Acre’s Bastard is an Award Winner

When you send your books out to be reviewed, it’s kind of a weird process. You send them off, full of hopes. Then the waiting begins. Even if you think your book is pretty good (and the voices in your head actually agree) you honestly have no idea what the readers will think. And there’s… all… that… time to obsess, worry, and eventually forget you ever sent it off in the first place. Then you get an email that says, not only did these total strangers like your book, they’d like to give you an award!

So, it’s with pride that I say Acre’s Bastard has not one, but two awards to its name now. The “Chill With a Book” awards have awarded Acre’s Bastard with both the “Reader’s Award” and the equivalent of a Founder’s Prize, the “PB Award” (named for Pauline Barclay, the obviously brilliant woman who runs the joint and has impeccable taste.)

 

Life on the Oregon Trail with Theresa Hupp

The opening of the American West is great fodder for writers of historical fiction. Huge vistas, dramatic action, and characters who lived just long enough ago that they don’t feel foreign to us. A lot of people writing in that genre draw on their own family stories, and that leads us to Theresa Hupp, and her series about life on the Oregon Trail.

I met Theresa through our mutual participation in the Hometown Reads program. (If you want to find local authors in your area, this is a terrific resource. Check her out in Kansas City and my work and fellow authors in Chicago.) She’s the author of two historical novels, Lead Me Home: Hardship and Hope on the Oregon Trail (2015), and its sequel, Now I’m Found: Desolation and Discovery in the Gold Rush Years (2016). She has also written award-winning short stories, essays, and poetry, as well as a corporate thriller under a pseudonym. Her short works have been published by Chicken Soup for the Soul, Mozark Press, and Kansas City Voices magazine. Theresa is a member of the Kansas City Writers Group, the Missouri Writers Guild, Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., and Write Brain Trust. She has a B.A. from Middlebury College and a J.D. from Stanford Law School, and she has worked as an attorney, human resources executive, and mediator. (Editor’s note: now she’s just showing off! )

What’s the series about?

The first book in my Oregon Chronicles series is Lead Me Home. It tells the story of Caleb “Mac” McDougall, a young Bostonian seeking adventure on the Oregon Trail. As he passes through Missouri, he rescues Jenny Calhoun, a lonely girl in trouble. For reasons explained in the novel, Mac and Jenny pose as a married couple. Their journey is perilous and some of their companions untrustworthy. But they both grow in maturity while discovering the beauty and danger of the western frontier.

The second novel, Now I’m Found, opens with Mac deciding to return east, because he does not see a future with Jenny. On his way back to Boston, Mac learns of the California gold strike. He joins hordes of prospectors and also participates in the development of California as a state. Meanwhile, Jenny forges a new life in Oregon, but she must deal with the lie she and Mac told their friends in the wagon company. Mac and Jenny separately confront violence, temptation, and heartache in this second book. Do they find happiness? You’ll have to read the novel.

I am currently working on another book in the series. This third book does not deal primarily with Mac and Jenny, but with some of their wagon train companions. I hope to have it published in early 2018.

Why that time period? What is it that intrigues you about the Oregon Trail?

I grew up near the Whitman Mission in Washington State. Narcissa Whitman, one of the first white woman to cross the Rocky Mountains (in 1836), was my childhood heroine. She and her husband were killed in 1847. Then I found out that one of my ancestors’ family took a covered wagon to Oregon in 1848.

These historical and personal antecedents gave me a huge interest in the Oregon Trail, which led me to write Lead Me Home. I set Lead Me Home in 1847 so my characters could meet Narcissa Whitman before her death.

Now I’m Found simply continues the story through the early California Gold Rush years, which really began in 1848 (a year before the Forty-Niners rushed west). Those already in the West had a leg up on finding the easy pickings. Now I’m Found covers not only the early prospectors, but also the development of California as a state and the impact of the California gold discoveries on settlers in Oregon.

I know this is a completely unfair question, but what’s your favorite scene?

This question really made me pause and think. In general, I prefer writing scenes with lots of dialogue, rather than description. That’s probably the result of spending years as a lawyer taking depositions and listening to testimony. So I like the scenes with lots of tension as the characters argue or don’t tell each other everything.

One of my highlights as a writer was writing a scene in Lead Me Home in which a character dies—I made myself cry, so I knew I was writing well. But for obvious reasons, that isn’t my favorite scene. I loved writing the scenes in Lead Me Home that showed Jenny McDougall’s growth from a scared girl to a young woman who could climb mountains.

In Now I’m Found, I liked the scenes between Mac McDougall and a character named Consuela. Consuela gave Mac advice he didn’t want to hear. She told him things he should have figured out for himself, but it took him the whole novel to get there on his own.

So where can we find out more about you and your books (besides Hometown Reads. Her profile page is here…)

Amazon author site:

B&N author site: 

Website: http://www.theresahuppauthor.com

Facebook page:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8078829.Theresa_Hupp

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/mtheresahupp/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MTHupp

Nzinga: African Warrior Queen- Moses L Howard

I will be the first to admit that when I think of “African history” my mind immediately goes to Victorian Englishmen in pith helmets. That, of course, is both wrong and stupid, but so much of real African history is only found in oral tradition. So I was absolutely delighted to stumble across a novel called “Nzinga- African Warrior Queen,” by Moses Howard. It’s a great read about a young woman in what’s now Angola, and her fight for her people and culture against the Portuguese in the early days of European exploration. It neatly fits two of the important tenets of this blog: 1) It’s hard to be a badass woman in a corset and 2) Swords are cooler than guns.

When I read about his own personal journey to writing the story I knew I needed to learn more.

What’s the Moses Howard story?

Dr Moses Howard, author of Nzinga: African Warrior Queen

I started out on a farm in Mississippi. With a biology degree in hand, I was in the first wave of the Teacher Education for East Africa project out of Columbia University in the 1960s, where I spent ten years training medical technologists and teachers in Uganda. Back in the States, I’ve been a biology teacher, assistant high school principal, community college dean, and counselor/mentor for students at risk. I began writing children’s chapter books while in Africa, and have been writing fiction for children and adults ever since.

What’s “Nzinga” about?

“Nzinga” is really about a child who at an early age learns to decipher her environment, understanding what she needs to survive. She treats her father, the king of Ndongo, as a beacon of light that she follows to know how to be in the world. As an adult, Nzinga masters the elements of her society and the ways of her enemies—and uses her enemies’ ways against them. She uses their animals, guns, language, and especially religion. But she achieves what she does through empathy and understanding.

What is it about that time period and character that appealed to you most?

I had a whole different idea about Africa until I learned about Nzinga. I had the idea that old-time African “chiefs” thought of Europeans as gods, that they’d fight for a little bit, then capitulate and become corrupted, selling their people as slaves. But that all came from a European outlook, with no understanding that tribes were as different from each other as French or Germans in language and culture. Competing tribes went to war with each other and sold their enemies defeated in war—the same as Europeans and Mediterranean cultures had done for centuries.

Nzinga’s story is attractive because she faced and overcame such overwhelming odds. It was unheard of for a woman in her culture to do what she did, with only her father as a model for leadership. She had a quick mind and mastered languages and advanced an enormous sense of justice. I felt compelled to learn how Nzinga did what she did, which took years of research.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene is the one where Nzinga is in the greatest danger—when she goes to observe slaves being loaded on the ship. She witnesses scenes of horror, and I felt immense fear for her while writing it, because she could have been taken away as a slave. I carry a strong sense of that horror, of course. When I was a teacher in Uganda, I was walking with my students, and we passed some old women who were disturbed that I couldn’t speak with them (I wasn’t rude; I didn’t know the language). My students told them I came from the people who’d been captured and taken to America. One woman walked around me, examining me, and said, “I know this is true, because there’s a tree in my village where they used to tie them up, the people who were sold as slaves.”

We went to the woman’s village, and she showed us the tree. All that remained were flakes of rust issuing from a hole in the tree, which of course had grown in the hundreds of years since then. But I turned my back to the tree, and put up my hands to see how it would be—would I fit?—to be chained to that tree. The feel of that tree, and the old women’s words, have stayed with me for more than fifty years. (Editor’s note, if you read the book you have to read the epilogue where Dr Howard relates this story. It gave me chills- and you know what an unemotional grump I can be.)

How can we learn more about Nzinga and your other books?

The best place to find what’s new with me is on Facebook (@MosesLHoward).
You can find all my books at amazon.com/author/moseshoward
We have extra essays and insights on my website at jugumpress.com/moseshoward

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about Nzinga!

The Alfred Hitchcock Test for Historical Novels

Whenever I’m speaking to people about writing historical fiction, the question of “How much of it needs to be exactly true?” arises. For a long time I hemmed and hawed and couldn’t really define it. At long last I have an answer. Does it pass the “North by Northwest” test?

Allow me to digress a bit and I promise I’ll get to the point. One of the major points of contention in my marriage to the Duchess is Alfred Hitchcock’s movie, North by Northwest. (Not for nothing, but after 25 years if this is the biggest bone we have to pick with each other we’re doing just fine.) My bride loves that movie. After all, it’s got peak Cary Grant, a stylish Eva Marie Saint, and amazing visuals, including a rousing finale on the top of Mount Rushmore. What’s not to love?

Trying to murder someone by biplane seems a bit hard to swallow, doesn’t it?

Plenty. I don’t care for that movie and the reason is simple. There are two scenes that ruin the whole experience. First, there’s no cool Frank Lloyd Wright house on the top of Mount Rushmore. Secondly, crop-dusters make really inefficient murder weapons. Actually, the crop-duster is mainly the reason I don’t enjoy that film: I remember thinking, “oh come on,” when that scene came on and Grant was pursued through the Indiana cornfield by the airplane. By the time I got to the mid-century modern house placed on top of a national monument, which I know darned well doesn’t exist, I had detached emotionally from the movie and didn’t believe any of it. The spell was broken.

Nice house, right? Too bad it doesn’t freaking exist, no matter how badly my wife wants it to.

Still with me? For historical fiction to work, we have to stay in the moment. We have to believe that the story is taking place in the time, place, and with the characters the author has established. All authors manipulate events to make a good story. Often this doesn’t matter. In Acre’s Bastard, I have Lucca watch events from the top of a hill where he couldn’t possibly have been, but I made it work and unless you’ve been to Hattin, and seen the Horns, you wouldn’t know, and it’s not a critical detail. No harm no foul. On the other hand, I had to make sure that the famous characters did what we know they did, and acted believably or I’d have lost readers along the way. I couldn’t just have Lucca bump into Richard the Lionheart 7 years before he got there.

All historical novelists face this dilemma. Does your character say or do something that isn’t true to that time period? If so, your readers (and HF fans tend to be smarter than most, if I may be so bold) will say “oh come on,” and you’re dead in the water.

So here’s my guide to how true to the facts your book needs to be. Does it make the reader say, “Oh come on?” If so, you’ll lose credibility and your story won’t ring true.

In Count of the Sahara, the excursions and characters are well documented- heck, one of them is still alive. I had to be as accurate as possible. With Acre’s Bastard, the general facts of the time are known, but the characters are mostly fictional and there’s plenty of room for imagination.

Trust me, I pushed the boundaries but it’s not like I had a crop-duster chase Lucca all the way back to the city walls, or had Byron de Prorok snap a selfie (which the arrogant SOB would have, if he could have.)

I hope you read my stories and enjoy them. If so, let me (and Amazon!) know.

If you’d like me to speak to your book club, library or group about “Putting the Story in History- How Writers Turn Dry Facts into Great Fiction”, I’d be delighted. It’s available as an in-person talk or can be delivered by Webinar no matter where you are. Use the contact form on the side of the page to drop me a line.

 

 

 

Booze, Bars and Battles with Morgan Wade

As much as historical novelists like to talk about the “reality” of their characters and times, I suspect there’s one area in which we don’t do the job we should–when it comes to the role booze plays in great events. It stands to reason that if rebellions start in Taverns (and there’s enough proof of that from almost every corner of the world) the key players weren’t exactly sober during those discussions. As a comedian friend of mine (I think it was Boyd Banks, but memory fades) used to say, “without booze and bad judgement, most of us wouldn’t be here.”  That leads us to Morgan Wade, and his novel “Bottle and Glass.”

After all, if you’re going to write about displaced soldiers, you’d better catch them in their natural habitat–the bars and taverns of Upper Canada in this case. The story also has an interesting development as a stage play, which is very cool.

Here’s the Morgan Wade story…

Morgan Wade’s debut novel, The Last Stoic, edited by Helen Humphreys, was released in June, 2011 by Hidden Brook Publishing and it made the 2012 ReLit Awards long list.  His short stories and poems have been published in Canadian literary journals and anthologies including The New Quarterly and The Nashwaak Review.

He adapted his second novel, Bottle and Glass, into an immersive, site-specific play that, in conjunction with Theatre Kingston, had a sold-out run during the 2016 Kingston WritersFest.  Audience members pursue the story through the streets and pubs of Kingston, drinking along with the characters and experiencing the city’s history like never before.  The production is set to be expanded and re-staged for a three week run in the summer of 2017.  When not writing, Morgan earns his keep as a software engineer.  When not busy writing or programming, he plays soccer or spends time with friends and family in beautiful Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Editor’s note: Kingston Ontario  contains a federal prison, Queen’s University and the Royal Military College. It’s safe to say that while it’s beautiful, but has its share of bad-ass bars and poor decisions influenced by booze.

In a nutshell, what’s the story of Bottle and Glass?

Bottle and Glass is a story of survival and escape told from the barstools of

Canadian author Morgan Wade

two dozen boisterous Kingston taverns at the close of the War of 1812.  The story focuses on Jeremy and Merit, two young fishermen from Porthleven, Cornwall pressed into service aboard a Royal Navy frigate. They are forced to leave their native England for Canada and eventually Kingston, where they are stationed as Royal Marines. They spend much of the novel attempting to escape and return home, but by the end, having attained their freedom, they are resolved to stay and make a new life.

Inns and taverns figured prominently in Upper Canada’s frontier life. In 1812, when Kingston had a population of 2250 plus 1500 soldiers, it could boast 78 taverns. Many of these, including “Old King’s Head” and “Mother Cook’s,” are mentioned in the newspapers and correspondence of the time. This novel is structured so that each chapter takes the title of a historic Kingston tavern and each tavern is featured in the chapter in some significant way. The novel’s title is taken from the infamous watering hole, “Violin, Bottle, and Glass.”

I notice a rise in Canadians writing about the Loyalist era. What is it about that time period that fascinates you?

Kingston, Ontario, is a city rich with history, especially relative to many other cities in a country as young as Canada.  When my wife and I moved here in 2001 we were struck by the historic architecture, national monuments, and wealth of other historical artifacts (e.g. Kingston is the final resting place of our first Prime Minister).  It was on a visit to Fort Henry, now a world heritage site, that I realized I wanted to write a historical fiction novel based on the Kingston of 200 years ago.  Standing behind the old rifle loopholes or in the underground escape tunnels, I imagined what it must have been like for a young, raw recruit, thousands of miles from home, stuck in this cold, damp, forbidding place.  I wanted to explore what a young man would have felt and experienced and to walk a mile in his shoes.  It would be a way of delving deeply into the stories all around us just waiting to be discovered.

I’d originally wanted to set my novel within the Fort.  I liked the idea of all the main characters in the book saying something like “it’s fine, don’t worry, they’ll never attack Fort Henry,” and then three quarters through the story the American forces would stage a huge attack.  It would be a big shock and I thought it would be interesting to see how the characters would deal with that.  But, as I dug deeper into the research, I realized that Fort Henry was never once attacked in its entire history, so that ended that.  Nevertheless, I’d done a good deal of research by this time.  In my research I was struck by how prevalent drinking was in this rough frontier town two hundred years ago.  I’d loved the names of all the old taverns I’d come across.  So, I decided to set the story in the town instead, winding itself in and out of the many, many inns and taverns of 1814 Kingston.

Do you have a favorite (or favourite, I’m still a Canuck at heart) scene?

There is a scene early on in the book that takes place at a so-called “work bee”.  I think many people have this conception of an old-fashioned work bee as a standard, sedate affair in which friends and family and neighbours come together to clear some land or erect a barn.  I did, at least.  I imagine fifty or more Mennonites coming together to put a structure up in one day.  These early tenant farmers in Upper Canada were living on the margins and barely eking out an existence from some formidable countryside.  It was a boon, if not a necessity, to get the help of neighbours and friends and to, one day, return the favour.  But, in my research, I discovered that the work bees didn’t always go so smoothly.  Often there was chaos and idleness.  It was an all day affair usually with a lot of drinking involved as a reward for hard work.  The “work bee” sometimes devolved into brawls as drunkenness increased and tempers frayed.

In Bottle and Glass, some of the main characters decide to host a work bee.  When men arrive from the Kingston taverns Badgley’s and Metcalf’s, Beach’s and Brown’s, thirsty and having nothing better to do, the work bee which had started out so well takes a turn.  What happens has serious repercussions for the rest of the novel.  I like how the bucolic scene of the work bee curdles over the span of the chapter and I hope that the reader feels, as the scene unfolds, the growing sense of menace from the interlopers and the increasing desperation of the hosts.  It turns the romantic idea of the work bee on its head!

Where can people learn more?

Bottle and Glass is available in both Kindle and Paperback form on Amazon:  http://www.amazon.ca/dp/B01N4ACN5V

For more information, please visit:  http://www.morganwade.ca

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/bottleandglass/

Goodreads:  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/26347330-bottle-and-glass

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/morgancwade

Byron de Prorok- Archaeological Innovator

My fascination with Byron de Prorok has been ongoing for many years–that’s why I made him the center of The Count of the Sahara. A lot of my readers think of him as a failure and a ne’er-do-well, which is only part of the story.

There was a time when he was an innovative and inventive (sometimes too inventive) new mind in the field. A recent blog post on the (deep breath) Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East talks about our boy (and gives my book a shout-out under resources.)

You can see David Kennedy talk Aerial archaeology on YouTube

David Kennedy, a researcher from both Oxford and the University of Western Australia, outlines how de Prorok was among the first to make filming his discoveries a “thing”, including aerial and underwater photography. Of course, his personal demons overtook any positive contributions he made to the field.

A number of folks have told me that after reading The Count of the Sahara, they looked up old Byron. Here’s another place to learn more about this mysterious figure.

Of course, you can always read the book and leave a review, too. Just sayin’