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.