Friday, June 29, 2018

Summer Plans


Within a few weeks, assuming that the universe refrains from tossing spanners into the works, the fifth and last of my Legends of the Five Directions novels—The Shattered Drum (5: Center)—will receive its formal launch into the book world. After ten years of work, this particular series is drawing to its close, bringing the usual combination of nostalgia and relief.

But this is not the end for Nasan, Daniil, and their extended families. The first book of a new series, Songs of Steppe & Forest, is already near completion and likely to appear in the spring of next year. Titled Song of the Siren, it focuses on Roxelana, now renamed Juliana for reasons explained in The Shattered Drum, as she deals with the consequences of her flight from Moscow, her marriage, and the events between 1538 and 1541–42, when the new series begins. Just as a teaser, several familiar characters from the Legends series managed to sneak their way into that story. Ideas for book 2, Song of the Shaman, are already germinating in my brain. Knowing Nasan and Daniil, they will definitely elbow their way into that one.


In honor of Shattered Drum’s release, too, I have revised The Golden Lynx. The few historical errors that I discovered while researching later books are now corrected; characters and incidents that I created after the first book came out receive at least passing mention where appropriate; and I took advantage of the experience gained from typing my second million words to tighten and hone the prose. If you loved the first edition, there’s no need to purchase the second: the differences lie more in the realm of nuance than of fundamental change. But for those new to the series the second edition will replace the original text as soon as the computers recognize that the two are variations of the same book.

So that you can keep the two versions apart, though, we at Five Directions Press have designed a spiffy new cover for the second edition, revealed here for the first time.



Best of all, I have the whole of next week away from my e-mail and its constant demands to clean up the last details on the Legends novels and get started on Song of the Shaman. And man, can I use the break. It’s been crazy this year!
 

Last, so that people who encounter the series at its end (or who have waited for the end before tackling it) can get up to speed quickly and relatively inexpensively, I will be issuing box sets of Legends 1–3 and 4–5 while lowering the prices of individual books to $2.99.  And—again assuming the computers permit—all five novels will soon be available for borrowing on Kindle Unlimited and through Kindle Prime. So stock up, tell your friends, and recommend the series to your book clubs. Who knows, if Nasan gets the kind of readership she believes she deserves, she might even make it to the Silver Screen one day! The costumes and the sets alone would be worth the price of admission, don’t you think?


All images © C. P. Lesley and Five Directions Press.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Marching in Step


It’s no surprise that writing is a sedentary occupation. Ask any experienced writer how to progress, and the answer will be some version of “glue rear end to chair.” Writing muscles, like the physical kind, need constant exercise if they are to strengthen and refine enough to produce something worthwhile.

Now, my love of ballet kept me active for decades. Three two-hour classes per week and thirty minutes to an hour on the weekends put me in the “moderate activity” category despite the writing and editing. But three years ago, my teacher retired, and for various reasons, not least a vamped-up work schedule, I stopped taking class. I still exercised at least six days a week, but the two hours soon dropped closer to twenty minutes, and sometimes I didn’t even manage that. Then Sir Percy handed off his Apple Watch to me while he enjoyed a (temporary) upgrade.

I don’t consider myself a technophobe. I love mastering new software. I adopted the iPad on the day of its release (not before, as I wanted to verify that the hype had some basis in fact), and I still use it almost every day—mostly to read, often my own work, for which it’s invaluable. But I am a techno-skeptic, and not every device, in my view, needs to be superseded. For years I bought my watches at Target, for the princely sum of $30 apiece, kept each one until it required something more than a new battery, then replaced it. They kept time, which is all a watch needs to do. Similarly, I was perfectly happy with my 2013 smartphone, which let me call people, read e-mail, and amuse myself at the doctor’s and dentist’s offices with an e-book. I argued that I didn’t need an Apple Watch and the upgraded phone that went with it.

But I have to admit, after three months I’m hooked. I don’t use the watch (still less the phone) to do one-tenth of the tasks it can handle, but the ones I do use it for are great. I can decline all those annoying pretend-to-be-local spam calls without even answering them. I can set a kitchen timer with Siri (when she’s in the mood) and reset it with the press of an electronic button. And I have learned a lot about my own daily activity—better in some ways than I imagined, worse in others. For example, as a fidgety sort, I constantly run up and down the stairs, so it’s rare that the watch has to nag me to stand during the workday. I can put in two miles worth of steps without leaving my house. And with the exercise monitor counting calories, I’ve extended my ballet workouts to thirty minutes or more every day and include more floor work, which strengthens the core muscles. I also discovered that, contrary to opinions I’d read, ballet does raise my heart rate and is therefore aerobic, as well as including flexibility and resistance components. All that is useful to know.

The time I’m most likely to forget to stand or to breathe slowly, not surprisingly, is when I’m in the full flush of writing a new story—a time when, if not nagged by the watch, I could easily sit for four hours without moving anything but my fingers. So the little kick offered by the watch is helpful then, if not when I’m in the middle of a critique group meeting (the watch doesn’t distinguish). When I had to go to a funeral, I left it at home for fear of its beeping, although I’ve since learned to turn that off.



Now the watch is not infallible. The time I left the Workout app on for thirty-five minutes after I finished, it burbled happily the whole time and congratulated me on my longest workout yet. More annoying was when I forgot to start the app for the first seven minutes of one workout and the watch seemed oblivious to the fact that I was moving at a level it normally considers exercise. And since it mostly monitors wrist movement, it’s convinced that petting the cat (examples of perfect exercise subjects to the left) while sitting uses more calories than hauling a 65-gallon recycling bin (wheeled, admittedly) out to the street.

On the whole, though, the watch has provided a positive learning experience. The phone? It’s very nice, and it holds more books. I like that. It also has a slightly larger screen, which makes the hunt-and-peck of typing more tolerable. And it makes phone calls, which is, after all, the only thing a phone really needs to do. But its big plus is that without it, the watch wouldn’t work.

I could write more, but my digital master demands that I stand and move about for a minute. And there is that work schedule to placate, with lunchtime almost over. So I’ll just say that Sir Percy had better not hold out hope of seeing his watch again—not unless I score a royalty check big enough to replace it!


Images purchased from Clipart.com.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Interview with Kari Bovee

Here’s another interesting book whose author I didn’t have space to fit into my interview schedule. Girl with a Gun kicks off a new mystery series featuring Annie Oakley, the crack sharpshooter who performed with Buffalo Bill Cody’s traveling show.

I could give a more extensive introduction, but Kari Bovée has sent such wonderfully extensive and informative answers to my questions that I’m just going to get out of her way. Read to the bottom to get her website and social media links, as well as more information about Kari herself.

I won’t ask you how you got into writing fiction, as I normally do, because your website tells me that you always have. But why Annie Oakley?


Several years ago, I saw a PBS American Experience special on Annie Oakley. Previously, I had always thought she was portrayed as a “goody-two shoes,” almost cartoon-like figure in history, but when I watched the special, I realized she had an incredible depth of character. She didn’t have the most wonderful childhood. Her father died when she was young, so the family struggled with poverty. She was farmed out to another family who abused her, and she had a responsibility to contribute to the well-being of her family at a very young age. Despite all of that, she went on to become wildly famous as a sharpshooter, but fame didn’t change her. Women in show business at the time were considered less than upstanding, but she was ferociously protective of her good name and reputation. Though she worked in a man’s field, she maintained her femininity. She was always covered from head to toe, and she let her talent, not her looks, shine. In her later years she was devoted to empowering women by teaching them to shoot, but she never maintained she was a feminist. She was just Annie Oakley. She had the courage to be herself.

And who is Annie to you? That is, how do you see her as a character who is at the same time historical and your creation?


We never really know what was going on in the minds or emotions of people in history. We see them through their actions, what they’ve written, and what they’ve reportedly said, but we don’t really know what their deepest fears were, or what they secretly wanted in life. That is up to interpretation. I’ve taken what I have learned about Annie Oakley and surmised that she was gutsy, smart, lovable and loving, and incredibly talented at something a woman rarely pursued—and bested most men in her field. She did not live the life of a normal woman in 1885. Given the scope of the Wild West Show’s travels, and what Annie did for a living, I thought she would make an excellent amateur sleuth. One who is driven by seeking the truth and finding justice. 

On the first page of the prologue, we encounter our first sudden death. Set the stage for us, please. Who is Kimi, and what’s going on there?


Kimi is the (fictitious) adopted daughter of Buffalo Bill Cody; she works in the show as a costume designer and Annie’s assistant. When we meet her we see she is unhappy and a loner. She’s been ostracized from her people, and she doesn’t fit in with the cast or crew of the show. In fact, she is despised by Buffalo Bill’s mistress, Twila Midnight. Annie is not comfortable with someone working “under her” and accepts Kimi immediately as a peer, even a sister. She identifies with her as someone who is different and wants different things out of life, and they form a bond. When Kimi dies, Annie is distraught, especially since Kimi has a baby girl. She does not accept that Kimi died of natural causes, given what Kimi has shared with her, and there is evidence she’d been beaten. This sets the course for Annie to find out what really happened to her friend.

In chapter 1 we meet Annie, still called Annie Mosey. I was surprised to discover that Annie was raised a Quaker. How does that square with her skills as a sharpshooter? How does it influence her decisions?


I don’t know much about how Annie felt about being a Quaker, but I thought it was an interesting part of her past. From what I understand, Quakerism supports the idea that we are all equal beings. In fact, they don’t use titles or monikers for others, they are simply Friends. They live a life of modesty and service to God. I thought it would be interesting if Annie struggled with this. After all, she became a famous sharpshooter—a celebrity. Hardly a modest undertaking. In my interpretation, Annie wants more out of life than to settle into a quiet Quaker lifestyle—she wants to be somebody. She wants to get out into the world and become something greater than herself. In the book, Annie is constantly wrestling with what she “should” do and be, how she was raised, and what she really wants out of life. 

Next we meet Frank Butler. What is his role in the book? What can you tell us about him and his past?


Frank Butler was the true love of Annie’s life. An Irish immigrant, he came to the United States when he was thirteen. He later became a famous sharpshooter, and they met when she beat him in a shooting contest. Instead of being intimidated by the skill of this tiny fifteen-year-old girl, he was smitten with her. In my story, his family has settled in the south, in Kentucky, where they own and operate a horse breeding farm. Like Annie, he has some unpleasant things from his past he is grappling with, and he ultimately confides in her. He, of course, plays the romantic interest in the book, but it takes them a while to get together.

And how would you describe their relationship?


For the sake of the story, I have created a lot of tension between Frank and Annie. He’s a world-famous sharpshooter on the decline, and she’s a girl from North Star, Ohio, on the rise. He’s threatened by her talent and her fame, but he’s falling in love with her at the same time. To Annie, Frank is this larger-than-life, sophisticated character whom she admires but feels is way out of her league. She does not try to impress him, or change to make him like her; she continues to be herself, and her skills keep him on his toes.

Again from your website I see that you have plans to bring out several more Annie Oakley mysteries over the next year. What’s your schedule, for these and your other two series?


The next book in the Annie Oakley series, titled Peccadillo at the Palace, comes out in May 2019 with Spark Press. I will also release a prequel novella to the series in the fall of this year. As for the third book in the series, I hope to release it in 2020—and will possibly continue on with Annie and her adventures.

I have another historical mystery series that takes place in New York City in the 1920s featuring a costume designer who works in the Ziegfeld Follies as the amateur sleuth. Lots of good stuff to draw from there! The first book of the series is called Grace in the Wings. It’s ready to go, but I’m not sure how or when it will be published. I’m working on it!

My Southwestern historical mystery series is underway. The first book in the series, titled Bones of the Redeemed, takes place in the 1950s and features protagonist Mackenzie Delgado, an archeology student in pursuit of her PhD. While digging she stumbles upon remains that lead her to uncover the existence of a secret society and the people they are murdering in the name of religion. I’m not sure when it will be ready for publication. Hopefully within the next two years.

Thanks so much for answering my questions, Kari. Good luck with your many writing projects!

Kari Bovée has always loved telling stories. She now has three historical mystery series about empowered women in the works, including several other Annie Oakley novels. She is an avid horsewoman and loves to spend as much time as she can with her four horses. Girl with a Gun is just the first of her books to appear in print. You can find out more about her and her series at www.karibovee.com.

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Friday, June 8, 2018

The Other Side of the Story

Because my bailiwick is historical fiction, and we have a wonderful fantasy and adventure host who writes historical fantasy novels of her own—Gabrielle Mathieu—I normally don’t get to tackle a book like Danielle Teller’s All the Ever Afters. Yet this time the cards fell my way, and I’m so glad they did.

My luck turned out to be doubled, because not only did I have the chance to read this exploration of a well-known fairy tale as viewed from the perspective of the “villain,” but I also discovered early on that the book really is, as I say in the introduction to my New Books in Historical Fiction interview with Danielle Teller, more historical fiction than historical fantasy.

This is Cinderella as you’ve never encountered her, with non-magical explanations supplied for everything from the glass slipper to the fairy godmother. Indeed, half the fun lies in recognizing the clever ways in which Danielle Teller renders the impossible credible. But stripped of its fairy-tale shell, this is a book about a young woman who starts life low on the social ladder and through her native ability, determination, and ambition rises high in a land visibly recognizable as late medieval England. It’s well worth reading for that story alone, although the sneak attacks by familiar elements of the traditional tale only add to the pleasure.

As usual, the rest of this post comes from New Books in Historical Fiction.


Most of us hear the Cinderella story in childhood: a mean stepmother favors her own daughters and controls her hapless husband, turning the sweet and innocent Cinderella into a scullery maid and refusing to let her attend the royal ball, only to be thwarted by a fairy godmother and Cinderella’s own beauty and charm. Cinderella marries Prince Charming and lives happily ever after, while the stepmother and stepsisters get their just deserts.

But Danielle Teller has a different take on this familiar story. In All the Ever Afters her heroine, Agnes, starts life as a serf and through a combination of hard work, good luck, and a stubborn refusal to break under adversity works her way up to the position of lady of the manor. There she finds herself dealing with a somewhat difficult girl named Ella, whose life of privilege so far exceeds that of Agnes and her two beloved daughters that the usual difficulties attending the stepmother/stepchild relationship are magnified by mutual incomprehension.

With a delightfully playful approach, Danielle Teller recasts the magical elements of the fairy tale and weaves them into a much richer exploration of social contrasts and constraints of the medieval world, especially as those boundaries affected women.

And as becomes clear from the opening page, Prince Charming may not have been such a catch after all….

Friday, June 1, 2018

Interview with Sally Koslow

 For better or worse, the Big Five publishers tend to focus their main publicity efforts on a novel’s release date and the weeks immediately surrounding that date. I won’t argue with them—for sure, they know more about publicity than I ever will. But when two books release on the same day, that means someone gets shifted to the blog. In this case, the decision was easy, because I have had so many books on US or World War II history this year that it made sense to favor the book set in medieval England, even a somewhat fantastical England, over the other, equally worthy and enjoyable candidate.

I must admit, I was never a huge F. Scott Fitzgerald fan. Having been forced to read The Great Gatsby in high school, when I was in no way mentally prepared to appreciate it, turned me off. But as an, ahem, more experienced adult, I have learned to value Fitzgerald. And this novel, about an episode in his life about which I knew nothing, really appealed to me. So read on, and find out more.


You have written several previous novels, as well as a nonfiction book on parenting, but Another Side of Paradise marks, as I understand it, your entry into historical fiction. Was this a departure for you in terms of writing, or did you approach the story in very much the same way as your previous novels?


Every one of my novels has, as its center, a feisty female character, so in this respect, Another Side of Paradise is no exception. The book required, however, far more research than my contemporary novels: reading all of Sheilah’s memoirs (there were quite a few) and as many of her columns as I could find along with biographies and articles that mentioned either Sheilah Graham or F. Scott Fitzgerald during the time period of my book. This was in addition to the general research a historical novelist does to avoid anachronisms. The character can’t be wearing nylon stockings if they hadn’t been manufactured yet. Slouching Toward Adulthood, which was less a “parenting” book than one of cultural observation, required many interviews with parents and people in their 20s and 30s—people I had to track down—a different sort of research altogether.

We tend to think of Fitzgerald primarily in association with his wife, Zelda. It was news to me, in fact, that he’d had this later relationship with Sheilah Graham. What drew you to write about the end of Fitzgerald’s life rather than the earlier, more successful stage of his career?


The stage of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s life when he was the reigning literary prince of the Jazz Age is well chronicled. His later years, less so.  Zelda had to be hospitalized for mental illness, and Scott faded into obscurity, plagued by debt, alcoholism, health problems, writer’s block, anxiety, and loneliness. To make money, he moved to Hollywood to write scripts. It was at this moment that Sheilah met Scott. I was drawn to his vulnerability, which I found touching. Sheilah helped Scott find his voice again, and he, in turn, nurtured her. Theirs was a relationship based not only on physical chemistry but a meeting of the minds. Scott was a natural teacher and Sheilah an eager student whose formal education, to her regret, ended when she was only fourteen. Through what he christened “The F. Scott Fitzgerald College for One,” Scott tutored Sheilah in the humanities, and she helped to give him the stability and confidence to start a new novel, The Last Tycoon, in which the character of Kathleen is based on Sheilah. I wanted today’s readers, who continue to buy The Great Gatsby and Fitzgerald’s other novels, to know about this chapter in Scott’s life and to get to know a remarkable woman.

Sheilah Graham is quite a character in her own right—in fact, more the focus of the novel than Fitzgerald. What can you tell us about her?


I felt that readers would come to this novel with a sense of F. Scott Fitzgerald. Sheilah would be unknown or at least less clear; even if people had read her long out-of-print memoir, Beloved Infidel, which was made into a movie, the book contained some glaring omissions, and the movie, by Sheilah’s own account, was miscast, with Deborah Kerr in the lead, rather than an earthy blonde. Sheilah had many attributes I admire. She was self-sufficient, smart, and kind. For example, after she divorced her first husband, Major John Gilliam, they remained lifelong friends and Sheilah sent him money for his entire life. She was cunning and strategic, but she had to be—this is a woman who never depended on a man for her livelihood. That Sheilah was secretive about her Jewish background I found interesting, and I wanted to get to the roots of what caused her to deny her roots.

And how would you describe their relationship? What pulls them together?


In each other, I think Sheilah Graham and F. Scott Fitzgerald recognized a person who was isolated from his/her peers. Sheilah didn’t let people become close because she kept many secrets. Scott felt humiliated by his fall from grace, was aware that former admirers considered him a has-been, and with a wife in an asylum was a lonesome romantic. Scott and Sheilah offered one another a fresh start and the chance for a tender, deeply private relationship built around mutual attraction for one another’s mind and soul as well as their bodies. They also each had a well-developed sense of humor and fun. They often hung out at home, reading, listening to music, cooking, or dancing to the radio.

Another Side of Paradise was released on May 29. Do you already have another novel in the works, and if so, would you give us a hint or two about what to expect?


Most likely, I’ll write another biographical novel, but I haven’t nailed down a subject with whom I feel I could live for two years, which is how long it takes to write this sort of research-dependent book. I can tell you it won’t be about Diana Vreeland, Maria Callas, Ivanka Trump, or a World War II spy, four subjects I researched and decided against for one good reason or another. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Wishing you the best of luck finding a new subject, and thanks so much for sharing your time with us, Sally!



Sally Koslow, former editor-in-chief of McCall’s Magazine, has taught writing and published extensively in newspapers and magazines. She is the author of five novels—Another Side of Paradise, The Late, Lamented Molly Marx, The Widow Waltz, With Friends Like These, and Little Pink Slips—and the nonfiction book Slouching Toward Adulthood: How to Let Go So Your Kids Can Grow Up. You can find out more about her and her books at www.sallykoslow.com.