New Orleans and Reconstruction- Amanda Skenandore

One of the best things about moving to Las Vegas has been developing a whole new network of local writers. One of the nicest and, more importantly, successful of these is Amanda Skenandore. Her first book, Between Earth and Sky, impressed the heck out of me. Her second, The Undertaker’s Assistant, is just out now.

I’ve met you a few times now, but tell my readers about you. What’s your deal?

I’m originally from Colorado, but I now live Las Vegas, NV with my husband and our pet turtle, Lenore. When I’m not writing, I work as a registered nurse at a local hospital. My first novel, Between Earth and Sky, came out last year. The highlight of my debut years was winning the American Library Association’s Reading List Award for Best Historical Fiction. My second novel, The Undertaker’s Assistant, released in July. I’m an avid reader, tea-drinker, and wanderlust. I love to write historical fiction because it transports me to past while at the same time shining light on the here and now.

What is your book about? 

The Undertaker’s Assistant follows the story of Effie, a young freedwoman who earns her living as an embalmer, as she seeks out her past amid the growing violence and racial turmoil of Reconstruction-era New Orleans. She says in the novel, “The dead can’t hurt you. Only the living can.” A former slave who escaped to the Union side as a child, she knows the truth of her words and keeps her distance from the living. But two encounters—with a charismatic state legislator named Samson Greene, and a beautiful young Creole, Adeline—introduce her to new worlds of protests and activism, of soirees and social ambition. Effie decides to seek out the past she has blocked from her memory and try to trace her kin. As her hopes are tested by betrayal, and New Orleans grapples with violence, Effie faces loss and heartache, but also a chance to finally find a place of belonging.

What is it about that time period or character that appealed to you? What are the roots of the story?

I wanted to explore Reconstruction. Growing up, I remember learning a lot about the Civil War, but very little about Reconstruction. I’d learned the names of a dozen generals, but not the names of the African American men elected to congresses and statehouses throughout the South in the decade following the War’s end. Some of these men, like Robert Smalls and Blanche Bruce, were former slaves. What struck me most as I researched, was how progressive the era of Reconstruction was and how quickly that progress crumbled. I’d been taught about carpetbaggers and political corruption, but not about systematic violence and intimidation that truly undermined this progress.

I also wanted to explore the nature of death and dying in an era when that experience was often more frequent and intimate than we know today. A few years ago, I came across an article in The New Republic titled “Who Owns the Dead.”  In it, the author explores the increasing distance modern funerary practices place between the living and the dead and compares that to earlier American practices. The intimacy and continuity of care our forbears practiced with the dead intrigued me. The article also mentioned how the rise of embalming in America coincided with the Civil War as families sought a way to bring loved ones killed in battle home for burial. I knew I wanted to set my second novel during the era of post-Civil War Reconstruction, so the profession of undertaking seemed like the perfect intersection of these two interests.

What is your favorite scene in the book?

My favorite scene—favorite scene to write anyway—was one that takes place during Mardi Gras. It’s Effie’s first social outing in the New Orleans and is unlike anything she’s experienced. I enjoyed researching early Mardi Gras traditions and imaging the varied sights, sounds, and smells Effie would have encountered. Mardi Gras in the 1870s was part celebration, part political rally, and part melee. The hand-stitched costumes and horse-drawn floats were not only mean to dazzle but to convey a message: carpetbagger-rule was coming to an end. It’s a tumultuous scene for Effie, one of both excitement and injury.

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

I’m most active on Instagram, but you can find me on Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter too. My books are available wherever books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and IndieBound.

Revisiting Roanoke with Harold Titus

The early days of exploring North America are full of fascinating missteps and accidents–lucky and otherwise. One of these is the “missing” Roanoke colony. Harold Titus has written about it in his new novel, Alsoomse and Wanchese.

Let’s start with the easy part. What’s your story?

Born in New York State in 1934, I moved to Tennessee when I was seven and then to Southern California when I was nine.  I grew up in Pasadena, lived with my parents until I went to college at UCLA, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1956.  I taught high school English for one year in Los Angeles, spent two years in the Army, then moved to Northern California and for 31 years taught intermediate school English, American history, and a drama elective and coached boys’ and girls’ after-school sports teams in suburban Orinda, just east of Berkeley.  I retired in 1991.  My first historical novel, “Crossing the River,” printed in 2011, is about the experiences of English and American participants in the first two battles (Lexington and Concord) of the American Revolution.  My second historical novel, the subject of this interview, “Alsoomse and Wanchese,” was published in May 2018.  I continue to write a blog mostly about American history and historical fiction (http://authorharoldtitus.blogspot.com).

What’s Alsoomse and Wanchese about?

Why are human beings so fascinating regardless of period of time or degree of cultural and technological advancement?  My answer: strengths and failings of character, group ideological orthodoxies, non-conformity.  “Alsoomse and Wanchese” narrates a year (1583-1584) in the lives of Roanoke Island Algonquian sister Alsoomse and brother Wanchese as they reject tribal conformity, question tribal decision-making, decide for themselves what is true and just, and seek accomplishment.  Their six-village chief Wingina is at war with an upstart chief of one of his villages.  Wanchese, 19, seeks to become one of Wingina’s essential men.  His impulsiveness and quick temper work against this.  His strenuous efforts to both achieve his goals and learn from his mistakes broaden him, temper him, make him laudable.  Alsoomse, 17, is a questioner, a seeker, an individualist in a culture that demands conformity of behavior and belief.  She is placed in situations that exacerbate these attributes, her subsequent conduct causing her leaders to regard her increasingly as dangerous.  Englishmen sent to North American by Walter Raleigh to find a suitable place to establish a colony arrive near the conclusion of the novel, their appearance complicating each protagonist’s conflicts. 

What is it about the Roanoke Colony you found so interesting?

What we know about the story of the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke Island is related to us by Englishmen.  Missing from that story is any detailed understanding of the Algonquians, as human as any Englishman that stepped then on North American soil.  In my novel, about to leave Plymouth Harbor, the painter John White and his associate, the young scientist Thomas Harriot, have this conversation.

Harriot half-turned. “I have seen your painting of the savage that Frobisher brought back [from Baffin Island, Canada] in 1576 and the woman and child from the 1577 expedition. I have been wanting to ask you about them.”

“Ask.”

“What … did you see? Are these people so behindhand as to be mentally deficient? I do not know what to expect.”

White leaned against the gunwale, his long coat bending near his right hip. “I saw human beings, who think, who suffer, who in our presence sought of hide human emotion.”

“What was their sense of us, as best you could tell?”

White moved his left foot ahead of his right. … “I wish there had been some way besides the use of gestures and facial expressions to communicate. What they thought and felt I can only imagine.”

“What did you think they felt?”

“Fear. Despair. Resignation. We uprooted them, Harriot. We took them to London as specimens! What they could have told us, if they had survived and learned our language!”

Historian Michael Leroy Oberg wrote: “Indians are pushed to the margins, at best playing bit parts in a story centered on the English. … Roanoke is as much a Native American story as an English one. … We should take a close look at the Indians who greeted and confronted Raleigh’s colonists. … Because Wingina’s people, and his allies and enemies, in the end determined so much of the fate of the Roanoke ventures, it seems only fair that we concentrate upon them, and how they understood the arrival of the English.”

That is what my novel does.

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

She was waiting for Wanchese in a corner of the chamber close to a raised, small-branched, deerskin-covered bed. At first he thought he was alone, that the girl would enter from outside. A slight movement caused him to look in her direction.

He stepped over to her. It was difficult to see. He made out her features.

She was young. Fifteen? Sixteen? Not yet Alsoomse’s age. She was naked, adolescent slim, her breasts small, her limbs and buttocks not yet pleasingly rounded.

Her eyes darted. She appeared defensive. This was not what he had experienced the year before at Mequopen.

“What is your name?”

Her right hand moved toward her mouth. “Waboose.”

It was an Algonquian custom that important visitors to an Algonquian village be provided young women to spend the night.  Waboose is a virgin.  She has been chosen by the chief’s wife to perform this duty but is frightened.  Wanchese and she talk.  They learn a few facts about each other and their respective families.  Conscience-stricken, reluctantly, Wanchese relents.  They sleep together but refrain from intercourse.

Where can people find you and your work?

You can find it on Amazon

Barnes and Noble

Booklocker

I’m on Goodreads

And, of course, on my blog.

We interrupt this interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

Pirates and Swashbuckling with Ian Nathaniel Cohen

I am an an unabashed pirate fan. Whenever swords are crossed, buckles swashed, or mateys are a-hoying I am there. So when I found out about Ian Nathaniel Cohen’s book, The Brotherhood of the Black Flag, I was all aboard. Get your inner Rafael Sabatini on and join us…

Ian, welcome. What’s your story?

My name’s Ian, and I’ve been writing or making up my own stories in one fashion or another for as long as I can remember. I’ve written on-air promos for radio shows, created an online course of Asian film which I still teach,  I’m a former guest blogger for Channel Awesome and the Comics Bolt, reviewing classic movies, books, and comics – many of which have inspired my own work.

I know we both dig Errol Flynn movies. What’s your novel about?

The Brotherhood of the Black Flag is a historical thriller set at the end of the Golden Age of Piracy, when the newly-United Kingdom is cracking down on piracy while also contending with Jacobite insurrections and an economic crisis. In the midst of this, we have Michael McNamara, who was dishonorably discharged from the British Royal Navy. In desperate need for a fresh start, he sets sail for Kingston, Jamaica, hoping to figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Fortunately, McNamara is talented with a blade, which gives him the chance to become a local hero. His feat of arms brings him to the attention of Captain Stephen Reynard, once the most dreaded pirate in the Caribbean, who’s now reformed and turned pirate hunter. To earn a pardon, Reynard has vowed to apprehend seven pirate captains. McNamara, eager for the adventure and the opportunities it could bring, joins Reynard’s quest for redemption. His travels under Reynard’s command pit him against treacherous seas, bloodthirsty buccaneers, and an insidious conspiracy that threatens thousands of lives.    

Your boy Michael McNamara has a lot of Peter Blood in him. What is it about this time period you find so fascinating.

I grew up on Hollywood swashbucklers and the literature and history that inspired them – and one of my goals in writing The Brotherhood of the Black Flag was in part to capture the spirit of those classic films. The more I read and watched, the more I started coming up with my own ideas for historical swashbucklers, packed with action, romance, and hopefully solid character development. A pirate tale seemed like a natural fit for that kind of story, and then it was just a matter of doing enough research to find the right time and place to best suit the ideas I’d committed to going with. Plus, I get to showcase less-familiar elements of a somewhat familiar historical era, such as the Jacobite rebellions, which readers will hopefully find interesting.

As for the main character, he’s intended to be a classic, archetypal heroic figure, which some may find a welcome change from anti-heroes and villain protagonists. However, I can relate to his lack of clear direction and uncertainty about what to do with his life when his youthful ambitions don’t work out the way he hoped they would – and lots of other readers probably might as well, for one reason or another. So many stories are about the main character trying to fulfill a lifelong dream, and I thought it would be interesting to work with a character who didn’t know what they wanted anymore. It also makes his path unpredictable – yeah, he’ll find his path by the end of the book, but what will that be? What will he choose? 

Totally unfair question- what’s your favorite scene in the book?

Without a doubt, the scene where McNamara first meets Captain Reynard and Reynard auditions him for a place on his crew by challenging him to a duel. There are lots of sword fights in Black Flag, but I think I had the most fun writing that one, and I enjoyed the challenge of trying to depict a cinematic swashbuckling fight on the printed page, rather than going for gritty and realistic combat. I also had an absolute blast coming up with snarky, witty banter between McNamara and Reynard before and during their duel. 

I agree, that scene was a lot of fun, and over a pint we can play the casting game for who plays who in the movie. Meanwhile, where can people learn more about you and your work?

I have my own website, the INCspot, where you can find out more about me and my work – https://iannathanielcohen.weebly.com/ I’m also on Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads, and I try and respond to any and all comments I receive, so drop on by and say “hi!” 

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

Twitter: https://twitter.com/INCspotlight

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17040073.Ian_Nathaniel_Cohen

We interrupt this interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

The Most Interesting Period in History? Catherine Kullmann and the Duke’s Regret

Certain periods in history are more interesting to us than others. Depending on where your family’s from, your feelings about the events in question, and what country you live in, your mileage may vary. For example, World War 1 into the Russian Revolution, the Renaissance in Florence, and The Crusades are more interesting to me than the US Civil War (1.0) or the War of the Roses.

Enter Catherine Kullmann and her novel, The Duke’s Regret. She thinks what is known as “The Regency” in Britain qualifies… let’s see why.

What’s your deal Catherine?

  • I am Irish, married (for forty-five years), a mother (three sons) and a grandmother (one granddaughter, one grandson).
  • I love travelling, meeting people, good food and drink,  classical music, especially opera
  • I prefer radio and live theatre to cinema and tv
  • I cannot live without books or tea
  • I am fascinated by history and love visiting historic sites and buildings of any period.
  • I write novels set in England in the extended Regency Period from 1795 (when the later Prince Regent married to 1830 (when he died as King George IV)

Look at you, all organized with bullet points. What’s The Duke’s Regret about?

Some characters slip into your books unplanned and unheralded only to play a pivotal role in the story. So it was with Flora, the young Duchess of Gracechurch in The Murmur of Masks and later in Perception & Illusion. Flora own story revealed itself slowly. A devoted mother who befriends young wives whose husbands are ‘distant’, it becomes clear that the relationship between her and her husband Jeffrey is also distant.

They married at a young age, she not yet seventeen and he some years older. In 1815, at the end of The Murmur of Masks, both are in their thirties with many years of life ahead of them. I began to wonder what would happen if one of them wanted to change their marriage. This led to my new novel, The Duke’s Regret.

A duke can demand anything—except his wife’s love.

A chance meeting with a bereaved father makes Jeffrey, Duke of Gracechurch realise how hollow his own marriage and family life are. Persuaded to marry at a young age, he and his Duchess, Flora, live largely separate lives. Now he is determined to make amends to his wife and children and forge new relationships with them.

Flora is appalled by her husband’s suggestion. Her thoughts already turn to the future, when the children will have gone their own ways. Divorce would be out of the question, she knows, as she would be ruined socially, but a separation might be possible and perhaps even a discreet liaison. Can Jeffrey convince his wife that his change of heart is sincere and break down the barriers between them? Flora must decide if she will hazard her heart and her hard won peace of mind when the prize is an unforeseen happiness.

The Duke’s Regret contains spoilers for The Murmur of Masks and Perception & Illusion. So as not to mislead readers, I have therefore combined them in The Duchess of Gracechurch Trilogy. All three books are available as eBooks and paperbacks.

You are obsessed with this time period. What gives?

It is the beginning of our modern society. The Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland of 1800, the Anglo-American war of 1812 and the final defeat of Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 are all events that still shape today’s world. At the same time, the ruling aristocracies were being challenged by those who saw the need for social and political reform, while the industrial revolution which led to the transfer of wealth to the manufacturing and merchant classes was underway. Women, who had few or no rights in a patriarchal society had begun to raise their voices, demanding equality and emancipation.

Following the collapse of the Treaty of Amiens in 1803, the United Kingdom was at war with Napoleonic France until 1815. Unlike other combatants in this long war, Britain was spared the havoc wrought by an invading army and did not suffer under an army of occupation. War was something that happened elsewhere, far away. For twelve long years, ships carrying fathers, husbands, sons and brothers sailed over the horizon and disappeared. Over three hundred thousand men did not return, dying of wounds, accidents and illness. What did this mean for those left behind without any news apart from that provided in the official dispatches published in the Gazette and what little was contained in intermittent private letters?

The question would not leave me and it is against this background of an off-stage war that I have set my novels. How long did it take, I wondered, for word of those three hundred thousand deaths to reach the bereaved families? How did the widows and orphans survive? What might happen to a girl whose father and brother were ‘somewhere at sea’ if her mother died suddenly and she was left homeless?

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

It’s hard to say. I love this one, where Jeffrey is accepted by his nine-year-old daughter Tabitha. Up to now, Tabitha has addressed him formally as ‘Your Grace’ or ‘sir’

Tabitha raised her rope again. “I’m going to see if I can skip thirty times without stopping.”

“That will take a lot of breath. Would it help if I count for you?” Gracechurch asked.

Yes, please, Pap—” She broke off, biting her lip.

He squatted in front of her so that she could look into his eyes. “Papa? Would you like to call me Papa?”

She nodded vigorously.

“I should be happy if you did. I am your Papa, am I not?”

She threw her arms around his neck. “Now you are my Papa. Before you weren’t, not really.”

He rose to his feet as he hugged her back. “Then I am sorry for it. Will you forgive me?”

She nodded again and he kissed her cheek before setting her down carefully. She smiled brilliantly at him, then picked up her rope and held it in the starting position.

“Are you ready? Off you go!”

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

Thank you for hosting me and for your interest in my writing. You can find out more about me and my books at

Website: https://www.catherinekullmann.com

Facebook: fb.me/catherinekullmannauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/CKullmannAuthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15549457.Catherine_Kullmann?

Amazon.com https://www.amazon.com/Catherine-Kullmann/e/B01IW3F4MA?

Amazon.co.uk https://www.amazon.co.uk/Catherine-Kullmann/e/B01IW3F4MA/re

We interrupt Mike’s interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

Chicago in the ’60s with Mike Kerr

Even though I have left Chicago’s winters behind for the desert, I will always love that city. There’s something about that town that has made it a focus of history, commerce, architecture and writing for almost 200 years. One of the most tumultuous and fascinating times was the late 60s. Issues of class, race, politics and crime threatened to make the place unliveable. Mike Kerr captures that feeling in his new novel, “The Legman.”

Mike, like me you just fled Chicago winters for the desert sun of Las Vegas. In fact, we just met in person at the Las Vegas Writers Conference. What’s your bio?

A biography is an accounting of one’s life. The accounting of my life can be summed up as follows: Life’s a hallway, not a ladder, something you go through, not something you climb up. Each part, potentially, as good as any other. I’m born, raised and educated in Chicago. One type of education was a bachelor’s in Medical Laboratory Sciences and a master’s in Gerontology. These gave me a good basis for understanding forensic science and population studies. Another was learning that, in the city, where politics is the fifth major sport and, when necessary, a blood sport, the mayor appoints the Police Commissioner and the political machine gets the judges elected. When you control the cops and the courts, you decide justice, unless and until, it’s too much. That’s where I write, Chicago stories on that true-to-life edge.  

Your work really feels like Chicago. What is “The Legman” about?

The Legman is historical fiction told in a mystery/thriller style. Chicago, 1969. Unprecedented gang violence. Crumbling of a once-mighty political machine. The mayor, desperate as neighborhoods fold and the ghetto extends, calls for an all-out war with “extreme measures”. The century-old neighborhood of Austin is caught in the cross-hairs of a dangerous scam that explodes into a national incident. The city wants to bury it. It’s too personal for a white Irish 4th-generation Chicagoan and journeyman reporter who teams with a black female artist and academic to find answers amid growing fears of a predator whose horrific past goes deep into the city’s dark history.    

When we lived there, we lived in the Western Suburbs along with a lot of the SouthSide diaspora, but for real Chicagoans, everything is personal. What is it about this story that resonated with you?

The milieu of the story is very real and very personal to me. I lived these times. More broadly, as I think all the born-and-raised believe, Chicago is a living breathing character.. It’s a family member. I’m intrigued by all of the family history, the famous, the infamous and that which came and went in a blaze of glory marked by great passions and danger. Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses is the promise of a big city, not small-town or rural America. The trouble is, someone is always already there. They don’t want to move over or give anything up. Those are epic battles that go to the heart of survival and just being human. 

What’s your favorite scene in the book?

The scene that I read over and over is one of family. Micky, the protagonist, devastated by an horrific incident, visits his parents. His six siblings all change their plans to be there with him. A powerful man, a combat trained and experienced man, he’s capable of great violence and he’s ready to kill. His pain erupts like he’s been gored. The father takes him in his arms, kissing him like he was still a little boy. The others rush in. It’s a military phalanx each protecting a piece of the other. The strength of this family, despite any and all flaws, goes the core of who this character is. 

Shameless plug time. Where can we learn more?

My Amazon author page

You can find me on Goodreads

And on Facebook

Mike is also part of a growing Las Vegas literary scene with Coffee House Tours.

We interrupt Mike’s interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

The US Civil War Through British Eyes- John Holt

If you’ve known me for any length of time, you know that one of my least favorite periods to read about is the American Civil War. (Or, as it will be known in the future, Civil War 1.0) The reasons are long and boring, and will annoy perfectly nice people, so I won’t go into them. I am always interested in the outsider’s view of any historical event, so when I found an Englishman with a fascination for the “war between the states,” I was willing to suck it up and learn more. John Holt’s latest book is “The Thackery Journal.”

What’s your deal, John?

I was born in Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire, during World War 2. Clearly the world had a lot to contend with at that time, so my coming offered some welcome relief. Whether I had a major influence, or it was pure coincidence, I shall never know, but the war ended shortly after my birth. I have always been a half glass full kind of person, and I’m quite positive in my approach to life. I was brought up on a diet of Rock ‘n’ roll, and only two TV channels. How did we ever manage I wonder? Programmes like Bilko, and Tony Hancock helped I guess, and probably accounts for my sense of humour. As a youngster I wanted to become a doctor, however there was problem, a major problem. I hated the sight of blood, so eventually I became a land surveyor, and spent 24 years working in local government. I then set up in private practice, carrying out property surveys, and preparing architectural drawings. I guess, like a lot of people I had always wanted to write. In fact for several years I used to write articles for a couple of blues magazines (sadly no longer in operation). But I wanted to write a novel. The opportunity came about in 2005, whilst on holiday in Austria. That was the catalyst that lead to “The Kammersee Affair” published in 2006. It is a story of the search for hidden nazi gold; a story of blackmail, murder and revenge. Over the following years eight more novels, and three novellas, were produced.

I get it. After years of writing articles, scripts and standup, I told myself I’d never be a “real” writer til I did a novel. Sounds like you’ve caught up. What’s The Thackery Journal about?

As the first sounds of gun fire echoed through the land, young men rushed to enlist, to fight for a cause that they believed was right. Shop assistants, bank clerks, farm labourers. All believing that the South would win. Right was on their side, and besides it would all be over by Christmas. 

Two life-long friends enlist on opposite sides of the conflict. Both believing that right was on their side, and both hoping that they would never meet each other on the battlefield. Their lives become inextricably entwined as the war nears its end culminating in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. On the night of April 14th 1865 Lincoln attended a performance at The Ford Theatre, in Washington. A single shot fired by John Wilkes Booth hit the President in the back of the head. He slumped to the floor and died a few hours later without regaining consciousness. Was Booth a lone assassin? Or was he part of a much wider conspiracy? Was he part of something even more sinister? Was he part of a plot hatched by Lincoln’s own generals to replace Lincoln with General Ulysses S. Grant. A plot financed by stolen Confederate gold bullion.

What is it about the story or time period that intrigued you?

I have always been fascinated by the American Civil War. A Civil War is the worst kind of war that there could be. A war that divides the Country and splits communities: a war that puts brother against brother, and father against son.  A war that splits families; and makes enemies of long-time friends. A war where in reality there are no winners. Indeed, a war where there could be no real winners, and where everyone loses something. The effects would be felt long after the war ends.  Could reconciliation and forgiveness really take place? How long would the wounds, mentally and physically, take to heal? Could communities divided by war, be re-united by peace? Even now statues of Confederate Generals are being torn down because of what they are perceived to stand for.

But that in itself is hardly a reason for writing the book. If the truth be known, I never actually considered writing a Civil War novel at all. But sometimes, instead of the author being in command of what he, or she writes, it is the writing itself that takes charge. It will suddenly go in a totally unexpected direction, and you are forced to go with it to see where it leads.

Somewhere along the line I got side-tracked. During my research into “The Kammersee Affair” (a story of hidden gold bullion) I found an item on the internet about a consignment of Confederate gold that had gone missing as the Civil War was coming to an end. The gold had, apparently never been found. I thought perhaps I could make up some kind of a story. The gold had obviously been stolen by someone, and I got to thinking how that person would feel as his pursuers caught up with him. Very quickly I had the makings of a fairly well developed final chapter. That chapter is now the last chapter of “Thackery”, and largely unchanged from when it was first written. It was also obvious that the gold had been stolen for a reason. I wondered what that reason could have been. Then I had an idea.

What’s your favorite (or favourite, if you insist) part of the book?

That’s a difficult one, there are so many. But if I must choose one I think it would be the very last scene of the novel. Oddly enough, it is the one that was written first. Jason Thackery is a hunted man, wounded and alone. His pursuers have tracked him down and are closing in. Thackery is afraid and knows exactly the fate that awaits him. His thoughts turn to the past, to his mother, to his friend, who, even now, is waiting to take him prisoner. There is no escape, no way out. There is no one to save him.

Where can we learn more about you and your work?

Amazon.co.uk – https://www.amazon.co.uk/John-Holt/e/B003ERI7SI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Amazon.com – https://www.amazon.com/John-Holt/e/B003ERI7SI/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/John-Holt-Author-553064201380567/

We interrupt John’s interview for a shameless plug. Acre’s Orphans has won a much coveted “Discovered Diamond” award for historical fiction. You can read the review here, or just take my word for it and buy the book.

Dream Review for Acre’s Bastard

I know that as a grown-ass man I shouldn’t care about reviews. In my stand-up days I learned that if you believe the good reviews, you also have to believe the bad ones. I recently got one, though, that means an awful lot. Mariah Feria published it in an online magazine that I enjoy (and has published some of my short stories) Storgy.com. Read the whole review here


Acre’s Bastard is certainly an accomplished piece of fiction. Turmel makes it clear that he is not done with this story, and especially not with the characters themselves. 

Mariah Feria, Storgy.com

Truthfully, I wouldn’t have dared write a review like this for myself. She enjoyed the parts of the book I enjoyed (the lepers! She liked the lepers!) and correctly pointed out the weaknesses (Mark Halpern I’m not. Description isn’t my strong suit, but I’m working on it.) Since I am neither related to her nor owe her money that I know of, I’m going to assume she means what she says and that makes me feel good.

The best part, is she told Twitter something that is the highest compliment my work can get: “I don’t usually read historical fiction but may need to reconsider.” Yeah, baby.

If you haven’t yet begun reading about Lucca’s adventures, may I suggest this is a good time to begin. Then don’t stop. Acre’s Orphans picks up the next day… why shouldn’t you?

A Russian Family Caught Up in Revolution- Julia Underwood

We all have the historical era we find fascinating, and one of mine is the Russian Revolution. I have no family connection, I’m not Russian, and there were more guns than swords, which usually counts me out. Still, I can’t get enough whether it’s writers from that time (I’ll fight anyone who won’t let me include Mikhail Sholokov on that list) or just people chronicling it from afar. Enter Julia Underwood and Red Winter…

What’s your story?

My father was an Army Intelligence Officer stationed abroad, so I was sent to a boarding school in the English countryside at seven years old. I was the one who was always in trouble for telling stories after lights out. Those epic tales of children in dire peril kept other girls awake and gave them nightmares, and I’ve been at it ever since, on and off.

Life got in the way, of course. As a teenager I wanted to save the world and be a doctor. Unfortunately, equal opportunity was still a distant dream and, although I had the qualifications, I didn’t get a place in a teaching hospital, the preference being for young men with sporting credentials. I ended up in medical research – not at all the glamour I’d envisaged. When I gave that up, I did many jobs, working in advertising, as a statistician, and in marketing and publishing. I also ran a restaurant – talked into this by a friend. Never again, I said, but I later ran a pub with my husband. I have lived in Germany, Austria, Jamaica and France.

 It wasn’t until my children had left home that I finally began to write full-time, joined a writing group and let fly with my imagination. I sold an article to The Lady very quickly, which gave me a false sense of competency, but I persisted. I have now published three full-length novels, three murder mystery novellas and many short stories. My latest novel is Red Winter, the story of a family caught up in the Russian revolution.

Now we’re talking. What’s Red Winter about?

An Englishman, Jonathan Cooke, is the third generation of Cookes to run the Russian arm of his family’s business from St Petersburg. Married to a Russian woman of aristocratic origins, they are wealthy and have five children. Their eldest daughter, Sophie, marries Anatoly Andropov (Tolya), an aspiring doctor. The story follows her and her family through the horrors of the First World War and on to the revolution and the brutality of the Cheka, the Bolshevik’s secret police. The family eventually flee to England with little more than what they stand up in, although Sophie remains in Russia with two small children, almost starving, not knowing if her husband is alive or dead.

What is it about that time period that fascinates you so much?

I was reading an autobiography by someone who recalled, in a short chapter, meeting a Russian émigré family who had lost everything in the revolution. I was struck by the horror of their plight at having to leave all they possessed in a country where misery and death had changed everything beyond recognition. I found the concept fascinating and, after a lot of research, I invented the Cooke family and set about writing their story with all its drama, sorrow and, ultimately, their happiness.

It was early 2016, just a year before the centenary of the revolution, so this seemed the perfect moment to write the story. It was published by my digital publisher – Endeavour Press – just in time, in October 2017.

Never underestimate the power of Serendipity. What’s your favorite scene in the book?

What is your favourite scene in the book?

This is a difficult one. There are so many scenes I am proud of, where the emotion of the action stirred me. Sophie’s marriage to Tolya; when her first baby is born in the field hospital at the Crimean Front; when the Cheka tear apart their home in St Petersburg; when Sophie faces the Bolsheviks in Moscow; when she arrives in London with her children after finally being allowed to leave Russia. I can’t say more without spoiling the story.

Where can people learn more about you and your books?

I have a Facebook Author Page here

You can find it on Amazon

and on Goodreads

Don’t forget to support the authors we showcase. Of course, you could give some love to my novels as well. Acre’s Orphans is available on Kindle and Paperback. And if you enjoy what you read, spread the word with a review on Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Goodreads.

Acre’s Orphans is a “Discovered Diamond” Award Winner

There aren’t a lot of indie-press awards for historical fiction that carry any cachet. One of the few is Helen Hollick’s “Discovering Diamonds” blog. I’m proud to announce that Acre’s Orphans has won the award.

Acre’s Orphans is an award winner


“These characters breathe life from every page and made me care about what happened to them. I highly recommend this book!”

Kristen McQuinn, Discovered Diamonds reviewer

My thanks to Helen Hollick and her team for supporting independent historical fiction. Blessings upon you all.

Count of the Sahara didn’t win one. Acre’s Bastard got a lovely review but missed the top designation, so a) I might actually be getting better at this book-writing thing, and b) If you haven’t yet read Lucca’s second adventure, what’s stopping you?

You can buy the award-winning (actually multiple award=winning now) Acre’s Orphans here.

A Young Woman and the Pony Express

With email and social media, it’s easy to forget just how hard it used to be to get information from one place to another. As the US expanded, it fell on live human beings and their horses to help get information where it needed to be. That leads us to Lizzi Tremayne and her tale of the Pony Express, “A Long Trail Rolling.”

Lizzie, you have quite a background. What’s your deal?

My writing has been called unpretentious, eminently readable Contemporary and Historical Fiction… by a horse vet!  It always gives me a giggle. I write awarded rural fiction about the Old West, Tsarist Russia, Scotland, and Colonial New Zealand, as well as veterinary fiction and non-fiction. I write these stories because they’re the sort I love to read. I love reading about horses as they are my favourite animal, if you have any horses you will know that they are beautiful creatures and they require a lot of care, you can take a look at E3Live for Horses is a blue green algae nutritional hoof supplement for quarter crack repair treatment. This treatment will ensure that your horse gets all the vitamins and minerals needed to take part in enhanced activity.

I grew up riding wild in the Santa Cruz Mountain redwoods of California, graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in the Equine Track, practiced in the California gold mining country of Placerville, then emigrated to NZ a few years later. I’ve been here ever since and raised a family near Waihi. My partner is a techie in the big smoke and we live on a trout river in a beautiful green valley so I have no excuse NOT to write, when I’m not vetting or marketing my Equi-Still horse stocks and equine dental instruments. I’ve written for many horse magazines and veterinary journals over my 30 years in practice. When I’m not writing, I’m swinging a rapier or shooting a bow in medieval garb, riding, driving a carriage or playing on my hobby farm, singing, or looking into a horse, zebra or rhino’s mouth.

So, straight from the rhino’s mouth, what’s A Long Trail Rolling about?

Aleksandra flees through 1860s Utah disguised as a Pony Express rider, trying to keep her father’s killer from discovering their family secret. Xavier, runaway heir to a California rancho, usually keeps the world at arms-length, but it doesn’t take long to discover his new rider-recruit is a girl—one he wouldn’t mind letting get close. The cards are stacking up against them. Can they learn to trust in time to escape the Indians on the warpath, evade the killer, and win through to safety?

I can guess (what is it with girls and horses?) but what is it about this story that inspired you?

It was really the Pony Express, in the 1860s, which intrigued me, and I’ve always loved history. Just about any history, but especially history of the areas where I’ve been. I grew up in a California endurance and horses were my life. My biggest goal (other than getting into and out of veterinary school at UC Davis) was to ride across the whole USA. There was an opportunity to do it when I was ten, but financially, it was beyond my reach… and I wasn’t old enough to do it on my own. J I couldn’t understand the part about not being old enough, at the time, however, as it’d never held me back before. So, instead, I got hooked on the Pony Express, or the “Pony”, as it was called back in the day.

So, some forty-something years later, it wasn’t a huge surprise to me when my first novel had to be about the Pony. With a girl rider, no less—one I flattered myself by thinking was more than a little bit like the girl I was, or would have been in Aleksandra’s situation. There’s no historical precedent for a female Pony rider, but in light of the modern discoveries of women who fought as men during the American Civil War during the same time period, I took that license. It’s all in the Author’s Notes, as always when I vary from the historical record as I understand it. As a historian, that’s non-negotiable. Always.

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

It would have to be the stable scene… the rough form of that scene was the first part I wrote… and that was before I even started “writing” or called myself a writer—that time long ago when “being a writer” was just a whisper in the dark. The snippet was written as homework before my very first RWNZ local branch meeting, where the topic was “writing sex scenes”. We were to write a 500 word sex scene…(blush) when all I’d done was write veterinary articles for horsey magazines and technical articles for vet journals. It was a stretch, but I managed it.  And I kinda liked it.  I liked it enough to begin a story from it after I got home. It was this, my first novel, A Long Trail Rolling, which won me the RWNZ Pacific Hearts Award and the following year, the RWNZ Koru Award of Excellence (New Zealand Romance Writer’s equivalent of the RWA’s Golden Heart and RITA Awards). It’s all been up from there!

You have a big social media presence. How can folks find you?

Lizzi’s website and blog

Lizzi’s VIP Club     

BookBub

Horse and Vet Books website

Facebook

Amazon author page

Apple Books (iTunes)

Barnes & Noble

Books + Main Bites

Instagram

Kobo

Pinterest

A quick note to please support the authors who appear in this blog. Buy a book and tell a friend. Of course, that also applies to my own work. The two-book Kindle set of Lucca Le Pou Stories is available on Amazon for $7.49