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?
There are two types of “Historical Fiction,” authors. One is the James Michener, James Clavell sort: they write thick books packed with painstakingly researched details where the history is as important as the characters. They’re impressive works and I always learn a lot and enjoy them immensely.
The second type is the “Alexandre Dumas,” school: give me enough detail to credibly set the story in time and place, then get down to the business of amusing me. You might learn a bit about history, but the story comes first. Colin Falconer is in this second category.
I’ve been reading his stuff for a number of years (seriously, though… 40 books in 26 years? Showoff.), and always enjoy the ride. They’re great Kindle reading-enjoyable as hell, if not towering works of literature. He writes ripping, romantic yarns set in whatever time frame he darn well wants; ancient Egypt, 1970s Argentina, or in the case of his latest book, “A Great Love of Small Proportion,” Spain during the Reconquista of 1492-3.
Like his best work, “A Great Love of Small Proportion” is unashamedly romantic. His novels always have a love story at the core, along with an exciting, action film plot. In this case, it’s the unlikely romance between a brilliant artist –a drunken, surly dwarf (Peter Dinklage on line one)–and the beautiful, headstrong (because they’re always willful and torturing their fathers in such tales) noblewoman. Then follows a thrilling read that takes you through the Inquisition, the fall of Moorish Spain, kidnapping, murder and Art Appreciation 101.
Is it all a bit silly? Yeah. Is it fun? Absolutely. Even with a familiar plot, there are enough twists to keep the reader off balance, and the dialogue is (as always with Falconer’s work) clever, believable and propels the story forward.
I had a couple of quibbles with the book. The title is too precious by half. It’s written entirely in present tense which feels a bit odd in places (maybe he was bored and trying an experiment). The central conceit; an artist’s true, loving nature disguised by physical deformity and locked away until the love of a good woman…. well, it’s not exactly new territory. Still, I enjoyed it immensely.
The thing is, Falconer does what he does. He tells a fun story really well and the book moves non-stop to a satisfying (if a bit predictable) conclusion. That’s not a bad thing. Sometimes you want a history lesson, sometimes you just want the hero and heroine to suffer in interesting ways then get together just in time to kiss and fade to black.
That’s kind of his thing.
I’ll have an interview with Colin coming up after the May 10 launch of his novel.
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?
Acre’s Bastard- Exciting new historical fiction from the best-selling author of
“The Count of the Sahara”
The Holy Land in 1187.
10 year old Lucca Nemo is an orphan on the streets of Acre, the Kingdom of Jerusalem’s most corrupt city. A simple prank goes horribly wrong, and catapults him into a terrifying world of spies, violence and political intrigue that ends in battle at the Horns of Hattin.
Author Wayne Turmel blends heart-pounding action, human drama and sly humor in this exciting tale set during the Second Crusade.
My friends and I were famous, if that’s the word, as The Lice. We were small, annoying, and constantly in someone’s hair. Berk was Turkish, Fadil and Murad were Syrian—supposedly converted Saracens—which is why they were allowed to live in town. They all had parents, or at least a mother, that they constantly disappointed.
Then there was me. Shorter and skinnier than my friends, and a year or so younger. My parentage, or at least what I knew of it, was written all over my brown, sharp face. At first glance I seemed purely Saracen; dark brown skin and a long beak of a nose, but my green eyes showed the other half of the tale. Depending on which story you believed, my mother was either a Syrian whore got with child by a Frankish Knight, or a pure, innocent Frank woman, dishonored by a pillaging Mussulman. The idea that my parents might have actually liked each other and wanted me never seemed to be part of the tale.
I preferred to think of my mother as a whore, giving me a claim to the ruling class by virtue of my father’s nobility, because of course he had to be noble if he was really a knight. Whatever the truth, their union left me with the best—or worst, depending on who told the story—features of each.
You all know my motto: Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. The rest of us are doomed too, but get to sit there smugly and say ‘told you so’. With that in mind, it’s easy to forget that the whole “clash of civilizations thing” isn’t new. Not by a long shot. That’s where Julie Anderson’s new book, “Reconquista,” comes in.
So what’s the Julie Anderson story?
I was born in the English midlands, spending much of my childhood in a semi-rural village, yet I have lived in South London with my husband and cats for most of my adult life. We enjoy the cultural life of the city and eating out with their friends, but we also have a home in Andalucia.
After college I taught English Literature for five years then joined the British Civil Service. I had a fulfilling and successful career, but took early retirement to do what I had always wanted to do. Write.
I set up The Story Bazaar publishing imprint to publish my own writing and that of others. This year it is publishing books by several writers besides me, fiction and memoir. My first publication was ‘The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales’ my own first collection of short stories. My second ‘The Story Bazaar 2015’ was a compendium of articles, fiction and blog pieces from the web-site by myself and other regular contributors. My new book is ‘Reconquista’, an adventure story and the first in the Al Andalus series.
I blog under the name ‘JulieJ’, at www.thestorybazaar.com . I report on cultural events and exhibitions in London, places and people of historical interest, life and events in southern Spain and writing and publishing.
This is a fascinating time period, and very relevant to today. What’s “Reconquista” about?
‘Reconquista’ is an adventure story set in 13th century Al Andalus ( Spain ) during the campaigns of the Christian north to re-conquer the rich southlands from the Moors. The book opens on 9th October 1264. Outside the walled city of Jerez an army waits the signal to attack. Within the city walls, for fourteen year old Nathan, his older cousin, Rebecca and their friend, Atta, events are about to change their lives forever. Their city is about to fall and everything they have always known will be questioned.
Across a war-torn Al Andalus King and Emir vie for supremacy and bandits and pirates roam land and sea in their wake. Our heroes set out on their own desperate journeys to find freedom and safety. But, if they are to succeed, they must first face down their fears and decide what sort of people they want to be. In short, each of them has to grow up, but they have lots of adventures along the way.
So why does this story grab you? What is it about this period in time?
The book began, ten or more years ago, as a serial story for my nephew and god-son. We have a home in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain and my nephew was about to visit there for the first time. I wanted to engage him in the history and romance of the place, so I wrote an adventure story, delivering ‘episodes’ on a gradual basis. He’s nearly twenty two now and the story which I wrote for him has changed out of all recognition.
The period is an intriguing one and full of stories of real heroes, El Cid, for example, but the truth is often more interesting than the legend. So, even though the Reconquest is presented as a religious war, in fact, lots of towns and cities changed sides, depending on circumstances rather than religion. El Cid himself fought for Muslim cities as well as for the Christians and, sometimes, on his own account. It was the time of ‘convivencia’ or people of different faiths living together in relative tolerance. But there was a contrast between this attitude and the religious piety and zealotry also in evidence from various sets of ‘invaders’ not just the Christian north but also the Muslims from across the Straits of Hercules (Gibraltar). Yet ordinary life went on. I wanted to write about ordinary young people, growing up in extra-ordinary times.
And the subject matter has become ever more relevant. Right now Europe is facing the largest migration of people since the Second World War, with refugees risking their lives to get here and putting strain on services and the social fabric when they do. People are fleeing from war and terrorism. The US also has a constant influx of people entering illegally from Latin America. I hope that readers of my book might look with some understanding and compassion on the TV pictures of weeping and frightened people waiting at Europe’s borders once they have read ‘Reconquista’.
You have a very active Social Media life. How can people find you?