My Friend Won Book of the Year, Too!

Remember how The Once and Future Queen won Non-fiction Book of the Year in the Author’s Circle awards not long ago?

Well, I just found out that a really good friend of mine, Sara Dahmen’s, novel Widow won for Fiction Book of the Year! I reviewed Widow a while back, under its original title, Dr. Kinney’s Housekeeper. It’s definitely one to put on your list immediately.

 

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that we were both honored in the same year. Sara and I met at the Chanticleer Author’s Conference in 2016, just after Daughter of Destiny was published. (That’s the same event at which Daughter was named Book of the Year by Chanticleer Reviews.) We have been to several conferences together and are pretty close online. I am so proud of her.

Now, go read her book!

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Interview with Author Mary Sharratt

Mary Sharratt

Today, author Mary Sharratt joins us to talk about her new book Ecstasy, which I reviewed yesterday. I’m very excited to find out the details behind this fascinating and unusual book!

1. What initially drew you to Alma Mahler as a book subject?

I am a lifelong Gustav Mahler fan and Alma has always fascinated me. Few twentieth century women have been surrounded by such as aura of scandal and notoriety. Her husbands and lovers included not only Mahler, but artist Gustav Klimt, architect and Bauhaus-founder Walter Gropius, artist Oskar Kokoschka, and poet and novelist Franz Werfel. Yet none of these men could truly claim to possess her because she was stubbornly her own woman to the last. Over fifty years after her death, she still elicits very strong reactions. Some people romanticize her as a muse to great men while others demonize her as a man-destroying monster. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s famous observation that well-behaved women seldom make history could have been written about Alma.

Although Alma was a composer in her own right, most commentators, including some of her biographers, completely gloss over this fact and instead focus quite narrowly on her sexuality and on how they believe she failed to be the perfect woman for the great men in her life. How dare she not be perfect!

But I wanted my fiction to explore who Alma really was as an individual—beyond her historical bad girl rep and beyond all the famous men she was involved with.

2. What kind of research did you do to help bring Alma to life?

For me, both primary sources and place are paramount. The key primary sources I relied on in writing Ecstasy were Alma Schindler’s diaries (her published diaries end shortly before her marriage to Gustav Mahler) and Mahler’s letters to Alma during their life together. Taken together and supplemented with their music, these primary sources form a narrative. First we have a very beautiful and passionate young woman who yearned to be a composer. Then she fell in love with composer and star conductor Gustav Mahler who demanded that she give up her own music as a condition of their marriage. Bowing to social convention, she reluctantly agreed. Then his letters to her reveal what a shadow Alma’s sense of anguish and loss cast on their marriage. Interestingly, Alma later destroyed most of her letters to Gustav, so we only get his side of their voluminous correspondence. Her self-imposed silence in this historical record forms its own narrative, as well.

I also read biographies of the Mahlers, but I like to begin with the primary sources and form my own conclusions, rather than just taking any one biographer’s word for it.

The other main stream of my research is place—literally inhabiting the same landscape as my characters. I went on three separate research trips to Vienna and immersed myself in the art and music of turn-of-the-twentieth century Vienna. I listened obsessively to the music of both Mahlers while writing the novel. I also visited their summer homes in Maiernigg and Toblach. It helped that I studied German and used to live in Austria and that I played violin up until my college years.

[Note from Nicole: Oh, I am so jealous of your research trips! I haven’t been to Austria since I was 11, but I loved it then. My mom was born there.]

3. What is the most surprising thing you learned in your research?

Once I sat down and did the research, an entirely new picture of Alma emerged that completely undermined the femme fatale cliché. I read Alma’s early diaries compulsively, from cover to cover, and what I discovered in those secret pages was a soulful and talented young woman who had a rich inner life away from the male gaze. She devoured philosophy books and avant-garde literature. She was a most accomplished pianist—her teacher thought she was good enough to study at Vienna Conservatory, though her family didn’t support the idea. Besides, Alma didn’t want a career of public performance. Instead she yearned with her whole soul to be a composer, to write great symphonies and operas.

[Note from Nicole: I have a feeling we’re going to see more and more stories like this as authors like you and I take on famously maligned women in order to right their histories.]

4. Why did you choose that specific time in Alma’s life to highlight as opposed to covering her whole life?

Originally, I wanted the novel to tell the story of Alma’s entire life, but it took me 400 pages just to try to do justice to her young adulthood and first marriage. Narrating the full sweep of Alma’s long and turbulent life would require a trilogy, at the very least. Who knows—maybe if Ecstasy is super-successful, my publisher might ask me to write a sequel or two!

[Note from Nicole: Good luck! I’d like to see a few more!]

5. What’s your favorite scene/part of the book?

I loved writing about the young Alma Maria Schindler, this gifted young woman effervescent with creative potential. The scenes of her composing and losing herself in her piano playing were the most delightful to write. I also, of course, enjoyed writing about this very passionate young woman exploring her burgeoning sexuality. When I was workshopping one of those scenes with my writers group, such glee and hilarity ensued, including enthusiastic whoops, that someone knocked on the door of our meeting room and asked us if we could please shush. We rent our meeting room at the local Buddhist center and our spirited discourse had disturbed the meditation class!

6. What do you think Alma’s life says to women today?

Gustav Mahler famously asked Alma to stop composing as a condition of their marriage. Deeply in love and in awe of his genius, she reluctantly agreed, even though this broke her heart. In this regard, her story is a starkly cautionary tale and also, alas, one that is all too relevant today. What do women still give up in the name of love? How much female potential never reaches fruition because of the demands of motherhood and domesticity?

What Alma’s story reveals is how hard it was (and often still is) for women to stay true to their talent and creative ambition in a society that grooms women to be caretakers. Why are female composers so sorely underrepresented, even in the twenty-first century? I am a classical music fan and attend concerts every chance I get. I’ve never seen a female composer on the repertoire of any major orchestra or venue I have visited. Nor have I ever seen a female conductor.

Fortunately, though, Alma does eventually triumph and take back her power.

7. What message or feeling to do you hope readers come away with after finishing Ecstasy?

 I hope my readers will be as moved by Alma’s story as I am. I think the time has truly come for a more nuanced and feminist appraisal of Alma’s life and work, and I hope Ecstasy challenges some of the commonly held misperceptions about her.

Alma has been traditionally viewed through a very male-centered lens. Only within the last decade or so have more nuanced biographies about her emerged and only in German! Ecstasy is currently the only book available in English, to my knowledge, that takes her seriously as a composer and as a woman who had something to say and give to the world besides just inspiring genius men.

[Note from Nicole: Wow, that is an amazing accomplishment! Congratulations and thank you for bringing her proper story to the English-speaking world!]

 8. What’s next for you? Any books currently in the works?

My next book is a trip back to the late Middle Ages. Revelations, my new novel in progress, should be of special interest to fans of my 2012 novel, Illuminations: A Novel of Hildegard von Bingen. Here I return once more to the realm of the female medieval mystics. Revelations is the story of the intersecting lives of two spiritual women who changed history—earthy Margery Kempe, globetrotting pilgrim and mother of fourteen, and ethereal Julian of Norwich, sainted anchorite, theologian, and author of the first book in English by a woman. Imagine, if you will, a fifteenth century Eat, Pray, Love.

[Note from Nicole: Ahhhhh! I’m so excited! I loved Illuminations. In fact, it’s my favorite book of yours. I’m all over this new one.]

9. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’m on a mission to write women back into history. To a large extent, women have been written out of history. Their lives and deeds have become lost to us. To uncover the buried histories of women, we historical novelists must act as detectives, studying the sparse clues that have been handed down to us. To create engaging and nuanced portraits of women in history, we must learn to read between the lines and fill in the blanks.

It’s important that women today realize how quickly our lives and achievements can be forgotten and buried. Or heaped with misinterpretation and condemnation if we push too hard against the traditional feminine life script—Alma is remembered but she’s also been slated as a “bad” and even “hysterical” woman. We must do everything in our power to keep alive the memory of accomplished women and hope that future generations of women will remember what we have accomplished.

[Note from Nicole: We share the same mission. Men do love to call us hysterical, don’t they? Hopefully together, and with the other female authors who also focus on women, we can make a dent in history.]

Thank you so much for being here, Mary! Readers, if you have questions or comments, please leave them below and I will make sure Mary sees them.

Guest Post – On Making Paperweights: Jacqueline Friedland Talks Strong Women and Memorable Books

Happy Beltane, everyone! I’m so excited to have Jacqueline Friedland as my guest here today. As her post below makes clear, she’s a soul-sister of mine in her love for strong women. Her post really got me thinking about how our early experiences with reading shape who we are later on as writers. I think I may do a follow up post on that with my own thoughts. But this post is about her, not about me. Take it away, Jacqueline!

Photo: Rebecca Weiss Photography

Did you ever try to figure out why certain novels make you fall in love and others make you fall asleep?  Perhaps you’ve wondered if there is a common thread, a specific literary ingredient that draws you so deeply into certain stories?  Maybe if you could identify a trend in the books that invariably keep you reading late into the night, that knowledge might allow you to better hone in on other books that would provide you with equal delight.

As a voracious reader and an author, it has been important to me to pinpoint the devices and themes embedded in the books I most adore.  Not only can such knowledge save me from muddling through books that don’t speak to me, but it can also help me to create written work of my own that feels appropriate and substantive in all the right ways.  Over the past several years, I have identified several characteristics that lead me to gravitate towards a novel.  I like a fast-pace, a strong plot, accessible prose, maybe some romance, perhaps some humor.  Nothing scary, gory, or overly experimental.  But there is something more elusive that has made certain books stay with me for years.

When my mother read aloud to me during my early childhood, we loved The Little Engine that Could, The Secret Garden and Little House on the Prairie.  As I grew older, I was drawn to books like Nancy Drew, The Babysitters Club and Anne of Green Gables.  Then there were the books that shot to the top of my list as I reached adulthood: Gone with the Wind, Jane Eyre and The Bronze Horseman.  What these books all have in common are strong female characters (and if you weren’t aware, Watty Piper’s plucky little engine is indeed female).  These works of fiction portray girls and women who have grit, the will and determination to continue striving until they reach their goals.

There is an additional commonality between these characters though, which is that these females are not only strong, but kind.  In today’s world, there is so much discussion of women needing to be strong, but not enough emphasis on the fact that in appropriate circumstances, kindness should be perceived as a type of strength.  The ability to think about others and see past one’s own experience in interacting with people requires a special kind of fortitude.

In creating my debut novel, Trouble the Water, I felt it was imperative to include positive messages about feminine power and decision making.  The manner in which my characters approach the circumstances fate deals them is what I believe defines their spirits and ethos.  I wanted to portray characters who could make the best of difficult circumstances while also being brave enough to reject conformity.  I created women who took the lemons life handed them and decided to use those lemons as paperweights.  After all, not everyone likes lemonade.

The central female characters in Trouble the Water are each willing to think outside the Victorian or antebellum box, despite the constraints of the 1840s.  The women are courageous enough to make their own choices and to shout until they are heard.  Abigail Milton, the story’s protagonist, has worked in a cotton mill in Lancashire England, receiving a pittance in recompense since she was eleven years old.  When her parents ask her to travel to America so that she may live off the charity of their old friend in Charleston, and thereby lighten the financial burden on her family, she agrees to set off on her own, traveling across the Atlantic Ocean with little more than a stale bread crust and unwavering determination to make a better life for herself.

As the story unfolds and Abby discovers that her new home is rife with clandestine efforts to free local slaves, she is excited, energized, and eager to participate in the abolitionist effort.  Rather than judging the high-risk and profoundly illegal activity of her patron, Douglas Elling, Abby wants to jump directly into the trenches of abolition with him.  It’s a whole different kind of #metoo.

Throughout the story, Abby repeatedly resists being corralled into any of the stereotypical gender molds of the day.  From her penchant for physical exercise to her continued rejection of assistance from men, even those who simply offer to carry her bundles, Abby is her own person.  She is desperate to create meaning in her life, which she believes can be achieved through teaching and helping others.  When she develops romantic feelings for another character, she struggles greatly over how to reconcile those feelings with her burning desire for independence.

In addition to Abby, the other women featured in the novel are full of conviction and tenacity.  Cora Rae Cunningham, a beautiful, spicy, nineteen-year-old who has rejected one marriage proposal after another will not be seduced by wealth nor forced into an arrangement that is not to her romantic satisfaction, much to the dismay of her plantation-owning, socially conforming parents.  Clover, a house slave impregnated by her master, refuses to birth her baby into a life of bondage, and in the ultimate act of bravery and sacrifice, takes her chances on running North.

Creating a realistic historical novel that depicts female characters who are ahead of their time, models for women in any time period, is a challenge that I was glad to undertake.  I felt it was incumbent on me to portray women who were progressive for their time, active players in their life stories, rather than passive guests, living out the scripts that had been handed to them by other forces.  My characters have strong backbones, as well as moments of unexpected kindness and generosity.  They are just the type of women who would keep me reading deep into the night.

Sounds like your characters and mine would get along great! Thank you so much, Jacqueline! I know I can’t wait to read her book! If you have any questions for Jacqueline, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll make sure she sees them.

Neal Katz – Victoria Woodhull and #MeToo

Neal Katz

Two years ago when I was in Chicago for BEA and the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, I met Neal Katz, a fellow author who is also telling Victoria Woodhull’s story. I knew about him (or rather his name) because I had researched others who have or are writing about her. But I had no idea he’d be so charming and gracious. He’s truly a wonderful man.

Neal is approaching Victoria’s story as a trilogy, so he’s able to go much more in-depth into Victoria and Tennie’s lives than Madame Presidentess does. The first book in the series, Outrageous, won 10 awards. Now he’s now preparing to publish part 2: Scandalous. So if you’re hankering for more on Victoria, go buy his books!

As part of Neal’s pre-publication publicity (say that five times fast), he wrote a great article on how Victoria used her newspaper, Woodhull & Claflin’s Weekly to launch the #MeToo of her time: http://thevictoriawoodhullsaga.com/rise-up/. Go, read, now!

(I also took up the subject of Victoria and #MeToo, but from a different angle.)

Some people might question why I would promote Neal’s books since they are direct competition with mine. My answer is that we aren’t really competitors; we are allies.  As much as I want book sales, that’s not really what this is about. It’s about getting Victoria back into the historical record where she belongs. And the more voices we have out there promoting her, the better. No two writers approach a subject the same way, so even if you’ve read mine, you’re likely to learn something new from his, and vice versa. Plus, the more indie authors (and all authors, for that matter) work together, the better off we all are.

Online Courses Now Available at Professional Author Academy

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to learn more about writing, finish your book or maybe even to self-publish, you’re in luck. I’m now offering online courses on writing, business and publishing for authors of all experience levels, from aspiring to multi-published, at Professional Author Academy.

Here’s a look at the courses:

Business Courses 

Audio Books for Indie Authors
Audio books are the fastest growing segment of the publishing industry and are a relatively easy way to make money on books you’ve already written. The process may seem overwhelming, but Nicole Evelina will guide you through a few of the ways of getting your book from page to earbuds. She’ll help you understand your options for production, the cost involved, how to audition narrators and guide them once you’ve selected your talent, what the recording and editing process entail, and how to get your books out to your audience.

Basic Branding for Authors
When we hear the word “branding,” most of us automatically think “logo.” While that is one part of it, branding is actually so much more. It includes the way people feel when they interact with you, your “voice” both in your writing and online, and the image you project online and in person. In addition, branding encompasses your logo, author and book taglines and the fonts and colors you choose for your web site and marketing materials. Drawing on 15 years of professional experience in marketing and a master’s degree in public relations, as well as her own experience as an author, Nicole will help you understand branding through case studies of authors who do it successfully, as well as offer tips and exercises you can employ to discover your own brand.

Business Plans for Authors
A business plan is a roadmap to success. Whether you’re published or not, indie or traditional, a good business plan helps you in defining your goals as well as action steps you can take to reach them. In this course, you’ll learn an 11-step process for writing yours that will take only an hour or two to complete. Plus, you’ll get to see a real-life example of a business plan from your instructor. You’ll also learn how to set your budget and think through your long-term and short-term goals, uncover additional merchandising opportunities that could lead to income, and plan for your next year’s worth of book releases.

Legal Issues for Indie Authors
Being an indie author is more than just writing and publishing a book. Regardless of whether or not you choose to formally start your own publishing imprint, as soon as you make your first sale you are a business in the eyes of the law. This means you’ll have to pay taxes and make sure you follow local, state and Federal laws. In this course,* award-winning author and owner of Lawson Gartner Publishing, Nicole Evelina will walk you through the ins and outs of copyright, PCIP information and Library of Congress numbers, things to consider when starting your own publishing imprint, taxes and proper business record keeping. *This course should not be taken as legal advice. Please consult an attorney and/or tax expert before taking any action.

Marketing Plans for Authors
In today’s publishing world, it’s not only indie authors who have to handle the lion’s share of marketing their book. Increasingly, traditionally published authors are being asked to shoulder the burden. So where do you start? Drawing on 15 years of professional experience and a master’s degree in public relations, as well as her own experience as an author, Nicole Evelina will lead you through creating your own marketing plan. You’ll learn how to:

  • Get an idea of the market for your genre
  • Research competitive and comparative books
  • Identify your strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats
  • Identify your target audience
  • Develop key messages about your book and yourself as an author
  • Plan what tactics you will use before launch, during your launch and after to gain and sustain sales:
    • Distribution – online and physical stores
    • Getting endorsements
    • Paid advertising
    • Social media
    • Your web site content
    • Guest posts/writing articles
    • Events/speaking engagements
    • Media relations
    • Tapping into online and real-life organizations
    • Using giveaways and ARCs to build buzz
    • Getting reviews
    • Supplemental materials you’ll want to have on hand
  • Measure for success and evaluation of ROi

Nicole will share her own marketing plans with you, so you can see how one looks when complete, as well as provide handouts you can use as templates to create your own plan. Nicole has won international communications awards for her marketing plans and regularly writes them for her day job.

Self-Publishing 101
Self-published authors are more than just writers. We’re our own business managers, sales force, distribution team, marketers and more. This course will teach you everything you need to know to self-publish as a professional and produce books of equal or greater quality than traditional publishing houses.

This course is actually several courses in one, as I offer many of these modules separately. Here’s what you’ll learn:

  • The benefits of self-publishing
  • How to write a business plan
  • Budgeting
  • How to handle editing/proofreading
  • How to get a great cover design
  • Options for interior book formatting
  • Distribution: Ebooks, print and audio
  • How to sell your book to libraries and bookstores
  • Legal issues for indie authors: copyright, Library of Congress, forming your own imprint, taxes, recording keeping and expenses
  • Marketing and PR basics
  • Your digital media strategy: website, social media and branding

Steps to Self-Publishing
Self-publishing a book is more than uploading it to Createspace and clicking “publish.” There are several steps necessary in order to produce a book that is equal to or better than those from traditional publishing houses. In this course, award-winning self-published author Nicole Evelina will walk you through everything you need to know about professional editing, cover design, interior formatting, production​, sales and marketing in order to make your book as professional as possible. She’ll also teach you how to budget for the expenses involved and cover the advantages and disadvantages to choosing to publish independently.

Web Sites and Social Media for Authors
By now we all know that web sites are a must for anyone who wants to be taken seriously in any field. This is especially true for authors whose sites function as not only as virtual calling cards, but as portals for sales and interaction with fans. In this course, award-winning author Nicole Evelina will walk you through everything you need to do to set up a site of your own, from choosing a hosting company and buying a URL to deciding what information to include and how to organize your pages. She will also show you how to incorporate branding and marketing best practices into your social media. In addition to using her own site and social media examples, Nicole will offer best practices from famous authors and show you how to emulate them.

Writing Courses

Self-Editing
Editing. That one little word conjures a range of emotions in writers. Some love it. Some hate it. No matter how you feel about it, it’s a necessary step to get your novel ready for publication. Nicole Evelina will teach you some tips and tricks she’s learned over the last several years that will make self-editing a much easier step. Highlights include how to:

  • Break your editing into rounds so that you don’t have to tackle everything at once.
  • Examine dialog, description, characterization and action.
  • Use a beat sheet to check pacing and balance of power.
  • Make every word count without having to agonize over every sing word.
  • Use advice from beta readers and contests to strengthen your novel.

Setting and Description in Fiction
Setting and description are key to immersing your reader in the world of your novel. But how do you accomplish this without overwhelming your readers with pages of flowery prose? Nicole Evelina shares her tips for writing description that will leave your readers wanting to live in the world of your book without sacrificing pace.

Writing Historical Fiction
Ever wanted to try your hand at historical fiction but didn’t know where to start? Award-winning historical fiction author Nicole Evelina will show you it’s not as intimidating as it may seem, even if you’re not a fan of research (though it helps if you are). She’ll cover research methods and sources, how research informs plot, how to handle characterization in other time periods, how to bring the past to life, mistakes to avoid, and more. Whether you’re just dipping a toe in the historical waters or have already published in this genre, you’re sure to learn something new.

Convenient and Reasonably Priced
I know what it’s like to try to fit learning into a life already filled with work, family, writing and other responsibilities. That’s why these courses don’t require any homework and can be taken at your own pace. All courses include a welcome video and narrated Powerpoint slides. Many also include a recommended reading list and other handouts for reference or use as a worksheet or template.

Plus, they are cheaper than your average college course, which runs about $1,500/course (at $500/credit hour), or even many Writer’s Digest Online Workshops, which average between $200-$600+. I offer a tiered pricing structure based on the amount of information in each course. You can pay all at once or installments.

Basic – $100/course

  • Legal Issues for Indie Authors
  • Writing Setting and Description

Standard – $200/course

  • Audio Books for Indie Authors
  • Business Plans for Authors
  • Self-Editing

Advanced – $300/course

  • Branding for Authors
  • Website and Social Media for Authors
  • Steps to Self Publishing

Premium – $500/course

  • Marketing Plans for Authors
  • Writing Historical Fiction

Premier – $1,000/course

  • Self Publishing 101 (This course is several courses in one, including Steps to Self Publishing, Business Plans, Marketing Plans, Legal Issues, Web and Social Media. If you bought the classes separately, you’d pay $1,400.)

To register, just head over to Professional Author Academy.

Stay Up to Date
I’m planning to add new courses several times a year, so if you’d like to be notified when there is a new course or a current course goes on sale, please sign up for my course newsletter.

Future Planned Courses

  • Advanced Author Branding
  • How to Use Pinterest to Develop Your Story and Career
  • How Acting Can Make Your a Better Writer
  • Public Speaking for Authors
  • Starting Strong: Tips for Honing Your Novel’s First Chapter, Page and Line
  • Resources for Self Published and Hybrid Authors
  • Working with a Publicity Company: What You Need to Know
  • Building Strong Characters
  • How to Write a Query Letter That Goes You Noticed

If you have any suggestions for future courses, please email me at nicole[dot]evelina[at]att[dot]net. I’d love to know what you want to learn about!

And please spread the word about this new resource to all the writers in your life.

Book Review: The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

I am SO not a math and science person, but I think The Other Einstein may well end up as my favorite book of 2017. I remember seeing it reviewed in the New York Times when it first came out, but because I don’t give a hoot about science, I didn’t read it. I was afraid it would go over my head. (There is a little science in there I didn’t understand, but it is not at all overwhelming.) Over the next year or so it kept showing up in various places and when it appeared in the “People Also Bought” section on the Amazon pages for my books, I knew I had to read it. I wanted to know what readers (and Amazon’s algorithm) thought the books have in common.

As it turns out, that was identifiable right away. Not only is it about a strong historical woman whose story really hasn’t been told, the tone or “voice” of the book strongly matched my own. That is a hard thing to qualify, so you may just have to go with me on that idea. But I was hooked immediately and knew this was going to be the tale of my kind of woman: intelligent, determined and unwilling to let anyone or anything stand in her way.

The story opens with the early education and formative family years of Mileva Maric, an unusually smart Serbian woman, for whom no marriage is expected because a deformed hip has left her with a limp. Because of this, her father sees fit to encourage her love of school and studying, especially science. He even goes so far as to move the family to help her become one of only a handful of women who study at the Zurich Polytechnic university. During her first year of study – she is the only female physics student in her section – she makes a pact with one of her female roommates that they will eschew men and embark upon a life dedicated to study and science.

As we know from the title, that’s not what happens. A charming Mr. Einstein enters her life and everything changes. After years of her fending off his advances and a prolonged courtship due to money issues, Albert promises to build a life with Mileva based in intellectual discussion, shared science and joint experiments – the very thing of which she has always dreamed.

I won’t ruin the plot by telling you what happens, but I will say this: the very same things that made Einstein charming in the beginning make him a royal asshole as the story progresses. I can’t tell you the number of times I said out loud while reading this book, “You are such a dick.” Kudos to Marie Benedict for being able to create such a complex character that I was drawn in by him, only to be betrayed right alongside Mileva.

I wish Mileva would have fought back more. That is the one thing I wish was different in this book and about her character. She was so smart, so strong in many other ways, but Albert was her weakness. There were many times when I said to her, “why are you still taking this?” (I listened to the book on audio, so it wasn’t quite as weird to talk back to the character.) I would have told him off and gotten out of the relationship at the first hint of trouble. But then again, I’m a 21st century girl (great, now I’m singing “21st Century Digital Boy” by Bad Religion) who was raised on a healthy dose of feminism and the message that I can do anything I want and not to let anyone stop me. I’m sure being a woman in Serbia in the early 1900s, raised on the idea that your role in life is to keep house and have children would have given me a totally different mindset. As an author, I know Marie Benedict was being true to the time period, but it frustrated me as a reader.

And maybe that is not a bad thing. The fact that she elicited such strong emotion from me is testament to the author’s talent. I know I will never look at a picture of Einstein again within inwardly (and maybe outwardly) grumbling. I can’t even hear/read his name without shuddering now, given that he takes great pains in the book to remind Mileva that Einstein means “one stone” and point out that when they married they became one. You’ll have to read the book to see how that gets used against her. What Albert did to Mileva is appalling and puts her squarely in the ranks of some of history’s most royally-screwed women. If this book is to be believed (and it IS fiction, so Marie Benedict has had no shortage of controversy from readers/reviewers) Mileva was robbed of an honor that would have firmly emblazoned her name in history, among many other slights.

I can’t fathom why this book wasn’t a runaway bestseller. That is perhaps the highest praise I can give a book, and its author. I will definitely be reading Marie’s other books as she writes them. I only hope they all uncover stories like Mileva’s. They may be rough on the emotions, but they are stories that need to be told.

PS – Interesting side note: Marie Benedict has written three other books under the name Heather Terrell, The ChrysalisThe Map Thief, and Brigid of Kildare. I read one of them a long time ago and HATED it. HATED IT! She has come a long way. (No, I’m not telling you which one.) But I plan to read the other two now.

Twitter Chat Recap

If you missed the Twitter chat I did last week, you’re in luck. They’ve storified it and given me permission to re-blog it.

Here’s the link to the full chat or you can click on the image below. Hope you enjoy!

Join Me Tonight for a Twitter Chat!

I’m doing a twitter chat tonight from 7-8 p.m. CST on strong female characters in history and I’d love to hear from you!

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Guest Interview with Tyler R. Tichelaar, author of the Children of Arthur series

Some of you may remember my friend, author and fellow Arthurian nut Tyler Tichelaar, from his 2012 guest post where he talked about a trip he took to Turkey and the Arthurian connections he found there. Well, now he’s back, talking about the fifth and final book in his Children of Arthur series about King Arthur and his descendants.

Tyler is an author of Arthurian nonfiction and historical fantasy and an enthusiast for, if not expert on, modern Arthurian fiction. His nonfiction book King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, which I reviewed here, was published by Modern History Press in 2011. It explores various traditions concerning King Arthur’s children in Welsh and medieval sources, the possible historical descendants of King Arthur, and more recent creations of descendants for King Arthur in modern fiction. (It’s a great book, one that has been a resource for more than one of my novels and non-fiction books.)

Tyler began writing King Arthur’s Children as his master’s thesis in 1994 and as research so he could write his first King Arthur novel, which eventually became the five-book Children of Arthur series, consisting of Arthur’s Legacy (2014), Melusine’s Gift (2015), Ogier’s Prayer (2016), Lilith’s Love (2016), and the newly released Arthur’s Bosom (2017).

I’m thrilled to have him here today to talk about the publication of his fifth novel in the series, Arthur’s Bosom.

Without giving too much away, can you give us an overview of the series for readers not familiar with it?

Tyler: Sure, Nicole, and thank you for having me here. The premise of the series revolves around the idea that King Arthur had descendants. Most people are not aware that he had any children other than Mordred, and depending on which version of the story you read, Mordred is often just Arthur’s nephew. However, there are ancient Welsh traditions that Arthur had several other sons—namely Gwydre, Llacheu, and Amr. There are also traditions that Mordred had children. Furthermore, several families over the centuries have tried to claim descent from King Arthur, including the Scottish Clan Campbell, and the Welsh Tudor family, which, of course, means the current British royal family can claim descent from King Arthur. Whether any of this is true is open to speculation. Many people are very interested in determining the historicity of King Arthur, but to me, the magic has always existed in the legend’s flexibility to recreate itself for each new century and even decade. My premise then is that King Arthur did have descendants, they are living among us today, and considering the fifteen hundred years separating King Arthur’s time period from our own, most of us are King Arthur’s descendants.

Wow. That would be really cool to be a descendant of King Arthur. (I have always thought I was a queen…) So will you tell us a little about what King Arthur’s descendants do in your novels?

Tyler: In the first novel, Arthur’s Legacy, the story starts in 1994. The main character, Adam, has been raised by his grandparents. His mother gave birth to him outside wedlock and then basically abandoned him. He doesn’t know who his father is. I don’t want to give too much away, but eventually at age twenty-two, he starts to get answers, which lead him to finding his father in England and also meeting a strange professor named Merle (you can guess who that is). Eventually, Merle arranges for Adam to fall into a deep sleep and dream the true story of Camelot. In that dream, we learn that Mordred had descendants who survived the fall of Camelot. We also learn that Mordred was one of the good guys, and instead, other villains brought about the fall of Camelot. In the successive volumes, Mordred’s descendants battle the evil ones who destroyed Camelot and who continue to try to destroy them over the centuries, including during the time of Charlemagne, during the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, and during World War I.

Is it giving too much away to ask who these villains are who were really responsible for the fall of Camelot?

Tyler: No, you learn that right in the opening pages of Arthur’s Legacy. There are two of them, but they are not the usual suspects, although I believe they are the most likely ones when you dig a bit deeper into the legend. First of all, we understand today that history is written from the conqueror’s perspective, so think about who ends up ruling Britain after Arthur—it’s Constantine of Cornwall. It’s never clear why he is chosen as Arthur’s heir; he seems to be some shirttail relative. However, in the sixth century book De Excidio et Conquestu Brittainiae, written by Arthur’s contemporary Gildas, there is reference to a king named Constantine who murdered two royal youths. I believe these youths are Mordred’s sons. In Arthur’s Legacy, one of those sons, Meleon, has a child before he dies, and that child carries on Arthur’s bloodline. The other villain is Gwenhwyvach, whom I imagine most readers have never heard of. However, there is a statement in the Welsh triads that one of the causes of the Battle of Camlann was the blow Guinevere struck to her half-sister Gwenhwyvach. There is a later tradition in the Prose Lancelot that Guinevere’s half-sister, Gwenhwyvach, tried to pass herself off as Guinevere on Arthur and Guinevere’s wedding night. The trick was discovered and Gwenhwyvach, known as the False Guinevere in the Prose Lancelot, was imprisoned in Hengist’s Tower. So it is Gwenhwyvach and Constantine who bring about Camelot’s fall.

I’ve learned a lot about Gwenhwyvach in my non-fiction research. What you say makes perfect sense. I love this theory. But I’m confused; how can they continue to pursue and try to kill Arthur’s descendants in successive centuries? Is it reincarnation?

Tyler: Not exactly. Constantine can’t since he’s just human, but Gwenhwyvach can in my novels because she is a witch, and even more than that, she is an ancient sorceress who is able to reincarnate and has for many centuries since the beginning of time—the title of the fourth book in the series, Lilith’s Love, gives away her real identity. You see, Lilith was Adam’s first wife in the Garden of Eden. Tradition says she refused to let Adam be on top (a sign of submission) when they had sexual intercourse; consequently, she was derided in Jewish folklore as a monster (a totally sexist attitude), and in my series she acts that way.

Interesting. Tell me about the other women in your novels. You know I’m all about the girl power.

Tyler: One thing I absolutely wanted to avoid was just another story of good vs. evil. Lilith/Gwenhwyvach does many evil things in the novels, but she is a complicated character, and in Lilith’s Love, she gets a chance to explain her own side of things. There are lots of gray areas in my novels—nothing is black and white or exactly as it seems at first. One thing I refused to do was just follow the traditional storylines of various medieval legends that I used. I wanted to turn everything on its head, showing that these stories I use are not necessarily what we have been taught. I did that first by retelling the Camelot story.

I also turn everything on its head in the second novel, Melusine’s Gift, where the French fairy Melusine is the strong female protagonist. Traditionally, Melusine was raised in Avalon, so it only made sense to me that Melusine must have grown up knowing King Arthur, who was there recovering from his wound. Melusine marries one of Arthur’s descendants and uses her fairy powers to try to bring about good. However, in tradition, Melusine made her husband promise she could always hide herself away on Saturday and not be seen by him. Eventually, he broke his promise and discovered she took on a mermaid or serpent form (depending on which version of the legend you read) on Saturdays. At first, he kept her secret, but later in a fit of anger, he called her a serpent in front of his court and she flew away. She is treated as an evil character in tradition, but I am much more kind to her. She is the strength of her family and also works to bring about good, though others cannot accept her because she is different.

Another strong female character throughout the series is Morgan le Fay. Since she shows up in the Charlemagne legends, I thought she obviously must be immortal and live beyond Arthur’s time, so throughout the series, she intercedes as needed to help Arthur’s descendants (and her own since she is Mordred’s mother in my novels).

People know know you through King Arthur’s Children (both the blog and the book) may not know that you have another blog where you write about Gothic literature. Can you explain what that influence is on your Arthurian novels?

Tyler: Yes, one of the main influences that carries through all five novels is the Gothic format of using stories within stories to move forward the plot. It was used in such classic Gothic novels as Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818). All five novels in the Children of Arthur series use this format. By inserting stories within stories, I am able to peel back the layers of the onion—to reveal the secrets about the characters and secrets lost to time that King Arthur’s modern descendants must learn in order to succeed in their goals.

I also use Gothic elements particularly in Lilith’s Love, which includes in it the story of Quincey Harker, the son of Jonathan and Mina Harker, who defeat Dracula in Bram Stoker’s classic novel. Because Mina drank Dracula’s blood, I imagined that Quincey, who is born at the end of Dracula, must have some of Dracula’s blood in him, which gives him some superhuman powers. In his quest to understand his vampiric origins, Quincey has several Gothic experiences that make up bulk of the novel, which you might call a sequel to Dracula really.

And what about your latest novel, Arthur’s Bosom? When does it take place and how does it bring the series to an end?

Tyler: I wrote Arthur’s Bosom for two reasons. The first is because I wanted to bring the series full circle since the first novel largely takes place during Arthur’s time but the three novels after that take place in different centuries, so this novel returns the storyline back to the time of Camelot. In the novel, Arthur’s modern-day descendants, Lance and Tristan Delaney, travel back in time to sixth century Britain.

The second reason I wrote this novel as the series finale is because in the first book of the series, Merlin tells Adam that he and his family (Lance and Tristan are Adam’s grown sons) will be responsible for helping to bring about King Arthur’s return. I’ve been sorely disappointed by the few novels that have tried to depict Arthur’s return, so I set about to write my own version of what Arthur’s return would be like, and hopefully, I pulled it off in a way that will surprise and satisfy readers. So far, the response I’ve received has been positive.

Why did you pick the title Arthur’s Bosom?

Tyler: It’s actually from a line in Shakespeare’s Henry V where Falstaff is said to have gone to Arthur’s Bosom. Shakespeare was playing on the biblical phrase of Abraham’s Bosom. I used the term to refer to a type of Arthurian heaven. I must admit I have no desire to sit around on a cloud and play a harp all day. I think I’d much rather go to a heaven that resembles King Arthur’s Britain as depicted in Malory, so in the novel, Arthur’s Bosom is used to refer to the Arthurian version of heaven where Arthur’s true believers go when they die.

What do you hope readers will come away with after they read the series?

Tyler: The theme of this series is “Imagination is the salvation of mankind.” I am a firm believer in the Law of Attraction and that our thoughts create our world. I want people to use their imaginations to think outside the box, to question the past we believe we know to find new truths in it, and also to imagine new and positive possibilities for our future. Through imagination, we have the power to shape our world. We don’t have to believe in a doomed world where global warming and the possibility of nuclear war make us think humanity’s best days are past. The future is still ours to write, and through the power of our thoughts, we can make it into a glorious one. I even think it possible we could change the past if we concentrated hard enough upon it. Why can’t the King Arthur and Camelot we dream of have been real? Why can’t we make it real in the future, even if it is in the past? What would it mean to us if we learned we were descended from King Arthur? Would it make us want to live those ideals of Camelot? So, ultimately, I hope that in the Children of Arthur series, I have used legends—that of King Arthur, but also Charlemagne, Prester John, Ogier the Dane, the Wandering Jew, Dracula, etc.—as inspiration and encouragement for all of us to want to create a better world for our future.

Wow, that’s a lofty but worthwhile goal. Before we go, where can readers purchase your books?

Tyler: The books are for sale at my website www.ChildrenofArthur.com. They are also at the major online booksellers—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google Play, etc. They are available in paperback and ebook formats. At my website there is also more information about the Arthurian legend and I have a blog where I regularly write about Arthurian modern fiction and other related topics.

Your blog really is a great resource. I’ve been reading some of your old posts lately. So everyone, go check it out. Thanks again, Tyler for being here today. It’s been a pleasure having you. I wish you all the best with your series.

Tyler: Thanks, Nicole. I’ll be looking forward to reading your own last Guinevere novel when it comes out.

Do you have questions for Tyler? If so, please leave them in the comments. He’ll be stopping by to answer them.