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.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Guest Post and Giveaway from Ben Kane, author of SPARTACUS: REBELLION

It's an honor to welcome back my friend and fellow author Ben Kane, as he celebrates the release of the second book in his dramatic account of Spartacus, the slave who led a massive rebellion and changed history. In SPARTACUS: REBELLION, Spartacus has already done the impossible—escaped from slavery, created a mighty army that has challenged Rome and defeated the armies of three praetors, two consuls, and one proconsul. Now the road home lies before them but danger gathers on the horizon. One of Spartacus's most powerful generals has defected, taking his men with him, and in Rome, an immense force is being gathered against him. Spartacus wants to lead his men over the Alps but others have a different plan. They want to march on Rome and bring the Republic to its knees. Rebellion has become a war to the death.
As with his first installment Spartacus: The Gladiator, Ben has created a pulse-pounding adventure that is rich with detail and characterization. The Daily Express says, "Burly prose highlights the pain, brutality and chaos of ancient combat" and the Historical Novel Reviews says, "Kane succeeds in drawing a convincing picture of how it might have been, which is what a good historical novel should do."

Please join me in welcoming Ben Kane, who offers us this guest post about how he came to write about this iconic figure as well as a giveaway of ONE copy of each of his Spartacus books. This giveaway is open to US and Canada only. To enter, please comment below. A winner will be drawn at random on May 30.

How I Came To Write About Spartacus
Ben Kane

 It’s a funny thing, but the idea for writing about Spartacus came about by chance. In March 2009, I was talking with my agent about ideas for books. I had already set my mind upon a series set during the second (Punic) war between Carthage and Rome, but we were talking about other possibilities as well. I won’t mention them, because I haven’t written the books yet, but Spartacus came up. It sounds naive but in that moment it was as if someone had switched a light bulb on in my head. I had watched the famous Kubrick movie once as a boy, and it had made a great impression on me. (I should add that we didn't have a TV when I was growing up, or I am sure that I would have seen it more than once!) I had had cause to read about Spartacus in the previous few years. As many of you know, Marcus Licinius Crassus was the man who put down Spartacus’ rebellion in 71 BC. He is also a character in my first novel, The Forgotten Legion. That day, the plan for a set of novels about Carthage and Rome won out, but the idea didn't go away.

In early 2010, I started hearing a lot of news about an upcoming TV miniseries called Spartacus: Blood and Sand, starring a then little-known Australian actor called Andy Whitfield*.This set me to thinking about Spartacus’ story all over again. I did some more research on the man, and became even more enamored of his achievements, and amazed by how close he had come to getting away. He was someone who was subjected to a great injustice, and he didn't take it lying down. Instead, he fought back ― in the process shaking the mighty Roman Republic to its core. Although the reasons for Spartacus’ fame have quite modern roots (he was resurrected as a symbol of the small man’s fight against oppression in the 18th and 19th centuries), his name is one of the most well-known from ancient times. Thrilled, I went as far as writing the plotline for a novel and submitting it to my UK publishers. Sadly, but perhaps sensibly, they were keen that I concentrate on my other novels.
I went back to work, finishing the novel Hannibal: Enemy of Rome. The itch to write Spartacus became a lot worse over the subsequent months, however, and I kept badgering my publishers. I am pleased to say that eventually, they gave in! I started writing Spartacus’ story in mid-December 2010, and I had it finished by mid-June 2011. The story just burst out of me. At about 100,000 words (the normal length of my novels is about 145,000 words) I knew there was no way this amazing man’s story would fit into one volume. Cap in hand, I went back to my publisher. This time, they were quick to agree to a second book. The first volume immediately became Spartacus: The Gladiator, while I named the second Spartacus: Rebellion. That book also took me little more than 6 months to write. In all, I lived, breathed and dreamed Spartacus for more than a year. It was the most amazing experience, and I was very sad to end the story. I actually dreaded writing the final battle (most everyone knows what happens, but I won’t mention it just in case), but when the time came, the writing flowed so well. Working up to 16 hours a day, I wrote more than 15,000 words in 8 days. By the end, I was totally drained, but it had been a fantastic experience. It is my sincere hope that readers will get as much enjoyment out of reading the books as I did in writing them.

*Andy was a mesmeric actor, who totally made the role of Spartacus his. Tragically, he died before the rest of the series could be made. His role was taken over by the actor Liam McIntyre.

Thank you, Ben! Best of success with the book. To follow Ben on his virtual tour, please go here. To find out more about Ben and his work, visit his website. And don't forget to comment below to enter the giveaway.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Q&A with James Forrester, author of ROOTS OF BETRAYAL

I'm delighted to welcome back James Forrester, whose second novel ROOTS OF BETRAYAL was published this week. Following the harrowing adventures detailed in Sacred Treason, Forrester's first installment of this exciting series set in the reign of Elizabeth I, Catholic herald William Clarenceaux is now the custodian of a highly dangerous document. When it is stolen, Clarenceaux suspects a group of Catholic sympathizers and soon enters a nightmare of suspicion, deception and conspiracy. Conflict and fear, compounded by the religious doubts of the time, conceal a persistent mystery. Where has the document gone? Who has it and who really took it? And why? The roots of betrayal are deep and shocking: and Clarenceaux's journey towards the truth entails not just the discovery of clues and signs, but also the discovery of himself.

Please join me in welcoming James Forrester.

You are well known for your non-fiction work. What inspired you to turn to historical fiction? What can you tell us about your reasons for writing THE ROOTS OF BETRAYAL?
At the most fundamental level, it has to do with the messages we send out when writing history, and the limitations of non-fiction. I play around with non-fiction more than most people. I devise new ways of analysing historical evidence, and I find new ways of disproving myths. I also come up with new theories and forms of how to write history – from treating the past as a ‘foreign country’ that we can visit to writing an objective diary of a year, day by day. BUT – but, but, but – no historical form or theory allows you to say what you want to say about humanity as you see it through your own eyes. Non-fiction history is always primarily about someone else, someone in the past. If you want to write history that expresses something in your heart, you have to turn to fiction, plays or poetry. And plays and poetry don’t sell.

The first book in the trilogy, Sacred Treason, was partly inspired by some documents I came across in the course of doing some historical research for the Royal Commission on Historical Manuscripts in the nineties. More important, however, was a woman who… How shall I put this? Well, to be honest, she encouraged me to think of her in romantic ways. I am a happily married man, so it created problems. However, the problems that arose for me in the modern world weren’t half as bad as those I’d have had to deal with in Elizabethan or Puritan times.

This is what got me thinking about the whole historical fiction thing. Using the past as a magnifying glass, we can expose aspects of our daily lives in different ways. Adultery in the modern world is today unworthy of a newspaper column inch (unless you’re royal) but in the 1650s you could be hanged for it. Treason today is almost laughable – but you could be tortured to death for it in the 1580s. And heresy, which today no one blinks an eye about, could result in your being burnt at the stake in the sixteenth century. The backdrop of the past can be used to say things about humanity in a bigger and more vibrant way – and historical fiction can be used to say things about your own life that are true. Put those two things together, and there you have it. There were truths that that I was keen to explore that could never have been fitted into a non-fiction history book, and they were important and dramatic enough to warrant them being set in dramatic times.

As for The Roots of Betrayal in particular,I wanted to create an atheistic character to set as a foil against my religious hero, known as Clarenceux. One night I went round the corner to my local pub and there was a good friend of mine in the bar. The way he was standing, legs slightly apart, reminded me of a pirate standing on the deck of a ship – and as I looked at him and he smiled back, the character of Raw Carew was born. Just as Clarenceux is loosely based on me, then Raw Carew is loosely based on my friend. And plenty of other people from this village are to be found behind the masks of the faces of his pirate crew.

Tell us about the time period in which your book is set. What drew you to this particular era? What are some of the challenges and/or delights about writing about this time?
The Roots of Betrayal is set in 1564. The doubts about the religious change in England – from Catholicism to Protestantism (but not as far as Puritanism) allow the historian to talk about a wide spectrum of things that really mattered to people, about the challenges of the world and how people understood their place in existence. At the same time people were just about becoming able to think that there is no god, and so atheism is something we can stir into the mix.

There were some great historical characters too. I loved writing the dialogue between Sir William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, in which each is trying to outwit the other.
In my day job as a historian I research and write about England in many time periods, over the last thousand years. The attractions of the 16th century are that it is sufficiently familiar that people can visualize the period easily (portraits, TV shows), and they can pretty well understand the English of the time when you want to quote it (it’s much harder for the medieval period - Latin and French). There are many more things that can be safely taken for granted about life in the sixteenth century (for example, widespread ability to read (25% men in 1600, 10% women), or to communicate with someone by letter). These things are very difficult to keep out of a medieval novel because you have to explain to the reader, who automatically assumes that literate people could and would write a letter, that they normally would not even think of doing it (because they could read but not write, or they did not have vellum or ink, or did not have the means to send the letter, etc). It’s also a period in which I did a PhD, so I’m very happy writing about anything to do with medicine, nursing and ill-health for the period.

What process did you use to transport yourself and your readers to another era? How do you go about your research and incorporating it into fiction?
I don’t do any research. With four history degrees, years working in archives, and a lifetime engaged in historical enquiry, it’s more important for me to LOSE facts rather than gain them. I need to get rid of the bits of the past that are unnecessary to my storytelling. This is the main thing: the books are not about the past; they are about us now. They are set in the past but they are about me and the people I know, and the things I feel, and the ambitions and desires I have (for myself and for others). If I wanted to write about the 1560s, I would write a history book (and I have – The Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England). My novels, in contrast, are rather are about me expressing myself, not about the past, or recreating the past. You know yourself: the passions we write about are our passions and (in the broadest sense), what turns us on. We don’t try to recreate the enormous fun and amusement had by the masses of people who flocked to see people hanged or to bet on the cockfights, or rushed to see the dogs and bulls killed at a bull baiting. What matters in historical fiction is what matters to us in the here and now. When I am writing fiction, I don’t want to be a slave to a period in which cruelty, hierarchy, misogyny and racism were all seen as justified in the eyes of man and god. I have to deal with that quite enough in my non-fiction!

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?
Oh, this is a good question, especially now that I’ve expressed where I’m coming from in my fiction. Yes, there are moral, sexual and relig

ious dilemmas through the book – throughout all three books. I suppose the big story in my historical fiction is this: there is only one true virtue and that is loyalty - but everything in life conspires to make people stray from the path of loyalty. In this book, enmity does, love does, desire does, fear does, sadness and loss do, the state does, vengeance does, protective instincts towards a child do, a refusal to accept responsibility does. Loyalty to one person/thing forces you to be disloyal to another. And yet any disloyalty is to alienate yourself from part of your earlier world. In my opinion, making these difficult decisions is what makes us human. That is what my fiction is about.
I could set my stories in any period and say much the same things. But because of the public reactions to disloyalty in an age which saw loyalties tested to the extreme, the second half of the 16th century is the best.

Can you tell us about your next project?
The Clarenceux Trilogy is finished. The third and final volume, entitled The Final Sacrament, came out in the UK last year and will be published by Sourcebooks in the USA in Fall 2013. My current project is a 3-part TV series based on my second Time Traveller's Guide (Elizabethan England), which will be aired in the UK in April, and then I hope will be shown elsewhere in the world. My next non-fiction book is entitled ‘Centuries of Change. Basically it asks which century of the last ten saw the most change, in the Western World. My next novel is going to be completely off-the-wall, utterly different from anything I’ve ever written  - or ever read , for that matter. It covers one man's life - but over 600 years. More than that I can’t say at the moment. It’s a secret. But I’ll tell you over a pint when next you visit England!

Thank you, James! We wish you the best success with The Roots of Betrayal. To find out more about James Forrester and his work, please visit his website.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Guest post by M.J. Rose, author of SEDUCTION

I'm honored to have M.J. Rose as my guest today. In addition to being my good friend, M.J. is the author of  SEDUCTION, her haunting new novel about Victor Hugo's desperate search to contact his dead daughter and the frightening effects that his quest exerts on a modern-day young woman who travels to Jersey Island to seek refuge from her grief. This is one of my favorite novels of the year; long known for her mastery of paranormal suspense in such novels as The Reincarnationist and The Book of Lost Fragrances, M.J. has crafted a vivid, exquisitely Gothic tale about immortality, passion, and the lengths we all might go to for love.

Please join me in welcoming M.J. Rose, who offers us this post about the writing of her new book:

When Seduction comes out on Tuesday, readers who buy the hardcover and open it will find, what I hope, will be a surprise. The endpapers show my hand written manuscript of the book along with the pen and the ink I wrote it with.Why did I write 122,833 words in ink?

M.J. Rose's hand-written manuscript
I love challenges, but to tell the story of Victor Hugo’s experiments with séances in his own voice? What kind of crazy idea had I come up with? Surely it was lunacy to even attempt it.I don’t have literary illusions. I had just fallen in love with Hugo’s story and wanted to tell it. What fascinated me was how much had been written about his life as a statesman, poet and author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame and Les Misérables, but how little had been written about a certain part of his personal life: his dabbling with hashish, his preoccupation with reincarnation and the more than100 séances he’d conducted during a two year period while he lived on the Isle of Jersey.

During my research, I hadn’t once stopped to think that in order to tell the story of Hugo’s seduction by the spirit world, I would have to find his voice.But there I was. Finally ready to write, sitting at a computer in a very 21st century world trying to conjure a mid 19th genius. For weeks I was stumped.

Then I had a revelation. I didn’t need to invoke the genius, just the man. I had read Hugo’s letters. I knew that the eloquence and brilliance of his poetry and prose didn’t always exhibit itself when he was writing to people close to him. Sometimes he was an extraordinary man saying ordinary things to his family.That was the Hugo I needed to find try to find. The one who was relating a tale to an intimate. Not writing for the ages. Not trying to be brilliant – just attempting to reason out an unreasonable time in his life that had disturbed him. But I still couldn’t do it. The cold keyboard, the sound of the mechanical clicking, the icons at the top of the page, the spell check. All of it was a gulf between me and the man I needed to channel. I decided it was hubris to even attempt to write this novel. Absurd to try. And yet, I couldn’t give up.

Carl Jung said that often coincidences aren’t coincidences at all.
One day in fit of frustration I got up from my desk in a huff and managed to  tip over a jar of pens. One was an old fountain pen. It rolled and fell on the computer. I stared at it for a moment.
What if…

I found a bottle of ink. Filled the pen. Then pulled out a simple notebook and started to write. Not the way I write, on a computer, but the way Victor Hugo would have written over one hundred and fifty years ago. Pen on paper. I began. And as the ink flowed… the words flowed.  

I don’t remember writing this book. Each day when I sat down and uncapped my pen I disappeared into the world of the novel. Three notebooks and 122,833 words later, I finished Seduction

Seduction is the first novel I have written by hand. Perhaps the last. Definitely one of the most fascinating journeys that I’ve ever taken.

I do very much hope it proves fascinating for you as well.

Thank you so much, M.J. We wish you all the success in the world with Seduction. To find out more about M.J. and her novel, or enter her special  giveaway, please visit her website. And tomorrow, May 8 at 3:30 Eastern time, MJ will be chatting about her novel and offering a giveaway on Booktrib.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Guest post by Anne Easter Smith, author of ROYAL MISTRESS

I'm delighted to welcome Anne Easter Smith, whose novel ROYAL MISTRESS was published this week.
Set in the ever-popular Plantagenet era, Anne offers us the rarely told story of Jane Shore, mistress to Edward IV, the daughter of a goldsmith who rose to fame and danger in the king's volatile court. Romance Reviews Today says the novel is a "Perfect 10": Beautifully written . . . entertaining and informative."

Please join me in welcoming Anne Easter Smith, who brings us this fascinating guest post about Edward IV’s Women.

I know we are all mesmerized by Richard III at the moment, but as a king, his brother Edward IV was far more influential, being that he reigned for more than 20 years from 1461-1483 (give or take the 10 months he was in exile), and Richard reigned for only two (1483-1485). So, I set out to make Edward more prominent when I chose Jane Shore as my protagonist in Royal Mistress. Of course, he had appeared in three of my other four books, and I had formed a pretty good idea of who he was after all those years of researching the York family during the Wars of the Roses. It’s astonishing how much larger than life he became as I wrote about him. Had he lived today, he would probably have been a celebrated professional athlete or maybe a movie star--with the requisite trophy girlfriend on his arm.

He brought England out of a hundred plus years of war--first with France and then with his cousins, the Lancaster branch of the Plantagenets. Finally, in the 1470s and early ‘80s, England was able to concentrate on building up its economy at home, while the merchant class was thriving. Trouble was, Edward was really better sitting on a horse and leading his men to battle than sitting on his throne leading politicians, and I think he got bored. By the time he was in his mid-thirties he was overweight and indolent. However, he never lost his lust for the opposite sex. Although the names that have come down to us of his known mistresses number a mere five, Edward and his chamberlain were reputed to enjoy the pleasures of unsuitable young ladies on occasion during their forays into the city of London.

Sir George Buck, in his “History of the Life and Reign of Richard III” published in 1646 and who was the first historian to try and rectify the bad reputation the Tudors had foisted on Richard, mentions a little known first mistress of Edward, Catharine de Claringdon, but he is the only one who has. However, the other four women are well documented. I shall skip over his queen, Elizabeth Woodville, as for most of Edward’s reign she was his acknowledged wife, although he did fall hook, line and sinker for her and thus marry her in secret to get her into bed, knowing she was really not a suitable consort for the king of England.

Edward IV
So who were the three mistresses of whom Edward himself remarked that one “was the wiliest, another the merriest, and the third the holiest harlot in the land.” We are not sure which order the first two (and let’s throw Elizabeth Woodville in that timeline, too) came, but they were written about in 1460s, the early part of Edward’s reign.

We do know that Jane Shore was Edward’s last mistress, beginning in the mid 1470s and still in favor when he died, and the one Edward described as the “merriest.” Poor Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot, ended her life in a nunnery, which might suggest why Edward nicknamed her his “holiest” concubine. By process of elimination, the “wiliest” must have been Elizabeth Lucy, nee Wayte, often called the elusive mistress. We think she was born in 1445, three years after Edward, and was the daughter of a landowning family from Hampshire. She became the wife of a knight named Lucy and was widowed young. She gave birth to two of Edward’s known bastards: Elizabeth, born circa 1463, who ended up marrying a Thomas Lumley; and Arthur “Wayte” in 1465 or 1467, who was finally recognized at court, surprisingly by King Henry VII, and rose to become Viscount Lisle. Why Elizabeth was wily, we aren’t sure, but she was never mentioned after 1467, giving rise to the supposition she may have died giving birth to Arthur.

The more interesting of the early mistresses is Lady Eleanor Butler, nee Talbot, daughter of the earl of Shrewsbury. This was no commoner, and her sister was the duchess of Norfolk, and both were known for their beauty. She married Sir Thomas Butler, heir to Lord Sudeley, at age fourteen or thereabouts, whose pedigree had connections to royalty. Sir Thomas died in 1461 leaving her childless and a wealthy widow. It was when she appealed the Crown’s confiscating her inheritance that she petitioned the lusty Edward in person and was soon being pursued by the handsome young king. But did he or did he not promise her marriage in order to get her into his bed--commonly known as a pre-contract? That is the question that had enormous ramifications for Edward’s son and heir at the time of his death in 1483. Let me explain.

Today, there is nothing binding between a man and a woman promising to marry. We call it an engagement and is usually the precursor to the actual binding of the couple in matrimony. In medieval times, the promise of marriage followed by intercourse was tantamount to a binding commitment or marriage and recognized by the church. After Edward’s death, his brother Richard of Gloucester became Protector of his nephew, the boy king Edward V, who was awaiting his coronation. During those precarious weeks in May and June 1483, the Bishop of Bath and Wells, one Robert Stillington, stepped forward and declared he had been witness to a pre-contract between Edward and Eleanor BEFORE Edward secretly married Queen Elizabeth Woodville, making Edward’s marriage with the queen was bigamous and thus bastardizing all the offspring of that union.

Ah, you say, but Richard of Gloucester had designs on the throne and probably paid the bishop to come forward with this preposterous story. Why did he wait until Edward was dead to announce his information to the world? Why didn’t Eleanor Butler come forward at the time of Edward’s announcement of his marriage to Elizabeth in 1464; surely she had a better claim to that marriage certificate? We have to remember that this was in medieval times and women had no power, especially a woman like Eleanor who had no father or husband or brother to step forward for her. It would be her word against Edward’s and Edward was the king. What about the good Stillington? He knew how to feather his nest: Was it coincidence that at the beginning of the year of Edward and Eleanor’s pre-contract, Stillington held only a couple of minor ecclesiastical appointments and was keeper of the Privy Seal, but later that same year he was given a handsome annual salary, and when the marriage of Edward and Elizabeth was revealed, Stillington became Bishop of Bath and Wells. Hmmm, a possible reward for keeping his mouth shut?
Anne Easter Smith

When all hope was lost to Eleanor by the marriage of the king to Elizabeth, she retired into a convent and died there in 1468. Poor “jilted” Eleanor. Edward managed to ignore the whole episode until it came back to bite him in his posterior--posthumously. Edward’s final--and he is said to have declared favorite--mistress was Jane Shore, the subject of Royal Mistress. Unfortunately, for Jane she was still in favor when Edward suddenly died, leaving our heroine without a protector. She had left her husband and been ostracized by her father, and she could have been reduced to penury and ridicule had Edward’s chamberlain and friend Will Hastings not taken her under his wing.

But I don’t want to spoil the drama that was Jane Shore’s rise and fall. You’ll have to read Royal Mistress discover that for yourself! All I will say is that she was witness to some of the most compelling events in 15th century English history, the lover of three powerful men, and the unfortunate scapegoat of my favorite king, Richard III. Jane’s story has inspired plays, poems, ballads and prose down the centuries, and her nickname was always The Rose of London.

Thank you, Anne. We wish you the best of success with this new novel! To discover more about Anne and her work, please visit her website.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Guest post from Jennifer Epstein, author of THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT

I'm delighted to welcome Jennifer Epstein, author of THE GODS OF HEAVENLY PUNISHMENT and the highly acclaimed, The Painter from Shanghai. Set in World War II, depicting one of the war's most devastating events and its aftermath, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment is an vivid, evocative novel told through the eyes of a fifteen-year-old Japanese girl, Yoshi, who is on her way home when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead and half the city in ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life blurs beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy, included a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner; a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline and is now charged with destroying it; and an Occupation soldier with a dark secret of his own. Each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.

Please join me in welcoming Jennifer Epstein, who offers us this guest post on That Pesky Line Between History and Fiction!

One of the most frequent questions I get as a historical novelist is: “How much of what you write is really history?” It’s a good question. And an important one, I think--especially given how discomfort-making the blending of fact and fiction can be. It’s sort of the literary version of mixing beer and liquor: for some people, even the idea makes them queasy.

I discovered this myself while writing my first novel, The Painter from Shanghai (W.W. Norton 2008). As a former journalist--with both a BA and an MA in Asian Studies--I take both facts and history very seriously. At first even I was a little anxious about fictionalizing a real-life character from a different culture and era. But the story of prostitute-turned-post-Impressionist Pan Yuliang seemed ideal for a novel, since even in her native China there is very little documentary evidence about her life. In fact, when I began researching her in 1999, most people seemed to rely mainly on another fictionalized biography—one published anonymously during the ‘80’s. Even academics, I noticed, would refer me to this unattributed, novelized version for lack of better source material. 

As my research progressed, though, I began to notice something else: namely, a reluctance by some of the sources I approached to be associated with a fictionalized history. No one said so in so many words. But there was a clear pattern of dropped email chains and unreturned calls from various professors and scholars of the “straight” history world to whom I’d reached. Having never encountered such reticence in my previous field of journalism, I found it somewhat baffling at first. But an early review for Painter shed some light.

Writing for the scholarly Asian Review of Books, editor Peter Gordon had many nice things to say about my novel. In the end, though, he admitted that the idea behind my novel unnerved him: “The problem is that the real Pan keeps on getting in way….one continually wonders how much is real and how much dramatized…. The result is that The Painter From Shanghai sits at the intersection of biography and fiction, a place which I personally find somewhat uncomfortable.” Which led me to ponder: where, exactly, is that intersection? Or rather: what rules should be followed when mixing “real history” with writerly imagination?

For myself, at least, it’s actually pretty straightforward. There is no question that truth is important, and it is a period writer’s responsibility to get the details right wherever and whenever possible. But in the end, a novelist’s first job is to tell a good story. To craft a compelling yarn, peopled by characters her readers can not just picture but inhabit--live and breath, see and sigh and even smell through. And while reassuringly fact-checkable, names, dates and places alone simply don’t provide a broad enough palette to do that: to truly “flesh out” historical moments—e.g., drape them in human skin--sometimes one simply must fabricate.

Recognizing this, the rules I’ve set for myself are simple. I research my projects intensely, get all my facts straight, and resolve to do my best to stick to them. I am allowed, however, to take historical liberties that are at least somewhat plausible—in other words, don’t contradict broadly-accepted historical fact. For instance, in fictionalizing Pan Yuliang’s story I have her meet the Chinese revolutionary Zhou Enlai at Lyon University, and then again later on in Shanghai. There’s actually no historical proof the two ever really met. And yet the fact that these two real figures were in Lyon and Shanghai at the same time, and definitely knew people in common, made it seem credible to me that they might have met. Moreover,  introducing Zhou as a character was a way to give readers a taste of the time’s political fervor and excitement, which was one of my goals as a novelist. And so, I picked him for my palette. The same rationale wouldn’t have worked for every  character from the period, however. For instance, seating Mao Zedong at Pan’s table at Les Deux Magots would have been taking it too far, since anyone familiar with the story of China’s revolutionaries in Paris would know he wasn’t part of that cliché.

Similarly, in The Gods of Heavenly Punishment I’ve added a fictional bomber (Cam Richards) to the heroic band of Doolittle Raiders who flew our first strike against  Japan. Confession: no one by that name ever existed. Still, almost everything that happened to Cam Richards did happen to a Doolittle Raider, with the exception of where his bomber crashes. In my novel, this happens in Japan-colonized Manchuria, which is not a stretch most readers would notice. Besides, I needed my heroine—who visits a Japanese settlement in Manchuria shortly after the crash—to receive an item that had belonged to Cam’s wife. So overall, I figured I was within my rights to move Cam’s doomed bomber further North than any of the Doolittlers actually flew. It would not have been within my rights, however, if I decided to add, say, a third nuclear bombing at the end of the Pacific War. For one thing, it would add nothing to the story I was trying to tell. But there’s also the fact that most people stop mid-page and think: “Wait, that didn’t happen.” Then they’d probably wonder why I wrote it, and whether other historical facts in my book were fabricated. At which point I’d be guilty of a far greater authorial sin than veering from history: losing my reader.
So to the extent that there are rules about mixing fact and fiction without bilious results, they probably boil down thus:
1*  Be factual whenever possible.
2*   Don’t mess with the really big stuff.
3*  Above all, tell a really good story.

That said,  sometimes fictional narrative can play into historical truth in unexpected  ways. One of my own more memorable research moments in Painter occurred over the Chinese lover I wrote into Pan’s early years in Paris. When my factchecker asked how I’d come across this character, I told the truth: that he was based on a painting of Pan’s, of a strong young man holding Chinese soil in his hands. I’d imagined him as a fellow artist, one of the Chinese students fermenting revolution in smoky Left Bank cafes. Also, someone younger than she was (I thought she’d like that). “But where did you read about him?” asked my researcher, who happened to be Chinese. She went on to tell me that there’s a man who fits the same profile as my character who lived with Pan for years in Paris, and now lies buried next to her in Montemarte. For a moment I just stared at her. Then I burst out laughing. Well, what do you know, I thought. In this one case, at least, my fiction had led me straight to the facts.   

Thank you, Jennifer! Best of success with The Gods of Heavenly Punishment. To learn more about Jennifer and her work, please visit her website