Friday, November 7, 2014

New release: DAY OF FIRE, A Novel of Pompeii

I'm proud to host a release day for A DAY OF FIRE: A Novel of Pompeii by bestselling authors Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, Vicky Alvear Shecter, Kate Quinn, and others.

At the height of the Roman Empire, the lively resort of Pompeii flourished in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. When Vesuvius unexpectedly erupted in a terrifying explosion of flame and ash, the entire town was destroyed. Some of its citizens perished in the chaos, others escaped the mountain's wrath. These are their stories:

  • A boy who loses his innocence
  • An heiress in dread of her wedding day
  • An ex-legionary staking his entire future on a gladiator bout
  • A crippled senator waiting for death, until a tomboy rescues him
  • A young mother facing an impossible choice
  • A priestess and a whore seeking redemption and resurrection

Through these characters, six authors acclaimed for their historical authenticity bring to vivid life the overlapping fates of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes, who cross each others' path during Pompeii's fiery end. Who will escape? And who will be buried for eternity?

"An emotional roller-coaster that educates while it entertains."-- Parmenion Books
"Full of suspense, fear, and unexpected bravery." --Ageless Pages
"Each one of these authors deserves a huge amount of praise for putting this impressive piece of art together." --Steven McKay

To find out more, please visit here.

Meet the Authors:
STEPHANIE DRAY is a multi-published, award-winning author of historical women’s fiction and fantasy set in the ancient world. Her Nile series about Cleopatra’s daughter has been translated into more than six languages, was nominated for a RITA Award and won the Golden Leaf. Stephanie is a former lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher.

BEN KANE worked as a veterinarian for sixteen years, until his love of ancient history drew him to write fast-paced novels about Roman military life and gladiators. He is the author of seven books, the last five of which have been Sunday Times Top Ten bestsellers in the UK. Ben’s work has been translated into ten languages. In 2013 and 2014, dressed in full Roman military kit, he and and a group of fellow authors walked the length of Hadrian’s Wall, as well as over 130 miles in Italy, for charity, raising over $50,000.

E. KNIGHT is an award-winning, national best-selling indie author. Under the name Eliza Knight, she writes historical romance and time-travel. Her debut historical fiction novel, My Lady Viper, has received critical acclaim and was nominated for the Historical Novel Society 2015 Annual Indie Award. 

SOPHIE PERINOT is the author of the acclaimed debut, The Sister Queens, about medieval sisters Marguerite and Eleanor of Provence. She holds a BA in History and a law degree. Her most recent novel about Marguerite of Valois, daughter of Catherine de Medici, was recently acquired by St Martin's Press.

KATE QUINN is the national bestselling author of the Empress of Rome novels, and two novels about the Borgia pope's mistress, The Serpent and The Pearl, and The Lion and The Rose. Her books have been translated into thirteen languages. She first got hooked on Roman history while watching "I, Claudius" at the age of seven, and wrote her first book during her college freshman year.

VICKY ALVEAR SHECTER is the award-winning author of the YA novel, Cleopatra’s Moon, based on the life of Cleopatra's daughter. She is also the author of two biographies for kids on Alexander the Great and Cleopatra. Her young adult novel. Pompeii, Curses and Smoke, was released in June 2014. She has two other upcoming books for young readers. Vicky is a docent at the Michael C. Carlos Museum of Antiquities at Emory University in Atlanta.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

THE TUDOR VENDETTA releases on Tuesday, October 21

Fall is an exciting time in publishing, as we near the holiday season and many of us escape the stress of shopping and parties bytudor vendetta 3 curling up with a book. I'm delighted to announce that The Tudor Vendetta, my third and final book in The Elizabeth I Spymaster Trilogy (Elizabeth's Spymaster in the UK) will be released by St Martin's Press in the US on October 21 and by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK on October 23, with several foreign-language editions scheduled to follow.

It is November, 1558. Elizabeth I has claimed the throne, but the first days of her reign are already fraught with turmoil, the realm weakened by strife and her ability to rule uncertain. When Brendan Prescott, her intimate spy, returns to court at her behest, he soon finds himself thrust into a deadly gambit against his foe, Robert Dudley. But the new queen has an even more perilous assignation for him when her trusted lady-in-waiting, Lady Parry, vanishes in Yorkshire. Sent from court to a crumbling manor that may hold the key to Lady Parry's disappearance, Brendan becomes the quarry of an elusive stranger with a vendetta - one that could expose both Brendan's secret and a long-hidden mystery that will bring about Elizabeth's doom.
UK tudor-vendetta 2
Booklist calls The Tudor Vendetta "action-packed palace intrigue at its best" and Romantic Times praises its evocation of "Elizabeth's England in all its glory." I've loved taking this journey into Tudor England, which began nearly fourteen years ago when I first had the idea to write about a fictional squire with a secret past, who finds himself plunged into momentous events preceding the reign of the Tudor dynasty's most accomplished and enigmatic sovereign. The Spymaster Trilogy is as much about Elizabeth's early struggles and canny ability to wield power even when she had none, as it is about the young man who devotes himself to her service, risking everything to see her triumph. Exploring many vibrant personalities of the time - William Cecil, Francis Walsingham, Robert Dudley, and Mary I - as well as Brendan's fictional friends and foes has been a true delight. I hope you enjoy this final installment as much as I have writing it, and I thank you from my heart for your support and enthusiasm during this three-volume adventure into England's tumultuous Renaissance past. 

I'll be on virtual tour for The Tudor Vendetta from October 20 to November 28. To catch up with me, please click here.

Friday, October 17, 2014


I'm no stranger to putting my foot in my mouth on occasion. As a published writer, the demands on me, like all my ilk, have increased exponentially with the advent of social media. Facebook, Twitter, etc. are now required tools in a writer's arsenal, where we're expected to post interesting quips and book announcements on a regular basis, regardless of our ability to even hold a coherent conversation in public, let alone our willingness to do so.

It may seem strange to the rest of the non-writing world, but publishers actually audit our social media and website presence. This incipient intrusion into how we present ourselves is now an integral part of our publishing strategy; I've heard twice now during marketing discussions that my website has been "audited" and been offered suggestions as to how to improve it. Publishers don't do this to frustrate or irritate us; in fact, they have the best of intentions. Media attention has become inescapable, fundamental to any author who wishes to survive. As marketing budgets shrink and books compete amid a smorgasbord of other entertainment options, writers must keep up, expected now to not only entertain with words in their books, but also with their extraneous minutia.

It can therefore come as no surprise that like everyone else out there posting kittens, skateboard videos, pictures of recent vacations, and memes declaring everything from political affiliation to sexual preference and religious belief, authors can now and then find themselves screwing up. After all, we've all seen our share of "OMG!!! No, he didn't!" on non-writing people's posts. We've all cringed at that celebrity's faux-pas on Twitter or that politician's asinine comment on Facebook. No one is immune. We all put our foot in our mouths - or in our posts, as the case may be. And in this day and age of intense social scrutiny and viral spread, when we do, everyone else notices.

Writers are, by and large, a solitary breed. We have to be. It's not a choice; it's an occupational hazard most of us embrace. If I had a dollar for every time I've heard, "What a life you lead, sitting at home all day making up stories," I'd be sitting at home on my yacht in Cannes. People think we are privileged - and we are, because we get paid to make up stuff - but the day-to-day grind is hardly glamorous. Unless your idea of glamour is endless months of toil over a keyboard, trying to wrestle into words that brilliant idea in your head; eating pretty much the same sandwich every day, and looking up in a red-eyed haze at 5:30 when your partner comes home from work and comments, wryly, "No shower yet?" or the obsessive checking on the ranking of your most recent opus at various online sites, followed by crippling doubt when said ranking fails to hit the single digits and you know you're headed on the bullet train to failure and that day-job in a fast-food chain. Glamour has no part in it. To be a writer, you must have buns of steel to keep them glued to the chair every day and an excellent exercise regimen to avoid permanent carpal tunnel. We hunker down in our dens like mole people because that's where our stories are born. We eschew social outings that other folk spontaneously engage in - impromptu lunches or jaunts to the movies - because we're "under deadline," but more honestly, because we live in constant dread that if we deviate too much from the work-in-progress, the muse will desert us and then we'll really be on that train to fast-food hell. We don't mean to hide from the world, but we must. If we didn't, we'd never write another word. The world is too tempting. There is too much distraction, too many reasons to avoid the screen or page, and skip outside to play like a normal person.

But now, we are expected - no, required - to have a public presence. The more savvy among us elect to create an alternate persona that exalts our best qualities while concealing our less amenable ones. Because while readers may want to meet us, to exchange confidences, praise or criticism, they shouldn't know too much. It's not healthy or wise to show the world who we are in our entirety, because like every other industry that relies on another person's imagination and investment, writers need to disappear when someone is reading our book.

Which brings me in my long-winded way to the point of this post. Having watched in slack-jawed horror the debacle caused by bestselling author John Grisham's insensitive remarks during a recent interview, where he extolled his opinions of old white men who watch child porn and the unnecessary harshness of their jail sentences, I realized this is a perfect case of writer's foot-in-mouth. As rich and popular as Mr. Grisham is, and a lawyer to boot, so he really should have known better, he's still a writer. He doesn't get out much, or at least not as much as he probably should. He might actually believe what he said (writers are under no requirement to be pleasant, though it would behoove them to at least try) or he might have been handed a microphone and completely lost it. Whatever the case, he screwed up. Within hours, his mini-rant went viral; his Facebook and twitter accounts flooded with outraged remarks and avowals to boycott him evermore. His hard-working publicist no doubt had to flee to the nearest bathroom stall to hurl up his or her lunch before launching into full damage-control mode, because, you see, Mr. Grisham has a book dropping next week and well . . . to behave like a cretin at such a time is simply not done.

Will it affect his book's sales? I doubt it. In today's age of burn-fast-and-forget-it, by next week some other author, celebrity, or politician will utter a string of garbage and the blast of the white-hot spotlight will swerve on them. After all, Orson Scott-Card's unabashed cretinishness hasn't exactly hurt him, though the producers of the film made from his bestselling novel went to certain lengths to distance themselves from his racist, homophobic stance. Still, he has survived, and to my knowledge, his book sales have not taken a significant hit.

The simple truth is, most writers aren't designed for the world. We're built like special cars, fueled by the power of our visions, with high mileage in our particular neighborhood but poor efficiency on the highway, necessitating frequent coffee re-fills and fortifying pep-talks from our agents. We're not supposed to be touted into the arena to regale the public, because while we may be interesting in our own right, most of what we want to say, or should say, is in our books.

Then of course, there is that undeniable alternative: Some writers are not nice. They're rude, self-absorbed people whose opinions make 98% of the rest of the planet shudder. They are the dangerous ones, the feral in our breed, because you never know when they're let out of their den if they'll smile at you or bite.

So, publishers beware.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Random Reviews: SAVAGE GIRL

Jean Zimmerman. SAVAGE GIRL.

The premise of Jean Zimmerman's Savage Girl is gripping: What would happen if a wealthy couple with everything they could possibly imagine came across a so-called "feral child" in a tawdry Nevada sideshow and decides to bring her back to New York and convert her into a society belle? With shades of Pygmalion crossed with the darker hue of Edith Wharton, Savage Girl posits this theory and adds another layer: What if all the men who show an erotic interest in the girl start to turn up dead and the disturbed son of the wealthy couple begins to suspect she may be a brutal killer, even as he sees disturbing signs within himself that he might be to blame?

There is no question that Ms Zimmerman is a masterful writer; her prose is beautiful and she brilliantly captures the unreliable voice of the couple's son, Hugo Delegate, who narrates the story. Hugo is both repelled and fascinated by Bronwyn, the "savage girl," whose past is slowly revealed as Hugo's suspicions and attraction to her deepen. The world of Gilded Age New York also comes to vivid, detailed life; we feel the hypocrisy and emphasis on lineage and social position as the curiosity-obsessed Delegates seek to put one over on their peers by turning Bronwyn into something she is not. Bronwyn fascinates in her contradictions - alluring yet remote, with a tendency to slip out after-hours to roam the streets, wearing a glove fitted with claws. However, her distance from the narrative voice and Hugo's preoccupation with a variety of other concerns dampen the plot's thrust, as he's distracted both by his own torment and his family's foibles. At times, there simply is too much story in this heady brew, diluting the lethal mystery at its heart.

Nevertheless, the experience of reading it turns compulsive, as the underside of the Gilded Age is torn asunder by the introduction of the wild within us all - a metaphor for how we seek to curb our baser instincts, forcing our repressions to find other, more unsavory ways to erupt. Hugo's confession turns chilling as we realize how far his family has gone and the terrible price exacted of them, while Bronwyn's own secrets lead to an excellent denouement. In the end, we find ourselves questioning: Who is truly the savage here?

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Random Reviews: HOTEL DE DREAM

I read voraciously and have been writing reviews for years, both on Goodreads, for Amazon Vine, and the Historical Novels Review. So, I decided to start a Random Review feature here on my blog where I'll offer select reviews of books I personally enjoyed. Most have a historical component, of course. Hope you enjoy!

Edmund White. HOTEL DE DREAM.

Edmund White is rightfully considered one of our finest living English-language writers, though his output is not as prolific as others in his cadre. Nevertheless, he has carved an indelible mark for himself in portraying both gay life and history in his works, his prose always luminous and his insights into the foibles of the human condition often profound.

In his deceptively slim novel, Hotel de Dream, Mr White re-imagines the final days of American literary phenomenon Stephen Crane, who is wasting away from tuberculosis at the age of twenty-eight. Acclaimed posthumously for his work, Crane was only a one-hit wonder in his lifetime; and as he slowly suffocates from his illness, he labors to dictate his final novel - a strange, elegiac tale of a boy prostitute in 1890s New York and the staid, married banker whose obsessive love for the boy precipitates his own downfall. Woven in between scenes of Crane and his work-in-progress is the story of how Crane himself met a similar boy years before and how that fateful encounter haunts him still.

Portraits of Henry James and other literary luminaries pepper the pages - the depiction of pompous and reluctantly proper James is startlingly amusing - and balancing it all could prove exhausting, not to mention cumbersome, in the hands of a lesser writer. But Mr White commands his triple narrative with consummate style, giving his moribund protagonist a mordant wit that makes light of his dire circumstances, even as Crane reflects on the swift-fire passage of time and depths of passion to which we can descend, as exemplified by the boy's doomed suitor.

This is a brilliantly executed novel, brimming with respect for our flawed humanity. White's portrayal of the boy himself is masterful - a jaded youth of the streets who retains only a semblance of innocence yet remains utterly naive to the vicissitudes he unleashes. Likewise, White's evocation of the morals of a bygone era and stark class disparities in New York, where the wealthy rub elbows with the downtrodden and destitute, is vividly rendered, but never ponderous.

If you read only one work by Edmund White - and you should read more - let it be this one

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Guest post from Eva Stachniak, author of EMPRESS OF THE NIGHT

I'm delighted to welcome Eva Stachniak, author of EMPRESS OF THE NIGHT: A Novel of Catherine the Great, the follow-up to her international bestseller, The Winter Palace.

I loved The Winter Palace, which recounts Catherine's tumultuous struggles through the eyes of a trusted servant with secrets of her own. In Empress of the Night, Eva returns to the grandiose, turbulent and dramatic life of Russia's most famous empress, now in the twilight of her long reign, as she is dying from a massive stroke and recalls the twists and turns, sacrifices and intrigues, that brought her to the throne. Catherine is a magnificent woman, but prey to capricious appetites and a hunger for power; and her trajectory from neglected foreign princess to czarina of the one of the most expansive and decaying empires of the world offers an astonishing, compelling look at the vagaries of fate.

Eva's work has been highly praised by readers and critics alike for her luminous prose and insight. Library Journal calls Empress of the Night "historical fiction fans will appreciate . . . this personal account of a formidable and, indeed, infamous ruler." and Book Reporter says, "As the reader, you’re left with an intimate, up-close look at the imagined life of Catherine the Great. It is, quite simply, wonderful."

Please join me in giving a warm welcome to Eva, who offers us this tantalizing glimpse into her inspiration behind the novel. To find out more about Eva and her work, please visit her website.

Ever since I decided to write about Catherine the Great, I knew that I couldn’t write just one novel about her; she was too big, too complex, her story involved too many people and too many key events. It was always a two book project. In The Winter Palace the readers watched Catherine through the eyes of Varvara, Catherine’s spy and confidante who was clearly captivated by her mistress, and thus not always reliable as a narrator. Empress of the Night turns its spotlight on Catherine herself.
Empress of the Night is a study of Catherine’s character. The novel begins in November of 1796, when Catherine is 67 years old and succumbs to a massive stroke. In the two days that follow, speechless and motionless, the most powerful woman in Russia is forced to witness how the intricate threads of her palace politics unravel around her. Her legacy, her plans for Russia’s future, the very fate of the monarchy are in danger. Grand Duke Paul, Catherine’s son, the man whom she grew to despise, is getting ready to assume control over the imperial court and Russia’s sprawling lands. He feels he no longer has to hide his hatred of everything his dying mother represents. After all he’ll soon become Emperor Paul II, the absolute monarch of All the Russias, answering only to God. 

As a writer, I was drawn to the image of once powerful Catherine the Great facing her limitations, her powerlessness, her mortality. I wondered how much the historical Catherine understood from what was happening around her in these last two days and nights before her death, what she thought of the events that led her to this pivotal and tragic November morning when she felt the first pangs of pain. Of course we’ll never know how massive her stroke really was, how much consciousness she retained and for how long. One witness of these last two days and nights in the imperial bedroom recorded that Catherine tried to speak once. She lifted herself up a little, her lips moved, her throat produced some strange noises. In the end, all the dying empress managed was to grab her attendant’s hand and squeeze it.

This—I thought—was a commanding image. I took it for a permission to imagine that Catherine understood far more than those around her gave her credit for and began writing Empress of the Night.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Guest post from Laurel Corona, author of THE MAPMAKER'S DAUGHTER

I'm delighted to welcome Laurel Corona, a friend and colleague whose latest novel THE MAPMAKER'S DAUGHTER is now available. Set in 15th-century Spain, this beautiful and vivid novel explores the forgotten women of the Spanish Inquisition, as seen through the eyes of Amalia Riba, a converso forced to hide her religion from the outside world, She is the last in a long line of Jewish mapmakers, whose services to the court were so valuable that their religion had been tolerated by Muslims and Christians alike.

But times have changed. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella conquer Granada, the last holdout of Muslim rule in Spain, they issue an order expelling all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity. As Amalia looks back on her eventful life, we witness history in the making—the bustling court of Henry the Navigator, great discoveries in science and art, the fall of Muslim Granada, the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition. And we watch as Amalia decides whether to relinquish what’s left of her true self, or risk her life preserving it. This is a sweeping saga of faith, family and identity that shows how the past shapes our map of life.

Please join me in welcoming Laurel Corona, who offers us this interesting perspective on the famous Henry the Navigator.

Henry the Navigator and his “Gay Company”

When I was in grade school I always thought Henry the Navigator was the coolest figure in the Age of Exploration, but there were a number of things my teachers didn’t share, or didn’t know, about him. He was the first to kidnap Africans for economic gain and and bring them as slaves to Europe. He also never navigated, staying on dry land the entire time his ships went off to discover the world.  And one last thing: he was almost certainly gay. Researching Henry for my new novel, THE MAPMAKER’S DAUGHTER, I ran across an early historian who said that the prince “spent his whole life in pure chastity, and went to his grave as a virgin.” Another said that "he did not wish to marry because of his great chastity." A third added that "he always lived so virtuously and chastely that he never knew a woman."

Of course “chaste” does not equal gay, so let’s dig a little further.

What might his brother, King Duarte, have meant when he wrote Henry to say he should avoid "giving pleasure to men" beyond what he could do in a "virtuous manner"? What does one contemporaneous historian mean when he describes Henry’s household as “habituated to the gay and spontaneous company of his servants,” adding that, “he was very attached to them”? This archaic use of the word “gay” always brings a smile to modern lips, but the point about Henry’s preferences is not contained in that word.

What does it mean that most of those Henry gave the chance to conduct highly lucrative slave raids in West Africa were young men raised from youth in his "câmara"? When his early biographers used this word, its most common meaning was bedroom, or by extension the private quarters of his palace, where it is apparent from the sources that many young men (and never a woman) were free to come and go in a manner befitting a prince’s most intimate friends.

In The Mapmaker's Daughter, Diogo Marques is one of Henry’s handsome young favorites who subsequently receives a commission to go slaving.  My protagonist Amalia, not yet in her teens when she goes to Henry’s court with her father, wonders about this absence of females in the palace.  Though later she will pay for her naivete, at the time she simply grumbles that if there were women around, someone might notice she had outgrown her clothes.
Biographers during his lifetime and the century afterward tiptoed delicately around the subject of Henry’s personal life for good reason.  Sodomy was a grievous sin and a crime punishable by death.  To make the heinousness even clearer, after execution (or as a means of it) the body of the accused had to be so thoroughly destroyed by fire that no trace remained.  It was common to exhume the dead to desecrate their bodies if offenses of this and other sorts were discovered later.  Obvious, honesty both during and after Henry’s lifetime was not consistent with building him into the national hero of Portugal, so biographers kept their silence. 

And then there’s very phallic personal crest Henry designed, which would raise the eyebrows of anyone who has ever heard of Freud. It seems there is much more to Henry than the well-dressed prince looking to sea with a model ship in his hand.

Thank you, Laurel. To find out more about Laurel and her work, please visit her website.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Interview with C.J. Samson, author of DOMINION

I'm honored and delighted to welcome C.J. Sansom, whose new novel DOMINION is now out in the UK and the US. An international bestselling author who is well known for his Matthew Shardlake mysteries set in Tudor England. C.J. is also the author of the evocative bestseller, Winter In Madrid, set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, and is one of my favorite novels about that tumultuous and tragic period.

In his latest novel, Dominion, C.J. offers a chillingly realistic portrayal of alternate history, positing what might have happened had the Third Reich invaded and conquered the UK. Set in 1952, twelve years have passed since Britain has surrendered to Nazi Germany and the British people find themselves under increasingly authoritarian rule. But Churchill’s Resistance is not vanquished and as the defiance grows, whispers circulate of a secret that could alter the balance of the global struggle. The keeper of that secret is Scientist Frank Muncaster, who languishes in a Birmingham mental hospital.

Civil Servant David Fitzgerald, a spy for the Resistance and University friend of Frank’s, is given the mission to rescue Frank. Hard on his heels is Gestapo agent, Gunther Hoth, a brilliant and implacable hunter of men, who soon has Frank and David’s wife, Sarah, in his sights. This is a spellbinding novel in the vein of Graham Greene that dares to explore how in moments of crisis, history can turn on the decisions of a few brave men and women – the secrets they choose to keep and the bonds they share. 

Please join me in welcoming C.J. Sansom.

Please could you tell us about your inspiration for writing Dominion.
Everyone who studies history seriously considers counter-factuals – if a particular event, or decision, had gone differently, what would the effects on history have been.  And of course one intriguing theme is, what would have happened if Britain had been defeated or surrendered in 1940.

 What drew you to the particular era that your book depicts?  What are some of the challenges and/or delights about writing about this time?
As well as the Tudor era, I have always been very interested in European and British history before, during and after the Second World War, and Winter in Madrid is also set within this broad period.  Dominion, is setting in Britain in 1952, the year I was born.  Although it is an alternate history and many things are different, I try to catch the atmosphere of 1950s Britain in such things as the general drabness, the intense social conservatism, but also the importance of personal integrity as epitomised in characters like David and Sarah.  It was very interesting to create characters rooted in a time which I can just remember, as well as little details like the fact that everybody smoked, and it was routine for dogs to do their business in the street!  One of the challenges, which I would have had even writing about the real world rather than on alternate history, is that events and political figures are still, just, within range of memory, as are the political ideas.  I knew I would get criticism for my portrayal of how some political figures and political parties respond to defeat, but I believe these to be plausible, or would not have protrude as I have.

You are very well-known for your Shardlake mysteries set in Tutor England, as well as a previous novel set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, Winter in Madrid.  What promises did you use to transport yourself (and readers) to another time period?  How do you go about research and incorporating it into fiction?

That is the $64,000 question for a historical novelist.  I am fortunate in that I am a historical nerd, and have spent much of the last forty years reading and thinking about history.  I don't have the knowledge of a professional academic, but think I am fairly well-rooted in the mid-sixteenth and mid-twentieth centuries.  Whenever I have chosen the exact topic I'm going to write about, I always research the particular subject as carefully as I can, including looking at original documentation from the period wherever possible.  This takes 2 to 3 months and I'm sure that much of each novel is written in my subconscious during that time.  Then when I write, I always try to strike that essential balance between burdening the reader with a mass of historical facts, and giving the flavour of the time.  That's the key thing, having the character and stories integrated with "the world of the piece."

 Do you believe your historical fiction conveys a message or theme relevant to our world today?  If so, what do you think it is?  If not, how do you think readers can find common ground with the characters in your story?
Everyone, I think, who writes historical novels – or, for that matter, factual books, does so from the perspective of their own time.  I don't think there is such a thing as a general "message" or "theme" in historical fiction – everyone writes from the point of view of their own ideas, conscious or unconscious.  I am sure my own books reflect my own position on the democratic left.  The only book where I have deliberately conveyed a message is Dominion, where the message is how easy, and how dangerous it is to fall into politics defined by nationalism.  As for common ground with the characters, their to a difficult balance has to be drawn, between someone intelligible to the modern world but with the different mindset of another time.  This is much easier for the 1940s than the 1540s!

Can you tell us about your next project?
I am going back to Tudor England and the Shardlake series, with a book called Lamentation which will be set around the jockeying for power between religious and political factions at the court of the dying Henry VIII, and which will prominently feature his last wife, Catherine Parr.  It will be the last in the series set during the reign of Henry VIII, but I hope to to continue it under his successors.

Thank you, C.J. To learn more about C.J. and his work, please visit his website. C.J. is also on virtual tour through the blog world until March 14.

Thursday, January 16, 2014


THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY releases today in the UK. To celebrate the book's release, I will be on a virtual blog tour from January 16 to January 28. Hope you can join me! I'll update these links as the tour progresses.

January 16 - For Winter Nights. Review and Q&A.

January 17. Sir Reads a Lot. Review.

January 18. Reading Gives Me Wings. Q&A.

January 19. Life Between Pages. Review.

January 20. A Fantastical Librarian. Q&A.

January 20. Kincavel Corner. Review and Q&A

January 22. Historical Honey.

Named one of Daily Soap's Top 7 Reads
January 23. SJA Turney's Blog of Random Miscellany.

January 24. Parmenion Books.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Guest post and Giveaway from Elizabeth Fremantle, author of QUEEN'S GAMBIT

I'm delighted to welcome Elizabeth Fremantle, author of QUEEN'S GAMBIT, a sumptuous account of the life of Katherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII who survived the murderous king and went on to endure an ill-fated marriage to Thomas Seymour.

In Queen's Gambit, Kate Parr's story is entwined with that of Dorothy, or Dot, her maidservant, as well as several supporting characters, all of whom are complex and depicted as people whose very existence within the treacherous politics of court dictate both their behavior and their survival. Kate's voice is compelling; a widow with a secret, she attracts the unwanted affections of the ailing king and must sacrifice her magnetic attraction to gorgeous Seymour in order to be queen, only to find herself plunged into an increasingly desperate gambit that requires all her courage and perseverance. Her transformation into a crusader for the Reformed Faith at a time when Henry himself frowns upon it, having retreated into the solace of his Catholicism despite his break with Rome, pits the queen against enemies eager to see her fall. Witnessing her mistress's struggles while contending with her own, is Dot, who emerges as the novel's most engaging character, her wit and keen perspective on her role in the scheme of life at court lending her a unique voice that makes us truly care about what happens to her. Dot, in fact, ends up carrying the story, as Kate Parr becomes mired in her battles and unmitigated desire for Seymour. An adolescent Princess Elizabeth also makes several appearances, stealing the show, as usual, with her self-absorbed antics. I especially liked a scene when Dot overhears Elizabeth conversing rather carelessly with a bewildered Jane Grey.

Tudor aficionados and those who love historical fiction will thoroughly enjoy Queen's Gambit; the inevitable comparisons to Hilary Mantel's work aside, this is by far a more accessible account of the Tudor court, written by an author who's mastered her craft and has deep respect for her subject matter.

GIVEAWAY: Simon & Schuster is kindly offering one free copy of Queen's Gambit. To enter the giveaway contest, please add your comment below this post. Thanks and good luck!

Now, please join me in welcoming Elizabeth Fremantle.

Why Katherine Parr?
I am often asked why I chose to write about Katherine Parr and it is true she seems one of the less interesting when compared to her more glamorous predecessors. But scratch the surface of her story and a dynamic, charismatic woman emerges. She may not have been born a princess to make a great alliance, nor did her life come to a truly dramatic climax with execution, but she was a highly intelligent well-loved woman and an astute political operator who understood how to play the game of power in a dissembling court, using her position to support religious reform at great personal cost. This is a woman who managed to out-fox her powerful adversaries and survive a plot on her life. She was an author too, publishing two books at a time when to publish at best risked ridicule and at worst might seriously compromise a woman’s virtue. She was clever enough to wait until after Henry’s death to publish her second book, a highly political and unashamedly reformist tome. She might not have become known as the wife who ‘survived’ had she not had the sense to wait.

There is much to admire about Katherine Parr’s dynamism, intellect and ability to survive as well as the fact that she was married no less than four times.  But one of the things that most appealed to me about her story was that she was also flawed. She made a disastrous decision in the name of misguided romance with devastating consequences, and it is this picture of a truly accomplished woman becoming a fool for love that fascinated me. The contradiction in her character makes her, for me, so very human and relatable to us today. Who doesn’t know of a clever woman who has fallen foul of romance?

Author photo: Paola Pieroni
But my story is not just one of a remarkable queen. I was determined to explore another view of the Tudor court through the character of Dot. Dot, who serves as Katherine’s maid, is largely of my imagination. We know almost nothing about the woman Dorothy Fountain who served as maid to Katherine Parr’s stepdaughter Margaret Neville during her second marriage. We know she remained with the family serving Katherine Parr when she was Queen, that she was left four pounds a year in Margaret’s will and that she married a man named William Savage who might have been a musician.

It is not much to go on and for the purposes of QUEEN’S GAMBIT I have made Dot lower born than she was likely to have been in reality, as I wanted to offer a different perspective on the court – a 'below stairs' view. I was keen to explore the kind of life an ordinary women like Dot might have had in the period. In the novel, she is visited by exceptional circumstances and comes to move in an elevated world, her experience of it is different to those born into the nobility.

Dot gave me the chance to look at loyalty and true friendship between women, allowing me to show Katherine as a woman who was both loyal herself and inspired great loyalty, even in an uneducated young woman well beneath her in the social scale. Literacy and education was something entirely beyond such a woman’s reach and in Dot I wanted to imagine her as having an intellectual curiosity, striving to educate herself against the expectations of her age. As an adjunct to this I touch on the possibilities for social mobility that were beginning to open up (it must be said mostly for men) in the renaissance period.

Through the eyes of these two women whose lives intersect and yet are so different, I hoped to convey something of what it was like to live in the court of history’s most notorious tyrant, Henry VIII.

Thank you, Elizabeth. To find out more about Elizabeth Fremantle and her work, please visit her website.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Q&A with Beverly Swerling, author of MOLLIE PRIDE

I'm delighted to welcome Beverly Swerling, the acclaimed author of numerous, marvelous historical novels, including her trilogy on old Manhattan, City of Dreams, City of Glory and City of Promise, as well as the stand-alone Shadowbrook; a recently released historical ghost story, Bristol House; and her first reissue in e-format, MOLLIE PRIDE. Beverly has been praised for her attention to detail, her deft hand with character and plot, and versatility within the genre. Publisher's Weekly has praised her work as "sweeping. . . readers will be captivated by [her[ intricate plot, colorful characters and convincing descriptions . . . ."

Please join me in welcoming Beverly Swerling

Q: Please tell us about your inspiration for writing MOLLIE PRIDE.

I suppose every historical novelist at some points toys with the idea of writing something set during that terrible and earth-shaking drama that was WWII.  Certainly I had the idea for years. For me all fiction is about characters, so the essential thing was to come up with a lead character who would play some role in that war.  That doesn't sound too difficult, but for a long time I couldn't find a peg--something to hang my story on--that felt at least somewhat fresh and new. 

Then one day I was playing around with opening lines, and thinking about the almost frantic mood of the roaring twenties. In no time I had a paragraph I really liked: "A lot of crazy things were happening in America in 1926. While a breathless nation watched, a couple dressed in jodhpurs and helmets tangoed from Santa Monica to Los Angeles; a high school student put forty sticks of gum into his mouth, sang Home Sweet Home, and drank a gallon of milk between verses; a guy called Shipwreck Kelly spent a large part of his life sitting on top of flagpoles; and from Harlem’s Cotton Club to Hollywood’s Brown Derby, everybody danced. For fun, for profit, for kudos – and sometimes just to stay alive."

Q:  What drew you to the particular era that your book depicts? What are some of the challenges and/or delights about writing about this time?

Once I'd written that paragraph, next thing I knew I had the Prides, Harry and Zena, who made a bare-bones living following the marathon dance contests that were part of the general 20's nuttiness.  And I had their adorable six-year-old daughter, Mollie, who anchored their act with her rendition of the Charleston.  
If you follow that timeline for a few years you're into the golden age of early commercial radio.  Why not make Mollie a child star on radio!  And from there…  Well, what about the role of radio in WWII?   It was huge.  This was the first time war was happening in people's living rooms.  And there was the other side, the spies dropped behind enemy lines who took their lives in their hands to broadcast coded messages.

Bingo, I had my WWII book.  
Q: What process did you use to transport yourself (and readers) to another time period? How do you go about research and incorporating it into fiction?

In the matter of WWII, the issue is finding the thread you want to follow when so much is happening.  I had settled on radio and that helped to keep me focused, but like all my books, it's always about more than what it's about.  People don't stop loving and laughing or hating and plotting just because there's a war on.

Q:  Does your historical fiction convey a message or theme relevant to our world today? If so, what do you think it is? If not, how do you think readers can find common ground with the characters in your story?

I think it's because of our world today that I decided to encore MOLLIE PRIDE as a Kindle E-book.  We live in a time of many challenges, and sadly our country sometimes feels painfully divided.  But the real values never change, though they might go underground for a time.  America was also deeply polarized before the onset of WWII.  In fact the majority of the nation didn't want us to get involved.  Perhaps because they didn't realize how truly evil Nazism was.  And the Great Depression was causing terrible suffering for so many.  But when the challenge ultimately came, ordinary people were compelled to step up and do heroic things and they did them.

Love, honor, duty… those aren't just words for Mollie and the people she loves.  And the stakes were incredibly high.  So in the end I didn't open the story with that paragraph I quoted about the crazy things happening in 1926.  I opened it with a prologue that takes place in Washington DC, in1946, and the threat of the death penalty for high treason… 

As for making the characters in historical fiction meaningful for today's readers, I think that requires the writer to be absolutely honest.  Sitting down at the computer, as has been said before, and opening a vein.  You've got to let real life happen on the page, and show what really motivates the people in your fiction, their fears and their desires and their longings… Emotions of that sort don't change much from decade to decade, or even century to century.  That kind of truthful writing is what I've tried to achieve with Mollie and the people around her.   When the book was first published in 1991 many readers felt that emotional connection to Mollie.  I'm hoping that will happen for those who meet her now.

Q:  Can you tell us about your next project?

I'm working on something called 37 SIN EATERS' STREET.  It's a Back-and-Forth-in-Time book that takes place in Prague in the 1940's, and New York City today.  In that sense it's not unlike my recently published, BRISTOL HOUSE.  And I've used that kind of dual period template in two earlier books: WOMEN'S RITES and A MATTER OF TIME. They are both scheduled to make their E-Pub Encore appearances later this year.  

Thank you so much, Beverly. To find out more about Beverly Swerling and her work, please visit her website

Wednesday, July 17, 2013


THE TUDOR CONSPIRACY, the second novel in the Elizabeth I Spymaster Chronicles is out in paperback! Taking place a few months after the events of The Tudor Secret, Brendan Prescott, a spy in Princess Elizabeth's service, returns to court during the reign of Bloody Mary and plunges into London’s treacherous underworld to unravel a dark conspiracy that could make Elizabeth queen—or send her to her death.

I'll be on both a physical and virtual tour, and hope to see you at one of my events. Click on the banner below for all my blog tour stops, which run from July 16 to August 27.

To purchase the book, you can find links to online stores here or better yet, visit your local indie. If they don't have it, they can always order it for you. I'm happy to send signed bookplates, as well. Just write to me via my Contact page on my website with your address.

Thanks for all your support! I hope you enjoy the book.


* July 18. 7 PM. Books, Inc. Berkeley. 
* July 23. 7 PM. Bookshop West Portal, San Francisco. Launch Party for The Tudor Conspiracy. Wine, cheese and cake will be served. Open to everyone! 
* July 25 - 28. Guest Faculty at Book Passage's MysteryWriters Conference, Corte Madera. 
* August 1. 6 PM Mechanic's Institute Library, San Francisco. Season finale event. Flamenco music and dancing; tapas and Spanish wine will be served. 
* August 7. 7 PM. A Great Good Place for Books. Oakland
 * September 21. 1 PM. Orinda Books

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Guest post from Gillian Bagwell, author of VENUS IN WINTER

I'm delighted to welcome Gillian Bagwell, author of Darling Strumpet, The September Queen, and her latest release, VENUS IN WINTER, which tells the extraordinary story of Bess of Hardwick, one of the Elizabethan era's most formidable women. As a young woman at the glamorous court of King Henry VIII, Bess finds a treacherous world she must quickly learn to navigate. The fates of Henry’s wives convince Bess that marrying is a dangerous business yet she finds the courage to wed not once, but four times. Outliving two husbands and securing her status, when she is widowed a third time she is left with a large fortune and even larger decisions—discovering that, for a woman of substance, power and possibilities are endless.

Please join me in welcoming Gillian Bagwell, who offers us this post on Tudor jousting.

Tudor Jousting Tournaments: Pageantry, Excitement. and Danger by Gillian Bagwell

There may be few things more blood-poundingly exciting to watch than two armored men on horseback thundering toward each other, lances leveled with the intention of sending each other sprawling into the sawdust before a cheering crowd.Tournaments developed as training for war, when close fighting between mounted knights was the way battles were fought, and the original medieval tournaments were often melees involving opposing groups of men who clashed on open ground, frequently resulting in real battlefield injuries.

By the Tudor era, jousting tournaments were purely sporting events, and the participants and spectators were royalty and nobles, the only people who could afford the expensive and highly-trained horses, spendid armor, and backup personnel that were necessary. But though by the sixteenth century jousters weren't trying to kill each other, the tiltyard was still a very dangerous place. On June 30, 1559, King Henri II of France was severely injured during a tournament when his opponent's lance splintered and penetrated his visor, piercing his skull.  Despite the efforts of his surgeons, he died on July 10.
Jousting in the 16th century

The following day, probably before news of Henri's death had reached England, Queen Elizabetjh and her court were enjoying a tournament at Greenwich, one of eight held during the first seven years of her reign, including a two-day extravaganza held shortly after her coronation. The competitions provided an opportunity for her courtiers to impress her and win the queen's favor. Her favorite Robert Dudley and his brother Ambrose were prominent participants.

Elizabeth's father, Henry VIII, was renowned for his love of jousting,  which enabled him to display his athletic prowess. The tournaments held during the Field of the Cloth of Gold, the famous eighteeen-day meeting of the English and French courts, required wagons of lumber and acres of satin, damask, and sarcenet to build a tiltyard. The numerous and elaborate costumes for Henry and his knights and their attendants, armorers, saddlers, stablemen, and heralds cost 3000 pounds, at a time when a maidservant earned about three pounds a year and ten pounds could buy two coaches and two coach horses.
IIronically, it was a jousting injury that was partly responsible for Henry becoming the obese and ill-tempered tyrant of his later years. In 1524, he escaped a fatal injury similar to the one that killed the French king, when he forgot to put down his visor and the Duke of Suffolk, who couldn't hear the cries of "Hold!" struck Henry above his right eye with his lance. The lance didn't break his skull, but it did bring on migraines .

Gillian Bagwell
A more serious accident occurred on January 24, 1536, when Henry was thrown from his  horse during a tournament at Greenwich, and the heavily armored horse rolled over him. He was unconscious for two hours, during which it seemed likely that he would die. The fall aggravated a varicose ulcer on his leg, and for the rest of his life he was crippled and tortured by the pain of an ulcer that never healed. It's also thought that the fall may have caused an injury to the frontal lobe of his brain, resulting in personality changes including paranoia and depression.
Henry never jousted again. The shock of the event may also have contributed to Anne Boleyn's miscarriage of a baby boy, who might have been her salvation. Instead, only three months later, Henry had her arrested, tried for treason, and executed.

Thank you, Gillian! VENUS IN WINTER is in stores now. To find out more about Gillian and her work, please visit her at her website.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Guest post by Nicole Galland, author of GODIVA

I'm delighted to welcome back Nicole Galland (author of I, Iago and The Fool's Tale; among others), whose latest novel GODIVA offers us a fascinating, unique look at the infamous nude rider. According to legend, Lady Godiva lifted the unfair taxation of her people by her husband, Leofric, Earl of Mercia, by riding through the streets of Coventry wearing only a smile. It's a story that has endured for nearly a thousand years. But what would drive a lady of the court to take off everything and risk her reputation, her wardrobe, even her life—all for a few peasants' pennies? In this daringly original, charmingly twisted take on an oft-imagined tale, Nicole exposes a provocative view of Countess Godiva and her ride into infamy, turning the legend into an unexpected adventure of romance, deceit, and intrigue.

Please join me in welcoming Nicole Galland.

Godiva: The Naked Truth

 When I first encountered Godiva, the countess of Mercia, I thought she should merely play a cameo in a novel I was already working on. But I diligently research even my minor characters, and when I submerged myself in Godivation, I realized she deserved her own novel.
Nicole Galland

I was captivated by the discrepancy between real history and the “Godiva legend.” Briefly, the latter goes like this: Earl Leofric of Mercia mercilessly taxed the people of Coventry, ignoring his wife’s pleas to give them tax relief – until he declared if she rode naked through the streets of Coventry, he would lighten the tax. Astonished, she did it, and Leofric, indeed, lowered the tax.

Besides the obvious dozen question this anecdote raises (why would an earl encourage his wife to do something so random? and so humiliating? and then reward her for it? to his own detriment?)… this story, upon examination, falls apart for a simple fact in British history: Godiva owned Coventry, and under Anglo-Saxon law, she was the only person who could tax it. Under Norman rule, when the story was first written down nearly 200 years later, then yes, the Coventrians would have been taxed by Leofric. But before the Norman Invasion, things didn’t work like that.

Maybe this means Godiva never made the ride at all. But why would such a specific, well-developed (and bizarre) story – filled with everything from domestic sarcasm to Christian piety –  spontaneously pop into being so many decades after the fact? As with most legends, it may have been based on something that really happened, but which over time was skewed and misinterpreted so that it became a tale tailored to a particular audience.

So I decided to do the same. With history to bolster my own take on the legend – namely the existence of the heregeld, a detested national tax that was used solely to fund the king’s private military – I decided to tell the story so that it would speak to a modern audience, in an age of military strife, tax dissension and arguments about the role of government… but also an age of strong, liberated women who are celebrated, not punished, for demonstrating they are forces to be reckoned with. I’ve enjoyed the double challenging of bringing Godiva into the 21st century while rooting her accurately (at last) in the 11th. She’s leapt the millennium surprisingly well – without even using a saddle.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

THE QUEEN'S VOW out in paperback!

THE QUEEN'S VOW, my novel about Isabella of Castile's youth and tumultuous rise to power, is out today in paperback! I'm going to be on a physical and virtual book tour this month, with two added dates in August and September for my appearances. I hope to see you at one of my events, as I really enjoy meeting readers. If you can't make it, you can always follow my virtual tour from July 2 to August 6. Click on the banner below for all my tour stops.

To purchase the book, find links to online stores here or better yet, visit your local indie store. If they don't have it, they can order it for you. I'm happy to send signed bookplates, as well. Just write to me via my Contact page on my website with your address.

Thanks for all your support! I hope to see you soon. And I hope you enjoy the book.


* July 10. 7 PM. San Francisco Public Library.
* July 11 - 12. ThrillerFest, New York City.
* July 18. 7 PM. Books, Inc. Berkeley.
* July 23. 7 PM. Bookshop West Portal, San Francisco. Party with C.W. Wine, cheese and cake will be served. Open to everyone!
* July 25 - 28. Guest Faculty at Book Passage's Mystery Writers Conference, Corte Madera.
* August 1. 6 PM Mechanic's Institute Library, San Francisco. Season finale event. Flamenco music and dancing; tapas and Spanish wine will be served.

* September 21. 1 PM. Orinda Books.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Exclusive Excerpt from THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido

I’m delighted to offer an exclusive excerpt from an upcoming historical novel out May 28. THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido is inspired by Song Cí, who was considered to be the founding father of CSI-style forensic science in thirteenth-century China. This historical thriller is drawing comparisons to The Hangman's Daughter for its absorbing details of another time and received the Zaragoza International Prize for best historical novel published in Spain in 2012.

In ancient China during the Song Dynasty only a select few ever reach the coveted title of "corpse reader," a forensic elite force which, even at the risk of their own lives, has a mandate that no death go unsolved and no crime go unpunished.  Cí Song is the first of those elite few.  Envied for his pioneering methods, and persecuted by his peers, he arouses the curiosity of the emperor himself, who assigns Ci to track a series of heinous crimes that threaten to destroy the imperial court.  But as Ci delves deeper into the mysterious deaths, there are those who will do anything to silence him—forever.

Excerpted from THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido
Copyright 2013. Published By AmazonCrossing.
Cí got up early that morning to avoid running into his brother Lu. He could barely pry his eyes open, but he knew that, like every morning, the paddy field would be awake and waiting.
He got up and began putting away his bedding, smelling the tea his mother was brewing in the main room. He entered the room and greeted her with a nod. She replied with a half-hidden smile that he noticed nonetheless, and he smiled in return.
He adored his mother almost as much as he did his little sister, whose name was Third. His other sisters, First and Second, had died very young from a genetic disease. Third was the only one who had managed to survive, though she remained sickly.
Before breakfast, he went over to the small altar the family had erected in memory of his grandfather. He opened the wooden shutters and inhaled deeply. Outside, the first rays of sun were filtering delicately through the fog. The breeze moved through the chrysanthemums in the offering jar and stirred the spirals of incense rising in the room. Cí closed his eyes to recite a prayer, but the only thought that came into his mind was this: Heavenly spirits, allow us to return to Lin’an.

He cast his mind back to when his grandparents were still alive. This backwater had been paradise to him then, and to his brother Lu, who was four years his elder, his hero. Any child would have worshipped Lu. Lu was like the great soldier in their father’s stories, always coming to Cí’s rescue when other children tried to steal his fruit rations, always there to deal with shameless men who tried to flirt with his sisters. Lu had even shown him how to win a fight using certain kicks and punches. He’d taken him down to the river to splash around among the boats and to fish for carp and trout, which they’d then carry home in jubilation. He had also shown Cí the best hiding places from which to spy on their neighbors.
As Lu got older, though, he became vain. At fifteen, he was stronger than ever, as well as boastful, and was unimpressed with anything other than a good right hook. Lu began organizing cat hunts so he could show off in front of the girls. He’d get drunk on stolen rice liquor and crow about how he was the strongest in the gang. He became so arrogant that even when girls were making fun of him he thought they just wanted his attention. Eventually, all the girls began avoiding Lu, and Cí gradually became indifferent to his former idol, too.

In spite of everything, Lu had generally managed to steer clear of any serious trouble, apart from the occasional black eye from fighting or from riding the community buffalo in the water races. But when their father announced his intention to move to the capital city of Lin’an, Lu, who was sixteen at the time, refused to go. Lu didn’t want to move to any city; he was happy in the countryside. In his eyes, the small village had everything: the paddy field, his braggart group of friends, even a few local prostitutes for his amusement. Although his father threatened to disown him, Lu refused to back down. So that year the family split up: Lu stayed in the village and the rest of them moved to the capital, in search of a better future.
Cí had found it difficult adjusting to Lin’an life, though he had a routine. He was up every morning with the sun to check on his sister. He’d make her breakfast and look after her until their mother came back from the market. Having wolfed down his bowl of rice, he’d go to classes until midday, and after that he would run all the way to the slaughterhouse to help his father in his job clearing away carcasses. In the evening, after cleaning the kitchen and praying to his ancestors, he studied the Confucian treatises for recitation in class the next morning. Month after month this was his life. But one day, everything changed. His father left the slaughterhouse and got a job as an accountant for the prefecture of Lin’an under Judge Feng, one of the wisest magistrates in the capital.

Antonio Garrido
Life improved rapidly. The salary his father was now earning meant that Cí, too, could give up the slaughterhouse and dedicate himself to his studies. Thanks to excellent grades, after four years in school Cí was given a junior position in Judge Feng’s department. To begin with, he was given straightforward administrative tasks, but his dedication and attention to detail set him apart, and the judge himself decided to take the now seventeen-year-old under his wing.

Cí showed himself worthy of Judge Feng’s confidence. After just a few months he began assisting in taking statements, interviewing suspects, and preparing and cleaning the corpses of anybody who died under suspicious circumstances. It wasn’t long before his meticulousness, combined with his obvious talents, made him a key employee, and the judge gave him more responsibility. Cí ended up helping with criminal investigations and legal disputes, and thus learned both the fundamentals of law and the basics of anatomy.
Cí also attended university part time, and in his second year Judge Feng encouraged him to take a preparatory course in medicine. According to the judge, the clues to a great many crimes lay hidden in wounds. To solve them you had to develop not a magistrate’s but rather a surgeon’s understanding of trauma. Everything was going well until, one night, Cí’s grandfather suddenly fell ill and died. After the funeral, as was dictated by Chinese custom, his father was obliged to give up his job as well as the house they had been living in, since the owner, Cí’s grandfather, was dead. Without a home or work, the family had to return to the village, the last thing Cí wanted to do.

They came back to a very different Lu. He had built a house on a plot of land he’d acquired, and he was the boss of a small crew of laborers. When his father came knocking at his door, the first thing Lu did, before he would allow him to cross the threshold, was make him get down on his knees and apologize. He made their father sleep in one of the tiny bedrooms, rather than give up his own, and treated Cí with the same disinterest. Soon after, when Lu realized his younger brother no longer worshipped him and cared only for books, Cí became the target of all Lu’s anger. A man showed his true value out in the fields, Lu maintained. That was where your daily rice came from, not from books, not from studying. In Lu’s eyes, his younger brother was a twenty-year-old good-for-nothing, just one more mouth to feed. Cí’s life became little more than a series of criticisms, and he quickly came to hate the village…

A gust of wind brought Cí back to the present.
Going back into the main room, he ran into Lu, who was at the table beside their mother, slurping his tea. Seeing Cí, he spat on the floor and banged his cup down on the table. Without waiting for their father to wake up, he grabbed his bundle of work things and headed out.
“No manners,” muttered Cí, taking a cloth and wiping up the tea his brother had just spilled.
“And you should learn some respect,” said his mother. “We’re living in his home, after all. The strong home—”
“I know, I know. ‘The strong home supports a brave father, prudent mother, obedient son, and obliging brother.’” He didn’t need to be reminded of the saying. Lu was quite fond of it.
Cí laid the table with the bamboo place mats and bowls; this was supposed to be Third’s job, but recently her chest illness had been getting worse. Cí didn’t mind filling in for her. According to ritual, he lined up the bowls, making sure there was an even number of them, and he turned the teapot so that its spout pointed toward the window. He placed the rice wine, porridge, and carp meatballs in the center of the table. He cast his eyes over the kitchen and the cracked sink all black with carbon. It looked more like a dilapidated forge than a home.
Soon, his father hobbled in. Cí felt a stab of sadness.
How he’s aged.
Cí frowned and tensed his jaw. His father’s health was deteriorating: He moved shakily; his gaze was lowered and his sparse beard looked like some unpicked tapestry. There was barely a shred left of the meticulous official he had been, the man who had bred in Cí such a love of method and perseverance. Cí noticed that his father’s hands, which he used to take such care of, were anemic looking, rough and callused. He imagined his father must miss the time when his hands had to be immaculate—the days he’d spent examining judicial dossiers, doing proper work.
Cí’s father sat at the head of the table, motioning for Cí and his mother to sit as well. Cí went to his place, and his mother took her seat on the side closest to the kitchen. She served the rice wine. Third didn’t join them because of her fever.
“Will you be eating with us this evening, Cí?” his mother asked.
“After all this time, Judge Feng will be delighted to see you again.”
Cí wouldn’t have missed it for anything. He didn’t know why exactly, but his father had decided to curtail the mourning period and return to Lin’an. Cí was hoping Judge Feng would agree to take him back into the department.
“Lu said I have to take the buffalo up to the new plot, and after that I was thinking of stopping in on Cherry, but I’ll be back in time for dinner.”
“Twenty years old and still so naive,” said his father. “That girl has you wrapped around her finger. You’ll get bored of her if you carry on seeing so much of each other.”
“Cherry’s the only good thing about this village,” said Cí, eating his last mouthful of food. “Anyway, you were the ones who arranged the marriage.”
“Take the sweets I made with you,” said his mother.
Cí got up and put the sweets in his bag. Before leaving the house, he went into Third’s quarters, kissed her feverish cheeks, and tucked her hair back. She blinked. Cí took out the sweets and hid them under her blanket.
“Not a word!” he whispered.
She smiled, too weak to say anything.
Excerpted from THE CORPSE READER by Antonio Garrido, Copyright 2013. Published By AmazonCrossing.