Dancing at Midnight

 

Dancing at Midnight

On a trip to England years ago, I recall learning that Queen Elizabeth has kept a diary ever since she was a young girl. This poses an interesting question. When it’s understood (or just assumed) that one day these private entries will be read by someone other than herself – or perhaps even made public – how candid might they actually be?

I like my dogs and horses better than my children.

Camilla wore the most ghastly shoes at lunch today.

Philip’s a dear but his snoring is really vexing me.

Perhaps instead, she sticks to safe ground to avoid controversy and the potential ruffling of feathers.

The morning began with light rain but cleared by midday.

I think I’ll buy a new hat.

I tried a different marmalade on my toast. It was amusing.

In Rebecca Yelland’s compelling new book, Dancing at Midnight, a mother’s secret journal takes center-stage after her death and causes her estranged daughter to suddenly start questioning everything that she once believed was true. While catharsis may be good for a troubled soul, it’s not without the risk of collateral damage – a scenario this author thoughtfully explores.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: First of all, congratulations on your debut novel! Have you come down from the ceiling yet?

A: I’m not sure. Every time my feet start to touch the ground, a great review or acknowledgment pops up and I’m in the clouds again. Most recently, I was awarded the indie BRAG medallion for literary fiction. It’ll be a few weeks before I land.

Q: Seriously, what did you do to celebrate the book’s release?

A: When I received the first copy of Dancing at Midnight in the mail, I was grinning like an idiot. But other than plastering all over social media to friends and family that my book had been published, nothing particularly special. The real work of promotion had only just begun.

Q: When did you first know that the burning desire to be a writer was in your blood?

A: I come from a family of artists. Literally. My uncle and grandfather were both painters and my grandmother and her family were musicians. I guess you could say it was in my DNA to seek some sort of artistic outlet like writing. I started out composing poems as a child and graduated to songwriting in my teens and adulthood. Eventually that led to writing my first novel. Expressing my thoughts on paper is a natural as breathing.

Q: What’s the earliest thing you can ever remember writing?

A: A poem when I was in 3rd grade. I can’t remember the name. It received an award and was published along with other winners for our school district. Sadly, the publication was lost many years ago during a move. I hope to find another copy someday.

Q: Successful wordsmiths are often voracious readers. Is this the case with you?

A: In my case, not so much. I’ve always had a way with words. My mind absorbs everything around me – including the use of language. I read a lot when I was younger. But with the demands of a full-time job that required hours of computer work, my poor eyes needed a break in the evenings.  However, after publishing my book, I have been able to enjoy a short work sabbatical and have been catching up on my reading.

Q: What’s your favorite genre?

A: I’d have to say memoirs and biographies. I am fascinated with the true life stories of people who have overcome great obstacles and challenges in their lives. I’m encouraged to learn of such individuals who have emerged from the other side and survived.

Q: Let’s say you’re planning a dinner party and can invite six authors (living or dead) that you most admire. Who’s on that auspicious guest list and what question(s) would you like to ask each of them before the evening is over?

A: J.K. Rowling – What sparked your brain to create the elaborate world of Harry Potter?

C.S. Lewis – If you had to give one reason to believe in God, what would you say?

Judy Blume – You are so relatable to young girls. What’s your secret?

Mary Shelley – What was the inspiration for the “monster” in Frankenstein?

Virginia Wolf – Do you believe that depression is a life sentence that cannot be overcome?

Amy Tan – Do you think women of the past were right or wrong to hide their traumatic experiences from their daughters?

Q: You’ve spent a large part of your career as a human resources professional. What aspects of that job have yielded the most insights on what makes people tick, and how have you applied those insights to the development of fictional characters?

A: I’ve worked in several different industries with several different employee populations. In preparing performance reviews, interviewing candidates and handling the delicate nature of terminations, I’ve been exposed to many personality types in the process. As a result, I’ve come to learn that everyone has a story to tell. Observing a large spectrum of human behavior on a daily basis has only helped me in creating believable characters for my story.

Q: What was the inspiration for Dancing at Midnight?

A: I was randomly looking through my family’s genealogy one day and realized there were a lot of missing pieces in the lives of some of my relatives – including my own mother. I knew some about her life, but not enough that would help explain her often erratic behavior. My mother has since passed away and there are so many things I will never know. In writing Dancing at Midnight, I was able to give my character the answers that I had hoped to find.

Q: The plot of your debut novel revolves around the discovery of a mother’s private journals and the secrets she has kept hidden from her family. What is your own theory about the keeping of diaries (i.e., a cathartic way to examine one’s life with no intention of those entries ever being read OR a confessional that is meant to explain past deeds and seek redemption after death)?

A: Diaries can be a very therapeutic way for otherwise introverted individuals to express their deepest thoughts and darkest secrets. Especially when dealing with trauma they would prefer to keep private from the outside world. In the time period of my novel, it makes perfect sense then that June would use her diary to sort out her feelings in a time where many of her experiences were not openly talked about like they are now. I believe keeping the journal was the only thing that helped her to go on living.

Q: Do you keep a diary?

A: I’ve kept a diary at brief points in my life. I usually ended up losing interest after a while and forgot to keep them up. I prefer to talk about my feeling to a live person if possible.

Q: How much of your own personality was put into Dancing at Midnight?

A: I am a combination of both Carolyn and June. But mostly June. Both characters suffer from an anxiety disorder as do I. As a daughter, my mother was very much like June. As a mother, I have suffered trauma that I feel is often misunderstood by family and friends. It’s interesting that how in writing this book, my personality became more evident in the mother.

Q: Have you ever entertained the idea of penning an autobiography?

A: Yes. I’ve had a very eventful life and wish to write about it someday. However, in consideration of others that may be affected by my story, I’m waiting until the right moment to present itself.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in Dancing at Midnight?

A: That would be Jimmy! I don’t know how that character came out of my brain. He is wonderful! I want to marry him myself.

Q: Is there a takeaway message you’d like your readers to have by the final chapter?

A: There are two things actually. First, not everyone is who they appear to be. Carolyn’s frustration with her mother was based on lack of knowledge and understanding. We never know what someone else has endured unless we have lived in their shoes. Judgement should be reserved when you don’t know the whole picture. Second, not everyone heals from trauma the same way. For some the trauma lasts a lifetime. Our society is so quick to shame people into “moving on” and just “getting over” it. Mourning is unique to each individual. The timeline should never be judged or rushed.

Q: Like a lot of authors today, you chose to go the self-publishing route. Was it easier or harder than you expected to wear a multiplicity of hats and get this book in front of a readership?

A: I originally opted to pursue self-publishing as a simpler and faster way to get my book published. It has proven to be anything but that. Although my book has received outstanding reviews and honored by indie BRAG, the promotion has been an extremely frustrating process. Writing a good book means nothing if you can’t get it out to the masses!

Q: What are you doing to promote it and which methods are working the most effectively for you?

A: I’ve done a lot of giveaways on Goodreads, Facebook and Amazon. Goodreads has given me the most exposure, but it’s still limited in the grand scheme of publishing. At this point, word of mouth had brought about the best results so far.

Q: Let’s say Hollywood comes calling to adapt this to a feature-length film. Who comprises your dream cast for it?

A: A film would be my biggest dream! I saw the book as a movie in my head the whole time I was writing it. The cast suggestions below are based strictly on physical resemblance and types.

Jimmy – Alex Pettyfer

June –Aleixis Bleidel

Alice – Jessica Hamby

Tom – Brant Daughtery

Carolyn – Rachel McAdams

Sharon – Reese Witherspoon

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m terrified of frogs! My brother lives in a rural area and in the summer it looks like one of the Egyptian plagues outside his house.

Q: Who or what inspires you as an author?

A: My inspiration is based solely on my need to put my thoughts on paper. It is very therapeutic for me to express myself in this type of format. Sometimes even I am surprised but what I write.

Q: When and where do you feel the most creative?

A: Unfortunately, I’m the most creative when I’m trying to get to sleep at night. I wish I could plug my brain into a computer and transfer the data. By the time I get up and go to my computer I don’t always remember what I want to say! So I write mostly at night/early hours of the morning. It’s my best time to concentrate.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m currently working on a sequel to Dancing at Midnight. I wasn’t planning on writing one but there has been an overwhelming request to do so. You’ve got to make your readers happy, right?

Q: Anything else you’d like to add?

A: Publishing my first novel has been an incredible personal accomplishment. I have many more stories in my head. I look forward to expanding my collection of titles in the future.

To Live Out Loud

To Live Out Loud FRONT PROMO copy

I’m very happy to re-introduce our global village of readers to Paulette Mahurin, the author of The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, which made it to Amazon bestseller lists and won awards, including best historical fiction in 2012 in Turning the Pages Magazine. Although semi-retired, Paulette is by no means taking life easy. Her new book, To Live Out Loud, is a fascinating historical fiction about what it means to be a friend when the personal costs of that friendship become increasingly high. In addition to her writing, she works part-time as a Nurse Practitioner in Ventura County, does pro-bono consultation work with women with cancer, works in the Westminster Free Clinic as a volunteer provider, and volunteers as a mediator in the Ventura County Courthouse for small claims cases. As if all this wasn’t enough, she and her husband are actively involved in and support dog rescue. Profits from her books go to help rescue dogs. Welcome Paulette!

Interviewed by Debbie A. McClure

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Q         When did the Dreyfus Affair first pique your interest?

A         When I was writing and researching my first book, The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap, I looked up events that happened in 1895, the year Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for the criminal act of indecency. The topic of my storyline was intolerance and persecution. I found out that 1895 was a great year for prejudice and intolerance worldwide.

Not only was homophobia raging out of control in England with Oscar Wilde being thrown in prison for two years, but anti-Semitism was alive and well in France with Alfred Dreyfus being falsely accused as a traitor and thrown in Devil’s Island for life.

Over here in the U.S. racism was going wild as Booker T. Washington fought for blacks to be allowed in schools with his famous Atlanta Address. I became fascinated with the Dreyfus Affair at that time.

Q         The research is clearly vast. Which were the best resources?

A         Multiple books, especially one written by the son of one of Zola’s publishers, Ernest Alfred Vizetelly, Émile Zola Novelist and Reformer: An Account of his Life Work. I used multiple websites to gain an understanding of Jewish history in France during that time, which is where I found the one sentence I quoted from Dreyfus, “when will I kiss you again” (paraphrase) in his letter to his wife, Lucie. I found the transcript of the Zola Libel trial and used that. There are too many sources to reference here, but suffice it to say that my eyes were sore from all the reading.

Q         Government Corruption and prejudice can probably be found in any era and in every country. Do you see yourself tackling the topic again?

A         If there’s a historical situation, a person, or an event that moves me, then yes. I’ve started a brief outline and first chapter on a book called, The Seven Year Dress, about a woman I rented a room from while I attended college.

When I first met her I noticed the numbers on her arm. During my time living with her, I heard her story and became intrigued. There are so many incredible historical stories and events to draw from, like Florence Nightingale being lesbian and serving men at war. Right now, I’m just not sure.

Q         Do you have a favorite Historical era?

A         I’m fascinated by ancient Greece, when hubris was a crime and Socrates was put to death for it. I’m also fascinated by the early 18th century, when Thomas Payne wrote The Age of Reason, which challenged institutionalized religion and the legitimacy of The Bible. Not that I’m against any religion, it is just a fascinating time when freedom of speech and liberties is highlighted. Of course there are the paradoxes and dichotomies of every generation who oppose forward thinking. However, when the wave moved high for tolerance, those are the times that interest me, like the Dreyfus Affair, which changed a nation.

Q         Injustice and Bigotry were also the subject of your novel The Persecution of Mildred Dunlap. How did the topic become a passion?

A         I think it’s just my nature; to want to help the little guy, the underdog, the downtrodden, especially when there’s unjust intolerance. If an action isn’t hurting anyone, then let it be. How are gays hurting? Who are Jews hurting? Who are blacks hurting?

Q         Monsieur Charles Mandonette; the fictional narrator in To Live Out Loud feels very authentic for the era. You made him a childless bachelor, so I’m curious; after all the serious research, how did you come up with the character? Was he always the planed original voice for the book?

A         Initially I wanted to write from the prospective of Lucie Dreyfus or a friend of hers, but it was too hard to unleash any information about her. The love letters between Lucie and her husband have been circulating Jewish museums, but I couldn’t view any of them on-line.

There was a paucity of available information about Lucie, and what little I did find I included in the book. Because of this scarcity, I went for a friend and confidant of Zola’s, which was modeled after a real confidant and friend, Henry Vizetelly. Vizetelly kept a long running journal of his time with Zola, including being present at the libel trial. The idea of a confidant of Zola’s was then more plausible as a protagonist and narrator. Once I got into his voice, the rest flowed organically.

Q         We all know that life teaches us many lessons. What has been the hardest personal or writing-related lesson for you to learn, and why?

A         Close to eighteen years ago my husband and I moved to Ojai, California. Two weeks after arriving, I went to the local animal shelter and met a dog. Tazzie was a ten month old Rottweiler with a broken femur. I took her home with me and our love affair began. This was also the start of the most challenging physical debacle my body has incurred in this lifetime. Tazzie came with ticks, and one of them latched onto me. Two days later, my left side developed a huge bull’s-eye rash, clinically diagnosed as Lyme Disease. I was treated with antibiotics, but six months later I woke up with crippling Monoarticular left knee arthritis. The orthopaedic surgeon did blood work, an MRI, etc. The diagnosis: Lyme Disease. It was confirmed. In addition to the arthritis, my body weakened with meningitis, cardiac valve involvement/enlargement, and other odd bodily things. My right arm became paralyzed, as did my left facial muscles, etc. These symptoms went on for years, throwing me into a depression. All this time, Tazzie was by my side, seemingly the only light in the dark crevice my life had become. It was her vigilance over me that started the glimmers of gratitude. What good was left hadn’t been ripped from my life. Slowly I regained ninety percent of my health. As fate would have it, just as I was getting healthier, she lay dying in our home. There has never been a more profound life-changing experience for me with regards to my health, suffering, coming through in a newfound place of gratitude, and having a friend—Tazzie—who taught me more than any other teacher or life lesson before her. 

Q         There is far more to writing a good novel than most people will ever realize. What is the most difficult aspect of writing for you, and why?

A         Sitting down in the chair and doing the work. Showing up. Continuing to show up, and then when it gets so tiresome that I want to stop, to quit, persevering by doing what the Nike commercial says, “Just Do It!” So I continue, despite all temptation not to, despite wanting to burn every piece of paper on the planet when going through the editing phase, despite hating those times of excruciating feedback from editors, publishers, etc. As with any work, there are the good days and the bad, the ups and downs, the joys and crap, but ultimately hanging in there, going through it all, “the process” is rewarding. It’s a good feeling to look back and say, “Yup, I did it. I hung in there and look what happened. A book was born.”

Q         Writing historical fiction requires huge amounts of research that can feel a little like falling down the rabbit’s hole. How do you decide what to include or not include in your story and characters?

A         I think the story decides for you and you ride along on the sense that it’s enough. Then of course there are the editors who scream that reality so loudly that if you don’t obey, don’t cut back, you receive their wrath until you do. I’ve worked with an editor from Simon & Schuster, a minimalist who is a wordsmith cutter. It’s been a downside with some readers who want more, but then you can’t make everyone happy. You just do your best, work with people who are professionals and who you trust to guide you, and put your product out there.

Q        Many writers of historical fiction struggle with blending fact and fiction in a way that tells the intended story, yet stays true to certain elements of time and place. How do you tackle the art of weaving fact and fiction in your historical novels?

A         My first novel was more storyline with the historical facts as background. It centered on the imprisonment of Oscar Wilde, and I added facts into conversations from the characters living the storyline. Historical facts about time-related things went into scenery and the narrative as back story. With my third book, I really stayed with the Dreyfus/Zola history because it is one of the most profound historical stories about intolerance in France’s history. I didn’t want to add much to it. I used the vehicle of a friend of Emile Zola’s (one of his publisher’s in fact) to give a fictionalized voice to the narration, and parts where history was scanty, like Zola’s death. With this book, again the reviews are mixed. Some readers feel it is true to the facts and is accurately portrayed, while others want more dramatization from the characters. I didn’t want to add a lot of false/fiction to Zola, to Dreyfus, to Dreyfus’ wife or brother, to Esterhazy, or other historical figures. With the protagonist, Charles Mandonette, the narrator, I took liberties.

Q         It is often said that writing is not for the faint of heart. What advice would you give to new writers just starting out on this crazy journey?

A         What defines a writer is writing. Sit down in that chair and just do it. Whether it be an hour, a day, once a month, a writer writes. Don’t worry about the editing process or how good it reads, just tell your story and leave the editing up to the professionals. I do suggest working with a really good creative and line editor to give shape and validity to the writing. Readers are turned off by poor grammar or juvenile writing. They don’t want to pay money for it. There’s a big difference between telling a story and making it look professional. We all know how to tell stories. Just sit down in that chair and tell yours. The editor will help shape it to look good and read well.

Q         Who has been your greatest personal or writing mentor, and why?

A         I’m very fortunate to live in a small town that’s a Hollywood bedroom community with lots of talent living among us. I took a class by one such person, a stage and screenwriter whose work has made it to the stage. She encouraged me to write and gave me feedback that was very helpful in developing scenes and continuity of storyline for flow. It was her genteel, positive way that made me feel I could do it. One of the best things I learned from her is to not listen to the critic inside my head. It’s never accurate anyway.

Q         For many people, writing is a personal journey, or a calling. What has writing taught you about yourself, and why?

A         Writing can be fun, a purging, and serve many functions. On a personal level, it’s given me the space between what’s in my head that stimulates all sorts of chemical reactions in my mind and body. In that space, I can see. It’s breathing room. Without that space, it’s just me over here experiencing something that passes, without reflection or understanding. This is not to say I don’t have self-reflection without writing, that wouldn’t be true, but writing puts it out there and gives the vision greater clarity.

Q         So, what’s next for you, Paulette?

A         Thanks for asking. While attending UCLA, I roomed with a woman who was a concentration camp survivor. As time progressed, she opened to me about the atrocities she’d witnessed, including the loss of her family. As you can well imagine, there are stories within stories as she shared this unthinkable time with me. The working title, The Seven Year Dress, is derived from her telling me she wore the same dress for seven years.

You can find and connect with Paulette here:

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5895757.Paulette_Mahurin

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Paulette-Mahurin/e/B008MMDUGO/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/MahurinPaulette

Blog: https://thepersecutionofmildreddunlap.wordpress.com/2015/08/02/to-live-out-loud-by-paulette-mahurin/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/paulette.mahurin?fref=ts&ref=br_tf

Press article on Paulette’s book profits going to help dogs get out of kill shelters: http://www.vcstar.com/news/2012/sep/08/ojai-authors-historical-novel-teaches-tolerance/

She’s A Lot Like You

RS_ShesAlotLikeYou

Secrets, desires and betrayals…the perfect concoction for a fiery romantic novel. In Faye Hall’s soon to be released She’s A Lot Like You, one woman has returned to her roots, seeking revenge and faces an obstacle she hadn’t prepared for: the former love who broke her heart but left her with a passion she’ll always remember. Can old flames be reunited, despite a scandalous past?

Interviewer: Christy Campbell

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Tell us about your latest release. 

My latest release is She’s A Lot Like You, and it will be released in April 2014.  Set in 1860, in the town of Ravenswood, Queensland, Australia, it tells the story of young love torn apart by the deceitful lies of their families.  Reunited finally to reveal the truth behind their families’ secrets and to experience a love neither ever dreamed could exist.

How did you get started as a writer?

I started writing poems and short stories at primary school.  While most kids were in the playground, I’d be under a tree somewhere, or in the library writing little things.  Most of what I wrote was influenced by the people I knew, or certain people I saw that just kind of managed to stay in my mind.

When did you decide to branch out into the romance genre?

I would have been about 15 when I wrote my first romance.  It wasn’t really planned, though.  The words were all kind of just there in my head until I just had to write them down.  It was as I wrote the ending, were the two main character got to live happily ever after, that I realized this style of writing was definitely for me.

What kind of research do you do for your book material?

My books are all set in North Queensland, Australia in the late 1800’s so I’ve had to research a bit about the towns there at the time, and what the lifestyle was like.  The main bit of research I’ve had to do though is regarding the few mentions of native remedies used by the Australian Aboriginals.  That was extremely interesting.

Your books contain a fair bit of mystery and drama even though they are romances. Why did you decide to throw those concepts into the mix?

I grew up watching old Agatha Christie movies with my mum and I loved all the twists and turns and scandal they detailed.  But then I loved the old classic romance movies too.  I always thought if I could find a movie that contained all this it would be my perfect one.  As when I write I see each scene playing like a movie in my head, I thought maybe I should give it a go trying to write such a style myself.  And so I did.

You hail from Australia, as does the setting for your books. What’s special to you about this location?

I love my country.  I love the rustic realness of it all.  And I feel it isn’t a setting that’s been done to death.  I thought if I could maybe bring a little bit of Australian history out in my stories that could only be a good thing.

What’s a typical day like for you when you devote yourself to writing?

I have quite a large family so I rarely get a ‘day’ to devote myself to writing.  Most of my writing is done after my kids are in bed or early in the morning before they wake up.  But usually my husband makes me a cup of tea and I just sit in front of my computer and type whatever story is flowing from my mind at the time.  I have rough notes down about what I’d like to happen in the particular story I’m working on, but as I constantly tell my husband ‘it is subject to change’.

When asked to name three, short facts about Faye the person, not Faye the author, what would those be?

I grew up in a very small rural town in North Queensland, Australia.  Between my husband and me we have 9 children. And, here’s an odd one, I’m allergic to artificial blue food coloring.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on something a little more different than my other books.  It’s called ‘Passions in the Dust’.  It’s set on a cattle station in Bowen, Queensland, Australia, and is about a man who send for a mail order bride from England.  The woman who arrives was one of his mistresses back in England.  There’s some cattle rustling and cows being poisoned by native aboriginal ways and…well…the rest you’ll just have to read about when it comes out.

We all dream, of course, about seeing our books in screenplay format. If you could make one of your book into a movie which title would you choose and who would portray your characters? 

It would have to be ‘My Gift to You’. Chris Hemsworth (from the Thor movies & Rush)  to play Bailey and Anna Kendrick (from Pitch Perfect & Twilight saga) to play Rush.

Where can readers learn more about your novels?

My websites  http://www.faye-hall.com/

http://eredsage.com/store/FAYE_HALL.html

My blog http://www.faye-hall.com/?cat=16

My social media https://www.facebook.com/pages/Faye-Hall/174774709247649

https://twitter.com/FayeHall79

 

River Oaks Plantation

RIVER_OAKS

Throughout history, we’ve seen no shortage of the havoc and devastation that Mother Nature can unleash in the form of hurricanes, floods, tornados and earthquakes. It’s not just the immediate losses of lives and property that cause such heartbreak, however; it’s also the erasure of entire communities, landmarks and architecture that have endured the test of time, only to be wiped out in a matter of days – or sometimes mere hours – by forces beyond anyone’s control. Such is the crux of B.J. Robinson’s latest release, River Oaks Plantation, a historical romance that artfully intercuts between the lives of two intrepid women – one of them a new bride in the Old South and the other a very modern editor watching the aggressive floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina lay siege to her stately but vulnerable inheritance.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Let’s start with some background on who you are.

A: I’d describe myself as hardworking, dedicated, loyal, trustworthy, an avid reader, a passionate writer, compassionate, caring, organized, excellent keyboarder, great cook, gardener, short, animal lover, especially dogs, nature lover, lover of water whether it’s lakes, canals, oceans, or rivers, and a lover of listening to rain on a tin roof. I’m a lover of the Civil War era and antebellum period, plantation homes, and I love touring them.

Like most women, I’m a woman who wears many hats: mother, grandmother, wife, retired educator, reader, and last, but not least, writer. My passions are reading and writing. I live in Florida with my husband and pets, a golden cocker spaniel, golden retriever, and a cat. I’m a pet lover, animal lover, and I usually include pets in the novels and stories I write. Reared in Louisiana, I have a love for seafood, large oaks, old plantation homes, flowers, and rivers. Since I use life experience as fodder for my writing and create realistic fiction, readers may journey with me vicariously through summer vacation experiences as well as many other life experiences. I have been blessed with children and grandchildren, and Jesus is my best friend.

Q: So tell us how your journey as a writer began.

A: I started writing in elementary school when my teacher submitted a short story I wrote about my pet dog to a local newspaper, and it was published. In college, my first essay was published in another local newspaper, and I won first prize for a short story, and it was published in the university’s literary magazine.

I’ve been honing my craft and skills for over a decade, but I only started publishing my own work one summer. Before that, I had many short stories, poems, devotionals, and four novels published with a traditional publisher, Desert Breeze Publishing, Inc. out of California. Since then, I’ve published more short stories, novellas, and one full-length novel, River Oaks Plantation, which I feel is one of my best pieces of work, if not indeed, the best.

Q: Who are some of the authors whose work you most admire and whose storytelling skills may have influenced your own style?

A: I fell in love with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind years ago, and I think I probably have a habit of beginning and ending writing in the omniscient point of view, frowned upon by today’s publishers. Most romance publishers want a single point of view, but I don’t care for novels written with only one point of view. I enjoy deeper work and want to get inside my character’s heads. Mitchell began her novel in the omniscient point of view. Perhaps that is why mine reminded some readers of it, but I think it’s more because it’s a Civil War novel and when readers think Civil War novel, they think Margaret Mitchell. I know I do.

I read Athol Dickson’s River Rising and loved it summer before last. Contemporary writers I admire include my former writing mentor with the Christian Writers Guild, Eva Marie Everson. I love all of her novels. She’s a Southern fiction writer, and I love Southern fiction. Chris Fabry’s Dogwood is another one I admire, and Lynn Austin’s All She Ever Wanted.

Naomi Musch writes historicals, and I love her Empire in Pine Series because I love the outdoors. I read The Green Veil and The Red Fury a couple of years ago, and they’re the type of books to stay with you after you turn the last page as Lynn Austin’s and Chris Fabry’s were. Eva Marie Everson has a Cedar Key Series set in Cedar Key, Florida, I loved, but her best book I’ll long remember is Unconditional. It’s another one that stays with you. It’s been years since I read Lynn Austin’s and Chris Fabry’s books, but I still remember them. I think it’s because I read so many deep novels that I can’t write single point of view ones. Not that I can’t, but I don’t like to because I want to write the type of book I enjoy reading, and I feel you give your readers a deeper, more lasting story when you write using multiple viewpoints.

Jerry B. Jenkins’ books have influenced me greatly. I read his entire Left Behind Series, and, of course, they stayed with me. His work influenced me to try to write a book using dual storylines because I’ve read some of his novels that are structured that way, and I loved them. The dual storylines provide a page-turner. I had a reader tell me that and another one say my novel stayed with her after the last page. That’s the highest compliment she could have given me. When one reader got the metaphor, was another.

Q: What’s your favorite genre?

A: I grew up on Nancy Drew mysteries, so I love writing books with mystery, intrigue, or suspense, usually all three. My favorite genre to write was inspirational romantic suspense until I got into writing historical fiction set during the Civil War and antebellum period. With it, I think I’ve found my niche. I love the old plantation homes and the time period.

Q: Tell us what readers can expect when they immerse themselves in River Oaks Plantation.

A: River Oaks Plantation is my favorite thus far since it has dual storylines that blend the past with the present and realistic characters. Readers love it, and I love it because it focuses on the Civil War era and Hurricane Katrina. It’s doing well and getting great reviews on Amazon. Here’s a short blurb: Two love stories. Historical romance during antebellum and contemporary times, cultural history and characters you’ll root for.

Q: Just curious, what governed your choice to use your initials instead of your first name?

A: Another author suggested it because it wouldn’t be obvious that I was a woman unless people knew me, but with Facebook that is pretty pointless.

Q: One of the obvious challenges for any writer who embeds historical elements in a work of fiction – be it the American West, World War II or the 1860’s – is to be mindful of 21st century “political correctness.” How did you address this issue in juxtaposing a contemporary story against the backdrop of a Southern plantation during the Civil War?

A: For the historical part, I wrote events that really took place, feelings, beliefs, and endeavored to put how both sides felt and the reasons why. As a good journalist, you’re taught there are two sides to every story. I think many Southern people were conflicted, and I tried to show this in my work. I didn’t set out to offend anyone, and I tried to write a good story, bottom line.

Q: Who’s your favorite character in River Oaks Plantation?

A: Maggie is my favorite because she illustrates that life on a plantation was not as romantic as people tend to think when they view beautiful antebellum homes for the first time. They often see the splendor, but people need to remember how most were built on the backs of slave labor and that the beauty on the outside often hides the heartache and pain. The plantation is the common thread that weaves the dual storyline together and a metaphor for the resilient human spirit.

Q: Several reviewers have drawn comparisons to Gone With the Wind. What’s your reaction to that?

A: It compares to the novel in that it’s about the antebellum South and the Civil War, but it’s set in Louisiana, not Georgia, and it’s a blend of historical and contemporary with dual storylines. Gone with the Wind was not structured the same way. I loved the novel so, of course, when readers compare it, I can’t help but feel I’ve done the job I set out to do in writing my own novel. My storyline is very different. I didn’t try to write Gone With the Wind. I wanted to write a novel about the Civil War set in Louisiana because I was reared there. I wanted to do my own thing, something different, and I feel I have. Maggie is no Scarlett, and Danny is no Rhett. My novel is a Christian historical romance, or Christian contemporary romance, but it’s not preachy and some readers don’t seem to have noticed. Instead, they get hooked on the dual storyline and can’t put the book down.

Q: What do you feel best differentiates Rivers Oaks Plantation from other historical romances?

A: The story structure has a dual storyline and blends the past with the present, historical and contemporary. One of my readers posted in a book group that I was one of her favorite authors because I was atypical. I guess that’s one way to stand out in a crowd. The book is different, but readers love it. Many say they can’t put it down.

Q: Tell us about the historical research that went into this story.

A: I spent much time researching via the Internet as well as reading books on the Civil War and antebellum period and touring plantation homes. I’ve toured Oak Alley Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, which is the setting for my next novel, Romance Under the Oaks. I’ve also toured The Myrtles in St. Francisville among others.

Q: Do your characters ever do anything that surprise you?

A: Yes, at first I didn’t think Danny would decide not to keep working on the boat, but he did. In the beginning of the novel he took up for one of the slave women and later he saw his wife’s point of view, which I didn’t think would happen. I don’t plot other than general notes. Since I’m a morning writer and tend to do my best writing in the mornings, I usually put on a pot of coffee and let the words flow. Sometimes my characters have a change of mind or heart. Also, I had no clue I’d do the surprise ending the way I did until I got there.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher for your work?

A: I didn’t attempt to with this one. I self-published through Amazon KDP because I figured no publisher would want to risk historical and contemporary blending, but I’m happy to say it works, according to my satisfied readers. You can tell from what they have to say in Amazon reviews. I didn’t think I’d sell a publisher on my idea of a part historical, part contemporary novel, so I took advantage of Amazon to see if the idea worked, and it sparked. Also, since most traditional publishers will no longer even glance at your work without an agent, I didn’t bother to submit.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m working on Romance Under the Oaks, another historical romance set during the Civil War period. I haven’t yet decided whether I’ll go historical all the way or blend the historical part and contemporary again, but I’m learning toward a straight historical for this one.

Q: What would you like to say to your readers who follow you or may follow you in the future?

A: Thank you so much for reading and responding to my novel. I love feedback. Great reviews always make my day. Please know that in writing, I create works of fiction to carry my reader through a fictional dream, a way of seeing how others live and differ. If we were all carbon copies, it would be a dull, boring world. It is because we are unique that our world is full of diversity that makes it interesting. I respect your beliefs and opinions and hope that, in turn, you will also respect mine. I appreciate your support of my writing endeavors and value you as readers. Please follow my Author Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/AuthorBJRobinson and check out my Amazon author page to read about my new projects: http://www.amazon.com/B.-J.-Robinson/e/B007DNJIKU/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1

 

Desolation Row

Desolation Row

The 1960’s. It was the era of the Nixon/Kennedy debates, the Berlin Wall, the turbulence of civil rights, the Beatles, foreign espionage, the moon landing, and the emergence of a counterculture generation that believed that loving one another was preferable to committing acts of violence. Central to this latter mindset was the controversy of the Vietnam War and the decision of many able-bodied young men to avoid the U.S. draft by leaving the country. In debut author Kay Kendall’s new release, Desolation Row, her newlywed heroine not only finds herself married to such a man but also in jeopardy of losing him as a result of dire circumstances beyond the control of either of them.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Tell us how your journey as a writer began and what inspired you to embrace the mystery genre for your debut in the world of publishing.

A: My favorite stories involve romantic suspense set against a backdrop of great turmoil and danger. Stories about World War II and the Cold War fill that bill for me. I wanted to write my own version of that kind of romantic suspense. In the case of Desolation Row, a young woman from Texas marries her college sweetheart and goes off to Canada with him during the Vietnam War. Then her husband David is arrested and jailed for murdering the son of a United States Senator. Only the new bride, Austin Starr, believes he is innocent. Against all odds, she decides to rescue him, to prove that he was no killer.

Q: Did you read a lot of mysteries when you were growing up? If so, who are some of the authors whose storytelling styles you most admired?

A: I read every one of the Nancy Drew mysteries, just gobbled them up. I also read classic fairy tales that had an air of suspense to them. From there I leapt right on to the famous Cold War spy stories of John le Carré. In contrast, I read just one book in the series that featured Cherry Ames in various nursing professions.   Not my cup of tea at all. Now that I am “all grown up,” I don’t even watch medical shows. They simply don’t interest me, whereas mysteries and suspense and spies sure do.

Q: Who and what are you reading now?

A:  I’ve just begun to read Sue Grafton’s latest offering in her famous alphabet series that stars private eye Kinsey Milhone. This one is called W is for Wasted, so she doesn’t have many letters in the alphabet left to explore. I’m impressed by how much her mysteries have grown in complexity over the years. I heard her speak at a writers’ conference last month, and she is a hoot—besides being massively talented.

Q: Does the title you chose for your new book – Desolation Row – have a particular meaning to you?

A: All the titles of my Austin Starr mystery series will be taken from Bob Dylan songs. If you know the era, then you will recognize those titles and realize that the stories are set in the sixties. I had to make sure that any title I used was from a song that had been released by the time my story took place. Bob Dylan is so prolific a song writer that it is not hard to find an appropriate, evocative title. In the case of Desolation Row, the title captures Austin’s husband’s sense of desolation as he waits in a row of cells in prison.

Q: Tell us about your female protagonist, Austin Starr, and the passions that drive her thoughts and actions.

A: Austin is smart, a real bookworm, and loves history. She’s young and naïve and has been taught by her mother that the role of wife and mother is the only one that will bring fulfillment to a female. Austin is not sure this is true, but she goes along with it and, with that grounding, she feels she has to go to Canada with her husband, even though she does not want to leave Texas. Her husband is a political activist but she is not. Once David is jailed, only one thing counts for Austin—proving his innocence. After that, she hopes somehow, someway, to return home to Texas. That is an over-arching question to this series—will Austin ever return to the United States, which is her heart’s desire?

Q: Is she modeled after a real person?

A: Austin is a combination of traits that I see in my nearest, dearest, and longest-held friends.

Q: If Hollywood came calling, who would you cast in the lead role and why?

A: Because Austin Starr is only twenty-two years old in 1968, when Desolation Row takes place, the actress who plays her has to be quite young. She has to be able to be naïve and sheltered and scared. Although Austin gets around to being gutsy eventually, she does have lots of fears. I’d pick one of these young actresses—based not on their looks but their ability to portray vulnerability: Dakota Fanning, Elizabeth Olsen, or Sheilene Woodley. I think they are all excellent.

Q: Desolation Row is set against the turbulent backdrop of the 1960’s. Why did this specific era personally resonate with you?

A: Within the mystery genre, historical fiction is my personal favorite. Many authors locate their sleuths and their spymasters during the wars of the twentieth century. The two world wars and the Cold War all have hundreds of mysteries set during those times. The only large wars of last century not “taken,” not overrun with mysteries, occurred in Korea and Vietnam. The latter is a comparatively empty niche that I concluded needed to be filled with more mysteries—and I decided I was the one to do the filling. I wanted to show what life was like for young women of that era—not the type that made headlines, the Hanoi Janes or Angela Davises, but the moderates who nonetheless got swept along by the tides of history during the turbulent sixties. All that turmoil lends itself to drama, intrigue, and murder.

Q: Did you do all of your research in advance or look things up as you went along?

A: I had my fill of research a long time ago in graduate school and chose something I could write about without having to do lots more. If I hit something that I wasn’t sure of, then I looked it up. For example, I mention the Maginot Line and thought I knew exactly what it was, but I did research just to make sure. I was right to begin with, by the way. I also had a Canadian judge read my manuscript to ensure my portrayal of the criminal justice system was correct, and also journalist who had attended the University of Toronto read the manuscript to make sure I had the period details right. Austin Starr and her new husband David move from Texas to Ontario because he is resisting the Vietnam War draft, and they both become grad students at that university.

Q: Did you always envision that the book would become a series or was it a matter of not wanting to let go of your characters after you typed “The End?”

A: I adore historical mysteries that come in series, and that is exactly what I set out to do in the beginning. I am writing the second book in the series and have the third and fourth plots in mind already.

Q: How did you go about finding the right publisher and what was your experience with the publisher you ultimately chose?

A: I submitted the manuscript of Desolation Row to several agents and to three publishers that would take un-agented submissions. Many American agents and some publishers are not keen to take on a book that is not set in the United States and definitely didn’t see the Canadian setting as a plus, but the publisher I ended up with had already issued books that have Canadian content. As soon as I saw that on their web page, I knew that Stairway Press of Seattle would be a good fit with my book. Lucky for me, I turned out to be right. The people at Stairway have been a joy to work with, and because my publisher Ken Coffman runs his operation like a writers’ cooperative, I had a lot of input into how my book turned out physically.

Q: I love the cover design! What’s the story behind it?

A: Isn’t She lovely? I get so many comments about the cover. That pleases me because I found that cover model myself. If I had been with a huge publishing house, I would have had little to no input opt for a hippie-ish looking young women. The same model used in book one will be on book two as well, naturally!

Q: What do you know about the publishing world now that you didn’t know when you first started?

A: I’ve heard lots of horror stories from authors about their dealings with publishers. I used to think that once a writer secured an agent and a publishing contract, then the writer was almost home free, so to speak. Now I know that is not true. There are plusses and minuses to being with big publishers and small ones, and also to self-publishing. I knew bits of all this before, but now I know it all at a much deeper level and with lots more detail

Q: What do you know about the life and habits of being a working writer now that you have published your first book?

A:  I’ve learned that a writer has to do enormous amounts of self-promotion. Also that you really, really have to want to be a writer because it is not easy and is, in fact, tons and tons more work than I ever dreamed. That said, I absolutely love being a working writer, every bit of it. Well, perhaps not the ups and downs, but even the big-name writers say they have those too and that the capriciousness and anxiety inherent in the writing life are all just part of the whole package.

Q: Did you allow anyone to read Desolation Row while it was a work in progress or make them wait until you were completely finished?

A: I am in two writers’ groups and therefore many people had the opportunity to review Desolation Row before it came out. I found their constructive criticism helpful.

Q: Many book clubs are using Skype to invite today’s authors into their living room meetings. Have you done this and, if so, what do readers need to know in order to book you for a virtual appearance?

A: Yes, I love visiting book clubs using Skype! I’ve done it once, and we went on talking on Skype for more than an hour. If anyone would like to sign me up for a book club gig, please email me at Kay@StairwayPress.com

Q: What would your fans be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: My author’s photo shows me holding one of my house rabbits, named Dusty. Fifteen years ago my husband and I began rescuing bunnies that people abandon. Few people know that—after cats and dogs—rabbits are the most often given up to animal shelters. I am a member of a rescue organization called Bunny Buddies in Houston and active in getting people to learn what great house companions rabbits can be.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: I’m writing the second Austin Starr mystery entitled Rainy Day Women. Austin’s only good friend in Canada becomes the prime suspect in the murder of a graduate student in Vancouver who was the leader of a women’s liberation group. Rainy Day Women is a famous Bob Dylan song, but it fits so perfectly. Vancouver in Canada is just as rainy as Seattle, plus the plot centers on women.

Q: Where can readers learn more about you and your work?

A: I have two different pages on Facebook—one is personal where you can become my friend and the second is my author’s page that you can “like.”

These are http://www.facebook.com/kendall.kl and http://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor

As well my personal website is http://www.KayKendallAuthor.com

I’m also on LinkedIn, and I do Tweet @kaylee_kendall

 

 

 

Blackmoore

Blackmoore_Cover

Once in a while I will come across the rare author who has a strong voice, a brilliant skill in conveying it, and a particular magic in their description that takes me on a wonderful adventure. Julianne Donaldson has penned two Regency “Proper romance” novels (both which I adored) that are “Jane Austen approved” but uniquely her own. Her writing is a lovely blend of sweet romance, historical fiction, and bittersweet, gorgeous settings. (Here is one of my reviews of Blackmoore: http://blogcritics.org/book-review-blackmoore-by-julianne-donaldson/.)

I recently had the pleasure of conversing with Ms. Donaldson about her books, travels, future aspirations and how she keeps everything together now.

Interviewer: Joanna Celeste

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Q: You got your B.A. in English—how did your studies shape your writing?

A: I studied English because I love to read and I love to dissect books and understand them in intellectual ways that go beyond simple escapism. Within my English major, I chose to emphasize British literature. It’s hard to explain why I love British literature and all things British as much as I do. I can only blame it on my blood–I am half British, half Scandinavian, and when I first set foot on British soil, I felt like I was coming home.

Q: How lovely; I felt the same way visiting Medellin for the first time. Having traveled and lived in many places, how has it colored your perspective?

A: I love new places and people. I’m itchy all the time for adventure. And being able to write about characters who live in a different time and place gives me a chance for the adventure I crave. And, yes, you do see things differently, and see people differently, I think, having lived in different cultures of the world. Most of all, I think moving all over has made me curious.

Q: Your writing reflects that quality—the details you imbue into your writing are magical. As your second novel, how was writing and sharing Blackmoore different to your experiences with Edenbrooke

A: Writing Edenbrooke was an escape for me, and I made it as enjoyable an escape as I could. But I wanted Blackmoore to be different. It was written from a more personal place within my heart–a place of greater vulnerability. It was also a much more stressful writing experience, to be under deadline while juggling a full-time job as a mom to four young children. My sanity came into question often, and I still don’t know how it all came together in the end.

Q: That sounds like a superhuman feat! You mention that you’re always dealing with multiple things and can’t necessarily respond to fan emails—what organization have you put in place to deal with everything that is going on? You’ve given us two exceptional novels in the space of two years and that takes a hefty, intelligent system of some kind, one would imagine.

A: Oh my goodness, I wish that was true. My “organization” is not organized at all. But the principles I try to use involve knowing my priorities. When my kids are getting home from school, I am all mom. They are my priority. When it’s my hour to exercise, my health is my priority. When nobody has clean clothes to wear and everyone is late to school or work because they’re digging through laundry baskets, the laundry is my priority. And there has to be time set aside for my writing, or it would never get done. Thursday evenings are typically my night “off” where I can go somewhere and write. Sometimes I can grab a few hours on the weekend. At night, once the kids are in bed, that’s also when my writing is my priority. It’s a matter of spinning plates. You have to keep them all spinning, but that doesn’t mean you’re touching each plate at all times. You spin one, then move on to the next, then run to catch the one that’s about to fall….and somehow it works. It’s imperfect and messy, but it works.

Q: It’s a great system. You taught a fifteen-minute class earlier this year on “How to Craft Compelling Stories”. Do you envision teaching or mentoring in any capacity in your future?

A: I actually have a dream to go back to school and earn an advanced degree so I can teach at a college level. That dream has been on hold while my kids are small, but I hope it becomes a reality for me soon.

Q: That will be wonderful. I would travel to study under you! Thank you for sharing the songs you listened to while writing Blackmoore on your blog. How does music play a part in your writing process?

A: Music gives me the emotions that are so important to my stories. So when I’m starting a story, I listen to lots of different kinds of music until I find the songs that spark characters or themes or scenes within my story. Then I use those songs to keep me on the right path throughout the writing and editing process.

Q: On your blog, you share fan fiction that was sent to you for Edenbrooke and note that your blog “is a place of safety and positivity”; have you written fan fiction from any of your favorite novels (and might you one day share it)?

A: Ha ha. No. I have never written fan fiction. I am honored, though, that someone likes my stories enough to want to continue them.

 

 To find out more about Julianne Donaldson and her works, please visit her website/blog: http://juliannedonaldson.blogspot.com/.

 

 

 

Parlor Games

Parlor Games

Was May Dugas, the globe-trotting protagonist of Parlor Games, just a sweet girl trying to make good in the big wicked city or was she a glamorously calculating con artist who left a trail of broken hearts and empty wallets everywhere she went? Author Maryka Biaggio offers insights on how a real-life grifter from the Gilded Age sashayed and swindled her way into a succession of romances, not the least of which was with the very person who is suing May at the story’s start.

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: After years in the classroom as a psychology professor, what prompted you to pursue a path of fiction writing back in 2000?

A: I’d always wanted to write. Yes, it’s the same old trite story! And I finally came up with an idea and genre—a historical novel about an unknown and possibly shady period of my grandfather’s life. My family didn’t even mind that I threw in a murder to spice things up.

Q: Was it easier or harder than you imagined it would be?

A: Harder. Writing fiction is the most difficult task I’ve ever undertaken. By comparison my dissertation was a snap, getting tenured at three different universities a waltz, and paying off a mortgage in 16 years easy-peasy.

Q: Who are some of the published authors whose work you admire and whose style may have influenced your own creative approach to storytelling?

A: Barry Unsworth is one of my favorite historical novelists. He had a way of telling a profoundly moral story without sounding the least bit preachy. I also love the work of Geraldine Brooks, E.L. Doctorow, and Marilynne Robinson. Erik Larson has a marvelous knack for making nonfiction read like fiction. And Valerie Martin’s taut story-telling deserves more notice. Being a writer has “ruined” reading for me in a way—I’m always standing back and examining how writers manage the magic. But I still love to read, and when a book really transports me and I lose sight of how it happened, I admire it all the more. M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans was the last book that I completely lost myself in.

Q: You have three novels that you wrote prior to Parlor Games. What were they about and what did the completion of each one teach you about the craft of writing?

A: Those three novels haven’t found their way off my office shelf. I queried agents and I pitched them at conferences but I couldn’t drum up a publisher. They’re all historical novels. The first is the story of a young man trying to uncover the truth about his grandfather’s life (see first question), the second is based on an actual utopian community founded in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the 1890s, and the third is a bit more modern. It’s the story (again true) of a talented young woman who rejects her family’s wealth and runs away to New York in the 1960s to become an actress. She lands some good roles, but then she becomes obsessed with an opera star and her life unravels. With each novel I uncovered more and more lessons in what I didn’t know. Writing fiction is like becoming a musician: You must practice—for long hours, for many years, and attune your ear to detect both the screechy and tuneful notes.  

Q: So tell us what ignited your fascination with the real-life May and her deliciously scandalous reputation.

A: On a lark I stopped at the Menominee Information Center back in summer of 2009 during a family vacation. There in a glass case I spied a document (as it turns out, a Chicago Tribune article), the first line of which read, “The Pinkertons had her down in their files as the most dangerous woman in the world.” This writer couldn’t resist the urge to make May provide an account of her life. That’s why the novel is told in first person.

Q: Had all of your research been collected and organized prior to starting the book or were you looking up things as you went along?

A: I researched as I wrote. I tracked down newspaper reports of the trial early on, and I wrote all those scenes first. Then I started on May’s life story, digging up the dirt as I moseyed along.

Q: The storyline artfully cuts back and forth between May’s “present-day” trial in 1917 and the three decades preceding it. What governed the decision to use intercuts rather than a purely linear progression of events?

A: I feared chapter after chapter about a trial would slow the action too much. And I liked the idea of referring to events in the trial and then hinting at them in the history shortly afterward. I hoped that would keep the reader interested in both the trial and May’s life story.

Q: You have a wonderful quote on your author page by William Martin that says, “The historian serves the truth of his subject. The novelist serves the truth of his tale.” How much creative license did you employ in managing all of the moving parts of May’s colorful escapades?

A: I learned the broad outlines of May’s adventurous life through research, and I tried to stay true to these events (or at least the historical accounts of them, which were sometimes inconsistent). Creative license came into play as I tried to build conversations and the day-to-day events behind the escapades. I would spend weeks trying to figure out how she managed a particular con. She had much more talent in that department than I do!

Q: If Parlor Games were made into a movie or a Masterpiece Theatre series on television, who would make up the dream cast? (I think the role of Frank is tailor-made for Kathy Bates.)

A: Kathy Bates—what an inspired choice! I’d love to see Marion Cotillard play May. She has the striking features, hauntingly mysterious manner, and French flare that make her perfect for the role. I picture Harry Connick, Jr., playing Detective Dougherty.

Q: From a psychological perspective, would you categorize May as the sympathetic victim of a chauvinistic era or as a sly opportunist who would have engaged in criminal activity regardless of her circumstances?

A: I think of May as a woman with great ambition and an adventurous spirit. During the Gilded Age women’s roles were quite circumscribed, and she simply didn’t want to settle for mundane marriage, not even one that brought wealth with it. She wanted to travel the world, mingle with the rich and famous, and see how far she could push a con. Today she’d probably be CEO of some wildly successful corporation. Or an international jewel thief.

Q: Do your characters ever surprise you?

A: Yes, and that is one of the most delightful experiences of the writing process. Sometimes when I’m drafting a scene I close my eyes and just let my fingers fly over the keyboard. Some of the dialogue that has popped into my head when I give the characters free rein does surprise.

Q: If May’s philosophy of life were printed on a t-shirt, what would it say?

A: “Looking for love in all the moneyed places.”

Q: Had the Pinkertons not been her constant nemesis, with whom do you think May would have found the most happiness?

A: I think May was downright disarmed by Johnny, the young man she met in Tokyo. He was unlike most of her other “companions.” He was trusting and fun-loving, and he believed she was just who she said she was. She hated having to leave him—but she chose to do that rather than shatter his innocent spirit by revealing her scandalous background.

Q: I love the inclusion of “Parlor Talk” on your website in which your society-savvy protagonist dispenses advice to the lovelorn. Is this an interaction you plan to continue?

A: I hadn’t planned on it but if any damsels in distress need May’s assistance, I’m sure she’d be glad to share her wisdom.

Q: So many book clubs these days are utilizing the technology of Skype to invite authors into their living room meetings. How has this worked out for you and what do readers need to know in order to book you for a virtual appearance?

A: I’ve done both face-to-face and Skype book club visits. Both are great fun. The live visits afford more opportunity for mingling and special twists. For one group we recreated the dinner May shared with Claude Montcrief (p. 32). Skype sessions tend to be more focused and “on topic,” which makes for good in-depth discussion. Readers can contact me through my website (www.marykabiaggio.com), and I will gladly schedule an appearance with their book club.

Q: What would readers be most surprised to learn about you?

A: I’m very humble.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: I’m making good progress on another historical novel based on a real person—Barbara Follett, daughter of famous literary critic Wilson Follett. She was a child writer prodigy educated at home by her mother Helen Follett, who was also a writer. At the age of 12 Barbara published her first novel to critical acclaim. Then tragedy struck the family.

Q: What did you as a writer hope to accomplish with Parlor Games?

A: I aimed to entertain!

Author’s P.S.: And indeed she did!