Gods with the heads of Dogs and Storks? Pyramids? Who doesn’t love them some Ancient Egypt? It’s also (and personally I blame Gerard Butler for this) not something that’s been explored a lot in novels or films (seriously Gerry? A Pharaoh with a Scottish accent and pasty Celtic skin?)
Lethbridge, Alberta, author Erin Chase, though, has written a romance set in the time of Ramses. Of course, I’ve spent time in Lethbridge. Fantasizing about another time and place is pretty much the local industry. I asked her what her book was all about.
What is “Behind Palace Walls” about?
Behind Palace Walls is an historical fiction set in Ancient Egypt. Sheshamun is an adopted fourteen-year-old girl living in a village along the Nile River. When Pharaoh’s Royal Wife takes a special interest in her, Sheshamun is chosen to be a member of Pharaoh Ramses’ harem. Once situated in the palace, she soon discovers the luxurious lifestyle is not at all how she had once imagined.
The strong-willed teenager must choose between family and royalty; pride and duty; honor and her own life.
What is it about Egypt that inspired you to write the book?
Ancient Egypt has always fascinated me. It’s a very exotic and unique culture that is completely different from today’s society. Between the polytheistic deity worship, exquisite structures (i.e. Abu Simbel and the Great Pyramid of Giza), and innovation of the time, I felt a need to learn as much as I could about the time period.
In 2010, only months before the Arab Spring, I traveled throughout Egypt. The beauty and complexity of the statues, hieroglyphics, and temples left me awestruck. What I had always pictured in my mind’s eye paled in comparison to what I actually saw. I just HAD to write about it!
Without giving away too much, what’s your favorite scene in “Behind Palace Walls?”
…Sheshamun was inexplicably drawn to a small, dark stall. Out of the shadows appeared a stooped, elderly woman. She opened her mouth to speak, but Sheshamun could not hear her. She beckoned the young girl to come closer. Being only inches from the woman’s face, Sheshamun could smell death and something else she could not quite put her finger on. Though repulsed, she refused to move away, knowing deep inside this old woman had something important to say. “Sheshamun, daughter of Hury and Nefra, you are venturing into great danger. Beware of those with the same blood, as all is not what it appears to be. Heed my warning and take solace in those pure of heart, or you will certainly bring forth your own demise.”
Where can we learn more about the wonder that is Erin Chase?
The definition of “historical fiction” is blurry at best, and never more so than when people introduce a fantasy element to a specific time and place (see the interview I did with Lavinia Collins for an Arthurian example.) Heck, even Star Trek did an episode with Al Capone.
And why wouldn’t they? 1920s Chicago was an amazing period. In fact, it serves as part of the backdrop for my own book, The Count of the Sahara. Why tart it up? Because it’s fun. Kelsey Lee Connors has written a dystopian fantasy for young adults that is set in a time recognizable as Chicago in the ’20s, but with a twist.
First, give us the Kelsey Lee Connors story…
I was born in Chicago, Illinois, and I’ve been writing since I was 14 years old. At University I studied Classical Studies, with a minor in Anthropology, and after two years work experience I decided to move to Rome, Italy to pursue my career in Roman history and an MA in Arts Management. Now I’m 25, teaching English as a foreign language while I finish my masters’ at The American University in Rome, and excited to finish the second novel in my series. Some fun facts about me: I’m an artist, a crazy cat lady, I love fantasy of all sorts, and I cosplay Ygritte from Game of Thrones every year at C2E2, Chicago’s Comic Con.
I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that you and I share a publisher, “The Book Folks” out of London. Between you, me, and Lou Holly, Erik must be tempted to open a Chicago office.
In a nutshell, what’s the book about?
The book is about Chicago in the 1920’s, which is ruled by a faceless, high-tech Corporation slowly sucking the life from its citizens. The story is told through the perspective of 16-year-old Evelyn O’Donnell, whose father dies of a sudden car-accident near their home. Or so they think. After his death, the now dry Pub he worked day and night to keep running for their neighborhood, is about to go under. Evelyn teams up with her brother’s mysterious new friend (Dante Malachi), despite completely despising him, in order to get the funds to save it. The unlikely pair take to the speakeasies to gamble it back by playing Black Jack.
But Chicago is changing, and so is Evelyn. Each day a strange power she can’t seem to control sends sparks of electricity flying from her fingertips. News of her father’s life before his death grows darker with each turn around the grapevine. And there are rumors of the Corporation’s electrical plants turning the alive…into the undead.
When you’re writing fantasy based on history….. where do you decide how much of each….. how much does real history impact that balance? I mean, the mob was tough but they weren’t creating electricity out of bodies!
I tried to incorporate as much historical accuracy as I could when I wrote SURGE. I like to think of The Corporation as a tick on the skin- Chicago is more or less in the same historical period as it was in the true version of history, but it has a sort of infestation of technology feeding off it.
I was woefully ignorant about the 20’s as a period before I started research, which is why I went in this direction. I think most people have an idea very different from what it actually was like. Interestingly, the biggest delusions about the era are pertaining to women, crime and, of course, fashion. I could go on for hours about the actual length of a flapper’s dress (much longer than we see in modern costumes) or the modern fad of wearing suspenders (back then were considered undergarments, not for show). But, at the end of the day, I hugely enjoyed the research aspect of writing!
What is it about that time period or character that intrigued you and motivated you to write about it?
Back in college, I did an internship in the Collections Department at the Hellenic Museum in Chicago where I was handling a huge amount of artifacts from Greek immigrants in the Prohibition era. I’ve always loved the period, but this really planted the seed of inspiration. I really wanted to write another book about electric control, and one particularly cold and rainy day I was coming up from
the L train off UIC/Halsted to the museum and the ideas collided.
Of course, Evelyn came along because I imagined what it would be like to be in the shoes of those immigrants. She and her brother are second generation Irish immigrants, a salute to my own heritage. In Paris, there was a similar, one would argue better, period of art and exploration and that’s in part what inspired Dante’s origins. I like to think of him wandering Parisian streets heckling Fitzgerald and Hemingway, scotch glass in hand.
Without giving away spoilers, what’s your favorite scene or event in the book?
Without a doubt, when Evelyn enters a speakeasy for the first time. I had imagined the scene so many times in my head that when I came to write it down, I got the worst writer’s block of my life. It ended up being the last scene I wrote!
It’s an actual real, historical place called the Green Mill in Chicago, which I’ve visited many times. It’s famous for being Al Capone’s (or Capuzzi, in SURGE) hangout and there are still the original tunnels below it that they used for importing liquor and escaping from the fuzz! Living in Chicago, I know the Green Mill well. It’s easy to get sucked into the past there. Where can people learn more about you and your work?
I have a little tradition. Whenever I finish a full draft of a book, I celebrate by having a glass of Templeton Rye on the rocks. I’m not a whiskey drinker, (anejo tequila, neat, is my drug of choice, for those of you seeking gift ideas) but it is tradition, and must therefore be correct.
Acre’s Bastard is an adventure story set during the Second Crusade. It’s a little more straight-forward than The Count of the Sahara, and a little grittier but I hope TheBookFolks like it enough to send it out into the world, and I hope all of you enjoy it as well.
Tonight I’m toasting Lucca, Brother Marco, Sister Marie-Terese and even Brother Idoneus, may he rot in hell. I hope you’ll join me on the adventure.
The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part
If it seems like I’ve gone radio silent for a few weeks, well I have. I am in a kind of literary limbo, and as my boy Tom says, the waiting is the hardest part.
See, I’ve finished the first draft of Acre’s Bastard. And I can’t do a darned thing about it for a while. Four generous, masochistic souls (all members of Naperville Writers Group– and if you aren’t part of a circle of fellow writers, you’re missing out) have agreed to read it and offer their feedback so I can make any major changes before sending it on to my editor at The Book Folks.
So here I sit. I don’t want to start any new projects until this one is done, I can’t do any more on this one until I get their notes, and since they are volunteers with actual lives it would be damned rude of me to stand over their shoulder and yell, “Hurry up dammit, my head is about to explode.” Hell, even The Duchess has only gotten to page 60, and she has to live with me.
I know some of what they’ll say: the finale needs to be clearer. I need more description of the final battle scene and the main villain (there are two but he’s the most critical) has too many names (which makes no sense and yet is wholly accurate). Still, I can’t do the rewrite, hand it in, and move on until I hear. There may be more unexpected criticism. They may say my baby is ugly and I should smother it with a pillow before offending the reading public. They might tell me it’s wonderful, only to have my editor throw it back like an undersized Dolly Varden.
The point is, I can’t control any of this, and I can’t really do anything until the reports come in. So, as Tom says, the waiting is indeed the hardest part.
I discovered years ago when doing my management podcast that the internet makes it easy to reach out to people you respect and admire. Just hit “send.” Some answer, some don’t. Well, when I decided this blog would focus on historical fiction, there’s one person I really wanted to get to know (in an internet, “hey he answers my emails” kind of way): Colin Falconer.
His stuff is fast paced and just fun. You can read my review of his latest book, A Great Love of Small Proportion, in the previous post. Here’s a little bit of my interview with him.
So, for those who don’t know, what’s the Colin Falconer story?
I was born in North London, and spent my school years playing football or looking out of the window wishing I was somewhere else.
I’ve been a writer most of my working life, I have over 40 books in print (Blogger’s note: just when you start feeling good about your level of productivity, this guy comes along), I’ve started publishing indie books as well over the last 3-4 years. My books have been translated into 23 languages.
I travel a lot to research my novels and the quest for authenticity has led me to run with the bulls in Pamplona, pursue tornadoes across Oklahoma and black witches across Mexico. As well as to the Alhambra in Granada, of course, for my latest novel.
The little touches shine through, to be sure. In a nutshell, what’s the new book about (if you can remember because you’ve probably cranked out 3 more since Tuesday)?
A GREAT LOVE OF SMALL PROPORTION is set in Spain at the end of the Reconquista. Diego Sanchis is Seville’s most brilliant painter – but he’s also ugly and a dwarf. He is also shunned because he is suspected of being a Jew.
When he paints, he can capture the beauty in people an ordinary things – yet he hates the world that so hates him. But one day his father persuades him to take on a student; Mercedes Goncalvez is beautiful, perfect. And nothing like he expects.
He can see beauty in the world – but only she sees the beauty in him. But this is the time of the Inquisition, of religious fanaticism taken to extremes … so how can this possibly come to any good?
The guiding hand in this was the question of beauty. What is it? We are all so quick to judge beauty by what we see – but what if the hero of a romantic story was not beautiful at all, but was as far from perfect as a man can be? This is the question that drove the narrative for me. Mercedes does not fall in love with Diego because he is handsome, or brave, or even rich – she sees something else. Don’t we all wish for someone who sees something in us, other than what the world sees?
What is your favorite scene in the book?
So I suppose my favourite scene is when she finds the paintings he has hidden from her. I like the sparks that fly just from the dialogue. I like what they don’t say as much as what they do say. And I like how she sees through him, and how the dialogue sparks from how he knows that, and he loves it and he hates it at the same time.
Here’s where I accuse you of being a shameless romantic. Where can people learn more about this book and your other work?
Last night I hoisted my traditional glass of Templeton on the rocks; my ritual when I finish the draft of a book. I don’t drink whiskey as a rule, I’m a tequila guy when I need to indulge my inner Hemingway, but custom demands it. I have–officially –for real–finished the first draft of the novel that for now, I’m calling “Acre’s Bastard.”
I say “for now” because what I love about the editing process is that novels can always be better, and minds much clearer than mine see problems I don’t. The Count of the Sahara, for example, was originally saddled with the pretentious title, “Pith Helmets in the Snow.” See what I mean?
As you can see by the picture, first drafts are ugly little brats and while you don’t like to hear your offspring aren’t beautiful, at least at this stage you can still do something about them before dragging them out in public and frightening the neighbors.
I have 5 people serving as Beta readers. They’re all members of my writer’s group, The Napervile Writers Group. Some are grammar Nazis, some are just readers who know story and structure, one shares my geeky fascination with the Crusades (when the story’s set) and has a keen eye for anachronisms and inaccuracy. That’s essential in historical fiction, even if you occasionally want to throttle them and hide their bodies before they rat you out rather than actually fix the gaping plot hole they’ve spotted.
Speaking of writer’s groups…… if you’re a writer, hie thee to one. I have learned so much, not only by getting feedback on my writing, but on reading other people’s work. Reading good writing helps, and there’s something about reading bad writing that’s critical to exposing your own flaws and will make you swear a blood oath never to inflict those things on an innocent reader. In any organization like this you’ll see plenty of both.
So I’m awaiting the verdict before sending this on to Erik at The Book Folks and hopefully he – and you – will love Lucca, and Brother Marco (and hate Brother Idoneus and al Sameen) as much as I do…
If the death of Prince (blessings upon him) doesn’t have you nostalgic for the 1980s, I’ve got something that will. My friend Lou Holly Sr. has written a tight, fast-moving crime thriller set on the Southside of Chicago.
You can nearly smell the char dogs and stale Old Style… not to mention those horrible fake leather Bulls jackets…. and if a story set in the 80s doesn’t seem very historical… try telling your kids about them some time. Besides, it’s my blog……
Okay for those of you who don’t know, what’s the Lou Holly story?
I’m 65 years old, married, retired and live in Naperville, IL. I was brought up on the southside of Chicago in a blue-collar neighborhood. I’ve been a self-employed entrepreneur most of my adult life. Past businesses I’ve owned include a band booking agency and limousine business. In the 1990s, I worked as a private driver and bodyguard for a Chicago actress. My wife and I published a 1950s & 60s nostalgia/rock & roll magazine from 2009 to 2013 titled Keep Rockin’. I started writing novels five years ago. Basically, I’m a self-taught writer with no formal training.
I was lucky enough to help workshop your book with the Naperville Writers Group, but for those who didn’t watch your baby grow up, what’s the plot?
SOUTHSIDE HUSTLE is about a 31-year-old man called Trick (short for Patrick), who gets out of prison after serving close to three years for a drug bust. He owes a ruthless drug dealer $60,000 from a previous debt. He is having a hard time adjusting to life on the outside and is under pressure to come up with the money he owes. Trick’s life turns around when he sees a black bag thrown from a speeding car being chased by the police. The bag contains three kilos of cocaine and $285,000. He pays off his debt to the drug dealer by giving him the kilos. He thinks he is on easy street with all that cash, until the guys that the bag belongs to somehow catch up to him. That’s when Trick finds himself in a trick bag.
What was it about that time period that’s so interesting?
The 1980s was a fascinating period in America. There was a lot of drug money
being thrown around and a lot of debts incurred. Some people got rich, some went broke, some went to prison and others ended up dead, all as a result of the cocaine trade. I remember the 1980s as a time of beautiful women, fancy cars, expensive clothes, jewelry, and discos.
What’s your favorite scene in the book?
One of my favorite scenes occurs when Trick is being processed into Cook County Jail. Trick is in a line with a large group of men, all stripped naked. They are instructed not to move. When the man to Trick’s left absentmindedly folds his arms, a guard hits him on the head with a billy-club and knocks him out. What results next puts Trick in a serious predicament. It’s a true story that I personally lived through.
Yeah, the reality really burns through in that scene. Southside Hustle is published by The Book Folks, same people who did my novel, The Count of the Sahara. Where can people learn more about you and your work?
One of the pleasures of historical fiction is delving deep into time periods you’re fascinated by. Another is learning about things you didn’t know. The shelves are full of tales retelling the US Civil War or the exploits of Edward Longshanks, and that’s fine, but I love finding stories that I don’t know. That’s where Vicky Adin comes in. How much do you know about the founding of New Zealand? Yeah, didn’t think so…..
Vicky Adin is a New Zealand author living on the North Shore of Auckland within walking distance of the beach, the coffee shops and inspiration.
Three words sum up her passion in life: family, history and language. After decades of genealogical research and a life-long love affair with words (she actually enjoyed writing essays at school) she has combined her skills to write poignant novels that weave family and history together, based on real people, with real experiences in a way that makes the past come alive.
It’s the story of Brigid, a talented eighteen-year-old Irish lacemaker, who fled starvation and poverty to seek a better life in Australia, but life didn’t run smoothly in that harsh new landscape either.
Brigid must learn to overcome bias, bigotry and tradition as well as her own fears if she is to survive. She looks to one man for inspiration and protection: a man who, once her champion, soon became her adversary. She gathers those who matter to her most and moves to New Zealand. Gradually, her dreams become reality and tranquility prevails – until the day the man who seeks her downfall finds her.
What intrigues you about this story?
Living in New Zealand, I’ve always held a fascination for the 19th Century pioneers of our country, especially the women. They needed strength of mind as well as body to survive the journey, let alone flourish in the densely bush clad new country they came to. Being a genealogist in love with history, these men and women, and their ancestors, drive my stories.
The Treaty of Waitangi between The Crown and the indigenous Maori was signed in 1840 and only 40 plus years later, New Zealand was still a nation coming to terms with itself, defining what it meant to be a New Zealander and inventing its history as it went. How could I not want to write about such beginnings and the ordinary people who shaped our nation?
As a fellow colonial (albeit the nothern, completely opposite
corner of the planet) I agree that there are wonderful stories from around the world no one has heard. What’s your favorite scene in the book?
“Get out of the way, girl,” a man shouted pushing at her. She had no idea in which direction she was being pushed, but it took all her strength to stay on her feet. Above the storm’s turbulence, voices shouted, calling out for people they couldn’t find. Mud oozed underfoot, people lurched and skidded as they tried to escape the confines of the market place. Shrieks and wails rang in her ears – “Help me, God. Help.” Was that her own voice she recognised? – and still the relentless push persisted…
Brigid is caught up in 1887 Brisbane floods – one of the worst experienced. The damage done to the economy, the infrastructure and many families was immense and took a huge toll on the town. Brigid’s thoughts and feelings bring life to the facts of this natural disaster that nearly took her life, but instead gave her strength and hope.
How can we learn more about you and the PathFinder series?
There are some fun comparisons between author Johann Laescke and myself. Both of us have written a ton of non-fiction and business stuff before tackling our first novels, both our debut novels take place in the 1920s and have a passing (or more than passing) connection to Hollywood. We tackled the novels partly because our spouses were tired of us talking about it. Also, there is a high level of smart-ass in what we write. If you enjoyed The Count of the Sahara, you’ll probably dig his work. Figured it was high time to introduce you to him…..
So what’s the Johann Laesecke story?
Writing novels came late in life for me. For a very long time I thought that I could
write a book and must have said it too many times because the love of my life felt she had to tell me to “Stop talking about writing a book and start writing it!” She added a couple more descriptive words that I have left out of the quote, but I immediately recognized her wisdom and her exasperation that was vented at me in the directive. A few years later, after writing or partially writing five novels that I regarded at the time as hopeless failures, my inner muse (named Laure) began relating The Roaring Roadstoryline to me. Previous writings included business books and research papers, software design process books, training manuals, project proposals and other exciting dustbin trivia. Today, I am writing the third book in The Roaring Road series, and have found that all of those first five hopeless failure novels might yet come to life with a careful application of lessons learned.
Well, having a name for the voice in your head is certainly a start. What’s the series about?
Dan Lindner, a young sheba-chaser and fan of the late film star Wallace Reid is grabbed by thugs and taken to the local mob chief, who threatens him with dire consequences if he doesn’t undertake an unusual mission. Seeing no way out he reluctantly decides to go but his new flapper girlfriend Laure leaves him, thinking he is joining the mob. With his German Shepherd Dog named Raider (aka The Road Trip Dog) Dan begins his journey on the roaring road from his home village of Long Grove Illinois, driving a prototype Duesenberg Model X to the Wine Country of Napa and Sonoma.
Book 1 The Road West is the story of Dan, Laure and Raider’s adventures on their way to California and up to the time they begin their return to Long Grove. The young couple must contend with road bums, prison escapee bank robbers, a corrupt sheriff, Laure’s father who catches up with them, and a gang hired to take Laure back to the Chicago crime boss’s son who has become both enraptured and enraged with her. Dan undertakes to rescue Laure from a rustbucket ship on the rough San Francisco waterfront. Seeking a few days of fun before their return journey from Napa to Chicago, Dan and Laure take a trip to Hollywood, meeting silent era film stars like Douglas Fairbanks, W.C. Fields, Buster Collier, Alice White and Billie Dove. They also make friends with sexy Louise Brooks, who devises a prank that succeeds and delivers major unintended consequences reverberating through the series. Spiced with speakeasy visits and served with Napa wine to make a thrilling road trip tale. “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”
OOOOOH, extra points for use of “sheba-chaser.” I know why I enjoy reading about the 20s, but what is it about this time period that you find so fascinating?
The nation was still recovering from World War I when the Eighteenth Amendment made Prohibition the law of the land and the Nineteenth Amendment gave women the right to vote. Young women who had been trapped in the strict social mores of the early 1900s seized their new freedoms and ran with them. Lois Long, flapper and reporter for The New Yorker magazine in 1925 wrote “All we were saying was ‘Tomorrow we may die, so let’s get drunk and make love”. Many of the citizens who publicly wanted Prohibition found that gangsters had stepped in to provide them with the booze they secretly sought. Other factors included the explosion of automobile ownership and road travel in the 1920s, stories from writers like F. Scott Fitzgerald, and the burgeoning popularity of the movies (aka ‘flickers’). Law enforcement struggled to catch up with the wildly profitable organized crime mobs. It was wild times for everyone and I weaved each of these catalysts into the story.
I admit to have fallen in love with Dan and Laure. They are young and initially naive but thrown into situations where they learn to respect, trust and rely on each other while becoming best friends and falling in love. But this is not a romance book. It is a hard-edged sexy historical fiction thriller, spiced with mayhem and humor influenced by my exposure to W.C. Fields, Rocky and Bullwinkle and Gary Larson’s The Far Side comics.
Without spoilers, what’s your favorite scene in the book?
The event that really begins the adventure and mayhem is when Dan meets Laure. I had a lot of fun writing that scene. Reading it still makes me laugh. There’s another scene related to that, but sorry, no spoilers!