Friday, June 29, 2012

Every evil imaginable but hope as well: An interview with YA urban fantasy writer Nancy Richardson Fischer

Today I'm talking with Nancy Richardson Fischer about her YA urban fantasy, Pandora's Key.

Nancy has had an extensive freelance writing career in which she's written everything from sports biographies to a Star Wars Junior Jedi Knight Trilogy for LucasFilm, making Pandora's Key not her first foray into the world of YA writing.

Nancy is also giving away an eBook copy of her book. If you're interested, just leave a comment and a contact e-mail address. I'll pick a winner at random in two weeks.


1) Tell us about your book.

Pandora's Key is a YA urban fantasy that revolves around a young girl's realization that she's the descendant of Pandora, the first woman created by the Greek Gods,and that she's both a pawn in the Gods' revenge against Pandora, and a deadly game of acquisition by men and women who will stop at nothing to acquirePandora's original box. Here's a bit more about the story:

When everything you believed about yourself is a lie, how do you unlock the truth…

Evangeline Theopolis has nightmares about the violent deaths of women she has never met. Her single mother, Olivia, suffers delusions she can’t hide. And Malledy, a brilliant young man, may have a disease that will leave him paralyzed and insane. Their lives are about to collide.

On Evangeline’s 16th birthday her mother gives her a necklace with an antique keycharm—a family heirloom, though no one knows what the key unlocks. Everything changes. Her mom is hospitalized. Her godmother attempts murder. An ancient Order tries to kill Evangeline, and a lethal sect to kidnap her.

Nothing makes sense—especially Evangeline’s own face, which has morphed from geeky to eerily stunning; the ancient key that feels strangely alive against her skin;and the magical abilities she begins to possess. Evangeline must use her wits andsupernatural powers to fight her deadly adversaries and discover her true identity. But can she accept who she really is and save the world?

2) What inspired this book?

I love Greek mythology and, in particular, the myth of Pandora. Add to that my love of fantasy, magical realism, and the young adult genre (which is insanely creative)and I knew I wanted to attempt a YA urban fantasy of my own. From there, I let my imagination take over, started to tell myself stories, until I was finally ready to start writing. I began with a screenplay version of Pandora's Key - to figure out all the elements of the story - and then set my sights on writing the novel.

3) YA Urban Fantasy is popular right now. What sets your book apart from others?

First, I'm thrilled that YA urban fantasy is so popular! In a world of reality TV, which I find pretty darn depressing, it's encouraging that both young adults and adults want to read fantasy and are willing to let their imaginations soar.

What sets Pandora's Key apart from other fantasies is that it's very much a story of magical realism - meaning that it's deeply grounded in reality with magical elements so it feels... believable. In addition, I rewrote the myth of Pandora and brought the story to the present so that the myth and characters are accessible to readers.

All that aside, Pandora's Key is a non-stop, action packed ride with empathetic, layered characters and a twisted plot that is intricate and full of big surprises BUT can be figured out by careful readers (because I hate reading books with big reveals that are impossible to figure out)!

4) Tell us about your lead.

Evangeline is... average, at least at the start of Pandora's Key. She's a pretty typical sixteen-year-old girl. She's waiting to fall in love; she's hoping she doesn't get taller or her feet bigger; she thinks her mouth is too wide and her eyes too bulbous; and she doesn't quite fit into her own skin. Plus she wishes she was as smart and pretty as her popular best friend. And then everything changes for Evangeline when she's given an antique key by her mother and her entire world falls apart.

A lot of teenagers would crumble and look to friends and adults to help them make sense of their world, and that's where Evangeline differs. She realizes that if she doesn't play the hero in her own life's story she will lose everyone she loves. So, despite that fact that she's terrified, she rises to the challenge and discovers that she's tougher and more fierce than she ever imagined.

5) The original Pandora legend has been interpreted many ways, some rather chilling: an explanation for evil, an excuse for misogyny, et cetera. Did any particular interpretation of the original myth influence you when you thought of this novel?

The myth of Pandora as an excuse for misogyny probably influenced me most. The first woman getting the rap for releasing all the evils in the world? Come on! Totally unfair, right? But I have to say, from that starting point I tried not to read too many more interpretations of the myth because I knew I was going to turn it on its headand I wanted my own interpretation of what happened when Pandora was sent down to earth with a golden box (or urn) fashioned by the Gods and housing the Furies to be original. Hopefully I gave the myth a breath of fresh air and effectively brought it to the present day and gave new fans of Greek mythology a desire to learn more about the Greek myths that have influenced so many books and movies.

6) Your book recently won an award. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Pandora's Key won the 2012 IndieReader Discovery Award for YA Fiction. I was really happy to win, of course (and it was incredibly cool that the winners were announced at this year's Book Expo of America), but also very grateful to be acknowledged. Indie authors live in a world where they must take a leap of faith that their book is indeed good enough to publish, and then wait to see if anyone out in the real world agrees. The silence can feel deafening at times - and I count so much on readers, reviewers and bloggers to keep me going - so to be acknowledged by IndieReader felt... wonderful.

7) This is a trilogy. Can you give us a bit of insight into the sequels?

Sure! Book Two, The Key to Tartarus, has already been written and edited and will be published this Fall. You can read an excerpt on my website: (click COMING SOON).

The Key to Tartarus is much darker than Pandora's Key, which feels appropriate since the first book ended on a heavy but hopeful note. In a world where anything can happen; where there are forces bent on possessing the key and box... happily ever after isn't a given. In Book Two Evangeline is forced to discover the depth of her powers, descend into the Underworld, and rescue the people she loves from the inescapable prison that is Tartarus. Along the way, she must battle both her own personal demons and shocking obstacles that threaten her friends, her future, andher sanity.

Book Three is in the works, but Evangeline's world is constantly changing and until you know whether she survives Book Two, I don't want to provide any spoilers!!

*J.A., I just want to add a BIG thank you for hosting Pandora's Key and taking the time to interview me. And thanks to all the readers who have written to let me know how much they love Evangeline and Pandora's Key. Your support means the worldand all of you are the reason I keep telling stories:-)


Thanks, Nancy.

If you'd like to read more from Nancy, please check her webpage out:

Remember to leave a comment with an e-mail address for your chance to win a copy of Pandora's Key.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

What's more dangerous than a horse? An interview with Cindy McDonald

Today I'm talking with Cindy McDonald about her book Hot Coco, a romantic drama and part of her family drama series, Unbridled series.

Cindy McDonald was born and raised in the Pittsburgh, Pa area. For 26 years she was a professional choreographer,she taught ballet, jazz, and tap. During that time she choregraphed many musicals and an opera for the Pittsburgh Savoyards. Most recently she has retired to write her novels. She resides with her husband on their Thoroughbred farm know as Fly By Night Stables near Pittsburgh.


1) Please tell us about your book.
Let’s face it, everyone knows a beautiful woman who can’t walk through a room without tripping over the coffee table, or turning every situation into a total debacle. Trainers at Keystone Downs have been dumping Coco Beardmore and she’s landed in Mike West’s lap. The problem is that Coco is a complete klutz! Her driving skills are a real bang—into Mike’s horse trailer, and right through the barn wall! What’s more are her Thoroughbreds: one flips while being saddled, one sits down like a dog in the starting gate, and then there’s the one that’s an escape artist. It’s enough to drive a normally calm and collected Mike West to the very edge.

But Mike’s not the only one having problems with women. His father Eric has taken on more than he can chew, and he’s about to get spit out by two women: One that he’s in love with and one that thinks he’s in love with her.

Things have never been hotter around Westwood Thoroughbred Farm—and someone’s about to get burned!

2) Tell us about the inspiration for this book.

Blondes—everyone loves to think of gorgeous blondes as klutzy, air-headed, and basically stupid. I wanted to take a character and introduce her as one thing, and then morph her into another. I think I did a very good job with Coco. I started her out as a stereotypical blonde bimbo and turned her into something else—no, I’m not going to tell you what, but just know that everyone is touched and changed in this story—read between the lines, watch the subtext, it is there for you—if you pay attention.

I also left behind bread crumbs of my former life as a dancer/choreographer in this book—you will see them—I couldn’t help myself!

3) Tell us about your female lead, Coco, and your male lead, Mike.

Let me tell you what, I had a blast writing Coco’s character! It was fun getting her into hot situations and watching my characters stand back in total shock at what havoc that one woman could cause. But the great thing about Coco was how forgivable she was. She is beautiful and yet she is a kind person—who just can’t get out of her own way. But stay tuned—Coco has a surprise for you!

Mike West is the main character in all the Unbridled books. His heart is damaged by is ex-wife, Ava. She was unfaithful when they were married, and try as he might he just can’t let go of the feelings that he has for her, but Coco is a very chaotic distraction from his heartache—or should I say flammable distraction? ;}

4)  Are your leads partially based on anyone you’ve known?

Cindy: With arched brows and lowered voices, people ask me this question often. One person was very concerned that I had them in mind when I wrote the character, Ava West. She is gorgeous, she is manipulative, and she is a real witch. I felt bad that this individual thought that I felt that way about them, and I assured them that Ava was a figment of my imagination—nothing more. All of my characters are fictitious. They are part of my Unbridled stories, and that’s all.

5) What’s the funniest thing you ever saw during your time dealing with horses?

We have a Quarter Horse at our farm named Cody. Along with Thoroughbred racing, my daughter and I show Quarter Horses. Anyway, the first time we took Cody to a horse show we had him tied to the trailer while my daughter was getting dressed, and I was busy with something or other. When my daughter emerged from the trailer, there was Cody, hiding with his head under the hay bag that we had hung on the trailer for him to munch on. I couldn’t help but laugh and I quickly informed him, “Cody, you weigh fifteen-hundred pounds! Hiding just isn’t an option!”

Cody is quite the character, and I’ve featured him in the next book of my series, Dangerous Deception. As a matter of fact, I feature horses that have run for our stables in all my books—in Hot Coco a horse named Charlatan is featured—he was one of our favorite racehorses here at Fly-By-Night Stables.

6) What’s something that most people misunderstand with horse training and racing?

Horses can be dangerous. They can hurt you. As I pointed out in the above question, they weigh in excess of fifteen-hundred pounds. Fifteen-hundred pounds of disrespect can get a lot of bones broken and permanent damage to anyone if they don’t know how to properly handle these animals, especially a racehorse. Make no mistake, they are trained athletes, and they can be very high strung and moody creatures.

7) Can you tell us a bit more about the books in the Unbridled Series?

Cindy: The first book, Deadly.Com was released September 1st, 2011. But before you read it you’d better make a note: never agitate a madman. Successful Thoroughbred trainer Mike West just made that mistake, and he’s gonna pay—more than he ever realized. But it’s all in the family; his sister, Kate, has been the object of the madman’s desire on the social network site “My Town”. Her constant rejections have infuriated him. People who seem to be in his way start turning up dead, and he’s got Kate and Mike next on his list!

A November release is planned for Dangerous Deception, the third book in the series. When the West’s ask aging jockey, Vic Deveaux, to take an easier position at the farm, he becomes enraged. He teams up with two greedy stable hands in a plot to kidnap Shane, only Vic finds himself between the rock and the hard place when he soon discovers that his partners have murder on their minds!

My books are always available to reviewers. If you would like to read and review Deadly.Com or Hot Coco, please contact me:


Thanks, Cindy.

You can read more from Cindy at

Hot Coco can be purchased at Amazon and a book trailer can be viewed here.

Mr. Beard's Regency Tour Day 19: Steal a book, seven-years' hard labor overseas: Transportation as punishment in the 17th-19th centuries

This is part of my continuing series on Regency England and Georgian England. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, please check out my archive here.


As England gained colonial holdings, the country also gained a new option for punishment: transportation to an overseas colony.

Over at the English Historical Fiction Authors Blog, I discuss this form of punishment that many considered "merciful" compared to others at the time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Spartacus: Warrior, Slave, Hero-An interview with historical fiction author Ben Kane

Today I'm interviewing historical fiction author Ben Kane. Mr. Kane has carved out a niche for himself as a master of action-oriented ancient Rome-related novels such as The Silver Eagle, The Forgotten Legion, The Road To Rome, and Hannibal: Enemy of Rome.

I interviewed him about his latest novel, Spartacus: The Gladiator  I reviewed the novel yesterday here on Unnecessary Musings.

Please note that there is a giveaway for a copy of Spartacus: The Gladiator (paperback or eBook). Please see the details after the interview.


1) Tell us about your book.

It’s a re-telling of Spartacus’ story. I have stuck to the facts that we know about them, and tried to make the book as gritty and realistic as possible. That means it’s brutal, visceral and dramatic.

2) Spartacus is a man who has received a lot attention throughout the centuries. He's been presented many different ways. Why did you choose to revisit the life of this man? What sort of new facets did you hope to explore?
I chose to tell his story because in my opinion, it’s one of the greatest tales of ancient history. I hoped to bring to Spartacus’ life the passion with which he filled his followers; the hopes he gave them, and to bring to life the drama of the incredible battles that he and his men faced.

3) Tell us a little about your research process.

Fortunately, I had already written a trilogy set just 20 years after Spartacus’ rebellion, so the months of research that had gone into that were invaluable. I had to refresh myself with that knowledge, and read a number of texts about Spartacus. I was also lucky enough to visit Italy, where I travelled to many of the places that Spartacus spent time, including the amphitheater in Capua, Mount Vesuvius and the toe of the Italian boot.

4) Ancient times were pretty rough and made for rough men. In particular, you've presented a rather honest view of the brutalities associated with the army of Spartacus. These fellows didn't always concern themselves with the rights of prisoners, male or female. Many people who have retold the life of Spartacus and the Third Servile War have "cleaned it up" a bit to make it more palatable for modern audiences and present a more easily morally digestible narrative. Did you decide to go the other route just for historical accuracy or for some other reasons?

I did it for historical accuracy. Why pretend that things were ‘nice’ and ‘civilized’ when they clearly weren’t? In my opinion, that is sugar coating history.

5) Historical fiction is always a balance of accuracy and creative license. Are there particular areas you decided to tip the balance more in one way or another?

Since only 4,000 words (that’s ten pages of a novel) survive about Spartacus, I made sure to include virtually every single detail that we know about him into my book. Throughout the rest of the book, I tried to ensure that my facts about the first century BC in general were accurate.

6) What is it about this man who keeps calling out to authors and film makers throughout the decades?

Spartacus’ story is one of the most appealing of all hero tales. A brave man who was wronged and imprisoned, who escaped to freedom, raised an army of slaves and fought against his oppressors. Though he had many victories, he eventually came to grief. What’s not to love about that?

7) Though there was the new show, the Kubrick film based on the Fast novel has a dominant place in many people's picture of Spartacus. Indeed, many scenes and lines from the film have imprinted themselves into the cultural consciousness to the point where they've even been parodied in soda commercials. Was it difficult to escape the shadow of Kubrick and Fast?
That’s a hard one! Yes, probably it was. However, to my advantage, I have the fact that I grew up in a house with no TV, and I only saw the Kubrick film once when I was a boy. I very deliberately avoided watching it in the run up to and during the time I wrote my books. Ditto with the Starz miniseries. In that way, I hope to have created a Spartacus who can stand proudly on his own.

8) You've written a number of novels set in the ancient Roman period. What got you interested in Roman history?

I think it was probably The Eagle of the Ninth, that seminal YA novel by Rosemary Sutcliff that got me interested in Rome first. Although I love history of all periods, Rome has fascinated me since.

9) You have another Spartacus-related novel coming out next year. After that, do you intend to stick with Roman history, or are you going to explore some other historical periods?

I plan to stick with Rome for at least 4 more novels, but then I intend to branch out into the Hundred Years War, between England and France.


Thanks, Ben.

To find out more about Ben and his books visit:
You can also find him on Twitter: @benkaneauthor and Facebook:!/benkanebooks

For those interested in winning a copy of Spartacus: The Gladiator simply leave a comment with a contact e-mail and your preferred format (physical or what type of eBook). I will select a winner at random on July 6th. Please note due to supply-side restrictions this giveaway is only open to US and Canadian entrants.

Blood, vengeance, and freedom: A review of Spartacus: The Gladiator

Tomorrow I’ll have an interview with Mr. Kane and will have information for a giveaway of this title.


Ben Kane returns to comfortable territory, ancient Rome, in his latest novel Spartacus: The Gladiator. Given the relative paucity of historical documentation on the ancient gladiator-turned revolutionary, there is considerable room for an author to present his own unique take on the man. Mr. Kane accomplishes that well, with a presentation of Spartacus that rings true to the few historical details we have about him while, at the same time, being distinct from the famous Kubrick/Fast/Douglas version or the  version defined for a new generation by the recent cable television series.

While the broad shape of the plot follows unsurprising historical territory by taking Spartacus from slave gladiator to leader of an insurgent army, Mr. Kane does a fine job of fleshing out many incidents and battles to create an exciting, if often violent, story of blood and vengeance. This is the first part of the series and covers the initial portion of what is now known to us as the Third Servile War.

The book’s primary strength is its battle scenes. Action is executed and described with crisp, yet tense, economy, reflecting well the chaos of battle. The author’s fine eye for historical detail helps enhance the battle scenes. There are a few deviations from known history, but the author explains those in later notes following the story.

Although the emphasis is on action, the author uses balanced historical detail well to help enhance the background of several of the characters and even provide some plausible explanations for some of the shocking and early successes of Spartacus against the Romans. Those familiar with the period will definitely respect the effort. There are even a few sly nods to historical controversies that keen-eyed readers will likely appreciate.

Those less familiar with ancient Roman history should not be overwhelmed either, as the historical information is integrated well and not just dumped on the reader. A few unusual historical details were also used to help create a few new characters that aren’t typically seen in Spartacus retellings. These new additions added some interesting perspectives to the story.

Characterization is generally good for Spartacus and a few characters close to him, but some of the other secondary characters come off a bit flat at times.  The action-focused nature of the narrative somewhat minimizes this issue, though.

The attention to accuracy could be disturbing for some readers. The slave force of Spartacus takes the old “rape and plunder” idea seriously, even if their leader himself is presented as being above the worst of it. This is realistic for the period and, as pointed out by one of the characters, the “disciplined” Roman army certainly wasn’t above this kind of behavior (even ignoring their penchant for slavery), but it does create a more morally nuanced tale than “righteous slave army of freedom versus the dastardly Romans” and results in several scenes that reflect the often indiscriminate brutality of ancient war.

Though some nods are made toward Roman politics and there are a few scenes that do a fine job of delightfully painting why Marcus Licinius Crassus was such a foul man even by the standards of ancient Rome, the focus is still firmly on Spartacus and his allies. While enhancing the intimacy of their particular gladiator/slave struggle, it does potentially rob the narrative of a bit more epic scope.

Overall, Spartacus: the Gladiator was a solid action-packed retelling of the opening moves of an ancient, bloody struggle of slaves for both freedom and vengeance against the powerful Roman Republic.

Disclaimer: An ARC of this novel was provided to me for free by the publisher. My opinions of the book are my own.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Budgeting the Lives of Men: An interview with historical fiction author M.M. Bennetts

Today I have the pleasure of again talking with historical fiction author and Napoleonic Wars expert M.M. Bennetts.

Prince Alexander Tchernyschev 

1) Please tell us about your book.

The new book is titled Or Fear of Peace. It opens in the summer of 1813, with a break-in and some more espionage. (I like espionage.) Then the action moves to Continental Europe--to Prussia and Saxony, France and Austria--to cover the battles there and the fall of Napoleon in 1813-14.

When I began work on Of Honest Fame, my last book, I thought it was going to end one way. Only it didn't. Book three was intended to focus on Italy and its travails during the Napoleonic period. But then, Of Honest Fame ended so fluidly, and there were, all of a sudden, all of these readers bombarding me with, "What next? What happened next?" Which I hadn't expected.

So I began to rethink and ruminate, to stop trying to impose my will on the history and the characters and let it show itself to me.

I never wanted to write a direct sequel. I had always favoured the Trollopian not-quite-a-sequel method instead. But after much consideration, I knew that there were still many issues I needed to cover with at least some of the characters from the previous book. So despite my misgivings, the new book is a sequel to the last one, and will take these characters through to the end of the war in 1814.

2) One wouldn't be surprised if an English author focused primarily on English characters and situations in a book set during the Napoleonic Wars. Now, you've done that previously with May 1812 and Of Honest Fame though you've definitely had more international situations. What made you interested in focusing more on the Russian Front of the war?

I think, generally because of Austen, we may imagine that the British weren't up to their ears in the European theatre of war. She only refers to the Napoleonic conflict obliquely. Though of course, Wellington was leading the British troops and their allies to victory against the French in Spain at the time. And that's got quite a lot of heroism and derring-do, and that's tended to be our focus if we have considered the Continental situation at all.

Also, history is taught in boxes at the university level--English history, Scottish history, Polish history, Russian's like food on a child's plate, don't let the peas touch the mash and for heaven's sake don't let the mash touch the...

But that's not how it was, at least not at the end of the Napoleonic wars.

The sheer scale of the war had forced the isolationist British to forge alliance after alliance to beat Napoleon, so they were in there with both feet. The educated Russians spoke French, as did the educated Prussians and Austrians. Viscount Castlereagh spoke French adequately, although his study was always littered with French novels so that he could understand them better. His brother was a diplomatic aide to the Russians.

The Russian head of intelligence in Paris was also working with London. Pozzo di Borgo was a Corsican who worked for both the Russians and the British. And the cultural encounters and barriers that these people broke through in order to unite so that they could fight back to back and beat Napoleon and his unconquerable Grande Armee. That's an amazing story in itself!

In terms of our understanding of the situation though, the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of Communism opened up all sorts of avenues for research which had been closed to Westerners, in some cases for nearly a century. The Russian war effort against Napoleon was one of these.

I'm by nature the most side-trackable researcher and historian. I'll get fascinated by one thing which will lead me completely off and then I'll find another thing, of equal fascination, and I'll track that down. And I always want to know more. And more.

As a result of researching Of Honest Fame, I came across Adam Zamoyski's stellar 1812, about the disastrous French invasion of Russia. Subsequently, I encountered the work of Dominic Lieven and his astounding Russia Against Napoleon. He's a case of a Westerner gaining access to sources that no one has seen for maybe 150-200 years.

So suddenly, instead of a history of the Napoleonic era told by Brits to celebrate the achievements of Brits, here's a volume looking at the extra-ordinary achievement of Russia--which was a vast but in many ways backward and poor country--in opposing Napoleon from the east: recruiting and modernising the army, transporting hundreds of thousands of men across hundreds of thousands of miles, organising supply trains that stretched over half a continent. The logistics alone take one's breath away! But there was this ferocious bravery amidst all these forgotten battles too. Every page was a revelation!

That said, I've also got rerouted into the Prussian theatre of war and the splendid defence of Berlin in the autumn of 1813. Did you know there were three distinct armies formed by the allies to take Napoleon on from the east? The Army of the North was composed of Cossacks, Swedes under the former French Marechal Bernadotte (who turns out to be a bit of a skunk), and Prussians. Amazing! 

Lord Castlereagh

3) Tell us a little about your main characters.

Well, because of those readers I told you were nagging me, Boy Tirrell, one of the protagonists from Of Honest Fame, is obviously present and accounted for, spying and generally making a nuisance of himself.

Lord Castlereagh is also a main player--he was on the Continent from January through April 1814, as part of the Allied Command, the moving headquarters of Tsar Alexander, the Prussian King, and Metternich--the Austrian Foreign Minister. For after all, Britain was basically paying for the whole show through million-pound subsidies to the various European powers.

Captain Shuster will also once again be donning his uniform and making his presence felt in Saxony, and Dunphail will be showing his face as well.

But there are a raft of new characters too.

Charles Vane Stewart, Castlereagh's younger half-brother, was with the Russian army as an ADC. He was present at all the major battles and he's a tremendous character--he wrote his brother frequently with the inside scoop on all the operations, following the death of his wife in 1812 he suffered from depression, he drank like a fish, he was wild, handsome, effervescent and utterly charming.

I've also found a rather superlative Russian envoy, diplomat, spy and General in the Russian Army, who led these columns of Cossacks against the retreating French, harassing them, nabbing their couriers, creating these clouds of confusion around the French commanders so that they often didn't have a clue where they were meant to be or who they were meant to be linking up with. Because of him, and his Cossacks, often the Allies knew far more about the French movements than the French did. It's all great stuff and he's just fantastic.

4) You've previously described your first book as a "love/war story examining domestic crises" and your second book as "Bennetts without the nice". What does that make this third book?

Ha ha ha. Can I get back to you on that one?

It's about the war.

There was so much more to this war than most of us can even comprehend. So many more battles, battles which utterly destroyed the villages where people had lived and worked for centuries. The pillaging of whole countries. And in 1813-14, here were these four vast armies of 200,000-300,000 men plus horses, camped our across Central Europe--from Poland across Austria, Saxony, Bohemia (the modern-day Czech Republic) and all the way north to the Baltic Sea, consuming everything in sight and then going hungry. Deserters everywhere--the just laid down their arms and melted away. The refugee problem was a crisis beyond mentioning.

And there's almost nothing written about it all in English. Traditionally, we've just looked the other way. I can't do that.

5) A lot of brilliant historical work has been done in recent decades that has given us far greater insight into the Napoleonic Wars from the both the perspective of the English and the French. Can you tell us a bit about the status of historical research and materials as far as the Russian-related campaigns?

The Russian experience of the war is just opening up for historians, really. And it's slow work, primarily because of the language barrier. But there's also the West's decades-old lack of trust in the Russians. A lot of which, actually, turns out to have started with Napoleonic propaganda.

For example, French lore about the taking of Paris by the Russians in April 1814 tell us that the streets were filled with these unclean, shaggy, ferocious creatures on shaggy ponies--Cossacks--and they were abusive to the Parisians, etc. But that turns out to be propaganda. Alexander had kept back his best regiments for the taking of Paris and when he led them into the city, they were all in their newest, most polished, best uniforms. And they were welcomed. It was a dazzling spectacle, just as Alexander intended it to be. He saw himself as Europe's saviour and that's how he presented himself in Paris. There was no looting. No pillage. And the Cossacks who did ride into the city, they may have looked outlandish to Parisian eyes, but they weren't the savages the press latterly made them out to be.

And there's an even greater absence of source material on Prussia and on their contribution to the defeat of Napoleon. And they were absolutely key. But at the moment, I'm working from one of the few books in English to treat the defence of Berlin in 1813.

So although I hope like anything to get everything correct, I equally sincerely hope that this is only the beginning of our research and recognition that the defeat of Napoleon was a massive Allied effort: it took all of Europe fighting together to bring him down, with all hands contributing as and however they could.

6) The Russian winter did quite the number on the Grand Armée, but the Russians certainly helped things along by making sure there would be nothing for the French as they moved deeper into Russia. Of course, the French paid dearly in lives, but what sort of impact did this combination of scorched Earth and Fabian strategies have on the Russians?

There are two sides to that. The French beggared the countries in which they were quartered before the invasion. And Napoleon intended, as he always did, to have his troops live off the land. But the harvest was late in 1812, so there was nothing for his troops nor for his horses to eat. Probably half his army had died of dysentery, starvation and dehydration before they ever crossed the border into Russia.

Then too, it can be very hard for anyone to understand just how vast Russia is. Napoleon may have invaded Russia and it may have made mincemeat of him and his troops, but there was so much more to Russia than he could ever comprehend. He only dipped his toe in.

His invasion did leave the Russian army in pretty bad nick. Yes. But Kutuzov, the Russian general, was very wise in retreat and by pulling back and pulling back, he did much to save the heart of the army allowing them enough R&R so they could live to fight another day.

Equally, within about five minutes of Napoleon's retreat, the orders went out for massive mobilisation to refill the ranks of the army. Equally, the Russian civil service threw its whole might into requisitioning not just grain, but also horses, carts for transport, uniforms, wood for grain depots. With Napoleon's retreat too, the ports were once again open to British trade--and British subsidies started flowing in.

But never underestimate the sacrifice and determination of the Russian peoples to get another army together to once and for all rid Europe of the man they considered the anti-Christ.

7) In the end, Napoleon was defeated. Many historical perspectives on him are written from the perspectives of the winners and paint a portrait of a talented yet egotistical man who ultimately let his reach exceed his grasp. Some historians have suggested that Napoleon gets a bit of a bad rap and that he wasn't any worse than many ambitious leaders at the time. He even had some rather modern ideas about things social mobility and education. Others point out that the Napoleonic Wars devastated Europe and, in many ways, that level of Continental warfare would not be repeated until The War To End All Wars, World War I. Could you give us your thoughts on Napoleon and the Napoleonic Wars?

If I take a step back from my current work, I'd have to say there are probably several periods in Napoleon's rule and some were definitely more constructive and positive than others.

France, when Napoleon launched his coup, was a mess. And he brought a sense of order to a fragmenting chaotic country. With his rule, people started to know where they were once more and could function in some proper way for the first time in years.

But over time, that proper sense of order was eroded and replaced with a military dictatorship, conquering and ruling over Europe like the greatest of all Mafia kings, and that wasn't so good. His complete and utter disregard for human life sits at odds with any developing sense of morality or human rights. He used to say, "I have an income of 85,000 troops a year" and he always outspent himself. And this constant demand for more troops, the dreadful burden of conscription, decimated the European population. They didn't call it 'the blood tax' for nothing. Outside of France, he was hated.

We consider his rule from the point of view of the French Empire because he was very good at self-promotion. But what about from the point of view of the conquered nations? The Italians? The Prussians? The Saxons? The Dutch? The Spanish? The Poles? How was it for them? How was it to watch your young men be taken--often in chains--off to fight someone else's war, knowing that your son, brother, husband would never return? These are the questions I ask myself about the period.

On the battlefield, in his prime, no one could beat Napoleon. But he believed his own propaganda. And that's always a disaster--it made him beatable.

He certainly was crazed with egomania. I don't think there can be any doubt about that. And that led him to doing very stupid things. For example, all of his marechals and generals, whilst they may have been super at executing his orders, they lacked initiative, or even intelligence--without him pulling their strings, they fell to bits, they argued with each other, they fell to robbing the districts where they were lodged, they were insubordinate, they couldn't manage their own troops. Which isn't so great when you're trying to fight a war on more than one front.

And I think that by the end, by 1814, he had become a deranged monster. The suffering he inflicted on France was unspeakable. I'm not saying he hadn't brought the same measures of deprivation and disaster everywhere else he visited. He had. He fully, whenever he deemed it appropriate, unleashed the most horrific levels of terror upon resisting populations.

But do you know, when the Prussians invaded France in the spring of 1814--though they were well-up for a spot of pillage and looting as payback for what the French had done to them--their letters back home are full of their shock at the poverty and destitution of eastern France. They didn't loot and pillage, there was literally nothing to take. Napoleon had taken it all already.

He lost the war and his army was conquered in 1814 frankly because he ran out of everything. He'd lost over half a million troops in Russia in 1812. He lost 175,000 horses there as well. He'd raised another vast army by late spring 1813, but he couldn't replace the horses--so very little cavalry, and no supply trains. Then he fought the Allies at Leipzig and lost. Spectacularly. 73,000 French casualties.

And he couldn't afford that--he couldn't replace those troops. France was exhausted and he no longer had the manpower of his satellite states to draw upon either. The Banque de France was out of money. There was nothing for his remaining soldiers to eat and some 25% of them had typhus anyway. He had brought France and his army to their knees. There was nothing left. It took Europe nearly 100 years to recover the pre-Revolutionary population numbers. It was Greek tragedy, but on a continental scale.

8) There's a lot of fertile literary ground in the Napoleonic Wars. Do you intend to keep writing about this period or do you have something else in mind for future works?

Well, I've already begun the research for a novel set during the invasion of France in 1814, but this time from the point of view of the British army who invaded with Wellington, fighting their way through Spain and over the Pyrenees into southwestern France. So that's next. I think. If I don't get side-tracked. Ha ha ha.

And there's always the Congress of Vienna. So many parties. So many diplomats. So much spying.

As always, it's been such a pleasure to visit with you, J.A., and talk about this stuff which is so close to my heart. Thank you for having me.


Thanks, M.M.

If you'd like to read more from M.M., please visit her blog at

If you'd like to read an earlier interview with M.M., please click here.

Espionage and The French Way: An interview with historical fiction author Katherine Pym

Today I'm talking with Katherine Pym about her novel of espionage and 17th-century England, Of Carrion Feathers.


1. Please tell us about your book.

Thanks so much for having me on your blog.

All of my main characters come from the middle to lower classes, and how the main population copes with the transition between Cromwell’s Commonwealth and the Restoration of the King.

Of Carrion Feathers is about espionage under the reign of King Charles II. There was a lot of it then primarily due to certain unhappy sectors that preferred the Puritan ideology.

2. What got you interested in 17th-century London?

While writing The First Apostle, I lived in England and came across several documents/books of Early Modern England. It was a fascinating time. The 1660s especially sent England onto a new and vital path that set the rules we have today. Every year had something new, and my stories take place over the period of one year. Of Carrion Feathers is in the year 1662. It is historically correct right down to the weather.

3. Your book initially focuses on a woman interested in going into the theater. The so-called "French way of the theater" allowed women to be on the stage, but this was somewhat new at the time. Why were the English against women thespians?

From Medieval days, a woman actor was unthinkable. It brought her to the level of harlotry. The line was very narrow between a proper, virtuous woman and a strumpet. She was a man’s chattel, his virtuous property. He could lock her in a closet and take away her children if he so desired, so a woman would be very careful to maintain her air of obedience.

4. Can you tell us a bit about your female and male leads?

Beatrice Short is brilliant and loves puzzles. She intends to go on stage, and won’t let anything stop her, but she must have money to pay for dance and singing lessons. While working as a servant, she gets caught reading the Undersecretary’s ciphers and is blackmailed into being a spy.

Oliver Prior is a man haunted by the brutal death of his sister while under his care. He becomes a spy for the Crown, never expecting to live long.

5. Your novel has a strong espionage component. Espionage, by its nature, is secretive. Were you able to find historical research material on espionage on the period or did you have to fill in a lot of gaps yourself?

Sometimes, one finds the best research under the farthest rock. I picked up a book on Colonel Blood one day, who plotted against the King. This book had a very nice bibliography, from which I sourced, so the espionage in my book is correct. I changed the name of the undersecretary, though.

6. We all build up stereotypes of the past in our minds. What is the most surprising thing you learned about 17th-century London?

That London City was only within its original walls. Anything outside the walls was considered the liberties, or suburbs, and not London. The London Bridge was an entity of itself.

7. Though sometimes the past is exactly what we think it was. Was there anything you confirmed in research that you perhaps initially heard or were taught but were dubious of?

One thinks of early Modern England as something quite far away, but the people were just like us. There were shops, and restaurants, called ordinaries, bookstalls with chapbooks called penny merriments. People had the same expectations we have. They struggled to find happiness and peace with their God, like today.

8. What future projects are you working on?

My next novel will deal with London events of 1663. It’ll be a novel of superstition vs. science. 


Thanks, Katherine.

You can read more from Katherine at

Of Carrion Fields is available at Amazon and Wings ePress.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

What does it mean to be human? An interview with Linda Andrews

1) Tell us about your book.

I think the blurb tells it best:

A woman from the past.
A cyborg with no future.
They have every reason to mistrust each other but one: survival.

When Nell Stafford passed out it was 2012. When she wakes up naked aboard a starship it's 2138, and she's surrounded by the Syn-En: synthetically-enhanced soldiers with a grudge against humans like her. She doesn't know where she is or what's happened, only that her life has been destroyed and everyone she's ever known is dead.

Their leader Beijing York has just discovered his people's creators--humans--have betrayed them. They were promised freedom and equality in exchange for settling a newly discovered planet at the other side of a wormhole. But the Syn-En have outlived their usefulness.

The offer was a trick.

The wormhole has collapsed, and now both Nell and the Syn-En are trapped far from Earth to face almost certain death.

Bei has lost his future, and Nell has lost her past.

But Nell gained something in her 120-year sleep; somehow, she knows everything the Syn-En need to survive. Now she must convince Bei and his people to trust her--as soon as she learns to trust the mysterious intelligence.

2) What inspired this book?

The idea came from a multitude of places. First there was a man in England who inserted a chip in his arm and connected it to a computer to track the way muscles interact with the brain. Then there was an article in US News and World Report about testing a new prosthesis that could actually be
controlled by the amputee's brain, giving him some fine motor coordination. Add in synthetic skin used to treat burn patients and I had to makings of a cyborg.

3) Why did you choose to have a science fiction tale centered around a woman originally from our time ending up in the future?

Although The Syn-En Solution takes place a hundred years in the future, I needed a way to make things understandable to modern readers since I didn't plan to stick with current SciFi lingo. Also, I needed someone to facilitate the building of this new society between the cyborgs and the
humans. Of course, I had to add a twist to take it to the next level.

4) Is there a particular science fiction idea that your book focuses on?

Like most classic SciFi, I addressed the issue of what it really means to be human. We stand on the cusp of gigantic scientific leaps in medicine that will push those boundaries. Add in a little genetic engineering to change our appearance, maybe give some of us wings or cat's eyes, and the question is bound to arise: when do we stop being Homo sapiens and become something else?

5) It's often said that science fiction tells us more about the present than any imagined future. Do you think this is true? If so, what does your book tell us about our present?

I absolutely believe that the best SciFi reflects our present back on us and that by setting it in the future, we're able to deal with it a little more objectively. I suppose The Syn-En Solution tells us two things about modern Western society. First, that we're looking for technology to save us from really bad choices (which I believe it can). And two, that technology doesn't save us from our nature. Said another way, if we find a technology to scrub CO2 from our atmosphere are we going to keep improving clean energies or harvest all the fossil fuels?

6) Who has influenced you as a writer?
So many things influence me, particularly other writers like Robert Frost and H.G. Wells. But then my critique partners and beta readers have their say and lastly, there is the snappy dialogue from old movies that can create an interesting and sometimes unintended subtext.

7) What do you have in-store for future books?

I've already finished the second book in the series, Syn-En: Culture Clash, where we meet some pretty cool aliens, and after Christmas I plan to work on the third book, Syn-En: Registration, where the Syn-En have to travel to another planet and register the human race as a sentient species so aliens
stop treating us as lab rats.


Thanks, Linda.

You can find more from Linda at

The Syn-En Solution can be purchased at Amazon.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Curious Kids and Middle Grade Mystery: An interview with Christian middle grade author Dana Rongione

Today I'm talking with Christian middle grade mystery author Dana Rongione about her book, The Delaware Detectives.


1) Please tell us about your book.

The Delaware Detectives is a Christian mystery for readers between the ages of 8 and 14 (although younger and older readers can certainly enjoy it as well).  It is the story of Abby and Jamie Patterson, who spend the summer with their grandfather (Pop-Pop) in Delaware and discover an old stamp collection that contains a clue to a hidden treasure.  The problem is that no one is sure if the treasure truly exists or not because the clue was left by a crazy old woman.  The story is filled with hidden clues, secret passageways and strange creatures, but subtly woven into the mix are moral lessons about honesty and getting along with our brothers and sisters.

2) What was your inspiration for writing this book?

As a child, my brother, sister and I spent many hours exploring my grandfather's attic.  It held such wonders, and I don't think I'll ever get over the excitement of discovering unique items that I had never seen before.  The book actually began as an assignment for one of the courses I was taking with The Institute of Children's Literature.  As I thought about what to write for a children's fiction novel, the memories of my grandfather's attic came to me.  I figured if I enjoyed the mysteries contained in that attic, maybe other children would too.

3) Tell about your two lead characters.

Abby is a headstrong young girl, stuck in the age of no longer being a child, but not yet being a woman.  She is a perfectionist, a reader and a history lover.  Everything she does is organized and well-planned.  She loves her brother but tires of his immature antics and feels she no longer has much in common with him now that she is "grown up".  She has a tender heart and truly desires to please.

Jamie is a typical young boy.  He is fun of energy and grandiose ideas.  He is eager for attention and will often do whatever it takes to gain that attention.  In the process, he tends to drive others crazy.  He is fun-loving and smart, although he'd much prefer to watch television or play video games rather than sit down and read a book.  Deep down, he's a good kid.  He's just struggling to find a way to fit in.

4) What was your favorite part of writing this book?

Reliving old memories was such a thrill.  Since the story was based on my childhood days in my grandfather's attic, I was able to mentally re-visit my childhood.  I saw the room where my sister and I once stayed.  I felt the cool air as I made my way up the narrow steps.  I pictured that creepy, stuffed owl that hung on the wall and seemed to stare at me no matter where I went.  I recalled how we crawled into the stuffy attic through the little white paneled door and stared in wonder at the many items surrounding us.  Having the opportunity to put these memories on paper was a rewarding experience.

5) Kids often complain about adults not understanding them. You've written an entire book with children as the main characters. How did you go about developing their psychology? Was it difficult to write from a younger perspective?

For starters, I based my two main characters on real people:  my niece and nephew.  That helped to really flesh out their characters and to be certain that I wasn't getting too "adult" in my dialogue or descriptions.  Another thing that helped is that I taught kindergarten and first grade for nine years before becoming a writer.  Additionally, I've worked with our church youth for a number of years, so I am well-acquainted with how children think, talk and act.  It was just a matter of putting that knowledge on paper.

6) Do you have any sequels planned?

My initial plan was to end the book in such a way that I could go either way with it -- have a sequel or just leave it as a stand alone book.  However, since its release, I've received a number of requests for the next book, so it looks like there will be at least one sequel.

7) With all the myriad activities out there for young people these days, it can sometimes be hard to get them to read. What do you think parents can do to get their children more interested in reading?

That's an excellent question.  The first thing parents can do is read themselves.  Children are watching, and in many ways, they are going to mimic the behavior of their parents.  If the parents are always filling their time with other things (television, games, computers, etc.), the children will do the same.  It's important for children to see adults reading and getting excited about reading.  One thing I always did in my classroom was to read to my students, and often I would read a book that was beyond their reading level.  Before beginning the book, however, I would tell them a little about it and describe some of my favorite parts.  By the time I was done, they couldn't wait for me to read to them, and when we'd reach the chapter's end, I always received requests like "Please, can't we read just one more."

Another thing parents can do is to allow children to choose their own books as long as those books are acceptable to the parents.  (Note to the parents:  Always know what your child is reading, and if at all possible, read it before your child does!)  Children who are forced to read stories in which they have no interest will quickly learn to dislike reading altogether.  Parents should take advantage of the library and bookstores and surround their children with good literature.  Instead of buying a new toy or video game, how about a book?


Thanks, Dana.

If you'd like to see more from Dana, check her site out at

The Delaware Detectives can be purchased at Amazon.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Welcome to the Imagine Nation: An interview with fantasy author Grant Stone

1) Tell us about your book.

Everything Zing is an invitation to the Imagine Nation’s ultimate destination and saga. For centuries stories from destinations such as Hogwarts, Middle Earth, Narnia and Oz have all been shared with the world to set the stage. Now, after endless myths and fables, you can ride the Train of Thought from “A” all the way to “Z” and discover the Capital City to this realm of fantasy.

2) What was the inspiration for this book?

My career has always focused on writing and exploration. For over 15 years, I’ve held a “dream job” working as the Editor on Crystal Cruises’ luxury vessels, traveling to hundreds of destinations in almost 150 countries. The inspiration for Everything Zing came in the winter of 2002 when I was immersed back into childhood… as a short term substitute elementary teacher. That’s when the wheels started turning and the idea of a land completely “kid-like” started to take shape. Then it was an avalanche of ideas – the heavens pouring down all the essential elements of what would take almost a decade to actually organize and narrate.

3) What is the primary theme underlying your work?

One of Zing’s ongoing themes is the relationship between the world of Reality and the Imagine Nation. The story takes place in the year 2000 for a variety of essential reasons, primarily the new millennium and Leap Year. One of the premises of Zing is that all the inventions and creations that we see and enjoy today were first designed in the Imagine Nation’s Capital City. Zing’s visitors discover that Earth’s attempted replicas don’t always turn out like the originals, and there is often more to the story than what Reality has provided.

4) Tell us a bit about the Imagine Nation.

Ruled by Father Time and Mother Nature and their four children (Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall) the Imagine Nation has been the ultimate playground for “Earthies” for over two thousand years. The Capital City of Zing especially welcomes adults who are fed up with Reality and ready to begin a “regenovation,” a process of becoming less grown-up and more childlike.

5) Tell us a bit about your protagonist, George.

George Everest is a 29-year old, fifth grade teacher, who lives with his wife in New York City, on the verge of a premature life crisis.  I must admit that I hold back the chuckle every time one of my readers mentions the main character, George, and the curiosity over what will become of him. George’s story is interesting, but personally I find the events that unfold to the characters around him much more intriguing and entertaining. As the series progresses, I think readers will agree that George is the most “normal” in the bunch… and wow, what a bunch of characters!

6) All fiction is the art of telling entertaining lies, but some lies are perhaps less grounded in truth than others. Fantasy, for instance, rests on unreal worlds. What strengths do you think fantasy brings to the storytelling medium?

Escaping the truth of reality is the reason we dive into a novel – to lose ourselves in another world for a while – so we can return with a new perspective and a bit more clarity about the life we currently live. We trust writers to do precisely that – to create galaxies and kingdoms and “once upon a times” that mesmerize us – even though we know they’re lying to us. Our favorite fantasies are indeed only fantasies, but it sure is fun to pretend, especially when a novel delivers an element of truth and revelation, even a simple reminder that good is still good and bad is still bad.

7) Your work is portal fantasy. Portal fantasy is a venerable part of the fantasy genre, perhaps best exemplified in many people's minds by the work of C.S. Lewis. That being said portal fantasy and even second-world fantasy have given up a lot of ground in recent years to contemporary fantasy. Why do you think that is?

Regardless of terminology, this is an exciting time to be both a fantasy novelist and reader. Thanks to the success of series like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games, fantasy has taken the spotlight. Even C.S. Lewis’ classic Narnia series is being discovered by new generations thanks to the big-screen versions. As the “umbrella” of the fantasy genre continues to expand I know we’ll attract more readers, and that’s a worthy and exciting mission for everyone.

8) Can you give us some insight into your future works?

Everything Zing is a four-part series, all of which are written, the first subtitled Winter now in publication. All of my energy is focused on promoting the current release, as well as finalizing the remaining four installments (Spring, Summer and Fall).


Thanks, Grant.

You can find more from Grant at his website and twitter.

Everything Zing can be purchased in physical and electronic format at Amazon.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Touch of Small Publisher and Self-Published Romance: Interview with magazine editor TJ Mackay

Today I have something a little different. Recently, InD'Tale magazine, an electronic magazine dedicated to small publisher and self-published romance opened up. I interviewed the editor-in-chief, TJ Mackay.


1) Tell us about your magazine.

InD’Tale is a brand new, totally unique magazine geared for those who are interested in self and small publishing. It has been developed in a totally new and inventive way. One that has never been used before!

Along with the website,, InD’Tale is published as an actual magazine each month and is delivered straight to subscribers inboxes. Until now, one’s options have been to pay and subscribe to a print magazine, then have it delivered digitally, as well, or hunt down a digital magazine’s website to read their content. InD’Tale combines the best of both worlds. It’s an interactive, digital magazine that is delivered directly to the reader so they can download and read anytime or anywhere, on mobile devices or on-screen!

2) Is it targeted more toward readers or authors?
It is targeted to both! So far our subscribers are split pretty evenly down the middle so it is very important that we include content that will interest and pertain to both reader and author alike. For instance, in our flagship issue, we have interviews with both Mark Coker, CEO of the giant digital distributing company Smashwords and Catherine Bybee a hugely popular author. Both are interesting, fun people to read about but one leans more to the interests of authors while the other is a big reader favorite.

Our monthly columnists are another great example. Jimmy Thomas, the hunky and hugely successful cover model/media mogul, answers both serious industry questions and just plain fun, fan questions in each column, while Tammy Grant just gabs, Andy Rooney style, about books and the industry as a whole.

The website also encompasses both reader and author alike. Authors can submit books for review, advertise etc., while readers can read short stories, reviews and find interesting books. Both can also participate in the contests, drawings and surveys available on our “fun stuff” page, along with so much more!

3) Why have you chosen to eschew a print version?

That’s a very good question. It’s kind of a two-sided answer. The reading world is changing from print to digital so fast it is hard to keep up and while print will always be a personal favorite of many (myself included), there is no denying the emphasis has turned. If I want a magazine that will be viable in the future, it must be digital. The other side is the fact that the costs of printing and distributing a print magazine are astronomical in comparison to a digital magazine. For someone just starting up, and with the future in mind, it just wasn’t feasible.

4) What was the impetus behind starting this magazine?
I had the idea around the first of this year. I have worked in the industry for years and watched so many incredibly talented authors struggle to make it but were denied the media exposure because they were not sponsored by big, mainstream publishing companies.

I happened to be chatting with Catherine Bybee, right as her book, Wife By Wednesday, was shooting to the top of the NYT bestseller list. She had been pestering me to go out on my own for a while, suddenly she said, “This is it! This is the time!” After consideration, I agreed and took the plunge!

5) Please tell us about your staff.

Oh, my goodness, I have the best staff! Once I made the commitment and started building, I went back to all my contacts and networks and hunted down the people I had most valued and enjoyed for their opinions, insight and writing abilities. Then, it was just a matter of begging hard enough to convince them that jumping on board this project would be worth their time and effort! Every single one has been so amazing and supportive! They have done whatever has been asked - whether it fit their “job description” or not. They’ve worked and cheered and encouraged, all for nothing more than the satisfaction of knowing they are part of building something great.

6) Does your magazine cover all sub-genres of romance and/or does it have a special emphasis?
It covers all genres! In fact, that is one area that I’m struggling to help people understand. I don’t want just the basic “romance”, although we love and accept them readily, we encourage any book, any genre, romance doesn’t even have to be the main theme. As long as there is a romantic thread in the overall story, we want it!

7) What sort of content should readers expect each month?

Each month the magazine will include interviews with some of the biggest stars in the business, along with fun and informative articles. We will showcase a new and different short story each month, along with publishing a serial story that will print in installments. We also highlight a new and rising talent in each issue. This can be anyone from a cover designer to an author, to a reader who has developed a unique and promising idea. All that along with our monthly columns by Jimmy Thomas and Tammy Grant mentioned above AND book reviews for every taste and genre... Whew!!! The most amazing part is that all this is being offered for FREE!!!

Subscribing doesn’t cost a penny!

8) Your tagline is "serving small and self published with romantic flair." So, does this mean your magazine is going to restrict itself only to content related to small publishers and self- published books? If so, why did you choose that particular focus?
Yep! It is those authors and people who really need the exposure. Those are the people who, heretofore, have had no voice but their own. The whole premise of InD’Tale magazine is to give those talented people the means to become successful, right along with those who have the backing of large publishing companies.

9) People love contests. Any sort of fun contests coming up?

Oh heaven’s yes! We just ended our first big subscriber drawing and gave away a $250.00 gift basket! We have so much planned, starting with a “finish this poem” contest starting up next week! That is the one area that we are still asking people to be patient with us, though. Since we are new, we are still tweaking the technology to fit our needs. The “fun stuff” page will need so many different additions that we are still working to incorporate them. All we ask is that you keep checking back, it’s going to be great!

10) Where do people go to subscribe?


Thanks, TJ.

Please visit for more information or to subscribe.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Love, Trade, and China: An interview with historical fiction author Lloyd Lofthouse

Today I'm talking with Lloyd Lofthouse author of a series of historical fiction books, The Concubine Saga, about Sir Robert Hart, an important figure in the British Empire's early contacts in China.


1) Please give us an overview of The Concubine Saga books.

The Concubine Saga covers the first decade of Robert Hart's fifty-four years in China, which is a bitter-sweet love story of a man struggling with his moral Victorian compass in an alien culture while the bloodiest rebellion in human history rages around him at the same time that the Opium Wars were ravaging China with Western drugs. China's last imperial empire and its culture were under attack from several directions.

Before the novel ends, Hart leaves the British consulate where he was an interpreter and goes to work for the Emperor of China and soon becomes the only foreigner the emperor trusts. The foundation of Hart's success in China is his live in dictionary and lover, Ayaou, his Chinese concubine. That interracial romance and love story is the foundation of The Concubine Saga.

2) What inspired you to write books about Sir Robert Hart?

In 1999, when my wife and I were dating (we married in December of that year), she mentioned I might be interested in an Irishman named Robert Hart that went to China in 1854 at age 19. I Googled Hart and discovered that Harvard University Press had published his journals and letters, which I bought and read.

His story fascinated me—especially his love and admiration for Ayaou. However, shortly before his death, he burned the journals that focused on his early years with Ayaou covering 2 years and nine months (July 29 1855 to 20 March 1858) and then another four and one half years (December 6, 1858 to 6 June 1863) and blacked out passages in the surviving journals in an attempt to erase his years with Ayaou from history even though it is obvious that he loved and missed her. A surviving letter he wrote to his agent decades later established this fact.

Writing The Concubine Saga was my way to bring this bitter-sweet love story to life so it would not be forgotten.

3) What do you think his fundamental legacy is in terms of East-West relations?

Harvard scholars said it best in Entering China's Service, Robert Hart's Journals, 1851—1863 when they said Hart was considered the godfather of China's modernism. He loved and respected Chinese culture and wanted it to survive on its own. He wanted the British Empire and China to be friends. To achieve this, Hart, as Inspector General of the Chinese Maritime Customs, modernized China's schools so they could compete with the West, organized a postal system, helped modernize China's military and he negotiated treaties with foreign powers. For his service, both the West and China honored him. Britain's Queen Victoria knighted Hart as a Baron and the Emperor of China elevated him to Chinese nobility. Even the Vatican honored Hart along with a dozen other European nations.

4) Why did you choose to focus your work so much on his romantic interests?

After reading his journals and letters, I saw Robert Hart as a man first instead of a bureaucrat, diplomat and statesman, which came later as he matured and moved up in rank. Soon after arriving in China, it was obvious that he was a lonely 19 year old man yearning for female companionship. In fact, his desire for a woman to love seemed to dominate his thinking and his guilt before he met Ayaou, and she became his concubine about a year after he arrived in China. It wasn't easy for him to bridge cultures this way and his guilt dealing with the transition and temptation was obvious, which is why I focused on the relationship with Ayaou and all the angst that came with it. In fact, he arrived in 1854 to learn the language while working as an interpreter for the British consulate in Ningpo and then Canton during the Arrow War.

The fact that I focused on this love story has been mentioned by several of the novel's critics. However, what these reviewers seem to have missed is the fact that Robert Hart arrived in China at age 19 in 1854 and did not speak a word of Chinese. At first, he worked as a low ranked interpreter for the British consulate but had to learn the language first. In time he gained rank in the consulate but did not start working for the Emperor of China until the middle of 1859, about five years after arriving in China.

One could make a strong case that he arrived as an immature young man, and due to his relationship with Ayaou, he matured into the man that he would become later. That metamorphosis into the great man that he would become was not an easy journey. If he had not make embarrassing moral mistakes (according to Victorian England), why did he destroy more than seven years of his journals covering most of his first ten years in China—the crucial years he was with Ayaou.

5) What sort of research did you do to try and get into the head of Sir Hart?

First, I bought and read Hart's Journals and letters, which were published by the Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University Press. Later, I would expand this research to develop a stronger understanding of China and its culture.

6) Historical fiction is always a balancing act between historical record, interpretation, and outright fictionalization in service to the story. What sort of particular balance did you strive to maintain? Were you fixated on pure accuracy or did you take a bit more creative license?

I would have to say I took a bit more creative license since Robert Hart destroyed journals covering more than seven years of his first decade in China during a period of time that he wasn't the famous man he would become later.

However, I did focus on historical accuracy regarding the tapestry of China's history at this time, which is why I studied The Taiping Rebellion, The Opium Wars, Chinese culture, etc.

For example, on my research shelves, I have Lin Yutang's My Country and My People; Sterling Seagrave's Dragon Lady; March C. Elliot's The Manchu Way; Jonathan D. Spence's God's Chinese Son; Spence's To Change China; hundreds of pages of Internet research I printed out and kept in binders; and more than thirty other books on China, its culture and history.

7) What is the most surprising thing you learned about Sir Hart during your research?

The most surprising thing I learned came from the Harvard scholars that produced and edited Entering China's Service, Robert Hart's Journals, 1854—1863.

On page 154, a Harvard editor wrote, "Hart's years of liaison with Ayaou (roughly 1857 – 1865) gave him his fill of romance, including both is satisfaction and its limitations. For whatever reason, after that his need for feminine companionship declines as he steadily and inexorably became more enamored of managing the Chinese Imperial Maritime Customs Service." Note: Sterling Seagrave (page 150 of the paperback of Dragon Lady) says Hart's relationship with Ayaou started in May of 1855. The clues are there—the fact that he burned the journals starting in July of 1855.

If Hart had his fill of romance to the degree that he felt compelled to destroy his own journals that documented that journey, it must have been something extraordinary but unacceptable to the Victorian moral code.

8) There's a tendency toward a rather Manichean view of historical figures. Though no monster, Sir Hart also certainly was no angel, especially as a young man. Do you think this will hamper people's ability to respect his other accomplishments?

I see no reason why people cannot accept that he was human with all the frailties that means while still deserving credit for his accomplishments. Hart spent fifty-four years in China and most of his first decade is shrouded in mystery since he destroyed more than seven years of his own journals. In fact, a few critics seem to see me as the monster instead of Hart for writing about this human side of his life where the flesh and temptation tends to rule the decisions most young men make when it comes to women.

In addition, it is documented that while he was a student at the Queens College in Belfast ages 15 to 19, that he drank too much, seduced too many women and, according to medical records, was treated for syphilis. It stand to reason that he arrived in China a few months after graduation at age 19 and was the same young man—maturity a fame would come later. However, it is obvious that with Ayaou, he lived out all of his romantic fantasies and that is what I set out to write about in the Concubine Saga.

9) In many ways, China is not the same country that it was when Sir Hart arrived so many years ago. If Sir Hart could visit today's China do you think he'd find it foreign or familiar?

I think he would not see it as foreign but also it would not be familiar. I believe he would be pleased. The education system he adapted for China so it could compete with the West is still there and improving. The postal system he created is still working. When he lived in China, more than 90% of the population lived in severe poverty and today about 13% live in poverty with less than 3% living in severe poverty. In 1854, more than 86% of Chinese were illiterate but today less than 7% are.

During his 54 years in China, there was an annual famine that caused hundreds of thousands and even millions to die in one or more provinces but since 1961, although there have still been droughts in China, there have been no recorded deaths from starvation.

Many in the West have criticized and demonized the Chinese Communist Party but the CCP, starting in 1949, is the only government in China's long history to actually do something about the poverty and annual famines that plagued China for thousands of years. Yes, Hart would recognize positive changes that many in the West refuse to see.

What Hart wanted for the Chinese people has come to pass. I do not think he would be concerned about the Communist Party ruling China as an authoritarian one-party republic, since he lived during a still expanding, often brutal, Imperial British Empire. Hart wanted the quality of life for the Chinese people to improve and it has—dramatically compared to when he lived there.

10) Considering the incredible amount of research you put into this book, I can imagine it might be difficult to follow up with a new series. That being said, are you working any other projects right now?

Yes, I am currently revising and editing a completed manuscript I wrote that is set in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. The title is Better a Dead Hero, and I plan to have it out in a few months. The heart (no pun intended) of this novel is another bitter-sweet romance between a US Marine and a Vietnamese woman, who is also a reluctant member of the National Liberation Front known to most in the West as the Viet Cong.

Thanks, LLoyd.

If you'd like to read more from Lloyd, you can visit his webpage

The Concubine Saga can be purchased at Amazon as a collection or as its component novels, My Splendid Concubine and Our Hart, Elegy.