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.

An Interview with Aimee Brown, Author of Little Gray Dress

I’m so excited for all of you to meet author Aimee Brown, whom I’ve known online for a few years now. Yesterday, I reviewed her debut novel, Little Gray Dress, which is definitely a don’t miss! She gave me the opportunity to pick her brain so I asked her about her book, chick lit and what she sees in the future. Take it away, Aimee!

  1. What inspired you to write Little Gray Dress? I was actually participating in NaNoWriMo last November. I didn’t have an exact idea or inspiration I just knew it would be romantic comedy. I sat down and wrote out the rough draft in 12 days and that helped me piece together what was actually happening and draft two began shortly after. For me, the inspiration was more to finally complete a book, about anything really. What turned up on the page was a fun look at what’s been going on in my head for the last ten years.
  2. We’ve all heard of the little black dress. Why is yours gray? Gray is my favorite color and I didn’t want to do the same thing that’s already been overdone. I actually didn’t even intend to have a little gray dress it just kind of worked its way in. In the end, I was able to tie it all together with the dress in a way that just made sense.
  3. Your main character, Emi, is a normal woman in that she is a more full figured lady who has real problems, as opposed to the model thin vapid women who populate a lot of similar books. Why was it important to you to make Emi different, or should I say real? (And thank you for that. I love her!) I read somewhere a while back that the average American woman wears a size 14. I think that’s actually been upped to a 16 now. I wanted the main character to struggle with the same thing most women do. It seems self-esteem of our young girls has gone down the shitter because no one wants to admit that a size 2 isn’t normal. I’m not sure I’ve ever worn a size two? I’m not a tiny supermodel of a woman and I know the struggles that can go with it in our very visual world of social media. It’s important to me that women know they are beautiful no matter what size they are in comparison to what the world creates as an unrealistic normal.
  4. Portland, Oregon is a very important location in the book. What made you want to set your book there? I grew up in Oregon in a town about 1.5 hours south of Portland (all of my family are still there) and as an adult, my husband and I moved our family to Portland and lived there about 6 or 7 years. It’s a great city, as weird as they get but, also gorgeous and a lot of fun. I’ve always loved Portland and the essence that comes with it so it was just natural to use the place I know the best.
  5. The book takes place around a series of weddings, which are a common theme in chick lit fiction. What do you think draws readers to that theme? I think a lot of us chick lit authors grew up in the 80’s & 90’s when romantic comedies were Hollywoods best films. They were based on uniquely funny, yet not overdone, and sometimes innocent situations that we all have in life. You know I think over the years we’ve lost that in film and if I can help bring some of it back in my books, I’m more than happy to do so. What did you have to say that you think makes your version unique? My book is simple. There is conflict, romance and laugh out loud moments but there is nothing too out of the ordinary. I didn’t go extreme or use all the fancy big words available to man. It’s real and I feel like it’s a great representation of the classic rom/com films I so miss from my youth.
  6. What is it about chick-lit that makes you want to write in the genre? It’s just me. The first time I read Sophie Kinsella I knew it was my genre. In the same way that when I watched Sleepless in Seattle when I was 14, I knew I’d never love any other genre of film as much. When I write, chick-lit is what appears on the paper so I guess it’s just my ‘thing’.
  7. What are some of your favorite chick lit books and movies? Books, I loved the Shopaholic series by Kinsella and the chick-lit cozy mysteries by Evanovich (Stephanie Plum Series) and Cabot (Size 12 is not fat). For movies, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Father of the Bride, It Could Happen to You, While you were Sleeping, the list seriously goes on and on. I wish they made those types of movies again.
  8. You’ve been a blog tour coordinator for other authors for many years now. (Including mine for Been Searching for You.) What did you learn from those authors that helped you in launching your own career? SO MUCH! Seriously, Y’all have taught me everything I know about marketing. I may appear to know a lot on the outside but I’m all about the researching, the listening to other authors and their stories. So many of you are knowledgeable in different areas that to be able to be involved in so many amazing authors releases (yours included!) has been quite an honor for me as well as a great learning experience.
  9. What’s next for you as an author? Right now I’m working on my next novel, a stand-alone that involves a character from Little Gray Dress. I’ve also got a novel in the works that takes place in a vintage Tiki Bar… I’ve got quite a few cool things happening behind the scenes that I can’t wait to tell you all about.
  10. What else would you like to add? Thank you so much for being such an amazing supporter of my debut novel. This whole process is really surreal. It’s an odd feeling to be on the other side of the publishing industry. But, I love it and it’s what I’ve worked so long for.

Thank you, Aimee! I hope everyone goes out and orders your book. I, for one, can’t wait to read those two books you teased above!

Questions or comments or Aimee? Leave them for her below.

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.

Meet My BFF: Courtney Marquez

Photo credit: Eli Marquez

Photo credit: Eli Marquez

The blog challenge for this week is “Meet My Best Friend.” That would be fellow writer Courtney Marquez. We actually met through our day job (we work for the same company, but in different states), but quickly found out we share a love of all things books and writing. That was in 2009 and we’ve been friends ever since. We’re even planning on writing a book together. (I think that’s on the schedule for 2019.)

What’s one thing you’d like all our readers to know about you?
I’m going to tell you one thing which will give you some context for my answers to the other questions. I’m a pretty curious, nosy if I’m honest, person. I tend to have wide and varying interests. I like everything from R&B to bluegrass. Romantic comedy to foreign films. Classic literature to popular fiction. So, just keep that in mind as I answer!

Favorites:

  • Book
    It’s like picking which child is my favorite! I guess I’ll go with the book which has had staying power with me. L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series has been a long time favorite. Each book has been more meaningful at different times in my life. However, as a young girl, Anne proved I wasn’t as odd as some may have led me to believe.
  • Author
    Hmmm. I have a few authors where I pre-order their next book as soon as I hear about it. Like, I squeal when I find out the next book has a publication date and an Amazon page where I can go and say “take all my money!” Sooooo, I guess right now I’d say C.S. Harris is at the top of my list. Or maybe Deana Raybourn? But, who can forget Michelle Moran? Okay, I’m totally cheating and we all know it. C.S. Harris it is. And, just for your edification, her next book in the St. Cyr series comes out in March. Oh, I forgot about Margaret George…
  • TV show
    Honestly, I don’t get a whole lot of time for the TV. But, when I want comfort TV, I always go back to Friends. My family can quote them line and episode.
  • Movie
    I’m going with staying power on this one as well. Time is limited with kids and a busy life, so keeping up with movies is tough. I think I’d have to say Die Hard with a Vengeance. It’s Jeremy Irons, what can I say?
  • Color
    Rainbow! I love all colors. They all represent different emotions and memories for me. I gravitate toward blues and greens though.
  • Flower
    Gerber daisies for sure. They are so happy!
  • Food
    We have a saying in my family. “Do I look picky?” We love food! However, I think my favorite is probably this mustard cream sauce over chicken that I make. It’s amazing and only takes 20 minutes to make.

Tell us about your family.
I come from a pretty tight knit nuclear family. My mom, dad, younger sister and I moved a lot due to my dad’s job in the Air Force. When you move every four years and the only constant are those people, it really makes a bond. I have since moved to my parent’s hometown and get to live near a fairly large extended family. I’m married to a wonderful partner. We have two children. Kailen who will be 18 this year and graduates high school in May. And Eli who is 9, going on 25.

What do you do now and what do you want to be when you grow up?
I am currently a brand manager for a fairly large health care organization. When I was little, I had no idea what any of that even meant! For a few years, I wanted to be a marine biologist who studied sharks. Then it dawned on me that I wasn’t great at the STEM subjects. I have always loved to read, so I majored in English Literature. “Maybe a professor,” I thought. I may still be deciding what I want to be when I grow up! Ha!

What are your hobbies?
Reading and reading. I also listen to a lot of podcasts while I do housework or computer work. I’m going to add my kids to this list as well. It’s where I am in life right now.

I know you’ve traveled all over the place. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Visiting is one thing. Living is whole other deal. I think living someplace really gives you a chance to understand a culture and the people. I LOVED living in Cairo in college. LOVED it. I’d go back there in a heartbeat. I loved the people. I loved the crazy activity of that huge city. I loved the mixture of modern and ancient.

What’s your guilty pleasure?
Since we’re all friends here, I guess I’ll tell you. I love stroopwafels. They are this amazing little caramel treat from the Netherlands. You can sit the cookie-like creation on the top of your mug of tea or coffee and the caramel inside gets all soft.

If you could only read one genre of books for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
This might actually kill me. Go back to the first question for a reminder about why. I’m sitting here looking at my bookshelves and it’s so hard to decide. I guess I’d probably have to say historical fiction. Ugh. So hard.

What first attracted you to me? Or what do you remember about the day we met?
We sat next to each other at a large meeting. We had to do one of those awkward ice breakers to get to know everyone at the table. You said you were writing a book. That cinched it for me. You were too cool for school.

What do you think has kept us friends? (Read: How in the world do you put up with me?)
I’m always on the lookout for people who will challenge me or look at the world differently. We have some key similarities, but we’re very different. I think that keeps the friendship fresh and interesting. We challenge each other, but in an encouraging way.

Thank you, my dear! Be sure to check out Courtney’s blog and say hi in the comments below.

Interview with Bestselling Historical Novelist C.S. Harris

813djule6wlI am so excited to bring you today an interview I recently had with bestselling historical novelist C.S. Harris. You may know her from her wildly popular Sebastian St. Cyr thrillers, or maybe under her other names Candice Proctor or C.S. Graham.  Now she’s out with a new Civil War-era historical novel, Good Time Coming, which I was fortunate to be given a copy of through the Historical Novel Society. I’ll be writing a feature article on it that I’ll share once it’s published, but I was also lucky enough to get to sit down with C.S. and ask her a few questions. And I have to say, this is one of the best interviews I’ve ever had here.

Most people know you for your Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries. What made you want to change from writing Regency historical thrillers to straight historical fiction set during the Civil War?

I am still writing my Sebastian St. Cyr mystery series—the twelfth installment, WHERE THE DEAD LIE, will be out in April 2017, and I’ve almost finished #13, tentatively entitled WHY NOT THE INNOCENT. But it’s all too easy for an author to get into a rut writing the same kinds of stories with the same characters and settings. So I think it’s important for any writer—and especially one with a long-running series—to occasionally venture outside her safe zone and try something different. For a while I was also writing a contemporary thriller series, but I found keeping two series going at the same time too stressful. So a standalone seemed the best answer.

What was your inspiration to write Good Time Coming?

C.S. Harris

C.S. Harris

My very first historical mystery, Midnight Confessions, was set in Occupied New Orleans (the book has been revised for republication and should be available early next year). In the process of researching that story I became fascinated with the effects of the Civil War on the population of Louisiana (spoiler: it was pretty horrific), and I’d been wanting to write a straight historical about that ever since. What happened to civilians in the Civil War is a virtually untold story.

 

Why did you choose to make your protagonist a 12-year-old-girl?

Some of my favorite books have been coming of age tales, and it seemed the right way to tell this story. Children bring an unblinking honesty to their experiences that I felt was particularly appropriate for the complexity of the issues I wanted to explore. The journey from child to adult is basically a loss of innocence, and to watch that development happen to someone in the midst of an experience as horrendous as war is truly gripping.

And Amrie is a girl because we already have countless books about the experiences of boys and men in war. This is about war as seen through the eyes of the women and children left behind to cope with a world falling apart in every way imaginable.

What kind of research did you do to make the book historically accurate?

I researched this book for almost a dozen years. I read hundreds of letters, journals, and memories, along with general histories of the Civil War and more specific monographs. I visited the story’s various towns and battle sites—Port Hudson and Camp Moore, Bayou Sara and Jackson—and spent many a day wandering around St. Francisville’s haunting churchyard. I basically took the real incidents recorded by people who lived through the war and wove them into a story. With the exception of the central incident in the book—Amrie’s killing of the Federal captain and the events that flow from it—I made up very little of what’s in this story. And that is truly terrifying to think about.

 

How hard was it for you to work from the point of view of the South when traditionally history is told by the victors, and therefore our country has glorified the role of the North? How did this influence the way you told your story?

I had to make Amrie’s family staunch abolitionists; I simply could not have been sufficiently sympathetic to them as main characters otherwise. Plus I liked the way this shifted the dynamic of their interactions with their neighbors, both white and free people of color. But when it came to the actual events in the story, all I did was stay true to what actually happened to the women and children of St. Francisville. It really was brutal. As a professional historian, I’ve always been irritated by our cultural tendency to both glorify war and forgive the sins of one side while focusing endlessly on the sins of the other. This book doesn’t shy away from the sins committed by either side.

And I should probably state for the record that the only Civil War veterans on my personal family tree fought for the Union; one great-great uncle even died at Andersonville.

One of the things that struck me the most about this book was your willingness to challenge long-held beliefs and viewpoints about the Civil War (i.e. President Lincoln was a hero, he abolished slavery out of the goodness of his heart, the Northern soldiers were the good guys and the Southern the bad, etc.) Can you please tell me a little about your motivation behind this and what kind of a reaction you’ve received so far?

I think it probably comes down, again, to my training as a historian. I have long been bothered by the all too common tendency to turn history into a series of comfortable myths that we as a nation tell ourselves to make ourselves feel good about our past. It’s incredible to me that here we are 150 years later and both sides of that war are still telling themselves “feel good” distortions and outright lies. Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was a wonderful thing, but that shouldn’t lead us to distort the explicit reasons he gave for doing it, or overlook the truly heinous things he also did. Likewise, too many Southerners still stubbornly refuse to acknowledge just how horrific the institution of slavery was both in theory and in practice. I don’t spare either side in this book. I guess in a lot of ways this story was an expression of my frustration with myth-making. I wanted to write about what really happened because it is so important to acknowledge that and finally have a real conversation about it. Unfortunately, myth busting is not popular!

In the Author’s Notes to the book you talk about a reticence of history to admit to rape being employed as a weapon of war during the Civil War. (I came up against a similar circumstance when depicting Guinevere’s rape by Malegant in Arthurian legend – most people either don’t know its part of the myth or don’t want to think about it.) Can you please talk a little about your reasons for including it and how you came to understand it would be important to your story?

When I first started plotting this book, I believed the commonly accepted “truth” that rape in the Civil War was rare. But as I read all those original sources written by the women who actually lived through it, I realized that was just one more myth.  Rape has always been a part of war. What we’ve seen in our own lifetimes in places like Bosnia and the Congo isn’t something new; it’s the reality of war, and it has always been. But historically, women who were raped in wartime did not talk about it. Why would they, given their societies’ traditional ostracization of women who were raped?

As I read these women’s accounts, I also came to realize the importance of the fact that the people of 1860 weren’t very far removed from the time of the American Revolution and the War of 1812. That meant they knew exactly what had happened to their mothers and grandmothers in those wars (something else we don’t talk about). It’s one of the reasons the people of the South were so afraid of those armies of men marching against them. And they were right to be afraid. The North’s battle cry was “Beauty and Bounty!” In other words, Rape and Plunder! Yet 150 years later we still don’t like to admit it.

To be honest, I didn’t realize just how controversial this aspect of my story would be. Many of the editors who read the manuscript cited the rape part as their main reason for rejecting it. I guess as a writer you can kill people by the thousands, but you’d better not have a woman raped by American soldiers.

What do you think are the key themes of this novel? What do you hope readers walk away from it knowing/believing/feeling?

This book is about women’s resilience in the face of crushing adversity, about the way friends and neighbors can come together to survive great hardships, about love and loss and, ultimately, the triumph of the human spirit.

But the main theme of this book is the idea that there is good and bad in every person and every nation. I am frankly shocked by some of the things I am seeing in our country today. I never thought I’d see Americans screaming “Sieg heil!” and panting swastikas on tombs, or hear talk of the Nazi-style registration and internment of a religious minority. Somehow we have failed to learn the right lessons from history, and I think the tendency to mythologize the past is one of the reasons for that failure.

If you could summarize your experience writing Good Time Coming in one sentence, what would it be?

Oh, wow; that’s hard! I’d say writing Good Time Coming forced me to move outside my comfort zone in many different ways; to confront my own prejudices and assumptions; and to think long and hard about what it would be like to experience things I hope I’ll never have to face.

Do you plan to write more straight historical fiction like Good Time Coming? What can readers expect from you next?

I do plan to continue writing other things as I also write my Sebastian St. Cyr series. I’ve just finished a novella set in World War II that will be part of an anthology due out probably in 2018. That was a new experience for me because I’d never written anything that short before. It’s a very different format, so that was a challenge.

Is there anything else you’d like to talk about that we haven’t touched upon?

I find it unfortunate that coming of age novels these days tend to be seen by the publishing industry as “young adult novels.” They don’t have to be, and in fact some of the best were never written to be. I also find it curious that editors think young adults can handle large-scale massacres, zombies, vampires, and the end of the world, but not non-graphic rape. What does that say about us?

Thank you, C.S. Harris for being with us today. Good Time Coming hits stores December 1, so you don’t have to wait long to read it for yourself. Pre-order or order it today! You won’t regret it; it really is a great book.

Questions for the author? Leave them here and I’ll let her know she can get back to you.

My First Radio Interview

Speak up talk radioQuick update on something I think you may want to know about. I was on Speak Up Talk Radio today and you can listen to my interview. It was my very first radio interview, so I think it went pretty well.

If you are a writer, I highly recommend checking them out. Pat, the host, regularly hosts authors of all ilks. The only cost is a $25 donation to charity, the pillowcase project, which sends handmade, one-of-a kind pillowcases to homeless Veteran shelters and women’s shelters. To me, that’s well worth it.

My Interview with Lee Safar

Hi everyone! Just a quick update to my last post. Here’s my interview with Lee Safar.

She makes some really cool announcements AND about halfway through she talks about being a fan of Guinevere since she was a little girl. Plus, you may just get a few hints about the story lines of the books if you listen…

If you like what you hear and/or want to get involved in helping write her next album (that’s part of one of the announcements) join in!

Thank you again to Lee for asking me to interview and for trusting me to be such an important part of her journey.

Tyler Tichelaar over at Children of Arthur was kind enough to interview me about my writing and I thought all of you may want to see it.

CHILDREN OF ARTHUR

Today, I’ve asked author Nicole Evelina to be my guest and let me interview her about the novel for which she is currently seeking a publisher, titled Guinevere of Northgallis.

Nicole Evelina is a writer from the Midwest. Guinevere of Northgallis is her first novel and is part of an anticipated trilogy. Nicole has spent the last 12 years researching Arthurian legend, Celtic Britain and the various peoples, cultures and religious practices that shaped the country after the withdrawal of Rome. She is a proud member of the Historical Novel Society.

Nicole holds a B.A. in English and M.A. in media communications, as well as accreditation from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), a distinction that tests writing and communications skill, and is held by only 8,000 people worldwide.

Tyler: Welcome, Nicole. As a writer of Arthurian novels myself (I plan to publish King Arthur’s Legacy in the…

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