The Great War-No, the First One- With Jeffrey K Walker

Every historical fiction fan has their pet periods. I will confess (and this is probably the Canadian in me- it was a seminal event in Canadian history and we were literally knee deep in it pretty much from day one. Plus, find one current world mess that doesn’t intersect with it somewhere) the First World War is a real obsession. So, when I find other writers working in that period it’s a happy day in my world. Enter Jeffrey K Walker, and his new novel, “None of Us the Same.”

Jeffrey is an impressive cat, and I’m looking forward to reading the book.

Jeffrey K Walker, author of the Sweet Wine of Youth trilogy and None of Us the Same.

JEFFREY K. WALKER is a Midwesterner, born in what was once the Glass Container Capital of the World. A retired military officer, he served in Bosnia and Afghanistan, planned the Kosovo air campaign and ran a State Department program in Baghdad. He’s been shelled, rocketed and sniped by various groups, all with bad aim. He’s lived in ten states and three foreign countries, managing to get degrees from Harvard and Georgetown along the way. An attorney and professor, he taught legal history at Georgetown, law of war at William & Mary and criminal and international law while an assistant dean at St. John’s. He’s been a contributor on NPR and a speaker at federal judicial conferences. He dotes on his wife, with whom he lives in Virginia, and his children, who are spread across the United States. Jeffrey has never been beaten at Whack-a-Mole.

I’ll put my doting on my wife up against his any day of the year. Other than that, he is just a better man than me in pretty much every way, which is incredibly annoying. That said, I still summoned enough self-esteem to ask him some questions.

In a nutshell, what’s the book about?

The book tracks the experiences during and after the First World War of three main characters. Deirdre Brannigan, who adds new meaning to ‘headstrong,’ is an Irish nurse from working-class Dublin, while affable Jack Oakley and complicated Will Parsons are childhood pals from St. John’s who enlist in the Newfoundland Regiment the day it’s formed in August, 1914. Deirdre joins a military nursing service after her father and brother hit the beach at Gallipoli. All three of their paths cross at Deirdre’s field hospital the first day of the Somme. Each of them suffers terrible and varied trauma from the war. The second half of the book returns to Newfoundland as they come to a reckoning with their self-pity, addictions, and emotional devastation. A big part of the healing process involves overlapping romantic and business relationships, not all of them entirely legal.

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

Well, Deirdre Brannigan is, in hindsight, an unconscious and dead-on composite of all the strong Irish-American women I grew up with—mother, aunts, grandmother, great aunts and cousins. Write what you know, right? I’ve been attracted to the First World War since I was a kid, much more so than World War II, which may sound odd coming from an American. The Great War was the first full-blown industrialized conflict fought by the world’s greatest economic powers with enormous conscript armies and rapidly evolving technologies. What no one really foresaw was the unimaginable level of violence, that if we could mass produce Model T’s and light bulbs, we could also mass produce death and destruction. Since at its heart None of Us the Same is about how war changes everyone and everything, World War I dovetailed nicely in my mind. Of course it’s also the centenary of the War, which we Americans just started commemorating 6 April 2017, being Johnny-come-lately as we were.

The other reason is, well, because I’m a coward. I wanted to write about the very timely subject of returning from the devastation of war—think Iraq and Afghanistan—but couldn’t quite bring myself to set the story present day. Besides the current over-politicized narrative around those two ongoing conflicts, I got the creeping sense I was appropriating the stories of these young men and women much too soon after the fact. As a retired Air Force officer, I was keenly sensitive to this. On the other hand, this also makes None of Us the Same historical fiction that deals with very contemporary issues.

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

Wow, tough question—and I know every writer has that same reaction, having created so many darlings, after all. I’m partial to the very first scene, set in Deirdre’s charity hospital where she’s dealing with a young trainee’s rather unique problem with, shall we say, man parts. The scene is interrupted by the rising peal of church bells all across Dublin as the declaration of war is announced. There are three scenes throughout the book set at a lighthouse kept by Jack’s uncle that were a guilty pleasure to write, the Newfoundland seacoast being so remarkably beautiful. There’s a scene early in the book when the pals meet their new company sergeant-major that’s a wry twist on the crusty old drill sergeant and all of my early readers loved Sergeant-Major Pilmore. Later in the book, there’s a fine (and pivotal) scene along the waterfront during “fish making”—the production of salt cod which was the economic mainstay of Newfoundland until the fisheries collapsed in 1992, ending 500 years of tradition.

But if I had to pick, I’d say my favorite scene is Will’s experience on the first day of the Somme. You can’t make up a more atrocious battle scene than the reality of the Somme on 1 July 1917. The British had 20,000 men killed just that morning, the Newfoundland Regiment suffering over 90% dead, wounded or missing. It’s almost unimaginable at a macro level, so I tried to show the abject horror of that day through one young man’s experience. And it’s plenty horrible, believe me. (If I can butt in, I’d put it up against the battle of Passchendaele where nearly half the dead drowned in mud…. but why pick nits?)

Where can people find you and your book?

I’d welcome them first and foremost at jeffreykwalker.com. Sign up to receive my latest news and I’ll happily send you a fun piece on sayings that originated during the Great War. Many fans have read it and said, “I didn’t know that!”

Also, follow me on:

Twitter https://twitter.com/JkwalkerAuthor

Facebook at www.facebook.com/jeffreykwalker

Instagram @jkwalker.author

Goodreads at https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/16863722.Jeffrey_K_Walker

None of Us the Same is available on Amazon at amzn.to/2qvJSJm.

 

 

The Alfred Hitchcock Test for Historical Novels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

King Tut Had a Wife? J Lynn Else Tells the Tale

Other than mummies, (and that the toughest job there had to be a court reporter. Can you imagine trying to take notes in hieroglyphs?) what can you tell me about Ancient Egypt? The period is mysterious and odd to us, yet it is fascinating and dramatic. Midwest writer J Lynn Else takes a look at that era–and its most famous resident, King Tutankhamun in two books.

The latest, The Forgotten: Heir of the Heretic is out now.

So what’s a nice girl from Minnesota doing writing about Egypt and the wives of Pharaohs? What’s your story?

As all great things should begin, my love of history started with a book.  My

J Lynn Else getting up close to her research.

uncle, who is an expert in maritime history, gifted me the book ““The Discovery of the Titanic: Exploring the Greatest of All Lost Ships” (which I still own).  The Titanic was all over the news at that time (late 1980s), and I began to take an interest in the time period.  Eventually, my love of history went further and further back in time.  Conversely, I was also a budding Star Trek: TNG nerd, so I wrote a lot of stories in which I could explore space, meet aliens, be a part of epic adventures.  It was so much more fun than being a tween with acne and braces.  I continued to write through high school and college (I even completed a script for X-File).  I’ve always been a huge lover of books.  Currently, I actively review for the Historical Novel Society and NetGalley.  I’m working on a third book now, which involves the legend of Avalon.  Besides reading and writing (and reading some more), I also keep busy with my husband, 2 kids (an 8th and a 5th grader), and 1 guinea pig.

This is your second book about that time period. What’s it about?

It is a time of change for ancient Egypt.  Pharaoh Akhenaten (who in modern times is probably best remembered as King Tut’s father) has declared that there is only one god to be worshipped throughout Egypt. He has also made a promise to his oldest daughter, Merytaten, that one day she will be his heir and the future pharaoh.  However, as pressures build up against this new religion, it falls upon Akhenaten’s wife, Nefertiti, and Merytaten to help their citizens and prevent insurrection.

In my novel, THE FORGOTTEN: HEIR OF THE HERETIC, Merytaten’s voice is used to vividly recount her dynamic life during some of ancient Egypt’s most turbulent years.  My book will appeal to fans of Michelle Moran, Jo Graham, and Pauline Gedge who also bring to the forefront women from antiquity who defied the constraints placed upon them for a greater good.  This is the second novel I have written.  Besides this, I have self-published THE FORGOTTEN: ATEN’S LAST QUEEN (ISBN-13: 9781483505343), which was awarded an Indie Editor’s Choice in 2016 by the Historical Novel Society

Why Egypt? What’s the fascination for you?

I really like reading about historical women who carved out new trails and touched their dreams despite the naysayers; those are stories I like to read and want to offer to my daughter when she gets older.  Ancient history has always been particularly fascinating to me, especially ancient Egypt. They are a society lasted for over 3000 years.  They never developed technology like phones or cars or computers, yet they thrived.  Modern society hasn’t even scratched that type of longevity.

After going to an exhibit at the Minnesota Science Museum entitled “King Tut and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” I discovered that while much is known about King Tut, very little is left to us about his wife.  I wanted to know more about her.  The pictures left to us show that Tut and Ankhesenamun loved and supported each other.  There is very little art in ancient Egypt that shows this type of relationship publicly.  So my interest was piqued to research this woman who seemed “forgotten” by time (get it, my title? Ha, ha!).  Thus came book 1, THE FORGOTTEN: ATEN’S LAST QUEEN.  My latest book, THE FORGOTTEN: HEIR OF THE HERETIC is about Ankhesenamun’s oldest sister, Merytaten, who was definitely in the thick of things as Akhenaten established a whole new religion in a country founded in polytheism.

Without giving everything away, what’s your favorite scene?

First off, I think it’s well known that King Tut dies early in life.  No spoiler there.  As his funeral procession assembles itself for the walk to the tomb, Ankhesenamun is about to see Tutankhamun’s golden sarcophagus for the first time.  She’s feeling guilty about many things in their lives.  She’s scared and confused and is nervous as the sarcophagus is brought out from the royal barge.  But then she looks down at his gold-clad face.  Peace overcomes her.  She refocuses herself and realizes none of the mistakes of the past matter at that moment.  She promises to be there for her late husband in the last few moments she has to walk beside him.  It’s a moment when Ankhesenamun forgives herself and hopes that Tutankhamun will find peace of his own in the heavenly paradise.  There are things she has to let go of, but she can still be there for him as his soul takes its final journey.  It’s definitely a turning point for her character development.

Where can we learn more about you and your books?

The Murder of Becket Spawns a Series- EM Powell

I came across today’s author when I was searching for an agent. I found a very good story teller named EM Powell, and really enjoyed her first book. (As for the agent, I’m still looking, and yes that’s an obvious cry for help.) Her novel, The Fifth Knight, began life as a serial but then became one of three novels. This is her story, about her story…. you know what I mean.

E.M. Powell’s medieval thrillers THE FIFTH KNIGHT and THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT have been #1 Amazon bestsellers and a Bild bestseller in Germany. Book #3 in the series, THE LORD OF IRELAND, was released in 2016. Born and raised in the Republic of Ireland into the family of Michael Collins (the legendary revolutionary and founder of the Irish Free State), she now lives in northwest England with her husband, daughter and a Facebook-friendly dog. She is also a contributing editor to International Thriller Writers The Big Thrill magazine, blogs for English Historical Fiction Authors and is the social media manager for the Historical Novel Society. Find out more by visiting www.empowell.com.

What’s “The Fifth Knight” and the series about?

THE FIFTH KNIGHT is the first of my Fifth Knight series of medieval thrillers. It’s my take on the infamous brutal murder of Archbishop Thomas Becket on the altar of Canterbury Cathedral on December 29 1170. The history with which many people is familiar is that long-standing disputes between Becket and his king and one-time friend, Henry II, had reached a critical point. Henry is said to have exploded in one of his typical rages, ending with the words: “He has…shamed my realm; the grief goes to my heart, and no-one has avenged me!” Unfortunately, a group of knights who were listening took him at his word. They set off for Canterbury to avenge their king with fatal results. In my book, I add a fictional fifth knight, Sir Benedict Palmer, to the group. And the reason they go to Canterbury is not to avenge Henry, but because they know that Becket has hidden a young nun in the walls of Canterbury Cathedral. They need to find her and the secret she holds.

Tell me about writing the book as a serial story first, then turning it into a novel. How did that impact how you put it all together?

My fictional story must have appealed to some people as it has sold more than 100,000 copies worldwide. Yet it had an unusual route to publication. My publishers are Thomas & Mercer, an Amazon imprint. THE FIFTH KNIGHT was first released in the US only as a Kindle Serial back in 2012. It was published in six episodes, with each episode being delivered to readers’ Kindles every two weeks. So I had to break the story up, making sure that each episode ended on a cliff-hanger and making sure that each one balanced out. Then would come the wait to see if readers liked the new instalment. As I say, it was unusual, to say the least!

Fortunately for me, readers loved it and it was released as a complete novel in 2013. I also followed it up with the next two Palmer books in the series. In THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT, Palmer is called back to find out who’s trying to kill Henry’s mistress, the Fair Rosamund. In the third, THE LORD OF IRELAND,  Palmer is sent by Henry to a warring Ireland with John, Henry’s youngest son and future Bad King John. No spoilers, but John being John, all does not go well. Neither of these two books were released as Kindle Serials. The Kindle Serial program has been discontinued but all the books that were released through it are still available as complete works.

What is it about that time period that intrigues you? I mean, I share your fascination but we’re not exactly  the majority…

I think that the medieval period is one of the most interesting, exciting and downright bizarre historical periods of all. It isn’t the most popular for readers of historical fiction, but I think people are missing out. What other period gives you banquets that serve peacocks, breath-taking illuminated manuscripts, gatherings with the Devil, leech collectors and chainmail?

Right? I mean frickin’ leech collectors!  But I digress. What’s your favorite scene in the book?

It’s no spoiler to say Becket’s murder. ‘Favorite’ isn’t maybe the right word but it was certainly the most challenging to write. We have eye-witness accounts from the time and it was truly horrible. Becket was utterly defenseless against the armed knights. Even though I had to write it in the context of a fictional story, I had to stay true to what we know to make it credible. I actually caught myself at one point wanting to rewrite it so he got away! But this book is speculative historical fiction, rather than true alternate history, so I had to do it. I can only hope that I gave Becket the proper respect to his memory and the terrible end he suffered.

How can people learn more about you and your exciting series?

Amazon Author Page: http://author.to/EMPowell-Author

Website: www.empowell.com

Blog: http://www.empowell.blogspot.co.uk/

Facebook: www.facebook.com/empowellauthor

Twitter: https://twitter.com/empowellauthor

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6583496.E_M_Powell