Of course, you can always buy EBENEZER'S LOCKER (in fact, it's half-price during the month of October!). Find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and directly from MuseItUp Publishing.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Andrea Buginsky Considers the Future for the Girls of New Avalon

The magical and the exotic are wonderful elements to add to fiction. However, their sparkly presence is no excuse to ignore the basic techniques of writing that can make stories great. Andrea Buginsky discusses the importance of character development in her YA fantasy series, New Avalon.

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Character Growth

by Andrea Buginsky

I have always loved King Arthur stories. When I saw the movie The Mists of Avalon on TNT several years
ago, I loved the way the writer retold the story of the ladies of Avalon. One of my favorite Arthurian characters is the Lady of the Lake. So, when I was choosing a subject for my first (and last) NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), I decided to create my own story about Avalon and the Lady of the Lake.

I knew I wanted the story to take place in modern times, and I knew I wanted to use magic. The logical choice was to make my characters witch-like. Then I got the idea to write about an introverted character who never seemed to fit in at her school. But once she finds out the truth about herself and is sent off to a special school with other girls like her, she blossoms. This is where New Avalon comes from.

I was always a very introverted person, until I got to know people, then I would come out of my shell. I never had a large circle of friends, but the small circle I had was very tight. I’m still in touch with many of them today. When I created the characters for New Avalon, I had this idea in mind: a group of girls who would form life-long friendships. I knew they would be facing many ups and downs throughout the series, and I wanted them to be there for each other as they went through them.

The first character I created was Elena, the introvert. When you meet her, you’ll understand why she’s so shy around her classmates. I enjoyed watching Elena grow in Destiny, and continue to grow in Fate. There’s more to come for her in future books of the series, and she will discover many layers of herself. She will need her friends to help her get through her obstacles. But they will also need her.

My plan for the books is to focus on one girl per book so readers can get to know each of them better. In Fate, you’ll discover there’s more to Izzy than meets the eye, and suddenly, Elena will have to be there for her, which continues to help her grow. The other girls are always there too, allowing all of them to be together through thick and thin. I’m enjoying getting to know the girls as the series grows, and watching them grow along with it.

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Learn more about Andrea Buginsky on her website.
Purchase Destiny and Fate (the New Avalon series) on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How SHIFTING ALLIANCES Author Kevin Hopson Discovered Science Fiction

Ah, the allure of a robot on a book cover in one's formative years. How well I recall that feeling! Kevin Hopson, whose science fiction novel Shifting Alliances was recently released, muses on his introduction to that glorious genre.

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Discovering Science Fiction
by Kevin Hopson

I was in middle school…I think. I visited the B. Dalton bookstore at my local mall and perused the Science Fiction & Fantasy section. Dungeons & Dragons game sets lined the shelves. I always wanted to play but could never afford to buy one, at least not on a weekly allowance of only a few bucks. You have to understand that a kid of my age and mentality never saved. Maybe my generation was to blame, or perhaps it was due to my impatience, which I still have problems dealing with to this day. Either way, money burned a hole in my pocket, so it had to be spent immediately or my parents would be forced to buy me new pants on a regular basis.

What was the alternative? Buying a paperback book? No way! Honestly, I hated to read in my adolescent years. The only thing worse than reading was having to write something. Yeah, seriously. It’s funny how times change. Anyway, I was drawn to art, and a cool cover was the one thing that might actually make me open a book…and it did. I don’t recall the title, but it was a story by Isaac Asimov, one of our greatest pioneers in the science fiction genre. A child and robot graced the cover, instantly luring me in. I’m amazed at how intelligent kids are today. Unfortunately, I was never a book worm, so some of the material proved to be cumbersome. However, seeing that cover always brought me back to the book. It was my first real taste of science fiction, and little did I know it would lead to a long-term desire.

I can’t remember if I said something to my mom or if it was the other way around, but we both recollect a time when there was mention of me writing a science fiction novel one day. I might have broached the subject as a kid, or maybe she saw something in me (an interest in the genre and a later appreciation for writing) that made her believe it. Regardless, it’s been nearly thirty years in the making, and that day has finally come. Though my book, Shifting Alliances, is technically a novella, I figure it’s close enough to the real thing, and it’s dedicated to my mom for all of her support. Coincidentally, the story touches on a woman’s motherly instinct to do the right thing, so it’s the perfect way to honor her.

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Learn more about Kevin Hopson on his blog and his MuseItUp author page.

Buy Shifting Alliances directly from MuseItUp Publishing, on Amazon, and elsewhere.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

J.R. Sparlin's Irish Saga, The Sea at Mughain

Sometimes a journey can open the floodgates of a writer's mind. When J.R. Sparlin visited Ireland, a new saga was born from the ancient past. With the help of a lot of fascinating research, she turned her impressions of the Celtic surroundings into her YA historical fantasy novella, The Sea at Mughain.

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by J.R. Sparlin

When my husband and I visited Ireland, the first thing we saw was a big sign that read, “If you think this is all there is to Ireland, you’re wrong.” A toy leprechaun was stabbed onto it with a knife.

Many threads came together to give me the idea for The Sea at Mughain. Ireland was not at all what I expected. I had not, of course, expected leprechauns. But it is an ancient, remote, eerie place, full of sun-dappled green valleys, sheep, and the ruins of castles, churches, and ancient monuments no one really understands. It is also a modern country, with all the challenges faced by any of the rest of us.

The people of Ireland are anything but remote; we had wonderful conversations with our B&B proprietors and others we met along the way. One of the places we stayed was a renovated nineteenth-century schoolhouse in Ballinskelligs, just out of sight of the sea, an area believed by the ancient Celts to be an “in-between place” between our world and the Otherworld.  I sat by a peat fire in the sitting room and watched a wave of opaque white fog, several feet high, roll in over the hills that hid the sea. No getting around it, it was strange.

At some point after our trip, I was sick and had nothing to read. My husband has a degree in ancient and medieval history and has accumulated an extensive library. I snuffled around and found a volume entitled Ireland before the Vikings. I greatly enjoyed reading it. I especially liked a remark, early in the book, to the effect of, “This was a very long time ago and we have very little evidence so this may or may not be right.” Now that just begs for stuff to be made up. Derek was horrified to find me reading it; it is very scholarly and I was very sick and he felt I should be reading something lighter, so he went out and bought me two movie-star magazines. (I read those as well.) But the damage was done. I read another book, How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill, and was intrigued by the way Christianity had spread in Ireland. It was a much more peaceful process than in the rest of Europe, but it was still a period of conflict and transition between the old and new ways, and that type of transitional period, to me, just begs for stories.

I learned, as well, that a branch of my mother’s family may be descended from Dal Riata, one of the ancient kingdoms of Ireland (roughly equivalent to today’s County Antrim). This may or may not be true, but it is fun to consider.

So these were probably the main threads. Here you have a highly developed heroic culture in sixth-century Ireland, and most of the history and stories of the period deal with kings and battles and so on. I was interested in how a relatively unimportant young woman would fit into this picture, and that is how Mughain, daughter of Tiernan, king of Dal nAraide, came to be. If this were a “real” Irish saga, it would likely be about her father, not her. There is no shortage of strong female characters in the old stories, but they are in positions of more prominence.

So the story wove itself around these threads, and banged around in my skull until I wrote it down, and I present it to you, and hope I have done some justice to its strangeness and beauty.

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Learn more about J.R. Sparlin by visiting her blog or following her on Facebook.

You can purchase The Sea at Mughain on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Janet Brown deals with a teen's feelings of rejection in VICTORIA AND THE GHOST

Today's guest, Janet Brown, chose to interview the main character of her inspirational YA novel, Victoria and the Ghost, to find out what Victoria's all about. 

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Interviewer: I have a young girl here that’s going through a terrible time. Let’s find out something about her. Okay?

“My name is Victoria Peterson. My life isn’t fair. I never thought that when I was fifteen years old, I would end up away from my mother, my friends, and Dallas.  Dad got this really dumb idea to move my seventeen-year-old sister, Marcy and me away from civilization. He even expects me to tend chickens. Can you believe that? Why, my nail job won’t last a month, at this rate.

Now, Mom, well, I’m her favorite. We both love…love….love shopping. This spring we missed few shops in Dallas before Mom’s beautiful wedding. After she and Sam left on their honeymoon to the Caribbean, well, of course, I had to move in with Dad. I totally understood. It’s only temporary until Mom returns and settles into her new life.”

Interviewer: I see. Tell me, Victoria, what are your beliefs in life?

“Mmmm….what I believe. Well, I believe Mom is the most sophisticated, beautiful woman. This divorce business was all Dad. He ignored her and so pushed her into the arms of a man who appreciated her value. That’s what I think. Oh, and I believe in God. Did I tell you that? And…I believe Dallas is the most wonderful city. That’s about it.”

Interviewer: What is this about a ghost?

Victoria hunched her shoulders. Each of her hands clasped the opposite arm. “I shouldn’t talk about that. I don’t believe in ghosts.”

Interviewer: But I thought –

“I know. Strange things happen in Clara Cemetery, but every time I say something, people think I’m crazy. If I told my dad, he’d have a fit. Christians don’t believe in ghosts.”

Interviewer: But you do?

“I’m not saying.” Victoria stiffened. “Brad believes me, you know? But, I can’t talk about it.”

Interviewer:  Is there anything else about yourself that you don’t want anyone to know?

Victoria glanced around the room but saw no one but she, the interviewer and that woman behind her who followed her everywhere. “Just between you and me, I act all citified and sure of myself. I tell everyone I’ll be going back to Dallas soon, but Mom doesn’t want me, and I don’t want anyone to know that my own mother rejected me. Don’t tell anyone. Okay?”

Interviewer: What are you afraid of?

“Horses. And everyone thinks I should learn to ride a horse. What’s the big deal anyway?”

Interviewer: Is that all?

“Being alone. Having no one that loves me.”

Interviewer: How would you label yourself?

“A good city slicker. (That’s what Brad & Shelley call me.) But a lousy country girl. And,


Interviewer: And, who’s that woman behind you?

Victoria sighed. “Her name is Janet K. Brown. She thinks she created me, but it was God, you know.” Victoria stood straight and stretched to her full five foot, two inches. “Okay, Mrs. Brown, introduce yourself.”

The Woman in the background: “I visited Clara Cemetery and learned about the ghost of Colonel Specht, a very sad man who built the town, now a historical ghost town in North Texas. Victoria and Colonel Specht needed each other. God told me so. More about the ghost legend I learned can be found at:

 P. S.  Victoria’s nemesis, Shelley Halverson, stars in her own book, A Ghost for Shelley, soon to be released by 4RV Publishing. The mean old country girl moves to Dallas. Serves her right, Victoria says.

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Learn more about Janet Hope on her website; follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

You can buy Victoria and the Ghost from 4RV Publishing or from Amazon 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

In her YA novel ELIXIR BOUND, Katie L. Carroll has personal ties to the female characters

I'm delighted to be participating in the blog tour for author Katie L. Carroll's YA fantasy novel Elixir Bound. Katie shares some background on the extraordinary women in this story.

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By Katie L. Carroll

I originally conceived ELIXIR BOUND as a there-and-back-again quest, a sort of tribute to my sister

Kylene, who died at the age of 16. I had hoped to give her a fantasy tale of her own. When it proved too hard to write the story from the POV of a character inspired by her, I decided to try from a different character's POV: her sister Katora's.

This really changed the direction of the story. Where Kylene was sweet, sensitive, and wore her feelings on her sleeve, Katora was stubborn, independent, and also sensitive but would never want to show it. ELIXIR BOUND then became a story about a young woman (Katora) who must go on a quest to find out whether or not she will become guardian to a secret healing Elixir and bind herself to it.

The binding part was key because it wouldn't allow to just use the Elixir as she wanted to; the binding would force her to use it in a way that also served the Great Mother (who is also called Mother Nature, and is basically the highest form of being in Katora's world). Now I had a story where a very independent character was forced to make a decision that would seriously hinder her independence and impact the path the rest of her life would take.

This whole story line was a personal journey that was paralleled by a physical journey in which Katora and her companions had to find the secret ingredient for the Elixir. Notice the total lack of mention of a love interest. It was really important to me that Katora's motives for the quest had nothing to do with a boy.

It was also important that Katora be chosen for this quest, not either of her two older sisters or her younger brother. I've always wondered why in so many real and fictional worlds the oldest son is the one who is entitled to the inheritance, so I wanted Katora to be neither the oldest nor a boy. The reason Katora was chosen as the next guardian of the Elixir, taking over for her father, was she was person who was best suited for the job.

As I started writing ELIXIR BOUND, I realized I wanted these themes to be reflected in Katora's world as well. I think a lot of these themes spilled out of me unconsciously and only in revision did I become consciously aware of the feminism in them. Suddenly Katora's world had turned very pagan with the people following a female deity (the Great Mother) closely tied to nature. From there I sort of ran with the idea that females would, in a sense, rule this world. Though I kept it that Katora would take over for her father because I wanted some balance in the world. Women didn't need to rule everything.

And Kylene was still there on the quest and plays an important role (though not the starring one). I wanted her there to contrast Katora's personality because there are other strong female characters besides the bulldozer type, which is kind of how I think of Katora. I needed a female who was strong in character but not in your face about it. Also, Zelenka, a member of the miniature demick species, was an interesting female character. In many ways very much like Katora, but also a bit of an adversary to Katora. They never quite get along, mostly because they are so alike.

There does end up being a love interest on the quest. One I had to emphasize and play up more as I went through revisions because several of my early readers didn't think it played a big enough role. Katora initially resists forming a relationship with Hirsten, the handsome son of a famous mapmaker. She doesn't want anything to distract her while on her mission and while she has such an important decision to make.  Though the quest part of the story is not driven by romance, Katora's ability to realize her capacity for love (and in turn why she has resisted her feelings for Hirsten) does play into her decision on whether or not to become guardian of the Elixir.

As you can see, I thought a lot about the role of females in the made-up world of ELIXIR BOUND as I was writing it. I'd like to think my story offers a feministic look at females and hopefully speaks to teenage girls in a positive way. Although, I didn't want to force any certain didactic message about feminism in the story...more an offering of female characters and how they take control of their lives and futures. Themes I certainly plan on considering while writing future works as well.

YA fantasy
by Katie L. Carroll

Katora Kase is next in line to take over as guardian to a secret and powerful healing Elixir. Now she must journey into the wilds of Faway Forest to find the ingredient that gives the Elixir its potency. Even though she has her sister and brother, an old family friend, and the handsome son of a mapmaker as companions, she feels alone.

It is her decision alone whether or not to bind herself to the Elixir to serve and protect it until it chooses a new guardian. The forest hosts many dangers, including wicked beings that will stop at nothing to gain power, but the biggest danger Katora may face is whether or not to open up her heart to love.

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The Ebook of Elixer Bound is on sale for $.99 until September 27 on Amazon and at the

Enter the Goodreads giveaway for a signed paperback copy until September 28.

Learn more about Katie L. Carroll on her website, on Twitter (@KatieLCarroll) or Tumblr.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Kim Rendfeld Interprets Saxon History in THE ASHES OF HEAVEN'S PILLAR

One of the greatest challenges facing a historical novelist is choosing what information to use from a sea of research. But just as tricky is wanting to find out about a historical event or place and discovering that almost nothing is known about it for sure. Kim Rendfeld dealt with both of these situations as she wrote her latest novel.

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What Was the Real Pillar of Heaven?

By Kim Rendfeld

The title for The Ashes of Heaven’s Pillar is derived from the Irminsul, a pillar sacred to the Continental Saxon peoples, including my heroine, Leova. The one thing we know with certainty: Charlemagne ordered its destruction in 772 and took the gold and silver in its temple.

The nature and location of the Irminsul is uncertain—as is whether it was the only one. Some sources say it was a stone pillar, others say wooden pillar, and still others say it was a tree. It’s been described as having an idol of the war god atop it. Because of the presence of a carving, some have placed it at the Externsteine, north of the Saxon fortress Eresburg.

We can’t turn to the pagan Saxons for any clarity. They did not have a written language as we know it, and the Church did everything it could to obliterate a religion it considered devil worship.

So what’s a historical novelist to do with so many contradictions? Choose the most plausible version that best fits her story and confess her liberties in an author’s note. Or a blog post.

My first liberty is to call the Irminsul the Pillar of Heaven. Irminsul is often translated as “universal pillar.” I chose Pillar of Heaven in my novel because frankly it sounds better. And Wodan, the war god whose idol might have surmounted the pillar, was a sky god, so the Pillar of Heaven is not too much of a stretch.

Next was the location. Leova lives in a village just outside the fortress of Eresburg. Having it nearby allowed her to smell the smoke when it burned and see the charred blotch it left behind. It made the loss more real and more devastating.

Flames are a dramatic form of destruction, which is why I decided the pillar should be made of wood. To the Continental Saxons, the Irminsul’s destruction was the equivalent of burning a cathedral. Did the Saxons believe anyone who desecrated their sacred monument would face the gods’ wrath? Again, there is no text to verify it. But this was age that believed in divine favor and retribution, so that idea passes the plausibility test.

From a storyteller’s point of view, actual facts about the Irminsul are not as important as its impact on the characters. And in this case, Leova’s faith is shaken, as you will see in the excerpt below.



“I greet you in the name of Our Lord, Jesus the Christ,” he roared. “My name is Father Osbald. We come in peace and mean you no harm.”

By his accent, Leova knew the priest was a Saxon from Britain, like many of the other priests who had come to her village. They were mild men bearing treats for the children along with the teachings of their odd religion.

“But the God who destroyed the Irminsul will strike down anyone who harms us,” the priest said. “The sound of our horn will summon scores of Christian soldiers to our aid.”

From the corner of her eye, Leova saw Wulfgar and Ludgar shrinking back. Perhaps, the Christian God was stronger than the gods of the Saxons.

“We will give safe conduct to Eresburg to anyone who promises to accept baptism,” Osbald continued.

Wulfgar’s voice boomed. “How can you give safe conduct? You are not warriors.”

“We do not need swords and armor when we have the power of the one, true God. The Frankish soldiers know God will condemn their souls to eternal torture if they harm anyone in our care.”

Osbald spoke Saxon, but Leova could not understand half of what he was saying. From the confidence in his voice, Leova surmised the Christian God had given His priests magic power, enough to cow warriors into submission. How she needed safe conduct to the fortress—and Derwine!

“What is baptism?” Leova asked.

“You vow to follow Christ, forsaking your devils, and He cleanses you of your sins,” the priest replied.

“Do we have to shave our hair in that strange way?” Sunwynn asked.

“No, child.” Osbald chuckled. “The tonsure is an honor reserved only for men of the clergy.”

Baptism appealed to Leova. She suspected the conquerors would be more generous with those who shared their religion. Maybe it was fate to follow a stronger God. The Saxon gods had allowed the Irminsul to be destroyed, Leodwulf and Derwine to die, and Eresburg to be conquered by foreigners. Despite her sacrifices and prayers, the Saxon gods had betrayed her and her family!

“I and my children accept your offer,” Leova called to the Christian priest, “but we will attend to our dead first.”
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To read the first chapter or find out more about Kim Renfield, visit her website, her blog Outtakes of a Historical Novelist, or like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter at @kimrendfeld.

You can purchase The Ashes of Heaven's Pillar at Amazon and Barnes & Noble and elsewhere.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Sherry Peters sends teen girls a positive message, but through a dwarf's eyes

Some of the greatest speculative fiction contains serious analysis of very real, contemporary human problems, offered up with a magical or surreal twist. My guest, Sherry Peters, tells just such a parable in her novel Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf.

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An Ideal Dwarf

by Sherry Peters

I want to thank Anne for giving me this opportunity to share with you the origins of my new novel Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf.

Sophia Vargara was put on a pedastal during the most recent Emmy broadcast so that the audience had something (the president of the Television Academy did say something, not someone) intriguing to look at. Our young girls are under growing pressure to sext their boyfriends or even boys they like in hopes of getting some kind of attention. Teens are committing suicide after relentless bullying because they are gay, or overweight, or different. Many of us feel like we need to do and exceptional and perfect and if we aren't, no one could possibly love us. 

These kinds of pressures have always existed. They seem to have multiplied and intensified in the last number of years. Even as there is a growing emphasis on tolerance, there seems to be a polarization toward increased discrimination.

And that polarization, that increased pressure, upsets me.

I'm a big believer in story being a way to look differently at important social and political issues. When I started writing about Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, I spent a lot of time thinking about what life would be like as a female dwarf. The more I thought about it, the more the social issues became clear. I also saw how I could shed a new light on those issues while using humor. I wanted to write a story where the main character has a happy ending, but it isn't in finding love or losing weight or getting the promotion at work. I wanted the happy ending to come from within--from self-acceptance and self-love.

I started with the tropes that I'd seen in so much epic Fantasy, both in books and the movies, like the ever-present enchanting female elf, the female dwarves with beards, mining gems of all sorts from one mountain, and I played with them, turned them around or exaggerated them. I used them to my advantage and created the perfect world for a character who didn't fit in.

In Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf, females make up less than a third of the population. They are the ones responsible for procreation. But just like the rest of us, they have to look a certain way too, they need to be stout and they need to have full beards.

So what if Mabel decided she didn't want a life-mate or to have dwarflings? What if she wasn't as stout or her beard wasn't as thick as was considered attractive? She's stuck trying desperately to conform to what her family and community expects of her, knowing that her true happiness and finding the place she belongs, lies somewhere else. No spoilers, but there comes a point where she has to choose.

I've just released Mabel, and so far reception has been positive. My hope is that at least one person who reads Mabel is given hope that there are others out there like them, who don't conform to society's standards, that they are wonderful and deserving of love--be it from family and friends or a significant someone--and happiness, just as they are. My hope is that at least one girl who reads Mabel stops pressuring herself to starve herself to look a certain way, or to sext a boy just to feel acceptable. My hope is that our young people and adults alike, will accept themselves and find others who accept them for who they are, regardless of appearance, profession, or any number of social constructs we use to discriminate against.

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You can learn more about Sherry Peters on her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

You can purchase Mabel the Lovelorn Dwarf on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and elsewhere.