Samurai Action and Fantasy with Travis Heermann

A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across a Kindle book that looked like fun: “Heart of the Ronin.” Think Yojimbo, if Toshiro Mifune could talk to dogs. (He was so cool, he probably could, but didn’t want to brag about it.) Just go with me on this one. I have already stated my deep affection for samurai cinema and stories, so it’s no wonder I wanted to interview the author, Travis Heermann.

Travis is a novelist, freelancer, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poet, and a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. His latest novel, co-authored with Jim Pinto, is the horror-Western Death Wind. Other novels include The Ronin TrilogyThe Wild Boys, and Rogues of the Black Fury, plus short fiction published or forthcoming in Apex Magazine, Alembical,Fiction River, and others. His freelance work includes contributions to the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Battletech, Legend of Five Rings,and EVE Online. He lives in Colorado.

Now, on to the questions.

What’s the basic story of your book?

Heart of the Ronin and the Ronin Trilogy in total is about a young masterless samurai, a ronin, and his quest to make a name for himself in a world that despises him. He saves the life of the noble maiden, beset by a pack of bandits led by a terrifying demon. Ronin and maiden fall in love, only to discover that she is promised to another, a political match with a powerful samurai lord.

At its core, the series is about the Zen concept of non-attachment, as its applies to things like love, honor, and duty, all of which come into deadly conflict throughout the trilogy. There’s also some exploration about the nature of evil and how the Eastern notion of evil differs from the Western. All of that couched in an adventure story that takes on an epic scope.

I get that. When I have to explain my samurai fixation, I often refer to them as Japanese Westerns. One of the basic tenets of my own work is that swords are cooler than guns.  What’s your fascination with this time period?

I’ve been a fan of samurai films and director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune since high school. Mifune’s wolfish presence fills a screen like John Wayne did, with larger than life characters. I wanted to write a samurai novel. What started out as a single novel ultimately became a trilogy.

I settled upon the time period, the 13th century, because I fell down the rabbit hole of research. Japan’s history, well documented for almost two thousand years, still fascinates me. There are so many fascinating eras and characters of incredible power, few of which are even barely explored in Western media. In the 13th Century, Japan was the target of two invasions by Mongol Empire, a force of conquest and culture that stretched all the way to Eastern Europe before it fell into decline. This seemed to me like the richest possible ground for some amazing stories, and I was not wrong.

I hear ya. One of my favorite T-shirts asks, “What Would Toshiro Mifune Do?” Without giving away the goodies, what’s your favorite scene in the book?

In Heart of the Ronin, my favorite scene is probably the one where Ken’ishi, our ronin protagonist, saves Kazuko, the noble maiden, from the bandit attack. First, it’s just a ton of great action, and its the first encounter between these two characters, which will shape the rest of the story. Also, the leader of the gang, the oni, or demon, even though he’s defeated, returns over and over thematically throughout the series. He was just an amazingly fun character to write–and to keep bringing back in new and ever more demented ways.

You write more than just the Ronin trilogy. Where can people learn more about your work?

Here are some links to where I and my books can be found.

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/-/e/ B002E453X4

Twitter: https://twitter.com/ TravisHeermann

Web Site: http://www. travisheermann.com

Blog: http://www. travisheermann.com/blog/

Facebook: https://www. facebook.com/travis.heermann

Goodreads: http://www. goodreads.com/author/show/ 418704.Travis_Heermann 

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction of all types from around the world.

 

The One Book I’ll Never Get Rid Of. What’s Yours?

What’s the one book you’ll never get rid of?

I don’t mean the book that changed your life, or the title of the book that you’ve reread the most—I  mean the physical piece of paper and ink that has made multiple moves, survived periodic purges and you expect to have with you til you die? Since yesterday was #worldwidebookday and #nationalbookday, it got me thinking….

This is mine, a 45-year old ratty paperback version of Roget’s Thesaurus.

It’s not that I use it often in my work—I can’t remember the last time I actually opened it to find something. It’s old and fragile and I’m truly afraid it will crack or crumble into dust with use. I can find any word I’m looking for on my phone—and they’ve invented quite a few new words since this was written. But this is the book that helped make me a writer, and like most things we get emotionally attached to, there’s a story…

The last time I spent a night in the hospital was 1973. I was 12 years old and had a bad flu that landed me in the Mission Memorial Hospital for rehydration and overnight observation. I was fine, and bored, and wanted to just go home. Then I met the man who gave me this book, and a huge reason you’re reading anything I write to this day.

A big, friendly British man stopped by my room and asked if he could just pop in for a chat. He was Neville Cox—the hospital administrator. Of course, in the way of small towns everywhere he was also the Mayor of Mission for a time, and the regular speaker at Remembrance Day at the Legion, a newspaper columnist, and a lot of other things. He liked to visit patients in the hospital and (maybe he was just bored) spent some time with the weird ginger kid in room 214.

We talked about a lot of things, but when he learned that I was an avid reader, and thought maybe I might want to write someday (kids in small-town Canada just didn’t have those plans. I got my ass kicked by Randy Simpson regularly just for reading in public) , he did two things that altered my future in ways neither of us could have imagined.

The first, was he asked me if I’d ever read The Hobbit. Remember, I was barely 12 at the time, and that was pretty grown-up stuff. He gave me a very English “harrumph” and probably a “nonsense,” and insisted that I was certainly smart enough to read it, and I might enjoy it. It was the first adult book I ever took out of the library and sent me on a lifetime of reading things that well-meaning people thought I probably shouldn’t. We don’t do that enough for kids today.

When our visit was over, he went away, but returned about an hour later with the second thing. “No writer can be without one of these,” he said. “Words are your tools. You need to know the right one.” It was a cheap paperback copy of Roget’s Thesaurus. I don’t know if he’d just grabbed one lying around, or he actually ran down and bought it, but he presented it to me, signed on the inside cover in pencil.

“Presented to Wayne, August 1973, by Neville Cox”

This book saw me through high school writing and public speaking contests, college in Vancouver, the move to pursue a writing and standup career in Toronto, on to Los Angeles, then to Chicago and now, as I’m clearing out my life in preparation for our next move to Las Vegas, I realized that it will make that trip as well.

That well-meaning visit and off-hand gift to a young stranger has been fundamental in my writing 8 non-fiction books, 2 novels, (the Count of the Sahara and Acre’s Bastard) countless blog and magazine articles, and altered the way I think and view the world.

Since the town was minuscule, I encountered him a couple of times before I left Mission for good, and always thanked him politely. He never failed to ask how the writing was coming. (I was 17 the last time… I think I grunted and said, “good.” Not exactly proof of concept.) Mayor Cox, as my mother insisted I call him, passed in 2013 (here’s the hometown article. He was an amazing person, do yourself a favor…) That thesaurus still sits on my bookshelf, and will til I can’t protect it any more.

What about you? What’s the physical book that you will never, ever relinquish? Maybe it’s a children’s book you really loved, or something your grandfather gave you that you didn’t appreciate at the time. Tell me and share the question with your friends and others. It’s amazing what you’ll learn about them.

 

 

A WW2 Story You Haven’t Heard (Probably) K M Sandrick

No area of history is as popular in historical fiction and film as the Second World War. Oddly, it’s one I don’t read a lot about anymore, maybe because of overload when I was younger. I mean, I get it…Nazis = bad,  battles in the South Pacific were brutal, and I’ve seen all the Holocaust movies I ever need to see to get the point…. yet occasionally you get a new story, one you didn’t already know. Such is the case with The Pear Tree, from fellow Chicago writer Karen (K M) Sandrick.

Full disclosure, I read this book to review it for Windy City Reads (I’ll post the review when it’s up). While the topic was intriguing, I wasn’t impressed with the cover of the book, and went in with low expectations. I was wrong. It’s well-researched and moving. Plus the story is one I only vaguely heard of, With that…

Karen, what’s your story?

I am a long-time freelance journalist who specializes in clinical medicine, hospital finance and governance. The Pear Tree is my first attempt at fiction. You may wonder how it all came about; glad you asked. With a degree and background in science, I have had little education in some of the fun stuff, like literature, and drama, and music. Even history got short-shrift. The only class I had as an undergrad, for example, was The History of Western Civilization—in two semesters. So I have been filling in the blanks with continuing education courses at local universities.

One class in a course on WW II on the Eastern Front began by recounting the story of the Anthropoid operation (depicted in the recent movie Anthropoid editorial note: least appealing movie title ever) and then described the Nazis’ retaliation against the Czech people. That same evening at a free-form writing seminar (I have a lot of blanks to fill), the story began taking shape in my notebook. I have to say that it just grabbed onto me and wouldn’t let me go until it was told.

What’s The Pear Tree about?

It is a tale about a largely forgotten incident in WW II–the total destruction of the small Czech town of Lidice in retribution for the assassination of the head of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia by Czech partisans. The Pear Tree begins on the day Reinhard Heydrich was attacked by Czech partisans. It describes the investigation that leads the Gestapo to Lidice, the destruction of the town, the interrogation of its women and children, and the forced separation of mothers from their infants, sons from their mothers, friends from friends. The book follows the paths of characters who wrestle with fear that they will never see their families again, that their secrets will be revealed, that they will never learn the truth.

It’s a fascinating…and horrible… story. What is it that fascinated you about it?

The enormity of the Nazi response and, in the end, its failure. Though there is almost no link between the townspeople and the assassination, all its men are killed onsite. All its women are taken away, killed or sent to forced labor or prostitution. Children are divided by their racial characteristics and either sent to gas vans or adoption by German families. The buildings of the town are razed, their bricks and stones carted away. The farms are plowed under, unsuitable “Czech dirt” is replaced by rich German soil. The objective is to leave no indication that the town ever existed. Overlooked is a pear tree sapling whose top branches have been blown away but whose trunk remains. The book tells of the importance of the only living reminder of Lidice to two main characters: a young woman who mourns the loss of her son and a thirteen-year-old boy who confronts Gestapo in search of his mother.

Without giving away spoilers, what is your favorite scene?  

After liberation of Eastern Europe by the Soviets, two characters from the town The Pear Tree by [Sandrick, Karen M]of Lidice meet in a displaced persons camp and begin a friendship. The woman is housed in the camp after being rescued from years in forced labor and learning that her son had been killed by Nazis. The teenage boy comes to the camp in search of his mother. The two begin a friendship: the woman tells the boy stories about what she remembers of his mother’s younger days; the boy brings the woman treats he smuggles from outside the camp.

The day before he leaves for Prague to continue the search for his mother, he brings the women one last gift: a crochet hook so she can stitch together patterns from the coils of threads she collects from her own clothing and the garments she resizes for other people in the camp. It’s a small scene but it reflects the resilience of the human spirit, the theme I hope the book conveys.

where can people find the book?

The book is on Amazon 

The website is: www.thepeartreebook.com.

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction from around the world.

The ’80s as History. Feeling Old with Nancy Klann-Moren

There’s a continual argument in histfic circles around what, exactly, qualifies as “historical fiction.” Some say 50 years, others 30.  At the risk of feeling ancient, I think history is anything more than a generation ago, particularly if historical events dictate the story.  That means my high school and college years are, literally, history. (Besides this is my blog, and it is what I say it is.) That brings us to Nancy  Klann-Moren and her book, The Clock of Life. It starts in the 80s, but also goes back to Vietnam and the Civil Rights Era, and if that ain’t history, i’m not sure what is.

What’s your story, Nancy?

Nancy Klann-Moren

My writing journey began as a creative outlet on long plane rides, for work. I dabbled in short fiction.  Eleven are published in the Short Story collection,  Like The Flies On The Patio.  One morning while in a workshop at The Santa Barbara Writers Conference, I read an excerpt from a work-in-progress.  When finished, the instructor said, “What you have written isn’t a short story, it’s a novel.”  My first inclination was to reject his suggestion―but, soon realized the seed he’d planted was ready to sprout. My strong beliefs about the subject matter compelled me to write The Clock Of Life.  The novel has garnered awards from Writers Digest, Next Generation Indie Book Awards, Readers Favorite Book Awards, Kindle Book Awards.  It’s a BRAG Honoree, and an Awesome Indies AIA Recipient.

So what’s the “nutshell” version of The Clock of Life?

The Clock of Life is the coming-of-age story of young Jason Lee as he discovers his family’s history and that of those surrounding him.  It takes place in a small Southern town during the 1980’s where the old, unyielding attitudes about race persist, and where he must navigate this communal mindset while his friendship with his best pal, a black boy named Samson Johnson, deepens.

Even though he never knew the man, Jason Lee’s father had been involved in the Civil Rights Movement, and was killed fighting in Vietnam.  Those two important times in our recent history are woven through the story, amplifying their effect on the fate of a family, a town, and two boyhood friends.   Beyond the themes of inequality, grief, and a passion for justice, Jason Lee finds the courage to stand up for what he believes is right, just because it’s right.

What is it about that time period that speaks to you and makes you want to write about it?

The idea of human inequality and how it comes to be has always baffled me, so the foundation for the book is more emotional than cerebral.  I’m in awe of the heroism it took to bring equal rights for Blacks to the forefront.  Then there was the political fiasco of the Vietnam War, the human tragedy of how our soldiers were treated when they returned home, and the 58,000 young men killed for what?

In the past fifty years, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were our greatest catalysts for social protest.

Which I guess answers the question about whether it’s “historical” or not. The past continues to ripple through the present. Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene in the book?

I especially liked the welcoming atmosphere in the local hardware store, where the tang of WD-40 greets you at the door. Where a sign above the old grocery scale reads, “Honor system. Weigh and leave money in the box,” and where Jason Lee uses Pepsi and Nehi bottle caps as checker and sits on a milk stool to play on a faded board fastened to two sawhorses.  During these visits Wally, his father’s best friend, regales Jason Lee with stories of some of his dad’s past escapades.

Where can we learn more about you and The Clock of Life?

The book is available on Amazon. 

The book trailer can be seen here

My website: www.nancyklann-moren.com

My Facebook page

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction from around the world.

 

 

Tyrolean Drama with Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger

Quick, what do you know about Italy after WWI or Austria in 1920? Did you know there was a “German-speaking” part of Italy? Yeah, that’s what I figured. One of the great joys of reading historical fiction is hearing stories you’ve never heard about from places you probably haven’t given much thought to. That doesn’t mean the stories aren’t dramatic, interesting and worth hearing. Enter Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger, and her “Reschen Valley” series, beginning with the first book, “No Man’s Land.”

Okay, Chrystyna, what’s your story?

I’m an American ex-pat living out her Grizzly Adams dream in the Austrian Alps. I don’t have a bear, but I do have a dog, a cat, a whole hell of a lot of fat chickadees and a very mild-mannered husband with whom I laugh every day. I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, attended Rocky Mountain College in Billings, Montana and studied to become a veterinarian.

Then an English professor rescued me.

Or brought you over to the dark side, depending on your outlook, I suppose. In a nutshell, what’s the book–and the series–about?

No Man’s Land is the first in the Reschen Valley series, with five parts spanning from 1920–1950. The Breach, which is part 2, releases March 15th and is on preorder now.

The series take place in South Tyrol, just located south of the Austrian border. In the first part, we are introduced to Katharina Thaler, a Tyrolean farmer whose only remaining family is her grandfather. While out hunting, Katharina stumbles on an Italian engineer who’s been stabbed and left to die on her mountain. Saving Angelo Grimani’s life thrusts both of them into a labyrinth of corruption, greed and prejudice as Katharina is caught between the Tyroleans who are trying to stop the annexation to Italy and the growing Fascist powers that need their land to produce electricity.

What is it about that time period or this particular story that attracted you?

You have to imagine driving south from Austria over the Reschen Pass in the Alps and then crossing the border into Italy. The first thing you expect are pizza and pasta stations, Italian signs, and Italian architecture. But that’s not what happens. It still looks like Tyrol with a few Italian names. In fact, everything is still in German and in Italian and everyone speaks German.

Then it comes: spreading out before you, an unbelievably beautiful lake some 4 miles long and nestled in the alps. The sight takes your breath away. You pass the first town and quickly come upon the next one called Graun / Curon Venosta. And then there it is. Off to the right, some 100 meters from the lakeshore, is a fully intact medieval church tower sticking straight out of the water. My first reaction was, “What the hell happened here?” It took me ten years, and loads of building up my German language skills to find out. When I did, I was horrified that we never learned about this part of history. The Tyrolean-Italian conflict was a huge deal! And the pain of that history is still there, just under the skin, hot as embers and as volatile as gunpowder.

Without spoiling surprises, what’s your favorite scene in No Man’s Land?

I not only love reading but writing the scenes between Angelo Grimani and the Colonel, his father. I tap into my dark side in those scenes, something I keep very well under control and hope I only utilize to write my villains. I consciously set out to make each of my characters complex and three-dimensional. I honestly believe that every person is just trying to do their best. The world is paved with good intentions, they say, but it’s where you lay the pavement that determines whether you’re an a-hole. (Wayne’s note… actually that’s the road to hell, but some days there’s not a lot of difference.)

One of my other favorite parts to write was Chapter 10, which is the baby of the published book. When I sent the script to an editor last summer, she came back and said, “I just don’t think we’re invested in Katharina enough. What does she really want? Make us root for her.”

I did not despair. On the contrary, I was really glad she said something, because in all these years of writing Katharina, I was frustrated and disappointed with her development. I’ve got a female character trapped in a day and age where she just cannot be emancipated. On the contrary, her choices make her want to blend in as much as possible and it was ticking me off that she was fading into the background. After I hung up with the editor and as I was driving to my other job, it hit me like lightening. It was there, I realized. I just had to make it explicit. I knew what Katharina wanted and the threads were all there, I just had to pull them forward. The new Chapter 10 managed to solidify that for me and I was able to pull her back in with great strength.

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

You will find me on Goodreads a lot (Chrystyna Lucyk-Berger). I’m doing a Kindle giveaway of No Man’s Land until the 24th of February. If you sign up for my newsletter, you’ll get the notices of the free Kindle version planned five times between now and April. They’ll only run for 24 hours each time.

You can sign up on my webpage at www.inktreks.com.

Otherwise, for 99 cents, No Man’s Land: Reschen Valley Part 1 is exclusively on Amazon for now.: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B078WDPDSJ

Part 2, The Breach,  is on preorder with a March 15th release date.

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction from around the world.

 

 

 

Drama in Montana’s Copper Mines- Milana Marsenich

Some people are water people, some are mountain people. Growing up in British Columbia, I’m a mountain guy, so I have a special place in my heart for the states and provinces that straddle the Rocky Mountains. These are also regions that don’t have a lot of  popular history written about them–too few people and not enough wars (Custer aside) for serious historians. That doesn’t mean there aren’t great stories to be told. One of the more fascinating and under-reported eras is the age of the Copper Barons in Montana. Enter Milana Marsenich and her novel, Copper Sky.

Milana Marsenich has an M.Ed. In Mental Health Counseling from Montana
State University and an MFA in Creative Writing from University of
Montana. She has previously published in Montana Quarterly, Big Sky
Journal, The Polishing Stone, The Moronic Ox, and Feminists Studies. She
has a short story included in the Montana Quarterly Book: Montana, Warts
and All: The Best From Our First Decade. Milana lives in Northwest
Montana where she enjoys hiking the wilderness trails with friends and
dogs. Copper Sky is her first novel.

What’s Copper Sky all about?

Set in the Copper Camp of Butte, Montana in 1917 Copper Sky tells the
story of two women with opposite lives. Kaly Shane, mired in
prostitution, struggles to find a safe home for her unborn child. Marika
Lailich, a Slavic Immigrant, dodges a pre-arranged marriage to become a
doctor. As their paths cross, and they become unlikely friends, neither
knows the family secret that holds them together. At its heart Copper
Sky is a mining city love tale: filled with fierce, loyal, disturbed
love, love that is ultimately a reconciling force in a community laced
in tragedy.

What is it about the story that attracted you? Why this tale?

I grew up in Butte and through the years I heard a lot about its
history. The Speculator Mine disaster in 1917 was one of the most
devastating mining accidents in the nation’s history. 168 men died
there. Not much had been written about it when I first began Copper Sky.
I wanted to honor the courage and resilience of the Butte people, and
especially how they came together to survive and heal their grief. I am
also fascinated with how the tragedies of Butte affected its people
through the generations.

My grandparents immigrated from Montenegro and I’d heard stories of “the
Old Country” all of my life. These stories inspried Marika’s character.
My grandparents had a pre-arranged marriage. While the actual story of
their arrangement is very simple, I wondered what else might have gone
into it. How did my grandparents get to “yes” once their parents
informed them of their pending marriage?  Also, many stories of Butte
include some reference to “the red-light district”. I wondered what it
was like for the women that “worked on the line”. What were the
experiences that moved a woman toward the dangers of prostitution?

Without giving away spoilers, what are your favorite scenes in the book?

I have to say that my favorite parts of the book are the four small
White Dog sections. They refer to another Butte accident: the 1895
Warehouse Fire. Unknown to the Butte fire department or the townspeople,
the warehouse stored dynamite. It was against the law to store dynamite
within the city limits. Most of the Butte fire department and many
spectators died when the dynamite exploded. The White Dog explores the
town and watches the events as they unfold. He follows the townspeople
and takes us through the town. From the beginning the White Dog shows
the nature and the good heart of the town.

Another favorite scene of mine is when Marika’s fiancé, Michael Jovich,
comes to dinner. She is trying to behave, but she is not happy about it.
Her father, uncharacteristically, pours rakija, plum brandy, for
everyone at the table. Marika gets a little drunk and talks more freely.
She asks her father to pour more plum brandy for her. He resists. She
really wants more plum brandy. “She hadn’t known she was so brilliant.”

Lord knows, we’ve all been there.  Where can people learn more about you and Copper Sky?

Open Books:
Amazon:

My website: https://www.milanamarsenich.com/

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/milanamarsenich

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction from around the world.

 

The Inquisition in Mexico- Marcia Fine

If, like me, you tend to have issues with religion in general a, you don’t have to look much past the Spanish Inquisition for a pretty good historical reason. When we think of them (and, as Monty Python reminded us, “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) we think of Renaissance and Reformation Europe. In fact, the Inquisition was particularly active in the New World: they were present in Mexico, Colombia and Peru. That leads us to this week’s interview with Arizona author Marcia Fine and her award-nominated novel,“Hidden Ones- a Veil of Mystery.”

AMarcia Fine has written seven novels, including THE BLIND EYE—A Sephardic Journey, historical fiction chosen by the state library of Arizona for ONEBOOKAZ 2015. PAPER CHILDREN—An Immigrant’s Legacy has been a finalist for three national prizes. PARIS LAMB, her sixth novel, deals with anti-Semitism in the 1950s. She has also written the only satirical series about Scottsdale.

Her novel, HIDDEN ONES released in 2017, examines conversos in Mexico during the Inquisition. It has won First Prizes in the categories of Historical Fiction and Multicultural as well as Honorable Mention from AZ Authors. Marcia has a BA from Florida State University and a Masters from Arizona State University.

In a nutshell, what’s the story of Hidden Ones?

HIDDEN ONES—A Veil of Memories is a true story about a grandmother arrested during the Inquisition in Mexico. She and her family must survive under harsh circumstances that take them into the Southwest Territories as they flee north. Who would turn in their abuela?

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

Clara Crespin is the matriarch of a large family of conversos, people who were forcibly converted to Catholicism. She is accused of Judaizing, which means she lights candles on the Sabbath, prepares foods in a special way and hides prayer books. Women were the keepers of the faith during the 17th century when the novel takes place and long before that because they taught the Law of Moses to their children. They are breaking the rules and it is punishable by death.

Celendaria, her granddaughter, feels the impact of her grandmother being imprisoned. The whole family is at risk. She is learning about their secretive lives as a mate is chosen for her. Franciso, a bail bondsman who brings prisoners from small town jails to the Inquisition Palace in Mexico City, causes consternation because he is not a scholar.

The book opens in 1649 with the aftermath of an auto-de-fé, known as An Act of Faith, a three day spectacle put on by the Church and civil authorities. It is well-documented that 40,000 people attended in Mexico City. They exhumed bodies and paraded them through town, marched the accused through the streets and burned people alive. The actual Inquisitor, Dr. Juan Saenz de Mañzoca, who presided over the auto-de-fé is a real person.

That paints a pretty dramatic picture. What was your favorite scene to write?

I’m very visual so I write in scenes. One of my favorites is when Celendaria, the granddaughter, learns a secret when she observes her friend Mariel at the mikvah, a ritual bath for cleansing that women share before the Sabbath. It is later reinforced when she spies on Mariel with a priest behind the confessional.

It’s important to mention that these people lived duplicitous lives. They were Jews inside their homes observing traditions and rituals from the past while they were Catholics who attended Mass when they went outside.

Where can people learn more about you and your other books?

On Amazon:

On Barnes and Noble:       

Website: www.marciafine.com   

On Facebook they can friend me at Marcia Fine Author. I also have a site, A Sephardic Journey that is of interest to people who have converso backgrounds. My other novels are addressed as: PAPER CHILDREN and PARIS LAMB. I am part of the Linked In community and share articles on that site.

Marcia Fine | Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/marcia.fine

A Sephardic Journey – Home | Facebook

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Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction from around the world.

Samurai Fantasy from J.N. de Bedout

One of my favorite subjects in historical films and books is the Samurai/Shogunate period in Japan.  While I can binge watch Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, and 7 Samurai over and over, there are precious few Western novels written about that time. When I came across this history/fantasy series, The Legend of Sithalkaan, I knew I had to talk to the author, J.N. de Bedout.

Tell us a bit about yourself…

I’m from Colombia, so English, technically, is not my first language. I work developing medical software and have been doing that for over thirteen years now. My academic background is in engineering, but with a minor in history. History has always fascinated me, and I hope that my books showcase that. But, you’ll notice that there is no literary background. Nor do any of my family members have literary backgrounds; they are all engineers. But, I was always a good storyteller. I could make up stories during long road trips and keep everybody entertained. Teachers often told me I had a future in writing. But it would be decades before I took the fateful plunge into publishing. Having an exciting tale to tell helped, too.
The series, “The Legend of Sithalkaan”, originally started as a single book. But it was too long to publish as one. Fortunately, there were natural breaks in the story that allowed me to snap it into four separate books, though they are parts of one continuous tale. Ideas for a future series are already marinating, so the literary adventure will continue after book 4 comes out. I had a lot of fun forging the twists and defining the characters.
One of the best things about writing is a Colombian, writing in English, can tell a story set in Ancient Japan. As a Canadian, living in the US and writing about the Crusades in the Middle East, I see nothing odd about that. Your series has a fascinating premise, and I know it’s fantasy based on historical reality, but help me out. What’s it about?
The book re-imagines certain events that transpired during the Sengoku Jidai period of Japanese history, wrapping them in a conspiracy that explains the subsequent two-hundred years of Tokugawa peace as well as certain war crimes that were alleged during WWII. First and foremost, book 1, “The Legend of Sithalkaan”, spans two key battles: the attack and destruction of the Warrior Monk stronghold on Mt. Hiei and the attack on the Warrior Monk fortress at Nagashima. History records both battles as being led, and won, by Oda Nobunaga. But the re-imagined tale offers a different explanation for those two events. It also transplants a modern scourge, religious extremism, into a fictitious Warrior Monk sect and elevates them from the nuisance these groups were historically to an existential threat.
The tale follows a young, ambitious musketeer that is conscripted to guide three priests into the war-torn interior. They seek a rumored demonic relic on orders from the Vatican. During their journey, they encounter a resurgent fanatical sect that seeks to destroy the samurai order by unleashing dark powers concealed in that same relic. The far-reaching mythology surrounding the relic is introduced; its tentacles reach as far as Kaffa (on the Crimean Peninsula), Imperial China, the Mongolian steppes, and Japan. The warped and virulent tenets of the ancient and assumed-to-be-defunct fanatical, and heretical, faith are also introduced.
The second book, Tears of the Kensei, introduces new champions, deepens the mythology and expands the campaign, and the third book, Master of Heaven, concludes the main story arc with an epic clash to define the fate of Japan, the world, and the heavens. The fourth and final book in the series will be out late 2018 or early 2019. I can summarize the four books, in order, in this simplest of fashions: the legend, first contact, final showdown, and the revelation. On top of that, the tale is also one of self-discovery for the protagonist; his past is murky, and his journey will lead to an unexpected destiny by the end of the third book.
What is it about that time period that motivated you to write the stories?
The tale is set during the waning years of Sengoku Jidai period of Japanese history, (approximately 1460-1600 for us Westerners,  give or take) and as such, it is chaotic. Think of it as the equivalent of the Thirty Years War in Europe. When people imagine the samurai, they have an ideal of noble warriors following the Bushido. But in reality, the foundations of that discipline were often ignored during the Sengoku period; instead, it was refined and perfected into what is known today during the peaceful years of the later Tokugawa dynasty where warfare was near non-existent. Furthermore, if you read about Oda Nobunaga’s early struggles, you’ll find that much of his early conflicts were with rebellious Warrior Monk sects rather than other samurai clans. It’s also quite interesting that Oda Nobunaga, probably one of the most renowned samurai ever, was a pioneer in gun tactics.
For example, he was the first to invent the tactic of rotating fire. The period also gave us such notables as Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin, who clashed in numerous battles but only faced each other in battle once; during the 4th battle of Kawanakajima, Uesugi Kenshin burst into Takeda’s command tent but only had time for a single strike, which Takeda deflected with his war fan. Add to that the Portuguese arriving and injecting guns and Christianity into the mix. That confluence makes for a great setting for the books. Faiths collide. Technology transforms battlefields. Honor means little to all but a few stalwarts.
That same chaos allowed Oda Nobunaga’s successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, to become de facto Shogun even though he served as a sandal bearer in his early career. And, it empowers the main protagonist, a simple commoner, to rise in rank and pursue his dreams of becoming a samurai.
Without giving away spoilers, what was your favorite scene to write?
It’s difficult to pick just one. The battle scenes in “The Legend of Sithalkaan” were certainly fun to write. The law of the gun versus the way of the sword. Samurai versus Warrior Monk. Sieges. Standoffs. Escapes. Topics also include the afterlife and immortality. There’s another scene where the protagonists learn of the ghastly practices of their new enemies. The scenes in the fortress of Futoge were interesting, too, borrowing from several European Black Death architectures. But I think the scene where they enter the labyrinth has to be my favorite. It’s a climactic moment in book 1 where the protagonists learn a terrible truth about the relic. It is dark and perilous and shrouded in mystery. Plus, they face a threat none of them anticipated even though it’s forewarned in the iconography on the central crypt. It also occurs at the pinnacle of a pitched battle, so much of the fighting leads up to this moment.
Inspiration for the use of the labyrinth, as well as the name of the fanatical clan of Warrior Monks originated with the Greek tale of the Minotaur. The symbolism of the labyrinth was appealing. Beyond the obvious benefits such an enigmatic structure offers, it helped to portray the long foresight of those who built it. Plus, its very existence ends up being exposed as a travesty born from poor coordination and ignorance.
To learn more about the series:
Amazon:
Amazon UK:
Amazon Series page:
Amazon UK Series page:
Amazon Author page:
Goodreads:
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Web:
Any reviews or comments are most appreciated.
Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction from around the world.

Big-ass plans for 2018

Anyone who knows me, knows I hate New Years Eve. Always have. The week between Christmas and New Years is traditionally a time of self-flagellating reflection, semi-soul-numbing-regrets and non-clinical depression. That generally comes complete with a lot of whining and binge-eating the remaining butter tarts. With the Duchess working retail, and my customers inconsiderately on vacation, I have too much time to think about stuff. Nothing good happens when Wayne starts a sentence with, “I’ve been thinking.”

This year is (slightly, ever-so-slightly) different.

By the way, this is not a request for “attaboy” Facebook messages or offers of assistance or your therapists’ contact information. I go through this every year and come out the other side. It’s just a way of setting up what I have to say next.

As I look forward to 2018, there are three things to look forward to.

  1. In May, the release of “The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.” Co-written with my boss and friend, Kevin Eikenberry, this is a very real book from a real publisher and the hope is that it will kick-start the whole “paying the rent” thing. It’s available for Pre-Order now. Just saying.
  2. This summer will see the release of “Acre’s Orphans”, the second story in the Lucca series. I’m guessing August?  I had hoped to have it out by now, but hubris is a terrible thing. “How hard could it be to do a world-class business book AND the next novel in the same year?” I can now answer that: way more than I thought. For those of you awaiting the next adventure. It’s coming. By the way, I killed off someone major in Chapter 15. Can’t wait to hear the complaining…..
  3. After 17 years in Chicago, the Duchess and I are planning to leave Chicago for Las Vegas. Now, I’m well aware that if you want to hear God laugh, tell Her your plans, and nothing is set in stone. Still, that’s the plan. No more frigid winters (it’s -5 Fahrenheit this Boxing Day morning as Iwrite this. I think it was either Mark Twain or Simone de Beauvoir who famously said, “F#@*! this”.) And it’s time to start the next chapter of our lives. Of course, if anyone wants to buy a few copies of my books to help fund the move, we’d appreciate it. While I love Chicago,  and Her Serene Highness will be staying behind, it’s either move or be murdered in my sleep by a woman raised in Miami and still pining for  Los Angeles after all these years. I’m already packing boxes.

You never really know what a year holds, but I am excited for the challenges I know I (and we as a family) will face.

My own self-absorbed whinging aside, I wish for you an exciting 2018 of chasing your dreams and fighting the weasels to at least a draw.

A Jack London-Harry Houdini Love Triangle: Rebecca Rosenberg

If you’ve read The Count of the Sahara, you know my fascination with real-life characters who behave in ways so crazy you’d think someone was making it up. So when I found Rebecca Rosenberg’s book, “The Secret Life of Mrs. London” I was intrigued. I mean, the wife of the world’s best-selling novelist (Jack London) having an affair with Harry Freakin’ Houdini? And it really happened? I had to learn more.

BTW the title of this post was originally “A Harry Houdini/Jack London Love Triangle With Rebecca Rosenburg,” but I realized that probably read wrong and would probably upset Mr. Rosenberg. Punctuation and grammar matter, people.

So Rebecca, what’s your deal?

I live on our lavender farm in Sonoma, California, which Jack London named Valley of the Moon, and wrote his books. My first book was Lavender Fields of America, a non-fiction coffee table book. Recently, our farm was destroyed in the Sonoma/Santa Rosa fires, but we are rebuilding and replanting as we speak! I am fascinated with remarkable people who lived before us and their improbably, fantastical stories. That’s why I write biographic historical fiction.

Oh my gosh. I have nothing clever to say to that except I’m so sorry. Tell us about your book…

Jack and Charmian London

The novel starts in San Francisco, 1915, just as America teeters on the brink of world war. Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, struggle under the strains of marital discord, brought on by infidelity, a lost baby, their dream home destroyed by fire. (There’s a creepy coincidence don’t you think?)  Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband. But Jack doesn’t see it that way. Until, Charmian is pulled from the audience at a magic show of the beguiling escape artist, Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own troubled marriage. And suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her, entranced by his sexual magnetism, and drawn into his mysterious undercover world, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape

I share your fascination with this period of time. What makes it so intriguing?

The Houdinis and the Londons…. probably an awkward evening.

I wanted to write about Jack London, the most popular, highest paid author of the early 1900’s, who wrote 50 novels in 20 years with the help of his muse, editor and typist, Charmian London. The couple was as unconventional, free-loving, and bohemian as they were adventurous, building a ketch and sailing around the world in 1907, encountering the Lepers of Molokai, cannibals and headhunters. They created a utopic 1400 acre Beauty Ranch in Glen Ellen, California, complete with pig palace, one-hundred thousand tree eucalyptus grove, prize winning Shire horses. All the while entertaining guests as diverse as Socialist cronies, Mother Jones, Upton Sinclair, Clarence Darrow, to famed botanist, Luther Burbank, to Ed Morell, the prisoner who inspired The Star Gazer.

But, when I discovered the little known fact that Charmian had an affair with Houdini, I knew the story had to begin there. Houdini was the most famous magician of his era, but his mystery only starts there. Houdini traveled Europe performing for the Tzar of Russia and the German Chancellor, and reportedly spied for our government.

Nothing could hold Houdini- no safe, no jail cell, no chains or locks… yet he wrote Charmian:

“I now understand how kings give up their kingdom for a woman. I love you.” Houdini wrote her passionate letters until the end of his life.

What was your favorite scene to write?

It was fascinating to depict Houdini’s iconic illusions and escapes, and include the Londons in them. But perhaps, I love how the novel starts with Jack and Charmian boxing! They loved to box, and it is symbolic of their relationship and how it binds them, yet tears them apart.

Where can people learn more?

I would really appreciate readers to review the novel on Goodreads!

http://www.rebecca-rosenberg.com/

https://www.amazon.com/author/rebeccarosenberg

https://www.facebook.com/rebeccarosenbergnovels/

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35655162-the-secret-life-of-mrs-london

Subscribe to my monthly newsletter and get a chance to win a signed paperback copy of Acre’s Bastard.  Each month you’ll receive links to interviews with great authors, news about upcoming events and previews of my work in progress, Acre’s Orphans. Look in the bottom left of the page for the sign-up sheet. No spam, just once a month updates and a chance to learn about great new Historical Fiction from around the world. Everyone who signs up before January 1 enters to win!