Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Bloody Dominions by Nick Macklin

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Nick Macklin to the blog to talk about the research he undertook to write his new book, Bloody Dominions.

Your book, Bloody Dominions sounds fascinating. I’ve recently been enjoying a great deal of Roman era historical fiction. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

I have always had an interest in the ancient world and especially the Roman empire. I studied history at college, which in addition to satisfying my thirst for knowledge of the past, helped stand me in good stead during the extensive research I conducted whilst writing Bloody Dominions.

I knew when I set out that I wanted to set the story against the backdrop of a significant period in Roman history. I spent some considerable time immersed in the central and university libraries in Exeter, looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage. I eventually settled on Caesar’s tumultuous occupation of Gaul, in part because I was struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche was influenced during this period by the scare they’d received 50 years earlier, when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, I started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. The prolonged clash of cultures that spanned 8 years, offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which I was hoping to tell the story. Whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances; nations fighting for and against Rome, also provided the potential for intriguing plot lines. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.

Fortunately, Caesar was an almost unique example of a great general who was also a prolific writer. His ‘Commentarii de Bello Gallico, ‘Commentary on the Gallic War’ is a first-hand account of his invasion. I was grateful for the many translated versions now available as I have yet to perfect my Latin. One of the things on my to do list. It was important to recognise that this autobiographical account had a political purpose, Caesar’s audience was the Senate and the people of Rome and he wanted to justify his actions, reinforce his reputation and portray himself as a commander of courage, flair and success. As a consequence, I took some of the estimates of enemy warrior and casualty numbers with a pinch of salt but at its heart the Commentary is a straightforward narrative of the campaign Caesar fought in Gaul. As such it was an invaluable resource, providing key details in respect of the order and timing of events, the legions involved, battle plans etc. as well as some of the incredibly useful but more mundane detail that helped me to gain a sense of just how far the legions marched during a campaign season!

Whilst my three protagonists are entirely fictitious, I wanted the framework against which their stories unfold to be entirely accurate from a historical perspective, to feature actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and draw on real events as they occurred. In that respect the Commentaries also offered some intriguing opportunities to weave fact and fiction. For example, Caesar describes an ultimately unsuccessful peace conference between himself and the Germanic King Ariovistus prior to the battle of Vosges in 58 BC. He outlines how Ariovistus insisted that each side should be accompanied by mounted troops. He probably made this a condition because he knew that Caesar’s cavalry was composed mainly of Aeduian horsemen, whose loyalty to Caesar was questionable. Indeed, Caesar may not have trusted them himself. As a ruse Caesar ordered a group of his Gallic auxiliaries to dismount and had legionnaires from the Xth Legion ride in their place and accompany him to the peace conference. The incident earned the Legion its nickname ‘Equestrius’. In Bloody Dominions I took the liberty of having Caesar call for experienced riders to join his guard, hence Atticus’s involvement, a pivotal moment in the novel as this is when he and Allerix meet for the first time. 

Thereafter, as I plotted the journeys of Atticus, Allerix and Epona I consulted a variety of additional book and web-based resources to supplement my knowledge and research particular points of interest. Old enough to remember researching before the web, I never cease to be amazed at the wealth of information available at our fingertips, although I still prefer to do the bulk of my research using physical resources and pen and paper! I did however find the excellent web based military history encyclopaedia, www.HistoryofWar.org particularly helpful when looking to visualise how the battles in which my characters feature played out.

Finally, one of the earliest pieces of research I did when Bloody Dominions was still very much in its infancy, was to complete a ‘field trip’ to Europe. I can’t pretend that this visit was entirely conducted for research purposes, I had always wanted to travel around Europe by train. A nod I suspect to the inter-railing visit I never made as a teenager! However, I did make a number of detours along the way to visit museums, monuments and battlefield sites (wherever possible) in Italy, France, Germany and Belgium. I never get over the sense of standing where so many have gone before, never more so than when standing on the Ponte Pietre Bridge in Verona, recognising that it had been ‘crossed by Caesar and all of the legions travelling to Gaul. Including of course those in the XIIth on their way into the pages of Bloody Dominions. 

This is me, quite literally at the start of the Bloody Dominions Journey as I prepare to leave Exeter at the start of that European ‘research’ trip: 

Thank you so much for sharing your research journey with me. It sounds fascinating, and I wish you luck with your new book, and the rest of the books in the trilogy.

Intrigued?

Here’s the blurb:

Journey with those at the heart of the conflict as Caesar embarks on the tumultuous conquest of Gaul 58-51 BC. Book One 58-56 BC.

As Caesar’s campaign begins, tests of courage and belief will confront the three protagonists, shaping them as individuals and challenging their views of the world and each other:

Atticus – an impetuous but naturally gifted soldier, whose grandfather served with distinction in the legions;

Allerix – a Chieftain of the Aduatuci, who finds himself fighting both for and against Caesar; and

Epona – a fierce warrior and Allerixs’ adopted sister.

Experiencing the brutalities of conflict and the repercussions of both victory and defeat, Atticus, Allerix and Epona will cross paths repeatedly, their destinies bound together across time, the vast and hostile territories of Gaul and the barriers of fate that have defined them as enemies. In a twist of fate, Atticus and Allerix discover that they share a bond, a secret that nobody could ever foresee…

Trigger Warnings:

Violence, attempted rape.

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Meet the Author

A history graduate, Nick enjoyed developing the skills that would stand him in good stead during the extensive research he conducted prior to writing his novel. Whilst the ancient world unfortunately didn’t feature to any extent in his history degree, (the result of failing miserably to secure the A level grades that would have permitted greater choice) he maintained a lifelong and profound interest in ancient history and especially the Roman Empire, continuing to read avidly as he embarked on a career in HR. Over the next 30 years or so Nick occupied a variety of Senior/Director roles, most recently in the NHS. Unsurprisingly, writing in these roles was largely confined to the prosaic demands of Board papers but Nick never lost the long-harboured belief, motivated by the works of writers such as Robert Fabbri, Robyn Young, Anthony Riches, Simon Scarrow, Matthew Harffy and Giles Kristian, that he too had a story to tell. When he was presented with a window of opportunity c3 years ago he took the decision to place his career on hold and see if he could convert that belief into reality. 

Nick always knew that he wanted to set the novel against the backdrop of a significant event/period in Roman history. Looking to narrow that down to something offering the potential for meaningful character and plot development, but that hadn’t already received exhaustive coverage, he settled on Caesars tumultuous occupation of Gaul. Spanning 8 years, the prolonged clash of cultures offered ample opportunity for the kind of dual perspective from which he was hoping to tell the story, whilst the violent conflict provided a wealth of exciting material to explore the changing fortunes of war and its impact at a personal level. The switching of allegiances, nations fighting for and against Rome also provided the potential for some intriguing plot lines. As his research unfolded, he was also struck by just how heavily the Roman psyche during this period was influenced by the scare they had received 50 years earlier when Germanic tribes invaded their territories and defeated their legions. Seeing references to the veterans of that war watching their sons and grandsons enlist for a similar campaign, he started to think about developing that link on both sides of the conflict. And so, the idea for the Conquest Trilogy was born.

In Bloody Dominions Nick has sought to produce a novel in which unfolding events are experienced and described from the perspective of protagonists on both sides of Caesar’s incursion into Gaul.  Conscious that the role of women in Roman fiction, Boudica aside, is largely confined to spouse, prostitute or slave, Nick wanted to ensure that one of his lead characters was female and a prominent member of the warrior clan of her tribe. The novel is driven by these characters but the framework against which their stories unfold is historically accurate, featuring actual participants in Caesar’s campaign and drawing on real events as they occurred. As such Nick is genuinely excited about his characters and the story they have to tell.

Nick lives in Exeter with his two daughters and is currently juggling work as an Independent HR Consultant with writing the second novel in the Conquest Trilogy, Battle Scars. 

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Bloody Dominions Blog Tour with The Coffee pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the Island of Gold by Amy Maroney blog tour

Today, I’m excited to share a post from Amy Maroney who’s going to tell me all about the research she undertook for her new book, Island of Gold.

Thank you for hosting me on your blog, MJ! I love research and you’ve asked some excellent questions.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

AM: Island of Gold, the first book in my Sea and Stone Chronicles series, was inspired by a three-week stint on the island of Rhodes back in 2012. I was struck by the layers of history on the island stretching back thousands of years. All of that history is still visible today. Ancient temples and crumbling statues of Greek goddesses exist alongside the walls and forts built by the medieval Knights Hospitaller. When I explored Rhodes, I knew that one day, I would write about the island and its history.

photo of Knights Hospitaller palace, Rhodes Town, Unsplash photo

My first research always come informally, mostly through travel and reading. It’s when I’m traveling that I have the best, most creative ideas for fiction. Reading is like traveling in that it takes me to different worlds, so ideas are often sparked that way, too. With that initial idea or inspiration percolating, I start to dig into the historical record. I rely heavily on Academia.edu, Interlibrary Loan, and the kindness of researchers all over the world. As I explore history, I begin to imagine characters inhabiting the distant past. 

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

AM: I have many go-to books that I’m leaning on heavily while writing the Sea and Stone Chronicles. A few in particular were invaluable during the research and writing process for Island of Gold. I own a copy of The Book of Michael of Rhodes, an illustrated journal of sorts written by a Rhodian-born seaman who made a living working on various Venetian ships during the early 1400s. Island of Gold is set on Rhodes, and the maritime dramas of the era figure large in the Sea and Stone Chronicles, so this book has been a treasure trove of information about sailing, merchant ships, Venetian influence in the Mediterranean, and other topics crucial to my research. 

photo of illustration from Michael of Rhodes’ book, taken by Author

Since Island of Gold is a story about ordinary people living in the shadow of the Knights Hospitaller when that organization was headquarters in Rhodes during the 1400s, I relied on several key books about the knights during my research. My favorite go-to books on that topic are The Knights Hospitaller by Helen Nicholson and The Knights of Rhodes by Elias Kollias.

My hero and heroine are Cédric and Sophie, a noble French falconer and a spirited merchant’s daughter, who marry in France and go on to seek their fortunes in Rhodes. 

To create Cédric de Montavon, I studied The Hound and The Hawk by John Cummins and H Is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. I also valued Fighting Words: A Glossary of Swords and Combat by David Blixt, Dale Girard, Jared Kirby, and Tom Leoni.

To create Sophie Portier, I began with research I had already done on fifteenth century France for the Miramonde Series (the story of a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern day scholar on her trail). I then added some new go-to resources. A Distant Mirror by Barbara W. Tuchman gave me essential background about the fourteenth century and how the plague and other major events set the European stage for the fifteenth century. Two books about medieval life helped me create realistic domestic scenes and deepen Sophie’s character: Living and Dining in Medieval Paris by Nicole Crossley-Hollard and A Small Sound of the Trumpet: Women in Medieval Life by Margaret Wade Labarge. 

One of the resources that helped me with world-building for Island of Gold was Reflections on a Marine Venus: A Companion to the Landscape of Rhodes by Lawrence Durrell. And I relied heavily on numerous academic papers written by researchers dedicated to studying the medieval Mediterranean.

Photo of medieval hospital in Rhodes Town, Unsplash photo

Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today, MJ! I enjoyed my visit with you.

Good luck with the new book. The cover is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing your research with me.

Here’s the blurb

1454. A noble French falconer. A spirited merchants daughter. And a fateful decision that changes their destiny forever.

When Cédric is recruited by the Knights Hospitaller to the Greek island of Rhodes, his wife Sophie jumps at the chance to improve their fortunes. After a harrowing journey to Rhodes, Cédric plunges into the world of the knights—while Sophie is tempted by the endless riches that flow into the bustling harbor. But their dazzling new home has a dark side. 

Slaves toil endlessly to fortify the city walls, and rumors of a coming attack by the Ottoman Turks swirl in the streets. Desperate to gain favor with the knights and secure his position, Cédric navigates a treacherous world of shadowy alliances. Meanwhile, Sophie secretly engineers a bold plan to keep their children safe. As the trust between them frays, enemies close in—and when disaster strikes the island, the dangers of their new world become terrifyingly real. 

With this richly-told story of adventure, treachery, and the redeeming power of love, Amy Maroney brings a mesmerizing and forgotten world to vivid life.

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

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Meet the author 

Amy Maroney lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family, and spent many years as a writer and editor of nonfiction before turning her hand to historical fiction. When she’s not diving down research rabbit holes, she enjoys hiking, dancing, traveling, and reading. Amy is the author of the Miramonde Series, a trilogy about a Renaissance-era female artist and the modern-day scholar on her trail. To receive a free prequel novella to the Miramonde Series, join Amy’s readers’ group at http://www.amymaroney.com. (Just copy and paste into your browser.)

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Island of Gold blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on The Wisdom of the Flock by Steve M Gnatz blog tour

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Steve M Gnatz to the blog with a post about the research he undertook for his new book, The Wisdom of the Flock.

My research process was truly a “labour of love”. It began in 2005 when I read an article about the interaction between Franklin and Mesmer in the late 1700’s. Specifically, the article mentioned Franklin being asked to head the French commission investigating Mesmerism – a quasi-medical process that we would now probably identify as hypnotism. That was fascinating to me because I knew nothing about how Franklin might approach such an endeavour. I knew that Franklin was an inventor (lightening rod, bifocal glasses, etc.) but I had never really thought of him as a scientist. He was, of course, and a good one.  Franklin, and the other French scientists involved, applied what we would now call the scientific method to his investigation of Mesmerism – some have even called his experiments the first “blinded study” partly because they used a real blindfold on their subjects.

However, I next learned that Franklin had invented a musical instrument called a glass armonica for a beautiful young musician (Marianne Davies) in England prior to his time in France. 

A Glass Armonica

Of particular interest to me was that I learned that Doctor Franz Mesmer was subsequently using a copy of Marianne’s glass armonica in France in his seances. That got me thinking that perhaps there was some sort of a love triangle going on. This is where the fiction enters into historical fiction. There are copious books that one can read about Ben Franklin, and a few about Mesmer, but none about Marianne Davies – so I was free to make up her character more than the others.

The Wisdom of the Flock: Franklin and Mesmer in Paris is based on real people and events. If there is a specific date given in the book, the event happened on that date – perhaps not exactly as described – but it happened. I just filled in the blanks in the historical record.

Whatever the resources studied, my foremost objective as a historical fiction author is to try to bring the characters to life. The readers will have to decide if I am successful or not. However, I find that the easiest way to do this is by telling the story through conversations between the characters. Since we rarely know from the historical record what was actually said – especially in the 1700’s, well before the advent of audio recording equipment – this gives me some freedom and also allows me to flesh out my characters “personalities”. I envision and portray Ben Franklin as a virile, confident, occasionally pedantic, hedonistic socialite in Paris at the age of 70 plus. That image has gotten me into a little trouble with some critics who have found it hard to believe that he was not the corpulent, gouty, elder statesman they imagine – but I believe that the historical record bears me out on this. One need only read DuPont’s inscription to the 1779 painting by Duplessis (included here* and as a frontispiece in the book) as evidence. Or consider that he really did propose marriage to a French woman (and a major character in the book) Madame Helvetius near the end of his time in France.

I believe that the filter of time tends to oversimplify historical figures. I wrote about this on my own blog back in January and you can find that post here: https://stevegnatz.com/2021/01/why-do-we-stereotype-historical-characters/

We come to think of historical figures as good or bad, triumphant or tragic, famous or infamous – not the complex people that they most likely were. My book attempts to breathe a little life into these people who lived nearly 300 years ago.

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

I included a bibliography at the end of The Wisdom of the Flock and would refer the interested reader to that resource as it represents my “go to” list for writing this book. It includes many published books but also journal articles and even a PhD dissertation. Because Franklin’s letters are all digitized and available for viewing on the web, it was easy to get access to his main form of communication – letter writing. 

The internet is a wonderful tool for researching a historical fiction novel. Just remember not to believe everything that you read!

As I’m sure is a fairly common practice for historical fiction writers, I create a spreadsheet as a resource with a timeline of important historical dates and events across the top and the characters names down the side. I can then make notes at the intersection of the two. For example, when were Marianne, Franklin, and Mesmer all known to be in Paris so that they could interact? When did Mesmer leave Paris, and did Marianne go with him?

I will also specifically recommend the books on Benjamin Franklin by Claude-Anne Lopez for anyone that really wants to get a feeling of what he was like. I believe that she developed a better understanding of his personality than anyone of our time. Unfortunately, Ms. Lopez passed away in 2012 and I never got to meet her. In her lifetime, she not only translated all of Franklin’s papers from French to English, but also wrote several key books that helped me understand Franklin as a man. I thank her for that.

In addition to reading any books that I could find on my main characters, I also found that books on “ancillary” characters were helpful. There are many famous characters portrayed in The Wisdom of the Flock – Marie Antoinette was the queen of France at the time, Pierre Beaumarchais (playwright), John Paul Jones (navy captain), even Casanova was circulating around. Books on these historical figures helped me flesh out their characters and hopefully avoid stereotyping them.

Getting to know as much as I can about the historical characters is fun and helps me form my own opinions about who they were. While we can, of course, never really know them, historical fiction allows the writer and the reader to almost feel that they do.

Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you really enjoyed the research process of writing the book (yay), and I wish you luck with it.

Book Trailer:

Here’s the blurb:

A WORLD OF ENLIGHTENMENT, REVOLUTION, AND INTRIGUE  

1776: Benjamin Franklin sails to Paris, carrying a copy of the Declaration of Independence, freshly signed. His charge: gain the support of France for the unfolding American Revolution. Yet Paris is a city of distractions. Ben’s lover, Marianne Davies, will soon arrive, and he yearns to rekindle his affair with the beautiful musician. 

Dr. Franz Mesmer has plans for Marianne too. He has taken Parisian nobility by storm with his discovery of magnétisme animale, a mysterious force claimed to heal the sick. Marianne’s ability to channel Mesmer’s phenomena is key to his success.

A skeptical King Louis XVI appoints Ben to head a commission investigating the astonishing magnétisme animale. By nature, Ben requires proof. Can he scientifically prove that it does not exist? Mesmer will stop at nothing to protect his profitable claim. 

The Wisdom of The Flock explores the conflict between science and mysticism in a time rife with revolution, love, spies, and passion.

Trigger Warnings:

Mild sexual content

Available on Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the Author

Steve Gnatz is a writer, physician, bicyclist, photographer, traveler, and aspiring ukulele player. The son of a history professor and a nurse, it seems that both medicine and history are in his blood. Writing historical fiction came naturally. An undergraduate degree in biology was complemented by a minor in classics. After completing medical school, he embarked on an academic medical career specializing in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. There was little time for writing during those years, other than research papers and a technical primer on electromyography. Now retired from the practice of medicine, he devotes himself to the craft of fiction. The history of science is of particular interest, but also the dynamics of human relationships. People want to be good scientists, but sometimes human nature gets in the way. That makes for interesting stories. When not writing or traveling, he enjoys restoring Italian racing bicycles at home in Chicago with his wife and daughters.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on The Wisdom of the Flock blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Steampunk Cleopatra by Thaddeus Thomas

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Thaddeus Thomas to the blog to talk about his new book, Steampunk Cleopatra, a historical fantasy.

Your book, Steampunk Cleopatra sounds like a wonderful combination of history and fantasy. I usually ask authors to tell me about their research process because as a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories. But I think your book might be a little different. So, a few questions instead.

Was it the history or the lost science that attracted you to this story? Can you explain why?

I was attracted to the Library of Alexandria, and everything began there. Outside of deciding to focus the book on Cleopatra, the next greatest influence was Hero of Alexander who invented the world’s first steam engine in the first century CE. The draw was the enigmas of history, and the lost science of Egypt was a potential solution.

How did you create your ‘world?’ What aspects of the past were important for you to keep, and which were you happy to discard?

I never intentionally discarded history. The idea that I was writing fantasy gave me the courage to tackle the subject, but I intended to tell as historically accurate a story as possible, in one sense. If that’s all the book was, then the gaps in our knowledge would be filled with the most probable truths. I’ve simple filled many of those gaps with wonder.

The book covers many years and a lot of territory, from Egypt to Rome, Cyprus, Jerusalem, and Kush. Of my own life, I spent two years researching and writing Steampunk Cleopatra and had just come off of three years on Detective, 26 AD, which helped immensely with the Jerusalem sections. 

I enjoy a good steampunk novel, although most I’ve read are set in an alternative Victorian period. What challenges were there for you in using Egypt as your setting? (if you did use Egypt).

In the beginning of the book, I focus on a mostly grounded, historical Alexandria, although the spotlight is often cast on the surprising inventions of the time. For example, their hours were not constant in length. There were twelve daylight hours, no matter how short or how long the day. They invented water clocks that automatically counted out the hours in beautiful, artistic ways while remaining accurate, no matter the time of the year. That historical concern made the move into expanding the technology my greatest challenge.

For the steampunk aspect, think of stories like the movie National Treasure, but what if finding the hidden treasure was only half the story? If we have access to this great technology, how do we use it? Does it benefit the marginalized people who made it possible in the first place or does it become simply another tool of oppression? Is it the secret to taking over the world or is it the key to your downfall? These are some of the questions the book tackles.

I do not use fantasy to change the course of history but to fantastically explain aspects of it and through that, examine our nature, our failure, and our hope.

Was there anything you discovered during your research that made you change elements of your story, or which you found amazing?

There are so many moments of real-life scientific wonder that worked their way in, but the Ptolemaic political drama was the driving force. Of that, the largest single impact was Ptolemy’s slaughter of the hundred delegates sent by Berenice to speak before the Roman Senate. Much of this was new information to me, as the book focuses on the early years of Cleopatra, ending with Julius Caesar and the Alexandrian Civil War. When you study her life, that’s usually where you begin.

Did you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

Cleopatra: a Life by Stacy Schiff got me started, but that’s not to say she made things easy for me. The years I focus on, she glossed over, and for that time period, she had a way of mentioning facts out of historical context. It worked for the opening picture she was drawing for her work, but I had much to unravel in those early days. I did a great deal of reading, and with so much focus on Egypt, I needed both a break for my eyes and an introduction to Roman history. For that, I have to mention the YouTube channel Historia Civilis. It gave me the context I needed as a foundation and was entertaining. 

Thank you so much for sharing. It sounds like you had a fantastic, if complex, time unravelling the history and the facts. Good luck with Steampunk Cleopatra.

Here’s the blurb:

Amani, a companion of Cleopatra, seeks to rediscover Egypt’s suppressed science and history. She is the beloved of her princess become queen, but that may not be enough to overcome the system they’ve inherited. If she fails, her country and Cleopatra, both, could fall. History meets fantasy, and together, they create something new. Experience an intelligent thriller about star-crossed lovers and an ancient science that might have been. 

Available on KindleUnlimited.

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Meet the Author

Thaddeus Thomas lives on the Mississippi River with his wife and three cats. Steampunk Cleopatra is his first novel, but he has a short story collection available at his website, ThaddeusThomas.com. There he also runs a book club where readers can receive indie book reviews and recommendation. His second book—Detective, 26 AD—releases July 9thand follows Doubting Thomas as he is conscripted to be an investigator for Pontius Pilate.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Steampunk Cleopatra blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. You can find all the links here: https://www.coffeepotbookclub.com/post/blog-tour-steampunk-cleopatra-by-thaddeus-thomas-july-12th-september-13th-2021

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for ‘Tho I Be Mute by Heather Miller

Today I’m delighted to welcome Heather Miller to the blog with an article about her new book ‘Tho I Be Mute.

Your book, ‘Tho I Be Mute, sounds absolutely fascinating. As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Thank you for saying so. Honesty, some people believe that it is not my story to tell because I am not Cherokee. It is something that weighs heavily on my heart. 

I have tried to write with sensitivity, research, persistence, perspective, and due consideration. Two “sensitivity” editors read the novel before and during the publication process. I asked myself whether I could construct this narrative through the eyes of both Cherokee, John Ridge, and his Caucasian wife, Sarah, with honesty and researched integrity. I followed the history as closely as possible. I kept the narrative’s theme very human, not singularly defined by ethnicity or identity.

David Marion Wilkinson, the author of Oblivion’s Altar (John’s father, Major Ridge’s story), said when I interviewed him, “This isn’t only a Cherokee story. It is one of courage. The Ridge family’s story is a human one, surrounded by corruption, evil, and greed.” He’s right. Although, the story is also one of love, not defined by race or cultural background. John and Sarah found a connection to one another’s character, not one another’s culture. 

So, to tell the tale, I research and continue to uncover new texts to illuminate the story from multiple perspectives. History advised each event within the novel’s pages. When there was little evidence, I worked backward from laws John Ridge submitted to the Cherokee Legislative Council. I asked myself what could have prompted him to present such and created a plausible event leading to the facts, working backward from effect to cause.  

My research began in a Special Collections Library on our local university campus during a “field trip” for a Researched Fiction course. I knew the character I wanted to begin with: an archetype of American Southern Fiction, the woman who lives alone in the hills offering medicine and life lessons to anyone who crosses her path. She is reminiscent of the “goat woman” from Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain. She became Clarinda Ridge, John and Sarah’s daughter. 

Why was she alone? What could have happened to her to leave her with so much to teach and no one around her to share her wisdom? What kind of life could she have lived to gain such knowledge? So, I began to dig for gems and found her and her family on the pages of Thurman Wilkin’s text Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People. 

From there, I obsessed, as most historical fiction authors tend to do. I scoured the Internet and libraries for biographies, Ph.D. dissertations, archaeological reports, and historical texts on the political climate surrounding Cherokee’s removal from their ancestral lands. Several books were pivotal to plotting the manuscript: Thurman’s Cherokee TragedyCherokee Cavaliers by James Parins, John Rollin Ridge also by James Parins, Tiya Miles’ Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and FreedomLiving Stories of the Cherokee, collected and edited by Barbara R. Duncan, An American Betrayal by Daniel Blake Smith, Blood Moon by John Sedgwick, To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot, 1823-1839 edited by Theresa Strouth Gaul, The Heathen School by John Demos, Sovereignty: A Play by Mary Katharyn Nagle (a Ridge descendant), and Toward the Setting Sun by Brian Hicks. My latest read is Steve Inskeeps’ Jacksonland. I have also read extensively from Theda Purdue’s body of work. In all these texts, John Ridge’s own words, primary source documents filled my ears with his voice. The manuscript contains excerpts that are his exact words.

Legend and Myth also influence the narrative, so I have read and listened to many oral stories from Cherokee Treasured Members and listened to Cherokee Native Speakers and read from a pivotal primary source, Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee by James Moody. 

Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home Picture

Field trips are exceedingly fun and widen my circle of knowledge, not only of the people but of the era (and get me away from my computer screen). My first field trip was in September of 2019 to the Chieftain’s Museum/Major Ridge Home near Rome, Georgia. The visit made it all real. To stand where these very real people lived and worked, farmed and raised children was beautiful to my soul. I used my imagination to take in the landscape, to unwind time, to shrink the massive tree trunks on the property next to the Oostanaula River. Inside the museum, there are scale models of what renovations the home underwent through its lifetime and glass covering removed walls that reveal its original log structure.

One archeologic gem made me hold my breath. John Ridge’s shoe taps lay under glass, worn on one side from his persistent limp from hip scrofula. So taken aback by their presence, I wrote a scene where he leaves his shoes in a nearby field so they could be discovered by archaeologists nearly two centuries later. 

After uncovering so much that influenced the manuscript at Chieftain’s, I widened my field trip circle, visiting: New Echota, the once Cherokee Capital, the Vann House, Red Clay, Tennessee, Ft. Mitchell, Alabama, Horseshoe Bend, Alabama, the McIntosh Reserve in Whitesburg, Georgia, and the OconalufteeVillage and the Museum of the Cherokee Indian in Cherokee, North Carolina. I have learned many historical facts from each adventure, uncovered human anecdotes, and built visions of landscapes from the past. Each of these enriching experiences makes writing this world more realistic. 

On May 29th, 2021, I travelled to Indian Springs, home to Creek Chief McIntosh’s Tavern, where he signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, selling Creek land to the American Government. His signature on that document brought his assassination. During the tour, I was able to hold a flint-lock pistol. As I am sure your readers know, rarely do these guns shoot accurately. After firing the lead ball and likely missing its target, a shooter could hold the barrel in their hand and use the stock as a club. They are exceedingly heavy. 

With permission from Ridge descendants, each purchase of ‘Tho I Be Mute will fund a future scholarship for Cherokee students planning to pursue a law degree. My husband and I plan to travel to Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma this summer to celebrate the novel’s launch. Also, the trip is to continue research for Mute’s sequel, Yellow Bird’s Song. The Ridge family saga continues. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research with me. Good luck with the new book.

Here’s the blurb:

Home. Heritage. Legacy. Legend.

In 1818, Cherokee John Ridge seeks a young man’s education at the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut. While there, he is overcome with sickness yet finds solace and love with Sarah, the steward’s quiet daughter. Despite a two-year separation, family disapproval, defamatory editorials, and angry mobs, the couple marries in 1824.

Sarah reconciles her new family’s spirituality and her foundational Christianity. Although, Sarah’s nature defies her new family’s indifference to slavery. She befriends Honey, half-Cherokee and half-African, who becomes Sarah’s voice during John’s extended absences.

Once arriving on Cherokee land, John argues to hold the land of the Cherokees and that of his Creek neighbors from encroaching Georgian settlers. His success hinges upon his ability to temper his Cherokee pride with his knowledge of American law. Justice is not guaranteed.

Rich with allusions to Cherokee legends, ‘Tho I Be Mute speaks aloud; some voices are heard, some are ignored, some do not speak at all, compelling readers to listen to the story of a couple who heard the pleas of the Cherokee.

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Meet the Author

As an English educator, Heather Miller has spent twenty-three years teaching her students the author’s craft. Now, she is writing it herself, hearing voices from the past. 

Miller’s foundation began in the theatre, through performance storytelling. She can tap dance, stage-slap someone, and sing every note from Les Misérables. Her favorite role is that of a fireman’s wife and mom to three: a trumpet player, a future civil engineer, and a future RN. There is only one English major in her house. 

While researching, writing, and teaching, she is also working towards her M FA in Creative Writing. Heather’s corndog-shaped dachshund, Sadie, deserves an honorary degree.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stop on the blog tour for ‘Tho I Be Mute with The Coffee Pot Book Club.

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Mendota and the Restive Rivers of the Indian and Civil Wars 1861-65 by Dane Pizzuti Krogman

Today I’m delighted to welcome Dane Pizzuti Krogman to the blog to talk about the research processes for his new book.

The research for this book has been a process that has taken me on a journey to many places throughout a lifetime. I grew up in the village I write about and was always fascinated by the untold history of the people and place. My journey as a civil war historian began as a boy. I found books that appealed to me in the school libraries and then moved on to doing direct research at the Minnesota Historical Society library as well as many visits to old Fort Snelling.

As an adult, I traveled to the many battlefields and museums I could get to and eventually moved to the Southern US where I had access to records and places that I could not obtain elsewhere.

Being in the South it was easy for me to visit the National Archives in Washington DC as well as the Confederate archives in Richmond, VA.

I guess the bulk of my research has come from libraries, microfiche, and lectures and discussion with US National Park Rangers and Archivists.

Thank you so much for sharing. Intrigued? Check out the blurb below.

Here’s the blurb

This is the fictional story set in Mendota, Minnesota of the Simmons family who are faced with the consequences of the Dakota Sioux Uprising of 1862 that swept across the state as well as the Civil War.

The father, Dan enlists in the 1st regiment of Minnesota volunteers as a teamster. His two sons, who are both underage join the 2nd Regiment. John, aged 16 becomes a bugler and William, aged 15 becomes a drummer. Their sister, Sara is left behind with their mother, Louise to fend for themselves. Dan is sent east to fight with the Army of the Potomac while his sons are sent to the western theater to serve in the army of the Cumberland. Back in Mendota, their neighbor and close friend, Colonel Henry Sibley is ordered to stay in the state to control the Indian uprising.

Dan will see action up through the battle of Antietam. He will later find himself in the hospital in Washington DC where he befriends a comrade also from the 1st Regiment. His sons barely miss the action at Shiloh but after, are engaged in all the major battles in the West. While they are passing through Louisville, William falls for a young woman, Mary who works as a hospital nurse. Back in Mendota, Sara befriends a young Chippewa native boy while her mother struggles with the breakup of her family. After Colonel Sibley defeats the Sioux, he is promoted to General and ordered to round up all the Dakota and push resettle them in the Dakotas.

This leads to the punitive expeditions that he and General Sully will command up until 1864. William is captured at the battle up Missionary Ridge and then sent to the prison camp at Belle Isle, VA. and then onto Andersonville. GA. John receives a 30 day furlough and returns to Mendota before he re-enlists. Louise and Sara wait for the war’s end so the family can be reunited, but events may not turn out as anticipated.

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Meet the Author

Dane Pizzuti Krogman was educated in the fine arts at the University of Minnesota, receiving BFA and MFA degrees. He also specialized in Asian art history, with a concentration in textile and surface design. After graduation, he worked as a freelance designer creating fashion samples for women’s athletic wear. He eventually relocated to California and taught at Cal-Poly Pomona in the Environmental Design program then moved on to work as a pictorial artist for outdoor advertising. Moving back to the Twin Cities in 1981 he formed a scenic design company call Artdemo which in 10 years did over 1000 designs and productions for sets, props, and special effects for television commercials and feature films. In the early 90’s he relocated to Charleston, SC to work as a spec writer for feature film scripts. Six of his screenplays have won major writing awards and two of these have been optioned for production. During this time he also taught scene design at the College of Charleston. This position led to an adjunct teaching position at Virginia Commonwealth University where he taught art direction for filmmakers. In 1998 he took a full time teaching position at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts where he taught art direction, life drawing, set construction, and Asian film studies, eventually becoming chairman of the department. The common thread through all of this has been his passion for Japanese design, art, and fashion. He has lived in Kyoto, Japan for the past 20 summers studying Japanese kimono and obi design of the Heian and Edo periods. In 2002 he won the Grand Prize for the best graphic novel at the Hiroshima manga competition. His graphic Novel Skeleton boy was selected for inclusion into the Hiroshima peace memorial library in 2007.He was most recently an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate Program in Digital Filmmaking at Stony Brook Southampton. He is also an award-winning screenwriter. His screenplay, The Schooner was produced as the Australian film, AUSTRALIA in 2008. He has other award-winning films that have been optioned for production or are in production.

As a Civil War historian he has worked as a technical advisor for the films, Dances with Wolfs, Gettysburg, and Glory. He currently has one Civil War novel in pre-publication; MENDOTA, AND THE RESTIVE RIVERS OF THE CIVIL AND INDIAN WARS 1861-65. He also works part-time as a crew member on a Grand-Am Rolex series race team. The team won the national championship in 2008.

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club

Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Pact by Tom Durwood

Today I’m delighted to welcome Tom Durwood to the blog with a post about his new book, The Pact.

As a historian first and foremost, and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories.

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

A central question! The answer is this:

a) read and understand everything I can find on the era, following tributaries wherever they lead  

b) take notes   

c) put all sources and notes in a drawer and write a character-based story where the research finds its own way in.

Readers can tell in an instant when you don’t know what you’re talking about. If I don’t go the extra distance to understand how a seven-lock canal is built, or how to fix a broken wagon wheel, then my story has no value. 

My heavy-handed initial plotting and attention to detail tend to weigh the stories down. The best parts are the discovered or unexpected parts – where the characters respond to situations which neither they, nor I, nor the reader saw coming.         

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?  

Yes, I certainly do have two authors whose work always gets me back on the right track – Louis L’Amour and Robert E. Howard. I re-read the ‘Solomon Kane” stories and Westerns like “Kilkenny” whenever I can, and listen to them on audio as well. Both of these authors are natural storytellers, which I am not. Their works have that page-turning quality that my work rarely does, so living in their worlds does me good.   

As to historians, I love Barbara Tuchman and Gibbons for their strong voices. I am very happy when I can find opportunities in my own stories to echo their seeming mastery of the material. 

Chinese girl
Illustration copyright 2021 by Jessica Taylor. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Topkapi_palace_roof
Illustration copyright 2021 by Mai Nguyen. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Saratoga 1
Illustration copyright 2021 by Timothee Mathon. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”
Map square Boston Illustration copyright 2021 by Karin Willig. From “The Illustrated Colonials Book One: The Pact.”

Here’s the blurb:

Six international teens join the American Revolution.

Coming of age and making history.  

They went into 1776 looking for a fight. Little did they know how much it would cost them… 

Six rich kids from around the globe join the Bostonian cause, finding love and treachery along the path to liberty. 

A new perspective on one of history’s most fascinating moments. 

Amply illustrated edition of a young-adult historical fiction novel. 

This novel is available on #KindleUnlimited

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Meet the author

Tom Durwood is a teacher, writer and editor with an interest in history. Tom most recently taught English Composition and Empire and Literature at Valley Forge Military College, where he won the Teacher of the Year Award five times. Tom has taught Public Speaking and Basic Communications as guest lecturer for the Naval Special Warfare Development Group at the Dam’s Neck Annex of the Naval War College.

Tom’s ebook Empire and Literature matches global works of film and fiction to specific quadrants of empire, finding surprising parallels. Literature, film, art and architecture are viewed against the rise and fall of empire. In a foreword to Empire and Literature, postcolonial scholar Dipesh Chakrabarty of the University of Chicago calls it “imaginative and innovative.” Prof. Chakrabarty writes that “Durwood has given us a thought-provoking introduction to the humanities.” His subsequent book “Kid Lit: An Introduction to Literary Criticism” has been well-reviewed. “My favorite nonfiction book of the year,” writes The Literary Apothecary (Goodreads).

Early reader response to Tom’s historical fiction adventures has been promising. “A true pleasure … the richness of the layers of Tom’s novel is compelling,” writes Fatima Sharrafedine in her foreword to “The Illustrated Boatman’s Daughter.” The Midwest Book Review calls that same adventure “uniformly gripping and educational … pairing action and adventure with social issues.” Adds Prairie Review, “A deeply intriguing, ambitious historical fiction series.”

Tom briefly ran his own children’s book imprint, Calico Books (Contemporary Books, Chicago). Tom’s newspaper column “Shelter” appeared in the North County Times for seven years. Tom earned a Masters in English Literature in San Diego, where he also served as Executive Director of San Diego Habitat for Humanity.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Shadows of Versailles by Cathie Dunn

Today I’m delighted to welcome Cathie Dunn to the blog, with a fascinating post about her new book, The Shadows of Versailles.

Your book, The Shadows of Versailles, sounds fantastic. As a historian first and foremost (I studied Louis XIV for my A Levels), and then a writer, I’m always interested in how people research their historical stories. 

Can you explain your research process to me, and give an idea of the resources that you rely on the most (other than your imagination, of course) to bring your historical landscape to life? 

Thank you very much for hosting me today. I’m thrilled to be here, and to chat about research. And I’m particularly delighted that we share a common interest – the Sun King! 

Although normally a medievalist, I’ve been fascinated by 17th century France since I was young. I’m originally from Heidelberg, where Louis’ sister-in-law, Elisabeth Charlotte, hailed from, and our castle was repeatedly attacked by Louis’ forces in the 1680s and 1690s as he sought to claim the Palatinate for himself. 

We’ve since forgiven the French for destroying our once magnificent castle (which is now a magnificent, and hugely popular, ruin), and my hometown is now twinned with Montpellier, only an hour’s drive away from where I live now, in Carcassonne, in the south of France. I do love how history tends to come full circle. 

But let me get back to the 17th century. As a teenager, I loved reading The Three Musketeers and Anne Golon’s Angelique novels, and watching their incarnations on screen. But only when I read Judith Merkle Riley’s brilliant novel, The Oracle Glass, did I really discover the Affair of the Poisons.

The Affair of the Poisons was an event that stretched over several years. In fact, it really began in the 1660s when the first suspicious deaths were recorded – yet they were not investigated. Over time, a network of fortune-tellers, alchemists, and midwives turned into poisoners, a hugely lucrative business. Having previously sold harmless potions (to gain someone’s love or a coveted position in court, for example), people became more ambitious, and devious. Soon, it wasn’t enough to use a potion; that person had to die!

Authorities slowly began to take notice, but only after the king’s own life deemed under threat did investigations finally get under way. But to the horror of the king, the trail led straight to his own bedroom door – to his mistress of many years, Madame de Montespan. 

And whilst the Affair of the Poisons has always intrigued me, my writing first took me in other directions: Scotland, England, Normandy, and here to Carcassonne. I explored different eras: the early Middle Ages here on the Mediterranean as Charlemagne expanded the Kingdom of the Franks southwards; the high Middle Ages during the Anarchy; and Jacobite Scotland. All utterly fascinating times and places.

But then, after reading Kate Braithwaite’s gripping novel, Charlatan, the Affair of the Poisons called me, and I couldn’t resist any longer. 

Soon, the idea of a series of loosely interlinking novels took shape, and The Shadows of Versailles was the first to emerge. I’m currently working on the second title, The Alchemist’s Daughter. Both books are very different in tone and setting. This is intentional, as I want the series to be not only about ladies at court, and not only about the scheming poisoners in Paris, but how both worlds intertwined. 

In August 2019, I met with relatives in Paris, and we visited Versailles; my first visit since the late 1980s. It was very crowded, and I couldn’t really relish the time inside the palace. I also didn’t have a chance to see all the rooms, so my photos are more of the 18th century chambers where Marie Antoinette whiled away her days. But I brought a wonderful catalogue back home, with great details inside. 

In the 1670s, Versailles was still a building site. The former hunting lodge had already been extended, but rooms like the Hall of Mirrors were not in place yet. Online, I found old maps of the palace construction and the gardens – also still not quite finished – which was wonderful as I was careful not to include features that arrived later. These maps were great in helping me to visualise the place through my protagonists’ eyes, including muddy grounds where construction was still ongoing!

Do you have a ‘go’ to book/resource that you couldn’t write without having to hand, and if so, what is it (if you don’t mind sharing)?

As regards books, I’ve long had a copy of Anne Somerset’s book about The Affair of the Poisons, and she is still an eminent authority on the subject. I often dive into the pages to retrieve details about some of the persons involved. But apart from hers, there weren’t many sources published in English. 

Images. Françoise de Rochechouart, Marquise de Montespan, public domain, Wikimedia Commons. Other images by Cathie Dunn.

The published letters of Madame de Sévigné, a lady whose letters to her married daughter showed intriguing glimpses into life at court, the scandals and rumours, and the king’s business, are a wonderful source for tidbits to use in a novel. Her tone is very much of the times, which gives you a truly authentic view of life in the late 17th century.

Visiting local bookshops, I discovered books in French, some rather fictionalised accounts, and others strictly non-fiction, which have helped me create a fuller picture. I read about life in Paris under Louis XIV – it was pretty tough for ordinary people. With people flocking to the city from the partly war-ravaged countryside, there wasn’t enough work going round. Starvation was rife, as were crime and prostitution. In contrast, life at Versailles was a glittering ball of luxuries, but often maintained through loans and pretence. It was easy to fall from grace…

I’m also signed up to educational resources, where you can find copies of theses exploring various aspects of Louis’ reign, his policies and wars. These, whilst rather dry, are useful additions to my research hub.

In my approach to a new novel, I conduct some basic research in advance – about the timing and general state of play. Then, as I write, do bits of research about the aspects relevant by chapter. That could be checking for dates of when the king was in Versailles, which he started to use as a base during the 1670s, moving away from the Louvre (and Paris), and when he was with his troops in the north or east, for example. 

Although Louis doesn’t (yet) feature much in my novels, I know there’s an abundance of sources out there showing his movements, so I’m careful not to invent too much. At the end of the day, I write fiction, but I want to be as accurate as possible in my setting.

I love researching. There’s never a dull moment. I could spend hours looking up certain events or reading about people’s lives. Louis’ courtiers are as fascinating as he was, especially those linked to the Affair of the Poisons. And I enjoy bringing them, with all their ambitions and scheming, to life.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my foray into historical research. Thank you again for hosting me on your fabulous blog. 

Thank you so much for such a fascinating post. Good luck with the book.

Here’s the blurb:

Dazzled by Versailles. Broken by tragedy. Consumed by revenge.

When Fleur de La Fontaine attends the court of King Louis XIV for the first time, she is soon besotted with handsome courtier, Philippe de Mortain. She dreams of married life away from her uncaring mother, but Philippe keeps a secret from her.

Nine months later, after the boy she has given birth to in a convent is whisked away, she flees to Paris where she mends gowns in the brothel of Madame Claudette, a woman who helps ‘fallen’ girls back on their feet.

Jacques de Montagnac investigates a spate of abducted children when his path crosses Fleur’s. He searches for her son, but the trail leads to a dead end – and a dreadful realisation.

Her boy’s suspected fate too much to bear, Fleur decides to avenge him. She visits the famous midwife, La Voisin, but it’s not the woman’s skills in childbirth that Fleur seeks.

La Voisin dabbles in poisons.

Will Fleur see her plan through? Or can she save herself from a tragic fate?

Delve into The Shadows of Versailles and enter the sinister world of potions, poisoners and black masses during the Affairs of the Poisons, a real event that stunned the court of the Sun King!

The Shadows of Versailles is available with Kindle Unlimited.

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Meet the Author

Cathie Dunn writes historical fiction, mystery, and romance.

Cathie has been writing for over twenty years. She studied Creative Writing, with a focus on novel writing, which she now teaches in the south of France. She loves researching for her novels, delving into history books, and visiting castles and historic sites.

Her stories have garnered awards and praise from reviewers and readers for their authentic description of the past.

Cathie is a member of the Historical Novel Society and the Alliance of Independent Authors.

After nearly two decades in Scotland, she now lives in the historic city of Carcassonne in the south of France with her husband, two cats and a rescue dog. 

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Pied Piper by Keith Stuart

I’m delighted to welcome Keith Stuart to the blog with a post about the research he undertook to write his new novel, Pied Piper.

I should say from the start that the novel grew from a very short piece of writing – almost a literary doodle – which I had no expectation of ever becoming a book. I certainly never sat down and said, “I’m going to write an historical novel.” Throughout the development from that initial scribbling into something bigger, it became clear that the historical backdrop offered the perfect setting for the themes I wanted to explore, themes which are contemporary, in fact. 

I have long been fascinated by how notions of masculinity and male friendship have changed in my lifetime. I could count on the fingers of … well, two fingers how many times I can recall my father embracing me. As children he left demonstrations of affection to my mother and as adults we would greet each other with an uninhibited, fulsome handshake! That was not the case with my own two sons: if I ever held my hand out to greet or congratulate them, they would ignore it and throw their arms round me. I was often struck by how unashamedly demonstrative they always were with their male, as well as female, friends. Huge hugs and declarations of “I love you, man,” were open and genuine.

I am also aware that the biggest killer of males between the ages of 17 and 35 in the UK is suicide and I wanted to explore what the implications for all that might have been for a young man in that age bracket, at the time of my father’s youth. The thought of my children being whisked away, to who knew where, hardly bears contemplating and the evacuation, Operation Pied Piper, provided me with the scenario to explore those issues. To my knowledge it is an event most frequently told and visualised through the eyes of the mothers or children and yet how much it must have affected fathers, whom I suspect were less able to express their anxiety and grief.

So, off I set with my story, trawling my knowledge of ‘that time’ from history lessons, reading I have done, films I have seen, but I knew I had to get things right. Internet searches found specifics like the wording of leaflets that parents received through their letter boxes, instructing them about the evacuation: that, I felt would underline the enormity of the scheme on a personal level as well as the scale. 

I knew that it all happened in a governmental (albeit understandable) panic and that many children had returned to London before the Blitz began a year later, but I had to get the timings right both of the story and the war-time backdrop. I needed to check out the weather that year and the timings of blackouts, readying of the undergrounds stations as shelters, etc.

I was, however, writing intuitively, telling a story which was evolving as I explored the emotions of the children’s father. Through lack of forward planning, particular events in the narrative took me into historical cul de sacs from which I could only extricate myself with research. Means of communicating, health care provision, transportation all needed getting right – even details of train routes. Internet searching solved each of these, accurately, I hope! 

All the research was on a needs-must, at-the-time, basis. It is a period of history that does interest me, perhaps because I just missed it, but I wanted to know more to achieve authenticity. The real issues for me, however, were relationships, emotions, male bonding and friendship and mental health (as we now call it).

As I finished Pied Piper during the COVID pandemic, an irony relating to the novel, me and the issues, occurs. I thought I was going to be lucky enough to be part of a generation that avoided something like a world war. We skirted with the Cuba crisis and the Cold War but most political, economic and military crises in my lifetime have been short and not ones which have meant fearing for our lives for months or years on end. And then along comes COVID, though not on the scale of the two World Wars, there has been an extended period where the future of our lives has been in doubt. This current crisis has raised mental health to the forefront and it has reinforced my feeling that it was worth exploring through the main character in Pied Piper, a young father in 1939. 

Thank you so much for sharing your research processes with me. I always find them fascinating.

Here’s the blurb

In September 1939 the British Government launched Operation Pied Piper. To protect them from the perils of German bombing raids, in three days millions of city children were evacuated – separated from their parents. 

This story tells of two families: one whose children leave London and the other which takes them in. We share the ups and downs of their lives, their dramas and tragedies, their stoicism and their optimism. But. unlike many other stories and images about this time, this one unfolds mainly through the eyes of Tom, the father whose children set off, to who knew where, with just a small case and gas mask to see them on their way

This novel is free to read with #KindleUnlimited subscription.

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Meet the Author

Keith Stuart (Wadsworth) taught English for 36 years in Hertfordshire schools, the county in which he was born and has lived most of his life. Married with two sons, sport, music and, especially when he retired after sixteen years as a headteacher, travel, have been his passions. Apart from his own reading, reading and guiding students in their writing; composing assemblies; writing reports, discussion and analysis papers, left him with a declared intention to write a book. Pied Piper is ‘it’.  Starting life as a warm-up exercise at the Creative Writing Class he joined in Letchworth, it grew into this debut novel.

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Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Dawn Empress by Faith L Justice

Today I’m delighted to welcome Faith L Justice to the blog with a post about the way she researched in order to write Dawn Empress.

Q. How Far Could a Roman Army March in a Day and Did They Wear Socks with Their Sandals?

A: 37 miles and “Yes”—Details in the post!

My mission is to tell interesting stories about little-known, but important women, while entertaining the reader. Because I write biographical historical fiction, historical accuracy is extremely important to me. For every novel, I must answer hundreds of questions like those posed in the title, so I do a tremendous amount of research beyond the facts of births, deaths, wars, etc. The sights, smells, sounds, and descriptions of clothes, food, housing, and transportation helps the reader experience a kind of time travel as they immerse themselves in a past culture. Personally, I find research the most fun part of writing my books. I get to learn new stuff, visit interesting places, and share my passions with readers. 

I ran across the empresses who are the subjects of my three-book series The Theodosian Women when I researched my first novel set in the early fifth century. Pulcheria (Dawn Empress) took over the Eastern Roman court at the tender age of fifteen and ruled as regent for her under-age brother Theodosius II. Placidia (Twilight Empress) ruled over the fading Western Empire for her under-age son Valentinian III. Athenais (work in progress), a pagan philosopher/poet married the “Most Christian Emperor” Theodosius II. These women fascinated me. I wanted to tell their stories, but I had a lot of research work to do.

This was hampered by the times. The fifth century experienced great turmoil as barbarians invaded the Roman Empire sacking cities, disrupting education and culture, and destroying records. This left only fragments of primary sources for future historians to ponder. Archaeology filled in some of the blanks, but there was lots of room for my imagination. My print resources consisted of translated copies of primary sources, general histories by well-respected historians, and a couple of obscure biographies. I still remember the unmitigated joy I felt when I found a used copy of Galla Placidia Augusta: A Biographical Essay by Stewart Irvin Oost and plunked down my money. I wrote Pulcheria’s story later when Kenneth G. Holum’s Theodosian Empresses: Women and Imperial Dominion in Late Antiquity was generally available. I’ve provided research bibliographies for each of my novels on my website but here’s a visual sample of my research book shelves. 

My first drafts are usually “white room” versions concentrating on the plot derived from the histories. I spend my second draft answering pesky questions about food, clothing, health, religion, architecture, art, technology, trade, and natural disasters—anything that adds color and context to my character’s lives. These details mostly come from specialized books and academic articles. The Handbook to Life in Ancient Rome (part of the Oxford Facts on File series) is a good place to start, but I couldn’t write with confidence without the academic articles I find at JSTOR (free with a library card) and Academia.edu.

Research has changed enormously in the past twenty-five years, making it much easier for the casual scholar. For my first two novels, I had to haunt the research branch of the New York Public Library looking up academic articles in dusty indices. About half of the journals seemed to be missing when I searched for them in the stacks. Now with a library card and a computer, anyone can access thousands of academic journals and presentations. I have over 300 titles in my miscellaneous research file alone.

The coolest new tool I’ve found is an interactive website called Orbis the Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Created and maintained by Stanford University, Orbis provides travel data in the Roman Empire. I fill in the details and it tells me how long it would take an army to march from Constantinople to Aquileia in January: 26.5 days, covering 1588 km (987 miles) at 60 km (37 miles) per day. Do I have a post rider carrying an important message from Rome to Toulouse in October? How about a trader moving exotic animals from Alexandria to Rome during the summer? No more looking up obscure modes of transportation, determining distance on Google Maps, and hand calculating. Magic!

My all-time favorite research technique is the site visit. I have a dozen books on Constantinople and Ravenna with gorgeous pictures and incredible diagrams, but nothing beats walking the famed walls that lasted a thousand years, feeling the weather change when a storm blows in across the Black Sea, or seeing surviving frescoes and mosaics in fifth century buildings. I took the picture of this stunning mosaic in the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy. 

I also do hands-on history by volunteering at archaeological digs. While working on Hadrian’s Wall in the UK, I got to visit the Vindolanda Roman Fort and see rare correspondence of a young Roman soldier asking his mother to send him knitted socks for the winter, among many other everyday artifacts, such as a doll, grocery lists, and a birthday party invitation written by the wife of the commander. In Tuscany, I helped uncover and preserve a mosaic of Medusa (pictured below) at a dig of a first century Roman villa. All this fuels a sense of awe and respect for these ordinary people who are long gone, but still very human in their needs, which I hope comes through in my writing. 

Museums come in a close second for favorite personal research. We have world-class ones here in New York. I studied 5C Roman clothing, coins, art, and jewelry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, giving me a motherlode of detail to enrich my stories. If this pandemic we’re living through has any upside, it’s that museums around the world have made their collections available online. We can now virtually visit special exhibitions, search collections, and order previously inaccessible images and books. But I’m looking forward to going back in person.

So that’s my research process—lots of reading and note taking, punctuated with museum trips, site visits, and archaeology digs (a.k.a. vacations). After living vicariously in the fifth century for twenty-five years, I have an extensive personal library, but I want to give a hearty shout out to all the research librarians who helped me over the years. For accuracy, I trust “Ask A Librarian” over a chat room on the internet any day. Support your local libraries. They are national treasures!

On a final note, my sincere thanks to MJ Porter for hosting me on this blog tour. It’s always a privilege to meet new readers. If any of you have questions about my research process or my books, feel free to get in touch through my website or other social media. I love to hear from people. Stay safe out there!

© Faith L. Justice 2021

Thank you so much for sharing. A pleasure to have you on the blog. Note for UK readers, JSTOR offers some free articles, and others can be purchased with a subscription package:)

Here’s the blurb;

As Rome reels under barbarian assaults, a young girl must step up.

After the Emperor’s unexpected death, ambitious men eye the Eastern Roman throne occupied by seven-year-old Theodosius II. His older sister Pulcheria faces a stark choice: she must find allies and take control of the Eastern court or doom the imperial children to a life of obscurity—or worse. Beloved by the people and respected by the Church, Pulcheria forges her own path to power. Can her piety and steely will protect her brother from military assassins, heretic bishops, scheming eunuchs and—most insidious of all—a beautiful, intelligent bride? Or will she lose all in the trying?

Dawn Empress tells the little-known and remarkable story of Pulcheria Augusta, 5th century Empress of Eastern Rome. Her accomplishments rival those of Elizabeth I and Catherine the Great as she sets the stage for the dawn of the Byzantine Empire. Don’t miss this “gripping tale” (Kirkus Reviews); a “deftly written and impressively entertaining historical novel” (Midwest Book Reviews). Historical Novel Reviews calls Dawn Empress an “outstanding novel…highly recommended” and awarded it the coveted Editor’s Choice.

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Meet the Author

Faith L. Justice writes award-winning historical novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York where she lives with her family and the requisite gaggle of cats. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writer’s Digest, The Copperfield Review, and many more publications. She is Chair of the New York City chapter of the Historical Novel Society, and Associate Editor for Space and Time Magazine. She co-founded a writer’s workshop many more years ago than she likes to admit. For fun, she digs in the dirt—her garden and various archaeological sites.

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Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the Dawn Empress blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club.