I just found out today that the Logan Museum of Anthropology in Beloit, Wi, is opening a new exhibit about the Franco-American Expedition of the Sahara of 1925. Why does this matter? Because it’s the setting for my novel, “The Count of the Sahara.”
It’s no surprise that the exhibition focuses on Alonzo Pond, rather than Byron de Prorok…. one of the major scenes of my book takes place at Beloit College, and the news isn’t good for The Count.
There’s a good chance I’ll be asked to deliver a lecture up there based on my research. Given how the book wouldn’t have had a chance if not for them letting me rummage around in their archives, I’m thrilled. More details to come!
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.- F Scott Fitgerald.
Yeah, I’m a freakin’ genius. I love historical fiction that is researched and full of interesting details. I also love fantasy (yes, I’m a sword and sorcery geek, sue me.) These two ideas come together, and often seem to clash. A good case in point is the sub-genre called “Arthurian fiction.”
From my earliest memories, the story of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table have thrilled me. But was Arthur an actual historical character? If so, what about Merlin, who was a magician, after all? This has led to a schism between those who love “Arthurian Fantasy” and a more factual, history-based approach. Two of my favorite current writers take opposite approaches to the same source material.
books and places them in a gritty, dark period between the fall of the Roman empire, and the beginnings of that bizarre mix of Celts and Saxons that created pre-Norman Britain. I love his stuff: dark, philosophical, as close to “realistic” as something lost in the fog of time could be. If you’re not reading him, you should be. Just saying.
Lavinia Collins, on the other hand, writes Arthurian fantasy full of magic, sex and a Celtic/feminist approach. Here’s the thing, though. It’s not like she doesn’t know her history. The background of the stories is well researched and true to the period. She just chooses
A case in point is where Excalibur came from. Jack says it was forged from the metal that came from a meteorite, so it had unusual properties. According to Lavinia, it was forged by a woman blessed with magic in the caves under Avalon.
Is either “true?” Does it matter? I prefer to just enjoy them both. How about you?
When the question “What is Historical Fiction?” comes up, you get all kinds of answers. There are innocent Regency romances, brutal military fiction, Arthurian fantasies and strict transcriptions of famous events …. but what about straight-up erotica? Did our ancestors get their freak on? Today I interview V.W Singer, who writes fiction laced with S&M and other things, often set in the past. We’re talking today about his pirate-themed novel, “Port Royal.”
So what’s the VW Singer story?
I’ve always loved to write and tell stories. Nowadays I’m a full time author. When I was younger I used to entertain my friends with impromptu stories invented on the spot. However, first I became a Charted Accountant. I’ve been a CFO, General Manager, and Project Director in a multinational organisation. I’m multi lingual and I’ve lived and worked all over the world. In my time I’ve faced down super typhoons on a Pacific Island and been shot at and chased by machete wielding rebels, all as part of the job. I started writing seriously when I discovered that no one was writing erotica or science fiction the way I wanted to read it. So I decided to do it myself. I particularly enjoy writing historical erotica, because the history of mankind is the history of sex, and even BDSM style sex. From Egypt to Troy to Rome, and Henry VIII to Bill Clinton, sex has shaped the world. BDSM itself has a long history as well. One of the earliest English sex novels “Fanny Hill” has a very explicit birching scene, Victorian Erotica is filled with it, and nowadays BDSM is almost mainstream. With regard to BDSM, I am a practitioner, a Dominant in real life, and have been involved in it for over twenty-five years, so the sexual aspects of my novels are just as true to life as the historical.
In a nutshell, what’s the story about, and why Port Royal?
Port Royal is a combination of a “Captain Blood” style pirate adventure and intense SM (sadomasochistic) erotica. While I consider it romantic, it is not a Romance novel. The sex is detailed and explicit. But so is the plot and action. I was inspired to write this book by the surprising (to me) discovery that during the late 16th to 17th centuries, slavery in the Spanish Main, which was the Caribbean and the Americas, consisted primarily of white men and women. Most were Irish, with a good number of English, swept off the streets of London and other cities by gangs called “Spirits” – hence the term “spirited away” – and sold off to the Caribbean as “indentured servants”. Such contracts were supposed to be for limited periods and the “servants” were supposed to be released with a cash stake. But the owners found numerous ways to extend the contracts. Disobedience, attempted escape, and so forth added time to the contract. Children born during the contract became permanent slaves, forcing the parents to stay on. Many worked the “servants” to death rather than pay the freedom stake.
The city of Port Royal was known at its peak as “the most sinful city in the world”, which was hardly surprising since it was the base of the famous Pirates of the Caribbean. The pirates defended Port Royal from the Spanish and were its chief source of revenue. The dock-sides were filled with shops and bars and brothels. It is in this setting that the story’s hero Captain Harry Pierce, privateer (licensed pirate and pirate hunter), trader, brothel keeper, and slaver, has his adventures. There are battles at sea, duels on land, intrigue, treachery, and sadistic sex, especially with his private collection of beautiful Irish slaves.
So is this researched historical fiction, or just “Fifty Shades of Pirates?”
It took over a month of research to write this book. I learned about every aspect of the period, location, and people. Everything from clothes and underwear, to politics and geography, naval technology and techniques, all the way to the sex practises of the period. I happened to write a short illustrated blog piece on this very subject, which can be found on Goodreads – https://www.goodreads.com/author_blog_posts/8782406-looking-into-research
Probably the best way to illustrate the level of research is to show an extract of the research directory on my computer relating to Port Royal:
Assuming we use “incognito mode,” and don’t do it at work, how can we find you and your books?
One of the busiest names in Historical Fiction is Mirella Patzer. Not only does she crank out tales of vengeance and intrigue set in Medieval and Renaissance Italy, but she hosts 2 websites for HF fans: HistoryandWomen.comand Historical Novel Review.
Her stuff is certainly more woman-centric than I normally go for (I feel about a lot of romantic fiction like I feel about Gangsta-rap. I’m a middle aged, straight, white guy. It’s not for me, it’s about me.) it is full of historical tidbits and exotic locations.
So in a nutshell, what’s the newest book about?
Orphan of the Olive Tree is a family saga set in 13th century Tuscany. Two neighboring families are bound by a blood oath to wed their eldest children to forever bind their families together. Prudenza, the matriarch of one family, and the villain of the novel, casts the evil eye against her nemesis, Felicia, and shatters her happy life. But when the tables are turned, Prudenza finds herself in trouble and desperate to guard her own dark family secret. It is a story steeped in ancient superstition about twins, curses, and the evil eye, and the power of love and destiny to overcome adversity. It is a story about wicked intentions, medieval superstitions, a curse uttered in envy, undisclosed secrets, unstoppable destinies, and two generations of women and the extraordinary event that will either vindicate or destroy them.
My own Italian family inspired these stories. As a child I lived with many Italian traditions, superstitions, and wives tales. It was great fun putting some of these old beliefs into a story. For instance, you will never find a peacock feather in an Italian home because the peacock feather appears to have the evil eye at its center. And once, when I wasn’t feeling well and acting out as a child, my mother and aunts actually did the water and oil incantation to cast out any evil that may have overtaken me.
At the same time I released Orphan of the Olive Tree, I also released The Contessa’s Vendetta. This novel is a thriller about a woman who is believed dead and buried because of the plague. When she returns home to her family, she learns her husband and best friend have betrayed her. She launches a diabolical plan of vendetta with shocking consequences.
I’m always fascinated by someone who takes an obscure (at least to the rest of us) time period and delves deep. What is it about that time-period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?
I love medieval and renaissance Italy because it’s my favorite era. It was a time set in intrigue, political power plays, and superstition. Of all the books I’ve written, Orphan of the Olive Tree is definitely a favorite because it was the most fun to write. I permitted my characters to run wild, to show us their best and their worst. I sought to shock and awe the readers by adding unusual circumstances and oodles of old superstitions while adhering closely to my research to keep the story true to the times. For many authors, research is ongoing and never ending. I have been researching the medieval period for more than ten years since most of novels or current works in progress are set anywhere from the 10th century to the 17th century, and I have a vast collection of books to prove it.
The Contessa’s Vendetta was also a delightfully fun story to work with because it is on the dark side. I set the story in the Veneto region of Italy where I have extensively travelled and have family and friends there. All the places in the novel were locations I personally visited and spent time at, thus evoking many, many fond memories.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?
I have two favorite scenes in Orphan of the Olive Tree. The first is the scene when Felicia (a protagonist) serves soup to Prudenza (the antagonist) and by so doing, gets a bit of revenge! I can’t give you the details, but let’s say it truly is good justice!
My other favorite scene is with the rabid horse! Although it is a wild scene, it is based upon fact and research.
Besides the websites we mentioned above, here’s how you can find her.
We lost an amazing writer today. E.L. Doctorow is best known for the towering “Ragtime,” (all authors are best known by the works that got made into movies) although I prefer Billy Bathgate (great book, terrible movie) and Book of Daniel. Here’s a link to a tribute from the Chicago Tribune.
“(Writers) propose life as something of moral consequence. They distribute suffering so that it can be borne.”
I try to be an enlightened male, but at the end of the day, I’m a guy, and I feel the need on occasion to read guy stuff. In Historical Fiction terms, that often means military history, or at least stories based on battles set long ago. One of my favorite new indy/small press authors in that field is Peter Darman.
Pete writes nifty tales of wars that most of don’t know about. (Go ahead, name a famous Parthian. Okay then). In particular, I’m a fan of his series about the Teutonic Crusades in the Baltic, “The Crusader Chronicles.”
So what’s the Pete Darman story?
I have been writing on and off for 25 years but have only been a full-time author for the past three. After completing my master’s thesis on the Royalist cavalry in the English Civil War (1642–46), I was living in London where I worked in a number of unfulfilling jobs. Eventually I landed a position as a research officer with the Ministry of Defence’s Defence Intelligence Staff in Whitehall. Writing top-secret reports was at first exciting but ultimately frustrating because they were so classified that few people saw them before they were filed away, never to be seen again. So I decided to leave the Ministry of Defence and try my luck in publishing. As a result I spent over 20 years in the publishing industry as an editor, during which time I wrote a number of non-fiction titles in my spare time. Then came the great leap into the unknown in 2012 when I decided to become a full-time writer. It hasn’t worked out too bad thus far…
I first discovered your work with “The Sword Brothers,” and have followed the rest of the series. What’s the new book,”Master of Mayhem”, about?
‘Master of Mayhem’, a work of historical fiction, is the fourth book in the Crusader Chronicles series. It follows the adventures of Conrad Wolff, a brother knight of the Sword Brothers, a military order established at the beginning of the thirteenth century to battle paganism in the Baltic.
The book begins with Conrad, now a master in his order, as well as being Marshal of Estonia and commander of the Army of the Wolf, crusading with Bishop Albert, the founder of modern-day Latvia, against first the Lithuanians in the south and then against the Oeselians in the north. But the enemies of the crusaders are many and skilful and soon Conrad and the Sword Brothers are fighting for their very existence in the coldest winter in living memory.
When we think of the Crusades, we think of Palestine and Jerusalem. I know the book I’m working on now is set there (although I now see that’s a horrible cliche and I should be ashamed of myself.) Why the Baltics? It’s kind of obscure…
Because I started my writing career penning historical non-fiction I have always been interested in many periods of history, but particularly those periods that are little known. Everyone has heard about the crusades in the Holy Land but the crusade in the Baltic during the medieval period is not well known. As a result it sparked my interest. I originally envisaged the central character of the series being a member of the Teutonic Knights. But closer research revealed that another military order pre-dated them – the Sword Brothers.
The Crusader Chronicles is not only the story of Conrad Wolff but also the Sword Brothers, who are now largely forgotten. It was they who laid the foundations of the modern states of Latvia and Estonia.
I’m familiar with your other books, but let’s bait the hook for new readers. What’s one of your favorite scenes in the new work?
One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Conrad plays host to William of Modena, a Papal legate sent to the crusader kingdom to act as adjudicator between the Sword Brothers and the Danish king, who at the time possessed the northern half of Estonia. A medieval Papal legate was extremely powerful and spoke with the full authority of the Pope. A legate could raise armies, excommunicate individuals, including kings, and possessed the power of life and death over not only individuals but also kingdoms.
It was nice creating a scene where Conrad and the legate could discuss their very different upbringings and positions in a time when social mobility was all but impossible. When the legate asks if Conrad always knew his fate, Conrad replies: ‘Yes, to die a hundred yards from where I was born.’ In a time where nobility and wealth were signs of social superiority the legate, himself from a powerful Italian family, reminds Conrad that in the end everyone, high born or lowly, serves a higher power and that perhaps they are not that different.
That’s great. Conrad is something of a #@%@%$ disturber, which is what makes him a strong hero. Where can people find you and your work?
Friends often wonder why I’m a history freak, and why my favorite stories are based in real times and places (albeit long ago and far away). The fact is, that real people are at least as interesting, maybe moreso, than anyone you could invent. Case in point is the main character in my novel, “The Count of the Sahara.” (Note, the title has changed just a week prior to publication!)
During the later 1920s and early 1930s, Prorok undertook a series of expeditions in Africa of dubious scientific value, pursuing ancient legends and eventually came to believe he had found evidence that proved Atlantis lay in North Africa, the true location of the fabled Biblical land of Ophir and what he supposed were the ruins of an ancient temple where Alexander the Great “became a god”. In addition to these tremendous ‘discoveries’ he also claimed to be a member of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre, the Royal Archaeological Institute and The Royal Geographical Society.
His numerous critics say that this “count” Byron de Prorok was neither a real count nor an archaeologist, was expelled from The Royal Geographical Society (allegedly in 1932), who had “a vivid imagination” and “was given to gross exaggeration”. He was, however, an active member of the Adventurers Club of New York.
The story tells of his most famous expedition in 1925, which was splashed all over the front pages of the New York Times, as well as his fall from grace the following winter in the snows of the Midwest. There’s bootleg hooch, stolen gems and Pinkertons, as well as warlike Tuaregs, desert heat and camels.
From time to time I’ll post other tidbits about Byron and other folks I find fascinating. Meanwhile, let me know if you’d like a review copy of “The Count of the Sahara”, coming soon from TheBookFolks.com.
Okay, so why am I a history freak? Because you can learn from it. This is especially true in business. There’s a book here somewhere about great business lessons from history. This is a YouTube video I made a couple of years ago to illustrate the point.
Are you listening to your chickens or drowning them?
Remember the motto of this blog: Those who don’t remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Those who do, still can’t do anything about it, but we get to smile smugly and say “told ya.”
When I think of Historical Fiction, a couple of things come to mind. The first, are great events in history and epic time periods. Second, I think about tales of great passion: war, or romance, (and whether those are the same or different, you may discuss among yourselves) but they paint with a broad brush. Yet there are quieter stories as well. Troy Kechely has taken a fascinating period of American history (The Depression of the 1930s) and a great setting (the mountains of Montana) for an intimate story of a man and the healing powers of a dog and brought them together in Strangers’s Dance
Okay, so what’s the Troy Kechely story?
Most people like to use the word ‘complex’ to describe me. This is because how I came to be who I am is not a simple tale but I’ll summarize as best I can.I was conceived out of wedlock to a young woman in Elmira, New York. She left the U.S. to study for a semester in West Berlin, Germany (yes back in the cold war days). She was unaware that she had a stowaway but learned quickly after arriving. While carrying me she looked into having an abortion but was turned down because it was illegal after a certain stage of pregnancy. She instead chose to put me up for adoption by a U.S. Army officer and his wife who were stationed in Germany. So by God’s grace I grew up not in upstate New York or Germany but on a ranch at the base of the Continental Divide west of Helena, Montana. Something I am very thankful for.
My day job is a CAD manager for an engineering firm. On the side I’m a canine behavior instructor and author as well as the founder and current board member for a non-profit rescue group dedicated to finding loving homes for Rottweiler’s. What sets me apart from some is that I have no college degree and only nine fingers after an accident four years ago. This resulted in me having to relearn typing so Stranger’s Dance was a big test for me and my editor.
Sounds like that’s a pretty good story waiting to be told. What about Stranger’s Dance?
In 1930s Montana, no one kept dogs as pets.Unless a dog happened to be a darn good herder and happened to wash up on a sheep ranch, dogs were pests. Chicken killers that ought to be shot.
Who could afford to give scraps to a stray? The high ranchlands were spared the worst of the Dust Bowl, but most families still had to take work off the ranch to make ends meet. That’s why Frank Redmond carved tombstones on the side. Even with such work—both lucrative and in steady supply—he and his small family struggled to keep up with their loans. Frank was ready to call it quits, walk away from the ranch, his wife, his father, the creditors. Then the dog showed up.
Stranger’s Danceis a novel about death and infidelity and how people learn to strike truce in the presence of hard things. That stray dog, the one Frank wanted to shoot, eventually endears himself to Frank’s father, then to his wife, and slowly to Frank. Over time, the land and its creatures bind the frayed human relationships.
What is it about this story that intrigued you?
Our world is so full of technology and distraction, the simplicity of rural ranch life in that era appeals to me. Having grown up in the region and on a working ranch I know how hard it can be to keep a ranch running and the idea of doing the same work but without the luxury of tractors and electricity made it a good setting for the story. It allowed me to focus on true life struggles that people faced every day. Unlike now where we worry about our WiFi connection, people in that time often lived hand-to-mouth. Given that animals were rarely viewed as pets but as coworkers or pests to be shot, the involvement of a dog in that struggle allowed for a unique perspective and window to that time.
I was also fortunate enough to be able to interview people who were alive back then and living at the location of where my book was set so I got firsthand knowledge of what it was really like. This definitely helped with solidifying my decision on the time and location of the story.
Not to make this about me, but I had a farm dog, Rover, get shot for sucking eggs when I was a kid, so I know what you mean. Where can folks learn more about you and your writing, as well as your work with dogs?