In Their Words: Q&A with Emily Ross (@emilyross816), author of Half in Love with Death

About the author, Emily Ross Emily Ross

Emily Ross received a 2014 Massachusetts Cultural Council finalist award in fiction for HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH. She is an editor and contributor at Dead Darlings, a website dedicated to discussing the craft of novel writing. Find out more at emilyrosswrites.com or follow her on Twitter @emilyross816.

HALF IN LOVE WITH DEATH was inspired by the disturbing case of Charles Schmid, ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson.’

Connect with Emily

Website | Twitter


Q&A with Emily

Tell us about you. If every five-ten years of your life had a chapter heading, what would it be? What are the highlights (or low points) of each chapter?

  1. School Days and Death

In elementary school I dreamed of being a pathologist or a ballerina, though I was weirdly squeamish and couldn’t dance. But after my cat died and my friend’s sister drowned, I had the awful realization that I wasn’t immortal. It was like I’d fallen down a well.

  1. A Teenager in Love

By the time I got to high school I no longer wanted to be a pathologist or a ballerina or anything. I hated homework and loved clothes and boys. Not sure which I loved more, maybe boys, though clothes made me happier. I still remember my white boots, fishnet stockings, herringbone mini-skirt, navy blue pea coat, and my first bell-bottoms and suffering greatly from unrequited love.

  1. Student teaching hell
  2. Emily's Workspace

    Emily Ross’s workspace

The only thing I could figure out to do with my English degree was to teach high school. During student teaching, I developed a hacking cough that didn’t go away until I was done. When one of my students picked me up and spun me around, it became pretty clear that teaching wasn’t for me. I had no idea how to support myself but a friend told me if I passed a test, an insurance company would train me as a computer programmer. I barely knew what a computer was, but I did pass the test and began a career in IT.

  1. Married with Children

I did a lot of things that I’d never done before—got married, bought a house, and wrote my first story when I was pregnant with my first child. Each of these things was exciting, surprising, and harder than I expected. Being a parent was the most rewarding and hardest thing of all. I was totally exhausted most of the time, but I did discover that the world is lovely and spectral at 4AM.

  1. Writing While Working and Married with Children

I juggled a demanding job, raising kids, my writing, and dropped a lot of balls. I spent a lot of time driving kids to dance lessons or soccer games while worrying about work. But it’s the dance lessons and soccer games I remember now. I’m glad I made time to try to do everything even if life was a little chaotic. Somehow I finished my novel in the midst of all of this.

What gets you to sit down with a computer (or pen and paper) and start writing? What keeps you going?

I force myself to put my butt in the chair and write at least a little every day. Once I’m there in the chair and have gone through my usual distractions (Facebook, Twitter, etc) the words and thoughts suck me in. My inner editor keeps me going. I might think I’m done but there’s this voice that keeps saying it’s not right, go back, fix it, and I do go back obsessively tweaking things. On a good day I make some forward progress.

Half in Love with Death was inspired by a true story. Can you talk a little about what drew you to that story, and how the book grew from that spark of inspiration? 

Charles Schmid, the charismatic young man known as ‘the Pied Piper of Tucson’, murdered three teenage girls, and buried them in the Arizona desert. He was popular with his teenage friends, and had many girlfriends. Though clearly a psychopath, he didn’t appear all that different from many boys I’d known in high school. I began to see him as a metaphor for the illusions teen girls have about love. Ultimately I had to put a lot of the facts aside in order to write my book, but this true crime led me to a story about sisters, lies, and a love that feels utterly real but may not be.

The story of Caroline’s search for her sister and the story of her falling in love with Tony are interconnected, but there wasn’t an exact moment when I decided to tell two stories. It just seemed likely to me that when her sister’s disappearance forces Caroline to step out of her quiet life into Tony’s exciting world, it would be inevitable that she would fall for him.

Half in Love with Death is both a YA and a period novel. (I’m hesitant to call it historical since it takes place in extremely recent history). What were some of the specific challenges and rewards of writing YA, and of setting the story in such a specific time and place?

I loved exploring the fashions, songs, and little details I needed to make that era come alive. One challenge was that most of the technological devices that define teen life today hadn’t been invented yet, so I had to think of aspects of the sixties that today’s teens would relate to. I felt they would be interested in the philosophy behind the sixties drug culture and, of course, love never goes out of style.

My biggest challenge was that some agents and editors thought there wasn’t a market for YA set in the sixties. I received a lot of pushback and this undermined my confidence in my choice to set my novel in this era. I actually removed a lot period references, and then on another revision put many of them back in. I second-guessed myself a lot – but deep down inside I knew I had to set this story in the sixties.

What one thing would you want readers of Half in Love with Death to take away from the novel?

I hope that readers will be moved by my teen narrator’s story. I also hope that they will come away with an understanding of how important it is for teen girls to find their own strength when navigating the murky waters of love and emotion.

My experience has been, as I think I said when I reviewed your book, that YA novels tend to have a lot of the strongest female characters and most provocative storylines in contemporary fiction. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?

I agree that YA novels have some of the most provocative storylines, and strongest female characters. Perhaps this is because the genre attracts innovative writers who are willing to take risks, and also because YA is about teens: an age group that’s volatile, creative, and that breaks rules. I think it’s great that YA authors tackle many of the issues facing teens today including rape culture, sexuality, and body image problems. Though these aren’t exclusively female issues, many YA authors recognize how important it is to provide teen girls with strong female characters as role models.

Writers, of course, are also readers. What are some of the books or authors who have influenced your life? What’s the most recent thing you read that really hooked you?

Raymond Chandler introduced me to noir. The voice in his polished prose is infectious and his books showed me that detective fiction can also be fine literary fiction. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier showed me how an absolutely compelling psychological thriller can be built around a quiet main character. I’m also a huge fan of Tana French and Gillian Flynn.

The most recent book that really hooked me was The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. I couldn’t put down this novel, whose maddeningly self-destructive and unreliable narrator glimpses a scene from a train window that unfolds into a twisty and unpredictable mystery.

If you were going to offer your 15- or 17-year-old self a piece of advice, what would it be?

Believe in yourself and don’t let love blind you. If someone is making you unhappy forget about him. There are no soulmates, no loves that are meant to be. You make your own destiny. Focus on yourself. Be strong.

What will your next project be?

I’m writing a novel about an aspiring ballerina who must prove that her Russian immigrant boyfriend and dance partner is not the mythical butterfly killer who murdered the captain of the high school dance team. The story takes place in my hometown of Quincy, a city that combines the charm of a small town with the gritty darkness of the inner city. I’m having fun writing about dance and murder!


About the book, Half in Love with Death Half in Love with Death

  • Print Length: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Merit Press (November 6, 2015)
  • Publication Date: November 6, 2015

It’s the era of peace and love in the 1960s, but nothing is peaceful in Caroline’s life. Since her beautiful older sister disappeared, fifteen-year-old Caroline might as well have disappeared too. She’s invisible to her parents, who can’t stop blaming each other. The police keep following up on leads even Caroline knows are foolish. The only one who seems to care about her is Tony, her sister’s older boyfriend, who soothes Caroline’s desperate heart every time he turns his magical blue eyes on her. Tony is convinced that the answer to Jess’s disappearance is in California, the land of endless summer, among the street culture of runaways and flower children. Come with me, Tony says to Caroline, and we’ll find her together. Tony is so loving, and all he cares about is bringing Jess home. And so Caroline follows, and closes a door behind her that may never open again, in a heartfelt thriller that never lets up.

Buy, read, and discuss Half in Love with Death

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | Goodreads

Godiva’s Ancient History, a Guest Post from Eliza Redgold (@elizaredgold) #giveaway @hfvbt

Naked Blog Tour

Godiva’s Ancient History: Pagan goddess or Christian saint?

This blog post comes to us from Eliza Redgold, author, academic and unashamed romantic. Her new novel Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva was released by St Martin’s Press in July.

After dinner, the gleeman took up his usual place in front of the fire. For the first time since the festival of Easter we had supped on hare stew. Many of my people, Aine included, still celebrated the Christian feast as well as honoring Eostre, our goddess of Spring. Since hares were sacred to Eostre they would not eat them until after her feast day.

Quote from NAKED: A Novel of Lady Godiva

Eliza Redgold at Amazon.com

How old is the legend of Lady Godiva? The tale of her famous naked ride is over a thousand years old. So the story goes, Godiva of Coventry begged her husband Lord Leofric of Mercia to lift a high tax on her people, who would starve if forced to pay. He demanded a forfeit: that Godiva ride naked on horseback through the town.

Lady Godiva (or Countess Godgyfu, in the Anglo-Saxon version of her name) was a real person who lived in 11th century Anglo-Saxon England. Yet her myth goes even further back in time.

There are many ancient stories linked to Godiva. Her tale is connected to Greek and Celtic myths and sacred, semi-clad female processions. The Teutonic goddess Hertha made a procession through the woods after her ritual bath, while in Greek legend there is the secret woodland bathing of the goddess of the hunt, Diana. Godiva’s ride may well have descended from one of these rites.

In another version, Godiva’s ride is not a procession, but a love-chase. In this story, Leofric sets his wife a riddle to test her. She must come to him neither being clothed or unclothed, without a foot touching the ground. Cleverly, Godiva rides rather than walks and covers her naked body with a golden net of her hair. In some tellings of this love chase, Godiva is accompanied by a hare – connecting her to the Celtic goddess of Spirng, Eostre. She also strongly resembles another spring goddess who took a woodland May-Day procession to summon the new season. Her name? The goddess Goda.

Like many pagan myths, such stories were absorbed into Christianity. In the Middle Ages Goda’s tale became connected with the real and genuinely philanthropic Countess Godgyfu and the old pagan love-chase became a Christian procession celebrating her piety. Godiva’s story has also been Biblically linked to that of Mary Magdalene, twisted with her long hair and the idea of a ride made in repentance of sin. Even more powerfully are threads of Godiva’s ride interwoven with the tale of third century martyr, St Agnes. The beautiful Agnes was forced to walk naked through the town as a punishment for refusing to give up her faith. Agnes’s hair miraculously grew long enough to cover her, and such a bright angelic light surrounded her that no man could see her.

Godiva’s story has come down to us through the ages in a mix of fact, folk-lore and legend. Some call her a goddess, some call her a saint. All we know for certain is that her extraordinary story continues to catch us in the net of her long, golden hair.


About the book, Naked: a Novel of Lady Godiva Naked, a Novel of Lady Godiva

Publication Date: July 14, 2015
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Formats: Ebook, Paperback
Pages: 320

Genre: Historical Fiction

We know her name. We know of her naked ride. We don’t know her true story.

We all know the legend of Lady Godiva, who famously rode naked through the streets of Coventry, covered only by her long, flowing hair. So the story goes, she begged her husband Lord Leofric of Mercia to lift a high tax on her people, who would starve if forced to pay. Lord Leofric demanded a forfeit: that Godiva ride naked on horseback through the town. There are various endings to Godiva’s ride, that all the people of Coventry closed their doors and refused to look upon their liege lady (except for ‘peeping Tom’) and that her husband, in remorse, lifted the tax.

Naked is an original version of Godiva’s tale with a twist that may be closer to the truth: by the end of his life Leofric had fallen deeply in love with Lady Godiva. A tale of legendary courage and extraordinary passion, Naked brings an epic story new voice.

Buy, read, and discuss Naked: a Novel of Lady Godiva

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About the author, Eliza Redgold Eliza Redgold

ELIZA REDGOLD is based upon the old, Gaelic meaning of her name, Dr Elizabeth Reid Boyd. English folklore has it that if you help a fairy, you will be rewarded with red gold. She has presented academic papers on women and romance and is a contributor to the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Romance Fiction. As a non-fiction author she is co-author of Body Talk: a Power Guide for Girls and Stay-at-Home Mothers: Dialogues and Debates. She was born in Irvine, Scotland on Marymass Day and currently lives in Australia.

Connect with Eliza

Website | Facebook | Twitter


BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Monday, August 10
Review at Bibliophilia, Please

Tuesday, August 11
Spotlight at Passages to the Past

Wednesday, August 12
Guest Post at The Maiden’s Court
Spotlight at A Book Geek

Thursday, August 13
Spotlight at Just One More Chapter

Friday, August 14
Review at 100 Pages a Day

Saturday, August 15
Guest Post at Mina’s Bookshelf

Monday, August 17
Review at A Bookish Affair

Tuesday, August 18
Review at Book Nerd
Guest Post at A Literary Vacation

Wednesday, August 19
Review at Unshelfish
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views

Thursday, August 20
Spotlight at Historical Fiction Connection
Guest Post at A Bookish Affair

Friday, August 21
Review at History From a Woman’s Perspective

Monday, August 24
Review at I’m Shelf-ish
Review at Please Pass the Books
Guest Post at Bibliotica

Tuesday, August 25
Review at A Fold in the Spine
Review & Interview at History Undressed
Guest Post at Curling Up By the Fire

Wednesday, August 26
Review at Bookish
Spotlight at The True Book Addict

Thursday, August 27
Review at With Her Nose Stuck in a Book
Review & Guest Post at Romantic Historical Reviews
Guest Post at The Lit Bitch

Friday, August 28
Review at A Book Drunkard
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Interview at Let Them Read Books


 

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Naked: A Novel of Lady Godiva Blog Tour

Guest Post: Cooking Up Stories by Judith Ryan Hendricks, Author of Baker’s Blues

COOKING UP STORIES Baker's Blues

My career as a novelist began in a bakery, which seems to me totally appropriate, because the longer I practice both writing and baking, the more similarities I see between them. Bread is a process—slow, arduous, messy, unpredictable. You can say all the same things about a book. Bread is composed of distinct ingredients—flour, water, yeast, salt—that merge and become dough—a completely different entity, a living entity which then undergoes the transformation of fire. A book is made of setting, characters and conflict and it follows the same kind of transformation process.

I think of Bread as a calling and a baker as a person who can’t not make bread. Likewise a writer is someone who can’t not write. This is something you don’t discover until you’re ready. Whether it happens early or late in life is immaterial. I was 55 years old when my first novel was published. Until then I was just a woman with a very short attention span.

Working in the bakery influenced not only my writing, but my whole life. There’s a kind of bonding that takes place when you cook with someone that’s hard to duplicate in any other kind of job. Sharing recipes and the act of cooking creates the very same kind of bond that sharing a story creates. It’s mostly about commonality, acceptance—the ways in which we’re all alike, rather than the ways in which we differ, the sharing of food is an act of intimacy, and so is the sharing of our stories.

Even though I was there just under a year, it was one of those interludes—we all have them. They exert a kind of gravitational pull on you. You keep revisiting them and reliving them in your mind. They assume a significance in your life all out of proportion to their actual duration. I’ve never forgotten the place or the women I worked with or the great stuff we made. Other than writing, it was the only job I’ve ever had where I felt absolutely free and totally myself.

*

If you read a lot of books you learn to recognize certain writers’ favorite emotional landscapes. Amy Tan’s is the mother/daughter relationship. Ann Patchett says the basic plot of all her novels has been a group of strangers thrown together by circumstance arranging themselves into a functioning society. My own is apparently the main character loses her way and finds herself. I say apparently, because I never set out to use this story, but it always seems to happen anyway.

Obviously these basic plots are only sketches of a fully developed story, and every writer’s tool box contains subplots, subtext, metaphors, symbols, and many other devices to use in producing a novel. For me, probably the one I lean on most heavily is food. (I’m one of those people who keeps cookbooks by the bed to read at night as well as novels.)

When I was writing Bread Alone, I remember asking one of my writing teachers if he thought anyone would be interested in a story about a woman who bakes bread. His answer was, “Don’t worry about what people want to read. Just write what you have to write.”

As it turned out, a lot of people were and are interested in reading stories with food woven into them. Sometimes the tendency is to view foodie fiction as a fairly recent development, but in fact, there are lots of wonderful descriptions of food in Charles Dickens. And what about Proust and his madeleines? In To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf, the famous dinner party scene has Mrs. Ramsay, the one character who is able to successfully connect with other people, serving her family and friends a beautiful meal that embodies all the nurturance and good will that Mrs. Ramsay displays throughout the novel.

Food serves multiple functions in my stories. First of all, it’s a touchstone for my characters, which is how I feel about it in my own life. In nearly every memory stuck in my head and heart there’s food lurking in the background. What I ate is inextricably linked with who was with me, where we were, and how I felt. I guess that’s why I can never remember where I put my sunglasses or whether I locked the back door, but I have perfect recall about the carrot cake I shared with my mom in a little café in LaConner, WA thirty years ago.

Second, food is a metaphor for love, for sharing, in many cases for work, and even for life itself. Since I love to cook and eat, alone as well as with friends and family, it’s inconceivable to me that I might write a story that doesn’t include food in some way.

Food and eating can telegraph information about a character without coming out and saying it. What and how you eat says a lot about who you are. For instance: My father will eat one bite of each thing, going around his plate repeatedly in the same order. Everything has to come out even. If he has mashed potatoes left, but no peas, he’ll take just enough peas to finish off that last bit of potatoes and the last piece of meat.

*

In Bread Alone, I wanted to reveal Wyn’s character using the way she thinks about food, especially bread. This is the first book of the trilogy and it includes flashbacks to a much younger Wyn and the discoveries she makes about bread and also about herself.

“It wasn’t until I went to France that I tasted bread that wasn’t full of additives and air. It was like a religious conversion for me. In fact it’s kind of like sex—one of those things that everyone thinks they know all about and they tell you how great it is, but which is actually pretty uninspiring until you have it one time the way Nature intended it to be.”

Food can have other subtexts, too. It’s not always warm and fuzzy. Think Snow White and the poisoned apple. It can be used to seduce or bribe or deceive. In The Baker’s Apprentice, there’s a scene in a café where the food—wonderful as it may be—is only the tip of the iceberg.

“Our dinners are beautiful. Mac has medaillons of New Zealand lamb with a Dijon crust, and sumptuously artery clogging scalloped potatoes. I go with seafood, since we’re on an island, even if it’s not local. But it’s so fresh it might as well be—a fat tuna steak, grilled with garlic and herbs just to medium rare. The salad of spring vegetables is local—tiny perfect squashes, new potatoes the size of your thumb, sugar snap peas and haricots verts—everything fresh and sweet, tossed in a warm hazelnut vinaigrette. Even the bread for each dinner is different. He has buttery whole wheat dinner rolls and I have a chewy peasant bread, rubbed with garlic and bearing the marks of the grill.

Instead of dessert, we opt for a cheese plate to go with the rest of the expensive-but-worth-every-penny wine. With it comes a little bowl of partially frozen red grapes.

When the check comes, he barely looks at it, just pulls out his virginal MasterCard and tucks it inside the folder. I reach for my wallet.

“Wyn,” he says, “don’t do this, okay?” His eyes are a warning all by themselves.

I say, “I was just getting my lipstick.”

In Baker’s Blues, it’s about the fire, about reducing breadmaking—and paring down life—to its most essential elements.

“By the following week, baking every morning, I bring forth some ciabatta that Alex is willing to use in the café. It’s not my finest effort, but people go nuts over it, ripping off chewy hunks and dipping them in the golden green olive oil and sea salt he’s started putting on all the tables.

On the menu he calls it pain d’autrefois or bread made the old way. I prefer the literal translation, bread of another time. It evokes the smell of the fire and the mark of the oven and the rustic taste of real bread—just flour, water, yeast and salt—baked in the most primitive, elemental way.”

*

So now you’ve had a small taste of some of the stories I’ve cooked up. One thing is certain: each one is a different process. Sometimes words pour out as if there were a direct pipeline from my heart to the keyboard. Sometimes it’s more like a day job. The truth is…the book that you finish is not the book that you started. The writer—just like her characters—is not the same person at the end that she was at the beginning. That’s what’s so amazing and engrossing and frustrating and exhilarating about cooking up stories. And that’s why, so long as I can see the computer screen and prop myself upright in my chair, I’ll probably never stop.

###

About Judith Ryan Hendricks Judith Ryan Hendricks

Judith Ryan Hendricks was born in San Jose, California, when Silicon Valley was the Santa Clara Valley, better known for orchards than for computer chips.

Armed with a degree in journalism, she worked as a journalist, copywriter, computer instructor, travel agent, waitress and baker before turning to fiction writing. Her experiences at the McGraw Street Bakery in Seattle led to her first novel, Bread Alone and the sequel, The Baker’s Apprentice.

A life-long infatuation with the Southwest provided inspiration for Isabel’s Daughter and her fourth book, The Laws of Harmony. Hendricks’ fiction has been translated into 12 languages and distributed in more than 16 countries worldwide.

Her nonfiction has appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle and Tiny Lights, A Journal of Personal Essay, Grand Gourmet in Italy and The London Sunday Express. Her short fiction has appeared in Woman’s Weekly in Britain and AMERICAN GIRLS ON THE TOWN, an anthology, in the U.S. and U.K.

She lives in New Mexico with husband Geoff and dog Blue.

Connect with Judi at her website, judihendricks.com.

Love in the Elephant Tent, by Kathleen Cremonesi (@KatCremonesi) #review #QandA @ecwpress

About the book Love in the Elephant Tent Love in the Elephant Tent

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: ECW Press (May 12, 2015)

f you live life without a net, what happens when you fall?

Kathleen Cremonesi knew early on she wanted to be different. Determined to avoid following in her mother’s footsteps to an ill-fated marriage, Kathleen left Oregon in her early 20s to travel across Europe. On a whim, this former administrative assistant with wanderlust took a job as a dancer in an Italian circus and, working her way up, became an ostrich-riding, shark-taming showgirl.

Kathleen bonds with the exotic animals that could strike and kill at any moment, but instead bring her a peace she has never known. And when she stumbles into the arms of Stefano, the sexy elephant keeper, she finds a man who understands her wild spirit.

With thrilling prose and vivid descriptions, Kathleen takes the reader around the Mediterranean, where she discovers unexpected friends and learns how to cook, forgive, and love — across language barriers.

Buy, read, and discuss Love in the Elephant Tent

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My Thoughts Melysse_Bandanna

I love memoirs and autobiographies, but I always feel a bit weird about reviewing them, as if I’m passing judgement on the person’s life, rather than just their book. In this case, however, I was enthralled by the author, Kathleen Cremonesi, herself and by the manner in which she tells her story. Truly, I wish I could sit down and share a cup of coffee or a beer and some vegan pizza with her.

If you didn’t know this was a memoir, you would probably think Love in the Elephant Tent was a novel with a first-person POV. At times it reads like one: a young woman from an unconventional (but loving) family leaves home and spends several years exploring the world – college, being a groupie for the Grateful Dead, backpacking (and fruit picking) around Europe, and finally landing at a circus, where she’s hired as a kitchen helper and swing for the dancing girls, and ends up falling for the elephant trainer (and his elephants). I mean – no one’s actual life could be that eventful and interesting…could it?

But Kathleen’s life was that eventful and interesting, and she tells her story candidly, building a slow crescendo to the peak of her involvement with the circus and Stefano, and then letting us down slowly through the next phase of her life, only to repeat the process.

As a performer myself, and one who cut her teeth in improv, I have a special fondness for circus stories, because a lot of the same skills that apply to improv also apply to things like clowning, or, really, to any kind of live performance. That Kathleen’s story also involves a lot of cooking dovetails nicely, because what is cooking, really, but kitchen improv and kitchen chemistry, combined?

If you love the circus, you will love this memoir. If you hate this circus, you will still love this memoir. If you have ever wanted to blow off your real life and go join the circus (please, don’t…it’s NOT as fun as it sounds) you will learn a lot from this memoir and then you will curl up in your bed, surrounded by clean sheets and stable electricity, and be glad that, for you, the circus is just a fantasy.

Kathleen Cremonesi should consider writing fiction. Or another memoir. Or something.  Her writing voice is as interesting and rich as the experiences she shares in this book. She may have found love in the elephant tent; I found a fascinating woman in the pages of a book.

Goes well with pasta, cooked al dente with homemade ragu.


Q&A with the author, Kathleen Cremonesi Kathleen Cremonesi

Kathleen, for people who haven’t yet read LOVE IN THE ELEPHANT TENT, give us your “elevator speech.” (If you were introducing yourself to other passengers in an elevator car, what would you say?)

Imagine My Big Fat Greek Wedding crashing into Eat, Pray, Love on the set of Water for Elephants. Love in the Elephant Tent is a coming-of-age adventure and an intimate portrayal of young love, where Kathleen and Stefano learn to navigate their cultural differences, shed youthful concepts of romance, and form a life-long bond.

A lot of people fantasize about running away to join the circus, but you actually did it, if not entirely purposefully. What advice would you offer to others who have that fantasy?  

That’s a great question, Melissa. Most important: either be fully aware of what you’re getting into or be ready and willing to dive into anything. Circus life is not for anyone who is queasy, lazy, or unable to adapt to whatever life throws their way.  The other element I would mention is to know how you feel about using exotics and other animals in that sort of atmosphere. If you don’t believe that any animal should live in those conditions, then you’re bound to have your heart broken daily if you find yourself in an animal-centric circus.

Can you describe a typical day in your life?

The best thing about the circus for me was that nothing about it was typical. The worst thing about the circus is that everything was typical! As I explain in Love in the Elephant Tent, living in the circus was like twirling around on a carousel – spinning, spinning, spinning through ever-changing scenery, yet everything within my immediate reach never seemed to change a bit.

Every morning, I’d make breakfast for the exotic animals, perhaps run to the grocery store or do some other shopping, return to the circus for lunch, prepare the afternoon meal for the exotic troupe, and get ready for the show – which usually started at 4:00 pm unless it was a Sunday or holiday schedule. Once the show started, that was everyone’s focus until it ended – which was around 11 pm. Sometimes we’d head out for a bite to eat or drinks, but usually it was straight to sleep so we could get up bright and early and do it all over again. And again. And again.

Because we were always on the move, we often set up in half a dozen or more towns every month. One day, I might perform those duties in the shadow of a Roman ruin; another day I might be surrounded by dilapidated apartments or a snowcapped alpine mountain range. But the circus has a way of complicating things. No matter where we were, the element of surprise hovered over our every move. Animals escaped. Weather didn’t cooperate. People were injured. Toss in some oversized personalities, and you have… well, a circus!

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to interview Johnathan Lee Iverson, one of the Ringling Bros. ringmasters. He gave a list of the way circus life is different from the “real” world:

“…-Don’t mean to brag, but, sometimes I feel like I live in an alternate universe…
-In your world women are still struggling to make head way in the work place, in mine they run the show from top to bottom….
-In your world diversity is still an issue, in mine every hue can be seen and over 10 different nations convene daily
-In your world parents are overworked and clueless about their kids, ours are at arm’s length 24/7 even when they’re in school…”

I’d love to know if you agree or disagree with those points, and if so why/why not?

Wow. He definitely lived in an alternate universe from the one I experienced. We lived in different circuses in different countries, but that may not be what’s behind our varied experiences. My guess is that it had to do with our position within the circuses we lived in.

In the two European circuses I experienced, when women were out front, it was only in image, and only in form-fitting or skin-baring costumes. The men ran the business, top to bottom, front to back.

I can agree with Mr. Iverson that many diverse nations convened daily on the circus lot, but they were not on equal footing. It is my experience that one’s position in the circus was based on first: who you were (family, nationality, gender); second: what you contributed to the circus (management, artist, back-up performer, grunt); and third: how well you provided that service.

In Italy’s Circo Moira Orfei, where I spent over 2 years, there were workers from many countries, including Italy, Spain, Germany, Bulgaria, Russia, Mexico, Yugoslavia, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, India…

Upper management was all family. Then came general management: all Italian, but not necessarily family.

Artists were almost always European, though Moira’s circus had a liaison with the Russian Circus Federation at the time, so we also had a selection of Russian performers. I recall only one performer outside of Europe and Russia, and he was a Mexican trapeze artist.

Back-up performers (dancers) were usually wives or daughters of other performers and higher-up workers (Italian employees, crew captains, etc.). That’s how I was allowed into the performance ring: my then-boyfriend, Stefano, was Italian and a crew captain, so I was invited to be a part of the show. Other women were not. There were many Polish women who worked there, and their jobs were limited to such positions as seamstress or laundry duties. I recall a beautiful Moroccan girl who worked there at the same time I did – she washed pots in the kitchen.

As far as those workers in charge of their crews (animal crews, big-top crews, or the mechanical crews), 99% were European – mostly Italian with a few Germans thrown in.  The other 1% consisted of one Egyptian and one Indian worker who had both been there many years and had proven their loyalty and their worth, so each of them were treated a little better than your average grunt.

And the grunts – well, few of them lasted long enough to make much of a life out of the circus. Many were illegal workers, and life was tough for them. Really tough. Pay was next to nothing. Stefano, who was a better-paid Italian crew-captain, earned around $20/day plus room and board for working an average of 16 hours and being on call 24 hours a day.

My apologies if I’ve gone on too long here, but the inequality I saw in the circus between men and women, family and outsiders, Europeans and Third-World workers, is still fresh in my mind, even after 25 years.

One thing I can agree with Mr. Iverson on is how families lived closely with each other. As far as the parents being overworked or not, well, that depends on what the parent did for a living and what the circus Gods decided to dish out on that particular day. But whatever it was, their kids were right there beside them, whether it was feasting on seaside delicacies when the circus set up beside the Mediterranean, slogging through knee-deep mud trenches when torrential rains flooded the lot, or keeping the elephant tent from collapsing on the animals in a wind storm.

The use of animals in circuses is not without controversy. The Big Apple Circus, for example, uses only those animals that have always been ‘working’ animals (horses and dogs). Ringling Bros. recently announced that they’re phasing out their elephant acts. As someone who has worked with these animals, how do you feel about their use in the entertainment industry?

I feel even more strongly about how poorly animals were treated, but I’ve just gone on at length about how I felt about the Third-World workers were treated, so let me just say that the animals’ lives were worse. I believe that no exotic animals, or caged domestic animals, should be part of a traveling show. Even if an animal isn’t whipped into submission (and beatings certainly happen in such situations), I believe that it is a serious form of abuse to keep them in such confines. For instance, wild elephants have been known to roam up to 50 miles a day, yet the 13 elephants in the two circuses I worked in were usually kept chained to wooden decks for over 23 hours a day. Who in their right mind can say that such treatment is ethical?

When writing a memoir there’s always a balancing act between being true to the story and being respectful of the real people involved. Did you find yourself struggling at all with that when you wrote LOVE IN THE ELEPHANT TENT?

Absolutely. As tough as it was to write intimate details about myself, it was perhaps even more so to write them about others. But I believe that I have a right to share my story – which I couldn’t do without sharing at least a portion of others’ lives as well. To my knowledge, the only secrets I exposed were my own.

In a perfect world, everyone in the book would have had the opportunity to read what I wrote and respond – correct potential inaccuracies, offer a counter opinion – and some were given that opportunity. Unfortunately, my Italian is no longer good enough to translate the nuances of my English prose, so it was difficult for me to offer the same opportunity to those who do not read English well.  Some of them know about the book, some do not. I don’t expect all of them to welcome its existence, or to agree with my version of events. But no matter what I thought about them or their actions during the period of my life this book covers, I tried to be fair and accurately represent everyone and the events that took place.

Is there anything you really wanted to include in the book, but had to cut because of length or story flow? If so, can you share?

Love in the Elephant Tent
Of course! I condensed two and a half years into fewer than 400 pages, so there are many, many events that were left out – some of which were written and then cut from the book at some point, and some that never made it onto paper. Most significant, I suppose, are the two months I spent between my arrival in Europe in early October and when I joined the first circus in December.  Without those experiences, I never would have joined the circus and had the opportunity to fall in love with Stefano.

What one thing do you hope readers will take away from their experience with LOVE IN THE ELEPHANT TENT?

How vital it is for them to get out in the world and discover who they are, what’s important to them, and how they’re going to achieve it day-to-day. To live an authentic life, whether it’s in their hometown or across the world. To Be Here Now, take life one day at a time. To find that moment when the past falls away and the present is all there is, all that matters.

But most of all, to open their heart to love – whether friendly, familial, or romantic love – and keep it open, even when the going gets tough.

What’s next for you?

I suppose that depends on how Love in the Elephant Tent makes its way into the world. I certainly love to write and there are always those stories from my first months in Europe – not to mention my adventures while following the Grateful Dead around the U.S. Perhaps there will be more interest in what took place between when Stefano and I arrived in the U.S. in 1991 and today… or some of the interesting family members from past generations. I think I’m more inclined to write non-fiction, and I’ve already written stories from all of the above periods, so it really depends on what might spark readers’ – and my own – interest.

I also love to travel and write about food, so I could be perfectly happy spending some time researching my next project, one that has nothing to do with my past, sampling life’s flavors in some exotic locale.

But that’s not to say there’s only writing in my future. I feel so strongly about keeping elephants and other exotics out of the circus that I’d gladly spend some time promoting such a cause if the opportunity arises.

Connect with Kathleen

Website | Facebook | Twitter


Kathleen Cremonesi’s Blog Tour Stops BlogTour-ElephantTent

June 15, 2015: Review and Giveaway, Always Packed for Adventure (http://www.alwayspackedforadventure.com/).

June 17, 2015: Review and Excerpt, Book Bug (http://bookbug2012.wordpress.com).

June 18, 2015: Review and Q+A, The Book Binder’s Daughter (http://thebookbindersdaughter.com).

June 19, 2015: Review, Excerpt and Giveaway, Caffeine and Books (https://caffeineandbooks42.wordpress.com/).

June 22, 2015: Review and Excerpt, Fictional Real World (http://www.fictionalrealworld.blogspot.ca/).

June 24, 2015: Review and Photos, We Peas Read (https://wepeasread.wordpress.com/review-policy/).

June 26, 2015: Review and Q+A, Bibliotica (http://bibliotica.com).

Food, Memories, and Love in Cauchemar, by Alexandra Grigorescu (@a_grigorescu) – #GuestPost @ecwpress #Bibliotica

I didn’t set out to write a book in which food figures so heavily. But I love talking about food. Food, to me, can be magic, and good cooks elevate the merely necessary into the extraordinary.

I can tell you in five seconds flat where I love to eat in my city. As a diner who gets legitimately upset when my local bakery is sold out of the particular pastry I’ve been craving, and as a cook who routinely doubles the recommended quantity of the “good stuff” (shrimp, pesto, spices, and oils, oh my!), food was bound to worm its way in.

So, when I, to my great surprise, discovered that I was writing a book set in the South (as a longtime resident of chilly Canada), food was an easy way to evoke that atmosphere.

My husband and I went down to Louisiana, and (over)ate ourselves silly. It’s my opinion that you can’t return from the South without talking about the food. Personally, I do so in tones that are reverential and cowed. I loved it, but it also weighed me down. It made me groggy and sluggish—and so, so happy. There were po’boys, and etouffee. There was cornbread and grits. There were fried oysters, and fried alligator, and donuts. There was chicory coffee and absinthe sipped in the company of a black cat. There were dive bar nachos, and white napkins in a romantic courtyard on New Year’s Eve. Much of what made me fall in love with the South is deeply connected to the food I ate there.

But almost without my noticing, food also became a narrative tool in Cauchemar: a way of contrasting between the familiar and the unnatural. Mae, Hannah’s adoptive mother, rules in the kitchen, and she’s immediately established as a healer. By contrast, Christobelle (Hannah’s birth mother) is extremely thin, and doesn’t seem to eat—at least, not in the human sense. She’s almost a succubus or vampire, feeding on the grief of the living and the spirits of the dead.

Finally, Hannah falls somewhere in the middle. Over the course of the book, she oscillates between the two extremes, which is an echo of her internal struggle, as well as the struggle between the worlds of the living and the dead.

The book opens with food—Hannah arriving too late to save Mae because she was eating a piece of pastry. In her grief after Mae’s death, she fails to eat properly, and turns to other people’s casseroles. In the blush of first love, she begins to experiment. She over-spices to echo her own overstimulation, and as a result her dishes are out of balance.

Then, as things start to get frightening and the stakes are raised, Hannah tries to find Mae’s recipes, hoping for some semblance of familiarity. Hannah searches her memory, too, and finds comfort in recalling Mae’s advice, so often spoken in the kitchen. There’s a long stretch in the book where both Callum and Hannah lose their appetite (and Hannah ends up eating something decidedly unappetizing), and this mirrors the blurring of the lines between this world and the next.

One very real way for Hannah to choose life, to embrace memory, and to honour Mae is through cooking. Some of the dishes mentioned in the book are ones I’ve made in my own kitchen, but more importantly, ones I’ve improvised on—in essence, letting Mae guide my own hands. I blackened some catfish for my husband one night, channeling Hannah and Mae in the book, and yes, I did fill the kitchen with billows of spiced smoke. I listened to the fish crackle and exhale, and I, too, squeezed lemon juice over it, and thought of it as a balm for that poor, overworked fish filet. I imagined someone older and wiser instructing me as I did so, but I was also aware of trying to impress someone I loved. I put myself in Hannah’s skin through cooking what Hannah might cook.

Eating engages multiple senses, and is a powerful grounding tool. Hannah uses food and cooking as a way to center herself. For me, food summons memories. It harkens back to my own Maes—my grandmothers. Food and cooking recalls my grandmother’s cabbage rolls, her flaky mushroom pastries, and her chocolate cake. When I think of sour vegetable preserves, I think of red peppers in jars on her balcony. I think of her smile, her voice, and I remember taking the photo that now sits by my bedside. In this way, food resurrects her. Food, as the privilege of the living, brings life.

I remember watching my grandmothers in their respective kitchens and being, on some level, aware that I was being initiated into a tradition. Now, that memory is coloured by the knowledge that one day, if I’m lucky, I too might be watched by a curious munchkin as I measure out ingredients.

Finally, cooking is love. It is familial love: me sitting in the sunlit attic of my childhood home as one of my grandmothers prepared a pot of soup. It is romantic love: my husband and I working in tandem over a new recipe, or the memory of baking my first-ever batch of cookies with him. It is the joy of cooking something for someone, and what a pleasure and honor that is.

Cauchemar is, to me, a book about many things. Family, love, danger, death—and hopefully they all coexist on the page. It took me a while to get to a place where I’m comfortable cooking by smell and taste alone. It is a coming into oneself, and also, a homecoming.


About the author, Alexandra Grigorescu Alexandra Grigorescu

Alexandra Grigorescu has a Master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Toronto, where she attended writing workshops led by George Elliott Clark and Jeff Parker and wrote her thesis under the guidance of Camilla Gibb. She works as a freelance writer and lives in Toronto, Ontario.

Connect with Alexandra

Website | Facebook | Twitter


About the book Cauchemar Cauchemar

Paperback: 316 pages
Publisher: ECW Press (March 17, 2015)

Gripping, fast-paced, gorgeously written, and with unforgettable characters, Cauchemar tells the story of 20-year-old Hannah, who finds herself living alone on the edge of a Louisianan swamp after her adopted mother and protector dies. Hannah falls in love with Callum, an easy-going boat captain and part-time musician, but after her mysterious birth mother, outcast as a witch and rumoured to commune with the dead, comes back into Hannah’s life, she must confront what she’s been hiding from — the deadly spirits that haunt the swamp, the dark secrets of her past, and the nascent gift she possesses. Like the nightmares that plague Hannah,

Cauchemar lingers and haunts.

Buy, read, and discuss Cauchemar

ECW Press | Amazon (US) | Amazon (CA) | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Alexandra Grigorescu’s Blog Tour Stops Cauchemar

This review is part of a blog tour sponsored by the publisher, ECW Press. For the complete list of tour stops, see below. For more information, click HERE. For my review of the book, click HERE.

MARCH 1: Review and giveaway at The Book Binder’s Daughter
MARCH 2: Review and guest post at Bibliotica (That’s ME!)
MARCH 3: Review and excerpt at Bella’s Bookshelves
MARCH 4: Guest post at Write All the Words! for their International Women’s Week feature
MARCH 5: Interview and excerpt at Editorial Eyes
MARCH 7: Review at Lavender Lines
MARCH 9: Review at Svetlana’s Reads
MARCH 10: Review and interview at The Book Stylist
MARCH 11: Review, guest post, and giveaway at Booking it with Hayley G
MARCH 12: Guest Post at Dear Teen Me
MARCH 13: Review and giveaway at The Book Bratz
MARCH 14: Interview and excerpt at Feisty Little Woman

The Art of Short Stories, by Rebecca Adams Wright (@rvleeadams) – #GuestPost #Bibliotica

The Art of Short Stories

a guest post from Rebecca Adams Wright

I love little things. Shiny things. Broken bits of larger things. I am a human magpie, tucking crumbling robin’s eggshells or eye-catching pebbles into my pockets when I find them on the street. I cannot walk past a dropped coin even if it turns out to old be an old button. I like old buttons.

 

My husband laughs when he sees me pick up these treasures, because, of course, I almost never find a use for them. But they are food for the imagination, my beautiful scraps. I hoard them in little boxes and cluster them in drawers. I stumble upon them later, having completely forgotten their context, not at all sure where they came from, but still admiring. I turn them over in my hand as if for the first time and marvel at the sheen on the feather, the perfect divot in the stone.

I am a collector of odds and ends. I appreciate when the edges are ragged or the provenance unknown.

 

This love of small and cryptic things is one of the qualities that make me a natural short story writer.

 

Necessarily more compact than novels and more prosaic than poetry, short stories both speak our language and plunge us into mystery. They will present some kind of familiar anchor (though that anchor can be as small as the recognizable tweed on a button), but they may well make no other explanations. Novels unfold before you—they offer you an entry hall, a place to hang your jacket, they take you on the grand tour of all the rooms in the hotel. Novels want to offer you a whiskey and soda. Novels, even aggressive and fast-paced ones, want to be with you for a while. They want to take time.

 

Short stories cannot and will not offer you this. Short stories do not expect you to stay the night and order room service in the morning. They are likely to introduce you to the world by handing you a bag of untraceable gemstones and they may never get around to explaining the origins of the one-eyed ravens. Short stories can be many things: elegant, expansive, brutal, humane, lyrical, piercing, inventive. But they are never long. That means they always leave at least one thread dangling on the loom, a little spot of mystery trailing behind them.

 

Producing a delightful sense of mystery is not the same thing, of course, as leaving important aspects of narrative untold. The best stories are as tight and complete as nautilus shells. They create a sense of fullness precisely because they contain all that they need, and nothing more. These stories are not mysterious because they are vague. Rather, the specificity of the text’s images, characters, and situations compels the reader to keep asking questions, to imagine more than is on the page. Short stories are often compared to snapshots, and we all know that some of the best photographs manage to imply whole worlds in a space no larger than four inches by six.

 

The other great appeal of short stories, at least to me, is the fact that they allow for such a diversity of themes and topics, investigations and explorations. From the writer’s perspective, working in short form means that (usually) a story can be finished and shared in a fraction of the time of a novel, and without as much editorial input. Individual stories, because they do not have to represent the trajectory of a career, can take more risks, push more boundaries, wander out of comfort zones. Serious authors can be silly, mainstream authors can go genre, authors of timeless novels can engage with current events.

 

From a reader’s perspective, short stories can offer new angles from which to view well-known authors. Even more importantly, they create opportunities to explore new voices, unfamiliar genres, or nontraditional narrative structures without the commitment of three-hundred-plus pages. Short stories allow both writers and readers to take risks that sometimes pay enormous dividends.

 

All this is not to imply that I myself won’t release a novel someday. Novels offer their own set of rewards, among them the great pleasure of long immersion. I am, in fact, at work on a novel right now. But I cannot imagine ever turning my back on the short story, just as I cannot imagine walking down the street without stopping when a glint in the road catches my eye.

 

Look, I just found something breathtaking. Hold out your hand—I’m offering it to you.


About the author, Rebecca Adams Wright Rebecca Adams Wright

Rebecca Adams Wright is a 2011 graduate of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop and a former University of Michigan Zell Writing Fellow. She has an MFA in fiction from the University of Michigan and has won the Leonard and Eileen Newman Writing Prize. Rebecca lives in Ypsilanti, Michigan, with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Rebecca

Website | Facebook | Twitter


About the book, The Thing About Great White SharksThe Thing About Great White Sharks

  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: Little A (February 10, 2015)

In this collection’s richly imagined title story, our brutal and resourceful protagonist is determined to protect her family from a murderous, shark-ridden world—at any cost. Elsewhere, an old woman uncovers a sinister plot while looking after a friend’s plants (“Orchids”), and a girl in the war-torn countryside befriends an unlikely creature (“Keeper of the Glass”). In “Barnstormers,” a futuristic flying circus tries to forestall bankruptcy with one last memorable show. At the heart of “Sheila” is the terrible choice a retired judge must make when faced with the destruction of his beloved robotic dog, and “Yuri, in a Blue Dress” follows one of the last survivors of an alien invasion as she seeks help.

Extending from World War II to the far future, these fifteen stories offer a gorgeously observed perspective on our desire for connection and what it means to have compassion—for ourselves, for one another, for our past…and for whatever lies beyond.

Buy, read, and discuss The Thing About Great White Sharks

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-A-Million | Goodreads


Rebecca Adams Wright’s TLC Book Tours Tour Stops: TLC Book Tours

This guest post is part of a tour organized by TLC Book Tours. For my review of this book, click HERE. For the complete list of tour stops, see below. For more information, click HERE.

Friday, February 13th: Book Snob – author guest post

Monday, February 16th: No More Grumpy Bookseller

Monday, February 16th: Bibliophilia, Please

Wednesday, February 18th: From the TBR Pile

Thursday, February 19th: 5 Minutes for Books

Thursday, February 19th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

Monday, February 23rd: Conceptual Reception

Tuesday, February 24th: Bibliotica review and author guest post

Tuesday, February 24th: Savvy Verse and Wit – author guest post

Wednesday, February 25th: Bibliophiliac

Thursday, February 26th: The Relentless Reader

Monday, March 2nd: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Tuesday, March 3rd: Patricia’s Wisdom

Thursday, March 5th: Guiltless Reading

Monday, March 9th: Kahakai Kitchen

Thursday, March 12th: The Book Binder’s Daughter – author guest post

TBD: Bound by Words

TBD: Life is Story

Guest Post: Paul DeBlassie III, author of The Unholy

About the book The Unholy The Unholy

Title: The Unholy
Publisher: Sunstone Press (200 pages)

A young curandera, a medicine woman, intent on uncovering the secrets of her past is forced into a life-and-death battle against an evil Archbishop. Set in the mystic land of Aztlan, The Unholy is a novel of destiny as healer and slayer. Native lore of dreams and visions, shape changing, and natural magic work to spin a neo-gothic web in which sadness and mystery lure the unsuspecting into a twilight realm of discovery and decision.

Buy, read, and discuss The Unholy

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads


Guest post from Paul DeBlassie III: Using Reality to Write Great Horror Novels

I’ve always believed that you should write what you know when it comes to writing books. Some authors might be able to get away with using their imagination and implementing research (good for them!), but in my own experience it really helps to log into my past experiences and expand on the ideas in order to come up with a terrific storyline.

Paul DeBlassie III did just that. The Unholy comes out of over thirty years of treating patients in his psychotherapy practice who are survivors of the dark side of religion. Can you imagine all the storylines he could come up with? These patients have all been used and abused and cast to the side.

Paul says, “I’ve seen that when this happens to people, those around the victim, to include family and friends, often turn a blind eye and deny what has happened. Rather than writing a self help book, I decided to approach this realm of human suffering in fiction. To tell a story moves the reader into a deep and unconscious dimension that bypasses conscious defenses, leaving us open to truths that otherwise would be blocked. So, dramatizing the dark side of religion, pulling what can be the most vile and evil, and pivoting it against an innocent and sincerely searching soul leaves the reader on edge, hopeful, but unsure as to what will happen and who in the end will survive.”

“To have written out a list of what to do or not to do in the midst of religious abuse might have helped some individual,” he continues, “but would have left many people stone cold because there is no emotion in such guidance.”

Paul tells us that The Unholy is a story of pure emotion, fear and rage and hope and challenge, that inspires and frightens and causes us to stay up late at night in order to finish the story. “Dream and chronic nightmares plagues people who’ve gone through the horror of being abused within a religious system. It could be emotional, spiritual, physical, or sexual torment—or all of the above—a true encounter with the unholy—that people undergo during childhood or adolescence or adulthood.”


About the author, Paul DeBlassie III Paul DeBlassie III

PAUL DeBLASSIE III, PhD, is a psychologist and writer living in his native New Mexico. A member of the Depth Psychology Alliance, the Transpersonal Psychology Association, and the International Association for Relational Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy, he has for over thirty years treated survivors of the dark side of religion.

His latest book is the psychological/paranormal thriller, The Unholy.

Connect with Paul

Website | Blog | Facebook | Twitter


This post is part of a blog tour sponsored by Pump Up Your Book. For more information, and the complete list of tour stops, click HERE.

In their Words: Interview with Anna Castle

Murder by Misrule

Last month, I reviewed Anna Castle’s historical mystery Murder by Misrule. Anna was kind enough to also grant me an interview, which we conducted via email. As you can see, she’s funny, interesting, and as unique as the book (series, actually) she’s created.

Melissa A. Bartell (MAB): Before we talk about your novel Murder by Misrule, let us get to know you. If you had to pick an historical figure to represent every 5-7 years of your life, who would they be and why?

Anna Castle (ANNA): This question is too hard for me! First, I’m not a navel-gazer; there are a hundred things I would rather think about than my personal history. Second, as a writer of historical fiction, it’s my job to uncover the complex layers of the people of the past, not to sum them up with short labels.

Anna Castle

It does sound like a fun game to play with the clan after Thanksgiving dinner, though. You could put historical figures on cards and let people draw one and decide who it matched, at what period of their life. (OK, I’m going to patent that idea, but I’ll split it with you, since it was your question.)

 

MAB: What draws you to historical fiction? What draws you to write at all?

ANNA: The time-traveling: writing stories is my way of working through the past and figuring out how a person could live and work and play back then and over there.

As for writing, when it’s going well, it’s the most fun thing there is. It’s like building and exploring at the same time, without any sharp things nicking your fingers or clouds of mosquitos swarming around your head.

 

MAB: You chose Francis Bacon as the lead in your novel; what about his story made you want to put him in a mystery?

ANNA: He’s the natural choice. Bacon was the most articulate advocate of inductive reasoning: study the facts, formulate a hypothesis, test, and refine.

He didn’t actually do much in the way of either scientific or criminal investigation, but he spent a lot of time thinking and writing about how such investigations ought best to be pursued.

All I do is put him on task by giving him urgent problems to solve.

 

MAB: There’s a big difference between contemporary Texas and Elizabethan England. What challenged you the most in creating your version of that period?

ANNA: The weather! Summer in Texas lasts from May through October. It seldom snows in Austin. We do not have fog. We rarely get that chilly drizzle that is so typical of English weather, nor that sweet, soft, delicious spring rain. Love that rain! Mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the summer sun; maybe made cats and Texans go out in the winter rain.

One of the main reasons I go there is to inhabit their climate, see where the sun stands and how the wind blows. It surprises me every time that I can walk outdoors in a wool sweater in June and not be hot. I’ve even gotten sunburned in England! Who’d’ve thunk it?

MAB: Were there any cultural similarities that surprised you when you were doing research? If so, what?

ANNA: Not so much. Sixteenth century England is the root of both our cultures, after all. I’m as much like the people of Bacon’s time as a modern Englishwoman; more, maybe, in terms of dialect. I’m there to study the past, so I only pay enough attention to contemporary culture to keep from getting run over by a bus.

It does seem to me that English and American cultures are in many ways reconverging, since we swim in the same big media pool. I am sometimes surprised by the depth of familiarity with American history that crops up in British television. Like one detective saying to the other, “Houston, we have a problem,” or “Not quite ‘How did you enjoy the play, Mrs. Lincoln?'” Tiny bits, but ubiquitous.

Murder by Misrule

MAB: This novel is set in the period of Misrule. Tell us a bit about that, and why you picked it as the perfect time of year for a murder mystery?

ANNA: I remember thinking of the first murder as a demented chase scene through the yew labyrinth in the Queen’s garden, drunken retainers from a pageant at the nearby Accession Day festivities chasing a sore-footed barrister. I liked the topsy-turviness of that scene. It got cut somewhere around draft 3, but it was the seed from which the rest of the story sprang.

I connected it to Gray’s Inn when I learned that they used to make a big deal of the season of Misrule. Young law students were obliged to remain in residence over the Christmas break, both to keep them from coming back late for the January term and to give them some of the social polish their parents expected them to acquire.

These restless young gentlemen had to be entertained. Why not bump a few of them off to make things more interesting?

 

MAB: Aside from Francis Bacon, do you have a favorite character in your novel? If so, who, and why?

ANNA: I love all my characters, even the villains. Even the walk-ons and the snivelly ass-kissers. So I don’t have a favorite, but I do have an avatar, so to speak — Mrs. Anabel Sprye. She’s me, which is why she’s writing a book.

 

MAB: Is there a specific scene in the novel that you’re particularly proud or fond of? Can you share it with us?

ANNA: This is one of those questions that’s easy to pose and impossible to answer. Pick a scene, any scene — I sweat them all. Far easier to point out the scenes that fell short of my grandiose dreams, but that would be foolish and self-defeating and we don’t go there.

MAB: Francis Bacon spends a lot of time reading. Similarly, the writers of our own time are also readers. What are some of your favorite books and authors? What are you reading now?

ANNA: All writers are readers first. If not, they shouldn’t be writing.

On my desk at this moment: John W. Weatherford, Crime and Punishment in the England of Shakespeare and Milton (proof that I couldn’t invent anything half as wacky as the truth); Anthony Esler, The Aspiring Mind of the Elizabethan Younger Generation (a fascinating if somewhat strained 60’s psychological analysis of my main guys); and my Kindle, on which I’m reading Eric Mayer & Mary Reed’s 10 for Dying; Katie Graykowski’s Perfect Summer; and Shakespeare’s Works.

MAB: What’s a typical day in the life of Anna Castle? Take us through one.

ANNA: I get up a little after daylight and screw around on the net for 30 minutes or so while drinking that all-important first cup of coffee. Then I write through lunch. Then I do chores or similar, go to the gym, come back and do writing biz for as long as it takes. And then my day is done.

Sometimes I break early to have lunch with a friend, which I like better than going out for dinner. Sometimes I blow it all off and go hiking.

MAB: Writing can be a solitary activity. How do you deal with it?

ANNA: Writing is most assuredly a solitary activity. That’s one of the things we like about it. If we wanted a busy environment, we would get jobs. I like the solitude. I like the silence. I like living in the past inside my head.

MAB: What advice would present-day Anna give to her sixteen-year-old self?

ANNA: Do not smoke that cigarette.

MAB: Will there be more Francis Bacon mysteries? What’s next for you?

ANNA: There will indeed be more. Book 2 is due to my editor on Sunday. Plot-a-thon for book 3 is slated for August, but probably going to get slipped to September because I think book 2 needs a lot of editing. Then again, I always think that at this stage.

I have another series of humorous regional modern mysteries in the sub-genre formerly known as ‘cozy’ which I plan to launch sometime in the coming year, as soon as I can think of a tagline that doesn’t sound like Prince’s new name.

And there are short stories leaping up and down in the back of my mind clamoring for attention. I’m looking forward to getting back into my newly rehabbed house and writing up a perfect storm.

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Guest Post: Austin Washington, author of The Education of George Washington

The Education of George Washington

Guest post by author Austin Washington

Dance Your Way to Being President (by Reading a Book)
The Education of George Washington gives unique, original, and new insight into how George Washington turned himself into the George Washington we all know. That is, it shows how George Washington, the awkward, too tall kid who wrote dorky love poems, whose father died when he was only eleven, whose family no longer had enough money to send him to the private school in England his older half brothers had gone to –  how this mostly uneducated guy bought a guide to greatness from his cousin when he was fifteen, and thus became the George Washington we’ve all heard of.

Actually, even before the parts of his life most people have at least heard of, George Washington became known as the best dancer in Virginia. Becoming great was a life long process. It’s interesting, by the way, once you learn a bit about Virginia at that time, why being a good dancer was important there.  Also, George was known as a great athlete, he was admired by women – basically, he was a star, long before he became a legend.

George Washington’s guide to greatness has been called a “groundbreaking new discovery”, that had been unknown by all previous biographers. George Washington got, when he was fifteen, a kind of proto Tony Robbins book, with a huge difference. The modern self help movement, the apotheosis of which, I’d say, is the almost unreadable book The Secret – unreadable simply because it is so poorly written – has a philosophy underlying it that has some truth to it. But that doesn’t make it good or right.

In essence, stripped bare, that philosophy says something like, “I saw a red Ferrari on TV, and wow, do I want one. If I wish and hope and pray, by God, I’ll get one. Maybe I’ll have to work a little, too.”

George Washington’s guide to greatness flips this on its head.  The idea is, if I listen to the voice of Providence, while simultaneously learning how the knowledge of what is good and great has been refined and distilled by our greatest civilisations, and if I internalise this, I might be onto something.

It’s not about greed, or materialism, but self sacrifice. The ultimate result, if you really “get it”, is you become not just good, but great. Greatness has its own rewards, which, coincidentally, often have a material component.

But you don’t end up like Donald Trump. You end up like, well, like George Washington. I mean, even only at the surface, at material things, look at Mount Vernon itself. It’s dignified, not gaudy. This is a reflection of something underlying, and deeper.

I spent three years, and three drafts, distilling this wisdom, then soaking the adventure  of George Washington’s life in it, so that you almost subliminally gain and understand what George Washington gained and understood, while being taken on the journey of his life.

Ultimately, The Education of George Washington is probably not for you. But it might be. It all depends. Would you prefer a red Ferrari, or, on the other hand, the material rewards you’ll get if you become great. (Material rewards are beside the point. It’s what you become that matters. The rest is just icing on the cake.)

Although, perhaps this is an unrealistic goal for a book.  One of the first reviewers called it “The best book ever written about the Father of Our Country,” then wrote me a personal note saying his review “did not do the book justice”. Well, even if my illusions about The Education of George Washington actually changing lives are wishful thinking , being “the best” in at least one reviewer’s opinion isn’t bad, I suppose.

Still, without a father, with very little formal education, starting out relatively poor, George Washington turned himself into “George Washington” with little but a book as a guide (which is included, in full, at the end of my book, by the way.) I do know that I  have actually changed because of what I learned, through writing it. Although, come to think of it,  I’m not President yet. But I am a good dancer.

Well, there’s time. What about you?


About the Author, Austin Washington

Austin Washington

Austin Washington is the great-nephew of George Washington. He earned his masters and did post-graduate research focusing on colonial American history, and is a writer, musician, entrepreneur and global traveler. He returns to an old Virginia family home whenever he can. Austin’s first book takes a common criticism of his academic writing – “You’re not writing a newspaper editorial, you know!” – and turns it into a virtue, taking a subject dry and dusty in other’s hands and giving it life. He has lived abroad much of his life, most recently in Russia, and visits friends from Sicily to Turkey to Bangladesh and beyond. His earliest influences as a writer were Saki, Salinger, and St. Exupery, although in more recent years he has got beyond the S’s. As for historians, he is partial to the iconoclast Gibbon, who wrote history to change the future.

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About the book, The Education of George Washington

The Education of George Washington

In Austin Washington’s new book, The Education of George Washington, readers will learn all about President Washington’s true model of conduct, honor, and leadership, including the actual historic document that President Washington used to transform his life from a poorly educated child of a widowed mother, to the historic, curious, highly influential and awe inspiring figure he became and remains today.

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Read an Excerpt from The Education of George Washington

 

“I Cannot Tell a Lie”— the Cherry Tree Story Is True (but Different from How You Heard It)

“What shall I say of the Nobleness of his Mind; and of that Character of Honor, Truth and Justice, which was so Natural to him . . . incapable of the Dissimulation, and other sordid Arts of Court. He could not promise what he did not intend to perform.” —H. de Luzancy, A Panegyrick to the Memory of His Grace Frederick, Late Duke of Schonberg

Parson Weems was married to the wife of a cousin of George Wash- ington’s close friend, Dr. James Craik. Parson Weems knew George Washington. Parson Weems preached at George Washington’s church. So why all the hating? The tale of George Washington and the cherry tree has been mistold for two hundred years—and thus mistakenly criticized, as people have been criticizing a story that Parson Weems never told. Still, despite all the debunking, the story of George Washington and the cherry tree is almost as iconic in America as Santa Claus and his elves. It therefore seems worthwhile to spend a little time explaining how we can say with certainty that yes, Virginia, the story of George and the cherry tree is true (but no, it’s not the story you’ve heard).

For those non-Americans out there, the story, in essence, is this: George Washington, when he was a small child, chopped down a cherry tree with a hatchet. When confronted by his father, he confessed, “I can- not tell a lie. I did it with my little hatchet.”

That’s the story. (Not much of a story, is it? But the story of the story could change your life.)

No one in America believes it any more. We’ve all been told ad nauseam that the whole story is a pious fable—a confabulation invented by Parson Weems.

What’s wrong with the story? Why can’t we trust Parson Weems?

We obviously can’t trust him because he admired George Washing- ton. No, honestly, that’s a big part of the argument. Parson Weems is a fanboy and therefore can’t be trusted. The generally accepted idea, expressed by Wikipedia, is this: “Weems also called Washington the ‘greatest man that ever lived.’ This degree of adulation, combined with the circumstance that his anecdotes cannot be independently verified, demonstrates clearly that they are confabulations and parables.”

But wait just a minute.

1. I’d always thought ad hominem attacks were a logical fallacy.

2. If something that cannot be independently verified is, ipso facto, not true, then all trees falling in all forests are always silent. That’s just silly.

3. Actually, the story can be independently verified. Beyond that, it passes the sniff test. Pretty clearly.

The Education of George Washington

Spotlight & Guest Post: Of Dreams and Shadow by D.S. McKnight

About the book Of Dreams and Shadows by D.S. McKnight

Of Dreams and Shadows

We live. We die. Is there anything more? Jenna Barton is about to find out. After moving to the coastal North Carolina town of Parson’s Cove, Jenna has unwittingly stepped into the middle of a mystery involving a missing child. Unfortunately, the predator is still on the loose and Jenna has become his new obsession. With a little luck and a bit of paranormal help, Jenna might survive.

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About the author, D.S. McKnight

D.S. McKnight

D.S. McKnight has enjoyed a varied career—from working as a radio DJ on a small AM station to serving as president and co-owner of a marina, until Hurricane Ophelia took aim at the Carolina coast. Currently, she works at an insurance agency as well as hosting her blog – Novel Notions.

It is her love of the North Carolina coast that fueled her desire to write. Of Dreams and Shadow: Forget Me Not (book 1) is her first novel.

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Read a Guest Post from D.S. McKnight

 

For approximately 2 1/2 years, I spent every available moment in Parson’s Cove – the fictional town where Of Dreams and Shadow takes place.  I knew the town – the name of the streets as well as the locations of shops and restaurants.  I knew the characters, how they looked and what they liked. I witnessed the tragedy that set the story into motion.  So, I found it difficult to let go when it came time to say goodbye.  Fortunately for me, I was able to visit the story in other ways.  One way was to become the reporter for The Parson’s Cove Daily News:

 

The Parson’s Cove Daily News

 

June 19, 1997

 

(Parson’s Cove)  Area authorities continue to search for Sarah Jones.  The four year old girl was last seen the morning of June 17, while playing outside of the family home located on Sandpiper Drive.  Parson’s Cove Police Department spokesman,  Sgt. Joe Wilkes confirmed that there was a witness to the abduction.  The suspect is described as a male however there was no further description available.  The suspect is believed to have been wearing dark clothing.

 

Neighbor Bob Williams spoke for the family.  “At this time, the family is asking for prayers for the safe return of their daughter.”  When asked how the family was doing, Williams became visibly upset.  “I guess they are doing as good as possible considering the situation.”

 

Besides canvassing local businesses, search and rescue teams have been called in.   “Bloodhounds are a valuable asset in this type of investigation,”  Sgt. Wilkes said.

 

Sarah is described as a white female child approximately three feet tall with light brown hair and green eyes.  She was last seen wearing pink shorts and a white top.

 

Residents are asked to contact the police department if they remember seeing anything suspicious in the area.


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Read an excerpt

Prologue

June 17, 1997

Details…they were the making or breaking of any plan and he

felt sure that his plan was perfect. He surveyed the yard one last

time, slid back into his hiding place and waited. It wouldn’t be

long now. She would open the door and come out to play as she

did every morning: swinging, pulling her wagon, playing with her

doll. Only this morning would be different, this morning would

be special.

Laying in her wagon was his gift, a necklace he had taken from

his mother. He was certain Sarah would love it. A door slammed,

pulling his attention from the wagon to the patio where the little

girl stood.

“Big…black…bug’s blood,” she said slowly. And then, looking

rather pleased with herself, she continued a bit faster, “Big, black

bug’s blood, big black blugs blug, blig black blug’s blug.” Shaking

her head, she stepped off the patio, “I don’t like bugs anyway…well,

maybe ladybugs…and butterflies,” Sarah added as a swallowtail

fluttered by.

Sarah found herself following the butterfly’s trail, stopping

when it lit upon a flower and continuing on as it once again took

flight. “Come back butterfly,” she called as the butterfly

flitted from place to place, always just out of her reach. The

tinkling sound of her laughter floated across the yard to his

hiding place. He couldn’t believe his luck. It seemed that fate

was lending him a hand as the butterfly fluttered ever closer to

the wagon.

     Just a little further, sweet Sarah.

She stopped, looked up at the butterfly as it changed course,

then set off in the opposite direction. He clinched his fist. Fate,

he thought, is like a fickle strumpet. But patience on the other hand,

was quite the virtuous lady. Damn. He hated virtuous ladies. And

strumpets…they weren’t any better.

The swallowtail, perhaps tired of playing the game, circled

around and carried Sarah back toward the wagon. Its flight was

now one of purpose. It had nectar to collect and flowers to pollinate

and a curious little girl was a hindrance. The butterfly, however,

didn’t need to worry. It had lost Sarah’s attention. She had seen the

Picking up the silver chain, she watched as the blue stones

glistened in the sunlight. It was the most beautiful thing she had

ever seen. Sarah slid the necklace over her head and ran back to the

house calling out for her mother.

Liza Jones opened the door. “Is everything okay, Sweetie?”

Sarah lifted the pendant. “See what I found.” Her voice dropped

to a whisper, as she looked over her shoulder. “Do you think a fairy

dropped it?”

Liza shook her head. “I don’t know about a fairy, but someone

certainly did.” She put out her hand. “I think maybe you should

give the necklace to me. We don’t know whose it is.”

Sarah’s lip began to tremble. “But I found it and it’s so pretty.

Can’t I please wear it for a little while? I won’t lose it.”

Liza smiled as she touched her daughter’s cheek. She hated

telling her no. “Okay, as long as you’re careful. But when we find

out who owns it, no tears.”

“No tears, Mommy,” Sarah agreed. “I promise.”

Liza closed the door, her mind already going over the phone

calls she needed to make. She felt certain that one of the neighbor’s

children had been exploring in their mother’s jewelry box.

Smiling, Sarah whirled around and set off for the swings. Her

soft caramel curls, caught in a ponytail, danced about as she skipped

across the backyard. She hoped her mommy couldn’t find the owner

of the necklace.

As she sat in the swing and pushed off with her feet, Sarah

noticed her shadow. It moved along the sand, stretching out just as

she did. Higher and higher she went, her shadow following below.

Taking a flying leap from the swing, Sarah sailed through the air,

landed on the soft grass and toppled over. Giggling, she righted

herself. Her shadow did the same. And so the game of chase began.

Like a small rabbit, Sarah scampered across the lawn, her

little feet swiftly changing course. Sometimes, depending on the

direction she was going, Sarah noticed that she was being chased by

her shadow. Other times, she was doing the chasing.

The slamming of the neighbor’s back door didn’t go unnoticed.

Boys! She thought to herself as she wheeled in the opposite direction,

making sure to avoid the fence. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw

the neighbor boy peeking over the pickets.

As she neared the back of the yard, Sarah slowed to a walk,

sat down, and leaned against a large boulder, her shadow all but

forgotten. She fingered the silver chain before carefully lifting the

pendant. Blue stones surrounded a small crystal, reminding her of

the flowers that grew in her mother’s garden. “Buttercup, Poppy,

Forget-Me-Not,” Sarah recited her favorite nursery rhyme, “These

three bloomed in a garden spot—” her soft voice trailed away to

nothing as the sensation of being watched rolled over her.

Sarah lifted her eyes from the necklace and glanced toward the

wood line, looking for anything that seemed out of place. Seeing

nothing out of the ordinary, she continued to search the yard,

looking for the source of her discomfort. She paused, realizing that

the only place left to look was behind her. The hair on her arms

began to rise as did the instinctual feeling to run to safety. Slowly,

she turned her head to look over her shoulder. Her eyes rested on

the dark figure standing behind her right shoulder.

“Shadow?” she asked in a bewildered voice.

“Who else could it be?” hissed the childlike apparition as it

took position between Sarah and her house. A ragged whimper

wrenched from deep in Sarah’s throat, her eyes darted, looking for

an escape but seeing none. From across the fence, the frightened

eyes of the neighbor boy found hers, his small hand waved for her

to run.

“Mommy!” she cried out, her eyes welling with tears.

“Thy mother hearest thou not, sweet Sarah,” the specter hissed

as it took a step closer to the child.

Sarah’s mind told her to flee yet her body refused to move.

Tears streamed down her face. The shadowy figure looked over

its shoulder at the house. Satisfied, it turned its attention back to

Sarah. Cocking its head to the side as though in thought, Sarah’s

silhouette paused for just a moment before lunging and engulfing

the child. Sarah had no time to scream. She was gone, swallowed

by the blackness that was the shadow. The dark figure of the little

girl stretched upward and outward as it shifted into the dark shape

of a man.


Of Dreams and Shadow

This post is part of a virtual book tour sponsored by Pump Up Your Book. For more information and the list of tour stops, click here.