After the Trojan War- Hock Tjoa

One of the things I love best about interviewing other Historical Fiction authors, is that you learn what stories obsess them, and how they view these stories through whatever personal experiences they have. Case in point, if I told you there was an Asian-American author whose previous book was a translation of  Chinese romances, would you expect their latest book to be about the Trojan War?

See what I mean?

Hock TjoaHistory teacher, banker, finance executive–Hock Tjoa has turned to writing for
his “third act.” He published The Battle of Chibi, (if you ever saw the movie Red Cliffs, that’s the story)  
selections from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms that he translated in 2010 and Agamemnon Must Die in 2014. He is married and lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada in California.

 

Seems to me that the definitive book on the Trojan War was done a while ago. What’s this story about?

The “mother of all wars” (the Trojan War) is over. All the people of Mycenae want is peace and normalcy. But the gods have a crowded agenda for them. There will be blood and pain, even quarrels among the gods.
The royal family of Mycenae has a bloody, monstrous history. Agamemnon returns with his war trophy, the Trojan Princess Cassandra, whom he unthinkingly flaunts before his queen. After an epic sword fight in his own banquet hall, Agamemnon is killed. Cassandra has her nightmares/visions of the gory and unspeakable deeds of the House of Atreus; she is led away to be executed. Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus have their respective reasons, but this regicide must be avenged. Or so say the voices in Orestes’ head. He must avenge his father. He must kill the regicides. He must kill his own mother.
Hmmm, no wonder so many neurotic syndromes have Greek names. There’s a lot going on there. What inspired you to write this particular book? Why this story?
The story is based on the Oresteia, the sole surviving classical Greek trilogy, by Aeschylus. I was assigned (an English translation of) this book in a humanities course at college with the introduction that this was a key work, a part of the foundation of Western civilization, etc.. I did not get it (just as I did not get Moby Dick).
Over the years I have read almost every translation that has appeared, hoping for the light to go on. I decided a few years ago, to write this story myself, as I understood it and not necessarily as my professors might have wished.
Sounds like there’s probably a Greek name for that kind of thinking but we’ll leave that to a therapist. What’s your favorite scene in the book?

Hm, every scene was difficult to write and a delight in the end, but I’ll pick the

Agamemnon Must Die, by Hock Tjoa.
Agamemnon Must Die, by Hock Tjoa.

chapter that deals with Cassandra, a minor character with an unusual gift and a sad fate. It also includes portions in verse, something that I experimented with in this book.

You can find Agamemnon Must Die and Hock’s other work here:

Elgin Literary Festival January 29-30

I am thrilled to be part of two panel discussions and a book signing at the Elgin Literary Festival January 29-30 in Elgin, IL.

Join us at the Elgin Literary Festival January 29-30
Join us at the Elgin Literary Festival January 29-30

I’ll be part of a panel on “How your real job influences your writing” as well as one on various methods of publishing.  I’ll also be talking about how working with a “middle way” publisher like The Book Folks helped me get The Count of the Sahara out into the world.

The Count of the Sahara is now available in Kindle format. Also available in paperback from Amazon or direct from the publisher.
The Count of the Sahara is now available in Kindle format. Also available in paperback from Amazon or direct from the publisher.

Not for nothing, but I’ll also be signing and (hopefully) selling the book as well.

Join us!

From the Silly Dreams Come True Department- Writer’s Digest

Like many fledgling writers, I have spent a lot of years reading Writers Digest. From the early 80s til last month, I would read the articles and think, “Man, you must really know what you’re doing to get an article published. Wish I could.”

Know what? It happened. November 23rd’s Online Edition, Brian Klems’ column has an article by yours truly: “6 Ways Standup Comedy Can Make You a Better Writer”

 

Hey, I'm in Writers Digest just like a real writer.
Hey, I’m in Writers Digest just like a real writer.

Fact is, while 15 years of my life looks like a black hole on my business resume, nothing has prepared me in life like the time I spent telling jokes to drunk people for a living. I’m happy to have shared the lessons learned with other writers.

Has anything really changed as a result? Probably not. I may have sold a few more copies of Count of the Sahara (in Kindle, of course, because other writers are as broke as I am.) Am I a better writer for having done this? Did I make any money on it? Did my ego really need more reinforcing that doesn’t actually improve my lot in life? The answers to all those are a big old no.

The weird part? Someone out there is reading that, envying me. Life is strange, huh?

 

Christoph Fromm and the Battle of Stalingrad From the German Side

Every human being sees history through their own eyes, but too often readers get to see it from essentially one side… a cynic would say the winners’, but more likely those who write primarily for an English speaking audience. However, we all know any time human beings are involved, everyone has their own take. That’s what makes historical fiction so fascinating. Case in point… when was the last time you read about a WWII battle from the German side?

Christoph Fromm studied at the film academy (Hochschule für Film und

Christoph Fromm has written about the Battle of Stalingrad as you've never heard it.
Christoph Fromm has written about the Battle of Stalingrad as you’ve never heard it.

Fernsehen) in Munich from 1977 to 1981. He has worked as a full-time screenwriter since 1983. He started early with writing prose alongside his work on screenplays.

In 1984 he published the short story collection “Der kleine Bruder”. After working on several movie and television screenplays, he founded the publishing house Primero Verlag together with children’s books author Tina Lizius in 2006. In the same year he published the political thriller “Die Macht des Geldes”.  In 2013 he published his novel “Stalingrad: The Loneliest Death” which was a great success. In 2015 it was translated into English.

His third novel “Amoklauf im Paradies” will be published in spring 2016.

 In a nutshell, what’s the book about?

In September 1942, the few survivors of a Sturmpionierbataillion stationed in Northern Africa are sent to the Eastern front. During the decisive battle of Stalingrad – which claimed more than two million victims – the soldiers lose all their moral inhibitions and confronted by trench warfare, close combat for every single house, hunger and arctic cold, madness is their only remaining refuge before dying anyway…

Young lieutenant Hans von Wetzland is forced to recognise that these conditions do not allow him or his soldiers to stick even to the most basic moral principles.

What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?

My novel is based on extensive research in the course of which I was also able to talk to numerous contemporary witnesses. I was especially fascinated by the letters from my mother’s former fiancé who was stationed at the Eastern front as a lieutenant of the German general staff, later as an artillery captain, and who went missing in action in February 1945. It is alarming to recognise how contemporary his longing for personal happiness, romance, and his escape into religious, conservative, apolitical areas appears.

What interested me most about my fictive protagonist was his transformation from a war romantic to a war defector. The cauldron of Stalingrad shocked me with its existential and extreme situations. The vast majority of the soldiers could not remain human under these inhuman conditions, but were overpowered by madness which did not even stop at cannibalism and taking the law into their own hand.

Stalingrad was a nightmare for all participants, although most Americans know little about it. What’s your favorite scene in the book (without giving away any spoilers)?

That would be chapter 48 in which the soldiers are demoted and have to shovel snow off a street inside the cauldron of Stalingrad. When they are completely exhausted and finally achieve their target for the day, they recognise that the murderous strain was completely in vain as they cleared this street only because of an administrative error.

Where can people learn more about you and your work?

You can get the English Translation of Stalingrad on Amazon Kindle
You can get the English Translation of Stalingrad: The Loneliest Death on Amazon Kindle

You can find my eBook on Amazon and if you have a Kindle Unlimited account it is also available for lending. 

http://www.amazon.com/Stalingrad-Loneliest-Death-Christoph-Fromm-ebook/dp/B00Y30GRVO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1448549163&sr=8-1&keywords=Stalingrad+Fromm

 I am also on Goodreads and Library Thing.

 You can find more information (only in German) about me and my publisher at

http://www.primeroverlag.de/

https://www.facebook.com/primeromuenchen

 

Radio Interview: Indiana Jones Myth or Reality talks Byron and why Archaeologists Need Presentation Skills

Had a great time doing this one-hour radio interview with Dr. Joseph Schuldenrein on November 18. We discussed Byron de Prorok, why presentation skills matter to scientists, and why I could never…. ever…. be a real archaeologist.

It was a wide-ranging interview, and a lot of fun. Take a listen:

Check out the Indiana Jones: Myth or Reality podcast.
Check out the Indiana Jones: Myth or Reality podcast.

The Count of the Sahara Gets Honorable Mention, 2015 Great Midwest Book Festival

What a nice surprise. The Count of the Sahara has been awarded Honorable Mention as “General fiction book of the year” at the 2015 Great Midwest Book Festival.

Below is the book’s place on their Table of Honor Page.

The Count of the Sahara took an "Honorable Mention" for the 2015 Great Midwest Book Festival.
The Count of the Sahara took an “Honorable Mention” for the 2015 Great Midwest Book Festival.

It’s so gratifying that the reviews have been overwhelmingly positive, if a bit mixed. If you’ve enjoyed the story, please tell the world on Amazon or Goodreads.

Oh and my favorite review so far? A 4-star that started with “I liked this book and I don’t know why…”

The Logan Museum Honors Pond and De Prorok

What a blast we had on November 9. The Logan Museum at Beloit College invited me to speak to the Three Rivers Archaeological Society  about Byron de Prorok. This was part of their exhibit for the 90th Anniversary of the Franco-Saharan Expedition: Blue Veils, Black Mountains: Alonzo Pond’s 1925 Expedition to Southern Algeria.

Michael Tarabulski and I tour the Logan's exhibit based on his years of research. Great finally meeting him in person!
Michael Tarabulski and I tour the Logan’s exhibit based on his years of research. Great finally meeting him in person!

First, I got to meet Michael Tarabulski, whose research on Byron de Prorok is the cause of all my troubles, and The Count of the Sahara couldn’t have happened without him.

Part of the exhibit. The character of Belaid's wife, Tadefi, was based on the painting in the upper right.
Part of the exhibit. The character of Belaid’s wife, Tadefi, was based on the painting in the upper right.

Then we toured the exhibit… seeing photographs, film and artifacts from the original site, and reliving moments of the book. The story really came alive.

Part of the terrific exhibit at the Logan Museum.
Part of the terrific exhibit at the Logan Museum.

Finally we spoke at the Three Rivers Archaeological Society, a mix of academics, hobbyists and students. What a blast.

Had a blast speaking to the group about Byron de Prorok and how he'd make a great Kardashian.
Had a blast speaking to the group about Byron de Prorok and how he’d make a great Kardashian.

Thanks to all. Of course, if you know any group interested in Midwest history or archaeology, I’m available to speak! Drop me a line on the Contact Page

 

Press Release for November 9 Presentation at the Logan Museum

I am well and truly stoked to be speaking at the Logan Museum/ Beloit College on Monday, November 9. Below is a copy of the press release for the event.

For Immediate Release

Novelist Wayne Turmel to discuss “Count” Byron de Prorok on Nov. 9

The dubious character accompanied Logan Museum explorers on a famous expedition in the 1920s 

Media Contact: Jason Hughes,  hughesj@beloit.edu or (608) 363-2137

Of all the archaeological expeditions in the Logan Museum of Anthropology’s history, none remains so tangible in public and institutional memory than Alonzo Pond’s journey across the Sahara desert in 1925. “Blue Veils, Black Mountains,” the Logan’s latest exhibition takes a full accounting of the Pond trip.

The items Pond brought home from that expedition formed the backbone of the Logan Museum’s collection. “The materials brought back by the Pond expedition created the first large, purposefully and intentionally assembled ethnographic collection brought to the museum,” says Curator of Exhibits and Education Dan Bartlett. Additionally, “Pond’s trip was covered by newspapers across the country,” Bartlett says, “For the greater Beloit community, the expedition elevated Beloit’s reputation as a center of scholarship.”

But like any good expedition, it was not pursued by Pond alone. On Monday, Nov. 9, the Logan Museum will welcome a pair of guests to shed some light on perhaps the most famous member of the expedition, “Count” Byron de Prorok. The event will be held in the Godfrey Anthropology Building, Room 102.

At 7 p.m., Michael Tarabulski, a Beloit alumnus and an archivist with the National Archives, will screen his brief film “A Distinctly Dubious Character: Byron de Prorok and the Tomb of Tin Hinan.”

Immediately following the screening, author Wayne Turmel will discuss his new work of historic fiction, The Count of the Sahara. The novel, told from the point of view of Byron de Prorok’s assistant, follows de Prorok on the cross-country promotional tour he undertook during the year following the Pond expedition as well as a number of flashbacks to the expedition. As readers will note, there is a bit of discrepancy between Prorok’s recollection of events and how things unfolded during the Pond expedition. Turmel’s e-book was one of the most downloaded ebooks on Amazon worldwide the week it debuted.

“Prorok was really one of modern media’s first celebrities,” Turmel says. “He really crafted an image of a swashbuckling adventurer for himself,” Turmel adds. “He was a perfect storm of charisma and accessible fame. He traveled to parts of the country that had never seen film footage of these far-flung expedition destinations before.”

Prorok “drove the archaeological purists crazy,” Turmel notes “because Prorok declared some of his discoveries the greatest since King Tut’s tomb.

Tarabulski and Turmel’s presentations will tell the story of the rise and fall of Byron de Prorok. Following the presentation, the Logan Museum will be open at 6:30 p.m. so attendees have an opportunity to visit the exhibit both before and after the presentations. The Logan Museum is located at the corner of College and Bushnell Streets on the campus of Beloit College.

The Book Folks Blog Interviews Me About Byron, History and Why I Write

If I haven’t made it abundantly clear, I really have enjoyed working with The Book Folks on The Count of the Sahara. This week, they featured an interview with me on their blog page. This is a good sign they haven’t completely washed their hands of me…..

You can read the original interview on their site here.

Meanwhile, here’s what we talked about…

Canadian Wayne Turmel is author of the new historic fiction novel The Count of the Sahara. We asked him about his passion for writing, explorations and history.

TBF: What started your passion for writing fiction?

WT: I have been a reader my whole life, and always thought writing was so glamorous. As a kid, I thought I’d write courtroom mysteries like Erle Stanley Gardner (my grandmother had dozens of his novels and I devoured them all. For those of you under 80 he wrote the Perry Mason mysteries). Yes, I was an idiot, but dreams die hard. My writing got diverted first into writing standup comedy in my 20s, then I went through my spec-script stage when I was living in L.A. My writing got diverted into non-fiction and business for the last 20 years. Now I’m getting back to my first love, fiction.

TBF: What are the main challenges you have found in creative writing?

WT: Well, you can look at this two ways.

The biggest challenge is logistical: simply carving out the time and energy to write. When you’re busy making a living, raising a family and trying to squeeze in something resembling a normal life, the very act of writing can feel selfish and awkward.

Then once you’ve written something, how do you find an audience? If you write something, and no one reads it, does it really matter? I think for the writers I know, finding an audience is the hardest part: getting readers, actually (heaven forbid) selling your books to a few of them. That’s why I’m so glad to partner with a publisher like The Book Folks, rather than go it alone. I could spend the rest of my life finding a few hundred readers for a self-published book, or I can leverage the contacts and expertise of others and get back to writing, which is way more fun.

TBF: Was there anything in particular that inspired you to write The Count of the Sahara?THE COUNT OF THE SAHARA by Wayne Turmel book cover

WT: Byron de Prorok was too good a character to shake. I read several of his books about five years ago and was obsessed. I even named my cockatiel Byron. He’s one of those real-life characters that was brilliant, in his manner, but flawed and couldn’t get out of his own way. If I had a therapist, I supposed she’d have a ball with my fascination for people like de Prorok, Richard Francis Burton and others.

About a year and a half ago, our family went through something that made us all take seriously the issue of chasing your dreams no matter the cost. First as an example to my daughter who is an actress, then as an exercise in sheer ego, I decided to scratch something off my “bucket list.” Despite having published seven non-fiction titles and countless articles, I felt like I’d never be a “real writer” until I completed a novel, so I set out to do it. Thirteen months from blank page to Kindle, here we are.

TBF: You describe yourself as a ‘history geek’; what in particular interests you about the history of explorers in Africa?

WT: There are certain time periods I’m fascinated with: The Crusades, the years just before and after the First World War, and the 1920s in America. I also love “end of an era” stories that show the cracks and faded glory of a time period. At the time of this book, the age of African exploration was nearly at an end. It was also the dawn of new technology like film, so that we had international media stars for the first time. Byron couldn’t have become a star any earlier, and would have felt right at home with the Kardashians. I mean, the man has two IMDB pages. He was an exploring fame whore. What’s not to like?

Truthfully, what I love about exploration stories (and aren’t most adventure novels stories of exploration?) is the mix of arrogance and curiosity it takes to seek something most of the world doesn’t care about. Most of the great explorers were seeking their stated aims, to be sure, but were driven by other ideals, goals and personal demons. Why did Shackleton pursue the pole after so many failures? Why did Burton and Speke not just give up when they had bugs digging in their ears and Somali swords stuck through their jaws? It’s a divine madness I find intriguing.

TBF: What do you value in a good historic fiction novel?

WT: I could geek out on the two schools of historical fiction, but that’s another topic for another time. Basically what I want is a good story, well told. Then I want to learn something. I need to be interested enough in the setting (place or time) that I want to learn more. A good historical fiction novel sends me scurrying to the internet or the library to learn more. When people tell me the first thing they did was look up De Prorok, or Alonzo Pond, it makes me feel like I’ve done my job. I even got one bad review that said, “Well I looked up Queen Tin Hinan and at least that was interesting.” A Pyrrhic victory, but I’ll take it.

TBF: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider as a mentor?

WT: I have been very fortunate to find mentors in almost everything I’ve done, it’s the only way I think I have succeeded in life without a proper college education. As far as my fiction writing, I am a big fan of Jack Whyte. He’s a Scots-Canadian who has written a number of historic fiction series ranging from the Arthur legends, to the Templar series, to the latest about the founding of modern Scotland. He was very kind and encouraging and I learn a lot just from reading him. The fact that he answers my emails and kicks me in the pants on occasion is an added blessing.

TBF: What have you learnt from writing The Count of the Sahara?

WT: First, that I can write a little —at least enough to keep going.

Secondly that there are things as a writer I do well, and things I desperately need to work on, and I can’t stop where I am.

TBF: What do you have in store for readers to look forward to in your next book?

WT: Well, it’s more of a straight-ahead adventure story set during the fall of the Second Crusade. It’s like nothing I’ve written before (which I guess is a safe statement with only one novel under my belt) but will explore the important question that I think anchors the whole time period: can you be brave, honourable and a good person when you’re in the middle of horrible, ridiculous, terrible circumstances. Oh and jokes. There will be jokes. Many of them in poor taste. I’d hate to disappoint my readers.

The blog also features some of their other authors like Lavinia Collins, Diane Dickson and Matt Lenz. Good company to be in.

Janet Squires and the Old West (Arizona Edition)

One of the most mythologized/lied about/ accurately reported periods in history is the opening of the American West. So much that’s true is fascinating and so much of what is “known” is uhhhhhhh utter nonsense. That said, it’s ripe for good historical fiction. That’s where Janet Squires comes in.

Janet Squires looking incredibly Western-ish.
Janet Squires looking incredibly Western-ish.

She began her career writing short stories and nonfiction articles for national periodicals. However, my work as a Library Media Specialist for a school district inspired me to shift by attention to children’s books. Her first picture book, The Gingerbread Cowboy, is the Arizona Governor’s 2007 first grade book. A special edition of 100,000 copies was printed and distributed to every first grade student in the state.

Since then she’s broadened her focus and now writes fiction and nonfiction for both children and adults, which brings us to her novel, “Desperate Straits”  She teaches writing workshops, volunteers for literacy events at libraries and schools, tend a large organic garden. In whatever time she has left, she likes to saddle up and ride, or hike with her dog.

Okay, so in a nutshell, what’s “Desperate Straits” about?

Irish immigrant Sarah Ryan’s hope for a new life in the Arizona Territory is shattered in an instant by gunfire. Suddenly, she has to rebuild an uncertain future with her orphaned nephew, Will, and take on the challenges of a cattle ranch. Just when order returns, veteran lawman, L.T. McAllister rides in. He’s a dangerous man determined to do what’s right regardless of the personal cost. L.T. believes himself ready for anything until he meets Sarah. Her ideas about the man he’s become soon pit his lifetime of duty against desire.

Desperate Straits is her first novel about the settling of Arizona
Desperate Straits is her first novel about the settling of Arizona

L.T.’s and Sarah’s loyalty to Will catapults them into a life for which neither one is prepared. When L.T. and Sarah stand between one man and his obsession with the Lost Adam’s Gold,  they trigger a firestorm of retaliation. Kidnapping and murder escalates into a battle for justice… and their lives.

What is it about that time period you find so fascinating? 

The American frontier has always been a passion for me. I grew up listening to tales of how my Irish/Cherokee ancestors pioneered their way West as ranchers, miners, and lawmen. Later, research into my family history uncovered personal accounts of life in the eighteen hundreds — Kentucky during the civil war — wagon trains from Texas — lives that inspired me with examples of fortitude, courage, and humor. Frontier life is personal for me.

One of my fondest childhood memories is waking in a creaky old iron bed to the sound of my Dad chopping wood so Grandma could cook breakfast on the wood burning stove she used til the day she died. I’m a daughter of the West… it’s the place where I’m at home.

Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene in the book?

Oh, wow…this is a tough question. Certainly, one of my favorite events is Sarah’s arrival in the Arizona Territory from Ireland. She defends herself against a shotgun wielding ranch hand with nothing but a broom, teaches herself to ride astride, and confronts the challenge of befriending her newly orphaned nephew. Each trial speaks to Sarah’s strength of character, courage, quick wits, and sense of humor. A quick poll of some of the men who’ve read my book puts L.T.’s action scenes at the top of their favorites list.

Men, what’re you gonna do with them? Where can people learn more about you and your work?

People can learn more about me and my books through these Social Media Outlets —

Website: http://www.janetsquiresbooks.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/janetsquiresbooks?ref=hl

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Janet-Squires/e/B001IGQIQK/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1445792569&sr=8-1

Blog: All About the Books with Janet Squires: http://janetsquires.blogspot.com/

Twitter: Janet Squires Author@Janet Squires

I’m also on GoodReads and Riffle.